Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Snow Leopard

When I tell friends I've started collecting kids' books, they ask excitedly if I'm pregnant, so I'll preface this post with the words: no I'm not expecting. I just love children's books.
My latest purchase is The Snow Leopard, a superbly illustrated book on a topic that is dear to my heart, the bond between humans (in this case, a little girl) and animals. Snow leopards are extraordinary and elusive big cats that haunt the Himalayas. A few years ago, my mum took my sister and me on an unforgettable road trip through Ladakh (Indian Himalayas), where we reached 19,000ft (5800 m), visited mysterious Buddhist monasteries and marveled at the landscapes; Buddhist pilgrims leave countless prayer flags along the road, and if I too had tied one onto a tree, I would have wished for a glimpse at the beautiful feline creature.

Among the books I have collected so far are some of my childhood favorites, such as Le journal de Delphine (the story of a little ballerina!), novels by Judy Blume and Roald Dahl, and other gems like Charlotte's Web, poems for kids by one of my favorite poets, Joseph Brodsky, a Maurice Sendak, Alice in Wonderland...
I must get a copy of Enid Blyton's Noddy, the book that got me addicted to reading; so absorbed was I in my books as a child that one of my teachers told my mum she should take them away from me! Fortunately, she disregarded this advice.
What were your favorite books when you were a child?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Let there be stripes! (3)

this sailor-style sweater that was given to me by my friend Chloé, who has also been my style icon since high-school. I've been wearing it for 10 years and it's still in pristine condition. It's from Eric Bompard, a cashmere brand that used to make hardy knits until they decided to go trendy a few years ago, trading quality for hip designs and sleek ad campaigns. Other French brands that once stood for no-nonsense quality have followed suit - Petit Bateau (sigh), once the paragon of sturdy tees and undies, as well as Repetto (you'll see plenty of international tourists and fashion editors at their boutique but few dancers).

Red is not my color but I like how it gives some flavor to all-black outfits that otherwise lead people to think you're the waitress/usherette - it's happened to me. As a little girl I was obsessed with crimson patent leather shoes (my mum kindly indulged me), and also loved my scarlet rain boots. These days I often wear my bright red suede Salvatore Ferragamo 'Audrey' flats, as I did at the Cannes Film Festival last year...(Check out my Cannes blog)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Guest blogger Benjy on dance and soccer

Do you do Pilates, Benjy? You seem slim and graceful indeed... Anonymous

What keeps me fit is soccer, or le football, as it is known here in France; yes, four feet are better than two...
My amanuensis occasionally takes Pilates but her passion is ballet - she is quick to quote Merce Cunningham: Dance is a spiritual exercise in physical form. Among her favorite maîtres de ballet are Lazzarelli & Casati (Centre de Danse du Marais, Paris), the teachers at the Westside Ballet in Santa Monica, and Whitney Shulman at the Miami Ballet (she also blogs). Me, I just gnaw on old pointe shoes and bounce around as she does her ronds de jambe at the barre she installed in her tiny flat (see picture)
Dear readers, if you too have a question about lifestyle, fashion, shopping, Paris or anything else, post it in the Comments section. The Oracle always answers!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Paris en fleurs (3)

Presenting my mum's wonderful balcony, overlooking the Porte d'Auteuil. This large sundeck, with its wood floors and colorful blooms, is a wonderful place to have tea or drinks.

I just spent a few days in bed battling a Very Bad Bug nestled in my stomach, and upon recovering I was absolutely thrilled to find out that this blog had received nods from two of my favorite bloggers - Ronda, whose All The Best is fabulously stylish yet fun (and beautifully edited, too) as well as the ill-named Bitter Betty, whose quirky imagination and talent never cease to amaze and amuse me.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

British Museum (2) : a dancer's Aphrodite

As a dancer, I can only be deeply moved by this Roman version of a Hellenistic Aphrodite (aka "Lely's Venus"), whose marble body is so exquisitely expressive. I took pictures of her from different angles, and though none includes her eyes or even her face, she does seem to tell us so much, doesn't she?
Whenever I'm at the British Museum, I make it a point to drop by the Greek statuary (an obsession that has increased with the major Praxiteles exhibition at the Louvre last year). I always feel reunited with long-lost friends.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

British Museum (1) : nature in Chinese art

This tiny exhibition explores the symbol-laden depiction of nature in Chinese art, through painting (especially scrolls), tapestries, ceramics and more. I took notes as I wandered through the dimly-lit rooms, where these exceptional (if extremely fragile) pieces were displayed, but rather than impose a scholarly digest on you, I thought I'd let the art speak for itself...

