Monday, September 1, 2014

What to read this month? Check out #30Authors

Want to know what your favorite authors are reading? Throughout the month of September, you will find out!

As part of 30 Authors, an event created by The Book Wheel, authors will be sharing thoughts about their favorite books in posts across participating blogs. For more details, click here.

Thanks to The Book Wheel for including me in the group of authors! Please check out my post on Love At First Book on Friday, Sept. 12. In the meantime, let’s see which book author Jenny Milchman has chosen as the best of 2014. Click here

Please follow the hashtag #30Authors throughout the month to keep up with the latest or visit the Facebook page

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Young Blogger Guest Posts...

I promised my almost 4-year-old daughter P. that she could “guest post” on my blog, so she has decided to share a drawing with you. (See above.)

P. tells me that it is “the ceiling, decorated with photos” and the pink lines are “the doctor” and the yellow lines are “the grass.” (Believe me, our ceiling looks nothing like this.). As you can see, P. has more than her share of creativity.

P. dedicates this drawing to our friend X. who hosted us during our recent trip to China.

P. often sits at my computer and tells me that she is working, or even more specifically, working on her blog or on her book. Maybe I will be surprised one day when I have a look in the local book shop and see P. in there signing autographs! After all, she is getting pretty good at writing her first name.

I’ll keep this post short… Thank you for giving my little one an audience today! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Places of China

Forbidden City

I was itching to see The Great Wall. Then I realized that the one hour plus car trip from Beijing with a three-year-old who easily gets carsick wasn’t ideal. And then walking along the wall in the heat and driving back. No. Impossible.

So we took the much shorter car ride to The Forbidden City, the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming through the Qing dynasties. This massive series of pavilions seems to stretch into infinity. With a temperature of 99 degrees F, it was impossible to walk through the entire complex without falling victim to heatstroke! No wonder most of the Chinese ladies walk around with delicate, ornate umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun’s intensity.

We compromised, walking through the first few pavilions… and then a few days later in Shenyang, we visited that city’s “Forbidden City.” It is smaller, but actually more beautiful. Instead of locked pavilions, we found open doors and much to see within.

Yu Garden

People's Park, Shanghai

In Shanghai, my favorite stop was the Yu Garden, with its lovely plants, traditional buildings and rocks. I had dreamed of visiting a traditional Chinese garden and wasn’t disappointed. It is especially interesting to see this sort of natural setting in the midst of Shanghai’s new constructions, reaching high into the sky. For a taste of this “new” Shanghai, a walk along the “Bund” at night was the perfect choice…

The Bund

I loved Beijing for its history. There are many temples and sights to see, and the city is so big and the heat so intense, that only one or two sights can be covered in one day. Shenyang was a wonderful example of a typical big city in China. And Shanghai, with its massive modern buildings and endless streets of European and American shops, reminded me that the east isn’t too far from the west. 

For me, China was a lesson in history and the future. Not a relaxing vacation, but one filled with discovery and movement.

Beijing Never Sleeps...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Observations of China

Beijing skyline

On my first trip to China, I realized that many general ideas about the country and culture are far from the truth. Some of my observations…

Made in China makes many people think of inexpensive clothing or plastic toys. Sure, those are some of the things made in China. But that is only a small part of the picture. On my trip, I discovered so many beautiful, quality products made in the country. Lovely jade bracelets, silk scarves, quality paper goods (I couldn’t resist buying a notebook even though I have a full stock), and the list goes on.

Chinese food is not like what we often are served in Chinese restaurants in the U.S. or France. It isn’t all fried, heavy or loaded with MSG. In reality, there are grilled meats and fish, a large variety of vegetables and fresh fruits. Eating Chinese food can be synonymous with eating healthy!

Some of my favorites: sauteed green beans, fried rice and scrambled egg with tomato

I’ve been told (even by Chinese people themselves) that the Chinese are shy and reserved. While this is true, I found the people we encountered also to be very warm and welcoming to “westerners.” They were generous with their smiles and many stopped to say “hello.” What surprised and amazed me in particular was the fascination with my three-year-old daughter. In many instances, Chinese children would come up to her, hold her hand and their mothers would ask us if they could take photos. While I am very cautious about having strangers snap shots of P. at home, the experience in China was different. I couldn’t resist this friendly, cultural exchange.

I love the Chinese population’s interest in the culture of the west, but one thing saddened me a bit. I noticed that so many advertisements for goods and services featured Caucasian models. How does it feel to be Chinese and faced with so many images that reflect the western world? How can this impact the self-image of a young person, for example? I’m not saying that all of the models should be Asian, but I think that those billboards could use a bit more diversity. 

A strange ad I kept seeing in taxis

In the coming days, I’ll wrap up my China posts with one that is a bit more tourism related… I’ll share with you a couple of my favorite spots! Stay tuned…

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Dreams of China

My grandmother always dreamed of visiting China. She collected a few Chinese objects here and there, including a shiny black and red chest that clashed with her light Floridian furniture. But Grandma didn’t care. She loved its beauty and kept dreaming of China. Unfortunately, she never made it that far east, but thanks to my French-Chinese friend X., I was able to visit the place that intrigued and enchanted my grandmother.

Beijing, X.’s home of Shenyang and Shanghai were our three destinations. So many beautiful historical sites and gardens to see. But I won’t go into the detail that you can find on many tourism websites. Instead, I would rather write about the feeling and the people.

