Monday, March 31, 2008

Avenida Gorlero

Punta del Este's Avenida Gorlero is Uruguay's Champs-Elysées or Fifth Avenue, its most famous and chic avenue. In cafés, such as El Greco or La Pasiva, you'll actually be charged as much as in Paris for coffee! (Shhhhhh, don't tell my grandma I patronize these places or I'll be lectured on my shameful wastefulness). At the end of the little streets that run perpendicularly to Golero is my beloved Atlantic Ocean.
Among fabulous ice-cream parlors and fancy shoe stores (together with meat, leather is the foundation of Uruguay's economy), are several super-well-stocked bookstores. Latin American literature became dear to me when I was in junior high in Hong Kong (!) and a Peruvian Spanish teacher introduced me to Cortázar (arguably my favorite short-story writer), Borges, García Marquez, Onetti, and many more. I love having a frothy cortado with some good reading... This week, I bought volumes by authors whose works I have yet to discover: Argentina's Silvina Ocampo, and Chile's Roberto Bolaño (whose novel Los detectivos salvajes was enthusiastically covered in American papers when it was translated into English a few months ago). Check them out! (Shhhhhh, don't tell my grandma I spend money on books or I'll be lectured on my shameful wastefulness.)

I was delighted to find out that
Fashion Ivy
had awarded me an Excellent Blogger distinction!
Thank you so much, she said, blushing...

Feria de Maldonado

Punta del Este, with its endless beaches, chic cafés and stores such as Louis Vuitton and Fendi, where only wealthy foreign tourists can shop, is Uruguay's pride. However, I much prefer nearby Maldonado, a quiet town with age-old landmarks - I will make sure to feature some this week on this blog.

Every Sunday, Maldonado is the stage of a feria (outdoor market) where the country's bounty is displayed.
Families walk around buying superb seasonal produce, as they munch on tortas fritas (fried cakes) and panchos (hot dogs), with their mate handy. Very much Uruguay's national beverage, caffeine-packed, super bitter mate is made with the leaves of a shrub and boiling water, and drunk in spherical, leather 'cups' with a silver straw.

Local cheese, dried herbs for infusions and seasoning as well as honey are also sold.
With the vegetables, people will make pascualina, a delicious spinach-and-egg pie, or empanadas, pastry pouches with yummy filling. As in Argentina, a significant portion of the population is of Italian descent (including my own late great-grandmother, Nonna Chinita), so at the feria you'll find everything you need to make potato-based gnocchi, fresh pasta and sauces...

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Blogging from Punta del Este

It was a 14-hour flight from Paris to Buenos Aires, where I changed airports and waited at Aeroparque a couple of hours. The bus from Ezeiza to Aeroparque drove on a wide, modern freeway before venturing into the streets of Agrentina's capital; as I was wondering why we left the freeway, the answer appeared before my eyes: said freeway ends abruptly, and was left unfinished.At least it gave me a chance to glance at Buenos Aires again, a city I love. I had some sweet, delicious croissant-like medialunas and had a cortado (similar to an Italian caffè macchiato), the latter at an airport cafe amusingly called La Madeleine... Then a small airplane flew me over the Rio de la Plata to Montevideo, where my grandma was waiting for me. In balmy weather and Uruguay's beautifully rich light, we drove me to Punta del Este, somme 110km (75 miles) away.
Home at last!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Off to Uruguay!

Tonight I am flying to Uruguay to see my dear abuela. I will be blogging from Punta del Este and Montevideo, to share with you all kinds of austral treasures...
As a special preview, I thought I'd show you this poster, which I bought at the Torres Garcia museum in Montevideo a few years ago and that has been adorning my room ever since. A major Uruguayan artist, Torres Garcia sketched this humorous América Invertada where the South is at the top and the North at the bottom.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I am a Kashmiri

I am a Kashmiri was a leitmotif and a source of pride in the life of the extraordinary Indian stateswoman Indira Gandhi, whose biography I just read...
As a tribute to Indira's beloved Kashmir I thought I'd post on one of my favorite treats, Kashmiri tea. I first had it during a trip to Ladakh, in the Indian Himalayas. This regal, sugar-packed drink blends green tea and many spices, of which precious cardamon is my favorite. I keep my Kashmiri tea mix in a sleek wood box. What's your favorite spice?

