Who will be the new Sun King in France?

Today is the second and final round of the French presidential elections and the “Sun King” will be chosen! France is hoping for a miracle from the new president.

This will be a referendum on Europe’s austerity measures (Sarkozy for and Holland against  them). Paul Krugman must be happy that there has been a definite shift in opinion in the past month.

I went to the first round to observe and learn how it works in France where you actually have to pick up a piece of paper with the name of the candidate printed on it and take it to the booth and put it in the envelope and then to the voting urn.

The fate of France and Europe is decided in a sea of blue envelopes today. Nicolas Sarkozy’s Socialist challenger Francois Hollande beat him in the first round of elections and is the front runner in all opinion polls that have predicted he will win tonight but it’s not over till it’s over…

In the first round on April 22nd, Hollande came out on top making Sarkozy the first ever President to lose the number 1 position in the first round of votes. These are chaotic times and the global financial crisis couldn’t help any incumbent in the shadow of austerity and looming recession.

After the closing of the urns, the volunteers can help count the votes—something I have never seen in the U.S.—and everybody can ask to be a part of the “dépouillement” (tally in english). They just let me take pictures but I couldn’t count because I don’t vote in France.

I should be in L.A. to vote in November because this has made me nostalgic about home.

It’s the time of sweet smelling wisterias (glycine in french) in Paris:

and it must be the time of jacarandas in L.A. where it rains purple in the month of May:

But in France, people who vote don’t get a sticker!

See some amazing jacarandas here

See me get angry about politics here

If Sarkozy goes to the guillotine today it will be because of this woman

Are “les Misérables” of France hopeful?

Yesterday, I was walking home through a quaint neighborhood of Paris, la Butte aux cailles, when I noticed these posters of Hollande on the wall of this little street, rue de l’Esperance (street of hope in French):

I can’t vote in France but I have been following the elections and if you want to know a bit about it, I recommend reading these two short articles from today’s New York Times. The first one’s called: “Victor Hugo on the ballot” by Robert Zaretsky.

The other one is “Voting for Yesterday in France” by Oliver Guez:

Take a few minutes to read them—they are quite interesting…

On a more cheerful note, there is always hope as long as there is spring and lilacs that remind me of my childhood in Iran…

To read one of my favorite posts about lilacs in Paris go here.

Spring in Tennessee, an omnivore’s paradise…

I just came back from a short  trip to Tennessee and in spite of the beautiful nature and great inexpensive american shopping, the food is what I would like to remember! The state is known for its BBQ ribs:

I was surprised to see how “light” this meal can be and how delicious it can taste…

After the day’s work, I was left to myself to indulge in a few un-french dinners like the great dish of american cuisine, the unassuming simple red steak that comes to your table looking like this:

but it changes quickly to this— I like my red meat, rare…

It was of course preceded by the house salad with ranch dressing:

I was so happy to have free wi-fi everywhere I went in this trip, from airports to hotels and restaurants; I was chatting with friends and family on my phone during dinner and sending them pictures of my food especially the “pièce de resistance”, the strawberry shortcake…I don’t even like strawberries but this was too big a temptation to resist:

Everything was so clean/cheap/abundant in the U.S. that even the mediocre  P.F. Chang looked and tasted good! I couldn’t resist having their shrimp,

and garlic noodles:

After living in California and Europe, I can’t imagine living in the humid/hot/cold state with two N’s, two S’ and four E’s but I have to admit that the beauty and hospitality of Tennessee surprised me. Just look at these gorgeous red azaleas (nothing photoshopped here):

Knoxville was floating in a sea of white and pink dogwoods:

I fell in love with these dogwood trees:

Whatever wasn’t pink or white, was green…lots of green…

And more green.

America had a heart attack  a few years ago. Excess of everything: food, gas, cars, homes, etc…This trip to Tennessee gives me hope that this country is on its way to recovery…

The beautiful French blond

This is just a teaser for my next post about beautiful blonds!

