Thursday doors #7

I’ve spent many a happy hour (and plenty of dollars) in the shop behind this discreet doorway at 693 Fifth Avenue. It was always my first point of call on trips to New York. I first visited in 1997 with an American colleague who was a big fan of the shop. I’d been dying to visit because whenever I’d admired something she’d worn and asked where it was from the answer was inevitably “Takashimaya!” I confess that some of my most favourite purchases which continue to give me joy à la Konmari came from this shop.

As its name suggests, Takashimaya is a Japanese chain of department stores whose first store selling kimonos opened in 1831 in Kyoto. The company expanded, merged with other businesses, opened overseas offices, went public and is now part of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. I’ve visited its main store in Tokyo which, while rather spectacular, was a huge disappointment as it was chock full of Western designer goods.

The New York store sadly closed in 2010 as Takashimaya chose to refocus on Asian markets amid struggling sales. I can still remember my shock when I found that it had shut and immediately advised my American friend (now based in Europe) to share the shocking news. To this day we both still visit the site of the former New York store and walk away shaking our heads remembering the fun we had in its basement restaurant and the amount of money we’d spent on its beautifully curated collections.

 

Perils of aging I

Anything that talks about baby boomers tends to catch my eye, particularly since I recently experienced my maiden “Senior Moment.” So as soon as I spotted an article about tech products for baby boomers, I just had to read it.

Admitedly the article was US centric and more than a bit patronising about the ability of the older generation to cope with new technology. I’ve experienced this down at the Post Office where I often lend a hand to those more elderly [than me], to speed things up. Equally, of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy elders – ourselves included. Though the article claims tech products are starting to become more senior-friendly through voice recognition, touch screens and sensors. Its thrust was that the best tech products for elders need to serve a real purpose in their lives, many of whom may suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of cognitive impairment.

Of course, I dismissed most of these innovations out of hand as being for baby boomers so much older than us. As I scrolled through the article I sadly noted no one seems to have yet perfected a robot that can do all or even some of the housework. One of those would be worth their weight in gold. No, most of them seemed intent on keeping track of the elderly in one way or another. No doubt so anxious relatives can ensure they don’t swan off with their inheritance!

There was one however which caught my eye. My beloved would love to have a dog but a) we live in an apartment b) I know I’d end up looking after it and c) he would want a large dog. My beloved always scoffs at small dogs. I think he feels it would be an affront to his masculinity to be seen walking a ball of fluff. That said he’s inordinately fond of his niece and nephew’s dog, a mini dachshund with attitude! So, when I saw this I thought: problem solved!

Ageless Innovation: Joy for All – Companion, life-like pets

A spin-out from the Hasbro toy company has developed fun and engaging, furry, life-like companion pets (pups and kittens), designed to create a connection between them and older adults. The pet responds to voices with little barks or purrs, and even has a heartbeat activated by petting. Its marketing blurb goes on to say:

In between naps and being adorable, real puppies require a lot of special attention. Joy for All Companion Golden Pup has all the love in the world to give but won’t chew up your slipper! [Nor, more importantly, will in wee or poop on your floors.] Thanks to built-in sensors and speakers, the pup can recreate some of the more delightful moments of owning a dog, including being a best friend for aging loved ones.

I watched the video and the puppy appears to be modelled on those cute Labrador ones which promote a well-known brand of toilet paper in the UK. It’s undeniably charming and I could see it bringing comfort and joy to those with cognitive impairment. My mother had Alzheimer’s and I would happily have spent US$119.99 (plus taxes) because I think she’d have enjoyed petting it. Alternatively, she might just have thrown it at me. We’ll never know!

The downside is that you can’t take it for a walk. Lots of the elderly where I live – we’re talking 80 years+ – have small dogs and I regularly see them out walking their dogs and stopping to chat to other neighbours and dog owners. The dog gets them out and about in the fresh air and gives them a connection to others. That might just be why France has so many centenarians!

Birthday bonanza

I recently posed the question as to what my beloved wanted to do to celebrate his birthday at the end of April. He discovered we could fly to Majorca for next to nothing, leaving plenty to splash on a five star hotel. But which one, there were so many? My beloved wisely left the choice to me.

As I was reviewing hotel candidates, I reflected on how we had spent my birthday. I had a “day out” in Toulouse. This wasn’t my choice. My beloved had a client meeting in Castres which we’d already explored on an earlier trip. We’d both previously visited Toulouse but those visits had merely whet our appetites to see more of the city. Thanks to the freezing cold weather my “day out” was more of a half- day thus most of Toulouse’s splendours still remain unexplored.

Now, as you know, I’m not big on birthday celebrations which is just as well because I’ve spent plenty of my special days either with my beloved’s salesteams or, alternatively, home alone while my beloved was living it up in the West Indies, Mexico or other such exotic spots.