X’s family owns the Huayuan Hotel in Shenyang and we stayed there for a week while my husband, a personal chef, learned recipes from the hotel chef and taught the kitchen team some French recipes. A perfect cultural exchange. X’s family and the hotel staff treated us like royalty and showered us with attention and warmth. They were eager to share their culture with us and learn about ours. I found this openness and kindness a common trait among many people I met in China.

Somehow, even with a huge language barrier, certain feelings are easy to express… such as the sadness I felt saying goodbye.

I’ll be back with more about China… There is so much to write. But for now, here are a few photos from Shenyang. Enjoy! 

Greenery and gold at the Huayuan Hotel...

And more gold!

One of the hotel's lovely private dining rooms

Big city Shenyang...

And the countryside, only a few miles away

Thursday, July 31, 2014

So How About Paris in August?

This post is part of the Paris in July blogging event. I’m delighted to be co-hosting this year! Please check out the blogs of Karen at “A Wondering Life” and Tamara at “Thyme for Tea,” creators of the event, for links to all participating posts.

The last day of July and the scent of vacation is in the air for many Parisians. With a minimum of 25 vacation days a year, Parisians traditionally take at least two weeks off in the summer – and the most popular time is August.

The shops and restaurants surrounding tourist attractions are usually open in August but if you go into a neighborhood just off the tourism route, you will get a feel for the real Paris in August: quiet, calm, sleepy.

In our neighborhood, our usual bakeries, cheese shops, and other artisans close during the same period, leaving us with the grocery store and one bakery. There is always one baker among the five or six in each neighborhood who will remain open so we don’t have to resort to industrial bread. (Whew!)

If I want to have lunch or dinner at a small café or restaurant, I think to myself: “It’s that time of year… I’d better call to make sure it’s open.” And it usually isn’t.

All of this until the August 15 Assumption holiday. Then, slowly but surely, shutters lift, hurried footsteps echo in the streets, the sounds of laughter and the scent of cigarettes permeate the air. And Paris awakens.

I hope you have enjoyed this year’s Paris in July. I certainly have! A big “merci!” to Tamara and Karen for asking me to co-host this year.

July is one of my favorite months in Paris, but if you love Paris as much as I do, don’t hesitate to visit during any month. Paris is a place for all seasons.

A bientot…

Another View:

Fellow Paris-based author Vicki Lesage is teaming up with me on a few “Paris in July” posts. We each will be writing our own take on a particular Paris-related theme. Here is Vicki’s wrap-up post for the last day in July…

 Paris in August is a unique phenomenon. It's both empty and crowded. Loud and quiet. Parisian and not Parisian. It passes slowly but is over with before you know it, and then it's back to the hustle and bustle of work. You have to enjoy it while it lasts... Click here to read more…

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why Writers and Artists Still Meet at the Cafe...

This post is part of the Paris in July blogging event. I’m delighted to be co-hosting this year! Please check out the blogs of Karen at “A Wondering Life” and Tamara at “Thyme for Tea,” creators of the event, for links to all participating posts.

OK, so it might not be as obvious today as it was in the day of Hemingway. I know, I know: When you walk by such historical places as Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots you’re more likely to see a tourist or tired shopper than a writer. You won’t see many solitary individuals scribbling in notebooks for hours or writers regularly running into each other and having drinks.

To my great dismay, you won’t see the literary figures of the moment meeting daily in a café and discussing the writing life or gathering at the home of a mentor like Gertrude Stein for writing advice.

Gertrude Stein's former abode 

But… this doesn’t mean that the Parisian café has lost its artistic element. A recent trip to Flore – not the bustling terrace, but the tranquil upstairs dining area -- proves my point. That day, the upstairs room was the site of a photo shoot for an album cover: photographers snapping away as an elegant woman in an evening gown posed. The audience? Only me, waiting for my meeting with a literary contact. A couple of the camera crew members chatted with me, the woman changed in the bathroom: a very low-key, artistic atmosphere.

A few weeks later, a meeting with another publishing contact brought me to a café. In the cases of my meetings, they could have been done in offices.

But there is something about the café that makes it an integral part of the writer’s life, the obvious place for anything from the actual writing to a professional rendez-vous. Why? There is the idea of inspiration… a café is a great place to watch the world go by. That certainly helped me when I was developing the characters in my first novel “Paris, Rue des Martyrs.” Each moment at a café is a story in and of itself.

There is also the idea of tranquility without isolation. You know that when you are in a café, you can sit in a quiet corner for as long as you would like and think and write. Yet you aren’t alone. There is a quiet activity, a pulse that imparts energy.

As for a meeting, it makes the encounter warmer and more amiable than one held in a cold office. Talking is much easier over a really good café au lait.

So, the next time you happen to be in a Parisian café, keep your eyes and ears open. If you sit around long enough, you just might get a glimpse of a discreet writer at work. And you might end up a character in the writer’s next novel!

Another View:  

Fellow Paris-based author Vicki Lesage is teaming up with me on a few “Paris in July” posts. We each will be writing our own take on a particular Paris-related theme. Here are Vicki’s thoughts on the writing life:

As a new author, with my first two books published in January and May of this year, I'm still getting used to the label "American writer in Paris." That's partly due to the fact that I still have a day job. Click here to read more…

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