There will be more art from the British Museum before the week is over, I promise!

Monday, February 18, 2008

London shopping

My London booty includes this simple organic cotton Twiggy tote, designed for Marks & Spencer by fashion illustrator David Downton .
I also bought Iris Murdoch's "The Sea, The Sea" - I was enthralled by the pages I read on the Eurostar, my first foray into her work. Ok, I admit, one of the reasons I chose the book was also this beautiful Vintage Classics edition. I've already mentioned on this blog how much I love Penguin's old covers ("Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005", an anthology of the paperbacks' designs, is a coveted tome) but when it comes to contemporary editions of masterpieces of the past I'll pick Vintage Classics any time...
My bag was much weighed down by the Brit VOGUE. This glossy (a lot heavier than Murdoch's 500-page novel...) features some terrific writing (such a tribute to the late stylist Marit Allen, and pieces about love by 4 writers including Tamasin Day-Lewis), as well as an elegant step-by-step tie-dye project.

Finally, an item from England I haven't bought yet because it's a prototype... I just love Artycho's exquisite and whimsical work (made by this French lady in the English countryside), so imagine how honored and excited I was when I found out that my (admittedly pressing) requests inspired her to create a hat!Merci Artycho! I can't wait to buy and wear this lovely creation!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

London skies and Russian Red lips

I love London, where I just spent a supremely sunny weekend (yes, really).
9 a.m.: the blue canvas seen through the roof of St-Pancras - the Eurostar now reaches London in a mere 2 hours, and arrives at St-Pancras rather than Waterloo station (the witty slogan of the ad campaign, featuring Napoleon in front of cheering soldiers, reads "Forget Waterloo!").
Noon: the spindly branches of Russell Square, in literature-infused Bloomsbury (think Virginia Woolf but also Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who were married in the neighborhood).
4 p.m.: clear skies above the British Museum, where the beauty of the looted Greek exhibits is sure to make me teary-eyed.

I love London, though it's where, a few months ago, what little intellectual self-esteem I had was crushed Humpty-Dumpty style (no words of comfort please, I'm not fishing for solace), into painful shards; appropriately, Blondie's "Heart Of Glass" played on my ipod all weekend, and as a nod to Debbie Harry's hard-edged rock chic, I wore MAC's Russian Red lipstick.

In the days to come I'll share snippets from my shopping booty, glimpses from the British Museum exhibition on Chinese's art fascination for nature and more...

Friday, February 15, 2008

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Paul Poiret, Rue Pasquier 37, Paris

The wardrobe of the late wife of couturier extraordinaire Paul Poiret, was auctioned away today at Drouot. White-gloved young men brought the ancient, fragile garments into the limelight in a surprisingly dingy room, as a auctioneer in a poorly-tailored suit (how ironic) called out prices that reached stratospheric records - or so it seemed to me.
Some of Mrs Poiret's clothes, accessories and shoes were not designed by her husband, and those items sold for more reasonable prices - for instance, €450 for a 19th century sleeveless embroidered Persian jacket, or a mere €40 for a set of silk handkerchieves. The wardrobe also included items that belonged to the Poiret children, such as an exquisite little girl's riding jacket.
Poiret's so-called ethnic inspiration was reflected in his 'Mandarin jackets', his poignantly simple blue linen Sioux dress, with its single whimsical embroidered pocket (it sold for €14,000) as well as in the use of 'bigoudin' buttons (traditional style from Brittany), and in my favorite items, the Russian-flavored dresses. With their Empire-style waists, their blousy designs and their exquisite embroidery, these included the off-white and red Kazan dress, which I would have bought in a heartbeat if I had €17,000... (I did however honor Russian style myself, since I was wearing MAC's Russian Red lipstick! A Cup of Jo's Joanna had suggested we all wear red lipstick on Valentine's Day...)
The red-carpet worthy hot pink La Vallière dress (pictured), and its matching "turban" sold for €24,000.
See more pictures here (shoe addicts should head for Miss Giltzy's blog), and read more (in French) chez the adorable Poirette.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for more glamour: I am invited to a black-tie event celebrating Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin upon his 75th birthday; I haven't decided if I would wear my wide Lanvin tuxedo pants with my beige Nina Ricci cropped jacket or a simple dress...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fresh mint tea

The Northern African community makes many wonderful contributions to the French culture - music lovers, check out Souad Massi, one of my favorites, who sings in French and Arabic, as in her hit Raoui.
Today as I was early for an appointment, I stopped by Tesnime (rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine), an Algerian pastry shop, for their trademark mint tea - fresh mint leaves, sugar and scalding water (in Tunisia, they also add roasted pine nuts). Northern African pastry relies on almonds, honey, and other scrumptious ingredients I can't resist - resist I didn't.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Colors please!

