The best bookstore.

imageFoyle’s is quite possibly my favourite bookstore ever (with the exception of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris, for obvious reasons). I could browse there for weeks and never see everything. You may be surprised that I only came out of there with one book (a biography about Sartre & Beauvoir, and their relationships with others), but I didn’t have too much suitcase space to spare. But, even better was that I finally met the most excellent Aleksandr Voinov. 🙂

More posts about my trip will be forthcoming!

Guest Post: Patricia Sands, author of ‘The Promise of Provence’


Alyssa, when I saw your tagline I wanted to make plans to meet you for a café au lait and talk about all things French. Tout de suite!

Thanks so much for inviting me over for a virtual chat. I guess that will have to do for now ~ passing a plate of madeleines, hot out of the oven ~.

Since you and I share a love of all things French, I thought perhaps your readers would like to see a small sampling of why feel like we do. With your permission, I’m going to ‘focus’ on the south of France.

Apart from being surrounded by history that lives on amidst breathtaking vistas and vegetation, all of which I photograph with endless pleasure,

for me, it’s also about the windows …

windows1 windows2 windows3

And the doors …

door-lock door1 door2 The hilltop villages …


The sparkling Mediterranean …

coast1 coast2

And the vibrant combination of colour and hues at every turn …

coast3 dining spices

Do you take a lot of photographs when you travel? Is there particular subject matter on which you focus or do you shoot with joyful abandon? Don’t you just love digital photography?

After seeing your photos, Patricia, I really want to visit Provence, and the Mediterranean! But I’ll soon be going to Paris, and will have lots of photographs to post from my travels! 🙂

The Promise of ProvenceAbout ‘The Promise of Provence’:

Surprise, shock, and a shift in life as she knows it tumble into Katherine Price’s world when least expected. The future she envisioned suddenly vanishes, leaving little to focus on beyond her career and the caregiving her elderly widowed mother might require.

Fate has other plans for Katherine.

June in Provence is full of promise when Katherine arrives from Canada, eager to feel renewed by her surroundings. Endless rows of lavender prepare to burst into pink and purple blooms. Fields of sunflowers flow in golden waves among vineyards and olive groves. Ancient hilltop villages beckon. It’s the postcard setting she envisioned, but is that all she needs?

After a year of heartbreak, Katherine has impulsively agreed to a home exchange in the south of France. Colorful locals, a yellow lab named Picasso, and the inspiring beauty of the countryside breathe new life into her days.

Seeking to shed the pain of betrayal and loss, she struggles to recapture her joie de vivre and searches for the answer to a haunting question: is it too late to begin again?

As Katherine explores the romantic cobblestone lanes of medieval towns, the beautiful boulevards of Paris and the sun-kissed Mediterranean coast of the Côte d’Azur, unimagined possibilities present themselves.

An enduring story of hope and change in life’s later years is woven through the author’s love-letter to France. Like a well-travelled friend, Patricia Sands invites readers into a world she loves and entices them to linger.

“Be prepared to fall in love with Provence! This is a story that will draw you in with its vibrancy in setting and characters. A must read for any woman with a desire for romance and travel.” Steena Holmes, author of Amazon bestseller Finding Emma

Buy The Promise of Provence on Amazon:

Visit Patricia Sands online:

(My review of Patricia’s book is forthcoming.)

I’m at Vagina Antics!

Do you know how long I’ve wanted to say that? Quite awhile. 😉

I’m guest posting over at the VA blog today, in anticipation of the release of the FELT TIPS charity erotica anthology (12/12/12). Check out my post, and here’s a teaser:


Probably one of the most remarkable words I learned while traveling. Of course it’s sexual. Same with the delightful ‘bollemus’†. Can you guess where I learned them?

I’m planning a trip.

It’s still in the very (very!) early stages, but the first thoughts of a trip are starting to slither around in my brain.

I love this stage, where everything’s still possible, and I don’t have to think about how much holiday time it’ll take up, and how I’ll get there, and where I’ll stay. (Though the latter is fun to ponder, especially later in the evening when I’m browsing

I like to travel in the spring, before the craziness of summer holiday travel sets in, and before the weather in most of the northern hemisphere gets too hot, although if I’d known that Chicago was going to be almost 100F while I was there, I might have picked another weekend…

And where am I going? Let me give you a hint…

The view from Sacre Coeur

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 14: My Trip to Paris (5)

After a very long lie-in, recovering from our night at Le Bilboquet, we spent the remainder of the day in gorgeous Montmartre.

Montmartre is, of course, the home of the strikingly beautiful Sacre Coeur basilica. It sits at the highest point in Paris, and if you look closely at the banner of my blog, through the clock of d’Orsay, you can just see Sacre Coeur. If you’ve seen the film Amélie, you may recall that she took Nino (Mathieu Kassovitz) on a hunt for his photographs, up and down the stairs leading to the church. Thankfully, we took the funicular from the base of the hill to the top, saving us the need to walk all those steps. (Whew.)

Aside from Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur was the most touristy of all the places I visited. You weren’t allowed to take photos inside the church, so instead I had to buy a postcard. The ceiling of the church is painted with Christ, and it’s incredible. Photos don’t do it justice.

For €5, we climbed to the tower dome to look out over all of Paris. Along the way, we spotted gargoyle waterspouts, and a lot of graffiti. I could have stared out over the city for hours, and I still come back and look at the photos I took, marveling at how large Paris and its surrounding suburbs are. (An interesting fact: the basilica is made of travertine stone, which exudes calcite and thus keeps the stones white, even with the city’s pollution.)

We also took in the crypt, which was thankfully a cool respite from the summer heat. The chapel in the crypt held lots of relics, including little finger bones of saints, and the heart of Alexandre Leguil (sp?), or so says my notes. Churches are full of body parts of saints, and I wonder what those people might think if they could know that their little finger, or their heart, or perhaps a comb they used, is now on display in a church some hundreds of years later. (That’s not even taking into account the possibility that any number of these relics could be fakes. But that’s a post for another day… maybe.)

After our lengthy tour, we took a break at a small café. I had cider and a crêpe with Nutella, quite possibly my favourite meal ever. By this time, it was getting late, and we called it a day. Our next day would be a big one, going out to the Chateau Vincennes.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 11: My Trip to Paris (3)

Oh, my third day in Paris was a lot of fun!

Beauvoir / Sartre Grave (Montparnasse)After a nice lie-in, we went to the Cimetière du Montparnasse. There are hundreds of famous people buried here (including the chess great Alekhine, philosopher Baudrillard, Charles Baudelaire, Guy de Maupassant, and Man Ray), but of course, I was here to see the grave of Sartre & Beauvoir.

The cemetery is huge and we covered as much as we could, though we had trouble finding some of the graves we wanted to see. We found Baudelaire’s monument, but not his grave, for instance. However, we did manage to find several others. Mostly I like to visit graveyards to see what sort of grave art has been used. Unlike lots of cemeteries here in western Canada, European cemeteries have far more interesting grave monuments. Mausoleums are almost completely unheard of here. However, in Montparnasse, there were many. We even had to take shelter against one when the sky opened up and poured down on us. (We had, of course, forgotten to take an umbrella.)

Montparnasse cemeteryRather damp, we left the cemetery to go tour the Catacombs. Yes, from one bunch of dead people to another… though the Catacombs are an awful lot of bones, and it’s not even close to the same. Creepier by far. (However, it’s also one of the cheapest attractions I saw in Paris – only €2,50.)

Before that, we had a bite of lunch at a café, and I had the misfortune to eat some crevettes (shrimp) that were a bit off. By the time we got to the Catacombs, I was starting to feel ill. Not the best way to start a tour of human remains. In my journal, I note ‘Well, if you’ve seen one pile of bones you’ve seen them all’, and after awhile it did seem that way. The photo below is the section of bones from the old Les Innocents cemetery. Being an Anne Rice fan (with many references to the cemetery in Interview With the Vampire), I couldn’t resist.

The Catacombs

At the exit, our bags were searched. I hadn’t realized until then that people would try to steal bones. It didn’t even enter my mind. I did remark to my mother that it would be rather interesting to go back in time, if only to tell those people who expected to be buried at Les Innocents and the other graveyards that their bones would in the future become the basis of a major tourist attraction. Immortality? Peut-être.

(And, the perfect ending to my day? Seeing an ad for Vittel featuring David Bowie. Awesome!)

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 9: My Trip to Paris (1)

I went to Paris in June of 2003, as a very generous birthday gift from my parents. My father was working there for six weeks. I hadn’t been working at all, having been diagnosed with a chronic illness, and without their generosity, I would never have been able to see the city that has since figured so prominently in my life and my writing.

I didn’t always have an interest in France. As I’ve written previously, about Simone de Beauvoir and about French authors, my abiding interest was sparked by a Philosophy of Literature class. I read Sartre’s La Nausée, and Edmond Jabès’s The Book of Questions, and Andre Breton’s surrealist novel Nadja.

So, though my French language classes in elementary, junior high and high school were lamentably poor, and my grasp of the language shy and shaky, I was off to see the City of Light with my own eyes.

I arrived on the 15th of June, having flown Calgary via Montreal to Paris, landing at eight-thirty in the morning. Yes, I remember…. because I wrote it down. A friend of my mother’s bought me a journal for my trip. Exhausted, my mother and I took the Air France bus into the centre of the city, alighting at the stop nearest the Arc de Triomphe and hefting our bags for the walk to the apartment just off the Avenue de Wagram.

Later that morning, I had my first café crème. Not the most exciting of things to report, but it was a revelation. I’d had coffee before, of course, including cappuccino, espresso and the like, but the taste of this café crème was like nothing else. It came in a white porcelain cup and saucer with a paper-wrapped lump of sugar on the side and a small spoon. It was delicious.

I remember the morning being pleasant, sunny with a light breeze. The café we’d stopped at had been crowded with the Sunday brunch crowd and our table still had dishes from the previous occupants cluttering it. Compared to at home, the service was slow, but it didn’t matter. Through my tired daze, I was already fascinated with this new city, so different from home.

The Unabashed Francophile Post, Part 1: Le Bilboquet

I’ve been posting mostly about writing, and books, but I haven’t really posted anything about France. Given the heading of this blog, I’ve been neglecting its subject matter.

Thus far I have only traveled to Paris, though I would eventually like to see as much of the country as possible. I went to Paris in June of 2003 (maybe better known as the year where the summer was so hot, people were dying.) Ten fantastic days wandering the city, seeing museums, cafes, cemeteries, and taking in the sights.

One of my favourite spots was the jazz club Le Bilboquet, which at the time was located on the rue Saint-Benoît, just off of the Blvd St-Germain. (From what I understand, the club is no longer there, but I’m not sure whether it has moved or has closed permanently.) I can’t recall what music we heard that evening, but the look of the club made an impression. Small, dark, with a lot of red walls and dark wood. Smoking hadn’t yet been forbidden (that happened a few years later) and the air was hazy. We sat on the sidewalk outside and the windows had been thrown open, so we could see in and hear the music clearly. The staff were fantastic and friendly and the food was excellent.

As you can see from Google Earth, the sidewalk could hardly even hold a table, yet we sat at a four-top and felt quite comfortable. (The boarded up club is to the right.) I regret not taking more photos of the area when we were there.

I based the club ‘Le Chat Rouge’ in my novel WHEN THE CHIPS ARE DOWN on Le Bilboquet. It seemed the sort of place where gangsters might consort with prostitutes and thieves. (Not that I saw any… that I know of.) Tourists could rub elbows with locals, enjoying the music and the atmosphere. A perfect place for an unexpected encounter.