Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rough around the edges

I was letting my mind wander yesterday as I am want to do and a little question popped into my head: "Where have all the freaks gone?" Now, that was the question but I should explain the context. I have been thinking about youth and the roles we play while groping our way, sometimes literally, towards adulthood. How we find our little slot, our niche and stick to it ferociously as if the world is spinning so fast, if we aren't firmly attached to our identity, we might just fly off it.

I was a Goth. No really, I was. I gave my personality over to a very romantic darkness, one that had absolutely nothing to do with anything sinister. No, I would read Byron and Yeats and Shelley and wonder why I couldn't be a vampire with eternal life to roam the planet endlessly through the night. That sort of thing. And I dressed the part. Ripped stockings, black satin Victorian jackets. A lace veil that when I would wear over my face would frighten away even solid New Yorkers. Silver rings on each pale finger, many of them in the form of skulls. A bright red slash across my lips and kohl-lined eyes in homage to Louise Brooks. Only my hair, a brighter red than its current shade, remained untainted in accordance to a promise that I had made to my Mom. But I would shave it or push it up, pull it down over one eye, brush it into a Marie Antoinette and powder it white. What fun I would have. Dressing up in a vintage three-piece from Saville Row, with high heels, an elaborately carved cane bought in Cairo and a leather top hat placed just so. I turned some heads.

What was this imperious need within me to express...something like a scream of life? Something huger than human, more than "I exist!" because at that age, our skin crawls with the knowledge of being. True, I was most certainly an outsider and so not "normal" but wasn't it something we all felt each in our own way? The epic surge of an athlete, the proud swanning of the beauty across the cafeteria? There is something desperate about it, the extremes of youth. 

And so where have all the freaks gone? What happens afterwards? For me, the transition was fairly natural. As I began acting, I had a more solid outlet to express those large feelings and needed to be more flexible in my appearance professionally. It just sort of fell away, was already nearly gone in the photo below. But I wonder sometimes about someone like the wraith-like Todd Ballantyne, who was so admired and feared with his hair over-dyed and over-sprayed until it seemed like it would break off at the points. What did adulthood make of him? How did normality over-take him? Or did it? Is it just the weight of our existence, the everyday bumps and bruises that eventually makes us smaller? That smoothes down the edges.

There is nothing today that would give the slightest hint to my former appearance. Save perhaps a proclivity towards wearing black. 

*Now that I think of it, that question was not random at all. I have been listening to the song "Video Games" by Lana Del Rey for the past few days now. It is someone else's youth, certainly but also speaks to me of how we mythologize it, even while in the midst of it. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Provence Prestige

Cheers! The other evening I was invited to partake in the opening of Provence Prestige here in Arles and so yes, a tiny kir was in order. After all, these Provençal know how to do Christmas shopping right. No Black Fridays here! Ah, but that doesn't mean there aren't crowds. Over 30,000 visited last year during five days and peak periods can be shoulder to shoulder. Why the fuss? There are 150 booths to discover, all selling the very best of "Made In Provence." Perfect for Christmas gifties! 

So what can we...dénicher? What little treasures can be dug up?

Perhaps some santons to create your very uniquely french Nativity scene? Characters of all sorts are represented--I had my eye on the chef!

The Indiennes de Nimes booth is filled with all that is needed for a luxurious weekend in the Camargue--custom boots, leather satchels and cashmere scarves. Perfect for a ride or hunt through the marshes.

Libellule, a shop in Saint-Remy, had a gorgeous stand filled with so much coziness for the home. Who wouldn't want to snuggle up in a soft baby alpaca blanket? Brun de Vian-Tiran has been manufacturing such luxury items in Provence since 1808. There are even soft and stylish throws for the puppers! Ben just might be finding one under the tree...

Although the packaging left much to be desired, I was impressed by the quality as well as the concept behind the products presented by Senteurs du Sud. The company only uses organic products that are bought directly from the source and under ethical conditions. Their Scent of the Month collection includes a wide range for the home and body, with a different perfume to reflect the very distinct months here in Provence. Colline, or hill, for the month of May, would be the olfactory suggestion of my previous post! Their eau de toilettes are based on natural essences, something increasingly rare in our synthetic society. I am also looking forward to trying out their line of Argan oil products--especially for my crispy winterized hair.