I’ve noted that he’s pretty much always available to celebrate his birthday. Last year, for example, we spent five days in Paris for his while mine was celebrated at a favourite spot in Seefeld just before we returned from Austria.

In years past I’ve celebrated with a girlfriend – champagne and oysters – whose birthday is a few days before mine. However, she now lives in Paris and her other half makes her day into a really special occasion.

It’s not that I want a song and dance made of my birthday, more an equal sharing of the spoils. My beloved is exonerated from buying me a present. Gift giving is so not one of his competencies. I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to expect him to plan a pleasant day out together.

I had tried to book one of Toulouse’s top restaurants but, even a couple of months in advance, an early January Tuesday lunchtime was fully-booked! I never leave booking restaurants to my beloved, he forgets all too easily and the time I spend reminding him can be more wisely spent on making the booking.

As soon as we arrived in Toulouse, I spotted a lovely brasserie in one of the main squares and my beloved secured the last available table for two – result – where we had an enjoyable lunch albeit the day after my birthday.

We had travelled down to Castres on my birthday but Monday evening is never a great time to eat out as, along with Sunday evening, most restaurants are closed. Still, we’d brunched the day before at one of our regular spots with my sister and brother-in-law, so I really don’t have anything to complain about, do l?

Thursday doors #6

Today I’ve chosen a more local doorway, that of l’Eglise Saint-François-de-Paule in Nice’s Old Town. Its construction, and that of the adjoining monastery, took place between 1722 and 1723 on the orders of the the Minims, mendicant friars bound by a vow of poverty and dedicated to an ascetic way of life. The church’s façade, created in 1773, bears the Minim motto Charitas (charity) in a radiant medallion. The Minims disappeared during the French Revolution and the Dominican’s took over the church.

Its frontage is typically neo-classical with a few additional baroque elements. Its interior is relatively stark with a single nave softened by the use of double arches for the vaults and its horseshoe semicircle for the choir. These architectural features echo those of the Chiesa del Carmine in Turin, designed by Filippo Juvara. In particular, the grey coating covering all of the walls and the vault makes this Niçois church resemble buildings in Turin and harks back to Piedmont’s former ownership of Nice.

Yet another postcard from Dubai

It was early February and once again we were in Dubai, ostensibly to attend an exhibition onto which we’d tagged a few days’ vacation. Although it had been sunny at home, it had been very cold and a bit of warmth is always much appreciated at this time of year.

Twin Towers: one’s a hotel, the other’s government offices

We’d returned to one of our favourite hotels, one stop on the Metro from the World Trade Centre where the exhibition is being held. I had booked the flight and hotel well in advance, using soon-to-expire miles to upgrade to Business Class, as I knew it’d be my beloved’s first long-haul flight after his hip replacement. As they say: “The early bird catches the worm.” In this case, it was a great deal on the hotel room and flight.

The Museum of the Future under construction nearby

This time last year I’d watched the week-long Dubai Tour which has now been folded into the UAE Tour, starting later in the month. With no cycling to watch, what was I to do? How would I entertain myself?

Dubai embracing Chinese New Year

While my beloved worked, I whiled away my days around the pool, on the beach at Jumeirah or in the bookshop. Shopping holds little allure, particularly now the same shops are everywhere. I’m a huge disappointment to my two siblings, both dedicated shoppers. However, the opportunity to spend hours in a bookshop with English language books is too golden to pass up, plus this one in the Dubai Mall has one of the biggest selections of cookery books I’ve ever seen. And, yes, a few made it back to France in my luggage.

The fountains only dance at night, floodlit

Usually, during the exhibition I’ll join my beloved, and any clients, for dinner in the evening. But this time he had a colleague lecturing at the exhibition so I left the pair of them to entertain the clients.  This enabled me to chill all day and enjoy a spot of me time. Such a treat!

Like France, the UAE is big on civic art

I decided some pampering was in order, including a pedicure at a local beauty salon where I was the only Westerner. I was shocked at how rude the Middle Eastern customers were to the largely Eurasian staff. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you is my motto.

Hotel lobby early morning, embracing Saint Valentine’s Day

Of course, once the exhibition was over, I got my beloved all to myself. Typically in the evenings we’d dine at a few of our favourite spots plus try a few new ones. Thursday evening is the start of the week-end in Dubai and we managed to secure the last table at a restaurant adjacent to the hotel where we considerably upped the average age of its clientele!

You never know who you’ll bump into in Dubai!

It was a largely Mediterranean style menu with Asian overtones. We had a fantastic meal, definitely another one for our list. The only slight downside was the music. We loved their selection but it was way too loud, too loud to talk over. And, although we’ve been married for more years than I care to own up to, we still enjoy a good chat over dinner.

