A French Adventure

The Chateau/School for Coeur de France

I am off today on a solo journey to France, stopping in Paris at the beginning and end of this sojourn but spending most of my time in an immersion language school in the southern Loire district in a little village called Sancerre. (Yes, this is where that wine comes from!) I will be gone just over 3 weeks altogether — it’s exciting and challenging too, because my French is not really very good at all. The school, Coeur de France, www.coeurdefrance.com,  tells me I am not supposed to be speaking English at all for the whole 2 weeks! I’ve got to return speaking better, right? That’s the plan anyway. Keep watching this space for updates on my adventures, including a back-packing weekend on the weekend break. Where to? Haven’t yet decided so stay tuned. Au revoir!

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Paris Met the Mississipi and Conquered!

Our delightful guest from Paris, American expat Terrance Gelenter, came to Minneapolis this past weekend — or rather, I should say — came, saw and conquered. We had eight or more events in three weekend days, enthusiastic audiences at all events, loving to hear all about Terrance and his life in Paris. Appearances at Magers & Quinn bookstore, the Alliance Francaise, a pop-in at Espresso Royale’s French-speaking group and on and on. Standout events were Saturday morning at Temple Israel — a crowd of 75 asked many serious and cogent questions about Terrance’s Jewish life in Paris; and then we had another sell-out Mill City Commons crowd at Madeline B’s gorgeous condo atop the Towers overlooking the Mississippi on Sunday afternoon — about 45 enthusiasts showed up for the reading and chat, plus delicious wine and treats from Elite Epicurean caterers. Saturday evening’s reception at French boutique C’est Chic in the Warehouse District was elegant and fun. Many thanks to Pam S. for hosting — be sure and stop into her shop to pick up something divinely French!

Terrance on the Stone Arch Bridge in Mpls

Terrance on the Stone Arch Bridge in Mpls

Sunday night we had another enthusiastic crowd of 40 or so at the Nicollet Island Inn where Terrance charmed us with his romantic renditions — everything from “What Kind of Fool Am I” to “Over the Rainbow.” And folks followed us from event to event — showing up again and again.

The whole thing was ‘tres chic’ and fun for both Barbara Redmond and myself — we just decided to host Terrance, cobbled together all sorts of FF miles and other donations to bring him here. He and we truly loved every minute.

We are recovering, but we would do it again in a heartbeat.


Other links: paris-expat.com; Terrance’s wonderful online site and blog; awomansparis.com; Barbara Redmond’s singularly special blog about Paris.


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Paris Meets the Mississippi!

A weekend of appearances by Paris-based author and bon vivant Terrance Gelenter, the quintessential American in Paris. All events are free.

Merle Minda (www.travelovereasy.com) and Barbara Redmond (www.awomansparis.com) invite you to a series of events on and near the Mississippi River in Minneapolis with Paris-based bon vivant and author Terrance Gelenter. An American who has re-invented himself into a Parisian life, Terrance is the talent behind “Paris Through Expatriate Eyes”, www.paris-expat.com.

Terrance at Cafe Flore in Paris

He knows all the expats in Paris and runs with a host of talented writers, authors and artists. What fun! Come hear him speak and read from his book Paris par Hasard/Paris by Chance: from bagels to brioches!”

Terrance events include: author reading and conversation on Friday, October 26, Magers & Quinn, 7:30 PM, 3038 Hennepin Avenue South in Minneapolis; Saturday, October 27, Temple Israel in Minneapolis, 9 – 10:15AM, Terrance leads the morning study group talking about life in Paris; also Saturday, 3-5PM,  author reading and chat at the Alliance Francaise, 113 No. 1st Street, Minneapolis.; followed by a reception at C’est Chic Boutique, 5:30- 7:30 PM, 212 3rd Avenue North, Minneapolis. Terrance will also pop in about noon to the French language discussion group on Saturday morning at Expresso Royale, 1229 Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis. On Sunday, October 28, meet Terrance for breakfast at Wilde Roast, 8:30 – 10:30 AM, on Main Street in Minneapolis.  Mill City Commons* event from 3:30 to 5pm at the Towers, 115 S. 1st Street, (note: for MCC members and guests only.) On Sunday evening, we will recreate an event Terrance holds every week in a Paris hotel — he sings!  Come and enjoy as Terrance warbles your favorites from 6:30 – 8:30PM at the Nicollet Island Inn on the river in Minneapolis, accompanied by Mark Bloom. Books available for purchase at all events.

Terrance is a charmer! Don’t miss any of this!!


(Click icon at right/top to see the full “Paris Meets the Mississippi!” flyer.)

*See www.millcitycommons.org for info/reservations to the Mill City Commons event.

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My Lunch With Julia

Today would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday; here’s an account I wrote for a local publication of my singular lunch with her 27 years ago. Hope you enjoy it.

