The Image of Smell

I discovered Pierre Dinand today, quite by chance. Ma prodigue fille parisiene called to ask for suggestions as to where she could spend a couple of hours in the neighborhood of Les Galeries Lafayette (she had strolled through Les Marais all day and it didn’t make much sense to head back to the hotel before meeting her dad back downtown). So, the good efficient secretary that I am, I appealed quickly to Google, maps and all, and said on the phone:

“There is a nice small museum of perfume right near the Opera Garnier, Musee Fragonard. This one is free and they give tours. Looks fun. There is another one called Le Grand Musee du Parfum a little further by that one is 25 euros. Looks more promising.”

“OK, I’ll go to the free one” – she said and asked for the address.

After disconnecting, I continued to browse rather absent-mindedly the Grand Musee website. Under temporary exhibitions, there was one on a certain Pierre Dinand. Never heard, probably someone in the perfume world. Indeed, a designer of perfume bottles, as I found out.

And then I browsed his name and came across his website with a condensed story about his beginnings in the industry. He had spent some time in Asia in his youth combining military service and studying fine arts (??), then came back to France and got hired by a chemical company (???) where he was appalled by some hideous packaging, so he decided to create another packaging – you guessed, it was such a success that later on, he got contacted by a creative agency asking for a design for a perfume bottles for no more no less than Madame Rochas. Another success which opened Dinand the doors to fashion and perfume designers, both literally and figuratively. His life became a chain of anecdotes about this and that famous bottle and I encourage you to read the links I inserted above.

Now, my take on all this:

You can come across very interesting information quite by chance. I didn’t know about these perfume museums and when I’m next in Paris I’ll definitely check them out.

You can use moments in life to your (immense) benefit if you’re open and willing to cooperate and contribute. See my daughter who is now thoroughly enjoying Paris and trusting her mom for instant advice (haha!) At a grander scale, see Monsieur Dinand who probably didn’t plan to become famous on perfume bottles when drinking tea or what-not while digging archeological sites in Cambodia (yep, he did that too).

You can choose to share such gems or dismiss them as maybe-not-so-interesting-to-others. Well, I hope you learned something today. I certainly did.

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NO to Paris

6:45 am Phone call before my wake-up time. I glance at the screen, it’s my daughter calling from Paris. I quickly compute: she should be out and about, is she having trouble?

“Hi, sweetie. What’s up?”

Devastated voice at the other end, crying big tears.

“I wanna come hooooome… I don’t want to beeee heeeeere…”

Oh. The fit. First time in Paris and the image doesn’t correspond. She’s been there only two days, it’s been raining, the boutique hotel is not up to her high standards, nothing works the way it should (lovely word!) etc. etc. At 19 years old, she has acted like an entitled brat for some time – Paris is the perfect place to graduate to kindergarten. What are you, 3?

“You can’t come home. You’re in Paris. Make the most of it.”

Silence.

“Have you just woken up?”

“No, I woke up really early and I was out walking for two hours, but it’s cold and people are rude and I don’t wanna be here. I’m sorry I woke you up…”

She didn’t want to take warmer clothes and the good fancy jacket is hanging in our closet at home. Oh well. Mom’s usually wrong, right?

“Baby, it’s OK. Come on, it’s gonna be good. You know what you can do? Go get something nice to eat, a croissant and a coffee, then head to the Lafayette Department Store. It’s beautiful, smells good, it’s inside, so you won’t be cold. And then you can stroll through the covered passages, they’re nearby – Panoramas, Jouffroy… Perfect for a day like this.”

“Oooo..key…”

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I spent a few more minutes of encouragement, then went back to bed to cuddle a few more minutes with my younger one before actually getting up for the day. I stifled the thoughts of worrying needlessly for my little teenager and I found myself laughing at how God puts us in quite amusing situations to guide us back into reality-check. Of course, it’s amusing for Him and others noticing it from the outside. It’s not exactly amusing on the inside. It feels stupid and annoying on the inside.