The most famous french blond is not Brigitte Bardot anymore but the “Blonde of Aquitaine”  that I met at The Paris International Agricultural Show 2012 – a gorgeous cow indeed…

Stay tuned.

Audrey Hepburn, a perpetual Valentine

What is more emblematic of Valentine than a good old love story played by Audrey Hepburn in Paris?

The story of a mousy looking bookshop clerk who got discovered by a hot shot fashion photographer (Fred Astaire). He convinces her to go to paris for a major fashion event.

She’s nagging in the following scene to the 1950’s top model, Dovima who looks stupid and pretty at the same time! Audrey doesn’t care about how she looks and has a brain…

Something in Hepburn’s face is so different form others…She looks fresh, innocent and intelligent.

She looks adorable as a child:

Let’s go back to our Valentine story. She takes the plane and they all get to Paris:

Between the photo shoots, they all sing and dance and discover Paris. She has Pont des Arts behind her in this picture and there is even a small boat on the river!

Of course Paris of 1957 looked a little different than today – for one thing it wasn’t exploding with people.

The story is full of clichés:  she’s crazy about Parisian philosophers (that’s why she agrees to come to France) and she goes to Montmartre where the artists are:

She’s being photographed in front of the Arc de Carrousel,

and in the Louvre:

She plays with doves in front of the fountains of Place de la Concorde,

and she goes to the Opéra:

They even make her wear a Burqa!

Isn’t she prettier with it around her shoulders instead of her hair?

Now she can have any man she wants…

But she’s only dreaming about one man,

the one who doesn’t want her – the photographer:

He’s played by the dorky  Fred Astaire. He was a great dancer but so pathetic playing the leading man with the prettiest of them all, Hepburn!

They fight and she cries and cries…

But they finally make up and the rest is history! Richard Avedon and the rest of the gang made sure that it becomes part of the cinema history.
So to have a happy ending to your Valentine day, you have to be as beautiful as Audrey Hepburn or as lucky as Fred Astaire and go to Paris where everything is a zillion times more expensive than when the “Funny Face” was made (1957) and 8 million more people live in the metropolitan Parisien region!
My favorite Valentine post of 2010 here
Valentine 2009 with nice poems here
I am soooo romantic in the Valentine of  2008 here
To see a great clip from Audrey’s son go here
Audrey Hepburn’s site here

Dim Sum, Dim Sum, tickle my heart…

On a rainy sunday afternoon in Paris, you can get really sentimental about a good old Los Angeles Dim Sum!

A visit to my old pictures of these Har Gows or shrimp dumplings made me wax nostalgic…These little shrimp bonnets were a part of a delicious Dim Sum at the Empress Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles.

The Cantonese phrase dim sum (點心) means literally “touch the heart” or “order to your heart’s content”. Originally it was not a main meal, only a snack, and therefore only meant to touch the heart and even though it is now a staple of chinese cuisine everywhere, it reigns supreme in Hong Kong.

Let’s go back to L.A.’s Empress Pavilion. Golden rule: if the place is completely packed with Chinese people, odds are that the food is pretty good!

I have been to this restaurant where the “feeling” is more authentic (with huge round tables and frequent cart circulation). I love picking out my food from carts being wheeled around.  It’s such a novel experience for a Persian (who always has to be coerced into taking some more food enrobed in taarof!)

Imagine waitresses with huge steaming carts full of exotic Dim Sum that they push around, and the excitement of choosing what you want from the cart. I love Cheung Fun or rice noodle roll that you see on the top shelf of the cart above and in your dish bellow:

“Travellers on the ancient Silk Road needed a place to take a nap, so teahouses were established along the roadside. Rural farmers, exhausted after working hard in the fields, would also go to teahouses for a relaxing afternoon of tea. People later discovered that tea can aid in digestion, so teahouse owners began adding various snacks and the tradition of dim sum evolved.”

Kai-lan (Gai-lan) or Chinese broccoli (or Chinese kale) is prepared in front of your hungry eyes,

The sharing act of dim sum is very important to the ceremony of eating it and drinking tea “Yum Cha” together as a unit. As I mentioned above, “Dim Sum” means point of the heart, so the act is supposed to warm your heart while you dine. Dim Sum is a breakfast and lunch time food. You will not be able to find it after 2pm!

I don’t particularly care for fried turnip cakes or potstickers but I always order them when I am taking people for Dim Sum for the first time:

I have been to the nitty gritty San Francisco chinatown Dim Sum places too; they are more authentic but can overwhelm you if you don’t drink a zillion cups of tea with your food:

My favorite remains the Los Angeles Dim Sum so think about me and drop me a line next time you are having some!

to see my other food posts:

Ms. Foodie goes to Hollywood

Tea from the land of the morning calm

You eat your values 

Coffee from paradise 

Michele’s quesadilla 

Ok, I’m a pig 

Adieu Christopher Hitchens, my favorite Mister Opinion

“My chief consolation in this year of living dyingly has been the presence of friends” wrote Hitchens last June and I am heartbroken to know he passed away yesterday…

I didn’t agree with everything he said (but who would? who could?) yet I learned a lot of very interesting things from him especially his relentless atheism that provoked the wrath of the faithful!

He sold his soul to the devil of alcohol and booze who helped him write but killed him prematurely. Keeping his great wit until the end he said: “In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist”.

Here are some quotes from him that I like:

“There are all kinds of stupid people that annoy me but what annoys me most is a lazy argument.”

“People are being too easily pleased. I’m amazed they settle for so little.”

“A gentleman is someone who is never rude by accident.”

“A lot of friendships absolutely depend upon a sort of shared language.”

“I hate stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition.”

His friend Richard Dawkins said: “I think he was one of the greatest orators of all time. He was a polymath, a wit, immensely knowledgeable, and a valiant fighter against all tyrants including imaginary supernatural ones.”  

I got to know his work via his excellent articles and book reviews and then I read his great book, “God is not great, how religion poisons everything”. I laughed all the way through the book! I liked his succinct biography of Thomas Jefferson  and his latest book, Arguably, is patiently waiting in my Kindle.

Graydon Carter says: “There will never be another like Christopher. A man of ferocious intellect, who was as vibrant on the page as he was at the bar.”

I read in Time that When Hitchens was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, believers of all faiths prayed for his health — and his salvation. The staunch atheist responded that he was grateful for the good wishes and hoped that praying for him made the faithful feel better. “Hitchens was never far below boiling point. He was an evangelical secularist, an atheist warlord.”

His friend, the novelist Ian McEwan, once said of Hitchens: “It all seems instantly neurologically available: everything he’s ever read, everyone he’s ever met, every story he’s ever heard. I’ve seldom met anyone who speaks in such fluid, elegant, nuanced sentences, dizzying in their breadth of reference.”

I loved the fact that he didn’t like Kissinger, Lady Diana, Jerry Falwell or Jacqueline Kennedy (he called her widow of opportunity!)

I strongly disagreed with him on his stand on the Iraq war or his view on abortion but he bought me back when I read what he had said of George Bush, when he was governor of Texas: ‘He is unusually incurious, abnormally unintelligent, amazingly inarticulate, fantastically uncultured, extraordinarily uneducated, and apparently quite proud of all these things’.

Another quote: “Marx says criticism of religion is the beginning of all criticism. Philosophy starts where religion ends, just as chemistry starts where alchemy breaks off or astronomy starts where astrology runs out. It is the necessary argument. Not believing in the supernatural is the critical thing.”

These past few months, It was heart wrenching to read his articles about the cancer killing him but he never lost his grace. His memoir, Hitch-22, was a good (if not great) read because I was curious about what made this man who he is. I would like to see his friends, Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis, write about his death, his life…

Read about his last days here.

Read Hitchens’ article about his own imminent death here.

A good article about him is on today’s NYTimes here.