Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Rest of the Story ... and a Fond Farewell

It has been so long since I posted, I scarcely know where to begin. I intended to take a little blogging break, and suddenly four years had gone by. And what years they've been.

While I no longer have the time to devote to a regular blog or three, it always bothered me that I never really said good-bye to this sliver of  blogosphere that occupied a large place in my life for so long.

My home is still the "House Where the Black Cat Lives."  Litter-mates Henry, Sammy, Nettie, C.J. and Koko are all alive and well though getting on in years. They turned 13 this past July. They remain the lights of my life.

Other HWTBCL occupants have come -- and some have gone.

Sadly, my precious Roxie passed away in 2012  after a brief illness. Her sweetheart, my  big guy Ernie, he of the many toes, followed a few months later from a rare form of  cancer. Though I still miss them every day, it is fitting that these two, so devoted to one another in life, are still together.

"The Tuxedo Cats" -- Stanley, Stella and Clancy -- mere kittens when I last posted --  are now big and beautiful, especially Stanley. His girth and out-sized personality  reminds me so much of Big E.

Their big sister, Gizmo, did not adapt to domestic life as well. Though she lived with us for several months, and  followed me everywhere,  she never quite fit in with the other cats.  One day she darted out an open door and never returned. I have not seen her since. My hope is that she found a place where she could be happy. Though always half-wild, she was a sweet  little thing.

Surprisingly, the cat I thought would never stay did. Yes, I am talking about Peggy Sue, the grande dame of my  garage. Every morning she waits on the steps by my back door for her breakfast and  when I come home in the evening, she runs to greet me and asks for her dinner. Touching is still not allowed (except on very rare occasions and only when she initiates it), but she is happy and healthy. I love to watch her chase butterflies and sun  herself in her favorite spot.  Her story, once seemingly so sad, has had its happy ending.

And so has mine. Which brings me to the newest resident of The House Where the Black Cat Lives. Hint: This one walks on two legs, not four.

The oft-mentioned  Recurring Gentleman Caller is now the Permanent Gentleman Husband. We tied the knot in a beautiful intimate New Orleans courtyard ceremony in 2013.  The cats are still in denial.

And so now you know "the rest of the story." Time to turn out the lights.

Good-bye. Thanks for stopping by!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Adventures in Paris: Scent of a Woman

I have been jonesing for a real French fragrance.

Yes, I am well aware that my regular scents, Chanel No. 5, Coco by Chanel and 24 Faubourg by Hermes, are all French. However, beloved as these are, I can purchase them right here in the 'burg which somehow dilutes their French pedigree.

For years, I've harbored this vision of me sweeping grandly into the House of Guerlain's flagship boutique on the Champs-Elysees, whipping off my designer sunglasses, tossing my perfectly coiffed hair (I am always having a great hair and weight day in this fantasy) and imperiously gesturing at the "exclusive collection" house fragrances as wraiths in little black dresses scurry to accommodate. I exit the salon de parfum toting a beautifully wrapped package and trailing a distinctive Oriental spicy/floral/chypre cloud that leaves the hordes along the avenue swooning in olfactory ecstasy.

Other women do this all the time. Women like Madonna. And Princess Caroline of Monaco. Why can't I? I made up my mind that during this trip the fantasy would become reality.

And it did. Sort of.

I really hadn't planned to go into Guerlain the afternoon that I found myself at their threshold. The weather was unseasonably warm and humid with intermittent rain. I was wearing jeans. My makeup was gone, my only jewelry beads of perspiration. My reflection mirrored in the windows told me I was not having a good hair day. After four days of eating croissants, pommes frites, creme brulee and tarte tatin, I wasn't having a great weight day either. But with my Paris vacation more than half over, I knew that it was now or never. So I took a deep breath and forged ahead into the fragrant inner sanctum.

The sales associates were all chic in their little black dresses (at least that part of the fantasy came true). And they spoke perfect English. Thank goodness, for my French was not tripping off my tongue as mellifluously as I would have liked.

Stoppers were pulled out of bottles and dabbed onto my wrists. Atomizers were spritzed onto paper strips and waved beneath my nose. Top, middle and base notes were discussed with the seriousness of quantum physics. I found myself sagely tossing about words like "sillage" and "drydown."

