Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Chad Gad Ya

Here we are at The Lowcountry Community Seder. The Emmett's, Jeff, me and a committee organized this affair and it was a great success. 79 people attended at the Hilton Head Country Club and enjoyed a delicious meal and a fun service. Jeff and Judy collaborated on the Hagaddah and Jeff produced it all by himself in a few days. He had it printed and bound and it was very impressive. We ate, sang, prayed and enjoyed good company.
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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Happy Birthday

Jeff threw me a fabulous bowling birthday party last night. I had told him no party for this milestone birthday and instead we went to Paris. But he felt we needed some celebration so twenty of our closest friends joined us for a sporting evening. Most of us had been decent bowlers many years ago and they, like us, have not bowled in years. Oh, the aches and pains and groaning. The first game was a disaster as we tried to remember the old moves. The second game went a little better, but we all limped out of there. Luckily the score is all done electronically now so all we had to do was talk, have fun and try not to fall down on the alley.

We had pizza and sodas during the bowling and then adjurned to the bar for my purple cake. Jeff tallied all the scores and gave out prizes. I won highest score for the women which really doesn't say much since I didn't even break 100 the first game. The pictures above show me with the cake, friends Jan and Judy, Jeff after a strike and my perfect form on the alley.
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Jeff and I were part of a group from our Temple that hosted a seder at Parris Island last week. Eight marine recruits attended along with two chaplains and their wives. We prepared a traditional seder meal and the recruits enjoyed the food, the service, and particularly the chocolate covered macaroons. They are not allowed chocolate during their training. I was in charge of making the potato kugels and preparing the seder plate. It was a wonderful experience for all of us and we were so glad to be a part of it bringing a bit of home to these brave young men and women.
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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream

Last night I was so tired I got in bed just after 9:00 pm. The phone rang and my friend Jan Trabb said, "Go outside and look at the moon." I said, "I'm in bed!" She replied, "Sorry, but go outside anyway and look at the moon." So Jeff and I trotted to the front walk and saw the most amazing sight. The moon was shining brightly among the stars in the clear night sky. Around the clear area was a cloudy circle that reached to earth and it was eerie and beautiful. It looked to me like a huge, round spaceship had descended to earth leaving a clear void in its wake.

I am now 60 and have never seen anything like this night sky. Jeff took a few photos and I went back to bed, but the memory lingers. Definitely worth getting up to see. This morning Jan said it is created by ice crystals and can be found on Google by searching "ring around the moon."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You've Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two...

OK - the song is from Oliver and it's British - but close to France. So this post begins with the scams similar to Oliver and Fagin's other little pickpockets.

There are musicians playing for money everywhere on the streets and the subway stations. Some subways and the train to Versailles had accordion players come in the car and serenade. Many people dug into their wallets and made donations. Ladies with babies strapped to them make their way through the subways and streets and beg also. There are also many grandmeres who stand near church entrances and in Montmarte we saw two men sitting and begging with their petite chiens reclining alongside in wooden boxes.

Rick Steves identifies three scams and we have experienced all three. First day near the Eiffel Tower we were approached by gypsy teenage girls with notes in hand asking if we speak English. Apparently they want you to read the note and then give them money. Scam two was near the Champs Elysees where a young man dropped a "gold" wedding band near us and then asked if it was ours. We said no, but he kept following and asking. I guess they think tourists are greedy and will say it is their ring and then give a reward. Of course the ring is not gold and is worthless. We got to see scam three in action near the base of Sacre Coeur. A young man approaches with several strings and asks you to watch. Luckily Jeff said no repeatedly and we escaped before he was able to make Jeff a bracelet and then ask for a tip.

So today we went from the sublime to the ridiculous. Our morning was devoted to visiting the Garnier Paris Opera. We rode the subway and stopped for a pastry on the way. The opera is in a former palace and a magnificent building which is, of course, under renovation. We admired the outside and then went in to buy tickets to tour the inside. To my horror they were rehearsing for tonight's performance of Jerome Robbins dances and the stage, seating and Chagall ceiling were all off limits. No Phantom of the Opera chandelier for us, but we went in anyway and loved what we did see. This place is a mini version of Versailles and the grand staircase alone was worth the admission. How incredible it must have been to arrive here in your carriage and walk up those stairs and meet and greet in the beautiful lounges and halls. They have a reception area similar to the Hall of Mirrors and lots of other open space to mingle and be seen. We were able to peek in and see the stage and box seats and we visited the small museum with costumes, sets and histories of past productions. This building now has concerts, dance and everything but opera. The new opera at Bastille Place is now where you go to see opera and the building is rather drab from the outside.

Next stop was shopping at Galleries Lafayette. This premier department store occupies a city block and then has two more stores for men and home goods. Inside we were amazed at the styles and varieties. Yes Judy, you are not in Bluffton anymore. We shopped for a foulard (scarf) for me and looked at the designer boutiques with outrageous fashions. We then proceeded to the cafeteria on the fourth floor with a wide selection of food and glorious views of the opera, Eiffel Tower and the city outside their huge windows. We liked the serve yourself soda bar which also had spigots for wine and beer. Eating and relaxing was good and then we proceeded to look around and saw the dome and decoratied balconies in the middle of the store.

Our afternoon plan was to view modern art at the Pompidou Centre. This place is 180 degrees from The Louvre and unbelievable that they are in the same city. The architecture is terrible (my opinion) and totally different from everything else around it. It is super modern with an external skeleton, exposed pipes, and escalators in clear tubes going outside the building. Have to say that the views are super and from the top floor we could see Sacre Coeur, Tour Eiffel and The Louvre. Inside the art begins in 1905 and quite different from what we've seen elsewhere on this trip. Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky and Chagall rule here and the rooms are stark with white walls and no decoration. It became very warm in this glass building and Jeff and I are not lovers of this art, although I do think Chagall is terrific. Luckily the collection is small and we saw everything in an hour and left. Much of the museum area is devoted to special exhibitions and we just didn't have enough steam left to handle any more.

Now we're back at our hotel, resting and thinking about dinner and packing. We have a shuttle picking us up at 8:30 am to take us to the airport. We've used the last of our Metro tickets and we're using up our Euros. Unbelievable that we've been here eight days and barely scratched the city. We finally have figured out where things are and Jeff has completely mastered the Metro, and there is still much more. So many small museums and neighborhoods to see. Hundreds of cafes and boulangeries. We had hoped to get to the theatre or a concert and never put it together. Like any great city you can spend a lifetime learning it and then start again as things change and renew. It's been a grand experience and I am so happy to finally see Paris for myself.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

La Marseillaise

I'm running out of French songs so we better go home soon. It's Tuesday night and we had another full and wonderful day. Got up a little earlier and had breakfast across the street in a cute patisserie. I had a buttery croissant with tea and Jeff had an apple tart with milk. Then we Metro'd to the Musee Orsay. It was a mob scene and we had to wait in the ticket line as our museum passes expired. The museum was to be one of the highlights for me and I was a little (lot) disappointed. They're doing major renovations and have moved everything around and also lots of important pieces are out on loan. When I tried to find Whistler's Mother I found she is on siesta in Madrid for the year. Hope she has a nice visit, but I missed seeing her. We did view lots of important pieces, but the temporary galleries had poor lighting and we had a hard time following our audio guide. Still a good experience and the building is impressive. It was formerly the train station.

Had a great lunch in a tiny restaurant where I ordered the cheese plate. Small wedges of brie and another soft cheese were arranged on a small salad along with goat cheese, walnuts and vinaigrette dressing. Add delicious French bread and I was in heaven. Actually the French eat this after their meal as a dessert, but I don't care. Jeff had tiny lamb chops and mashed potatoes. Most of you know that mashed potatoes are my favorite food and I haven't had any potatoes since we got here, so I was looking at Jeff's plate with lust. He let me have a taste and they were good. I did behave myself and one forkful was it for me as I didn't want to wrestle with Jeff in the restaurant. Most of these places have a long row of two top tables right next to each other. They pull the table out so you can slide in and sit on the banquette and the other person sits on a chair facing you. It's impossible to get out to use the "toilette" or wrestle until you are done eating and released from your seat. Another thing I've noticed is the bread basket. Every place has little wicker or metal baskets and none of them puts a napkin or doily in it. They don't even shake out the crumbs from the previous diners. I don't even want to think about it.

