Monday, July 15, 2013

Diana Krall

Sitting under the stars of Ghent was a woman far from home.  She spoke fondly of traveling with her two children and husband across the ocean.  Her black attire was both practical and highlighted her golden shoulder length hair.  Her flawless porcelain complexion didn’t compete with color stained lips or overdone shades of eye shadow.  The understated diamond band adorning the one closest to her heart and sapphire locket around her neck, were the only hints of sparkle other than the night sky.  Within moments, this mother traveling abroad would illuminate the crowds that looked on.  Some people need accessories to enhance what they lack, in the case of Diana Krall, her voice and dancing fingers added spark far greater than anything found over a make-up counter or within a jewelry box. 

My first introduction to Mrs. Krall was 12 years ago in New Orleans.  She strutted out in denim jeans, high heels, and a fitted black tuxedo jacket.  She immediately claimed her seat in front of a sleek, black grand piano.  With a natural grace she crossed her legs, and in one seamless motion her fingers began to tickle the piano keys.  This memory has stayed with me for over a decade.  When my 40th birthday rolled around a few weeks ago, my husband surprised me with Ghent Jazz Festival tickets.  The night reserved would offer me another glimpse into the performer I had remembered so vividly from years past.

I questioned whether she still had “it”.  In 12 years, she’s added a husband and five year old twins to her schedule.  In addition she’s, well, older.  I don’t claim to have been a rock star, but can appreciate the grueling schedule.  How has the mixture of age and a family affected what I witnessed in New Orleans?
As her lean, black clad figure made it on to the stage, she beelined for the comforts of her companion, a wood grained piano.  Shuffling around the numerous sheets of music scattered over her piano, she joked about finding the perfect song to begin the night.  The choice, “Just Like A Butterfly Caught In The Rain”.   Melodies fluttered and transcended over the crowd.  Her voice was sultry, her fingers playful.  Like a chameleon, the music determined the artist's emotions.  Mrs. Krall flirted and teased with her slow calculated rendition of Tom Waits, “Temptation”.   She nearly had me in a dream state singing Bob Dillon’s, “Simple Twist of Fate”.   The trailing word “Fate” seemed to reluctantly leave her lips, it was beautiful, heart breaking, and fading.  Amazing, with a flip of a switch, this artist would seduce the crowd with her seductive lyrics, and then between breaths, summon the casual listener to melancholy.

Mrs. Krall has used what I questioned to be limitations and transformed them into another gift.   Marriage and kids, combined with the passage of time has created an artist who knows who she is and where she belongs.  Her confidence becomes a tangible element within her performance.  While I may never possess the ability to carry a melody or play an instrument that draws the masses, Diana Krall and I do have a few things in common.  We’ve both added two heart beats to our families since New Orleans.  I too, anxiously take my seat at a keyboard.  Her keys turn out tunes, while mine, words.  Leaving the concert left me on a musical high.  More importantly, I learned future decades will bear gifts that don’t come with a price tag.  It appears, if you surround yourself with love and a love for what you do, your natural glow doesn’t have an expiration date.  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Paris, Perfume, and Popsicle Sticks

Serendipity- a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise"; a fortunate mistake.

In celebration of my 40th birthday I invited 40 daydreamers to join me in Paris for a cup of coffee. I’d like to imagine what I lack in height, I make up for in imagination.  They were invited to email a picture.  I would paste their photo on a popsicle stick and bring their image along with me for the day.  My goal was simple, to gift myself a birthday to remember while allowing 40 daydreamers the opportunity to visualize themselves in a quintessential Parisian scene.  The events that transpired were filled with unexpected surprises.  

First was the lackluster response.  Only 13 people provided pictures (my own mom didn’t bother to email her photo).  It was deflating.  The upside was less work on my part and fewer popsicles for our family to consume (in retrospect, this was a disappointment to my girls).  So, with a handful of paper images on wooden sticks, I left on a quest to find a picture perfect cafe in Paris for me and my daydreamers. 

We started our adventure at a cake shop in the Latin Quarter.  Unlike the name of the district, nothing about the bakery pulsed with excitement.  No signs of a fiesta. I can’t fault the cake shop for the cake’s presentation, it was exactly as I had requested over the phone, chocolate with vanilla butter cream icing.  It stood tall and regal in a shade of pale yellow. This cake was sure of itself.  It wasn’t looking for anyone’s approval.  After all, it sat in one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Paris.  The etched mirror on the wall seemed to offer it one last view of its voluptuous backside before being cut and consumed.  An employee brought over plates and a cutting knife. She was so quick in her departure, I couldn’t help but imagine her angst, not wanting to see yet another cake, so grand in stature, be consumed by strangers.  I then noticed the most important element of the cake was missing, a candle.  Not unlike my fellow companions on popsicle sticks, I too am a daydreamer. In 40 years I’ve never missed my annual wish.   Unfortunately I hadn’t brought candles and the cake shop said they didn’t have any.   Not only would my wish be denied, but the glorious cake would not meet its ending with the pomp and circumstance it so obviously deserved.  Fortunately, my 13 paper friends seemed unfazed.  We ate, snapped pictures, and without fanfare moved on.

The next stop reminded me why I love Paris.  Entering into the parfumerie Marie Antoinette is like tip toeing into a jewelry box.  In place of a twirling ballerina, stands the owner, Antonio de Figueiredo.  Behind a smile with sparkling white teeth is a man filled with a passion for perfume and the history of its origins.    If you want to know what history, gossip, and fragrance have in common, this is the place to find enlightenment.  Want to smell like Marie Antoinette or Josephine Bonaparte?  Not only can he tell you about the fragrance, but he can share with you the stories behind the creation (at times scandalous).   I sniffed a dozen fragrances before this gentleman of scents guided me like a monk on a mission to what he called, “my scent”.   As he lightly sprayed a piece of paper, he began to explain why he believed this scent in a bottle was destined for me.  He said, it was a fragrance unlike any other.  It had mysterious notes not easy to identify.  He imagined me waltzing within a lavish court ball, my hooped frocks swaying gently, while soft breezes carried my fragrance across the crowds, intriguing everyone within scents reach.  Antonio continued to tell me about the original creator of the perfume line he was convinced should sit upon my shelf.  He explained the history, which involved Queen Marie Antoinette.   With confidence, he said this perfume "would carry me through all seasons".  It wasn’t filled with overpowering notes of jasmine, roses, or gardenia, for in the world stage of perfume, these botanical scents only marry with spring and summer.   Without a doubt, I was going home with this fragrance. Antonio's poetic visual combined with the luxurious aroma looming under my nose had me sold. 

After leaving the store, I perched myself on a park bench outside the shop to reflect upon the day.  It had started dismal and disjointed at the cake shop.  The missing candle on the cake rattled me more than I care to admit.  It amplified my fears, the fear that growing another year older meant I was another year further removed from hopes and dreams.  Does the passage of time rob hearts of their natural inclination to wish on fallen stars and dandelions?  So I didn’t have 40 daydreamers, what’s in a number?  So the cake shop didn’t have candles or treat me as royal and regal as the cake they placed in front of me?  All these were out-shined by the gift I discovered while shopping within the walls of Marie Antoinette.  It wasn’t the delicate glass jar filled with liquid flowers and spices that shook me out of my pity party.  It was Antonio.  He unknowingly reminded me why I had invited others into Paris.  Behind the stores whimsical red facade was a daydreamer!  At my side, I had a pocket full of 13 eager individuals who willfully came along to share in a day filled with serendipity. 

After arriving home, I took the remnants of the half eaten cake, topped it with one pink candle, and made a wish.  The day wasn’t what I had envisioned.  Lyrical tunes from The Rolling Stones traveled through my mind before drifting off to dream, “You can't always get what you want, But if you try sometimes well you just might find, You get what you need”.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Under the Mallorcan Sun

Reaching the shores of Mallorca, off the southern coast of Spain made me a believer that not all post cards are photo shopped versions of a prettier reality.  As our plane descended over the translucent turquoise waters, it was obvious scenes still exist that are better than paper images carrying a postage stamp.  

I’m not certain when it happened, but over time I’ve come to dislike beaches.  It wasn’t always like this.  Growing up I remember my sister and me waiting anxiously for Mom to drive up from an eight hour nursing shift.  My ears could hear the gravel when the car slowly entered our driveway.  If we were lucky she would say “yes” to our desperate pleading to head to sand and water.

Over time, I’ve come to see the beach as nothing but a hassle.  Sand seems to take over everything, the car, clothes, the floors, not to mention every crevice of your body.  In addition, since having kids, I’ve found the beach tests my “control” limits.  I’m constantly on edge that I might lose sight of one of our girls, and then what?  The thought always stops before I reach a logical conclusion.  Being in Mallorca allowed me the opportunity to face some of my fears (including buying a swimsuit!).  It also gave me a glimpse into a forgotten time, youth.  Not my own, but my four daughters.

The girls were excited beyond belief when we booked our flights and vacation rental. Since arriving in Belgium two years ago they’ve begged to go somewhere sunny and warm.  Once we were booked, they immediately began to make a checklist of what we would need: swimsuits, sunscreen, sunglasses, and flip flops, etc...  I hadn’t thought of these things since I grew out of rompers and bubble gum flavored ice cream.   With their help, I clicked and purchased a new swimsuit for each of the girls, and me.