Brunching

The following day, I’d booked brunch at one of our regular haunts, the nearby Ritz Carlton. As you know, my beloved and I are keen brunchers. We brunch all over the world. This was on a par with its sister hotel in Chicago but with better weather and a BBQ. The seafood was superb and I much enjoyed the lobster. The trick with brunch is to wear comfortable clothing; I favour trousers with either loose or elasticated waists. You also need to pace yourself.

Lotus eating in style on Jumeirah Beach

We spent our last week-end largely lazing on the beach. The temperature was just perfect and it was fun watching the bird life. Aside from the gulls and ubiquitous pigeons, there were some hugely amusing song birds and one with an orange bum and Elvis quiff. I suspect the birds were on the lookout for leftovers from beachside snacks but most days there were slim pickings. The staff would quickly dart out to pick up the used plates as soon as any customers finished eating. Didn’t stop the birds circling, probably more in hope than expectation.

Not a bad view from the bedroom window

As you know, I love sunsets and sunrises. There’s something quite magical about sitting on a really sandy beach  – ours at home is stoney – to watch the setting sun. One minute the world’s aglow and the next minute the sun’s slipped below the horizon and darkness reigns.

Burj Al Arab from Mina A’Salam

Dubai lit up at night is also a sight worth seeing with its most prominent buildings lit up against the skyline. Although there are plenty of magnificent skyscrapers, my favourite buildings are the mosques with their traditional carved sandstone or tiles exteriors, domes and minarets. I also love hearing the haunting, five-times a day call to prayer.

Forthcoming delights

We’ve made many visits to Dubai over the years but have never ventured to Abu Dhabi. This time we visited both the Blue Mosque and the Louvre, but those visits are tales for subsequent posts.

Outlook

My new windows are in and I’m as pleased as punch. They do a much better job of keeping the heat in, and the noise, dust and wind out. Thanks to the amount of research I did beforehand over the choice of windows and contractor, the process was relatively painless. What’s more, it’s also partly tax-deductible as we’re doing our bit for global warming!

I say relatively because I organised to have the windows installed in what turned out to be the coldest week of the year. Luckily it was dry and largely sunny.

Work of this type is a dirty and dusty process although the workmen were incredibly neat and tidy and did a good job cleaning up after themselves each day. Nonetheless, there was dust everywhere!

The contractors advised the installation would take 3-4 days. We realised after day one it was going to take all week. I however had a fixed price contract so the extra time taken ensured an impressive finish, after I’d established on the first day that I had an eye for detail and would be satisfied with nothing less than the best.

Workmen in Britain typically pitch up and expect tea (or coffee) and biscuits before getting down to any work, and then at regular intervals throughout the day. Not so in France. They’re here promptly at 08:00 am and work through until light falls, saving less noisy work for 12:00 – 14:00 lunchtime period. As it was bitterly cold, I treated them to a post-lunch coffee and slice of fruit cake. I found this helped them focus on that all-important finish.

We spent the whole week swathed in cashmere, something we now typically only wear on winter holidays. But it was the only way to stay warm while daytime temperatures were below 10°C and the windows were wide open. In addition, we had lunch out every day to save me fom cooking or having to prepare food in dusty conditions.

Aside from the dust everywhere, the floors got really dirty, far too dirty for Bob (my automatic floor sweeper). After the workmen departed it was all hands on deck, including my beloved, for a big clean-up. As anticipated, my view now looks even better!

 

Friday Photo Fun – pets

Today’s topic poses me a bit of a quandary. We don’t have a pet. We’ve never had one. I feel about pets the same way I feel about children. I really like them but don’t feel the need to have one of my own. I’m happy to borrow children and animals for a few days before handing them back to their rightful owners. My beloved would love a dog but we all know who’d end up looking after it – moi! That said, both children and animals, particularly dogs, are drawn to me like moths to candles. Last year, at the village du depart of the Tour du Haut Var, it was pouring. This elderly retriever was soaking wet and looking a little sad. He main a bee-line for me and I obliged with some friendly petting which considerably brightened his demeanor.

 

 

Thursday doors #5

Ecclesiastical buildings generally have magnificent entrances, doors and archways. This one is on the north face of Eglise Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis, a church on rue Saint-Antoine in the Marais, Paris. The present building was constructed from 1627 to 1641 by the Jesuit architects Martellange and Derand, on the orders of Louis XIII. It gives its name to Place Saint-Paul and its nearest Metro station, Saint-Paul. My beloved and I have whiled away many an hour in the Marais (3rd and 4th arondissements), particularly on trips to Paris in recent years.

PS I chose a red door for today, in lieu of roses, because it’s Saint Valentine’s Day! I should add that we don’t celebrate the day at all, it’s become far too commercial. Instead, I’ll be preparing a delicious late-night snack for my beloved who’s flying back from London this evening.