Franco File Friday: Janice MacLeod, author of 'Paris Letters'

How much money does it take to quit your job and move abroad? That was the abiding question author Janice MacLeod asked herself for over a year when confronted with the stasis and routine of her life working in advertising in Los Angeles. It was also one of the key elements to her personal journey to Paris in her memoirs 'Paris Letters', published earlier this year. What I loved about her story is that it's so universally relatable - who hasn't been in a position to question their life setup? Burdened by an accumulation of material possessions and a stifled imagination, it's easy to see how a bonfired past and a fresh start could be an attractive prospect. Even more so when that fresh start involves new environs, new faces, new encounters.

For Janice, her new beginning in Paris led to the birth of new creative pursuits and a multi-cultural love story the likes of which she could never have anticipated. For the details of her life reboot, you'll have to pick up her book. Until then, learn a little more about Janice below!

Describe what you love about France in three words. 
Charm. History. Artists.

What tactics helped you adjust to your new home (and the administrative hurdles and everyday unfamiliarity)? 
Saying Bonjour every morning to all the market people who met my gaze on my street, rue Mouffetard. I felt like Belle at the beginning of Disney's Beauty and the Beast, singing Bonjour, Bonjour, Bonjour to everyone. It helped me immediately feel like I lived in Paris rather than feeling like an outsider. I repeated this every evening with Bonsoir, Bonsoir, Bonsoir. Once they accept you as their neighbor they can be the most lovely, funny and helpful people. 
Where did you go when you were writing the book to kickstart creative momentum? 
First, when in the throws of the big writing of the book, I would go for a run each day in Jardin des Plantes. I would always come up with a way to move the story along, to piece together two themes or solve a tricky transition. Then I would return home, get ready and go to one of these cafés depending on the season and chair availability:

// TournBride at 104 rue Mouffetard. The terrasse is a perfect perch for people watching when the weather is warm.

// Café Saint Medard at 53 Rue Censier. The gurgling fountain outside creates the perfect ambient background for writing. 

// Le Comptoir Des Arts at the Censier Daubenton métro. I'd go here when the mornings were cold. The windowed wall along the street acted as a greenhouse inside and kept me toasty. Great for cool winter days. 

Angelina's Hot Chocolate

Favorite place to bring out-of-town guests? 
I get an Angelina hot chocolate to go and we walk across the street to the park and sip it by the carousel. The hot chocolate is cheaper when you get it to go, plus you get an old fashion carousel to watch. It's the epitome of charm and takes guests back in time to their own childhoods. Also, I always work in a boat ride, preferably on their final evening in Paris. It's a great way to end their vacation on a high note. 

Your most amusing or frustrating memory with the French?
Almost all of my frustrating moments with the French happen at the post office (La Poste). I recently needed an international stamp to send a letter. They gave me their world famous shrug and said they had run out and I was out of luck. Try back next week. I explained in very slow and articulate French that I found it impossible to imagine that anyone wanting to send a letter outside of France was out of luck for a week. Three of them conferred. They finally returned with audible sighs and said there was another stamp available but unfortunately it would cost two cents more. I'll take it. Gawd! Common sense isn't always so common at La Poste. They aren't so lovely, funny or helpful no matter how many times I say Bonjour.

To be entered to win a personalized Paris letter from Janice,  leave a comment sharing what you would do with your life if you started over.

Entries close August 28th. A winner will be selected at random on Friday, August 29 and notified in the comments section. Good luck!

Update: Congratulations to Jenna Francisco! You'll receive your Paris Letter very soon.

Lost In Cheeseland | Franco File Friday posts


Eating, Drinking & Seeing in Paris (and beyond): 5 Favorites in June & July

Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening)

The first half of summer whipped by with such breakneck speeds that I hardly had a moment to process it all and stay on top of my monthly highlights. Proof of time well spent, no? Below, five highlights from the last two months:

Taking my family to my favorite spots in Paris
Based on discussions with my father before his arrival last month, I was uncertain I'd get to adequately introduce him to the local dining and drinking spots I frequent the most - Fondation Café, Verjus, Willi's Wine Bar, to name a few. All would depend on my little brother's willingness to soldier through action-packed afternoons, museum visits and miles of walking. Setting low expectations in that regard proved to be the right move as I was pleasantly surprised by how much I ended up being able to show them. And of course, those experiences bore a few lessons. Check those out here!

Hotel Rural Biniarroca, Menorca

Discovering Menorca (aka my future retirement home)
The trouble with vacation is that shortly after it ends and you've returned to a normal routine, the experience feels like an evanescent memory. Fortunately, I have more than Menorca's unspoiled beaches to keep our trip last month front of mind. My friend Will Taylor, whose nuptials we attended, has posted several updates from his wedding weekend that should offer a crisp sense of place.

Part 1: Nautical-chic rehearsal dinner
Part 2: Wedding morning beach trip 
Part 3: The wedding! 

For non-wedding highlights, check out a few of my photos from our trip HERE.

Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening) Hotel Peninsula Paris (Pre-opening)

Getting a sneak peek at the Peninsula Paris Hotel before it opened
Paris has no shortage of grand playgrounds for the ultra well-heeled traveler - the Plaza Athenée, the Ritz (still under renovation), Le Bristol, the Mandarin Oriental, etc. - but luxurious lodging has some new competition with the arrival of The Peninsula Paris, the group's 10th hotel and first European outpost. Twenty years in the making, the overhaul of this Haussmannian building on Avenue Kleber is as storied as the structure itself.

As Hotel Majestic, it played host to literary greats and artists like James Joyce, Marcel Proust (who had their first and only meeting here) and George Gershwin whose "An American in Paris" came to life while as a guest in one of the hotel's suites. Once sold to the French government in 1936, the space assumed more political leanings, first as the headquarters to UNESCO, then as the International Conference Center for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Henry Kissinger led peace talks with the North Vietnamese from the ballroom and signed the peace treaty to end the war four years later, in a room that has been repurposed as a bar.

Given the enormity of the space and the historic elements to be preserved, the redesign required an all-star team of artisans, many of whom were accustomed to working on fastidious restorations at the Louvre and Versailles. The investment has truly revived this grand dame to sumptuous effect and while a stay may be hors-budget (nearly $1,000/night to start), most of us can splurge for a cocktail on the rooftop terrace attached to the L'Oiseau Blanc restaurant or a digestif and cigar in the Kleber Lounge. Whatever your tipple of choice, drop by to see the Peninsula's magnificence up close.

Lunching at Bistro Urbain
When I arrived in Paris eight years ago, menu items like Caesar salads, cheeseburgers and cheesecake were not only scarce but unwelcome food additions to the culinary scene. The French had little to learn from Americans about food (or so they thoughts) and strongly resisted what they perceived to be the wayward effects of globalization. But locals were evidently ready for some outside flavor and rushed to try the new and novel. With this rise in international influence, however, came a remarkable downturn in the traditional bistro model. Classic dishes were supplanted by trendy (and to some, mediocre) comfort fare, the chalkboard wall menu replaced by shock white metro tiles and the experience altogether changed.

Many have clamored for a sort of bistro revival,  Alec Lobrano chief among them, and seek out the spots that buck the trends to focus on simple, high-quality French dishes in an environment that channels the past without being bound to it. Bistrot Urbain - Urbain for the owner's last name - is one such place inspired the bistro greats of yesteryear and offers an ever-so-slightly modern update. I had a fantastic lunch, beginning with a fresh heirloom tomato salad, followed by a perfectly-cooked codfish filet and a mixed cheese platter for dessert. The menu rotates regularly but you can count on a short but balanced offering, worthy of the bistro label.

Also check out their sandwich shop a few blocks over, Comptoir Urbain.

Fauchon Fruit Fiction, 2014

Indulging in Fauchon's Fruit Fiction Collection 
Like fashion, French pastry evolves in seasonal collections. Typically this translates to a few new flavors added to the menu or limited edition recipes that follow a theme or inspired by pop culture. Available through September 3rd, Fauchon's latest collection Fruit Fiction marries seasonal fruits and vegetables in an array of goodies from macarons (think: blackcurrant, apricot-lemon, chocolate passionfruit) and tea to jam and éclairs (specifically, raspberry-avocado). Pillowy soft and flavorful, the dozen I picked up vanished within minutes of serving them for friends. The jam, on the other hand, has been gussying up my breakfast every since I picked up a jar. See the collection (and its amusing marketing material resembling a galaxy of flying pastry) and visit their Madeleine boutique on your next visit.

What have been the highlights of your summer? 

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


Five Musts for Visiting Paris with Kids

"He's already discovered a love for pain au chocolat and is itching for more!" my father beamed upon arriving at his Paris rental apartment earlier this month. He was referring to my 6-year old brother who was about to embark on his first trip abroad and had evidently adjusted to local tastes quite nicely, straight off the plane.

Everyone had a mission on this trip - my father and step-mother were intent on spending time in museums and cathedrals, my little brother was keen on eating, seeing the Eiffel Tower and meeting my cat, and I was ambitiously hoping to take them to some of my favorite haunts, from coffee shops and restaurants to parks and passages. I wanted them to get a sense of how we live, abstract as it may still be for non-urbanites.

