Friday, March 26, 2010


After two months of grey days, beautiful weather finally came to Paris. A brilliant sun illuminated the clear Parisian sky and the monuments of Paris sparkled in the warm spring air. The break in the weather came a bit late for us since we saw this lovely spectacle from the window of our airplane as we left Paris. We were, however, bound for Pisa - that beautiful faded jewel of a city on the banks of the historic Arno River; Pisa -  with its ochre and honey-colored palazzos that shimmer under the famous Tuscan sun.

About an hour into the flight, we looked down onto the majestic pure white Alps, still covered in the abundant snows of winter. Then, a curtain descended; the sky became thick with clouds and the Alps disappeared from view. 

It was snowing in Pisa when we landed in 100-kilometer an hour headwinds. The door to the terminal was locked and no one seemed able to find the key. As we huddled together on the windy tarmac, people began to search for hats and scarves buried in the bottom of suitcases, put there with the belief that they certainly would not be needed in sunny Tuscany. Finally, the key was found, our bags collected and we walked out of the terminal into the warm light of friendly smiles.

Ten minutes later, we were in front of our new home, a fourth-floor apartment in a building that was once part of a nearby convent. Just off the medieval Borgo Stretto, our little vicolo is so narrow that from the living room window, it's almost possible to touch the house across the street. The real beauty is behind the building, where flowered balconies and gardens are alive with bird song.

It stayed cold for a couple of days and a big blizzard paralyzed the north of the country.  We stocked our apartment with supplies to withstand the siege: prosciutto, pecorino cheese, roasted eggplant, seafood salad and biscotti. In the morning, we had our coffee at  Salza, a  beautiful bar and pasticceria  that is on the List of Historic Places of Italy. A friend, one of the unsung great cooks of Italy, invited us for dinner and made a simple, creamy perfect risotto.  Things were definitely looking up.

Yesterday, the warm weather arrived. We turned off the heat and opened the windows. On lines suspended high above the ground, we hung our freshly-washed clothes out to dry. They joined others strung above the courtyard in a bright colorful display. The Piazza Garibaldi became a meeting place for crowds of smiling people eating gelato in big waffle cones. Tourists appeared in shorts and t-shirts (even though it's not that warm). The tables on the terraces of restaurants and cafes, especially on the sunny sides of the streets, filled with people, and the melodious sound of Italian echoed off the medieval buildings. 

It's springtime in Pisa.

To see more photos, click here.

                                                    A presto,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Thursday, March 18, 2010


It was a cold, rainy two months in Paris. No matter what the weather, however, Paris is a hard place to leave.

The sunshine of Tuscany will soon chase away the grey clouds, but, as always, we left Paris with nostalgia in our hearts. 

The French poet Paul Verlaine captures the sentiment in his poem, Il pleure dans mon coeur, which first appeared in 1874 in the anthology Romances sans Paroles. The photos of Paris are mine. They were taken through the windows of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on a day very much like the one that inspired Verlaine to write:

  Il pleure dans mon coeur
  Comme il pleut sur la ville;
  Quelle est cette langueur
  Qui pénètre mon coeur? 

It rains in my heart
Like it rains on the town;
What is this languor
That penetrates my heart?

For an audio reading of the poem, click here.
To see the complete set of photos, click here.


                                   A bientôt,


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Thursday, March 11, 2010


The supermodels were in town last week and at the Paris Expo halls, the excitement was palpable. Although Paris Fashion Week was in full swing, there were no ultra-thin mannequins in this crowd. Aida, the star of the show, is a beautiful redhead with liquid brown eyes, who weighs 700 kilos (1,540 pounds). She's a cow - a Saler cow from the Cher region of central France - and she's the mascot of the 2010  International Agricultural Show.

Aida was joined at the show by 3,500 other cows, bulls, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, fish and birds. This is no Noah's Ark with just two of each animal - where a cow is a cow and a horse is a horse.  Instead, with its 330 different races, it is, as the show's web site says: "an open window on agriculture in all its diversity."  