Yes, all of this is nice enough but then there is the...Food Hall. Whoohoo! My friend Claire stacked up on madeleines for the holidays, some stuffed with chestnuts others with figs. Foolishly, I resisted and missed out on a future Proustian moment, to be sure.

We also were crazily charmed by every single item at Rue Traversette. We very well might have tasted each of their modern vintage spreads--chestnut and clementine was my favorite! Baby carrots preserved in cinnamon vinegar with honey? Yes, that too. It may sound funky but it is all made with a simplicity that just plain works.

But the choices were endless--raviolis from Royan, anchovies from Marseille. As Remi had driven six hours to go to a photo shoot and back, I brought him home a bottle of wine, andouillettes from the Luberon and a sun-dried tomato mozzarella spread. Needless to say, he smiled.

Claire and I were among the last to leave. With more time on my hands, I would have asked the price of the charming fruits confits in the shapes of tiny croissants and pain au chocolat. Ah, maybe next year! 

If this is indeed the beginning of the Christmas season, then I must say it is off to a fine start...

For those of you in the region, Provence Prestige runs through Monday evening and the tarif is 6€ per person. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Touch of grace

I was in need of a view. Arles, despite its charms, can be claustrophobic. Closed in by Roman walls and an old-fashioned mentality, it can feel almost like living on an island. At times I need to move beyond the barriers to breathe. 

We all have our magic places. Whether it be the fort made under the dining room table or a solitary stretch of beach on the other side of the planet, there are certain spaces that just make us feel at home with ourselves. 

I know how lucky I am to have several such spots right here in Provence. Areas that resonate beyond beautiful. 

We only had a bit of time. Remi had worked all day and at present I can count the moments of the sunset on my fingers and toes. So I asked for a sure thing, rather than go exploring. A certain lieu that never fails to put a smile on all of our faces.

There is a trail that starts just before the Dalmeran winery in St.-Etienne-de-Gres, one nibbled on by the rains and rough with rocks.  But at the first turn, the ascent opens to a sweep across the Vallée du Rhone. And then I can let out a long exhale. 

Already a creeping feeling of something mysterious mounts at the back of my neck. Moss-covered steps lead up to a cave dwelling that has housed who knows how many way-ward travellers, shepherds and bandits. And yet there is nothing frightening here.

Time to keep moving on, to make the most of the lingering light. Ben has bounded ahead, with his most  frenetic bunny hop, back paws swinging side to side, ears flapping. He turns to egg me on and up.

Yes, and then there she is. Nôtre-Dame-du-Chateau. This tiny chapel tops the Saint-Michel-de-Briançon hill, just as it has for centuries (the first mention of it dates back to 1180). A guardian, then. And although, she is tiny in comparison to her Parisian counterpart, she is mighty in grace.

Once I make that last push to arrive at the back of the church, I always do the same thing: sit down on the grass and watch. The light, the birds flying over head, Ben rolling on his back in delight.

Remi is usually taking photos. Me too. But then I settle in and let the quiet wash over me. Always, always that gift of...peace. 

For this Thanksgiving, I hope that I can share a bit of it with you, no matter what country you are in. Whether it is just another day, as it is here in France or if it is a grand fête and you are surrounded by loved ones.

I know that I have said it before, but it bears repeating how grateful I am to have you all here. For the connections that we have made and the happiness shared.

I am feeling especially blessed this year actually. For my wonderful Remi, my charmer Ben, my beautiful Sister and my adventurous Mom. For our health and that the wheel of fortune seems to be creaking in to a turn. We just might make a special meal tonight but if not I don't mind. The warm glow in my heart is all that really matters on this special day.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Patina Style

A beret of gray capped the sky as I opened the shutters this morning. Monday, Monday, Monday after a weekend that disappeared with a puff. I had slept poorly, stifled by odd dreams. Not even the cinnamon-scented coffee that I clutched in my chilled hands could pull me towards a decent mood. And then the buzzer rang. "Oui, bonjour?" I croaked out groggily. "C'est la Poste, j'ai un colis pour vous." Really? Instantly, the prospects of the day brightened. 

