Friday, February 28, 2014

Contest: Selfies in Provence!

Have you been poking around Provence, cavorting on the Côte d'Azur, luxuriating in the Languedoc? Then send us your very best selfie* and you could win a great prize. We want to see glorious scenery in the background...a gorgeous beach or medieval village...a vast vineyard, bustling bistro, crowded market, remote get the idea. Be creative and have fun...climb a tree, leap from a plane, fight a bull, go where no man has gone before. Just be sure that the photographer--and something recognizably South of France--is visible in the frame. This contest will go on for a while to allow for your upcoming travels...or you can send a selfie from a previous trip. I'll publish my favorites, readers will vote and the winner will receive two nights at Le Mas de Lilou, a beautiful new B&B in Provence. So give it your best shot and send high-quality images (jpg, png or gif only) to me at: Please put Provence Selfie in the subject line, tell me who's in the photo and tell me where it was taken. Can't wait to see you! 

*Note: A few months ago, the Oxford Dictionary was celebrating the selfie as the International Word of the Year for 2013. More recently, selfies were blamed for an uptick (sorry!) in the spread of head lice among teenagers. And this just in: scientists have been investigating the selfie phenomenon using "theoretic, artistic and quantitative" methods. They call it ''the vernacular of the 21st century'' and you can read their findings here.* 

Photos: Me with my friends Olivier and Denis, one hot summer day in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. (I'm much prettier in real life, BTW.) Next,  a very nice selfie in Nice from Robert Schrader of the blog Leave Your Daily Hell, who thinks he very well may be the King of the Travel Selfie (agreed). My Irish friends Niamh and Ellen Burns have selfied themselves all over France. Next, some selfies I found online: I love the"Polar Bear Reading a Book Partial-Duck Face Selfie" which I found here, as well as this French Waiter SelfieEiffel Tower Selfie, Selfie in Les Baux and sweet Honeymoon Selfie Over Provence. Up in Paris, Rihanna and her fingernails got photobombed while posing ever-so-nonchalantly for a selfie. And finally, we have a new version of the selfie artform: video. This one, Selfies in France, is by Tristan Cooke

Monday, February 24, 2014

For People Who Love Antiques...and Ham

Billing itself as the largest and perhaps oldest antique and collectibles fairs in France (it dates to the Middle Ages), the twice-yearly Foire de Chatou is coming up in Paris March 7 to 16th. 

Organizers say the event--like a little pop up village--has just had a makeover and will be more colorful than ever this time around, with a Pop Culture theme, a recreated 1960s/'70s apartment on display, experts on hand to help, new amenities such as valet service, a Facebook contest and, as in years past, a wide range of high-quality French regional foods for sale...which explains why it used to known as the the Foire a la Brocante et aux Jambons (yep, the Collectibles and Ham Fair!). On the fair's Boulevard Voltaire, you'll find oysters from Brittany and Normandy, foie gras and confit from the Gers, Corsican charcuterie and saucisson from Lyon, andouilles from Guéménée or Vire, cheeses from the Savoie, traditional oils and mustards, wines from Mâcon, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Alsace...and much more.

As always, the fair is organized by the 1,500-member SNCAO-GA (Syndicat National du Commerce de l’Antiquité, de l’Occasion, des Galeries d’Art moderne et contemporain), the country's largest antiques trade group.

The 88th Foire de Chatou will have 700 vendors from all over Europe and roughly 25,000 visitors. It's ten minutes from Paris on the RER line A and there's a shuttle from the station exit. Hours are 10 am to 7 pm and admission is 6€.  All the info is on the fair's website ( you might enjoy all the pretty pix and fun vendor profiles in the English press kit, which I've uploaded here

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Insiders' Guide to the 2014 Festival d'Aix

Opera lover Anne-Marie Simons left her native Holland early for the United States. She worked as a translator, language teacher, journalist, sports writer covering Formula One races, and director of corporate communications. She retired in Europe and has been living in Aix-en-Provence since 1998 with her Argentine husband Oscar Rodriguez-Rozic, who left a career in international development banking to become an expert on Provençal cooking. As Oscar took over the kitchen, Anne-Marie began to record her experiences and impressions of France its attractions, its quirks, its quality of life resulting in her delightful 2011 book Taking Root in ProvenceIn her blog Provence Today she reports on political and current events in and around France. Having attended the Festival d'Aix for many years, Anne-Marie knows all the ins and outs. So I asked her to give us the scoop and this is what she sent. 

True opera lovers seem to have one thing in common: they won't let money or distance keep them from seeing their favorite singers or conductors. This may mean planning their summer vacations around some of the opera festivals in Europe, such as Bayreuth, Verona, Salzburg, Glyndebourne or Aix-en-Provence.

Wagnerians put up with a waiting list of five to ten years for the chance to get a seat in Wagner's very own Festspielhaus in Bayreuth, where they'll happily sit through five-hour afternoon performances, in formal dress, and have beer and sausages during intermission. Glyndebourne, an English country house in Sussex, is more relaxed and allows for picnic dinners on the lawns. And then there is Aix, perhaps most accessible of all, with four different venues in town and one lovely country setting some 10 km away.

Founded in 1948 as an all-Mozart event, the Festival d'Aix still opens with a Mozart opera every year but has long since widened its scope and today covers opera from its earliest beginnings (Monteverdi) to the present. It also has established an Académie Européenne de Musique, where young musicians get a chance to work with great teachers in Master Classes for Voice, String Instruments, Piano, Composition, etc. and perform before a live audience in evening concerts. The participation of these Academy students, winners of an international competition, adds an element of youthful enthusiasm to this opera festival. 

One of the most attractive aspects of the Aix festival is the rich menu of daily musical offerings throughout the city, with opera, concerts, Master Classes, conferences, interviews, and, at the end of the day, performances by the Academy singers or instrumentalists in the intimate setting of city squares and courtyards. A mere €15 buys you a Passport that gives access to all this for the duration of the festival.

This year the Aix opera season runs from July 2-24, with the following program:

- The Magic Flute by Mozart
- Ariodante by Haendel
- Il Turco in Italia by Rossini
- Winterreise from the song cycle by Schubert
- Trauernacht, Bach cantatas

Tickets went on sale February 3rd, online, by phone and at the box office. Priced from €30 to €240, tickets sell briskly, especially the less-expensive ones. They're sold in three batches on three different dates. Should you miss these dates, keep checking online and if all else fails, try your luck on the day of the performance when the box office (at the building known as the Archevêché) sells same-day tickets at half price (usually the more expensive ones). Or go directly to the performance venue in hopes of finding people selling their tickets.

The €15 Passport can be purchased at any time, even just before the Master Classes or the Academy concerts, which you can attend on a space-available basis (expect long lines). Ever since the creation of the Académie Européenne in 1998, its Master Classes have been extremely popular since they provide a unique opportunity for a wide public to see established musicians teach the finer points of their art to music school graduates who are just beginning their professional careers as singers, instrumentalists and composers. It's the up close and personal observation of a master at work as he/she fine-tunes the technique and interpretation of a young artist. 

Past master-teachers have included Teresa Berganza for Voice, Isaac Stern for Violin and Pierre Boulez for Conducting and Percussion, to name just a few. Master Classes take place several times a week, usually from noon to 1 pm at the Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède near the Cathedral. All classes are conducted in English.

The 2014 Master Class program has just been announced and is longer than ever before. Where the June Master Classes used to end with the start of the July operas, this year they begin on June 2nd and will run throughout the opera season until July 27th.

In addition to the operas and Academy-related events, a dozen concerts and recitals will take place during the Aix festival, performed by international orchestras including the World Orchestra for Peace, which was founded by Sir Georg Solti in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. Today under the baton of Valery Gergiev, the World Orchestra, with its musicians drawn from more than 60 orchestras in 35 countries, will perform the 2014 UNESCO Concert for Peace to commemorate the start of World War I. 

To paraphrase Shakespeare, in July "All Aix is a stage..." and you just might meet some of the players. Famous singers, conductors, stage directors and of course'll see them all over town...hurrying to appointments or taking a break on a shady terrace...this too is part of our Opera Festival. Lucky us!

For all the info, click here ( 

Photos: (1) The Archevêché, where the opera season opens and closes. (2) Verdi's Rigoletto, staged by Robert Carsen in 2013. (3) Stravinski's Le Rossignol, staged by Robert Lepage in 2013. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

In Case of Love at First Sight...

How cute is this Valentine's Day promo from Paris? For more info, click here and here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Out This Week: Brangelina's 2013 Rosé

The newest Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie sequel is being described as powerful and elegant, but the rave reviews aren't for a film...they're for the celebrity couple's second vintage of rosé wine, which is being released this week.

The grapes are grown and the wine is produced at the Jolie-Pitt's 1200-acre, 17th-century Provencal estate Château Miraval, located in the village of Correns, just north of Brignoles, in the Var. And if the new rosé is anything like it's predecessor, it'll be a huge hit with critics and consumers alike. 

The 2012 vintage sold out all 6,000 bottles five hours after release last March. And Wine Spectator reported that a single autographed barrel (about 300 bottles) fetched more than $13,000 (about double its market value) at a charity auction. 

Roughly 200,000 bottles of the 2013 will be sold for about 15€ ($20) each. 

While the Miraval website says: "Sorry, booking exclusive Miraval first bottles of Rosé 2013 is now closed. Communicate your email address, we will keep you informed of upcoming availability," my contacts at the winery tell me it will be in shops in France and the U.S. starting in early March. shows it on sale through many international retailers here.

Decanter has given the 2013 Miraval 91 points, describing it as "charmingly pretty in colour" with "a delicate structure that deepens through the palate."  The magazine goes on to say the wine has “a sense of power alongside the elegance, a structure and a fresh acidity that gives the wine persistency, with a grip of minerality that gives a delicious mouthwatering finish.” 

The 2012 vintage, Pitt and Jolie's first, was a serious rosé ranked No. 84 in Wine Spectator’s list of the top 100 wines of 2013...the only rosé to make the list.  (Press releases immediately started touting it as ''the best rosé in the world.'') Wine Spectator managing editor Kim Marcus described the 90-point wine as "Refined and elegant, offering pure and concentrated flavors of dried red berry, tangerine and melon. The focused finish features flint and spice notes, with a hint of cream." 

To make their wines, the Jolie-Pitts joined forces with the Perrin family of the renowned Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Château de Beaucastel and the Central Coast property Tablas Creek Vineyard.  At the time of the release of the 2012, Marc Perrin described the Miraval domaine:  “This is a magical place that we traverse from one end to the other to discover exceptional plots. The valley, property of the château, offers an unmatched eco-system and gives the wines a unique style in terms of freshness and elegance.” Perrin says he worked closely with Pitt and Jolie to develop the wine. 

The rosé project has gone so well, Decanter's Jane Anson says, that the movie star duo has signed up the Perrins to make a red wine “in the style of Italy’s Super Tuscans.” But first they have to plant the vines and before that, according to Perrin, they’ll need to “experiment with different grape varieties, from Syrah and Mourvèdre to Cabernet Franc and others.”

If you get your hands on the 2013 Miraval and want to share your source, please leave a comment below! And I'll leave you with this fun factoid: One rosé wine previously made at Miraval (before the Jolie-Pitts took over) was called Pink Floyd, because the iconic British band recorded part of The Wall at the estate in 1979.