It wasn’t until we reached our holiday rental home that I learned the difference between a terrace, balcony, and patio.  Our vacation home had all three.  From all levels you could smell the salt from the ocean, see the island of Dragonera (called so, because it’s shaped like a sleeping dragon), and hear faint laughter from the nearby beach.  As soon as the girls ran to claim which room was theirs, they came running and shouting, “When can we go to the beach”?  My internal rolodex flipped immediately to childhood.  With a quick change of clothes, we were off in search of what I had long dreaded, sand.

This vacation offered many things. I could go on about the lovely trip into Palma where I met a man that owns the only rare English bookshop on the island.  I could go on about Deia, the home and resting place of the late poet, Robert Graves.  And I could go on about the most amazing hike I’ve yet to experience on the island of Drangonera.  But all these things would fail in comparison to what I learned at the beach. 
It took my four girls, the smell of coconut oil, and scents of the salty sea to be reminded that life really is good at the beach.  Letting go became easier when it was followed by sounds of laughter.  For the first time I realized why after working an eight hour shift my single mother would pack up my sister and me and head to the shores of SW Louisiana.  Something about the beach allows the body and mind to ease and relax. And it turns out the sand I have loathed since adulthood happens to be Mother Nature’s best exfoliator!  As for my fear of letting the girls out of my sight, they not only did escape my vision, but lived to tell about it.  And most likely we all had a better time because of.  Cheers to the beach~

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Parisian Escape

For those that read my post in May, "Paris & Popsicle Sticks", you know I'm heading to Paris in celebration of my 40th birthday.  In addition to sipping coffee in numerous cafes with a pocket full of daydreamers, I'll also visit a Parfumerie where I'll select a scent to carry me into my 4th decade.  My last two stops will be a visit to a bakery, where I'll pick up a birthday cake and last, but certainly not least, a visit to Shakespeare and Company in search of a book to carry home.  And for those daydreamers that sent photos, thank you.  Expect a visual of our cafe visit to be emailed in the near future.  Highlights will be posted next week.

  Bon Journee mes amis~

Monday, July 1, 2013


Until recently, Ryanair has been like a mystical creature, urban legend.  For years I’ve heard about incredible deals to exotic locations throughout Europe.  I’d also heard unfavorable stories about long lines, luggage, and service (or lack of). After finding a deal too good to pass up to Spain, my husband and I decided to take a chance and book our flights!

My first job was a flight attendant. I learned many things, one of which was to pack light.  This lesson proves valuable when traveling with the no frills airline. Your ticket price doesn't include checked luggage, just one carry-on (a purse/backpack is considered a carry-on). After six weeks of flight attendant training I learned enough to cause a lifetime of trouble for anyone traveling alongside me. My husband laughs every time we fly together.  I not only subconsciously count the nearest exit row, but also read the cards in the seat back pockets. I know the inflight “ding” meanings and the color coded lights above the cockpit. And I would never consider talking through an emergency announcement.  Note, this is where I first noticed a slight difference on-board Ryanair.  This is a budget airline and they have clever ways of diffusing the low cost of your seat, like not having seat back pockets.  No worries, all the information you need is glued onto the plastic seat-back in front of you.  The flight attendants also do the usual safety announcements and demonstrations, but in less tailored uniforms.   

You won’t find the comforts of complimentary pillows or blankets being offered or reclining seat-backs.  In addition you won’t find freebies like soda, coffee, or peanuts.  Ryanair does offer an inflight cabin service, but anything that whets your appetite will cost you.  On our return flight, feeling generous and a bit confused (boarded before my morning coffee) I bought our family a round of drinks: Two coffees and four juice bottles.  It set me back 18 Euros!  There is also a meal service ranging from crackers with cheese, Oreo cookies, to fresh out of the microwave Chicken Marsala (food items ranged from 3-6 Euros). The airline also makes money by selling things like scratch off instant win lotto tickets, perfume, and phone credits.  It was truly entertaining watching the flight attendants juggle all their various hats with a smile.

My biggest concern with an airline is safety.  Without a doubt I felt the flight attendants, pilots, and condition of the airplane were safe.  The on-board experience wasn’t glitzy or glamorous, but I wasn’t looking for a plush seat.  I wanted reliable, safe transportation to take me from point A to point B without blowing our budget or crashing into the Mediterranean.  Mission accomplished.

Ryanair is no longer a mystical creature or urban legend.  It’s real and isn’t looking to be anything other than what it is…safe, reliable, and cheap!  Off to search for my next flight destination...