In her memoir (worth reading!) Under My Skin, which I read last week, Doris Lessing says few novels can rival with well-researched, well-written biographies, and I may agree... My interest in historical bios was sparked by a gift, Carmen Cahill's excellent Bad Faith, on the life of the loathsome Darquier, a Frenchman who fervently promoted the German agenda in occupied France during WW2.
After Bad Faith, I read bios focusing primarily on the lives of incredible women: Anne Somerset's Elizabeth I, Caroline Weber's Queen of fashion (on Marie-Antoinette), Amanda Foreman's Georgiana and finally, Katherine Frank's Indira. All are remarkable reads.

Monday, March 24, 2008

A present from abuela: fashion treasures

My abuela (grandmother in Spanish) got married in her native Uruguay in the late 1940's. She was 20 and literally a beauty queen. Last week sent me something very special: some of the items made for her on the occasion of her marriage - her trousseau.
Her mother Inés, who died a couple of years ago, still an elegant and graceful lady at the age of 100, was a master seamstress who, with her sisters, owned a chic clothes store in Montevideo, so only the most beautiful fabrics and exquisite cuts were used for my abuela's trousseau: glossy silks, fine lace, all impeccably crafted.
They are in pristine condition, and thanks to new trends in fashion, many have become perfect to wear not only to bed, but also outside, if paired with other, less revealing garments - the sheer fabrics are why I didn't model these clothes as I usually do.
One nightgown comes with a matching little 'jacket' (2nd pic from top: the nightie's cream lace trimmings; top left-side pic: the jacket). This jacket would be perfect with jeans and a black tee. I love the peach-colored muslin skirt with strips of black lace, and the knee-length buttoned silk white dress I'm dying to wear with a white tee and leggings or just shorts.
I'd love to hear your advice on how to wear these outside the house...
Gracias, abuela querida (and don't kill me because I disclosed information that will allow people to figure out your age...).

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Spring in Paris: the Promenade Plantée

Our weekend Parisian flower series continues with these pink blossoms from the Jardins de Reuilly.
A little-known Parisian treasure is the Promenade Plantée, a green strip stretching across the 12th arrondissement from the Bois de Vincennes, on the Eastern edge of Paris, to the Bastille. You can actually walk all the way from one end to the other without setting foot on the streets - a plus for Benjy, who dislikes urban noises... A few blocks before reaching the Bastille, the Promenade actually shifts to the rooftops of the trendy design boutiques on the avenue Daumesnil.
The Jardins de Reuilly are located along the Promenade; it's a cool place for picnics, and if you bring a laptop, you can go online, as wi-fi is available in most of Paris's public gardens.
By the way, does anyone know what those trees are?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Happy Persian New Year!

Eid Mubarak!
March 21 is the first day of spring, and it's also the Persian New Year, when Iranians around the world celebrate with mouthwatering feasts (rice with fresh herbs is a favorite) and presents of live goldfish (yes, really!).
This Persian holiday means a lot to me because as I mentioned in a recent post, when I was a little girl I used to live in Tehran (top picture - I am 18 months and in my mum's arms), where I developed a regrettable taste for caviar - not one I can indulge often. It was 1978-1979, the time of the Islamic revolution and we had to flee before my family could explore the many artistic, architectural and natural treasures of this country.

Ever since, I have felt an intense longing for Iran and have rejoiced in the friendship of Persian friends from Paris to LA. Many also fled their country in 1979 and this gives us an instant connexion, even if what they lost is incomparably more considerable than what we left behind. I love their warmth, their extraordinary sense of hospitality and exquisite, if sometimes over the top politeness, their wonderful food and their pride in a culture that boasts breathtaking masterpieces in poetry, visual arts, architecture,film and music; on the internet, I often listen to hypnotic traditional Iranian rhythms on
If anyone has Persian books to recommend, don't hesitate to share!

Today I'd like to thank all my Iranian friends for their precious generosity. And to celebrate the Persian new year, here's a poem by Omar Khayyam, the 11th century astronomer, mathematician and bard:

This Universal wheel, this merry-go-round
In our imagination we have found
The sun a flame, in the Cosmic lantern bound
We are mere ghosts, revolving, the flame surround

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

British Museum (3)

On the floor of the British Museum's entrance, a beautiful engraved quote by the poet Tennyson celebrates eternal knowledge...

In the dimly-lit Prints & Drawings room, I admired a frustratingly small number of exhibits from the institution's sumptuous collection... I longed to see Dürer's botanical drawings, and am also told the museum has some original illustration by the wonderful Beatrix Potter, but at this time they are not displayed...
(Oh well, I guess I will have to go back!)

Goya is one of my very favorite painters so was thrilled to see these prints, that paved the way for his famous Caprichos. His Gothic imagination conjures up dream-like scenes of ecstasy and madness, don't you agree?

Also on display was the museum latest addition to the Prints collection, namely this large (and actually colorful) portrait of a girl smoking, by Julian Opie.

I spent most of my time with the Youth on Horseback, a Roman statue dating back to the first century AD. I have always loved horses, ever since I started riding as a three-year-old in Kenya; their graceful legs and tender eyes bring me endless joy. This little marble horse, with its boyish rider, seems to be dancing lightly to an ancient fife-and-drum march...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Streets of London

This weekend I was in London, where the buds of spring were already all over the city. These pictures of flowering tree branches were taken on the bustling Neal Street, by Covent Garden, that boasts some cool stores such as the hip cosmetics emporium Space NK Apothecary - no, I didn't buy anything... What I did buy was Turgenev's First Love; I read it years ago but couldn't remember much. I can never get enough of Russian literature (my mum got me hooked when she gave me Anna Karenina at the tender age of 12! I have since read Tolstoy's masterpiece in 3 different translations...). Penguin is publishing a Great Love series, with exquisite covers and a fine selection of titles - I want them all!
Tomorrow we will head for the British Museum...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Doors of Paris

Here are two doors from around my neighborhood. I love their colorful mosaics.

I will be out of town this weekend, so there won't be a Flowers of Paris post. I'll be back on Monday with plenty of surprises, including tales of my weekend and amazing presents I just received from my grandmother in Uruguay (hint: 1940's silk).

Among these gifts was a very special book: Idea Vilariño, one of my favorite poets and an elderly Uruguayan lady, signed a copy of her Poemas de Amor for me; the dedication reads Para Marie-Laure, desde lejos, Idea. (For Marie-Laure, from afar, Idea). Here's one of her poems (translation by moi), typical her laconic but poignant style:

Dónde el sueño cumplido
y dónde el loco amor
que todos
o que algunos
tras la serena máscara
pedimos de rodillas.

(Where is the fulfilled dream
and where is the mad love
that all of us
or some
from behind the peaceful mask
beg for on our knees)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

And tweeds, tweeds, tweeds!

And tweeds, tweeds, tweeds!
So enthuses Elsa Schiaparelli when outlining her style guidelines in her autobio Shocking Pink, which I talked about last weekend on this blog.

This, and Paris's biting cold, has made me want to wear again my dear tweedy Nina Ricci dress (the "troubadour" model). It's wonderfully warm and stylish; to make it look less ladylike (how I abhorr laldylike outfits!), I fasten the skirt with a punk safety pin and wear it with a gray hoodie.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A new chair

This is my very first furniture post!
My new chair is made of wood, like the floors in my apartment. I lovingly cleaned it up yesterday and my room is still fragrant with the warm, spicy smell of wax...

I spent my childhood all over the world, in rentals where my family didn't own the furniture and where we may have to leave everything behind. We were living in Iran in 1979, in the midst of a violent revolution, when a phone call came, urging us to head for the airport with no luggage; so we fled this dear, beautiful country. Years later in Iraq, my parents kept a pouch with our passports and some cash at hand at all times because it was a possibility that again, we may have to depart at once, taking nothing with us.

These experiences, and obsessive readings about the occupation of Paris during WW2, when Parisians abandoned everything to the Germans, have made me very wary of "stuff"; always, at the back of my mind, is the notion one may lose everything, so I keep my possessions minimal.
(Curious about the occupation of Paris in the 1940's? Irène Nimérovsky's extraordinary, if unfinished, novel Suite Française, whose manuscript was discovered decades after the author died in Auschwitz, is a must-read)

Still, I love having friends over and they need to sit somewhere, don't they?