Strasbourg Christmas, an Augmented Reality

Strasbourgers in the Alsace region of France claim that they are the “Christmas Capital” of Europe so as a good muslim I went there to check.


strasbourg christmas ornaments michele roohani

Well, they keep saying it everywhere:


strasbourg capitale de noel michele roohani

It was a very cold day but thousands of poeple were swarming the streets of this beautiful Alsatian city:


strasbourg christmas street michele roohani

walking up and down narrow streets,


strasbourg streets christmas 2009 michele roohani

They have no pity for their babies fighting the cold,


strasbourg christmas cold baby michele roohani

maybe because they drink this mulled wine called “Vin Chaud” (hot wine) or “Gluehwein” (in german): a concoction usually prepared from red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar. They sell it in every other stand on the big Christmas market in Strasbourg:


strasbourg christmas vin chaud gluewein michele roohani

I saw my first chocolate covered “strawberry  kababs”:


strawberry kabab chocolate michele roohani

Strasbourg is home to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe:


strasbourg cathedral blue sky michele roohani

where Jesus’ birth will be celebrated this year with pomp and thousands of little ornaments made in Alsace (read China):


strasburg marche de noel ornaments micheleroohani


The market is not close to the big church but right at its feet with Santa Claus himself selling some of the stuff:


strasbourg christmas ornaments santa seller michele roohani

Here is Alsace in all its glory (albeit in miniature):


strasbourg christmas alsace miniature homes michele roohani

and colors,


strasbourg christmas candles michele roohani

with little chefs baking for the big birthday (Jesus’, remember?)


strasbourg christmas ornaments chefs michele roohani

and big chefs of course making macaroons:


strasbourg christmas macaroon baker michele roohani

but for people with a weakness for great pastry I have a better treat:


strasbourg christmas buche christian patisserie michele roohani

The above are Christmas Buches but Christian Patisserie—that I discovered a couple of years ago on my first trip to Alsace—is known for its chocolate:


strasbourg christmas chocolate cakes christian patisserie michele roohani

and anything related to it:


strasbourg christmas chocolate christian patisserie michele roohani

Chocolate not being on my repertoire much, I opted for the fabulous chestnut cream “Mont Blanc”:


michele roohani strasbourg mont blanc christian patisserie

I went to the cathedral where a thousand Santas were busy clicking away on their cameras,


michele roohani strasbourg cathedral santa taking picture

and a thousand candles promised to fulfill wishes…


strasbourg cathedral candles micheleroohani

By the end of the day, I was one of the few without a red hat,


santa hats michele roohani

Alsace’s emblem is a stork—you see them everywhere:



strasbourg storks michele roohani

I couldn’t resist buying my first real mistletoe:


mistletoe michele roohani

and looking at the holly,


christmas holly michele roohani

I went to see the Fine Arts Museum:


fine arts museum strasbourg waiting benches michele roohani

where I revisited “the beautiful woman from Strasbourg”:


belle strasbourgeoise largilliere fine arts museum michele roohani

and the fabulous dutch still life paintings and my favorite Kessel insects of course:


insects and spider kessel michele roohani fine arts museum

By the time I got out it was getting dark but the market was still hustling and bustling,


michele roohani strasbourg cathedral night christmas

This whole trip almost made me forget Copenhagen’s climate summit, the American Health Bill disaster and the Swiss minarets…

Have a golden Christmas everybody!

bernardo daddi saint agnes christmas 2009 card michele roohani

Happy Persian New Year 1394

Norouz, Nowruz 1394

It’s spring again so happy Norouz to everybody who celebrates it!

TODAY by Billy Collins:
If ever there were a spring day so perfect,
so uplifted by a warm intermittent breeze


that it made you want to throw
open all the windows in the house


and unlatch the door to the canary’s cage,
indeed, rip the little door from its jamb,


a day when the cool brick paths
and the garden bursting with peonies


seemed so etched in sunlight
that you felt like taking


a hammer to the glass paperweight
on the living room end table,


releasing the inhabitants
from their snow-covered cottage


so they could walk out,
holding hands and squinting


into this larger dome of blue and white,
well, today is just that kind of day.

