Dames d’un Certain Age III

Faithful readers will know that I am working on a sure bet best-seller, Aging a la Parisienne.  This up-coming New York Times number- one -on -the -non-fiction list, will pay for all my future winters in Paris, especially once the movie deal is negotiated. It taps into the ever-present fascination we in North America have for the witty, stylish and beautiful Parisienne of a certain age. Last year we explored the secrets of staying slim and analyzed some particular individuals so that we could copy the look. This year I have offered myself up as a cochon d’inde in the war against age. Yes, dear readers there is little I will not do in the service of knowledge.

photo  There is a new beauty shop on rue des Francs Bourgeois, the  Marais main drag which already hosts Mac, Bobby Brown, and Diptyque. Sakare sounds Japanese but is actually from the UK. Our local shop is the first Paris boutique and their sweetly aggressive sales folk actually drag you in off the street for their sales pitch.

photo 6  This is Guido gearing up to make me beautiful. Yes, he’s Italian. He went to the Niccolo Machiavelli School of Beauty.

photo 5 This is me waiting to become a beautiful, radiant Dame d’Un Certain Age.

photo 4 Guido considers his batterie de cuisine.

photo 2 “I cannot work a miracle,” he said. He really did.

photo 3 He gets to work applying fortifying facial serum which will “freshen the most tired-looking complexions” (Sakare website).

photo He demonstrates his masque on my hand. It is a hydrating mineral complex made of …. minerals. This is clearly Guido’s favourite part of the pitch. “How do you remove metal???” he says. “Water?” “NO.” “UHHH, with a magnet?” “Precisely!”

photo 9  Here, he uses a magnet to lift off the metal- “Removing all impurities”, he says excitedly. The almond oil stays put and looks better on my hand than the black stuff.

photo  WOW. Some hand.

By now my face is ready as the serum has soaked in. Get ready to be shocked.

photo  Voila! COMPLETELY transformed. “You were wrong”, I said to Guido. “You have worked a miracle.”

There you have it. Parisiennes spend untold hours with black minerals and expensive oils on their faces because that City of Light radiance does not come without effort.

photo 7

Or without expense. Here are just a few of the advanced moisturizing products I will be bringing home. With so many miracles taking place in my morning routine, I expect to be nominated for sainthood . Perhaps Sakare will be willing to work closely with me and sponsor  the book. I see “model/spokesperson” in my future.

Finally, I have an update on how Parisiennes stay slim. Last year, you learned that this can be attributed to the appalling junk food on offer here in Paris. Vending machine waffles? Madeleines instead of Twinkies? This is not how you tempt a person to overeat. Unfortunately for the French, however, since last year the Lays potato chip company has put on a major push in the Paris market. Sure, the same old packages of jujubes are everywhere, but frankly, how many can you eat at one sitting? You don’t get fat on jujubes.

photo French candies.

No, it’s potato chips that pack on the pounds and it’s obvious that Lays has put a lot of research into convincing the French that they cannot eat just one. Their research geniuses have created a line of potato chips that are, well, unique.

photo Aren’t you dying to try  Olive/Tapas potato chips? Yummy.

photo  How about chips that taste like Spaghetti Bolognaise? I would love to meet the marketing guru that pitched that one.

Our next example should only be considered by those without an easy gag reflex. Otherwise, skip to the bottom for a contest update.

photo  That’s right. Roast chicken flavour. That is SO disgusting. Bet I can’t eat even one! And neither could any self-respecting Parisienne. So, once agin, saved from empty calories, the Parisienne can put her energies into resisting baguettes.

Contest update. Entries continue to come in for yesterday’s contest. Scroll down if you missed it. A clarification: the mud soap and shea butter sample is from Sakare so that you, too can have a morning miracle.


Ghost Town

“I’m placing an ad,” I told my daughter. “Wanted: Engaging young adults willing to come to our country home and pretend to be our children.”

“Mom, that’s not funny,” she said.

“Compensation includes accomodation in a house filled with antiques and art, access to  mature perennial gardens with swimming pool, excellent meals featuring local farm produce and unlimited wine, civilized conversation, beautiful surroundings.”


“You do realize that July has come and gone without a single visit from you and your sisters?”

