Saturday, December 24, 2011


The tree is up.
The table is set.

Oh, how I wish I took better pictures.

A co-worker work was fired, just days ago. I had my own threat this week. What’s my co-worker feeling, tonight?

I think of a benevolent woman I knew, deceased now. What a view of life she had. Her husband, upon learning his long career as a college professor would end with termination, took his own life. Some years later, her son ended an unimaginably cruel and unfair time in his life by shooting several people. His favor was quickly returned by local law enforcement.

In a Christmas card, this lady, my friend, wrote of seeing lights appear in neighborhood windows, of smelling cookies baking, about hanging her late-husband’s hand-made angel decorations, to the joy of her grandson. Naturally, she missed her husband and son, she wrote; yet, there IS joy in the air, and there IS hope, she concluded. Every Christmas, I put that note on my refrigerator.

I look out my window. In the dark, my little Tuscany isn’t visible, but a brightly-lit tree is, atop the same hill.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Hello Russia!

I’ve been seeing regular viewing of this blog from Russia.

Welcome! Feel free to comment and say hello.

But know that my total vocabulary in Russian is limited to:

  • Stuck

  • Red light

  • Nurse, let go!

- PJ

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


One of my oldest friends in town, stuck in the elevator with me last Saturday, is the person to whom I handed a copy of Half Italian, mentioned at the end of my 11/21 post.

He found the book quite entertaining. “But I know you,” he reflected. “I can’t speak for a general public that doesn’t know you.”

True. I need the feedback of strangers.

Nothing, yet, from the contact of my 11/24 post.

- PJ

Monday, December 12, 2011

Final Reunion

Saturday was the Paris Group mid-December reunion I mentioned in my 11/21 post, an epilogue for our trip, last October. We celebrated with a Christmas potluck.

Roast ham, enchiladas, potato-cheese casserole, baked prosciutto-wrapped-blue-cheese-stuffed dates, Belgian endive and heart of palm salad, apple-blackberry pie, pumpkin-spice cake…and…homemade caramel sauce to top the desserts, with fleur de sel (that French touch, as a reminder of our trip).

Energies were high, a grand conclusion to a great time.

And then…seven of us got stuck in the building elevator. Five guests and two hosts (us), made a call to elevator service, from the elevator phone. One semi-concerned employee ensured a technician had been called, with no estimated arrival time. “Have a better night!” she concluded.

A brand new building has its growing pains, and ours is no exception. A few months back, on one of the hottest days of the year, eight people became stuck in the same elevator for over an hour. One was an eight-month-expectant mother. Our group lucked out with a cold night.

I lowered my seat to the floor, prepared for increased temps and decreased oxygen. Better to slow my system. I’m claustrophobic, and this was my first time stuck in an elevator.

We’d given the elevator company a cell-phone number. Realizing no one in our elevator had cellular service, we called back. Seven rings later, someone answered. “Are you the Valley Oaks group?”

“Yes. We gave a cellph…”

“We’ve called a technician.”

"No one has…”

“A technician is on the way.”

Two more interruptions, and then, “We’re trying say you can’t contact anyone on the number we gave you – no one has service!”

“Sir, we require a number on every call…in case we’re disconnec…” Silence. Kaput.

Later, the elevator phone rang. “A technician is four miles away. Try to have a better evening!”

Like the others, I tried to be discreet when wiping perspiration from my forehead. As oxygen decreased, stuffiness increased.

Later (one of our group timed it as twenty minutes) the elevator phone rang again. “The technician is there but he can’t get in. We tried to call the cell number you gave but no one answered.”

Duh. What do you want us to do?

But the technician got in, somehow. We heard him yell, from somewhere below us. The elevator moved up, then down. The door didn’t open.

Then the technician yelled, “Put your hands flat on the door, and push it, hard, from your right to your left.”

His instructions were clear, except there were two elevator doors, front and back.

“Which door?” we called out.


With due respect for all, our elevator group were not the demanding type, all understood and spoke English, and none of us were “dense,” including an eighty-year-old lady who’d stood the entire hour we’d been waiting.

Which one? There are two!” we called out.


We did, on both doors (seven of us, after all) and one of them opened.

We were on the floor from which we’d started. We walked out, into cold dry air. Recovery.

Conclusion: some safety device was malfunctioning.

Back in my home, the last of the party candles had gone out. I cleaned up, and went to bed.

It was a great party.


Friday, November 25, 2011

Praline-Apple Pie

Some years back I ripped a page from Southern Living magazine with a recipe for Praline-Apple pie. You bake a frozen apple pie like it says on the package, pour homemade caramel over the top, and then sprinkle on roasted pecans. The caramel topping is the real thing – sugar, cream and butter – but it’s the consistency of brown sugar candy. The first time I served it, one guest expressed his first bite by slapping the dinner table several times, unable to speak. Ditto on his second and third bites. Yes, the pie is that good, and two were my contribution to Thanksgiving, yesterday.

Caramel in France is superb, particularly when sprinkled with fleur de sel. My friend and travel-companion’s cousin gifted him with two jars of fleur de sel, from Ile de Re. Southern Living’s pie didn’t call for salt, but it received that French touch, thrown on with pleasure. You can see the specks of white.

- PJ

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Every morning as I leave for work, I'm thankful, first to get up and walk, and second for having a job to go to. No work today, I haven't even left my house yet, but I'm thankful for those things, once again.

Are little by little and PERSEVERING paying off? My cousin has asked an agent friend to take a look at Half Italian.

I'm thankful.

- PJ

Monday, November 21, 2011


Three from the recent Paris group came to dinner last night. A larger reunion is planned for mid-December, but those last night were treated to Jambon-a-la-crème, Giada’s Peas with prosciutto (with just a splash of sweet Marsala, my touch) and Tarte au citron. The ham with cream sauce is a specialty of my friend and travel-companion’s family, who lived in Burgundy. The peas go with almost anything (Giada, I wish I’d known that you too loved Italian cooking, back in fall 1993, at SMC!) and the lemon tart is my ongoing endeavor to achieve a delicious, marmalade-y dessert.

At the evening’s end, I placed a copy of Half Italian into my one of the guest’s hands, as planned.

- PJ

Thursday, November 17, 2011

PERSEVERE, she said

I work, once again, on The Other Half. Good stories, but waning enthusiasm interrupts my typing. I have no pending queries with agents; I assume those I made to travel magazines some months back will remain unanswered. Travelers’ Tales I won’t know about until sometime next year.

But I continue. I still believe these stories have general reading appeal. A newly-retired friend, my earliest friend in Los Angeles, was a member of the group on the recent France trip. Over dinner one evening in Paris, he asked to read Half Italian. This Sunday, I’ll put a copy of the manuscript in his hands.

PERSEVERE, she said.

- PJ

Friday, November 11, 2011

Home, once again

The dry air inside aircrafts burns my throat and dehydrates my skin to oil, coated with dust. What relief to step out of the cab in front of my building; how welcome a hot shower. After two and a half weeks away and twenty hours of return travel, home is quiet and familiar. The beds in France were comfortable but returning home to my own is a sleeping pill in itself. I succumb.

My friend and travel companion deemed his underarm shields' performance a success, except he missed one that the laundry chewed up and spat out during the dry cycle.

Answering-machine messages were upbeat; new friends want to catch up, an invitation to Thanksgiving, and happy tones. The last message, unfortunately, was confirmation that the family member from the blowup will remain righteous, probably until the end, wearing a victim’s mask and hiding behind doors of religion at its worst.

- PJ

Friday, November 4, 2011

Four…five…six…scared us sick

Last night in La Rochelle, we left our rented car at the old port’s edge where parking is free after 6:30 p.m. During a nice dinner of duck confit, lamb confit, red wine, chocolate mousse and French toast for dessert, our server took time to explain how to make duck confit, as she knows the process. As we left, the young chef came out and laughed when my friend declared he’d call them both if his first confit attempt turned out less than perfect. A pleasant walk back to our car in gentle rain seemed a perfect conclusion. And then, walking into the parking lot, I pointed and said, “Wasn’t our car parked there?” The space was now empty.
A brasserie employee at the lot’s rear confirmed parking was free after 6:30 p.m. and suggested either our car was towed, or stolen. Calling the number he provided, a woman said she had no record of a towing with our license plate. Another call, to emergency, sent a message to the police, who placed an APB for our car. Emergency advised us to get to the police department at once and fill out a report. Back in the brasserie, the same employee called a cab. Outside, the rain, like the evening, turned from gentle to rough, now with lightning. I felt as if I’d eaten live butterflies for dinner, now tingling inside. Would we be in a police station most of the night, my friend speaking French, me giving idiot looks to all?

The cab arrived and sensed our emergency. He quickly circled the parking lot (how many facets were there, to that lot, four…five…six?) and headed toward its exit, in direction of the police station. On his last turn of the lot, I looked to my left. A car’s wheels looked familiar. A few days earlier I’d stood outside our car, appreciating its assistance, and speed. Those wheels, I’d thought, had taken us from Bordeaux to La Rochelle, at speeds up to one hundred miles per hour. Never mind which of us was driving. “Wait! Can you ask him to go back? I thought I saw something.” This I said to my friend, who translated. Yes, our car was there, in one of the circular facets of the lot we’d parked in earlier, but missed later. (Only one glass of wine, each of us.)