As I write this, I’m having my coffee before starting my day and week. Outside, it’s colder yet sunnier than in Paris, and there’s nothing particularly exciting in my weekly plan, just daily life in a rather boring Canadian city. My coffee is warm and I got kisses and hugs from my other two kids before they left for school earlier. The feeling still lingers – it’s very, very nice to be loved. Yes, I could have been in Paris with my husband now if I hadn’t chosen to give our daughter the opportunity to accompany her dad to see Ville Lumiere. Am I sorry having given up my place to someone who doesn’t even appreciate it? No. She’s that part of recalcitrant me who needs to learn one or two things about how changing viewpoints has an impact on the whole perspective. I can draw in perspective and I know how viewpoints work – but man, did I have to practice it literally and figuratively to actually get it! She’s gonna get it too. We all can, if we want to try.

I have faith in her. She’s gonna come back from Paris with a new appreciation of things. And if she doesn’t get that, well, that just means she’s in for a longer ride. It’s gonna take more Parises, more rains, more love, more trials. How many times do we say NO to things before we say yes? People who care for us would try their best to make us feel better, but it really is up to us to truly feel better.

Hey, guess what – she just wrote to me to say she’s heading out. Can’t wait to hear how she enjoyed it. Now, how good are you going to make your life today? Find your Paris, let me know.

 

Enough

What a funny little word, isn’t it? A word that expands into a whole universe of stars and black holes. Especially dark ones.

You’ve had enough to drink. She doesn’t know when enough is enough. There isn’t enough money to do this. Love isn’t enough.

Or in disguise: You can never be too kind. Never say never. You could do this better. Can you stop? (please)

It started with the day I came back from getting the results to a difficult exam. Back in those days, in the country I grew up in, compulsory public education finished with grade 10: that meant kids had to take an exam to prove their worth right in the middle of high-school. Ridiculous, if you asked me then – and I still think so. One had to pass a couple of entry exams to go to high-school anyway, and there would be another series at the end of it to get the “baccalaureat” (very much in the French tradition). That middle-exam series only added extra pressure and, in truth, it was one of the mechanisms which the communist regime used to ensure people didn’t have much time for free thinking (’cause they would start getting ideas that the system was not quite right, right?) There were two such exams scheduled at the end of grade 10, and they were specific to the program of the respective high-school (some schools focused on sciences, other on languages, or arts, or medicine… very regimented to being with). At my school, I had to do a math exam and a physics exam. My grandfather was a well-known tutor of math who gave excellent instruction to countless kids grade 5-12. I was his only (and quite favourite) granddaughter. I owe him every bit of math that I know – and I know a lot! Throughout the year, we’d had our lessons in a group and all of us were doing well.

The exams were difficult, as they usually were at that stage. Only 60 would be able to promote to grade 11 – those who didn’t… well, they’d have to get a job (which was almost impossible without connections) and try again next time, and ONLY for evening classes. I was good at physics though not excelling: still, I got a 7.5 or so (out of 10). The math exam, I had taken extra care with: not only I was confident I did everything well, but I provided a double way of solving some of the exercises, and my writing was organized and truly impeccable. I was not surprised to see I got a full 10. Altogether, my over 8 average mark pushed me into the successful candidates. I was proud of myself and for no small reason.

So, big smile on my lips, I went to my grandfather and I announced my victory. He looked at me and said: Daniela did better. (Daniela was another student from our math lesson group) I said: what? What do you mean? He said: Daniela got over 9 average. I said: that’s irrelevant. Daniela is not in the same high-school; and by the way, how much did Daniela got in math? 9.4, he said. Well, I got a 10 in math AND I made it to grade 11 – shouldn’t this be enough for you?

He never answered that question. The smile faded from my lips gradually, my self-confidence stood fighting. In two years time, I would flunk the very difficult entry exam for the Architecture School: not the preliminary drawing exams (in spite of my Dad telling me I can’t draw well enough), but the geometry exam – my best subject. Both Dad and Granddad told me openly they were ashamed with me. I waited another year, tried again: guess what, I flunked the drawing. And then I did something they thought was crazy. I registered for the entry exam of the Math course at the University. Those were the hardest math exams ever. Dad and Granddad felt funnily proud I’d choose that, but they didn’t get me at all. I couldn’t care less if I made it into that program, I didn’t want to be a math teacher, just wanted to see if I could get a passing mark: and I did. I got over 5 average for math international Olympics questions. Right that moment, I knew I would pass the entry exam for the architecture school the following year.

Long story short, I finished architecture school and went on to Cambridge for my Masters degree. My grandfather had died in the meanwhile, but my father was secretly delighted. After immigrating to Canada later on, I spent another seven years over a doctorate only to see my academic teaching dream dripping like sand through my fingers as I sat down to write my thesis: at 40, I had become pregnant with my third child. I gave birth to the child and raised her along with my other two teenagers, while crying my head off and writing the doctorate. I was made to feel a not good-enough mother for crying over such a pathetic career meltdown. PhD under my belt, I accepted to teach drawing and geometry to college students who wouldn’t come to class and who wouldn’t do their homework, despite my best efforts to engage them. I was sacked when I refused to pass those students.

Nothing I’ve done was considered enough. They planted this idea in my head at a time when I was young, happy and confident. They did not celebrate my successes. They made me feel little and insignificant. They told me it’s my fault for this and this and this. I had to take the blame, whether it was my owning or theirs. They trapped me in this funny game and, ever so slowly, I became “they”. My self-confidence was nowhere in sight. I started to tell myself my dreams don’t matter; what use is to try this, I don’t know enough to make it work; I started to feel guilty when thinking of celebrating me simply because some of them thought that’s selfish. When I came to the full realization of this, I was (might I dare say, rightfully) angry. My love turned to hate. I wanted them gone, out of my life, but some just wouldn’t disappear. It was as if invisible murky threads made them cling to me, and I was trying in vain to clip and cut and push aside. Nightmarish, really.

Eventually, I took on a minimum wage job as an assistant in a Kumon centre where the enthusiastic and actually lovely owner would gently prevent me to teach – I was there only to welcome students and to grade their papers, not to instruct them: that was her job. I felt not good enough. Everything was pointing to giving up, so I willingly gave up that job too. “The kids will miss you…”

Days came and went, as I tried to fight my returning depression. Something very deep inside, in the dark hole of my guts, said you’re not a total quitter. Luckily, I had learned to notice the colours around me, the light, the music, and every now and then a ding of a text from good friends asking how I am. “You’re the best mom in the entire world, I can’t stop loving you!!!” And those diplomas on the wall in our home-office… tacky, I know. I have a more than patient editor at a famous university press waiting for me to finish the manuscript of a book from my thesis. Why would I do it when there’s no academic career at the end of it? Or is it… could it be? Does it matter.

And one day… I understood. Out of the blue. That happy, confident girl is still alive in me – maybe not kicking much, as she’s felt down lately… well, for about 30 years, on and off. She is not that young, but man, does she have some other good stuff up her sleeve. She’s used her time well. She has accomplished many things just by forging on. She’s raised three great kids, she’s taught some others, she’s cooked a few good meals, she’s been a friend. She has a good group of “they” who love her truly. When she wants to, she’s fantastic! It really isn’t all the work of her dear magic wand…

OK, enough with this! Did you get the message?

Groceries: the BIG FUN job

Saturday morning. Quickly-quickly, before it gets to noon…! I’ll have to try prepare these posts in advance, Saturday mornings are the leisure part of our week (before it gets busy again towards noon, which is where I’m heading now…)

We do grocery shopping and laundry and fix things and other house stuff on Saturdays. It’s a good time to do this, I find. During the years, we’ve had one possible activity scheduled for the kids in the afternoon, though we’ve tried to avoid it in the early years as they’re more likely to be invited to birthday parties at this time. Talking about organizing your life so you stay (pretty much) on top of things?

Let’s talk about that grocery list today. Ideally, you’d shop for the whole week. That doesn’t exactly work as fantastic as it sounds in larger families if you don’t have two fridges or a separate freezer – and we don’t. We mostly cook from scratch, and I‘m mostly the one who does the cooking (almost daily; I know, but you get used to it), so I need to first do another list of possible dishes to cook in the following week. I have a friend who’s a dedicated working mother – and when I say “dedicated”, it’s in all respects. She has two altars she constantly dies on: work during the day, home during the night and weekends. To keep up with everything, on Saturdays she cooks for the entire following week. I could NEVER do that, it’s too depressing. But hey, if it works for you, go ahead and try it. I’ve adapted this by having a (tentative) idea of what I’ll be feeding my gang weekly.

My cooking list is usually 8 or 9 items long and it includes the daily dinners for the next six evenings and some loose thoughts on lunches or snacks, depending on the time of the year (school-time or summer vacation). I’ve developed an array of dishes which are easy and quick to make, need only a few ingredients and feed tons of people, plus leftovers for next day lunch bags. True that the bulk of these dishes come from the Romanian cuisine, which I’ve been brought up with and might sound strange to anybody who’s not Eastern European or Mediterranean – but you can always adapt it to the cuisine you know and love best. One of the dishes is necessarily some soup – why? Most complicated thing about it is the chopping – other than that, you just put everything in a pot and let it boil until ready. I’ll continue to post recipes on my Wednesday series.

Here’s a possible cooking list for the week:

Chicken and yellow beans (the Greeks call it fasolakia, same thing)

Fish (oven) + corn and peas (boiled)

Pasta with meat/mushrooms/peppers

Pizza

Chicken soup with vegetables and dumplings

Baked potatoes/ hummus/green salad/tomatoes etc. (vegan)

Munchies, snack bars, deli & cheeses for sandwiches

Banana bread / some kind of sweet pie………

Sometimes, I get ready-made dinners – once a month is no big deal, even for healthy-living crazed people. Or we get take out. Or I feel like trying Turkish recipes or Thai or fancy French ones like coq-au-vin (which is really a variation of a Romanian similar recipe, only we use white wine whereas the French use red). Once you start cooking, you get the hang of it and you can vary stuff. The idea is to get to the point when you don’t worry. You cook with whatever is in the fridge (and a little extra, which might require a trip to the store in the middle of the week). Which brings me to the REALLY fun part of doing the groceries!

My husband insists he does the Saturday shopping. He asks for my list, completes it with one or two things he likes, and then sticks to it almost religiously. Like most men, he has little imagination, (mildly) forgets about replenishing kitchen supplies like salt, oil, napkins and the like, plus he does. not. do. the. cooking. (he insists he cooks as much as I do. Sure.) He’s been annoyed for years that by next Wednesday (or some other aleatory day) I do a second (might I say, light) round of groceries. We disagree, obviously. He constantly bugs me about dropping that habit – and why on earth, why can’t I just stick to the list if I come along shopping with him? (does this resonate with any other women?)

So one time, it was I who got so annoyed with him that I let him cook with whatever he bought. Not just that Saturday night, but FOR SOME TIME afterwards. Guess what happened. That Saturday he did some barbecue, nice, he’s good at that. Sunday afternoon, I had to go out running some errands, and asked before I left the house: “so what’s for dinner tonight, honey?” He looked at me aslant and said: “it’s OK, I got it.” I get back home two hours later to find him cooking lasagna (a favourite of his, I never cook lasagna, his is perfect). “Lasagna?” I say with laughter in my voice. “I don’t recall you getting minced meat yesterday.” “I went to the shop and bought some.” he says, avoiding my gaze. “Oh.” I burst out laughing. “It didn’t last you till Wednesday.” He makes himself busy. Funny, right? Lasagna was great that night and it lasted, you got it, for another night. Surprise, surprise, on Tuesday night there was no more. “And what’s for dinner, darling?” Oops. “Err… we have stuff in the fridge.” Right. Sandwiches. We also had some pasta and cheese three nights later.