“We’re busy. Everyone’s getting married and there are showers and rehearsals, and Matt’s birthday party, and guests coming from Paris.”

“Successful applicants must say things like, “I have such great memories of this place,’ and ‘Can I help you in the garden?’ (Don’t worry, we won’t take you up on it”)

The truth is, our country house has felt like a ghost town for a few years now. Out in the garden I hear their voices:

“Mom, can we go to Ben and Jerry’s?”

“Look, we’re building a fort”

“Can we sleep out in the fort?”

“Can we come in? It’s too scary in the fort.”

“Can we swim after dinner?”

“Marco. Polo. Marco. Polo.”

Aside from  ghost voices, things are blessedly quiet out in the garden.  I try to emphasize the secondary gains of the situation: I can weed for as long  as  I want. I don’t have to worry about anyone drowning or breaking a leg. I don’t have to fight with anyone to turn off the computer and come outside.  I can READ!

Change is hard. Especially when you have loved things as they were. I think many residents of our little town of Knowlton feel much this way. Outside our gallery I bump into people I know just vaguely and with very little provocation they begin to rant: “This town is dead. DEAD!!!!” Eyes bulge. Veins pop. I glance around for zombies but there’s no one out on those sidewalks, it’s true.

Many things have happened to create this situation – the grocery and liquor stores moved to the outskirts, the ski hill closed down, the population is aging, there is a Walmart now. Still, other towns in the area seem to be jumping.

“Come on. Would you want to be Sutton?” I counter. ” Is there even one store you would want to shop in there? Aside from the bakery?” I quickly add. “And Bromont. Have you driven through lately? So tacky it’s embarrassing. At least our stores are good stores: Jones, Bromewood, Athletica, Woolrich. There’s the theatre, Shakespeare on the beach. Buzz. Florale. We’re classy. We’re interesting. The new antique stores are good. Looks like fewer storefronts are for rent this summer.”

All this falls on deaf ears.  These folks have converted to a mindset and mere facts cannot dissuade them. And it’s true, there are fewer tourists and the ones who come into our gallery are mostly older couples from small-town Quebec. They like to see the art, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

I think it very likely that things will change for the better in Knowlton, because the opposite just doesn’t make sense. Any fool can see how gorgeous our town is, with its hill, its pond, its river, its beautiful buildings. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here? There will be a renewal but who will be a part of it? Perhaps our little gallery, amongst others.  In the meantime, there may be secondary gains we can concentrate on, like the possibility that some of our commercial buildings,  converted homes,  will once again become residential. Would that be so bad? Would we love Knowlton less? I don’t think so.

Oh, and by the way, my kids are all coming down this weekend. Hallelujah.

(I hope this post doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I try to write in a humourous vein and part of humour is exaggeration. Still, my apologies to anyone who feels offended, especially those unfortunates who live in Sutton or Bromont.)


Dames d’un Certain Age II

Don’t think I have ceased researching my soon- to-be best-seller on the beauty secrets of middle-aged Parisiennes. Au contraire.  I know that in this time of resurgent Cold War and financial uncertainty, when a SARS-like epidemic out of the Middle-East (coincidence?) is heading our way, the primary pressing concern of the average North American woman of a certain age is how to stave off the ravages of time, shed wrinkles and extra pounds,  and achieve the insouciant epitome of chic that is the natural state of women over here. I have dedicated myself to this research (a fact I particularly insist upon in the expectation that I can write off all of my expenses on this trip in my 2014 tax return). I cannot give away all the book’s secrets, but to whet your appetite I would like to begin with a general discussion of certain myths concerning the aging Parisienne.

#1. It is not true that all  Parisian women are young-looking and chic. Not at all. They often  show their age. Every one of those Gitanes they smoked as they mounted the barricades in May 68 is written on their faces in wrinkles as complex as the Paris metro map. They often wear nondescript outfits and sensible shoes. Their hair is in  a bun, and  not a chic messy-bun as seen in the advertizing for Aesop skin care products. Not at all.

#2. It is not true that the French don’t try to be beautiful. Believe me, they try. Take cellulite creams. In the pharmacies of Paris there is hardly room for any drugs because of the amount of shelf-space devoted to cellulite creams. And honestly, who would be naive enough to think that a cream would get rid of cellulite, anyway?

Imagined conversation:

Pharmacist:   “Desolez, Madame, but I cannot give you any antibiotics for your oozing sores to-day, because we ran out of room for them.”

Customer: “Zut, what shall I do?”

Pharmacist: “Perhaps try some cellulite cream? It’s very effective.”

#3. It is not true that Parisiennes do not use botox. At a dinner party I attended recently, a truly beautiful fellow guest was so botoxed that when she spoke, she sounded like she had no teeth. It was painful to see her try to form words, and discover that her upper lip just wasn’t going anywhere.

Exercise for those considering botox:

Go to a mirror. Stuff four cotton balls under your upper lip. Notice that those witchy lines do disappear, but also notice that  you look like Bugs Bunny. Now try to talk. Say words like: wonderful, please, and why would I want to look so ridiculous.

Enough myth-busting, although there is much more to be said. Time for stalking the chic Parisiennes we do admire. Let’s look at some photos and analyze.

A few weeks ago, at the Paris Art Fair, I noticed that I was surrounded by the subject types we are most interested in. Ah-ha, iphone 5C at the ready!

IMG_1299 Here’s the setting. The beautiful Grand Palais. Chic Parisiennes are everywhere, selling, buying, discussing, seeing and being seen.

IMG_1282   Our first subject shows that you need not be young nor happy to be chic. She has style, she matches the paintings, the grey hair was a good choice and she understands that if you are going to go grey you have to wear lipstick.

IMG_1276 Perfect. The figure on the right has orange everything – jacket, hair and hem. And it’s really working. She looks vibrant, chic – er than thou. Her friend has the most gorgeous coat. The purse and pants are right.

IMG_1241 Some art. Just to raise the tone of our discussion.

IMG_1245 Oh, the young Moms. Jeggings, leggings, great knee-length coat, large hand bag, white platform running shoes. Copy that.

IMG_1253 Running shoes again. Now this hurts a bit, because no running shoes unless at the gym, used be a central tenet of the Parisiennes’ creed. But things have changed and running shoe culture has come to Paris. Still, as your teenagers know, they have to wear the RIGHT running shoes. White or black lace-ups. Look like Keds. Could be platform if you want a little height.

IMG_1243 More art. Improve your mind.

IMG_1246 Yes. Camel and perfectly coiffed. Oxfords are another good shoe choice and they are everywhere here.

IMG_1295  Arty, shawled, dark tights. Take notes.

IMG_1277 Dashing about. She’s working but always coordinated in the great Paris non-colours that are a no-risk choice for the chic.

Okay, there you have it. More myths busted and more secrets revealed in “Aging Like A Parisienne”, by Christine Stonehewer. Advanced orders accepted.



In the Souse

I have been gone for a few days. I have been in the souse.  The French have trouble with words containing  the “th”  sound. In Quebec, it will be pronounced as a “d”: ” I go over dere”.  However,  a young Frenchman I know pronounces it as an “s”. Thus, I have been in the souse. Visiting his parents, in fact. And his grandparents at their chateau on a wine estate in Bordeaux. I have not BEEN soused, or only slightly. After all, this region creates the best wine in the world, and  what a delight to stay with people whose friends and family have lived with and work with  the vine for generations. Time for pictures.


Our hosts with Alan. Note castle in the background. This one is not theirs. I was also researching my book, a project I’m sure you remember (if not, see my blog post: Dames d’un Certain Age) since my hostess epitomizes everything we are wanting to study in enviable Frenchwomen. Today, I’ll give you a pictorial preview of coming posts.

Mother and Child Reunion

0159d20d7ffadc0bbc42513bbd55b0283de3f8d0d9 I awoke with a sense of unease on Sunday morning. Just out of sorts and cranky without knowing why. What is this vague longing? Is it home sickness? No… I thought, shivering as I considered  once again the polar vortex. No, it’s just that I… miss the children. That’s it. I miss the children and the dog. Terribly.

We hear a lot about declining birth rates in Northern Europe, but this is a lie given the evidence of the Paris neighbourhoods we frequent, which is everywhere central. There are schools partout. At least four in a  two block radius from us. Boisterous crowds of children, just bursting with energy, blast down the streets. Get out of the way! School’s out. In every museum, every age group from toddlers to teens, is being led about, lectured to and shown the finest in art, technology and even instruments of war.