After our repast we got back on the Metro and travelled out to Montmarte. It was a gorgeous, sunny day and much warmer and a good time to explore this artsy area. We walked to the foot of the hill with gleaming white Sacre Coeur sitting atop. Looking at the many, many steps we decided to take the funicular up and that was a wise decision. At the top there were throngs of people and most were teens or twenty somethings. Lots of musicians with drums or guitars were playing on or near the steps and you had to weave around these groups and more just sitting and soaking up the atmosphere. From this high perch you look out at all of Paris below you and it is a picturesque scene. The church is Byzantine style and has many onion shaped domes. It's very beautiful and the inside has an incredible altar and ceiling. We sat for a while and walked around and then went to explore the surrounding area.

Lots of artists painting in the square and more cafe sitters watching life stroll by them. We found a good looking gelato store and treated ourselves to some tasty flavors. Walked past the shops with touristy merchandise and didn't find any art we wanted to purchase. We backtracked to the church foregoing a longer tour in our guidebook and walked down the many steps to the town. By this time we were tired and decided to go to an early dinner and back to the hotel.

The Metro system is so good and the signage is wonderful. Jeff has it all figured out and even has the system in his iPod so he can check which train to take while we're on the move. We decided to eat in Saint Germain and found a place with French food. There are hundreds of restaurants in this area and all of them have signs out front displaying their menus. Many have pimps who stand outside and try to lure you inside with the promise of free wine and desserts. One guy wanted us to eat at his Greek restaurant and just could not understand that I wanted French food. He should try his hand at used cars and could probably make a nice living.

So we settled in at a quiet place and I had a green salad with warm goat cheese and canard a l'orange. I know I don't usually eat meat, but just had a yen for duck and it was very good. Came with escalloped potatoes so I was a happy girl. Jeff had a nice steak with pommes frites and that always makes him smile. I finished it off with a nice mousse au chocolat and Jeff chose tarte tatin (apple) for his dessert. We're probably the only two people in Paris who don't drink wine with their meals, but no one gives us a hard time about it.

Walked back to our hotel which is a comfortable distance and took off a few calories. Now we're resting and reading and planning our activites for our last day in Paris.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Frere Jacques

Monday in Paris and we are busy people with so much to see and do. Slept delightfully late today and finally got up and out to do another walking tour. Today we started with Notre Dame and explored inside and out. Had lunch at a pretentious bistro on the Ile St. Louis and then walked across the Seine to St. Germain du pres. Cute and touristy area with cobblestone streets and lots of history. Crossed back across the Seine and visited Sainte-Chapelle which has magnificent stained glass windows.

Finally made our way to the docks of Bateaux Mouches and took a river cruise. How beautiful everything looks from the water and how important this river is to the city. By now it is 5:00 and we are tired and head back to rest. About 8:00 we got out to dinner near by and enjoyed talking with the locals who all seem to love tourists even if they are American. So far we think the French are charming hosts and they even pretend to understand our rudimentary conversation in their language.

Time for le lit maintenant.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Love Paris

J'aime Paris even though it is still winter here and quite cold. I had no idea it would be so chilly in March when we decided to come for my birthday. It is still lovely and we are having a great time. Jeff and I are staying in a small hotel on the left bank and convenient to walk to the Metro and Notre Dame and lots of restaurants and shopping. We are here for eight days and nights and so far enjoying every waking minute. I will download my tons of pictures when we return and do a daily post, but for now this will have to do.

First day we went up the Eiffel Tower at sunset and saw the city in light and darkness. Very cold up there, but exciting. First rides on the bus and Metro and found it easy to navigate and so far safe. The people are so nice and most speak English to us, but appreciate our speaking French. We are able to order food and get directions and ask for most things so we say "merci beaucoup" to our high school French teachers and wouldn't they be proud of us. We're just thrilled to remember anything we learned so long ago.

Day two we went to The Louvre and it is most impressive. Saw Mona and Venus and Winged Victory. They all said" hello" to all of you. We learned to ask for a carafe of d'eau which is a free carafe of tap water instead of an expensive bottle like Perrier. Special thanks to Rick Steves' and his guidebook for all the little tricks of buying museum passes and so much more. Walked out of The Louvre and into the Tuilleries and strolled to L'Orangerie where we saw Monet's Water Lilies stuck to the walls. So incredibly beautiful and lots more great art on the lower level displayed on concrete walls. Then we walked up the Champs Elysees and saw a military parade. Every night they present floral bouquets at the Tomb of the unknown soldier (at the foot of the Arch) and we were there and after eating we climbed the 284 steps to the top of the Arch and looked out at nighttime Paris. Somehow we made it home and into bed before our tired legs collapsed.

Day three is Friday so it must be Versailles. This would be incredible with the flowers blooming, but still worth the trip. We took the train and walked to the palace where we took the Rick Steves' iPod tour. Jeff had downloaded his tours onto our electronic devices and they worked great here and at The Louvre. Later we walked in the gardens and then took a tram to the Trianons and domicile de Marie Antoinette. That was my favorite part of the whole place - like a fairyland. Back in Paree we had dinner near our hotel in a small restaurant overlooking Notre Dame.

Saturday we booked a full day trip to Normandy and this turned out to be very special. My favorite part was visiting the American Cemetery where over nine thousand military men and women are buried by their families choice. It is a bucolic setting overlooking Omaha beach where so many of them gave their lives on D-Day and afterwards. We visited a few of the landing sites and learned lots about the invasion. Had lunch at a rustic farmhouse hotel with fine cuisine in their beautiful dining room. I'd definitely stay there if I were to visit the area again and there is so much to see in addition to the WWII sites. Lots of tiny villages and old churches and cemeteries that would be fun to explore. Got back in time to rest and go out to dinner at a local Italian bistro with cheesy pizza and eggplant parmesan.

Today is Sunday and we had a full day planned and accomplished everything. Got up late and walked to St. Sulpice Church which played a big part in the book, "DaVinci Code." Got there at the end of mass and toured the building and saw their three Delacriox murals. Then at noon we went through a secret door and up a concrete spiral staircase to the choir loft. There we saw one of Europe's famous organs being played by Daniel Roth, who is one of the world's best organists, or so says Rick Steves. It all sounded wonderful to me and was exciting to stand next to this behemoth intrument and watch it being played by a master. Left the church and browsed the book stalls along the Seine. Then we headed to the flower and bird market on the Ile de la Cite. Saw some amazing birds and more varieties of bird seed than I knew existed. Next stop was a walking tour of Le Marais. In the subway we heard a great klezmer band and really enjoyed listening for a while. Started our tour in a posh shopping area similar to SOHO and then it became very Jewish with falafel stands and kosher bakeries. We had lunch at a busy place with outstanding falafel and hummus. Jeff had schnitzel and we were both happy. Continued our walk with a visit to the Holocaust Museum. This is a building with maximim security and excellent exhibits about the French, the Jews and the war. Outside is a wall with names of the righteous Gentiles and inside names of all the French deportees and later walls and walls of their photographs. In between a complete history of the Jews in France through WWII. Wish we had more time there as they closed at 6pm and made us leave. We did have time to stop for a carafe of wine and relax before the short walk home which happened to pass Notre Dame. The scenery here is unbelievable and it all looks just like a picture postcard. We're back at our room now and resting before we eat again and go to sleep. Lots more on the agenda for tomorrow.