Santa’s visiting The Last Bookstore

I went to “The Last Bookstore” in downtown L.A. and came out happy after seeing thousands of books in this quirky place!

michele roohani last bookstore christmas tree

Last time I was in Los Angeles I bought a bunch of used books about wine and took them back to Paris; the books were great and I like the bookstore’s sense of humor:

crazy books michele rouhani

Even funnier are their section of “books by color”!

red books last bookstore michele harper

They have taken this idiocy to the max:

books by color michele roohani harper

Only people who love books can laugh at them like this by arranging them by color!

book labyrinth michele roohani

Some people play chess,

old men playing chess M+V michele roohani

some chat,

book talk michele harper

but they mainly read…

t bookstore michele roohani

They have a little art gallery :

lst bookstore micheleroohnai

There is a Borg section,

borg lenses michele roohani

that I liked a lot:

borg shop last bookstrore los angeles rouhani

I was even able to find one of my favorite issues of National Geographic magazine about Suleiman the Magnificent from 1987!

national geographic michele roohani

Just some snow outside and it would have been a perfect christmas scene…

derniere librairie michele roohnai harper

No snow but they have this amazing labyrinth made out of books that starts with a funny tunnel:

labyrinth michele roohani

with a soldier standing guard outside…

bookstore soldier michele harper

If you don’t like what you read, you know what to do:

last bookstore michele harper

But when you get over your anger, you can sit down quietly and read again,

globe bookstore micheleharper

A nice book about Christmas,

neimann markus xmas book

before these ladies get angry at you…

women books last michele rouhani

And throw you out of…

last bookstore michele dordaneh roohani

Merry Christmas everybody!

books xmas lamp michele roohani

See my 2007 Christmas in Beverly hills here.

See my 2009 Christmas in Strasbourg here.


Kashan, a symphony in gold and turquoise

Kashan…A jewel of a city in the semi-arid center of Iran. I went back to Iran after 20 years. I visited several historical houses in Kashan and enjoyed my first visit to this region. This is one of them, built around 1880 with exquisite mirror and stained-glass work:

دردانه روحانی خانه طباطبائی کاشان roohani kashan

A much smaller example is the hotel we stayed in; this amazing boutique hotel (below), the “Manouchehri House“, revived from its ruin by the good taste of its owner, Saba Manouchehri,  her super talented designer, Shanhnaz Nader Esphanahi, and Akbar Helli the traditional architect and master repairer of historic houses. Going from this (picture not mine):

manoucheri house before picture michele roohani

to this:

خانه منوچهری دردانه روحانی کاشان

and this:

manouchehri House Saba Kasahn Dordaneh Michele Roohani

This is the view from my room:

Kashan watermelon michele roohani

A first floor room with three beds for my parents and myself. Even the bed covers (designed by Shahnaz Nader Esfahani) are custom made for the hotel and purely Iranian:

bed cover shahnaz nader esfahani manouchehri dordaneh

Still jet-lagged, I could’t sleep well the first night and I saw the sun rise after having stared in delight for a couple of hours at the moonlit garden:

manouchehri house michele roohani

We had to take advantage of our short trip and a knowledgeable guide so we hurried to the breakfast area,

saba manouchehri dordaneh roohani michele

and tried to remember to take a look at these cute garden sculptures upon our return to the hotel!

persian sculpture michele roohani

We had our Persian tea and out the door:

tea chai dordaneh rouhani iran

Our first stop was at the Tabatabaei House. This splendid house was built in the 1840s for the affluent Tabatabaei family.  It was designed by Master Ali Maryam. It has 40 rooms and more than 200 doors:

tabatabaee house kashan iran rouhani

It is the same house that you see at the beginning of the blog post. I was amazed at this majestic balcony and its ceiling that looks like a traditional Persian rug (below).

tabatabei kashan rug ceiling michele roohani

Kashan is world famous for its beautiful rug weaving tradition,

kashan rug dordaneh roohani

and I can very well imagine Mr. Tabatabaei asking his architect to create a rug on his ceiling like the rug he must have had at his feet:

ceiling rug kashan michele roohani

It doesn’t happen  often  for me to be overwhelmed by what I see and hesitate about what to shoot but I was taking pictures left and right and no time to take notes… 😉

historic house kashan roohani

But I remembered to take a picture of myself!

dordaneh roohani Tabātabāei house kashan

The colors on these pictures have not been processed — the golden glow that you see everywhere is real:

tabatabei house sunset dordaneh rowhani iran

The intricate stucco work on the walls is even more beautiful in the midday golden light:

tabatabei facade kashan michele rouhani

The persians are historically known in the art of plastering:

tabatabaei house stucco michele roohani

The stained glass is omnipresent in all of these old houses,

kashan vitrail dordaneh roohani

Some are exquisite!

Boroujerdi stained glass windows kashan michele roohani

We decided to go to the bazaar for lunch. Iran, the pistachio capital of the world is a heaven for nut lovers:

persian nusts michele roohani

I found this guy’s expression in front of the sheep’s heads hilarious! The local Chelo-Kabab,  the only thing that Shahs and Mullahs equally love and agree upon, didn’t disappoint us. Chelo-Kabab is the national dish of Iran consisting of steamed basmati rice and lamb kabab.

chelokabab michele roohani

After lunch we headed to the Fin Garden. A Unesco world heritage site, it is a historical Persian Garden that symbolizes the earthly paradise. Designed for Shah Abbas I and completed in 1590, it is the oldest garden in Iran still in existence.

Fin kashan pool michele roohani

Water runs through it (it houses Kashan’s Fin Bath) and beautiful trees and flowers and water sources everywhere have a heavenly effect on people.

Kashan ceiling paintings michele rouhani

Flowers are everywhere on the ceilings and walls (above) and outside like the omnipresent pomegranate and roses:

pomegranate michele roohani kashan

Kashan is like Grasse in France, the capital of rose essence, Gol-Aab:

kashan rose michele roohani harper

and some more ceilings:

Fin ceiling kashan dordaneh roohnai

and more gorgeous frescos:

fin kashan ceiling michele roohani

I loved this image of this tired chador clad lady:

chador woman fin garden kashan michele roohani

The next day took us to a famous bath or hammam: Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse. I want to take you first to the roof—very typical of the ones in this region, it lets the sunlight in. You will see these roof domes again from inside.

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse dordaneh

Thes multiple domes  contain convex glasses to provide sufficient lighting to the bathhouse while concealing it from the outside:

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse ceiling dordaneh

The bathhouse is a traditional Iranian bathhouse from the 16th century. It has two main parts:  Sarbineh (the dressing hall) and Garmkhaneh (the hot bathing hall). The following image is of Sarbineh with its octagonal pool and its 8 columns.

Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse michele roohani

The interior of the bathhouse is decorated with turquoise and gold tile work, brickwork and amazing plasterwork:

Amir Ahmad Bathhouse kashan dordaneh

A symphony in gold and turquoise…Sultan Amir Ahmad Bathhouse dordaneh roohani

Me being a Roohani (religious in Persian and a common last name like Smith) and the new president being a Roohani, you would think this dude could be my dad or an uncle:

mullah dordaneh roohani kashan

My dad—Morteza Rouhani— a retired pediatrician and not a mollah (here with our kind guide, Abbas Ghamkhar), was tired of following my mother and me around . Everybody asks me but my father has  no connection to the Iranian President!

doctor morteza rouhani dordaneh

Another great tea (I call it paradise in a glass) and we were ready to head to another historical house.

persian tea naser-al-din shah dordaneh roohani

The same person who built  the Tabatabaei’s House later  built this one, the Boroujerdis House for Mr. Tabatabaei’s newly married daughter. It is considered a true masterpiece of Persian traditional residential architecture. It has a funny story:

Boroujerdi house main facade kashan

The groom not being from Kashan, was not accepted first as a good suitor (he was in the tea making business) and to show his wealth in spite of not being one of the Kashan nobility, he asks the same architect to build his home with samovars and teapots in the exterior wall carvings! I was laughing taking these pictures:

Boroujerdi samovar kashan michele roohani Iran

There are great plaster and stucco works of fruits and flowers and wall paintings by the royal painter Kamal-ol-molk, and three 40 meter tall windcatchers which help cool the house to unusually cool temperatures.