0129b95eb5d39207e371ba584b0ba559bc2bd85d85 A school group in the sculpture court of the Louvre.

The point is that there is no getting away from the large crowds of extremely cute and well-dressed children everywhere we go. On top of school groups there are the crowds of little charmers in the parks on weekends, and the packs of stylish and amusing children’s clothing stores which almost outnumber womens’ boutiques. You can never get away from the longing.


As I said in my first post, on the last trip to France, when we rented a house and stayed for six months, the children and dogs came too. Since then, one dog has died, another is too old to come and the children have their own commitments to attend to: college, work and graduate school. And I thought it would be 100% great to go away and leave my commitments behind.  It would seem that the ties that bind do not loosen so easily. And life once again, shows us how little we know ourselves. Having spent so many decades loving and caring for people and creatures large and small  it’s just not possible for me to drop that role without a bit of disorientation. Well, what to do?

One possibility is to steal a dog. I have been thinking about this with increasing frequency. Many, even most,  street beggars here have dogs. These dogs are cute. Really cute. Would it be so wrong for me to grab a dog, stuff it in my purse and run like hell? I could surely give it a better life than it has  living on the street.

This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

  This one is in Lisbon, but never mind, you get the idea. (photo:lisbonconnection.com)

I try to put this thought out of my mind, even though dogs like the one above are very adorable and conveniently purse-sized. I’m sure he’s very tired of listening to all that accordian music. Really. Someone needs to save him.

Obviously, a distraction is in order so, again,  what should I do? It’s obvious: the Louvre. It’s the weekend, so no school groups, no beggars with dogs, and once inside I know where to go to escape the crowds.Tip:  If you are overwhelmed by crowds at the Louvre head down. Just keep going down to the lowest levels where there  is really interesting art and very few tourists. Thus Alan and I found ourselves in the International Gothic Sculpture galleries in the basement of the Denon pavillion. I don’t think I’ve been there before. Here is the kind of thing:

Vierge_a_l'Enfant_debout0701vierge389px-Vierge_à_l'Enfant_assise. Right. I was beginning to feel like this:

01e7982ac64dbfe5e63b92d8ee4f52546a239db0d3_00001 So I went to the African, Polynesian and Asian galleries where I saw a number of p[ieces like this:

013425d91ca061bc7ef2b28cd7053304717f755636_00001 Zoom to see what she’s up to. Oh dear. We cannot, dear reader, escape our feelings, can we? Here I am in Paris, missing my children and it cannot be avoided. Lesson learned. I have to go now and see if that accordian doggy is still around. Just looking. Maybe if I adopt the master too, it will all be fine and we can amuse ourseves with accordian music by the hour.




Dames d’un Certain Age

We are fascinated with French women, and especially la Parisienne. Writing a book about them in which you guarantee your readers that they will learn the 7 essential secrets of being a woman in the French style is a fast track to the best-seller list. This idealization of the Frenchwoman includes the notion that she is slim, ageless, witty, sophisticated and very seductive. She is also a great chef (knows how to cook mackerel, for example) and juggles work and family without strain. Judging by the behaviour of the French heads of state, it seems that these stellar qualities are lost on the men of France. But certainly not on the women of North America. That is why I am writing a book called, Aging a la  Francaise, because unlike all those other writers, I actually have figured out a number of things about Frenchwomen such as how and why Parisennes keep their figures. It’s their junk food. Pathetic. Check this out.

01f98e2da9def24bc74fc2d42df24d6bf51dc9a704_00001This is a Paris vending machine. What are they selling? Waffles. I kid you not. Who the heck would want to eat a waffle from a vending machine? And where’s the fat and the salt that make a junk food addictive? No self-respecting person would turn to these as a “treat”, and certainly not a Parisienne. No human has ever said, “I got fat because of those vending machine waffles”. That was Exhibit A. On to B.

01ca873974d24f5eca4a1f377aeb47abd0b9998488 So, here  is the side of a vending machine. There is the waffle, some cookies, a package of jujubes. And, what I don’t get is the name of the product: Bon Plans. Do you get that? What does that mean in the context of furtively scarfing your junk food on the subway platform? Obviously, it’s not a bon plan. And why are we throwing in English words gratuitously anyway?  Most puzzling. But not as strange as Exhibit C.

016e97ede98774d3cf8649ce195914acf91d4341deWow. Proust would be so gratified. Madeleines in the vending machine. This is not how you get fat. These vending machines represent a mentality. And if you want to know more you will have to reserve an advance copy of my book.

In order to research this book, I have had to seek out the most chic and compelling dames d’un certain age in Paris. They are to be found here.

0194d0bbb8765893c9e8ba0d482bf2fe0d18056f13 In the north-east corner of the Marais, Merci is the height of cool. So cool that it, too, is something I don’t understand. It is a non-profit store. Proceeds to charity. Nice idea. My gallery, too is non-profit as it turns out, but not intentionally. The French don’t like the idea of profit I guess and that is part of what makes Merci very cool. I do get how beautiful the interior space is. Huge, industrial loft style, great clothes, fantastic furnishings, linens and a big draw for Parisiennes of the sort we want to research.


0119c319df3a3e36bff137f7b8b8a62c5e0eba1d07 Voila. There she is. Great coat.  Well-tailored pants.

0161aa1c6f5fbcb465d5d88c2fde57d2a3e61f282aI admire this. Tidy. Elegant. Serious. Looks like she reads Foucault.

01a099f8c0a13080f7b792fd2215617425abbee468 Another thing to notice. Not trying to look young. Doesn’t have to try hard in any way. Just is. Here’s the coup de grace.

0156ddf48e6bad16033c32abf359575d80819146cf These are her shoes. Match the scarf. She is having fun and not asking anyone’s permission. She is showing that while she looks serious and adult there is a playful side you would probably like to get to know. 01c8c7dcef260165e7d6fa6b2cd0bef1397cc40c27 So much to notice here.  Great jacket with its velvet collar. Blouse, simple and perfect. Probably cost 500 euros. Don’t ignore the finer points. Those little hairclips. This is attention to detail that requires study.

01bf3bda0f7c55ca285436e037d51b5699ef5d95b3This one is a movie star. I’m pretty sure. Let me know if you recognize her.

01829125d9962cd4797ada26e5669c55b0e5767186 Finally, I leave you with this example, from the Jardin des Plantes (a great place for stalking chic grannies). Notice how her foulard matches the orchids.



My Funny Valentine

On my first trip to Paris I was twenty and in the company of my mother. I had just enough education and maturity to appreciate what I was seeing and in our whirlwind three days I resolved repeatedly to come back. Vividly, I remember standing on Pont Alexandre III and vowing that some day I would come back with the love of my life.


It only took twenty or so years, and a lot of living: a marriage, a career, years of schooling, children, a divorce, and then finding Alan. We came for a week that first time all the while hungry for more. A few years later, we did,  for a six month sabbatical.  Kids, dogs and many friends and family members came along for the ride. . Again, we knew we would be back and now it’s just the two of us. Time for a leetle romance, no (use your best PePe le Pieu accent)?

We decided to have an early Valentine’s and what is the best thing to do for a romantic sortie in the City of Love? For starters, walk along the Seine holding hands, then go to the Louvre and share wonderful art.

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Did you notice how I snuck another boar into this? I’m going to go back and draw that boar.  He is so wonderful under the vast skylight. I love a sculpture court since they create a whole alternative world of stone, and they remind me of Narnia. The French Sculpture court is non-pareil, and what a marvel indeed, were these creatures to come to life.

Continuing on the Valentine’s agenda, we left the Louvre and strolled across the rue de Rivoli to the Jardin du Place Royale, where a perfect heaven of gustatory delight is tucked into the corner off the arcade.


Here, cordial waiters bring you your hearts’ desire.


Perhaps a Kir, while we consider the menu?


Maybe an amuse-bouche of cold essence of lobster with creme chantilly. My mouth is very amused indeed.


We enjoy the special quality of the light in the arcade while we dine on oysters, risotto and lamb.


An odd little piece of sculpture for dessert. Under that warm banana is something crispy with chocolate ganache. The dots are caramel and cream. Sigh. Time for coffee.

We stroll home in the rain, sharing an umbrella. No longer young, not as acute or good-looking as we once were, having been through a lot, and maybe showing the wear and tear, a simple reality comes through. C’est l’amour. C’est tout.