Holy cow or as the French say, "la vache"! What was I doing my last week in Paris standing face to face with a 1,500 pound cow? Shouldn't I be dining at a gourmet restaurant or contemplating the treasures of the Louvre? In fact, the Agricultural Show is a quintessentially French tradition. The Paris show, the largest in France, has been going on for 140 years. Most French people, even city folk, will tell you that France is at heart an agriculture country. It's Europe's largest producer and exporter, and the sixth largest agricultural producer in the world. It's the second largest agricultural exporter in the world, behind the United States. 

In addition to the animal halls, there is also a Regions of France Hall, selling food and wine from every corner of the country, as well as from the outre mer departments, such as  Guadeloupe, Martinique and New Caledonia. There are 38 restaurants, vegetable markets,  flower stands, cooking demonstrations, and lots of great samples, like Belon oysters from Brittany or olive oil from Provence. A separate international hall is brimming with food stands and restaurants from 18 countries. You can apply for an agricultural job and buy everything from farm equipment to natural beauty products --  or even a donkey to keep the grass nice and neat on your Norman estate. 

Last year the paid admission was almost 700,000. For this reason, lots of politicians show up to meet and greet the people. One person we did not run into was Nicolas Sarkozy. French presidents usually inaugurate the show, but this year, Sarkozy did not make an appearance until the end of the show. This did not sit well with French farmers, who are looking for support from the government for their ailing industry. Their disappointment, however, did not seem to affect the show goers and, in spite of the crowds, the atmosphere was festive and friendly.

My friend Marcelle and I arrived at nine-thirty in the morning and were surprised to find ourselves still having fun at six in the evening. It may have helped that by that time, we were sitting in an Alsatian pub being serenaded by a band of musicians in red fox hunting outfits. 

It was dark by the time we wiped the farm off our shoes and headed back to the bright lights of the big city.  

To see more photos, click here.


                                    A bientôt,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Spring came to Paris today with blue skies and warm sunshine. A friend and I decided to take in the new Turner exhibit at the Grand Palais. The Grand Palais, like all the national museums, is closed on Tuesdays, but for the Turner exhibit, it's open from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. Not too many people know this yet so when we got there at noon, the museum was practically empty. Two hours was almost enough time to see everything and we stayed until the guards chased us out.

A short walk across the street took us to the Petit Palais, which is a free city museum. City museums, in contrast to national museums,  are open on Tuesdays and the Petit Palais is a great place to have lunch. The food is good, pretty reasonable and there's a wonderful outdoor eating area with a great view. We found a table in the sun and pretty soon it was warm enough to take off our coats. We lingered over coffee, talking until the sun sank behind the building.

Not wanting to take the metro on such a beautiful day, we decided to walk home. It's a spectacular walk - down the  Champs Elysées (which looked particularly festive since it's adorned with Russian and French flags for the state visit of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev) across the Place de la Concorde, through the Gardens of the Tuileries and on to the courtyard of the Louvre with its famous glass pyramid.

As we approached the Louvre, we noticed barricades, official-looking limousines and lots of policemen. The Louvre, being a national museum, is closed on Tuesdays, but when the Presidents of France and Russia come calling, the doors are always open. The crowd standing behind the barricades was surprisingly small so we joined them. The next thing we knew we were face to face with French President  Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni. We may not be on the same side of the political fence - Nicolas and I - but still it's not every day that one meets a president up close and personal. Speaking of up close and personal, there's been some sniping in French gossip magazines that Carla, the former supermodel, is not looking so good lately.  Let me be the first to tell you that it's not true - she looks great.

A few minutes later, Medvedev and his wife arrived in a big black limousine. They were officially greeted and the whole group walked into the Louvre to inaugurate the new exhibit Sainte Russie. We were not invited, but before he left, Nicolas gave us one final wave. We waved back,  turned and  walked on home. 

To see more photos, click here.

                                                                               A bientôt,

 Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor