July 17, 2014

Shopping for a language

Isn't it lovely to be elven years old and have your whole life ahead of you? Even though you probably don't grasp that concept at that age.

But let me start at the beginning. Expat Girl is entering Secondary School in September and with it, will be able to add a language to her curriculum. English and French are obligatory.

"Mummy, I want to learn Portugese" she proudly announces. "Why Portuguese darling?" I respond, curious to hear her reasoning! "Well, it is the easiest language to learn since I already speak Italian, Spanish and French" she answers.

"Wrong answer, sweetheart. It is too easy. I'll send you off to summer camp in Portugal if you really want to learn it and you'll be babbling along in Portuguese in no-time. Try again!" is my reply. "The future lies in the East, therefore you should learn something like Chinese or Russian."

An inquisitive look tells me either she is wondering which one she should choose OR she has no clue what I am on about! When I was little, Italian was an exotic and popular language to learn, but the world was a great deal smaller in those days. To start with we did not have internet, TV was still in B&W and CNN had not been invented yet!

Thinking of Expat Girl's future and her natural gift for languages, I am pushing her to expand her mind and set her sights further.

So we settle onto the couch - with a laptop on our laps - and start shopping for a language that might tickle her fancy. We try Memrise, a community-driven flashcard site featuring every language under the sun including sign language and have narrowed it down to Russian or Chinese. What a surprise?

The framework shifts after having talked to her aunt who is fluent in Japanese! Her advice is: "Which language do you like listening to? Do you like the sound of Chinese?". Very good point, Auntie!

"Where would you like to spend a year abroad when you're at university?" I am wondering. I spent mine in Italy! Surprise! Surprise!

I know we still have a long way to go before Expat Girl heads off to university, but isn't it lovley to have the whole world in your hands and the opportunity of choosing any language with the prospect of it shaping your future?

Come September, which ever language Expat Girl may choose, I will fully support her choice and as the Japanese proverb goes: The day you decide to do it, is your lucky day!

July 15, 2014

It's a serious matter!

Observing my family-in-law who are visiting us during our holidays, I have taken the opportunity to jot down a few recurring facts that define a typical Southern Italian famiglia:

First and foremost: food is taken very seriously!
- Meatballs and spaghetti DON'T go together! This is a purely American invention.
- Always have fresh coffee boiling on the stove. Grazie mille for inventing Nespresso!
- Make sure you plan your meals ahead, preferably at breakfast or even better the night before during dinner.
- Have at least five different kinds of pasta stocked in the larder. Every pasta has its own sauce to go with it! No, spaghetti still doesn't go with meatballs.
- Be prepared to spend long hours at table.
- When you're NOT eating, be prepared talk about food all the time!
- Fuss over the bambini. Make sure they get enough food. Follow them around the house with the plate - if need be - to make sure they eat enough.
- Prepare the fruit before your meal and stock it in the fridge to serve chilled.
- Stock up on wine and mineral water. Lots of it!

In general:
- Don't plan, improvise!
- Don't improvise when it comes to food, it's a serious matter.
- Forget about any kind of timing. "Andamento lento" is the rule. What are 15 minutes in a lifetime?
- Talk alot and laugh out loud!
- Skip museums and similar visits, food market so much more interesting!!!
- Invite friends over: the more the merrier.

As a general guideline: be nice to people and welcome friends anytime of the day. Even if they are friends of friends, friends of the family or family of friends. Where there is food for 10 there's food for 11.

I've gotta run now, my familgia is sitting downstairs like a pride of lions waiting for their next meal!

July 10, 2014

1 journée 100% Parisienne

I don't usually post infograhics on my blog but I just couldn't resist publishing this visual presentation of Parisians:

July 9, 2014

Oldies but Goodies

It was a blast from the past, literally, when my friend texted me asking if I would join her for a Chicago concert. Wow, memories were flooding my my head and my heart. How many hours did I spend in my little attic room in Zürich as a teenager listening to "If you leave me now" on my record player?

Yes, I am talking 33' LP!
Yes, of course I am in!

The venue was in Madrid's university grounds. Weird, neither of us had ever heard of this site but then again we are far from university age! GPS and off we went...

No queues, what a relief. No security check, what a relief. No youngsters, what a relief?!?

