Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Each time I come to Paris,  I experience a rush of feelings.  I've been told so many times in my life that I am too sensitive but I have come to learn that there is no such thing as too sensitive.  I think that it is precisely this sensitivity that allows me to experience my time here at a heightened level of appreciation.  Beauty here is beauty x 10 and I am one of the lucky ones that gets to absorb it.  This is not to say that there aren't moments of feeling off-balance....

This trip started that way.  Maybe it was the 45 minutes of heavy turbulance somewhere over Iceland that made me shaky. My seatmate was sleeping and it woke her-- she reached for my hand.  It is really something to hold hands with a complete stranger and work through a fear.  We of course, survived it all and hugged each other tight to say our goodbyes.  On arrival, the heat wave we were having set an unbearable tone and then Alain was barely here with me before he left again.... Things were starting differently this time....

With jet-lag in general, I feel off -balance-- sometimes the adjustment is quicker than others.  Our 18th century apartment building is off-kilter in and of itself. The floors slant down toward the street which makes hanging a painting on the wall or setting a table straight tricky. It also makes me feel wobbly in the night when I get up on sleepless occasions.  You might laugh, but if I drink just a bit too much wine, I have to work at walking a straight line! That's when it's convenient to blame it on that beautiful parquet de Versaille floor!

Toward the end of my stay, I like to think about my Paris story.  Days here are full of short stories and like any good novel, there is a captivating beginning, a middle and an strong ending. The start to my stay always begins with a trip to the Vanves or Cligancourt flea market. I don't know what it is with my flea market obsession, but those weekend mornings are always some of the highlights of my stay.  I am fascinated with all the history of course but I am fascinated with the market culture in general. There are so many colorful people who sell and buy... it makes me wish I could draw. I would sit and sketch for hours-- instead I sketch with words. There is one of my favorite vendors at the Vanves who deals only in silver objects. He always wears plaid patterned shirts and a big smile for everyone. He never stops polishing his silver even when discussing prices with a customer. He is a positive soul among a group of somtimes frustrated, gruff vendors. The Cligancourt vendors are more polished and the array of antiques, astonishing.  Over the years it has become more commercial but I understand that it is difficult to survive in such an old trade.

I am beginning to see that I have a history here... 30 plus years is a long enough time to see many changes and I feel fortunate to watch the evolution.  What never changes, is the café society. Paris is perfectly designed for walking and then resting.  A pause, a coffee or tea, and people watching never gets old. On this trip, I have lunched with complete strangers-- literally put our tables together to eat-- and have had many chats over tea with Parisians who are interested to know where my "little accent" is from and then what I think about the upcoming election once they know I am American.  I find myself at the Deux Magots often at the end of the afternoon.  I used to avoid the big cafés on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, but I find the Deux Magots to be more charming than most and without a lot of pretense.

I have made a few new friends recently and I am actually greeted on our street from time-to-time by people I am beginning to know.  This helps a lot when I am feeling lonely.  I do feel really comfortable here-- rarely homesick for the States, but what I do miss is my family, my friends, my dog (so much!), and the open and positive spirit of the American people. The anything is possible attitude is missing here and it goes a long way to make life bearable in times of difficulty.  A few of my new friends are dogs... don't laugh! The dogs here walk along unleashed and are completely disciplined.  They walk the streets with that Parisian pride-- they know they are beautiful and they know they own the neighborhood and their master's heart!  My heart too for that matter!

I've added the photograph of our living room to this post so that you can enjoy along with me, the comfort and joy that I experience every time I set foot in our home here.  I liken it to a jewel box because of the sheer delight that I feel when I "lift the lid" on this precious gem.  I entered the apartment slowly this time on arrival...nervous that I might not feel as in love as I did the first few times coming here. I need not have worried-- believe me, the magic is still alive and well!  In fact, I am always amazed by the fact that my love for Paris never diminishes.  I still feel like that wide-eyed young girl who visited Paris for the first time at age 19.  When I cross the Seine river for the first time on each trip, my eyes sparkle, my heart beats a bit faster, and I swear my feet lift up a bit off the ground.... I feel light as air!    Paris has a firm grip on my heart!  No matter how a visit starts off, it always finishes with my feeling in complete balance. Two sides of me come together which results in a very satisfied soul...

I understand the goodbye now better.... Goodbye leads to hello and then hello leads to goodbye. There should be this constant ebb and flow to life and if we are lucky, we will know many hellos and goodbyes in this lifetime. I can't wait to see my loved ones and then, soon thereafter,  I can't wait to say hello again to Paris.

Friday, January 15, 2016


"I think that the most important thing a woman can have -- next to talent, of course-- is her hairdresser." Joan Crawford

Mikel Valdez will always be my hairdresser, my friend and one of the most unique human beings I have ever met.  This photograph is one of the last things he gave me-- sent from his hospital bed during one of our text marathons.  I think that this is the way he wanted me to think of  him and so I will keep it near to remember all the life we lived during our friendship and how it was we met over 35 years ago. This will be our story told in words and images-- hairstyles more like it. 

This is me circa 1979. I was what I call a hair virgin-- by my definition that is someone who has never colored her hair and the only person who has ever cut it is her mother.  You can't tell it by this photograph, but I was just about to enter one of the most difficult times of my life via my marriage to Mark. The only reason this is useful to know is that it led me down the path to meeting Mikel. You know I am a firm believer in the silver lining...

It all began with the est training (Erhard Seminar Training). Est was one of the first intensive consciousness seminars of the 1970's founded by Werner Erhard where participants were promised that they would get "it".   First of all, let me say this was a wedding gift and it did not save the marriage! What I do clearly remember about the training are three things: 1) I learned I had a strong bladder as we were given only 1 bathroom break in an 8 hour day.  2) I learned that this was a very powerful transformative process for people. This became especially clear when the priest in our group informed me on the last day that he had fallen in love with me and was quitting the priesthood. 3) I got the name of my future hairdresser on a bathroom break when I asked a woman with a spectacular haircut who did her hair. (It's the only time in my life I have asked someone that so I guess it was destiny).  She said his name was Mikel from a salon called Youtopia near what was then the Valley Fair Shopping Center in San Jose.  

(Youtopia Salon's stylists --Mikel is the blond , top right.)

I walked through the door of the Salon for my first appointment in 1980. I was a pretty lost soul at that time but Mikel had definite ideas about my hair and well-- I got the transformation that the est training promised. I'm sure it wouldn't count for the "it" they talked about but I got a new hairstyle and a new me! I liked Mikel immediately and  I followed him to his various salon locations over the next few years.  He made me laugh, always had life advice and if all else failed he gave the best hugs finished by a back crack. 

Fast forward to 1983 and my divorce. I wrote and filed my own divorce after checking out How to Write Your Own Divorce books from the public library.  When Mark moved out, he also cleared out our bank account so I was penniless.   In another silver lining moment the job I had to get (in addition to the two other jobs I currently had) to stay afloat led me to Versatec and Alain.  On the day of my divorce, I asked my boss if I could take an extra hour at lunch.  There were two things that needed to be accomplished; finalizing the divorce in court and getting to my hair appointment on time after that.  Yes, I booked a hair appointment with Mikel! I knew I would need a transformation of some kind after all I had been through and I knew it would happen in his chair! I sat down and said, cut this hair off and dye it red! I will never forget the way his smile curled up his lips and the mischief shined in his eyes.   It was a bold move and one we spoke of all the way to the end.... 
When I got back to work, I was a bit nervous to run into my colleagues as you might imagine. Of course the first person I ran into in the hallway was Alain. He said, "Wow! I love your hair!". I think I knew then and there that he was the man for me...

 Here I am-- the redhead!
My divorce did more for me than my marriage ever did. While I didn't keep the red hair for long, Mikel and I had a bond that couldn't be broken and I began to come alive again. It took a year but Alain and I got together and began a wonderful journey. Mikel did my hair for our wedding and for every important event for the next 35 years. 

There are way too many hairstyles to share in this tribute, but suffice to say that Mikel and I had so much fun over the years creating and recreating new looks, new colors , new me's! Here are a few from over the years...
Circa 1986

Back to red! Circa 1987 and turning 30

Circa 1988

Circa 1992

Circa 1997 and turning 40

Circa 1999
Circa 2011


This final photograph taken in the late 90's is one of my favorites. Mikel had the biggest heart. He loved me and protected me.  He always looked at me when I came into the Salon...not to check my hair, but to check my heart. If I was down, he offered me chocolate. If I was really down, he offered me vodka! He contributed in such a great way to my feeling beautiful, glamorous,  and alive. 
He cut and styled Camille's hair, Alain's hair and my mother's hair.  Mikel never let my mother pay to have her hair done...ever.  He didn't typically cut children's hair but he agreed to cut Camille's because she made silly faces at him while he was working and she made him laugh. He adored her! I can still see her sitting on a booster chair at his station, wiggling and making faces in the mirror.  I can still hear both of their laughter. 

The years went so quickly and these past few years were tricky to say the least. When his good friend Caryl passed away (they had worked together from the beginning) a bit of Mikel left too. We laughed a bit less and cried a bit more. And then, Mikel got sick.  I thought we would go on forever but life had a different plan. December 23rd was our last visit together.  I dressed up for him, put my hair in a extra big french roll and wore some of his favorite jewelry-- he always noticed every detail of what I was wearing.We kissed, held hands, caught up on family--he remembered that it had just been my mother's 96th birthday and he wanted to know that Camille was good-- and talked about the future of the Salon. He never once gave in to the idea that he would leave us all.  But I saw his pain and it became difficult to carry a conversation. So I stood up, kissed his forehead and closed his eyes with my fingers.  I told him to rest and that when he woke, all would be well. 

I do believe that all is well now. He is somewhere far from here and far from his pain. 

When I am in front of a mirror to do my hair, he will always be there behind me lifting my spirit and getting my hair to go to new heights. "The higher the hair, the closer to heaven" it is said. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mary Berniece Burns Kelley

Mary Berniece Kelley was my mother's youngest sister.  Mary was their mother's name, but she preferred to be called Berniece or Bernie. I thought the name "Red" would have been perfect for her and  yet I see now that it would have lacked the refinement she was going for.

When I was little, my aunt and uncle (Kelley) lived in Buena Park, CA.  Going to see them meant that we got to go to Knott's Berry Farm or Disneyland! Joy! (I am still obsessed to this day with the chicken dinner at Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant). Later, visits to  the Laguna Art Festival and the Sawdust Festival were so inspiring to me.  I am grateful for her influence that way-- she was an artist with an ever-examining eye! I saw things differently when I was with her.   Aunt Bernie had flaming red hair, rings on every finger, a year-round tan,  and the latest rhinestone Bernardo Sandals. She was the "perfect" size 4 and loved to wear the latest fashions that showed off all her hard work to stay that way.  That she and my mother came from the same home was a great mystery to me as a child-- they were so different!

My favorite room in the Kelley home was the red room.  It had red leather furniture,  leopard carpets and black lacquer accents.  Their Siamese cat, Ting-a-ling, liked this room too-- it provided the perfect backdrop for her!  I am not much of a cat person but we seemed to bond over the decor.  My uncle was an amazing school teacher in, what I was told, was a rough part of the  Los Angeles school district. He was also a very talented artist and created beautiful tile work and fountains wherever they lived. I think he was a frustrated "want-to-be" architect living with an eccentric artist which, when combined, formed the perfect storm!

My mother and my Aunt were born in Pennsylvania in the early 1900's.  Their father, Mark was a farmer and their mother, Mary Elinda was an accomplished pianist and singer.  She was a millineress with her own shop -- at that time, a rarity for women. My mother can still recall her earliest memories-- her mother playing the piano and the birth of her baby sister Mary Berniece Burns (she was born at home).  Grandmother Mary died with complications from a later childbirth when my mother was about 12 years old.  I can't even imagine this, nor can I imagine how difficult the children's lives (two boys and two girls)  became afterward. Let me just say that all the Burns children became strong, resourceful, talented and kind adults.

Aunt Bernie and I grew closer as the years went by.  I called her often and we talked about art, jewelry (her passion and mine), fashion, travel, food and exercise.  As part of her art education, she studied painting at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles, and always had a project going that she liked to talk about. She loved still life and portraits mostly.  I remember posing for hours as a little girl while she painted my portrait in pastels. It made me feel important and antsy all at once!  While we are different people, we shared so many of the same interests and those conversations were always satisfying. With the years, I began to understand how people can be different but complimentary.  She wasn't warm and cozy like my mother, but I knew that she loved me and appreciated our relationship.

We celebrated Christmas together in our various northern Californa homes over the years. She was a nervous flyer so I always had her favorite vodka martini waiting for her upon arrival.  She and  glamour travelled together-- full make-up, big red hair, furs, and lots and lots of jewels. My uncle even managed to look debonair with her many suitcases in tow! I loved that she dressed for the occasion and we dutifully took her back to her hotel for all the outfit changes between events. She told me that they lived for those moments year to year--what a time it was...