We lasted like this for about two weeks. The kids started to beg: “moooom, stop this… when are you gonna cook again?” I looked at the love of my life and raised my eyebrows. His lips were pretty tight closed. Ever since, he hasn’t commented much on either the grocery list, my mid-week second round of shopping or my cooking. Getting organized and sticking to a point is working in all respects, trust me. Just find your own way to do it.

Happy Saturday!

Time for a Treat

Thursday morning. Man, it’s the middle of the week. Bad news: work is still there and won’t go away by the weekend (worse than bad news: you don’t have a job; keep reading and hopefully you’ll find some helpful ideas below). Good news: you can take a break any time to recharge your batteries. And what better time than today!

Today you’re gonna GO OUT and have coffee, tea or lunch. With or without a friend. Preferably “with” – a friend who’ll have coffee with you at any time really cares for you and…

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(yes, this is my photo of a sewing kit I bought and I intend to sew this little thing – will post it when ready)

But maybe you are a loner and you don’t have friends (yet! – you’ll make some in due time, plus see picture above). That’s OK, you have a date with your best “friend” then: YOU.

You’re gonna dress nicely for this, even if you go to the cheapest place in town. Why? You respect yourself, you respect your audience, friends, family etc. It all starts with you. Even Jesus Christ gave us the command as such: “Love your neighbour like yourself.” Well, if you don’t love yourself, you can’t really love someone else. Makes sense? That coffee you’re gonna have will make YOU feel good first and foremost, whether you’re helping yourself or others. Get that?

So start with putting on your best comfortable clothes and shoes. Open the door and go straight to that shop and try spot a table by the window or by the fireplace or in a nook. It’s part of treating yourself. Enjoy every sip. This is not the time to start dieting (by the way, any diet sucks – if it’s not attached to a doctor’s prescription or to a healthy and balanced pattern of fasting, don’t inflict it on yourself. I’ll write a separate posting about fasting, promise.)

Talk to your friend or to your self. Take that half an hour or more to focus on positive things. It’s OK if you need to cry and be comforted, just try not leave the table on a sad or angry note. Think of something good for that last sip.

Worst case scenario: you’re totally miserable, you don’t have any friends, you don’t have any money, your best clothes are mostly rags. OK. All it takes is your will power. Do you wanna feel better? Here’s what you do: You put on your best rags. You take a look at that Monday mirror and see that you’re enough the way you are. You get out of your current physical environment and step into a coffee shop and ask for a glass of water and sit by any available window for 10 minutes. Think about the good stuff in your life, anytime, anywhere. There must be something, dig deep into your memory and let the good bits resurface. If a bad memory tries to take over, push it aside gently saying: “I don’t need you right now.” You do this exercise as often as you can (think of), and in a short time you’ll feel better, more confident, richer and more sociable. Stick to it, baby. It’s called the discipline of feeling good.

In any of these instances, appreciate you took the time to dress up and go out because you deserve it.

Happy Thursday!

 

Good Stuff

Wednesday morning. Well, more like lunch time now as I’m posting this, as I was too tired last night to write this and schedule it for posting in the morning. But the timing is good and here’s why: this post is about food!

Remember Monday you took care of your self. Tuesday you walked a bit to exercise your muscles. Now it’s time for some good food and whether you are a cook or not, you are going to try making this from scratch. The only thing you can complain about is it takes 10 minutes to make, otherwise it has only advantages: it’s good and healthy, it doesn’t have any food additives because it tastes excellent on its own, plus you know exactly what’s in it, it’s easy and beautiful to look at, it’s cheaper than processed food. It’s also pure vegan or you can have it as a side dish with meat or eggs or cheeses. You can have it for lunch or serve it at a party as an amuse-bouche (appetizer in English – I like the French term because it is a great description of the function this food fulfills: it amuses the mouth – and the eyes!)