The minute we walked through the gates I felt transported back (at least) 20 years. It was like strolling onto the Berkley campus in the 80's...upps, that makes it at least 30 years!

The open air stage was an old-fashioned size, none of this mega set-up with thousands of light effects, multi-levelled stages and other gimmicks... and there they were... nine guys, four of whom were part of the original American rock band formed in 1967!

My friend and I, each a mojito in hand, spent the next two hours singing, laughing and recalling childhood memories. First kisses, first slow dances, first broken hearts, you name it, Chicago was always there right next to us. Most of all, it reminded me of my parents who were the ones who introduced me to Chicago in the first place. As the song goes: "You're the inspiration!"

July 7, 2014


It was suppose to be a nice romantic dinner to celebrate my birthday. My hubby had reserved our favourite terrasse in the whole wide world. A restaurant full of history and past glamour, a little old-fashioned, a little decadent with ohh-so-many-secrets if the trees could only speak.

We were going with the flow until we reached a barricaded avenue ... and I'm thinking NOT again, this kind of thing happens to me all the time in Paris. However, driving in Madrid with a French license plate the police are quick to let us through once I start speaking French to them and a glint of panic crosses their eyes at the thought of having to speak a foreign language!

What is going on? Weird and wonderful people are crossing our path... until it hits me! In Madrid, summer begins on July 2nd with International Gay Pride Day. THAT's why the American embassy had the rainbow flag hissed below the Stars and Stripes!!!

Anyway, the festivities - where revelers dress in bright colors, catch a buzz, and get their dance on - reach their climax on the Saturday, when the parade vindicating the rights of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community attracts more than two million people from all over the world. And WE were stuck in the middle of it.

I am speechless. Now, THIS rarely happens, my husband can vouch for that! We both just stood there admiring the hundreds and thousands of people (mostly men) and my smile kept getting bigger and bigger. This was so much more than what I had bargained for tonight.

We watched the parade floats for over an hour before settling down to dinner where we gazed into each others eyes since - with the raving music hitting us from the floats - we could not hear a word. Thank you, honey, for this unforgettable evening!

July 6, 2014

Waiting for summer to arrive ...

So, I just drove 1300 km from Paris to Madrid with two very unhappy kids in tow. It was cool runnings all the way with little traffic and an overcast sky which is great for driving. I hit cruise control, a feature new to Expat boy who instantly declared: "Well, in that case, with automatic transmission and cruise control even I can drive at 14!". He is not all together wrong but I won't tell him that for the time being!!!

I had planned an overnight stay at San Sebastian, labelled as the pearl of the Northern Spain, famous for La Concha – the city's most popular beach – which lies in the crescent of San Sebastian.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) the Buen Pastor Cathedral was closed already when we arrived but we had a lovely stroll through the old town and enjoyed the layed-back Spanish atmosphere and munched out on some delicious Pintxos. Expat Girl's comment after dinner: "Mummy, the waiters are so friendly here!". "No, my love, it's just that we are too used to French service!". Need I say more?

As we got closer to Madrid I was waiting for the sun to appear. Much to my dispair the temperature remained at 18ºC. What is going on? Madrid should be hot summer sunshine and a guarantee of no rain for two months?

This is what happened next:

The biggest hail storm ever hit the city and for a moment it felt like deepest winter! Next time, instead of my bikini I'll pack the skis!!!

June 30, 2014

June 28, 2014

Not again...

Oh dear. It's happening again. It is the time of year we look forward to, but dread the most at the same time. We can't wait for summer to finally hit Paris, to see the sun and start wearing skirts and sandals. The long holidays are on our door step and the end-of-school-year excitement is pulpable in the air.

If only, there wasn't that little hitch called farewells. We are busy with activities, performances, sleepovers, goodbye breakfasts and parting dinners. We skip from one emotion to the next. From happy to sad, from abandoned to cherished, from supported to betrayed. It's a roller coaster.

I know how hard it is to leave behind your life - along with your friends - but you have a new adventure waiting for you the other end. Of course, you'll feel lost and frustrated at moments but you'll be so busy carving a new space for yourself and putting so much effort into making the new move work (for your kids sake first and foremost, since the hubbies have their work cut out for them upon arrival at their new job) that before you know it, you'll have created a new routine and even made a friend or two along the way.