Like all ballerinas, I always stock pink satin ribbons, for my pointe shoes. Satin ribbons, tied around the neck, the wrist, the waist (or around a gift...), lend their instantly chic sheen to any outfit, so I like having some on hand ; I keep them in a glass jar (this one used to hold a scented candle), for a little glossy color in my bedroom.

As a little girl in Kenya, I admired the local girls' hairdos, and Jane, my nanny, would indulge me, patiently braiding my sleek blonde hair, bleached by the Indian Ocean and the fierce equator sunshine, into dozens of skinny strands. My collection of tiny candy-colored hairclips was second to none.
After leaving Kenya, my family spent a few months in the French Alps and it seemed natural to ask my mum to reproduce the beloved hairstyle. I stepped into the classroom one morning, my many braids dancing down my back. The children had never seen anything like that; they circled around me silently. Thinking back, I am surprised this shy little girl did not wince in embarrassment. I can only recall my pride.

I outgrew the hairdo but never ceased to marvel at African ladies' style. Seeing them on the métro in traditional prints fills me with joy. (In France, the Malian-born Lamine Badian Kouyaté, whose label Xuly Bët was featured at the V&A in London in 2005, blends such prints with an urban yet feminine sensibility). Inspired by those women, I bought some fabrics (pictured) at the Marché Saint-Pierre, rue Charles Nodier, but now I'm not sure what to do with them... Any suggestions?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Guest blogger Benjy on dog-walking etiquette

Dear Oracle, Oftentimes, as I am walking down the street, safely on a leash, I come across pets roaming about freely. My mistress is often scared as I was once brutally attacked by a black lab on the street. My question, dear Oracle, is, why are so many people irresponsible when walking their pets? Taocito

Dear Taocito, dear readers: Dog-walking etiquette is as complex as protocol in royal Versailles! Civilized pet-owners should have their dogs on a leash, and say 'Bonjour' to fellow dog walkers with a smile. That said, I'm a pragmatic beast: some dog-owners are hopeless louts (ah, Parisians and their "J'fais c'que j'veux"!), and rather than have her fear spread to you, I recommend your mistress scoop you up and change sidewalks.
(To illustrate to this post, in addition to a snapshot of moi, my amanuensis chose the picture of an impeccably educated, leashed dog she met Place des Vosges on Sunday. It's the kind of dog her favorite French writer, Colette, loved dearly!)
Dear readers, if you too have a question about lifestyle, fashion, shopping, Paris or anything else, post it in the Comments section. The Oracle always answers!
(See more dogs: the Westminster show.)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Paris en fleurs (1)

I promised I'd post pictures of Paris's most 'flower-ful' balconies every weekend, and I'm starting this series with my favorite florist's, Jardin d'Auteuil (tank you, Taocito, for reminding me the name in the Comments)(75 rue d'Auteuil, 16th arrondissement).

The tiny boutique's breathtaking displays are always color-themed. This week it's a galaxy of reds.

While we're on the subject of red: in her blog, Joanna suggested we all wear red lipstick on Valentine's day. As I'm very pale I fear it may make me look like a vampire or a Eastern European hooker, but still, the idea's lovely (also, I saw Tim Burton's 'Sweeney Todd' on Saturday so I'm embracing blood-red hues and my taste for Victorian looks). I'd love to hear what your favorite red lipstick is...

Friday, February 08, 2008

New shoes (sigh)

English speakers call them Oxfords, the French call them Richelieu, and I call them my new sinful indulgence (sinful yes -they weren't exactly cheap). I love their patent leather, 'gros grain' ribbon instead of laces and their Victorian look. They're by Pedro Garcia, a Spanish brand that has actually been around since 1925.
(When I buy luxury goods, I like to know that the good money I'm paying contributes to keeping age-old know-how and top-notch craftsmanship alive.)

The fashion addicts amongst you may be interested to learn that Drouot, France's flagship auction house, will be selling items from the wardrobe of supreme couturier Paul Poiret's wife next week, including of course masterpieces by Poiret. I may go and report on it - would you like that?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A spoonful of crème fraîche

I am a French restaurateur's worst nightmare. A vegetarian, I don't like French cheese (too pungent for me, thank yo very much), can't bear the mere smell of butter, strongly dislike sauces; garlic and onions genuinely upset my stomach, while fries make me nauseous. And did I mention I don't drink wine?
Just when any Gallic chef is about to sigh, "Ah, zose Americanz, zey do not know what iz really good!", comes the redeeming 'crème fraîche'. 40% fat, unpasteurized dairy, good enough to be eaten by the spoonful with fresh berries. Like fine yogurt, it has a slightly sour taste that I find irresistible. As of late, I can't go a day without my crème fraîche fix.

To learn more about crème fraîche and for a list of the very few American brands that make this treat, go to Laura's post about crème fraîche. In France, make sure to get the Isigny crème fraîche from Normandy (pictured), available in supermarkets.

What's your latest food obsession?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I love my April 77/PETA T-shirt

When I heard that the vegan brand April 77 had designed a limited edition 'Meat Is Still Murder' t-shirt, with half the proceeds of the sales going to PETA, I ran to Colette, the famous Parisian boutique (rue Saint-Honoré), where snotty salespeople descended from their lofty pedestal to seemingly do me a favor in selling me said coveted t-shirt.
(Best worn with a pencil skirt.)

As you can guess, I am a vegetarian!
For those of you who are interested in animals in general, in addition to classics by Jane Goddall and Dian Fossey, I recommend the recent 'Bears' by Bernd Brunner which I already mentioned here and 'No way home' by David Wilcove, about how humans are disrupting the migrations that are essential to many a species' survival.
If you want to learn about animals and ethics, the best place to start is definitely 'In Defense of Animals - the Second Wave' edited by Peter Singer; I also have a soft spot for 'The Lives of Animals', by J.M. Coetzee, my favorite living novelist.
It's also a good idea to go to PETA's website, and for those of you who still think fur is no big deal, watch this video - be warned, it may cause post-traumatic stress disorder...

Be sure to visit tomorrow, as I'll be sharing a very special (vegetarian) French treat...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Recycle your magazines and books!

I just received a locket from Hoolala, the wonderfully creative Etsy shop whose Memento Mori cufflinks I featured on this blog last month; the locket came in a lovely and fun envelope (picture) that was made with a page from a discarded book. Isn't that a fabulous way to recycle books that are too outdated or in too bad a condition to be kept as reading material? (I hope I'm not going to get too much hate-mail from biblio-fundamentalists... I love and respect books too!).
For Christmas and birthdays, instead of buying wrapping paper, I always wrap my presents in magazine pages; they're glossy, colorful and can be chosen to match the gift or the person it's meant for...

Monday, February 04, 2008

Let there be stripes! (2)

Let there be stripes, and also a string of baroque pearls. I love their ruggedness and radiance.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Weekend flowers

As winter drags on, I really love having flowers around my apartment. I already had a bunch of irises on my kitchen table, and yesterday my mum and I planted some primroses (primula veris) on my kitchen sill.
On weekends from now on, I'll be posting pictures of flower-adorned balconies and windows from around Paris...

Friday, February 01, 2008

Thinking about Kenya

I could tell you about the taste of fresh avocados and Ribena, the sandy beaches of Mombasa and the colors of the Indian Ocean, the monkeys sneaking into our garden to get their fill of bananas, about our countless safaris, about riding horses and on one rhino's back (yes, really!), I could tell you about a lake covered with pink-flamingos, about the elephants I always adored, and all the happiness Kenya gave the blessed child I was.
But my heart shrinks, as the news bring daily updates on the violence in Kenya, and I can only think of the faces of people I loved. First and foremost, my nanny Jane's beautiful smile, as I tasted maize meal in her room. The handsome, aloof Masai in his traditional jewelry, who accepted to pose for a picture with my sister and me. My parents' Sikh acquaintances, who invited us to curry dinners at their homes - and that Sikh man I saw one morning, tying his sumptuous hair before he put on his turban. And Joseph, and Francis, the familiar and comforting figures who made home, home. I hope they are all safe.

To learn about Africa, its plights and its success stories, and above all its people, check out Afropolitans, where Beverly links to articles from the international press and many online resources.