Rainy Day Stories

Marrakech in five words:  Not   Everyone’s   Cup   of   Tea.


I had some trepidations about going to Morocco, alone, having had some previous experience traveling in African and Moslem countries which, being female and an animal lover, did not bode well for this trip. So that’s why I only gave myself 48 hours in Marrakech. It was more than enough.

I had previously arranged to be picked up at the airport (by the way, GORGEOUS airport!!) by the riad, the traditional-style Moroccan villa where I’d be staying, in the kasbah of Marrakech (meaning that I stayed within the walls of the old city):


Well, as you can see, some of the alleys are too narrow for vehicular traffic so we parked the SUV and walked about three blocks to the doorstep. The only luggage I had was a shoulder bag packed with my iPad and extra undies.  Marrakech Travel Tip No. 1: No matter how crappy the place looks on the outside, it could be AMAZING on the inside:






Yes, those are rose petals on the bed and on the bathroom sink.

The riad was wonderful, about $120 per night, and having come from cold, rainy Paris it was a delight to see and feel the sun! I went to the rooftop and snooped (I stuck my camera over the five-foot-walls on the rooftop) to see what the neighbors were like:



And then I had dinner and a quick walk around the kasbah in the twilight. Of course I got lost — all the alleys look the same — until a little boy called out to me, Hey Lady! Vous churchez votre riad?  Yes, it was that obvious that I was lost but I didn’t really want this kid’s help (I know I would have found my way sooner or later) but he led me to my doorstep anyway and then asked for money. I didn’t have any diram on me and I also had no intention of paying him away. Kids should not be begging strangers for money and I don’t care if it IS the third world. I thanked him, told him he was a very nice boy, and locked myself in my room.

The next morning I discovered that I’d forgotten to pack clean socks. Ew. And it was cold and rainy.


I wandered around the kasbah, looking for my way out. At one point some creep walked up beside me and said, “Bonjour Madame! Remember me? I made you your crepes at the riad!” Of course I did not have crepes at my riad. And he keeps talking to me, about how he can take me to a spice market (You want spices? I  show you  best spices!).


He went on to tell me that it is a holiday today and all the Berbers were coming down from the mountains to sell their rugs (You want rug? I take you to my friend to see Berber rug!). He was very annoying but I did need to get out of the kasbah so I asked him where I could find a taxi. Where you go?, he asked, and when I said the Jardin Majorelle he said, Oh madame, the jardin is closed today because of holiday, come, we go see Berbers! I hate to admit it, but for an instant I believed him. I had not thought of checking the holiday schedule in Morocco and, having been caught in two bank holidays in Paris the previous week, I thought that it was entirely possible that I’d stumbled into another jour de fete.


Then I remembered that I was talking to a professional bullshitter so I told him that I was going to the Majorelle anyway and he, catching on that I was not perhaps as dumb as I looked, finally pushed off and I at last found a taxi. I argued the fare down from 100 driam to 30 before I got in the car. This is not my first rodeo. But I was weary of Marrakech already. There is something about walking around rainy streets in dirty socks with a creep yabbering away at you and having a taxi driver try to charge you three times the fair fare that I find very dispiriting.

I had only come to Morocco to visit the Jardin Majorelle and Yay! I was at last on my way! So the closer I got to it, the more beautiful and wondrous Marrakech got!  I love Marrakech! Vicious mood swings: part and parcel of travel.


LOVE the itty bitty Morris column!

Heart. Be. Still. Here’s the entrance to the Majorelle!!


And now I am IN the Majorelle!!!


There’s only a 50 diram entrance fee, about 5 euros/ 8 dollars, which to me is a bargain.


I was early enough to have beaten the tour buses so, for all intents, I had the place to myself for a half hour or so.


The Majorelle Garden is the home of a mid-century (active 1920 – 1960) French painter, Jacques Majorelle, whose property was in almost ruin when it was bought by Yves Saint-Laurent in 1980 and restored to its full glory.


The garden is famous for being, you know, beautiful and unique in Marrakech, but mostly for this shade of blue that Majorelle invented and patented as Majorelle Bleu. It is, as you can see, intensely vivid. Is that redundant?


The official RGB values of Majorelle Bleu are — Red: 96, Green: 80, Bleu: 220.


It had actually stopped raining when I took these photos and  the ground crew was mopping up the the walkways. I like to photograph gardens in the rain — cloud cover brings out the color and form of plants and architecture. If it had been a hot sunny day I don’t know if I’d have noticed this neighboring villa outside the garden walls…


…I wonder what it’s like to have the Majorelle Garden on view from your terrace?


YSL did a fabulous job as the protector of the Majorelle…


…although the garden was rarely depicted in the annual Christmas card that YSL designed and sent to his amis each year, a collection which is now exhibited in the “Love” museum on the site…

P1170927…and I’m sure he’d keel over if he saw that the Majorelle gift shop was hawking one of his collages…

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…in the form of a hidiously ugly caftan for about $1800:


Right after I took this picture the  shop assistant almost tackled me and told me photography was forbidden and she asked me to delete my photos from my camera. “Sure,” I said, giving her me  “I am as dumb as I look” smile and made my Lumix camera do a few gratuitous beeps and all was forgiven.









If I had any interest in plants I’m sure I would have found the various plans that were scattered through out the garden helpful:


Does this (below) look like the plan, above? I read that the gardeners at Majorelle rake the gravel into those little saucer-shaped circles in the ground to catch all available rainfall for each plant:



Yves Saint Laurent is buried at Majorelle:


I have read that the garden is ten acres, but that can’t be true. Unless it includes the estate next door, the very private home where YSL actually lived, that is off limits to us peons. My guess is that the garden is about four acres, five tops.


When the tourists started to arrive by the bus load, I began to snap photos of them. This poor German girl was almost blue with cold, shivering in her little Summer dress in this cool, wet un-Morocco morn:


By the way, Spanish people from Spain are LOUD. I think they are louder, even, than Americans. Jesus. It seemed like they had to talk to each other at the top of their lungs, but then, they were mostly youngsters in their 20s and I guess they were hollering at each other WHO THE HELL HAD THE BRIGHT IDEA TO COME HERE??? When I was in my 20s, I would not have been caught dead touring a garden.

I think I got the better angle here (see below) than the one these two lovely Italian visitors got (boring straight-on). I like to put my subjects in a setting that makes the most OF THE SETTING. Right?


I was in Majorelle-world for approx. 90 minutes. By the time I left the place was hopping:


At the entrance kiosk, 11-ish.


This guy, above, had good-looking horses…but further down the avenue I saw a man viciously yanking on the bridle of his horses to make their heads snap back (and they were “parked”, not even moving) so I to scream at him. I couldn’t help myself. I can scream OK in French but I’d rather use the “F” bomb in English when I do my “crazy lady” act. I was back to hating Marrakech again, and henceforth I had to just shut my eyes whenever I saw horses coming into view because I can’t go around Marrakech screaming at people like a crazy lady. It’s so, how you say…ungracious.

The story of the excellent adventure that I had after I left the Majorelle will have to wait for another day (please vote in the Comments: do you want to see what the creations of an all-women’s crafts co-operative in a Moroccan village 20 kms outside of Marrakech looks like??).

But after that unpleasantness about the horses you, dear readers, deserve a great cat story. And here it is:


This story comes to you under the auspices of  the delightful Sara Quinn, of Peace Corps Morocco/Tameslouht, who guided me through the souk of Marrakech the next day.


I really didn’t have any great curiosity about the souk — if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all and I’ve already seen the ones in Tunis, Niamey, and the Palestinian side of Jerusalem — but Sara included a spin in the souk in her extensive tour of Marrakech and I gladly followed in her wake.