Aunt Bernie was one of the most stubborn, determined, strong-willed people I have ever known. She was difficult-- everyone said that not as a criticism but as a fact. It is also true that greatness is more than likely born from difficulty rather than ease.  3 years ago, when she fell ill and became unable to take care of her world, I stepped in.  None of this was planned and it seemed strange to be in charge of someone who had once been so very in charge of everything.  Our last visit with her in September was difficult in that we knew it would be our last. There is much I could say about it, but what I will choose to remember is this:  That lasting moment when she held my face in her unadorned hand and  examined me with that ever-critical eye of hers.  She missed nothing except maybe a detail or two blurred by her tears.  Softness was setting in, preparing her for her next world, her next adventure. Wherever she is, it will be colorful and glamorous. I know that my world holds a bit more color and glamour because of her.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves --Taking you there with words and images...

The experience of walking a Paris flea market is a cultural revelation, an historical journey and a treasure hunt all in one.  The Vanves market begins quite early on the weekends and I start with my car dropping me at the perfect entrance on the Avenue Georges Lafenestre (a poet and critique of French art in the 1800's).  It is there from a little stand that I have my coffee and chocolate croissant hot from the oven! If I prefer to just get started looking, there are always little ladies who stroll the walkways with a cart full of coffee and baked goodies.  The Vanves still feels like an old-fashioned market because of these ladies, the street pianists and the vendors that set up and take down each day. There are no permanent stands like there are in the larger Cligancourt Puces.  
The market is full of snarly vendors who yell back and forth to each other and who most often object to being photographed. (This guy yelled at me just as I was shooting!) There are nice vendors too but the grumpy ones make it interesting! They bark but they don't bite... 

The dogs, however, are much more friendly!

Everything you could ever imagine and more is for sale here.  I will always be drawn to the old textiles with the hand woven tassels... gorgeous!

 The people watching is wonderful too-- Stars like Catherine Deneuve frequent the market as well as a well-dressed dandy! Parisians don't often fail to give you something to look at!

Even tap shoes make an appearance!

An antique school merit board!

And When I find an amazing portrait or bust, I am in my treasure heaven!  These moments are only for the early risers!  

 The  well-loved book on Louis XV and an antique flag topper came home with me recently...

And books beautifully bound in leather are another joy here. If you are lucky to find some with orginal engravings, you can walk away with a smile and a heavy bag!  Many buyers come with a small cart on wheels or a suitcase just for these occasions.

There is humor to be found here too!  I smiled a good-bye to these "partcipants" as I drove away for the last time this visit.  Rain or shine, this is where you'll find me Saturday mornings during my stay... 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Les Talons Louis XV / The Heels of Louis XV

Do I need another reason to love Paris? Mais non! But Paris, the world's greatest lover, keeps trying to please and please it does! On my walk home from the Right Bank, I spotted this sign in the most elegant of shoe repair shops. Actually, to call it a "repair" shop doesn't do it justice-- more a restoration/artisanal atelier of the highest standards. I stood staring at the beautiful red leather banquette sofas in the showroom, the polished marble floors, the gilded antique mirrors, and the perfectly appointed chandelier lighting. The shoes that had been restored were displayed in the window along with a series of Louis XV heels --their specialty.  How could I help myself from falling in love with Paris a little bit more?

Louis XV reigned from 1715-1774.  He loved heels, especially red ones (it was very expensive to get the leather colored this perfect red)  and only he or those men in good standing with him were allowed to wear them.  He was especially fond of paste buckle ornamentation and embroidery.  The large paste buckles were considered important enough to be sold separately and in beautiful velvet boxes like jewelry.   He insisted on the highest of heels and demanded that everyone else in the court wear heels lower than his.  While men generally abandoned heels around 1730, Louis' shoe style continues to influence us today as seen in the Manolo Blahnik and Marc Jacob shoes below.  

 As a note of personal history, when I married Alain, I chose a beige silk hand-made shoe with a Louis XV heel. When I turned 40, I had a pair of Louis XV leather shoes made in England for Alain for our 18th century party complete with buckle and red heel. When the Marc Jacob's shoe came out (he called it the Pilgrim shoe), I had to own a pair.  And my love for paste buckles, well, that list goes on and on.... Without knowing much about this shoe style early on, I have been drawn to it since I can remember.  Maybe the clairvoyant was right when she told me that in another life I was a popular French politician who was known for strolling the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to greet his people. If this is true, then everything makes sense!  Merci Louis for the perfect heel and another reason to love Paris!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Le Déjeuner à Paris! Lunch in Paris!