Boroujerdi house kashan dordaneh roohani

A windcatcher (below) is a traditional Persian architectural element to create natural ventilation in buildings:

windcatcher boroujerdi house kashan michele roohani

and this is what’s happening inside the dome, magnificent ceiling,

boroujerdi ceiling dordaneh rouhani

after magnificent ceiling…

Borujedis house kashan dordaneh rouhani

I wished I could have made a better travel log about this mystical place:

dordaneh rouhani boroujerdi house kashan

One last image from the other side of Tabatabaei House—after all we started the blog with it:

tabatabei dordaneh rouhani kashan

Ok one more:

stucco work historic house kashan michele roohani

We went back to Tehran, tired but happy. Guess what we drank the minute we got home?

persian tea glass michele roohani

I will keep a great memory of this beautiful city—home to my favorite poet, Sohrab Sepehri. This swallow kept us company at our hotel, the Manouchehri House:

swallow kashan manouchehri michele roohani

A poem of Sepehri in English:

“I am a native of Kashan
Time is not so bad to me
I own a loaf of bread, a bit of intelligence, a tiny amount of taste!
I possess a mother better than the leaf
Friends, better than the running brook

I am a Muslim
The rose is my Mecca
The spring my prayer-carpet
The light, my prayer stone
The field my prostrate place
I take ablution with the heartbeat of windows…”

in French:

“Je viens de la contrée de Kashan.
Ma vie somme toute n’est pas trop difficile.
J’ai de quoi vivre, un brin d’intelligence, un minuscule talent.
J’ai une mère plus douce que les feuilles de l’arbre.
Des amis plus limpides que l’eau courante.

Et un Dieu présent quelque part, tout proche:
Parmi les feuilles de giroflées,
Au pied de ce pin élevé,
Sur la face consciente des eaux,
Dans les lois du monde végétal.
Je suis musulman.
J’ai comme direction de la Mecque une rose.
Comme napperon de prière une source.
Comme sceau de prière la lumière.
La plaine est le tapis de ma prière.
Je fais mes ablutions aux vibrantes fenêtres de la lumière.”

and in Persian:

اهل كاشانم
روزگارم بد نيست.
تكه ناني دارم ، خرده هوشي، سر سوزن ذوقي.
مادري دارم ، بهتر از برگ درخت.
دوستاني ، بهتر از آب روان.

من مسلمانم.
قبله ام يك گل سرخ.
جانمازم چشمه، مهرم نور.
دشت سجاده من.
من وضو با تپش پنجره ها مي گيرم.


Noruz in Paris with Venus and Samad, the goldfish

It’s the first day of spring and the Persian new Year of 1392 starts with Noruz (No: new, Ruz: day):

Norouz 2013 michele roohani

We are celebrating in Paris with a newly converted Venus,

Noruz 1392 haft seen michele roohani

I have extensively written about the Noruz (or Nowruz, Norooz) before in my blog, so if you’ve been with me in the past 4/5 years, you must know all about the items that go on the Noruz spread.

haft seen persian norooz michele roohani

The famous “haft seen” of 7 S’s:

Nowruz goldfish samad michele roohani

My fish, Samad (his name has nothing to do with the S’s… ;)), has been with us since two Noruz’s ago and he is happy to play his role this year with the famous Haji Firouz , the politically incorrect Persian messenger of the New Year:

haji firouz nowruz 1392 michele roohani

Haji Firouz’s face is covered in soot and he is wearing bright red clothes and hat. People consider it only as a face paint and there is no racial implication.


Do you remember  Samad on my previous year’s Noruz card?

One of the S’s is Sekkeh or coin; the last Shah of Iran is overthrown even in my Haft Seen…

coins sekkeh nowruz michele roohani

It was raining in Paris on the first day of spring:

paris roofs michele harper

but I didn’t care because a bunch of hyacinths can bring the spring to your room.

hyacinths michele harper

Happy Noruz and,

Norouz paris venus michele roohani harper

happy 1392 to all of my Persian friends!

michele dordaneh roohani1392 persian new year

Some links to my previous Nowruz posts worth your time (I promise):

Nowruz 1390 here

Nowruz 1389 here

Nowruz 1388 here

My most visited blog post (and most used images without my permission) Haft seen here

Just decided to add this photo of myself (3 months old) on my mom’s lap having my first Noruz and not terribly impressed…

dordaneh first haft seen michele roohani

Villandry, green and violet poetry in the garden

I’ve been to the Loire Valley in France a few times but never seen anything like the Château de Villandry’s magnificent gardens!

I would like to share this with my friends so let’s start: the Loire region is a few hours from Paris and the roads are bordered by poppies in May/June:

I love poppies and  I got spoiled!
I had a reservation to stay at this “château/hotel”, Château de Ternay, that much to my delight turned out to be a gem:
Affordable château living for a couple of days and catered by a genuine Count and Countess! The hallway leading to my room reminded me of my childhood school, Jeanne d’Arc:
My room was right out of  a fairy tale,
I was so inpired, I kept taking pictures like this one which is my favorite:
The next morning, a copious breakfast was prepared for my friends and I:
What a great way to start the day:
I can tell you that with all the good coffee that I drank that morning, I had a long night ahead of me!
So let’s go to our enchanting gardens now in Château de Villandry which is the last of the great chateaux of the Loire built during the Renaissance. The charm of its outstanding gardens make this one of the jewels of the region.
A sea of Lavender greeted me and it kept going, wave after wave,
after wave,
after wave…
After this first Ornamental Garden, it was time to delight in the Kitchen Garden:

herbs and vegetables and of course fruits:

This is actually how it looks like:

This is the village of Villandry and its 12th century church from the vantage point of an antique petunia vase:
And now the second of ornamental gardens, Love Garden:
These gorgeous parterres were forming hearts, masks which were worn at balls, blades of daggers and swords used in duels caused by amorous rivalry. In summer, the flowers are red to symbolise the blood shed in these combats! Breathtaking…
If I was riding a balloon, I would have taken this picture (from their site) – the Château is quite elegant but the gardens are otherworldly:
It was impossible to overdose on this much beauty but my legs were complaining so one more look to the Water Garden,
and one last stop at wisterias:
and one coffee for the road:
and I went back to the hotel; this is the view outside,
that became little by little like this:
and of course Snoopy is waiting for me in the room,
Tomorrow will be another full day visiting Loire!
Visit Villandry here
My hotel, Château Ternay, here

The witty Android

Working with Android phones a lot, I need to pay an hommage to the fabulous Asimov,  the great  author and professor of biochemistry who is best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.

“The Oxford English Dictionary credits his science fiction for introducing the words positronic (an entirely fictional technology), psychohistory (which is also used for a different study on historical motivations) and robotics into the English language. Asimov coined the term robotics without suspecting that it might be an original word; at the time, he believed it was simply the natural analogue of words such as mechanics and hydraulics, but for robots.

Unlike his word psychohistory, the word robotics continues in mainstream technical use with Asimov’s original definition. Star Trek: The Next Generation featured androids with “positronic brains” giving Asimov full credit for “inventing” this fictional technology.”

He believed that his most enduring contributions would be his “Three Laws of Robotics” and the Foundation Series. His 3 laws of robotics are:

A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


Some other interesting quotes by him:

“Creationists make it sound as though a ‘theory’ is something you dreamt up after being drunk all night.”

I just found out via Mark that Ray Bradbury passed away today; his Fahrenheit 451 is still relevant after 60 years!

“Dalton’s records, carefully preserved for a century, were destroyed during the World War II bombing of Manchester. It is not only the living who are killed in war.”

“I am not a speed reader. I am a speed understander.”

“If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.”

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Watch him here with Bill Moyers.