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There are a lot of cats, footloose and fancy, in Marrakech:




And when Sara and I came across this kitty in the souk…


…my heart melted. This guy in the white coat was selling chopped up meat (I did not look closely to see what kind of meat, but it was probably sheep or goat) and I asked Sara if she thought it would be OK if I bought some meat to feed the cat. I asked because she knows the culture and I didn’t know if buying people food for a stray cat was gauche or not and whenever I am not screaming at assholes who beat horses I try to be culturally appropriate. So Sara walks over to the guy and asks him in fluent Moroccan Arabic (known as Darija) if it was OK if her dopey American friend could buy meat for the cat.

And this dear man answers  NO!   Turns out that I can’t buy meat because he keeps cat food with him in the stall!  And he reaches into a big bag behind his counter and he gives me a handful of cat food so I can feed the cat!


He was smiling and chatting away with Sara about how he likes the market cats and I took this picture so I will always remember this nice guy who is kind to cats. I am back to thinking that Marrakech is an OK place after all.

The day before, on a tour of her “home” town of Tameslouht,, Sara had assured me that Moroccans in general like cats but, well, I had to see it with my own eyes. And I do have to say that on my solo rambles in the medina, whenever I stopped to take a photo of a cat, people around me yelled for other people to get out of the way, the lady wants to take a picture of the cat!

So, all in all, Marrakech might not be my cup of tea, but I rate it highly as probably the best place to be a cat in North Africa. (P.S. I met a German traveler in Tameslouht who told me that if I like cats, I have to go to the Moroccan sea side town of Essaouria; the cats there are the fattest he’s ever seen. Has anybody reading this ever been to Essaouria? Have you seen the tubby moggies there???).

As I write this, I’m thinking that I might have to give Marakech another try. This is my way of telling you, dear readers, that my heart was full of love when I painted my Marrakech Triscuit, a portrait of the lily pond at the Majorelle Garden:


I still get emails asking me what a “Triscuit” is, so here’s a shot of a “Triscuit” by another name:


Maybe I should have called my itty bitty watercolor pictures “Tea Bags” from the start. Oh well. Too late now.

You can own this Majorelle Triscuit by leaving a Comment to this post before the blog “closes” on midnight Tuesday and as usual, Top Cat will chose a Comment at random and the winner will be announced next week.

Oh, by the way, I have an announcement on the Monet Triscuit that I gave away two weeks ago:

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This Triscuit was not claimed (WTF?) so……the new winner of this Triscuit is:

Joan in NV!

Joan, please send me your mailing address to vivianswift at yahoo before next Friday!





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This is how I started almost every day that I was in Paris these past two weeks:

I would go to my local cafe and have a nice little pot of tea with tartine (buttered baguette with jam) and plan my day’s outings with the aid of my outstanding booklet of detailed maps of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, while trying my best to eavesdrop on the colorful regulars. On only my third morning here…


…at Le Nesle brasserie on the tiny dead-end Rue de Nesle in the 6th arrondissement…


…(I never had an evening snack here, only breakfast) the sweet bartender knew that I liked my tea sweet and he automatically put six extra sugar cubes on my saucer.  I really enjoyed the crowd at the Nesle (pronounced “Nell” when you’re talking to French people, but pronounced “Nestle” when you’re talking to yourself).


One day the boys were trying to remember the name of the actor who played Columbo on TV. Another day they were talking about how few French people went to the Champs Elysees to watch the President lay a wreath under the Arc de Triomph in honor of VE Day this year:


I like it that street cleaners pop in at Le Nesle for a cup of espresso between rues:


And I really like it when Bobo shows up:


Bobo runs into Le Nesle as if the Le Nesle is THE BEST PLACE EVER FOR A DOG TO BE!!!!!!!! and he sniffs everyone at the bar, accepting Good Morning pats from his fans, and then he follows his owner outside to a table on the sidewalk:


That’s a good place to say Bonjour to friends and neighbors passing by:


It is against the law to smoke inside a cafe in Paris, so smokers have to sit out on the sidewalk…


…which is why I did not sit outside, ever, at any cafe in Paris even thought that meant I missed sitting with Bobo and his human. Also, it was mostly cold and drizzly while I was in Paris and I like to be warm and dry.


Away from Le Nesle, my very top highest Tea Priority was to make a visit to Mariage Freres, the Brothers Mariage, known as the Princes of French Tea, in the 4th arrondissement:


The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervade each cup of tea, worte Henri Mariage, one of the brothers who founded Marriage Freres in 1854.


This shop, at 30-32 Rue de Bourg-Tibourg, is deliberately old-fashioned in its operations as both a tea retailer and as a Salon de The.


The staff, which is young, male, and dressed in white linen suits, gives you a tea-buying experience straight out of the 19th century.


Upstairs, there’s even a little Tea Museum.


The decor of the Marriage Salon de The is totally J. Peterman Colonial…


…with lots of wicker and rattan and palms…



…with the Art Deco clock that says it’s always Tea Time:


The tea menu is eight pages long…


…but I already knew what I wanted:


My pot of Vanille des Isles came with a book about L’Art Francois du The in case I wanted to cram on The French Art of Tea while my Vanilla of the Islands steeped. I got a kick out of the little shovel in the sugar bowl, and the sugar that looked like teeny bits of rock candy. What can I say? I was born in Montana, so some part of me will always be a hick.


The service was very professional, not warm but not condescending either, and nobody reprimanded me with their typically French horror of being photographed in a public place  until after I’d already got all the photos I wanted anyway. There are actual laws in France forbidding people to take photos of people in public places without their permission, and I hardly ever ask permission — especially if I think they will say Non. This attitude of mine irritates some French people’s last nerve, which I soothe by  apologizing in fluent French while giving them a big dumb American smile. Now, you might be surprised to learn this, but there are some French people who do not give photo-happy American tourists a break because they are just out-and-out snots and I know this for a fact because I had to travel all the way out to the “seedy” 19th arrondissement to bring you this tea story:


This is the boulangerie at 83 Rue de Crimee of award-winning female baker Veronique Mauclerc:


From a review in Elle magazine: This neighborhood boulangerie is killer [awesome]! In particular, their caramel pastry is worth the trek [to the “seedy 19th arrondissement]. It’s my Proustian experience. I’d go back on a scooter just for those caramels. Or something close to that.

In her so-called Salon de The, Veronique Mauclerc offers a degustation (tasting menu) of her breads (it’s spelled out right there, on her ardois/blackboard) for about $15:


When I arrived at 10:30 on a Tuesday morning, there wasn’t a single customer in the shop but the middle-aged sales person, standing with her hands clasped behind her back, still seemed overworked as she wearily answered my inquiry as to the possibility of partaking of a degustation. After some pointed questioning on my part I got her to admit that yes, they do serve tea and bread in the salon, which she indicated by a flip of her shoulder was in the back of the shop.


The Salon de The is a single  wooden table in a hallway between the shop and the oven — one of only four remaining traditional wood-burning bread-baking ovens left in Paris. The couple shown here were just finishing their coffee and rolls and were very gracious about making room for me while they gathered their things to leave. The place was now empty except for me, the customer, and the passive-agressive shop assistant.


It was while I was photographing this famous wood-burning bread-baking oven that I heard the shop assistant mumble something about “photographie”. That’s right: she literally said it behind my back. So I put the camera away and settled into a chair, awaiting my own Proustain experience with France’s most famous female bread maker. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And I wait. And it dawns on me that I’m being iced. I have transgressed the unwritten law of Paris snots, Thou Shalt Not Be American, and I’m never getting service, no matter how long I wait, or if I do I can’t be sure there won’t be spit in my tea.

So I gather my things and walk to the front of the shop and I say to the shop lady, in English “I guess it’s too inconvenient for you to do your job, bitch,” and I leave. I head to the metro station and as I turn the corner I see this:


It’s busy and noisy and fast-paced…


…the shop assistants are very helpful in answering customer questions about the types of bread they make on the premises and as I wait to pay for my pain chocolate I see that the ovens are behind the glass wall and they are just about to roll in a tray of baguettes. I say OH! Les baguettes! And I raise my camera…


…and the shop assistant yells to the baker: “Yannick! the lady wants to take your picture!” And Yannick goes:


I take the photo and I holler to Yannick, in English, “Thank you!” And Yannick waves back and calls out: “Sank you!”

Artisan Boulanger Bio, 62 Rue d’Hautpoul. Yo, Veronique Maclerc: This is how you run a bakery, bitch.

When I went for tea at the famous Cafe Le Select on the Boulevard Montparnasse that forms the border between the 6th and the 14th arrondissements…


…the head waiter showed me where I could find Rick, the American artist who sketches in the cafe every day…


…and the banquette where I can find Mickey, the 20-year old house cat who rules the roost at Cafe Le Select:


The tea is always good in Paris cafes because they have  machines that get the water really hot hot hot. I like that.


I can not look at the crowd at Cafe Le Select


…without thinking of the wonderful book that Rick Tulka drew about  Cafe Le Select

6 Paris Cafe



…called Paris Cafe: The Select Crowd:


You can read about Rick and see his art by clicking on this link


…or you can meet him at Cafe Le Select (with fellow blogger and Friend of Rick, Carol Gillott of Paris Breakfasts:


Meanwhile, back in the corner banquette, look who else has also showed up for work — ordered his coffee, opened his lap top, spread a towel next to him so that Mickey will sit within purring distance…


(He was French and not a big talker or else I’d have more info to give you about this Monsieur, but he’s clearly One Of Us, seeing as how he brings a towel and all.)

And then it was off to Giverny…


…where my sweet room at the B&B (Coin des Artists, which used to be the village grocery store in Monet’s day ) came with a tea service at my disposal…


…but I didn’t make tea in my room, preferring the great stuff that came with breakfast…


…(note that those chairs are copies of the chairs in Monet’s diningroom) and the Happy Hour that came with a happy friend named Toddy…


…whose ears you see in the center of this photo of my other favorite beverage:


On one of the three days that I spent in Giverny I walked 4 kilometers to the neighboring town of Vernon…



…to research Monet’s life in Normandy, and to reward myself with afternoon tea at Cafe Globe:


Cafe Globe was filled with lots of local French people such as these two gentlemen:


Even though the couple sitting next to me were Americans with their Rick Steves’ Guide to France I really enjoyed my tea time at the Globe and here’s why: When the old guy in the background of the preceding photo shuffled up to the bar to pay for his lunch I asked him if it would bother him if I took a photo of his jacket:


Mais non, he said: I wear this because les Americans were the heros of my childhood. Then, because he was so proud of his system for the portage of cash,  he made a lengthy exhibition to the barman about how he keeps his money in his hat, which looks as if it’s from The French Foreign Legion, and I didn’t get to ask him for more info about how he got his jacket because I was laughing too hard about his hat.


Normans. They are a separate breed of French. I was reminded of this on my last day in Giverny, when I stopped in at the famous Hotel Baudy, the old hangout when Monet was still alive and this village was crawling with young artists who wanted to be Impressionists when they grew up:


This is a very lively place with a huge lunch crowd and an enormous dinner crowd made up of the tourists who day trip to Monet’s garden. I had my 2:30 tea in the front room, where the bar is, which is in effect a front row seat to the three ring circus that is Hotel Baudy…


…where I could keep my eye on everyone who came for lunch…



…or came in for a quick cup of coffee, like these honeymooners from Spain:


This American lady took their place and I watched as she sounded out the menu, and then adjusted her scarf so the Hermes logo was visible:


I didn’t like her at all. Then a village regular came in for his kind of amber-colored eau de vie, which was served in a wine glass:


He had  ripped trousers, scuffed shoes, and was in need of a haircut — he looked just like Monet before the world fell in love with his haystacks (when he was poor and undiscovered)!!!!

Giverny bar

And here is where I bagged that rarest of photographic feats when stalking the Frenchman on his native turf:


I caught him doing the Gallic Shrug!!