Let me explain the French Lunch the way I see it.
One day I was dining in the Bistro Valois just outside the Palais Royal. It was raining and a motorcycle pulled up underneath this lovely awning. The cycle was a nice one and the driver was dressed beautifully all the way down to his Berlutti shoes with the perfect patina. He reached into his small compartment and pulled out his lunch. While I couldn't see exactly everything he was eating, he took his time enjoying his sandwich and a small side dish of something he brought a fork for. I was intrigued.  Then he brought out a small glass for a splash of wine poured from his flask.  When the rain started coming down harder, he wasn't deterred from continuing his lunch... he simply moved his motorcycle closer to the building. Next came dessert, a tarte au citron (lemon tart)!  Just unbelievable and he made it look so good I had to order one later....  I smiled and said to myself, "Let's just see now if he has his petit café." If so, I will be thoroughly impressed. He stood up after his dessert was finished and put all of his utensils, napkin, and  glassware back in his compartment. Then, much to my delight, out came his small thermos and cup for his coffee!  So impressive!  Finished, he returned his thermos, dusted himself off and drove away.   In that moment, I realized I had just witnessed the live definition of the French lunch!  

What I find interesting for myself is that in California, I rarely have lunch out.  Lunch is more just a moment to refuel to get through the day. But once I am in Paris, a whole different me appears. From the moment I awake, I start to dream about where I want to eat that day, which of my favorite foods I hope will be on the "plat du jour" menu (blanquette de veau, tomate farçi, pâte fraiche.....), and what I  might want for dessert-- that list is endless! Even when I plan to shop in a neighborhood or visit a garden or museum, I think about which restaurants are close by for me to try. When I lunch, I enjoy every bite including dessert without any guilt...ever! And I always have wine... sometimes two glasses!  Daytime drinking is a quiet kind of drinking.. the sun is out and dreams are encouraged.  There is not an ounce of hurry in my body and I know that I will enjoy walking through the rest of my day.  

 For the French, a great lunch is anticipated and expected. For everyone else it is a moment of perfection!

Enjoy these photos of lunchtime moments! Bon Appétite!
 Cauliflower puree-- Cafe Bras
 Stuffed tomato-- Chez Nenesse
 Pizza Margarita-- Tavola di Gio

Steak Frites-- Bistro Les Ambassades
 Ile Flottant or boule de neige-- Cafe Bras
 Tarte Citron and its meringue-- Cafe la Varenne
 Chocolate tart with caramel-- Le Gevaudan
Old fashioned (and the BEST ever) Rice pudding! The whole bowl is placed in front of you and you take as much as you like. Carmel sauce on the side.... Bistro Les Ambassades

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Montparnasse Frame

 Each time I'm in Paris, something different catches my eye and I learn something. Most everthing in France has an historical reference as does the Montparnasse frame.  I first saw a frame like this in the smaller flea market called the Puces de Vanves.  The seller tossed out the name "Montparnasse" like we were sure to know what it was.  I had never heard of this frame and was instantly interested in its history. While I didn't learn much that day about it, I noted that while it was ornate in its carving, it lacked the gold gild of  most of the French frames we are used to seeing. I needed to find out more!
 Today I went to the larger flea market the Puces de St. Ouen (Cligancourt) and to Lucien Pineau's stand in the Marché Serpette.  He specializes in the Montparnasse frame and we had a wonderful conversation about their history and how difficult they are becoming to find.  First of all, the interior part of the frame that is the moulding is called the Marie-Louise.  Marie-Louise was the 2nd wife of Napoleon and I am still trying to discover why it is named after her.  When the moulding is made of wood and is fabric covered, it is referred to as the Marie-Louise. If it is cardboard, it is called the passe-partout (something that passes everywhere).  Evidently, Marie-Louise was not someone who was passed about! These frames are from the 20th century and were supposedly designed by the many Russian painters who had begun to congregate in the Montparnasse area between 1908-1914. Since they were artists with very little means, they carved the frames themselves from modest pine and left them ungilded. The Patinas are all different and quite beautiful with the traditional frames being creme or grey. The carving itself is ornate and in the style of Louis XIV  and Louis XV. They are all beautiful!
Many of the painters from the Ecole de Montparnasse ( Marie Vassillieff's painting above) and the Ecole de Paris, framed their Post-Impressionist and cubist paintings with the Montparnasse frame.  While I wish I could see their paintings in the Montparnasse Museum,  it was closed down this year for reasons unknown.  What I can do since our apartment is so close by, is walk to the Montparnasse area and dine in one of the many legendary cafés that are still fabulous today such as: Le Dôme, La Closerie de Lilas, La Rotunde, Le Select and La Coupole. Painters such as Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani chose these spots as their hang out  and paid with their paintings when they had no money for food. I can only imagine the colorful conversations that must have gone on amongst them daily.

I have always been fascinated by beautiful frames.. they are the jewel that enhances the work of art!