Friday, May 30, 2008

Baghdad Memory: Amal's Syrian Rice

Yesterday, I mentioned the raisin-and-pine nut rice recipe that my mum's friend Amal, who was from Syria, had taught her to make. I remember spending wonderful Fridays with Amal and her family; her daughter Ala was one of my best friends, and her little boy Mounir boldly took ballet with my sister and me! Sometimes we would all leave Baghdad and head into the desert for a picnic, for instance by the Tower of Samara, pictured in this post.

Some of you asked if I'd share Amal's recipe, so here it is! It's very easy.
Peel and chop 1 onion
Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a pan
Brown the onion and 1/4 cup pine nuts in the oil
Add 2 cups of long rice, and stir until the rice is shiny
Add 3 cups of water and cook over low heat until rice is tender
Add 1/2 cup raisins
Season to taste
Serves 4.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Fruit, Fruit, Fruit!

Together with peonies, fruit are the best part of spring, like a fragrant and colorful blessing.
When I indulge in this delight, I always think of the years I spent in Iraq as a child. I was 5 when my family moved there away from bountiful Kenya; the country was at war with Iran and food was scarce. We were immensely more privileged than most Iraqis: we never went hungry. Our wonderful driver would go to secret places at dawn to procure eggs, and we kept huge quantities of sugar and flour in the house, stashed away from the rats in metal barrels; my family could afford local chickens and pastries. Ever resourceful, my mum managed to throw fabulous dinner parties and to bake the best cakes ever for our birthdays; her Syrian friend Amal, who taught her about Arab poetry, also showed her how to make Syrian rice with raisins and pine-nuts, a recipe I cherish and make to this day.
Oranges and soft, candy-like dates were available but other than that, fruit was rare; Iraq is, after all, a desert. While some people around me had dreams of French cold cuts and cheese, my main longing was for fruit. How I yearned for a simple, fresh, juicy apple! Every time I go to shop for food I remember how lucky I am, and never more so than when I am biting into a piece of fresh spring fruit.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day

Persephone Books focus on forgotten 20th century works, mainly by women, and offers beautifully designed volumes I could only love. Winifred Watson's 1938 Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, part of Persephone's Classics collection, is a witty, joyful fairy tale that leads you into class-segregated England and the glamourous world of night clubs in the 1930's London...
Another Persephone tome I'd love to read is the irresistibly titled It's Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty and Other Tragedies of Married Life by Judith Viorst (1968)...

Once the province of children's books, illustrations have recently become popular in fashion magazines as well as advertising. My hope is that, as in the days of Gustave Doré, illustrations will soon re-conquer the world of literature in general.
Miss Pettigrew is abundantly and beautifully illustrated. But I was appalled to see that the artist, who signs his/her works 'M.T.', wasn't credited anywhere in the book! Does anyone have any idea who M.T. is?

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Message From Benjy

Dear readers!
Many of you, from as far as South Africa, have asked if I had gone to Cannes with my assistant, Mary-Laure. I am of a meditative, if playful, nature, and could not possibly stand the frenzy on the Croisette and down the red carpet, so I stayed in Paris.
I was happy to be reunited with my dear assistant (and her soft Lucien Pellat-Finet cashmere shawl, see picture above) and am now back in the blogging business: if you have a question about lifestyle, fashion, Paris or anything, don't hesitate to post it in the Comment section. The Oracle always answers!

Also, some of you have asked about that bite a colossal dog inflicted on me last month, and the subsequent skin infection that left me with a bald patch on my neck for some time; I am happy to report that I am as good as new! My hair grew back shiny as ever and somehow to my assistant's chagrin, I am still fearless in the face of big dogs...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Farewell, Croisette!

It is now time for me to leave Cannes... To wrap up this amazing week, I thought I'd share pictures taken at breakfast today - the Hôtel Martinez's breakfast terrasse is so exquisite and green...

Finally, here's my Cannes Survival Kit, many items of which have already been featured on this blog: Penhaligon perfume pendant, which I wore every night on the red carpet...
...fellow blogger Artycho's blue bonnet to protect myself from the Riviera's biting sun...
...a pile of books I read while here (the fab Iris Murdoch's The Bell, Gossip Girls, and Philip Roth's Everyman)... Hôtel Martinez room card and the access pass to super hip hangout La Plage Orange...
...invitations to screenings at the Palais des Festivals...
...and a new pair of sunglasses, classic Ray Bans; my abuelo (grandfather) was a pilot in the Uruguayan navy, and I can't ever ever remember seeing him, day or night, without his aviator sunglasses, so this model comes complete with precious memories and Spanish-language echoes for me...

Cannes Film Festival - Thursday

I walked the red carpet one last time on Thursday, in my black crepe Martin Margiela dress.

Director Atom Egoyan's new film, Adoration, is competing in Cannes. It was received tepidly by the audience, and while I found the beginning way too chatty, the second half of the film moved me deeply. Unexpected twists unfold towards the end, leaving the spectator stunned.

Egoyan was accompanied by his leading lady, the radiant and moving Rachel Blanchard.
She plays a violinist, and the music that was composed for her character to play is just beautiful and haunting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Wednesday

On Wednesday night, Steven Soderbergh presented his hagiographic, chatty and didactic feature, Che. The Palais des Festivals was packed, and fans crowded the area around the red carpet to get a glimpse of Benicio Del Toro...
I wore a vintage, handmade lace top over my black pencil skirt,with my chunky burgundy Céline heels.

In addition to the film's team, attending the screening were Mike Tyson, the super pretty Natalie Portman, Puff Daddy in a white tux, producer Harry Weinstein as well as the great director Emir Kusturica, a long-time Cannes favorite. He's the coolest guy!
Soderbergh's much anticpated. endless two-part film, totaling 4 hr and 28 mn, combines endless political speeches (such as the Che's interventions at the United Nations) that can only be of interest to ideology lovers, with endless ambush sequences that can only be of interest to those looking for a step-by-step guerrilla manual.
In all fairness, while I was very bored, I have to add that the audience cheered and applauded film enthusiastically. I did find that some shots, such as a bright yellow wall in Santa Clara, a white horse seen through branches or the muted colors of the Bolivian hills, strikingly gorgeous.

Benicio Del Toro is, as always, extraordinary and a likely winner for the Prix d'Interprétation masculine (Best Actor); I was disappointed, though, he didn't seem to strive for an Argentine accent, so I went up to him to ask him (en español, of course) if he had taken lessons to sound Argentine; he was smiling, kind, and sweetly told me he hadn't tried to emulate the Che's typical accent. (Sigh)

Cannes Film Festival - Beauty Kits

I would never hit the Riviera without my Anthelios, a French sunscreen that shields sun-averse skin. The texture is very light. I enjoy using the Hôtel Martinez's Annick Goutal toiletries, scented with the fresh and elegant Eau d'Hadrien - very Mediterranean. I brought with me pretty much 99% of the makeup I own: Shu Uemura's blotting paper and eyelash curler, a Chanel eye pencil, a Diorshow mascara, Yves Saint-Laurent's Touche Éclat (of course!) and MAC's Russian Red lipstick (inspired by my friend Chloé)...

Yesterday, my beauty kit significantly expanded, with this goodie bag from the lovely, sunshine-worthy April Jackson, who is in Cannes to promote a new collection from Canadian cosmetics company Elizabeth Grant. I fell in love with the luxurious yet sober packaging and the cutting edge science behind the products...
But I fell even more in love with the story of the company, founded in London in the 1950's by a young woman, Elizabeth Grant, who couldn't find creams that suited her skin, damaged by burns; I tremendously admire women who ventured into business and other fields in which they were not welcome back in their days. Now in her late 80's, Ms Grant still supervises her lines and works with her granddaughter Margot, also a blogger.

Want to see for yourself? Post a comment to tell me which picture of all my Cannes posts you liked best. As soon as I'm back in Paris, Benjy's innocent paw will randomly pick one lucky winner, who will receive the Caviar Eye Pads that party-girl J Lo is fond of...

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Tuesday

Tuesday was a fabulous days, with a champagne lunch lunch by the beach in the sun; I had only one glass of bubbly and my first cherries this year.
Later, on my way to the red carpet and the 7.30 p.m. screening, I snapped this picture of myself, wearing a vintage Japanese kimono. I went for MAC's Russian Red lipstick rather than the smoky eye look, and an otherwise completely bare face...

Clint Eastwood's L'échange is a harrowing film, cinematographically gorgeous, served by a beyond poignant Angelina Jolie, who plays a mother looking for her missing child. It's also extremely violent, with graphic scenes (think: little kids whacked with an ax) that I couldn't bear, but still, I would give it own personal Palme d'Or (with a special award for Üç Maymun, by Nuri Bilge Ceylan).
Who was there? Just steps away from me were beautiful Sharon Stone in a low, flowing summer dress, Tim Robbins, Nick Nolte, Dita von Teese (who was walking right ahead of me, hence this photo) in a green gown reminiscent of a Far West prostitute from a saloon (yeah, I really don't like her...) , French actresses like Juile Gayet and Judith Godrèche, as well as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt...
On the picture above, you can spot Clint Eastwood's white head, towering above the rest of the crowd, as a frantically enthusiastic audience gives him an endless standing ovation.

Check in this afternoon to win a special Cannes surprise!...

Cannes Film Festival - Papparazza 2

Who's that, in an odd outfit blending camouflage shorts and grandpa-style polo shirt?

No other than Matthieu Kassovitz, director of La Haine and Amélie's love interest in the eponymous film. He was spotted at La Plage Orange, that major hangout for producers and stars alike...

Monday, May 19, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Monday

James Gray has been one of my favorite directors since Little Odessa in the early 1990's, and his last feature, We Own The Night, was beyond poignant. So I was thrilled to attend the premiere of his new film, Two Lovers; judging by the applause Gray received, so was everyone at the Palais des Festivals, including Sean Penn and Puff Daddy, who both showed up for the screening. Gray, visibly moved, arrived with both his leading ladies, Vinessa Shaw and Gwyneth Paltrow, the latter escorted by a friend, fashion designer Valentino. They all sat just a couple of rows ahead of me... how thrilling!

I walked the red carpet in a black Joseph pencil skirt, a beige Nina Ricci cropped jacket and a small, black vintage hat with a veil... I'm holding a small vintage Bottega Veneta bag - my only actual handbag!

Make sure to visit this blog again later today - I have surprises in store for you!

Cannes Film Festival Hotspot: Martinez Hotel

The Hôtel Martinez, where I am lucky to be staying again, is Cannes's most legendary hotel. It is famous for its intimate history with the Festival's film stars, but also for its Art Deco style, with dancing wrought iron lines on the balconies and the stairs. Guests have access to the hotel's private beach, from which you can admire the beautiful boats gathered at sea. The hotel's signature flowers are orchids, which adorn thee landings and the corridors.
My own personal favorite features here are the breakfast buffet (scrumptious!), the wooden sun deck outside the gym, on the hotel's top floor and finally, the toiletries in my room bathroom, all of which are scented with parfumeuse Annick Goutal's fresh and poetic Eau d'Hadrien...

One day I ran into Marie-Claude and Elsa, the two adorable ladies who do our room and all floor 6A. Eyelashes aflutter, they asked me, "Are you a star?"...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Sunday

Film directors Claude Lelouch, Michael Moore and Mathieu Kassovitz, actors Natalie Portman, Dean Cain, Goldie Hawn, Christian Slater and a fabulous Salma Hayek, with exquisite braids wrapped around her head, joined little moi on the red carpet tonight. We watched the world première of Indiana Jones's fourth and final (?) episode, The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, presented by Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford (with wife Calista Flockhart), as well as Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen and Shia LaBeouf.
I was sitting just a few rows behind the dream team... I wore a Masaki Matsushima silk dress, with burgundy Céline high heels. Make-up: Chanel black eye pencil and Diorshow mascara, that's it!

I have been a fan of Indiana Jones for as long as I can remember. In Raiders of the Last Ark, which I saw as a little girl, I loved the character of that tough and fierce woman, Marion, who returns in this episode in a much blander part. The film is full of surprises, both in terms of the characters and visually, with spectacular chase and fight scenes.
But what came over Spielberg when he decided to go X-Files on us? Without revealing too much about the plot, I'll just say that the film is complete with bulgy-skulled aliens, references to Roswell and, yes a flying saucer; really. And did I mention the passages into different time-space dimensions? Faking a Russian accent, Cate Blanchett is the fencing (yes, fencing) evil communist who's researching paranormal activities; really. As much as I wanted to love this film, I couldn't. Sigh.
The film, however, was enthusiastically cheered by the audience.

Cannes Film Festival - Saturday

What are Woody Allen, U2's Bono, legendary actress Jeanne Moreau, Penélope Cruz, Harry Weinstein as well as a strings of French actresses including Chiara Mastroianni, Elsa Zylbserstein, Michèle Laroque and the lovely Marina Hands, doing in the same room, sitting just a few rows away from me?

Well, it's a screening room, in the Palais des Festivals, where all have gathered to watch Allen's new opus, Vicky Cristina Barcelona - unfortunately, apart from a sublime Cruz and a shy Rebecca Hall, the film's other stars, namely Scarlett Johansson and Javier Bardem are not around. As Woody Allen walks the red carpet up the Palais's famous steps (les marches), the rain started pouring as if on cue and he looked like ha was acting in one of his own movies: he looks miserable, shrinks in his tux and sighs. Then he offers us a feature that's like a piece of candy, lovable, sweet, delicious, and familiar. As a raging wife, Cruz is actually hilarious, while a goofy Johansson also makes us laugh....
I fell for the classical Spanish guitar in the soundtrack - check it out.
This was one of the festival's most buzz-worthy night, and crowds of people who had invitations were left at the door. I was tremendously spoilt, as my amoureux let me go instead of him; he wasn't there to take pictures of my outfit - I wore an ancient cream-and-black lace top that my grandmother used to wear...
But girls walking the red carpet without a guy could be a trend: Elsa Zylberstein was dateless, while Chiara Mastroianni showed up hand in hand with two girlfriends.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Papparazza 1

The restaurant of the Plage Orange, a seaside hangout run by phone company and film production unit Orange, is the place to be seen...
Today Luc Besson, the cult director, whose Leon (English title: The Professional) and The Fifth Element were worldwide hits, was having a steak lunch there. So was the gorgeous French actress Alice Taglioni, whom you may have seen in the recent comedy La doublure (English title: The Valet)...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Cannes Film Festival - Friday

Cannes at last!
For my first red carpet this year, I wore my long black crepe Martin Margiela dress with a light silk Christian Dior cape... and a smile, adorned by MAC's Russian Red glamour.

We saw Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan's Üç Maymun (English title: Three Monkeys), a poignant film I can only describe as a psychological thriller. With his talent for framing, composition and colors, I want to imagine Ceylan was a painter in a previous life; some stills from the film are worthy of a magical visual artist's best work.
The actors are all extraordinary, but I was especially moved by the expressive and supremely beautiful Halice Aslan, the only woman in the movie.
On our way back to the hotel, on the Croisette, we ran into two of the film's leading actors, whom we were happy to congratulate. And after a glass of red wine at the very chic bar of the Hôtel Martinez, I came back to our room to make sure you, dear readers, would be updated promptly on Cannes...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thanks, my amoureux

A few days ago, I told you about my perfume, Penhaligon's Blenheim Bouquet. My amoureux gave me a companion present, also for my birthday: Penhaligon's exquisite sterling silver fragrance bottle, which dangles and chimes on a long chain. I carry Blenheim Bouquet everywhere, inhaling its lemon and pepper blend for a happiness boost.

Now aforementioned amoureux is making me yet another exciting gift: as he is heading for the Cannes Film Festival for work, he has invited me to tag along. We'll be staying at the supremely luxurious Martinez hotel, where many stars are just down the corridor, and will be walking the red carpet at night to attend screenings. Naturally I will cover this extraordinary event, with papparazzi snapshots, pictures of my red carpet outfits, party reports and, oh yes, film reviews.
If you can't wait for us to head for the Croisette, Cannes's sea-side boulevard leading to the Palais des Festivals, check out CannesGirl, my very own coverage of last year's Festival, where this picture was taken...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Thanks, Bloggers!

Marie, whose blog is an exquisite treasure trove, has just settled in Paris and yesterday I invited her to meet Benjy and have tea with homemade strawberry-peach crumble... I was thrilled to meet her! She spoilt me with wonderful strawberries and a bouquet of pink peonies. My favorite flowers, in that Schiaparelli hot pink I love - bliss!
Thank you, Marie...

I am a fan of Artycho's lovely creations and was delighted today as I received my first order from this artist and seamstress based in the English countryside. The navy blue Victorian-style bonnet, a model she named after me (!), is perfectly crafted, unbelievably pretty, and came in the most beautiful package ever! I'm eager to wear it - it's ideal for a someone with sun-sensitive skin like me. The talent of bloggers such as Artycho never ceases to amaze me. Thank you, Artycho!

Finally I'd like to thank Kwana, who like me owns an adorable pocket-size pooch, for giving me this Arte Y Pico award.
The icing on the cake: this award originated with a Uruguayan blogger!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Color Of The Season: Yellow

I read that yellow is the color of the season - witness Sonia Rykiel's beautiful new ads...
Challenging as it is to wear, especially for blondes, I like my acid yellow. I confine it to shoes though: my patent leather "Apple" flats by Charles Jourdan, and my Dr Scholl slides.

At the sound of the name Dr Scholl, some shiver and think Clunky, Anything But Chic. For me though, these Dr Scholls are very special.
Back in Uruguay, inspired my her aunt Raquel, a fearless and unconventional woman who got married in church in bright red and was a Scholl devotee, my mum started wearing Dr Scholls as a young woman. I saw her with this practical footwear all my life - she 's wearing a pair on in the picture above, taken during a vacation on Cape Cod in the mid 80's... My friends' French mums wore precious shoes, fancy heels, but they never seemed to play with their kids the way my mum did, with all her heart and her extraordinary energy, and to me, Dr Scholls came to epitomize what my mum is, an independent-minded woman whose appetite for exploration, fun and knowledge is boundless.
After Raquel and my mum, Laura, I carry on the Dr Scholl tradition. Only I wear them in pop yellow rather than clinical white.