And now, in order to keep up with this thrilling saga one tea cup at a time, we must whisk ourselves to Marrakech, Specifically, to the Casbah :



On a rue called Tadla (which looks exactly like all the other rues in the casbah which is why I always got lost whenever I went out and could only found my way back by accident and slow process of trial and error):


The Riad (Morrocan home with interior courtyard garden) Orangers d’Alilia was my home base in Marrakech — that’s the French woman, Madame Joelle, who runs it, dressed in white:


It was under the orange trees in the small inner courtyard….


…where Fatima welcomed me to Morocco with a much-needed cup of tea. I’d had a busy morning in Paris, then schlepped to the airport and been  stuffed on a full plane (Easy Jet) that was the most claustrophobic experience I’d ever had,  and now it was almost seven o’clock at night and I was nervous about traveling in Marrakech on my own. It was good to calm my nerves with a cup of mint tea.


There were little russet-colored birdies who flew into the riad to sit in the orange trees and sing. I gave crumbs of my biscotti to them. Now I know why old ladies feed the birds. It’s because they are lonely.


I would highly recommend this riad to any traveler.


I did not expect such understated luxury in Marrakech, or rose petals on the bed…


Mint tea is OK for certain social situations any time after high noon or for calming nerves in the early evening , but I need a real tea when it really counts — at breakfast. For those times, Carol Gillot had given me a stash of India tea lightly flavored with vanilla which I brewed in a little silver pot of just-boiled water:


To make the most of my 48 hours in Morocco I had arranged on Day One to spend the morning at the Majorelle Garden and then travel 20 kilometers to the west of Marrakech to meet a Peace Corps volunteer in a village called Tameslouht:


When I got off the bus I realized that we had not arranged any specific meeting point in Tameslouht, but it was very easy to locate Sara by asking around the village for “The American”. A young womb working at the new community center knew exactly who “The American” was and she graciously made a telephone call to Sara, and while I waited for her I was given a tour of the center’s facilities, which included classrooms for adult education in literacy, sewing, and weaving — as well as two rooms of little kids in day care:


They were told to Say Bonjour to the lady — which they did, in unison, while staring at me like I was a unicorn. CUUUUUUUUTE. Then I singed their VIP Visitor’s Book and Sara came to collect me.


Sara Quinn has a blog about her Peace Corps experience — you can read it by clicking here — and she took me to the home of the President of the Women’s Craft Association of Tameslouht  to inspect the many things they create (subject of a future post). German travelers Wilhelm and Ursula were also checking out the array of clothing and accessories and we all drank tea with Sara and Zenib and Sara’s darling Moroccan fiance, Mustafa:


Then Sara took us on a tour of her town.




The next day, Sara traveled to meet me in Marrakech to guide me around the souk (market) and the Djemma El Fna (main square, where the snake charmers and the storytellers convene) and other insider points of interest but we did not have tea so those stories don’t belong here, except for the part where I tell you that Sara is the cutest damn Peace Corps Volunteer ever:

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I flew out of Marrakech that evening, arriving in Paris IN A REALLY BAD MOOD at midnight. I was so pissed off that I didn’t even photograph the “tea” that was served at breakfast at the hotel I stayed at in Orly Airport.

The next decent cup of tea I had was back at Carol Gillott’s apartment in the 15th arrondissement — I had searched high and low all over Paris for my favorite patisserie — Pithivier! — and found it right across the street . I’d caught Carol in the act of painting a chocolate  Religieuse there, in the background, so this is a tea cup still life that I call  One Paints and The Other Doesn’t:


I’d got an email from a dear blog reader, Laura, about the cafe in the 6th arrondissement that I’d photographed for you two weeks ago — Le Conti. Laura had always thought this cafe was a figment of the imagination but non, it’s real — so for her I made this one of my last cups of tea:


I was instructed, by Laura, to ask about a resident terrier named Orson. Ah, Orson!, the handsome young barman said, “Orson n’est plus d’ici — his owner took him to live on his parents’ farm. Hmmmmm….


I wonder if “sent to live on a farm” means in France what it means in America?