And I left there with a bottle of Guerlain's exclusive Elixir Charnel Oriental Brulant housed in a gilded box wrapped in ribbon and scented tissue paper and tucked into an elegant Guerlain bag that drew lots of suitably envious glances on the metro.

And it only cost 170 euros (ouch). I'll leave it up to you to figure out the intricacies of the daily exchange rate and the duty free tax.

The day I returned, I test drove my new fragrance. As I turned away from my vanity, my persnickety orange cat Henry (aka Monsieur Henri, my personal stylist and beauty consultant) awoke from a nap on my bed. He blinked his topaz eyes, twitched his nose at the unfamiliar mixture of tonka bean, almond, vanilla, styrax and clementine. He jumped down and rubbed up against my leg purring approvingly. Figures he'd be the one to notice. That cat is so damn French.

Is this my favorite perfume ever? Actually, I still prefer Coco. And as much as the Elixir Charnel OB costs, that's a good thing. Let's face it; this was a once-in-a-lifetime splurge. Never going to become my signature.

But the Elixir Charnel OB is extremely wearable. It possesses a smoky, sexy, spicy, ambery yet subtle je ne sais quoi quality that is very French, yet somehow still me.

And you can't get that in Hattiesburg.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Adventures in Paris: I See Dead People

On previous visits to Paris, I'd paid homage to most of the major "must see" tourist sites. Eiffel Tower, check. Louvre, check. Musee d'Orsay, check. Versailles, check. Sacre Couer, check. Arc de Triomphe, double check ( even hauled my ass up the stairs to the top. IMO a waste of time. There are much better views from the steps of Sacre Couer and from the Pompidou Center).

But I had never set foot in the famous Pere Lachaise cemetery nor the Pantheon, the mausoleum that houses the remains of France's most honored men (and a few women). Since, we're getting close to my favorite holiday, Halloween, and I have a somewhat morbid streak, I figured it was time to do the crypt crawl.

Pere Lachaise is a large "city of the dead" as we call them in New Orleans with the rich, famous, infamous and not-at-all-famous thrown together for all eternity. The architecture alone is worth seeing as are the gloriously eccentric funerary mementoes on display.

Here you'll find, among others, the grave sites of French author Colette, Irish playwright Oscar Wilde (can't miss his tomb covered with an sphinx-ish sculpture and umpteen billion lipstick imprints) and American rock star/bad boy Jim Morrison. There are always a few faithful devotees hanging around the famous graves. Even the dead have their groupies.

The uber-dignified, yet still creepy, Pantheon originally was constructed as a church to St. Genevieve, but in the wake of the French Revolution, it was turned into secular meeting place/mausoleum dedicated to memorializing the intellectuals of France. Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, both Curies, Pierre and Marie, and Louis Braille are among those interred here. There's also a slew of Napoleon's generals. Apparently just being a FoN (Friend of Napoleon) imparted greatness by osmosis. Napoleon, by the way, is not interred here. He has his own monument/tomb over at Les Invalides. He would like that.

Impressive, but overall the Pantheon is a little cold and emotionless. But then again that should be expected from a monument to dead intellectuals.

I didn't include the underground Roman catacombs on my Paris "to do" list; seemed a little too goth, even for me, with all those skulls and bones right out in the open. I also tend to be claustrophobic. However, I was able to descend into the caves of Reims' famous champagne houses with no problems, so the catacombs remain a distinct possibility for another time.

Hey, I'll use any excuse to return to Paris.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Adventures in Paris: Les Halles is Foodie Heaven

For most women, the boutiques of the stylish Boulevard Champs-Elysees, Rue Montaigne and Rue St. Honore may be the ticket, but the neighborhood that makes my knees tremble is the gutsy, ballsy, decidedly blue collar Les Halles, the belly of Paris, once home to the famous markets of Paris Only vestiges remain, but what vestiges.

Here I ate lunch at Aux Tonneaux des Halles, a turn of the century bistro that serves up os de moelle (marrow bones) with ramekins of fleur de sel, huge workingman platters overflowing with perfectly cooked steaks or duck confit (best I've ever had), pommes frites or sauteed potatoes and fresh salad with perfect vinagerette. And wine. Unfiltered natural biodynamic wine that was nothing short of superb.

Just around the corner, there is G. Detou. If you love to cook, especially if you love to bake, you have to come here. After Monoprix, this is easily my favorite shopping destination in Paris. It's small than the average 7-11 and stocked from floor to ceiling with the most wonderful stuff. Exotic teas. Huge bricks of the finest chocolates (and also bags of chocolate chunks and cocoa powder), nuts in bulk, all kinds of flavored, colored and shaped sugars, flavored extracts, candied flower petals, dragees, exotic spices, Madagascar vanilla beans. Flavored oils. Mustards. Jarred
foie gras and pates. Tuna and sardines in prettily decorated tins. Iranian pistachios and saffron. And for the most part, everything is very reasonably priced.

"C'est comme Paradis!" I blurted out to the clearly amused proprieter as I looked around wide-eyed. He was only too happy to prove me right.

"Quel est le meilleur chocolate pour faire le chocolat chaud?" He whipped out a 1 kg bag of Valhrona Guanaja Mariage de grands crus 70%, little tabs of rich, dark chocolate to melt into milk or even to slip into croissant dough for pain au chocolat.

"Avez vous les lentilles du Puy?" I asked envisioning making that heavenly lentil salad from my October 2008 visit. Main bien sur. Did I want them in a tin or bag.

Flower essences? Rose. Lavande. Violette. Vertiver. One of each, please.

Candied violet and rose petals? Check.

Chestnut flour or Flour made from the lovely rose biscuits de Reims? Sure. I could also buy the fragile biscuits whole if I so desired.

G. Detou was actually the original owner, Gerard Detou, but pronounced in French it also is a play on words for "J'ai de tout" or "I have some of everything."

And they do. Or rather they did.

A fair amount of their merchandise came home with me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The House Where the Black Cat Lives Goes to Paris

I'm back from Paris. And as always, it was an adventure. I am convinced, no matter how many times I go there will always be some new sight, taste, sound to delight.

Like Au Panetier, one of the oldest patisseries in Paris, where the buttery toothsome pastry is eclipsed only by the beautiful Belle Epoque decor. Check out the lovely tile work.
Like Bistro d'Henri on Rue Princesse in St. Germain. Tiny dining room, always full, always good. I went there for the name; I came back for the food.
Shopping in the covered Passage Vivienne with its lovely domed glass skylights and elaborate wall frescoes.

Walking across a bridge covered with locks, left by thousands of lovers as signs of eternal love. Only in Paris.

This beautiful fountain near St. Sulpice.

Gardens everywhere, including this lovely little gem in the courtyard of Musee Carnavelet.

Pig pastries! (This one's for you, Lou.)

A decked-out bridal car parked outside Gerald Mulot (the similarly gorgeously attired bridal party was chowing down inside).

And black cats everywhere, popping up in the most unexpected places, reminding me that as enchanting as Paris may be, I'll always have a reason to come home.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Shopping in Paris

More and more often lately, my thoughts turn to Paris. I'll be headed that way soon (my fourth visit if anyone is keeping track.)

Now you may wonder what there could possibly be left for me to see. Well, lots. I have reached that wonderful place in my relationship with Paris where I'm no longer the tourist running the frenetic race from the Tour Eiffel to Notre Dame from L'Arche de Triomphe to the Louvre.

Now I can enjoy Paris as the locals do, wandering the neighborhoods, revisiting familiar haunts, enjoying small-off-the-beaten track museums. And, of course, shopping.

Paris is a shopper's mecca. From les grandes magasins to the tiniest specialty boutiques to even the street markets, all the merchandise is arranged to entice.

I can't resist the vendors' entreaties to try les meilleures cerises dans la ville or that dab of cheese at the peak of ripeness. To enjoy a lick of the world's best ice cream scooped in the shape of a beautiful delicate rose . To spritz decadent parfum from a Baccarat crystal flacon onto a paper fan and waft it delicately under my nose. To enjoy the flutter of an ombre silk scarf against my neck as the vendeuse deftly knots it that inimitable way Parisiennes are born knowing. And they always wrap the packages so nicely, like a present just for you.

So what's on my Paris shopping list for this visit?

Food: bricks of Valhrona chocolate for baking and chocolat chaud. Madagascar vanilla beans in bulk. Candied violets. Essences of lavender, rose and violet. Mustard and honey -- the choices are dizzying for both. Green lentilles de Puy so hard to find over here.

Toiletries: The pharmacies and perfume boutiques are pure heaven for a girly girl like me. I love to stock up on the big cubes of Savon de Marseilles olive oil soap (great for the skin), and sachets in pretty silk embroidered packets.

This year I am determined to set foot into the grand parfums salons. Sure I can purchase a bottle of Shalimar or Chanel No. 5 here in Hattiesburg, but I can't recreate the experience of sniffing Narcisse Noir or N'Aimez que Moi at Turtlecreek Mall -- these are sold exclusively at the Caron boutiques. And, while at over $100 dollars a teaspoon, I can't justify bringing these home as souvenirs, I can allow myself a whiff there in the salon and bring home a slightly more affordable, if still decadent, swansdown peach powder puff or five precious bath beads.

Scarves: My Paris obsession. Hermes is not in the budget this year, but even the street scarves sold in the markets and the metro stations have a certain cachet when knotted just so.

And perhaps a serendipitous old treasure or two discovered at a street brocante.

Is shopping in Paris cheap? No it is not, but it is a heady, gracious and soul-satisfying experience rarely found anywhere else in the world.

And you can't put a price on that.

So what would you buy if you were going to Paris?

Monday, July 25, 2011

There's Something About Ernie

Like some people, certain cats are just blessed with charisma.

Ernie is one of those cats.

From the day that he showed up on my deck in Bay St. Louis, exactly six years ago yesterday, it was clear the tiny three-week-old grey and white tabby kitten with the big ears and enormous paws possessed personal magnetism in spades.

Immediately upon his arrival, he started charming the fur off the feral kitties that lived under my deck, working his way into their hearts (and their food bowls).

I thought he was the cutest thing I'd ever seen. Which is why I got concerned when I saw him trying to chat up the 'possum and raccoon that also helped themselves to the cat chow after darkness fell. In the wild, personality does not determine survival of fittest.

So I brought him inside to become part of my inside feline family.

Though Little Ernie was clearly delighted with his new family of five feline brothers and sisters, the feeling was not always mutual. His arrival in our lives coincided with the other cats' third birthday; a little brother was not on their birthday list.

Ernie was oblivious. For his first year in our family, Ernie, in true little brother fashion, padded around behind Henry wherever he went. He mimicked his mannerisms. Henry was not amused and frequently swatted the little guy sending him tumbling head over tail across the room. Ernie thought it was a cool game. He wanted to be Henry when he grew up.

Henry doesn't swat him around anymore now that Ernie is twice his size. He just hides from him. Ernie doesn't mind (I'm sure he's still oblivious).

And then there's Roxie. When she arrived, a skinny, frightened little feral, Ernie gallantly showed her the ropes, sharing his food bowl, protecting her from the others' malevolent glares, lovingly washing her gaunt little face with his big, pink tongue and heeding her piteous cries for company at all hours of the day and night. Theirs was -- and is -- one of the sweetest love stories I've ever witnessed.

When I fostered her three little grandchildren a year later, Ernie was their mentor and playmate. The slept in a pile, the kitttens happily snuggled against Ernie's growing girth. When awake they dueled, the kittens batting Ernie's huge paws with their tiny ones. One by one the kittens went off to new homes. When the last one left, Ernie wandered the house disconsolately for days. He missed his little buddies.

Just recently, three more kittens (Roxie's great grandchildren) joined our foster family. The semi-feral little moppets huddled wide-eyed in the training cage hissing in terror whenever one of the adult cats came sniffing their way. Then Ernie ambled by, belly a'swingin'.

It was if a switch had been thrown. The three kittens rushed to the wall of the cage, mewing happily, three sets of paws stretched out eagerly, reaching for Ernie, batting at his tail, their own tails up and alert. And, as always, Ernie was happy to oblige.

It's the damnedest thing.