          For weeks, Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” hovered again near the top of the charts in the New York Times’ Book Review Section (under Advice/How-to’s), a pinnacle Julia never achieved during her lifetime. The renewed interest in her breakthrough book shows what a hit movie, “Julie and Julia” ,can do, not to mention the luminous Meryl Streep playing the feisty Julia herself.

Yet on the heels of this tremendously renewed interest in how to cook well — to cook as the French do — with Julia as our guide, Gourmet Magazine suddenly stopped publishing after 68 years. Another signpost of good living, eating and traveling bit the dust. Yes of course, it’s the economy, the drop in high-end advertising, the bottom line. Even with a visionary editor, Gourmet couldn’t make it.

But once upon a time principles of excellence in all things were something to strive for – still valid, it seems, to judge by the Times best-seller list. And once upon a time, years ago, I had lunch with Julia Child.

It was 1985, the last year of Julia Child’s final PBS series, “Dinner with Julia.” My husband and I were running a public relations firm and TPT, Twin Cities Public Television, was our client. Julia was a huge PBS star by then and was coming to town to promote the series – did we have any ideas as to soliciting media coverage of her visit? It so happened that the then quite new downtown Hyatt Hotel was also our client at that time. We were promoting The Willows, their lovely fine dining restaurant. (The Willows is long gone now, replaced by a sports bar.) From those two relationships came the idea – our PR event would be a “chef’s table” in the Willows’ kitchen, and Julia would be our invited guest.

An often-used event for top restaurants, a chef’s table is aimed at demonstrating the food, chef and menu capabilities of the restaurant to media and other life-style leaders. Guests sit at a smallish table set up in the kitchen and the chefs buzz around cooking and presenting their best menu items for tasting.

And so it happened – Julia came for lunch in the Willows’ kitchen – along with about 10 of us in attendance. The executive chef, his two sous chefs and their assistants were on hand, nervous but confident. We were there, along with some media types and a few other hangers-on when Julia was ushered into the kitchen by the TPT entourage.  I remember being totally amazed at how incredibly tall she actually was – you couldn’t really tell on her TV shows because the counters were raised to suit her six foot two height. In 1985 she would have been 73, but she was full of energy and interest, shaking hands vigorously with all of us and settling in for a good meal. We did much more than tasting at this lunch – we were presented with a six-course meal that began with an array of appetizers, then a soup course, then the fish course, followed by the beef entrée, followed by a scrumptious salad and finally, a wide choice of desserts and cheeses. The wines were flowing throughout, of course, with sorbet palate cleansers between each course.

How I wish I could remember what we ate! But the exact menu, along with any extant notes, is long gone now. I do remember the chefs presenting each dish to Julia as if it were a rare jewel; her responding to each item with curiosity, questions and praise. The chefs were thrilled to meet her – preening like peacocks with her compliments. Her voice is legendary, of course, and she was very vocal as she wanted to know how this or that was done. Several times, she even rose from the table and went over to the stove tops to sip, taste and stir with the chefs. I remember we laughed a great deal; Julia was funny.

Photos were taken and printed, interviews were graciously granted, and we had our media story. And we also had one of the highlights of our long P.R. career, a never-to-be forgotten lunch with Julia Child.



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No-Hassle Tips for Getting Through Airport Security


At Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

At Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca

Travel Tips from Merle Minda


  • First and most important: Get to the airport early!
  1.  No longer can you simply sail up to the airport 45 minutes before your flight departure time;
  2.  Parking is often very full; same with Park n’ Ride lots so it may take a while to find a spot;
  3.  Security takes time – you never know how long those lines (and waits) are going to be – this is especially true if you are traveling on a weekend or holiday or even a busy weekday.
  4. Don’t take chances; arrive early (2 hours or so before your flight) – get through security and then you can relax, shop, eat or just hang out with the comforting knowledge that you are completely checked in.
  5.  Also be sure to get to your gate NO LESS THAN 30 MINUTES BEFORE THE DEPARTURE TIME. You can get bumped if you are not there – and also, if you are there, you might snag an upgrade! Read More »
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Thank you, Woody Allen


Fall Paris afternoon

For “Midnight in Paris”

A special shout-out and thanks to Woody Allen for his delicious new comedy, “Midnight in Paris.” For those of us who love Paris, (and is there anyone that doesn’t?), Woody has captured the mysterious magic of the city, along with a hilarious plot, the two worst-matched lovers one can imagine, and enchanting after-midnight encounters with many of the expatriates who populated the city in the 20’s.

Paris is one of those cities where you do feel its artistic past even as you wander through the present — you know this is where Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote their first successes, and you  know Gertrude Stein and her Alice hovered over this gang as if they were her private brood, not to mention the great artists she discovered and supported.

In this film, you have a chance to hang out with them all — the ultimate fantasy for anyone who loves and follows that time in the city’s history. Ernest is pedantic and a bit dour; Zelda and F. Scott are adorably charming and fun; Picasso is brooding; Dali is a little nutty, Gertrude is earnest, supportive and fascinating — just as you would imagine. Everybody drinks and parties like crazy; talent oozes out of every pore. And our hero falls for the perfect Parisian muse, who would rather live in the Belle Epoque era than in the 20’s. The grass is always greener, right?

There are gorgeous shots of Paris, the bridges, the Seine, in the rain, Les Bouquinistes, the booksellers along the river bank, the cafes, and on and on. (Woody did this before in “Everybody Says I Love You”, which took place partially in Paris. That film ended with a hilarious French version of Groucho Marx’s “Hooray for Captain Spaulding” and a dream dance under the bridges. If you haven’t seen it, rent it.)

Plus, I love when Woody breaks through the third wall of reality, as he does in this film. You go with it because somehow, his genius makes it so beautifully believable. Another favorite where he used this technique was “The Purple Rose of Cairo”, where the  movie star came off the screen to fall for lonesome little Mia Farrow.

But, back to “Midnight in Paris” — loved Kathy Bates as Gertrude, Owen Wilson is pitch-perfect as the angst-ridden anti-hero, and all the 20’s characters are exactly what you hope for, especially Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald. Marion Cotillard is a gorgeous and unattainable French beauty. The first lady of France, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy plays a lovely museum guide and is heartbreakingly beautiful.

So, have I said enough? Go see “Midnight in Paris.” Or better yet, book a ticket!

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Crossing the Atlantic!

On Cunard’s Queen Mary2, from NYC to Southampton.

“Oh the sea is blue, so blue” goes a song by Kurt Weill, and ain’t it the truth! We are on our 5th day into a sea voyage crossing the Atlantic from New York’s Manhattan Pier to Southampton and are loving every minute. Our first transatlantic voyage, our first time on a Cunard ship and I can say with certainty that this is a great experience. This ship is large and lovely — not the size of some of the behemoth ships that launched last year, but plenty big! With 2500 or so passengers and a crew member for every two of us, the ship is longer than the Eiffel Tower is high. Despite what it looks like in the movies, the Titanic was just 1/4 the size of the Queen Mary 2. And speaking of the Titanic, we sailed right over the very spot where it went down — we are taking the Northern Route across this ocean and that route is pretty much the same as it was then. We are being entertained, amused, and fed royally. If you’re a sucker for an English accent as I am, then here you will get your fill. 12 passenger decks, many restaurants, grills, bars, and endless stuff to do — even a planetarium — the only one at sea, I think. Drama queen that I am, I have been taking workshops from the team of Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts (RADA) actors on board; marvelous. Some great jazz on board and a team of 16 singers and dancers, costumes, staging, etc. We even have Shakespeare at sea — very couth! We walk the promenade deck bundled against the outside chill. The wind past our balcony cabin door whistles a sweet song of the sea, and the boat gently rocks us to sleep each night. Looking forward to reaching England and more travels there, but in some ways, I wish this voyage could go on longer — we are charmed and relaxed to the max.

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Going Lite!

Lighter luggage means less lugging

A few years ago, lugging a heavy bag along what turned out to be an interminable rail station platform with numerous tunnels and steps, I made a sort of Scarlett O’Hara-type pledge (remember, “I’ll never be hungry again,” she said.) My own pledge was something like “I’ll never travel with heavy luggage again!” Because even with the wheels and easy pulling techniques built-in to today’s best luggage choices, if you have to pick up that bag, it is a disaster – especially when trying to hoist it up steps, or into a train car or an overhead bin.

And, once you make the pledge, life gets easier; you learn how to pack lighter whether for a few days or 31 days, as I did not so long ago. My own theory is that if you can pack in a carry-on for a week, you can essentially go with that same carry-on for a month – and if you can go for a month you could theoretically go for a year – all with one piece of carry-on luggage!

Of course, you have to do laundry. Once you accept that fact as a constant, you are good to go. And then there are no European hotels without elevators, no train platforms, no rental cars with tiny trunks, in fact nothing that can stop you. In addition, you are traveling with a much lower profile altogether, more like Europeans travel. I remember at one French hotel the receptionist was shocked to find we were Americans because we had such small luggage. “Americans always travel heavy,” she told us, speaking from her experience.

Secrets of traveling light:

  • Build your wardrobe around one basic color — black, brown or navy;
  • Add color with your different shirts, tops and scarves;
  • Two pairs of shoes – stick to the “Wear one; Pack one™” rule; same with sweaters, bras, jackets, etc.
  • If you need to dress up, take a sparkly top to wear with black slacks or skirt;
  • Books? Forget it, take an e-reader.
  • Carry your essentials in a good-sized purse or tote bag – medications, money, passport, camera, flashlight, etc.
  • Remember, anything you forget, you can buy!

Read Merle’s Latest Article, “The Kaplans Take Morocco”

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