Everyone had some concerns about how the little one would fare with the jet lag and robust activity but much to our surprise, he soldiered through each day with energy to spare most evenings (thank god for snacks!).

On the downside, we were pummeled by rain on eight of the nine days of their trip and while the cooler temperatures were a welcome respite from the cloying humidity they're used to in Philadelphia, it was a serious nuisance. It did, however, motivate us to museum-hop and make clever use of fleeting moments of sunshine.

And at the end of nine consecutive and amusing days with a six year old, I came to several realizations:

1//  Parisian children rarely dine in restaurants. Not only did we take him to more sophisticated establishments (where he did just fine), we were the only group requesting glasses of cold milk everywhere we went. It certainly made the waiters smile....

2// Even the most well-behaved children are a LOT of work. Traveling with them? Kudos to all of you.

3// (The reason for this post): I can finally make a few recommendations on visiting the city with kids from firsthand experience. And with that, five musts:

Pont Alexandre III

1/ Don't be too ambitious and manage expectations 
It's normal to want to cram in as much activity per day as possible to make the most of your stay. But kids don't have the same tolerance for long walks and museum outings as adults and have no compunctions about making their boredom known. Plan each day wisely - one museum, a fun park for kids, a nice lunch and more games/playtime for the little one(s). If a nap fits into the schedule, even better.

2/ Identify fun alternatives to major sites (and avoid long lines) 
Check the website for advanced Eiffel Tower tickets today and you'll be faced with the same frustration we were- no tickets available in the forseeable future. For them, no tickets were available for the duration of their trip and none the rest of the summer. If you're really committed to seeing some of the most visited sites, plan to arrive before they open and queue for tickets. Or, have a backup plan that won't involve too much idle time.

A few ideas: climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for beautiful views of the Champs-Elysées and beyond, the lines are generally shorter; watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle on the hour, every hour, beginning at sundown from the plaza at Trocadéro (what's more, it's free and a stone's throw from Carette tea salon! Skip the savory, order the pastries); see the city from the Ballon de Paris in the Parc André Citröen which is also used to detect air quality in the city.

3/ Don't overlook the simple things 
Specific activities will surely vary based on the child's age but my little brother had a grand time playing in sandboxes in the Square du Temple with Parisian kids aged 4-9, chasing pigeons in front of Saint Sulpice, in Luxembourg Gardens, in Place des Vosges, in insert-open-space-here, and riding on the city's many carrousels (most interesting in design but his least favorite: the vintage carrousel in the Luxembourg Gardens; the city's oldest). Storytelling on our long walks across town also held his attention - thanks to my friend Bryan Pirolli for teaching him about the Knights Templar, the guillotine and all about France's many kings - as did hopping from one Buren column in Palais Royal to another.

4/ Dinosaurs make everyone happy 
And not only dinosaurs but skeletons of thousands of animal species. Equally as impressive as the display it the building that houses it: The Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy, part of the National History Museum and located on the edge of the Jardin des Plantes (5th arrondissement), was built for the 1900 World Fair and has since remained one of the city's least talked about cultural destinations. But since my brother is well-versed in Dinosaur history and taxonomy, we knew it had to be part of the itinerary. As it turns out, it's a museum fit for the whole family. All of us were enthralled by the extensive array of specimens and got a kick out of being schooled on dinosaurs by a six year old. You can continue the visit to this area of the city with a stroll through Jardin des Plantes and a tour of the menagerie, one of the oldest in the world.

Read more:
The Natural History Museum
The Skeleton Garden in Paris

5/ Snacks, snacks, snacks! 
What prevented a number of near meltdowns? Ice cream, pain au chocolat and other forms of chocolate. I'm not suggesting you pump your kids full of sugar however, allocating time for snack breaks that appeal to both kids and adults will keep everyone in good spirits. And if you're graced with warm, sunny weather, you'll be thankful for ice cream pit stops. The best on this trip:

Du Pain et Des Idées
Eric Kayser
Jacques Génin 
If in a jam and need a place with frequent locations: Amorino. Not my favorite but sure to do the trick.

Any other MUSTS you'd add to the list? You can see some of the highlights of the trip in my digital book with Steller by clicking the image below! 

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


Top 5 Pastry Spots of the Moment in Paris

Aux Merveilleux de Fred meringues

Eclairs, meringues, cream puffs, chiffon cakes: only a handful of the pastries that have won the imaginations of some of France's top talents. 

More than ever, pastry chefs are narrowing their focus to one or two specialties and dedicating shops around them. The above pâtisseries, among others, are stars of this growing movement and the subject of my first Wall Street Journal story, now online and on newsstands today! 

L'Eclair de Génie

This isn't my first time writing about the emerging trends in pastry (éclairs!) as it is quickly becoming a topic that both fascinates and delights. More than that, it's endearing - nearly every pastry chef I've spoken to, for this story and others, slip into a sort of reverie when they talk about their craft. It's easy to criticize the French for not being progressive enough in business and administration but they're inventive and exacting when it comes to matters of the belly (with the technical prowess to back up the ideas). 

Of the selection I researched (read: tasted), the éclair remains my greatest weakness, a fact that continues to amuse me since it was my least favorite French pastry when I moved to France. The meringues mounds from Aux Merveilleux de Fred rank a close second. 

Judging by some of the emails I've received from readers looking for suggestions on where to indulge in the city's best sweets, I think this top five round-up will prove useful (I hope!). Perhaps not for waistlines but overall happiness.

Check out my top five here. Have a favorite among those I've included? 

Lost In Cheeseland Food and Restaurant posts


7 Years of Biking in Paris

It's already been seven years since the first fleet of Vélib bicycles rolled out into Paris, grey and shiny and ready to offer Parisians a new mode of transport. That's nearly as long as I've been a Paris resident. In that time, Vélib has become a fixture of the cityscape, a bike-share model of excellence that has inspired the systems in Chicago, New York, London and surely beyond, and, to everyone's great surprise, an example of excellent customer service on and offline.

To put those seven years into perspective, the Vélib team created this fun infographic that I thought you'd enjoy as well. Any surprises?

Have you tried Vélib as a Paris visitor?

For tips on Vélib itineraries through Paris, check out Vélib's first book: Paris By Bike 
Follow Vélib online for more updates! In English or French


Love in Menorca

Few hotel stays end in a hug and a European double air kiss but that's exactly how our experience at the Biniarroca Hotel in Menorca concluded. Beyond base level hotel attentiveness, the entire staff was engaging in ways we didn't anticipate. They had fascinating lives, with stories we were eager to hear and they too wanted to know more about us - what brought us to the island, what we do in Paris and where we hope to go in the future. After all the advice she doled out and time spent getting to know us, it didn't feel right to leave without properly embracing Alice, the woman who helped make the start of our visit so special.

What we didn't realize then, as this was the first stay of several on the island, is that the warmth and kindness of the hotel's team was an example of the Menorcan état d'esprit; an ineffable sweetness that we encountered right up to until we boarded the plane back to Paris. It was instantly clear why my friends Will and Toby have not only made Menorca their annual holiday destination but selected it, without hesitation, as the backdrop for their nuptials. And when you know Will and Toby, you know that the Menorcan's singularly sunny disposition is the perfect match for their optimistic outlook on life and love.
Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED
Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED

Will Taylor and I met through blogging (he's the creator/author of the blog Bright Bazaar and its titular book) but took our friendship offline when we collaborated on a Paris travel story for Sweet Paul Magazine in December of 2012. We hit it off instantly and have managed to see each other rather frequently considering our respective home bases separated by the channel. And through these occasions, I've had the humbling opportunity to experience Will and Toby as a couple. Which is to say, I have had been in the presence of tremendous love.

The accomplishments of one do not efface or extinguish those of the other but rather bolster their success as a pair. Their relationship is built firmly on mutual support, fairness, understanding and respect and it is unequivocally clear that they summon the very best in one another. 

Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED
Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED
Theirs was one of the most tender and moving weddings I've attended and while I know they were thrilled to be in the company of friends and family, there was enough palpable joy between them to carry the instant alone. Tears of happiness flowed from their first steps down the aisle, hand clutched in hand; the weight of the moment heightened only by the radiant, Menorcan sun which seemed to illuminate their entry into lifelong commitment. The island, of such personal significance to them, was effectively its own character in their continuing adventure.

Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED Will Taylor Menorca Wedding #WTWED

This sort of virtuous love can be intimidating, particularly when confidence in love and longevity is driven asunder in the more trying periods of coupledom. But Will and Toby's bond truly serves as a model and an abiding reminder of what pursuing a life with someone else is meant to be and offer. Under the Menorcan sun, in the English countryside or wherever the future might guide my two favorite Brits, they will endure. Here's to seizing every opportunity to learn from this standout duo.

Congratulations, mes amis!

More wedding photos + Menorca photos 
Will & Toby's engagement photos, shot by Jean-Laurent Gaudy (who shot our love session!)
Will's book "Bright Bazaar" available to order online
Will's blog: Bright Bazaar 
Wedding venue: Binifadet winery, Menorca (add it to your itinerary!)

*Top photo by Jean-Laurent Gaudy
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