In Half Italian, I mention feeling too relieved (over an incident on my first trip to France) to feel embarrassed. Last night, that was again true -- no matter how many times we apologized to the cab driver, the brasserie employee, the police (who kindly and quickly called off the APB), and our car rental agency – I only felt relief.

Fifteen euros later, here’s our lesson learned: European parking lots can have many facets (both of us have known that for years, but…) if this happens to you, find and check all facets of the parking pentagon, hexagon, heptagon before you panic. It only cost us fifteen euros (6.20 rounded to ten for the cab to circle the lot twice, and 5.00 for the brasserie employee’s kindness) but this would’ve cost much more if we’d not seen our car at the last moment and called off the search.

Back home to Los Angeles tomorrow. I think I’ll add this story to The Other Half.

- PJ

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

All Saints Day II

The group returned home last Saturday; we headed for Bordeaux.

Beautiful buildings in Bordeaux, good window-shopping, walking, restaurants, and a needy woman at every church entrance I saw, with a cup extended. There are few trees and flowers in the area known as the triangle.

Yesterday, we visited the village of St.-Emilion. Forecasts called fifty percent chance rain and when we set off the sky was half blue/half black, with light rain in the black. Was that the fifty percent? But the sun prevailed and St.-Emilion was beautiful. However, it was also November 1. Remembering last year’s All Saints Day (11/5/2010 post) experience in Menton, we hit a grocery store that was open until noon and armed ourselves for dinner in our hotel, just in case.
Two pates, bread, butter, camembert, olives, salad, vinaigrette, wine, and butter cookies. With all this, we abandoned any thoughts to search for an open restaurant, and feasted in our room.

- PJ

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Breakfast at a Laundromat

When you travel for two weeks, there comes a time when you have to do laundry; that would be today. I bought detergent, headed for the laverie automatique, started two loads, walked to the boulangerie, bought breakfast and returned to the laundromat. Here’s 11:00 a.m. breakfast, croissant and chicken-comte quiche.
Little comte in the quiche, but generous with chicken chunks. Across the street, a security guard watched me chew. A girl entered with her detergent in a Maille mustard jar. Good idea. Then I read France magazine, which confirmed my boulangerie, Eric Kayser, was a good choice.

Tonight, dinner at L’Oulette. Off to Bordeaux on Saturday.

- PJ

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Angelina for Anita

Last November, a friend at work visited and fell in love with Paris but never made it to Angelina. Tired, cold, and disoriented at the end of the day they were to visit Angelina, she and her friends returned to their hotel, in the rain.

We visited Angelina this morning. Wishing you were here too, Anita.

- PJ

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Day in Paris

Tuesday in Paris. My friend has taken the group to Mont-St.-Michel and St.-Malo, with a possible stop in Dinan, leaving from and returning to Paris, all today. Too much for me, thanks; I think I’d be cranky. (And I recommend two days for St.-Malo: one for the ramparts and beach, another for the town, down inside.)

So today was my day alone in Paris, and I slept until 9:15 a.m. My sister asked me to check out the baba au rhum at a patisserie ancienne located near St.-Eustache, so after coffee in bed I headed over there.

I bought a wedge of quiche Lorraine and a baba, and then walked down Rue Montorgueil to a bench and enjoyed the quiche. A passing dog watched me, no language barrier in his hungry eyes. Here’s the baba.
Flowers are gone by this time of year, so parks are better visited in spring. Still, I’ve always wanted to see the Bois de Vincennes, so I went.
Forecasts had called for rain but there were only scattered clouds until I was well into the park. Glancing west at 3:00 p.m. I saw black skies, heading my way. Knowing well how fast weather can change in Paris (there’s a story about that in Half Italian), and having ditched my umbrella at the hotel, I made record time back to the Metro/RER. Thunder confirmed the need for aerobic walking. Yet, by the time I reached the Etoile/Arc de Triomphe, sunny blue skies were once again overhead, with beautiful scattered clouds. Gutters were temporarily transformed into rivers, washing Paris clean.
And now, I sit in by my hotel-room window, my southern-California legs aching from days of walking. I sip a whiskey, and write. Here’s what I see, to my left.
- PJ

Sunday, October 23, 2011


We arrived last Thursday, as planned. The weather is clear and cold – “doo not” forget to dress warm!

More tomorrow.

- PJ