So grab the following:

One pepper of each colour you can think of and/or find it in the store: red, orange, yellow, green should do the trick.

A few types of olives: green, black, mauve, spicy or not, depends on your personal taste.

Some cloves of garlic.

Olive oil (or any other kind)

Some fresh herbs: Best is rosemary leaves, it also works with marjoram, thyme, sage.

Now chop the peppers and the garlic in big chunks, they’re tastier this way.

Get a pan, heat it up a bit and pour the oil in it. Add the chopped peppers and garlic. Fry for a few minutes until the skin of peppers looks soaked. Add olives and rosemary and fry for another minute or two. Ta-da!! Ready. Add salt or not.

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The trick with cooking is to not be afraid to taste stuff as you make it. That’s how you know what it still needs. Tell me you made it. Tell me I’m helping with turning you into a courageous cook. Or don’t tell me a thing, just do it.

You owe this to yourself. You need good food. Enjoy!

Happy Wednesday!

 

Walk the Talk

Tuesday morning. Time to do some body exercise.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t keep to a gymnastics schedule. People who know me in real life would be surprised, they will most likely think of me as a disciplined person as I manage to achieve quite a lot throughout the day, month, years. But I’m not exactly disciplined. Even Qi Gong – which I have discovered a few years ago – I do every now and then, when my organs inside hurt. Running for running sake makes no sense, I don’t need to lose calories. So I walk.

You wanna get out of depression, do some mild work out too along with thinking better of your self. I started walking last fall as a means to begin the day on a positive tone. I decided that after I see my little one to the school bus, I could go around a few streets in my neighbourhood before I have breakfast. My walk takes about 25 minutes, it’s always the same route, and I do it as often as I can (talk about strict discipline! but hey, I’m trying, see?) I love my neighbourhood, it reminds me of the one I grew up in, not in the architectural style of the houses but in the friendly atmosphere it exudes.

We live on top of a hill whose streets are lined with postwar small houses built in the mid-sixties. They may not look spectacular to some, but I like the ownership pride they show. They are so well taken care of, it gives you confidence in the solid little details which make a good life.

Some are detached bungalows or two-storeys.

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Other are split houses (the ones which have the living/dining/kitchen combo half-way between two floors making the bedroom-garage wing).

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There are also the undefined ones which look like two storey, when in fact they have an elevated main floor (a sort of Italian piano nobile – no wonder, there are many Italians in the area!) over a lower floor with bedrooms and the garage.

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As I’ve been walking by these houses almost daily, their presence has faded in the background and gave way to the seasonal details of their gardens. And so one split came alive with the flame of its yellow maple tree…

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… another one with an “ever-green” which turned golden too…

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… then you’d have pure fire coming right at you…

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…or burning your feet…

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…or just splashes of colour…

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…and weird reminders that as some die, others are born…

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And so it went, from fall into spring – admittedly, we had a lousy winter this one so I didn’t take many pictures as I wasn’t out much (yep, laziness – no, let’s call it by its nicer name “coziness” made a mess of my discipline). But hey, one Tuesday morning, as I was saying, I got back on the road and here’s what I saw:

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Some people even got their beauties out…

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… and the magnolias were simply irresistible!

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SO… what I want you to do is this: get out of the house. Just do it. If you’re somewhere in the northern hemisphere, right now chances are the weather is cooperating. (I hear it’s nice in the southern hemisphere, never been there – you figure it out and let me know.) It may be sunny or not. Get an umbrella or a jacket if it rains. Or walk out and sing in the rain as you are. Rain boots maybe? They are great ’cause you can jump into puddles – and why wouldn’t you? Be a kid. Have you noticed how happy water makes kids? It’s a miracle. You wouldn’t live three days without water, appreciate it, love it. Go out and enjoy every step, even for 5 minutes. And if it’s sunny, you really don’t have any excuse. Step out, walk, close your eyes and let the rays warm your face and soul.

Then come back inside and make yourself a tea or a coffee. You deserve it.

Happy Tuesday!