When I saw whom the package was from, my heart did a little loopity-loop. I ran back up to the second floor, lifting it above the reaches of Ben, who was waiting for me impatiently, doing that sly tail wag that makes a Golden golden. Cardboard ripping followed by careful unraveling of tightly tied string and voila! My friend Brooke Giannetti had surprised me with a beautifully dedicated copy of the book that she has created with her husband and partner, Steve Giannetti, Patina Style. Do you know Brooke and her exceptional blog, Velvet & Linen? I am assuming that you do, as she is a well-known figure, especially in the small big world of blogging. But the journalist in me says, "never assume" so if by chance you don't, by all means click over...just as soon as you have finished this post (ah-hem).

Brooke inspires me--and we are talking about in the every day variety--not only by what she does but also by who she is. In our cynical, rough and tumble culture, we all need reminders that yes, hard work does pay, sometimes the good guy finishes first, not last and even if our best hatched plans go awry, it is not the end of the world. Despite her success, she is consistently generous with her time and efforts--including having mentioned me and this blog (despite it's being so small), which might just be the reason why some of you are here. Hurrah! She is one of the people that I consider myself lucky to know, even though we haven't met...yet.

The book that she and Steve have made truly comes from the heart and is a paean to their appreciation of the imperfect, the well-lived. The girl in me who identified heavily with the Island of Misfit Toys can't help but appreciate this but it equally appeals to my aspirations towards a simplified elegance that has nothing to do with a big budget. In a time where showplaces rule, they are more interested in creating welcoming environments where good experiences are waiting to happen, a balm to our hectic world. There is nothing pretentious in their aesthetic, nor do they dumb down to reach a wider public. If I have peaked your curiosity (and I hope that I have), the book can be found at:

After being sold out for months, it is indeed in stock. Just in time...

Friday, November 18, 2011

At light's end

It most certainly is November, tout d'un coup. The Christmas decorations are up, the light is giving its last, most magnificent hurrah before sliding into slumber. At the end of this long week, this long year, I am frankly too tired to be verbose. I hope that these photos, taken on a walk last week in Arles, will make you happy all on their own, without much in the way of commentary.

However, one thing really worth mentioning is the respect that I have for my Mom. Well, always but most certainly today. For she is taking off on a three-week journey through Nepal and India to retrace where Buddha lived. I am so proud of her (and all of us) that decide to keep taking the risks that are right in front of our noses and are all the scarier for it. 

It is not an obvious or easy choice for my Mom to have made but one born out of a certain or uncertain necessity. Similarly, I love to look at Ben, using his sniffer to guide him as he goes. That is the best of life, when we unfold our stubborn cardboard wings to dare, if not to fly, then at least to stand expanded. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


This is going to be a very short post as I am heading back up to la region parisienne for a couple more days of photo shoots. But look at this little potato. Now, I ask you, are you as superstitious as I am? I couldn't bring myself to cut it! What if it really was a little heart? A symbol for our love? No, best to take the silly route and leave it whole just in case. It got me thinking to my many tiny rituals, little gestures that I have to help keep my universe in order. True, as a former actress, I tend towards the highly superstitious. No crossing under ladders, no crossing black cats, and I always have to say "I love you" before getting off the phone with my dear ones. 

And you?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I love everything, deux

Remi and I were walking through Disneyland Paris. Night had just fallen. We were tired and tripping over our feet, trying to weave through the crowds. Suddenly the loud speakers barked out an announcement: "Please welcome Princess Aurora and her court!" White lights tracked to a stage that was instantly filled with dancers dressed in full Louis XIV regalia. The music began to swell. 

"I know you, I walked with you once upon a dream...I know you, that gleam in your eyes seems so familiar to me..." 

Despite myself, I started to sway in the dark, embarassed at first at my sentimental behaviour. Then I gave in and drank down the memories from long ago, covered by the shadows cast by a too full moon. For childhood still lives in us if we let it. We all know this. The capacity to beauty so close it is a second skin...

To let our hearts open and open and open....

I hope that you have enjoyed this second set of photos of Aix-en-Provence. It is no Disneyland, it is a real, bustling town but it can have the same effect for an adult like me. Both are most certainly worth the visit, for we all need to let ourselves dream now and again...