Bloody jet lag. I was tossing and turning in the hotel bed, and I ended up checking the time. 5 o’clock. Damn it. What to do? New York was still dark. I stood up and decided to prepare myself a coffee. I gulped down a few cereals – I had fallen asleep shortly after 6pm yesterday, and I was famished. I started thinking. What I badly needed was a run. Not a fast run, just a run to live and breathe New York. There was no two ways about it. I needed to go. The day was slowly starting, and the light was peeking through at the top and the bottom of the curtains. Mechanically, I started to put on my running gear. Me being me, I was a bit scared. I have always had second thoughts before starting a run. Especially in the morning. Today was no exception. This wasn’t any run: I was in new York! Was Central Park safe? What if I got lost? I squeezed 20$ in my pocket. And what if it was too warm? Or too cold? Would I need my sunglasses? I tried to shut up my inner voices. Come on, let’s jog in central Park today.
I shouldn’t have worried. Our hotel was on 8th Avenue, close to Time Square, and I started running. Jogging in New York was nothing short of incredible. If, like me, you think that the first 10 to 15 minutes of a run are excruciating, then you totally need to go to New York. You run along a block, and then you stop to cross the road. You have no choice but to wait a few seconds to recover, and you can begin to run again. Somehow it made the much-dreaded start of my run a lot easier. It was 6 o’clock and New York was already in full swing, with cohorts of tourists already walking the pavement. The various smells of the city surprised me: there was a smell of warm bins first, quickly followed by a smell of bleach. Yes, bleach. Yellow taxis were waving at me, trying to convince me that I needed a ride. Of course I didn’t. I reached Columbus Circus in no time, and quickly saw that all of New York was already walking, running or cycling in Central Park. I started to run clockwise. The buildings had vanished, I was in a forest. I had gone from urban jungle to a completely different world, full of grass and trees, and everything had happened in the space of a few seconds. It was like science fiction. There were already plenty of runners of all shapes and ages. I quickly learned that, in New York, you don’t look at each other. You don’t greet each other. You just run. You run and let run. And it was impossible to get lost, because there is a dedicated lane for runners. I just had to follow the flow. I was never alone for more than 5 seconds. Oh, and like in my good old home country (France), you ran on the right. Yep, we were not in London any more…
It all started when I found a Mongolian minister in my kitchen. Unbeknownst to me until a couple of hours before, my husband had invited some high-ranking officials to discuss yet another important business deal.
The whole episode had sent me into panic mode: what type of food would I give them? What did Mongols like? I had no idea. I therefore decided to play the French card with some champagne and canapés as aperitifs, and the menu was all about fish and colourful ingredients. You see, I like colourful, fresh dishes: there was samphire and tomatoes, sweet potatoes and French mayonnaise, salmon and cod, prawns and crabs, and rouille and mustard too. And the dessert was all about tartes tatins, eclairs au chocolat and fraisiers. They seemed a bit surprised to have fish, and I am not sure that they warmed up to samphire. They clearly preferred the lovely baguette hastily bought at my local French baker. But the desserts were a massive hit. To be fair, I have yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like tarte tatin. Whatever the nationality, some things never change.
If you follow me on Twitter you probably already know that I went to Birmingham last Friday. I had a lovely time with food critic legend Paul Fulford and hugely talented journalist Sanjeeta Bains. But here is the whole story…
Life can be such a tease. The last time I went to Birmingham was over 10 years ago, and I must admit that I was really pleased not to have to go back. The truth was that I had had a bit of a tough time there. For instance, I will always remember the day I arrived at Birmingham. I used to work for a French company called Alstom as a Transport executive, and was assigned to help on the Pendolino project. I took a cab from the airport, where I had landed from Paris. We went straight to Washwood Heath, where the factory was. There was some sort of car boot sale going on, and sofas were lying on the street, together with old TVs, tables and chairs. The cab driver had to slalom in and out of the furniture to eventually reach our destination. What a journey, I thought to myself. Little did I know that it was only the start.
I paid the cab driver, and went to the security booth. The guard was clearly in the middle of his cup of tea, and sighed deeply when I started talking to him. He eventually called my contact in the factory:
“I have a lady from an exotic country for you at the entrance.”
Right, I thought, this will not be easy.
I think that I am now a true Brit. It is the only possible explanation, right? Hear me out: I am insanely happy to spend a few days in Provence. Seriously, what’s not to like? The light is to die for, the beaches are empty, the food is fresh, tasty and healthy, and so on, and so forth…
That said, it turns out that I seem to be the only one to be happy. Restaurant terraces are empty, and owners are grumpy because of the ever-rising taxes. Shops are desert. People don’t smile. They don’t joke. They don’t laugh.
Despite the sun and the outstanding beauty of my region, everybody was complaining about the wind today. Seriously?
I am spending a week in my home country, which is nice. And you should see the light in Provence! Priceless. On the train to Paris, we were sitting next to a group of friends. They didn’t understand why everybody kept addressing them in English. What was it that was giving away their nationality? They were baffled. They had hidden all British newspapers, and spoke good French. Impressive, right? I couldn’t help being amused. It was obvious that they were not French, if you ask me. Why? Well, should you want to try your luck and pretend you are French, there are things that we French wouldn’t do. But fear not: I have written a short list for you. In fact, the group of friends was breaching at least three of these cardinal rules (I will let you guess which ones. Hint: it shouldn’t be too difficult!)…
I don’t know how women can work in this country. Right now, I can’t seem to be able to get anything done. This is because my daughters are on holidays for the next three weeks. Yep, you read this right. As much as I love them, I need a break. The thing is, because I happen to be an expat, I have no family in London to help me. To make matters even worse, because of my husband’s job, I have implicitly landed the job of sole carer of the kids. My guess is that I am not the only woman in such a situation. As a result, the only way to get some elusive me-time is to find a babysitter for a couple of hours. Once again, it is easier said than done. So here is today’s deal: I am going to travel from the comfort of my own home. I am going to list my dream top 3 travel bucket list destinations. Dreaming can’t hurt, right? And we will dream about such magical places together. Because dreaming about them is all I can do anyway. So bear with me, and enjoy the journey:
I want to see the Northern Lights. It started with a visit to the Norwegian church in London a few weeks ago, and I have been thinking about the Northern lights ever since. I want the whole experience: the glistening white landscapes, the fairy-tale ice hotels and the romantic husky-sled rides. And of course, I want to see the sky ablaze with a green, swirly light. I want to witness an aurora borealis. That said, above all, I want some peace and quiet. No tantrums, no noise, just the sound of the wind and the biting cold. I know that seeing the green skies cannot be guaranteed. But I must admit that I want to give it a try. It is an experience.
It is the small things that matter, right? When I was living in Paris, I remember seeing this painting on a building wall. It usually was at the end of my day of work. I was insanely happy to go home. And for me this was what happiness looked like. I am glad I took a picture of it, because I can’t remember exactly where it was. Well, I thought I did, but somehow I couldn’t find it again last time I was in Paris. Maybe the owners of the building were not too pleased about it and removed it. Seriously, what a shame! Miss Tic used to paint all over Paris walls. It was always about ageless sexy dark-haired women, with a line poetry and a wordplay. I used to believe that it was like a treasure hunt. You took a right turn and Voila! the painting was in front of you.
|Miss Tic, Paris XIII
I had an unusual weekend. You see, I needed a break but couldn’t travel (because of children, work, responsibilities and all this. I know, all very boring, right?). I shouldn’t have worried. After all, this is London. What to do? Deborah of Shared-City had the perfect solution for me. I spend most of my Sunday with the Norwegian and the Finnish communities. Without living London. Yep, you read this right.
Let me explain: we met at 10.30 am at Rotherhithe station. I didn’t know it, but Rotherhithe has a long history as a port. This is because, after the London fire in 1666, timber was exported from the Nordic countries to rebuild the city. As a result, there is a Norwegian church, as well as a Finnish one, near Rotherhithe. They are not on their original sites, obviously, but have remained there. I must shamefully admit that despite having lived in London for more than a decade, this is a side of London that I didn’t even know existed. And to make matters even worse, I shop at Decathlon in Canada Water regularly, which is literally a five minutes walk from where I was yesterday. So much for thinking that I was a Londoner.
Today I would like to talk to you about a little bag usually favoured by men, where you have just enough space to put what you need for an overnight stay. We French call it a ‘baise-en-ville’. Literally, it means ‘f***-in-town’, but funnily enough, it is not rude at all to talk about a ‘baise-en-ville’. Everybody has one, and it is always a smart buy (also for a woman, actually). I suppose that it stems from the fact that we French like to compartmentalise our lives, and remain pragmatic in all circumstances. Hence the bag. That said, it has completely lost any naughty connotation. I assure you. Hand on heart. You can safely talk about a ‘baise-en-ville’ and everybody will be impressed.