For those of us staying behind, you leave a gaping hole. We pass by your house and know you aren't there any longer, we hop on the metro and remember this used to be your metro station, we see a Velib car and it makes us smile, we walk through the bois de Boulogne and get lost in memories of you, we step into the boulangerie and know exactly what you would have ordered, we see a colour and think of you, we know which brand of macaron was your favourite. The emptiness is overwhelming sometimes and we try to distract ourselves using our powers of reasoning but the heart does not negotiate.

So amidst, laughter and tears, I bid you farewell and promise I will be standing under the Eiffel Tower with a box of macarons waiting for you to come fill that hole in my heart.

June 25, 2014

Her first concert...

It's a surprise! A surprise for my little girl's 11th birthday.  We are off to the Stade de France for her first concert. One Direction here we come!

Not knowing quite what to expect we took off early. The RER were on strike but with a little patience we arrived half an hour before time, like thousands of other girls accompanied by their Mums.

An overpowering Stade de France with a capacity of 80'000 people is already packed when we find our way to our seats and I can't help but to wonder if Simon Cowell had any idea what he was on to when he put these five boys together on Britain's Got Talent four years ago.

Clearly the boys seem impressed when they finally get on to the stage. But wait, that didn't happen until three hours later.

First we waited an hour watching the six same video clips over and over again until an Australian boy group called 5SoS (5 Seconds of Summer) came on stage and all the Mummys thought they were 1D?!? Get your facts straight Mums. They look the same, they sing the same but there are only four of them, therefore NOT One Direction! The few Dads present, meanwhile had started watching the World Cup match France vs Switzerland on their smartphones! They were clearly not impressed with their daughters' infatuation!

Expat girl and I decided to head outside the stadium for a snack. We found ourselves a little spot in the evening sun and munched on a Snickers bar giggling wondering what to expect next.

After listening to the same videos for yet another hour from outside the stadium, the moment finally had come. We rushed back to our seats and sure enough: one by one, the boys bounced on stage and the stadium went down in screams. I'm thinking: this is what it must have been like when the Beatles debarked in America. WOW!

Teenage girls were screaming and crying all around me while holding up their smartphones to film the stage. The stadium was going berserk. This is fun. It's vibrating, it's emotional and there are happy vibes coming from all sides!

It was exhilarating to see the kids engaging in live music and reacting to these boys (whom by now are nearly men I might add) rather than having their faces stuck in their mobile devices.

So, there we were, Mummy and Daughter, dancing, singing and screaming along with all the rest of them having the time of our lives! And for one whole hour I felt like I was 16 again! ;)

June 22, 2014

Champagne breakfast at 115m

A simple invitiation. Yet so intriguing.
A familiar place. Yet never explored on foot.

Last week I found this delightful (despite being yet another farewell) message in my inbox:
"I'd like to say au revoir to you, and to Paris ... by climbing the Eiffel tower with you. Yes, using the stairs. Up there, I want to treat you to a secret champagne breakfast, although I am not sure if that is allowed :)."

This is a girl after my own heart. She just managed to combine friendship, creativity, complicity, sports, alcohol and Paris all in one. And by doing so turned a rather sad fact into a happy event. Bravo and Thank you my friend.

So, off we went at 9am beating all the tourists, ready to climb the approx. 1000 steps all in one go. Six ladies from six different countries on a mission.

First, though, we needed to get past the security check. My clever friend had investigated beforehand and was aware that no glass bottle were aloud, therefore she was equipped with green plastic Perrier bottles. Yup, you guessed it! The lady had funnelled Moet&Chandon into sparkling water bottles in order to get them up the Eiffel Tower. Goes to show: Where there is a will there is a way!

After a relatively easy climb and lots of admiration of the fantastic view, we found ourselves a bench and spread out. Pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, chouquettes and fruit accompanied our endless supply of "Perrier". The guard walked past by us twice with a frown on his face but did not dare to spoil our fun. We spent the entire morning on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower enjoying each others company and appreciating the good side of Paris. 

I will never climb the Eiffel Tower again without thinking of you, my quiet, creative & resourceful friend. Bon voyage, Good luck and Thank you for leaving a lovely memento in my heart.

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