My time in Paris was coming to an end now, and to understand this next cup of tea you must know that my days in Paris had a purpose that I have not discussed with you, dear readers. I had set myself the task of visiting every arrondissement — 20 in all — to fulfill a Wish List (of unusual sights, experiences, personalities) that has taken me five years to put together. It was much, much more physically challenging and mentally exhausting than I’d anticipated. But I’d always planned to end the quest with a big splurge cup of tea in the ultra ritzy 8th arrondissement, as a reward for accomplishing a difficult task.

It was a cold, rainy day and I didn’t bother to wear the dress shoes that I’d packed or this occasion and I don’t have to tell you that after two weeks on the road my hair was a fright — I was a total mess. Still, when I went to both Le Bristol hotel (room rates start at $800 at night) and the Georges V (as I walked in Robin Thicke was strutting out) I was met with extraordinary courtesy. I inspected their tea rooms and menus (both charge 48 euro for Afternoon Tea — that’s about $60) and found them both lacking: the teas at Le Bristol were all very perfumy and came with a rack of pastries that I didn’t have any interest in; the teas at the Georges V were better and the pastries were not as froofy, but there was a piano player banging away in the salon which I found extremely annoying.

I was feeling depressed. Did I mention the cold, and the rain? And that I was fatigued with travel, Paris, myself, and my loneliness? I had wanted this quest to end with a nice big India tea bang and it wasn’t happening.

Then I noticed that right next door to the Georges V was the Prince of Wales hotel. Just as luxe, only open for five days after a two-year long renovation. The hospitality was exquisitely warm and professional, and the tea menu was outstanding. I sank into a leather sofa and ordered Tuareg Tea.


Well, I did ask beforehand if Tuareg Tea was the same kind of tea that I remembered drinking with Tuaregs when I was in the Peace Corps in Niger. Yes, I was told — it’s a black tea served tres sucre (very sugary). It wasn’t. It was a hay-tasting mild tea (did I mention that they’d only been opened for five days? Still working out the bugs)…but I was so grateful for the comfort and quality of the service, and so happy that I wasn’t forced to buy pastries I wouldn’t eat, that I did not go into my usual high dudgeon. I sat contentedly and sang to myself along with the soothing background music, Frank and Nancy Sinatra (Something Stupid) and Dusty Springfield (The Look of Love)…


…and watched people drink champagne cocktails…


…and chatted with the young hostess (that’s her, in the while collar and cuffs) about her childhood in Senegal…


…and wished I had those lighting fixtures in the form of the three feathers of the Prince of Wales….


They would totally work in my dining room.


No, it’s not over yet. There’s one more cup of tea, the one I had after a lunch of pate and baguette and classic onion soup on my last day in Paris, in a hot trendy bistro in the Marais called Les Philosophes.


They had the grace to serve Mariage Freres tea, a perfect way to redeem a trip that was feeling, at this point, like it was two or three days too long. It was still raining and cold and I was tired of Paris but I was GOING HOME!

As I type this, I’ve been home for about 46 hours. I have bought new curtains for the dining room and went on a shopping quest to re-accessorize the kitchen in shades of lime and apple green with a few gun metal and bamboo accents. I’ve ordered French cafe curtains from Williams Sonoma. I’ve been busy. Jet lag gives me a lot of nervous energy but also, I’ve become used to a frantic pace of life (that 20 Arrondissement TO DO List was a massive project that required ten hour days of TO DO-ing) . That’s my excuse for the length of this post — hope you enjoyed your trip in my Tea World!


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Ah, the color of memories.

Remember the warm rosy glow of those lingering Summer twilights?

Well, there’s a new ray of light in town.

Last weekend I bundled up and bustled out to the local stately mansion (the deserted old manor house of the renowned American man of lettres, William Cullen  Bryant) to catch the very last gasp of Autumn.

Instead of a warm rosey glow, there was only a wan pearly greyness. The color that flooded the eyes didn’t come from the light:

I need this infusion o fjoie to my vivre. I’ve had one of those weeks. The kind of week when you have a small package that you need to take to the post office on Monday, and it takes you until Thursday to get there.

It’s been one of those  weeks when the news is even more depressing than usual. The cops raided Occupy Wall Street in the middle off the night and trashed the whole enterprise, including the OWS Library. What a dick move, NYPD.

It’s been the week that I noticed that the Japanese Dogwood tree in the backyard was hitting its peak Fall leafage.

And then, the next day, it rained, the kind of November rain that wipes out the peak Fall leafage all around the world, and our dogwood tree looked like this:

Good-bye, Fall of 2011.



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Oh, right. Hurricane Irene.

This is my first ever attempt at taping my [any] picture window against hurricane-force winds.

Good thing Top Cat was in charge of hunting and gathering vital provisions for our bunker:

2 bottles of cheap champagne (my fave), two bottles of 2005 Bordeaux reds, two packets of tea biscuits, an angel food cake, 1.5 quarts of vanilla ice cream, and 24 Klondike bars.

And fwhat more could you want for your Impending Doom Dinner but Homemade Macaroni and Cheese?

The candlelight was a nice touch, non?

And then it started to rain with a vengeance. Of course, I could not coax my bad boy backyard feral cats indoors. This is me, hanging out my back door, trying to cajole Bibs to come bring  his ass in out of the rain:

When we woke the next morning, it was still grey and rainy and so very windy. In fact, it was the sound of the wind that really got on my nerves. So I stayed inside and soldiered through the various power outages all the live long day, thinking that Hey–this hurricane stuff isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all.

Because I did not see for myself, until the next day, how narrowly we missed having a totally awful hurricane experience. Because this is what the house next door looked like:

That’s not a hedge in the middle of the drive way. That’s the top of a tree that collapsed across the yard…

…just barely missing the side of the house:


Our neighbors up the road also had a close call:

And the historic district of our beloved village also managed to escape destruction by the  very smallest [insert some measure of really, really fine distinction]:

How wierd is it that this tree (see below) fell exactly in between these two historic landmarks?

The red house on the right is the oldest house in all of Long Island, having been built by some Dutch guy in1645. The pretty blue house is also old but is from the mid-1800s and I forget why it is famous.

Top Cat and I wandered further afield and saw how broken telephone poles are repaired:

That guy in the blue shirt is one second away from telling me and Top Cat to get the hell out of their way.

And in case you’re wondering, this is how our Bibs and our patio looked The Day After (Irene):

All we got was a bunch of downed leaves.

Here at Feral Cat Mansion, All Is Well.

So have a happy holiday weekend, everyone.

And to Irene, Merci mille fois.

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I know what you’re thinking.

You’re thinking, Boy, that Vivian sure can wrap a hutch.

There was rain in the forecast for Sunday ,  a chilly early Fall rain. Panic!  I had to rush out and get the  hutch rain-proofed for my backyard cats!  First, I insulated the walls and floor with down-filled sleeping blankets that I got from the thrift sotre ($5 each! What a bargain! )

The I wrapped three big-ass tarps wrapped around it, giving it eight layers of tarp.

The rain started right on schedule, around 4 o’clock Sunday afternoon. At first, Taffy and Lickety thought that their hutch was just a fancy stationery umbrella.

But then Taffy figured it out (that’s the tip of his tail you see, there, disappearing through the hutch doorway).

And then Lickety got a clue.

After a while, the mama cat Candy wandered by, took a look at her boys up in the hutch, and decided to find her own perch out of the rain.

Yeah. She sat out the rain in the rhododendron tree. Sigh. When I checked up on her later, she’d left the tree and had gone to her cubbie in the garage, so I could stop worrying about her spending the afternoon in the rhododendron tree.

It rained heavily ALL AFTERNOON, and into the night. It was still raining when I woke  up in the middle of the night and heard rain  and began to worry. I hoped that all my little feral cats were all tucked up in a dry, warm, cozy place. So that’s why I was out in the backyard at 3:22 this AM to check up on my herd:

That’s Taffy, Lickety, and Oscar from next door, high and dry.

I really should have made that hutch big enough so I could crawl in and curl up in the middle of all that purring.

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