Sunday, August 29, 2010

Win a Trip for Four to Paris

The women's clothing company Talbots is sponsoring a contest inspired by one-time Paris resident Ernest Hemingway and his bet to colleagues that he could pen a complete story in just six words. The Tales of Denim contest challenges you to tell a tale about your favorite jeans in, you guessed it, just six words. For details and to enter, go to (but hurry because the deadline is Sept. 8th). For inspiration, check out Smith Magazine's wonderful Six-Word Memoir Project. And what was Hemingway's "six-word novel"  that won the bet, at least according to literary legend? "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." (Photo: Hemingway, at left, with his expat pals, upon whom he based characters in his 1926 novel, "The Sun Also Rises."  I'm not sure if this was taken in Paris or in Spain--does anyone know?) 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Can You Ear Me Now?

Now you can dress up your cell phone and all your other electronic devices with reproductions of classic paintings such as Van Gogh’s Starry Night. (And none too soon, I might add.) Van Gogh painted Starry Night (and close to 150 other oils) while hospitalized in St. Remy in 1889, following the cutting-off-of-the-ear incident in nearby Arles. (By the way, two German art historians recently said they now believe it was actually Gauguin and not Van Gogh himself who sliced off the famous ear.) The original Starry Night hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York while Van Gogh's room at the hospital  St. Paul de Mausole in St. Remy is beautifully preserved and open to the public. The Van Gogh cell phone skins cost about $8 and may or may not come with a free matching "wallpaper" skin for your laptop. To see all the styles and to order, click here. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Adventures in Provence Food and Wine

The "refined-rustic" Crillon Le Brave  is one of the loveliest hotels in Provence. It's also one of the foodiest, offering a number of culinary and wine-themed experiences throughout the year. Here are the next three, coming up soon. 

The Vendange Package will be offered two different weekends, Sept 16-19 and Sept 30-Oct 3. It lets you participate in the annual wine-grape harvest, with three nights accommodation, breakfast and dinner each day, and two half days of harvest activity at the Château Pesquie vineyard, where grape cultivation dates to the 14th century. With the vineyard's owner as your guide, you'll learn all about grape varietals and the wine making process...and do plenty of tasting of course.

In October, the hotel's well-known five-day six-night Cooking in Provence Program (Oct 17-23rd) will give you a crash course in the culture and cuisine of the region. You'll work in the kitchen with head chef Philippe Monti, then head out to visit village markets and meet local farmers, winemakers, food purveyors and more.

The hotel's Truffle and Wine Weekend, offered three times in October and November,  is a fantastic opportunity to join one of Provence’s great
truffiers as he sniffs out the black Périgord truffle known as the "black diamond." A truffle cooking demo is included, as is a visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape for a tour and tasting and the option of squeezing in a visit to Isle-sur-la-Sorgue for antique shopping. This three-night, Thursday to Sunday package is offered Oct 28-31, Nov 11-14 and Nov 25-28.  

Located at the top of a hill  with commanding views over the countryside, the 32-room Crillon Le Brave, a Relais & Chateaux,  is comprised of a collection of old village houses linked together by cobbled streets. It's located 25 miles northeast of Avignon and 75 minutes from the Marseille Airport, which is served by BA, EasyJet, Ryanair,  Flybe and a number of other carriers. For more info or reservations: (0)4 90 65 61 61.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Party Like It's 1399

Tarascon's annual Fête Médiévale runs through Sunday and if you like friendly natives in colorful costumes, this is the fête for you. Starting tomorrow, the Place du Chateau (the area around the castle) will be transformed into a medieval marketplace evoking the reign of King René, who built the castle in the 1400s. There will be jousting on horseback, knights in arm-to-arm combat, dancers, fire jugglers, troubadours, courtly dancing, geese being herded through town by sheepdogs...and 400 costumed revelers. On Saturday and Sunday evenings enjoy a sound and light show (just like the olde days!) with live traditional Celtic music. No medieval costume of your own? Buy one at one of the many stands selling period clothing and leather goods. Be sure to eat a hot spit-roasted pork sandwich, which you'll want to down with a drought of mead or beer...drunk from an animal's horn of course. This is also a great opportunity to pay a visit to the castle itself, with its beautiful walled garden and huge ceremonial rooms. The festival starts at 4 p.m. Friday with a pageant around the town and through the castle, which finishes up just before midnight. On  Saturday and Sunday, the Fête Médiévale runs from 10:15 a.m. until 10 p.m. For info email here, click here or call 04-90-91- 03-52. Better yet, just show up. 

To coincide with the festival, on Sunday Aug 22 from noon onwards, Jake and Angela Paltenghi will host a drop-in brunch and gallery show of Jake's series of paintings called Sur la Route vers Arles. The gallery, at 38 rue Charles Demery (opposite Soleiado headquarters)  is also open from 2:30 to 6 p.m. throughout August. For info: 04-90-52-28-41,,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remembrance of Breakfasts Past

I've known the photographer and painter Carol Gillott for many years and have always loved her work.  When we first met in New York, she was a was doing a lot of portraits of chefs, which found their way into top food magazines and onto many restaurant walls. A passionate Francophile, Carol now travels to Paris three or four  times a year and is always always painting, her whimsical and lovely watercolors capturing everything from department store windows to street fashion to the macarons at Laduree. She's crazy about France...and French style...and dessert...and you'll see all of that and more on her blog called Paris Breakfasts and on her website as well. Carol had four shows this year and has two coming up: at the Alliance Francaise in Washington, D.C. next month and in Philadelphia in November. She's worked for big-name clients such as Champagne Mumm, Valrhona Chocolate, Campari and AT&T. And yet her captivating street scenes, still lifes, storefronts and portraits of colorful Parisians are still very affordable. 

So anyway, Carol used to have a little business painting portraits of people; you'd send her a photo or two and she'd capture you in watercolor, doing something you enjoy like walking the dog or window shopping or cafe sitting or whatever.  And now, her new thing is breakfast. You send her a photo of a recent breakfast or afternoon tea and she'll paint it. It sounds wacky but the results are graceful and lovely. Wouldn't this make a precious souvenir from your next trip to France...or any trip for that matter? Wouldn't one be pretty on your kitchen wall? Or be the perfect gift for you-know-who? 

What Carol has in mind, of course, is the perfectly flaking croissant on Bernardaud china, the tea in the Limoges cup, the silver ramekin of butter stamped with the Ritz Hotel logo or even a baguette and cafe au lait on a wobbly cafe table--just not your sloppy waffles at IHOP or Grand Slam at Denny's. Still if you loved it and have a photo of it, Carol's happy to paint it for you. 

Custom petit dejeuner still lifes are $85 each for a 9" x 11" watercolor, plus shipping. You provide the photos and Carol will send a sketch for your approval. Start to finish the process takes about two weeks. For more info or to order:,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Major Antique Fair Starts Tomorrow

More than 200 exhibitors are expected at the 89th International Brocante and Antiques Fair, running tomorrow through Sunday in splendid L'Isle sur la Sorgue. Arrive early to get parking, especially on Sunday when the village holds its regular weekly market as well.  

With hundreds of shops, stalls and vendors, L'Isle sur le Sorgue is considered the third most important antiques center in Europe, after Paris (Sant Ouen) and London. There are numerous antique dealers at the weekly Sunday market but many more with permanent spaces open at various times during the week. 

Having never been to this particular fair, I asked my pal Jill Mitchell--who leads antiquing trips in Provence and sells French vintage goods on Ebay--what she thinks. "The fair is very good," she reports. "It offers an amped up version of the regular Sunday market, with vendors often coming from around Europe. My two cents though, is that on any Sunday of the year, L’Isle is already so abundant with fantastic items (nearly to the point of overwhelm) that it's a great destination either way. In general, however, prices in L'Isle are much higher than you'll find in other city and village markets in Provence. The rule is, using the price for an item bought in Marseille as a base, add 35% for the same item for the L'Isle price and add another 35% to that for the Paris price."

If you miss the fair this weekend, another will be held at Easter. Get all the info by clicking here or calling 04-90-38-04-78. If you're looking for a lovely place to eat after the fair, consider the Michelin one-star Le Vivier--you can read my review here. I've also had very nice meals at Le Jardin du Quai, closer to the heart of the village. Both will be booked heavily this weekend so definitely call ahead.

Friday, August 6, 2010

For Your Favorite Dirty Francophile

How cute are these soaps? So sweet and pretty, in fact, that I'd find it hard to use them. Based in Clarksville, Tennessee, Kasey Hachler makes these goats milk macaron soaps by hand, scenting and coloring them in Brown (Chocolate Cream Cheese Cupcake), Yellow (Pineapple), Pink (Black Raspberry and Vanilla), Blue (Blueberry Delight) and Green (Almond). The 3-oz. soaps are packaged in a cool-looking recycled box, which is finished with bakers twine and a fleur de lis tag. (If you don't specify your choice of  "flavor" Kasey will choose for you.) One box of two cookies is $8.50 plus shipping and yes, she'll ship worldwide. Kasey also makes soaps that look like donuts, cupcakes, popsicles, coffee beans and other yummy treats. For more info or to order, go to Kasey's Etsy site here. You can also email her at: