Archives for category: Frivolity

Back when I was in grad school at the Monterey Institute learning to be a translator (95-97), I had a classmate who was one of the feistiest, funnest (I know, not a word, don’t bug me) young women I’ve ever known. She had enough energy and enthusiasm for ten people.

And she spent most of it on others.

A force of nature, so generous. Unforgettable. And she hasn’t changed.

We’ve exchanged e-mails a few times since we left MIIS, but though she’s been living in Europe for years, we’ve never managed to get together. I hadn’t seen her in 15 years. Until yesterday! It was like no time had passed at all except for the adorable nine-year-old daughter she had with her! But the visit — breakfast in a nearby café — was much too short. She was here on a mother/daughter trip to Paris for the big semi-annual sales, and she’d come with two American friends and their daughters. All of them live in Brussels. Two of the three, including my friend, are the wives of military officers.

It was simultaneously bizarre and perfectly natural to be in the company of officers’ wives. My mother was one! I was a Navy brat. Grew up watching my mom do Officers’ Wives Club luncheons (remember luncheons?) at our house (had my first sip of lime daiquiri on one of those occasions, yummy, thanks Mom!). My parents hosted Hail and Farewell parties. Mom was a killer hostess and I learned to love entertaining, thanks to all this.

I had to get all dressed up to go to Change of Command ceremonies on giant gray boats (I know, ships, not boats). I had to get dressed up to see my dad’s ship off early in the morning every time he went to sea for six months at a time. Mom was so sad. Dad was so handsome in his dress whites. He even had a sword. They went to Navy Balls, and I remember my mom making a pink chiffon ball gown when I was six. Those ships had a smell that only they had. I knew what half mast meant. There was protocol. My brother and I were well behaved.

Dad knew how to navigate using only a sextant. He showed me all the constellations one starry night on Guam. It was Viet Nam for a while and they made my mom take the Flower Power daisy stickers off our white VW bug because it “wasn’t appropriate for an officer” (might imply support for the peace-loving hippies). One night Dad had duty and we went to dinner (in the Officers’ Wardroom, where a steward in white gloves and a white jacket served us) and a movie (The Poseidon Adventure!) on his ship.

He always brought the coolest stuff back from his cruises. My favorites were the black lacquered jewelry box with a twirling ballerina from Japan, and the muu muu from Hawaii.

He was my hero. We were the good guys. I never questioned. I was a kid.

It’s its own little world, the military, with its own reality…

Which brings me to the commissary, and back to my friend from grad school.

So my friend, having read my last post, showed up with a bag (Trader Joe’s no less!) bursting with some atrocious (as a joke) and some fabulous (GIRL SCOUT COOKIES, WOOHOO!!!) American food that she and her friend had picked up for me at the commissary. (For you civilians, the commissary is the (usually enormous) grocery store on a military base that lets you pretend you never left Kansas, Dorothy. Your tax dollars are paying to ship Oreo pie crusts all over the world. It’s a morale thing, I guess.)

She’d lugged this giant bag all the way from Brussels on the train, with a kid in tow, and their own luggage. What a doll. It was just like her to do something like this. Such a lovely treat. I hope I get to see her again before another 15 years go by.

Vincent immortalized the treasures on Instagram. This isn’t even close to all of it. But you get the idea. Strangely satisfies and intensifies my nostalgia at the same time.

Thanks honey.

So I was on the rue Saint Paul in the Marais yesterday, a trip to Thanksgiving to get French’s mustard and PopTarts (les PopTarts de Proust, OK??). Also came home with Vlasic Kosher Dills (cornichons don’t cut it; no dill) and a can of vegetarian refried beans…

Dragged Claire along with me, and she was urging me to get something “truly atrocious.” There’s atrocious aplenty at the American grocery stores here; that semi-liquid marshmallow stuff in a jar, for example, and StoveTop stuffing (which I’ve bought twice in 5+ years, that’s right, deal with it). I assured her PopTarts were quite atrocious enough and sent her home with two of them. I await her assessment.

(Aside: They have Celestial Seasonings tea there, including Red Zinger in boxes of 10 teabags for 3.75€. You can get the same thing online for 1.99€/box direct from, run by Harold, who is a great guy. Please support him so I can keep getting mass quantities of Red Zinger, without which I cannot survive winter in Paris.)

So we leave Thanksgiving in search of a café with a heated terrace, but just a couple doors down we stop short, drawn like magpies to a shop window bursting with bright cheery girliness in the form of funky, colorful leather clogs, bags and other goodies. I’m so starved for color in Paris, displays like this one make my dopamine or endorphins or serotonin or all of the above spike big time.

So of course we go in. Parisians tend to turn up their noses at clogs, BTW. Their loss. But Claire is not one of those Parisians. I’ve never stopped wearing clogs since the 70s, and Claire and I are from the same generation, so we enjoyed sharing the blast-from-the-past moment. She likes dainty florals à la Liberty of London, while I like loud 70s kitsch and the retro-collagey thing, all of which, as you see, they do:

The objects themselves were delightful, but the story gets even better. You see, they’re handmade by real, live French craftsmen! The shop, which only opened in Paris three months ago, is run by the soft-spoken young Benjamin Renoux (picture below), who is learning the leather/cobbler trade from his father. They have two other shops, in Honfleur and Saint-Malo (both big tourist destinations). Lucky for you, Cuir du Voyageur also sells its delicious products through its website.

True artisans are getting harder and harder to find in France because, of course, they have a tough time competing with the cheap, mass-produced crap imported from other countries (no need to name names).

So this shop is a true gem. Support them if you can!

I’m going to get some clogs (only 79€ for handmade leather shoes, folks, I mean come on…). Probably the ones at the top of the page. Or maybe a pair with the pattern on the bag (red, white, black, pinup, etc.). Or maybe I’ll just get the bag… Or the darker floral clogs in the bottom right corner of the picture just above. Or the red, red rose clogs I saw in the window… (You can see why I did not leave the shop with an actual pair of clogs.) And I’m also going to offer to translate their site into English pro bono.

By all means stop by and see all the other things they have, like the barrettes (you know, the kind with the stick through two holes, straight outta the 70s,) and the irresistible little leather pouches…

Cuir du Voyageur
32, rue Saint Paul
75004 Paris

Cuir du Voyageur Facebook page

Oh yes indeedy.

Air warm and thick with the smell of fresh corn tortillas. Valentina (and other familiar faces) on the table (as opposed to some little-known Louisiana hot sauce that has no business being there: Mexi & Co.). Tasty refried black beans (as opposed to hard, cold and flavorless kidney beans: La Perla). Fresh shredded chicken (as opposed to deep fried and greasy: O’Mexico). Thick, crispy, homemade tortilla chips (as opposed to thin, stale and industrial: Indiana Café).

Till now, with one exception, the Mexican food I’ve had in Paris has made me sad. The exception is Anahuacali, where I’ve eaten twice. It’s authentic but way overrated. The food is only fair (bland), portions are small, and everything’s overpriced. 50€ for a skinny-ass pitcher of margaritas. Hell with that.

But now there is Candelaria, the latest Mexican restaurant to arrive in Paris, where I had dinner with friends on Friday night. It’s more taco stand than restaurant, actually, with one table and a counter providing seating for a total of 15 or so. Best to order takeout if you eat later than 7 pm, which is about when it turns into a zoo.

But it’s worth it. If this place were in my neighborhood (it’s in the Marais) I’d be eating there once a week at least.

The young, pretty, hipster owners are onto something. The stodgy sit down and eat heavy expensive shit for three hours with a stiff waiter dressed in black thing is not what younger Parisians want. And there were more young French couples and families there than there were expats.

The food is quite authentic. The tacos aren’t like the jumbo overstuffed things you get in SoCal restaurants. They’re closer to what you’ll find in taco stands in Mexico. Or, as my friend said repeatedly, bouncing up and down, “taco truck!” “taco truck!” (She was as excited as I was and for a while couldn’t say anything else.) But I think I saw feta on the menu. I’m sure it would be good, though maybe a little odd. (I understand, though. I’ve used Cantal as a substitute for Monterey Jack for 5 years.)

I had two tacos pollo pibil and two tostadas nopal queso (I do love my prickly pear!). I didn’t have the carnitas but my friends said they were good. I had a Dos Equis. My taco truck friend had a Negra Modelo. (That calmed her down.)


Tacos and tostadas are 3.50€ each. A little high considering their size, but not at all too expensive compared to other fast and fresh dining options in Paris (of which there aren’t many). And you have to remember that you can’t get prickly pears or Mexican chorizo in France…

The bad news

A nondescript, narrow white door at the end of the counter leads to a cavey bar that has a completely different feel and clientele than the restaurant. (In fact the tiny, unmarked door looks so much like it leads to the bathroom that you get the feeling they don’t want their taco eaters to suspect there’s a bar back there…) The bar was full of the usual Paris vampire crowd: 20/30-something hipsters, scrawny girls with long, straight hair dressed in black… I wonder if the vampires even knew that there were tacos on the other side of that door.

We went to the bar for margaritas after dinner (because I had to do the complete taste test). It was good, but seriously, 12€ (about $17) for a margarita? Once is enough for me. Those prices plus the vampire crowd: not my thang.

I just found this list of Mexican restaurants in Paris by David Lebovitz, which he clearly worked very hard on… At least it’s pretty current.

I guess I’ll have to try them all just to be sure I have actually found the best. If I can ever again force myself to eat Mexican anywhere besides Candelaria, that is.

I have a new favorite toy, one you can only play with if you have an iThingy (iPhone, iPod touch, iPad). But you can enjoy the results without one (to a limited degree).

The toy is Instagram, an iThingy application. What you do is take a picture with your iThingy, open it in Instagram, drag it around to frame it, apply one of several pre-set filters (or not) to make your photo look all artsy or vintage, and save. At that point you have the option to publish the photo to any number of sites like Flickr and Twitter, or you can just keep it private.

Here’s a before and after I did. The original has decent composition and color and some nice light and shadow, but it’s rather mundane and drab.

Drag it around in the square frame on Instagram, resize it, choose a filter, and you have a little work of art:

I’m publishing all of mine to Tumblr (also Flickr, but I created the Tumblr site as soon as I got near 200 pics; Flickr makes you pay for more than that) because Instagram doesn’t provide online user galleries. When you publish a link to a picture on Twitter, for example, people who click it are taken to a web page, but from there they can’t see the rest of your photos (or follow you, or do anything, for that matter, which kinda blows). The pictures, if you don’t publish and store them somewhere, are pretty much lost in the ether, which is a shame because some of them are amazing.

You can only browse other Instagram photos on your iThingy. You can browse “popular” photos (who knows how they determine popularity), or you can follow specific people and see their photos.

Instagram is a nice change of pace for me, since I tend to be most comfortable with verbal expression. Getting creative with the visual is refreshing from time to time, which is why Photoshop is another fave toy. (I combine the two Vs on everyday splendor, my prose-oet-ography blog.)

But Instagram is much more than a toy. There are two things about it that really make my heart swell. First, seeing pictures taken by people all over the world, being privy to moments friends and semi-friends and total strangers find exceptional enough to record and share, really makes you hyper aware of the beating heart of humanity on this planet. The other six-plus billion souls cease to be an abstraction when you see that somebody is living a moment in a dusty street in a Korean village or on a beach at sunset while you sleep or wash dishes. It’s exhilarating, extraordinarily moving and, on some level, reassuring. When the “other” becomes real, we’re less likely to destroy him. The same concept is in action when the mother of the abducted child goes on TV and says her name over and over and talks about her hobbies and favorite color. She becomes a person in the mind of the psycho who took her and is more likely to survive. The world could use a dose of this. (This is exactly why I’m an Internet evangelist.)

Second, Instagram puts the tools for creating something beautiful in the hands of Average Jane, which is more significant than it might seem to you at first glance. You see, I also believe that when you cultivate your sensitivity to beauty and engage in the act of creating things of beauty yourself, it elevates you. You are more fulfilled, enlightened, open — simply a better human being. (The French know this, one of the things I love about this culture.) Technology, when it can help make a human more human, is sublime.

I plan to find people to follow on every continent, and in as many countries as I can. It will be a treasure hunt. I found one in Asia today (don’t know what language that is, but I’ll get it figured out).

Part of the big attraction of apps like these for both young and old is that you can make your photos look vintage. Some of us (and our photos) are already vintage, so we don’t really need an app for that…

A similar app, Hipstamatic, is much more about community, and looks like it has a wider range of effects for your pictures. I just bought it, and played with it for a few seconds. Looks a lot more complicated, and I’m not sure I’m motivated to tackle the learning curve. At least not today. Hipstamatic has been around a while and created quite a buzz, but I didn’t get it sooner because it’s not free. I don’t generally pay for apps unless I’m sure I’ll use them. (You know I’m a bad little consumer, the kind who thinks before spending.) Anyway, considering the fun I’ve had with Instagram, I’m pretty sure I’ll get my $1.59’s worth out of Hipstamatic.

If you’re using Instagram, look me up: pamela_poole.

I got a Christmas present this year. Just one, which is as it should be, since I’ve made it abundantly clear that I’m anti-stuff for stuff’s sake, and that’s what a lot of presents end up being.

The one person I exchange gifts with every year is a dear girlfriend. The one who knows absolutely everything. The one I invited over to sift through my great-grandmother’s jewelry with me when my great-uncle sent it. The one I regularly discuss the meaning of life with over coffee or tea or sometimes champagne and always chocolate or cookies. The only one my age with an only son around my only son’s age. The only one my age who gets the Internet thing and lives it like I do. The one who, though she’s been around the block enough times to have memorized the cracks and initials and paw prints in the sidewalk, can still recall exactly how it felt to play hopscotch with the sun on her back in that very spot. Like me.

My friend, who can glance at a woman’s feet and tell you what year her Chanels date from (after all, the block she’s been going around all these years happens to be in Paris), acutely feels my shoe pain, if not my foot pain. At that fancy conference for superwomen we both attended in October (the one I bought the dorky shoes for), we stole a moment to gawk at and discuss the supershoes (which she later documented).

I spent the last week of December and the first week of January horizontal; doctor’s orders, feet misbehaving. Her gift to me, which I didn’t get till I was up and around, was a diminutive stiletto-heeled sandal in honor of my feet’s glory days. She slipped a note into the box telling me never mind about the stilettos, I could always have this one to dance with me.

I told her “I totally would have worn this shoe to a 4th of July barbecue,” and she said “I know.”

(The Ms. Independence shoe is part of a collection of tiny shoes you can find at Just the Right Shoe.)

The first time I ever saw a Moo card, I fell in love. (I like tiny things.) I made a set of Moo cards for Francophilia that I hand out here and there. But I soon decided that Moo cards were cute, but not terribly practical. But when Squiz, a new Moo competitor, offered me and my fellow WebWorkerDaily bloggers a set of free cards, I decided to check them out anyway. My curiosity was piqued. How could you beat Moo, with their great site, service and products, and why would you want to try?

First impression of Squiz: excellent site. Zero blah blah, let’s get right down to having fun. And I was thoroughly entertained playing with the avatars on the home page…

They’re in matching pairs: business woman, business man, etc. However, the young man avatar has a backpack and books and glasses and looks generally brainy, while his female counterpart looks like a cheerleader… Oops. Adding a college quarterback type and a brainy college girl would balance things out nicely…

The idea is to pick the avatar you relate to and click “See which cards I like.” Then you’re taken to a page with Squiz card templates that should appeal to your “type.” (Or you can be boring and just hit the “Squiz Card Templates” link or the “Make my Squiz Cards now!” button.)

gothgirl2.pngI got stuck on the avatars for a while, though, because I couldn’t pick a type. I’m a composite of four or five of them, depending on my mood and what I’m doing… But that’s half the fun and, as a user, I was engaged.

This is the avatar I picked. That’s how I looked in college in the 80s, but with better posture…

By the time I figured out which of my selves was dominant at that moment (Sybil, anyone?), and would most like to have a Squiz card, I was really looking forward to seeing which templates “went” with her. Then I went back and looked at the templates they’d assigned to my other selves too. I was seriously engaged. Well done, Squiz.

It didn’t take long for me to pick a card. The only differences, really, between Squiz and Moo are that Squiz cards are plastic and have round corners, they’re about three-fourths as long as Moo cards (smaller = even cuter and even less practical), and they come with a keychain dispenser.

So the fact that they’re waterproof got me thinking of the days when they really would have come in handy, back when I spent all my time at the beach in Hawaii as a teenager.

squizcardtemplate.png That explains why this template jumped out at me and took me back, on that fall day in Paris, to a time when half the clothes in my closet looked like this. Didn’t hurt that with the onset of black clothing season in Paris, I have been in a seriously pink mood.

Once I was done playing, and before I ordered a card, I dug around a little to find out if these people making plastic cards and mailing them all over Creation had an environmental conscience. Just what we need is more plastic crap on the planet, one more thing made from petroleum… You’ve heard it here before.

They describe their eco-friendly manufacturing process on the site. As a bit of an environment freak, I’d like to be reassured that the polypropylene pellets they use to make the cards come from recycled stuff to begin with, though.

They also emphasize the fact that the cards are 100% recyclable. recyclable_pp_no5.jpgProblem is, nobody’s gonna know that – no card owner (or few), no recipient, no recycling facility – because the symbol that appears on the site (and you have to go looking for it) is nowhere to be seen on the cards themselves. They need to print it prominently, and proudly, on the backs of the cards, next to their logo (and also to display it prominently on the site).

I ordered my pink aloha spirit cards, and they came in this sturdy, custom cardboard box. It’s very nice, but it’s too much packaging, Squiz. The trees. The carbon emissions to ship those extra ounces. The resources to cut and assemble and pack the box… And you could make the dispenser optional. I know I won’t use it.


Last point, dear reader. No they’re not practical, unless you’re at the beach with a stack of ‘em velcroed into the pocket of your board shorts, hoping to meet lots of girls, who will think the cards, and hopefully you by extension, are adorable. But they are fun. They’re “anti-business” cards, and we need more anti-business in our lives. So do check out the site.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve subjected you to all this excruciating detail about something that might seem to you to be insignificant. It’s because I rarely try out a new site without being highly conscious of my own user experience, and I wanted to explore that here, since I was so seduced by Squiz. That’s what happens when you’ve been in startup Lala Land for a few years, write for a techie blog, and are married to a UI design expert.

What interests me is how sites get users engaged and what works/doesn’t work on a site (meaning effective UI and experience, not broken links). I also try to be aware of the psychology and ethics of it all; when and how I’m influenced or manipulated by marketing and presentation, and why I respond.

That a simple site for plastic cards could entertain me for half an hour, take me back to college days with a little cartoon character, take me back to sunny beaches with an attractive template… Pretty powerful stuff. (Of course, I could have just been hormonal that day.)

Anyway, think about it.

(Hey Squiz, I would love to have your background image to play with, and I couldn’t dig it out of your CSS… Will you point me to it if it’s available? Merci !)


I whined about wanting a dog on Web Worker Daily the other day, citing one of the lesser reasons why I wanted one (a reason that is relevant to the lifestyle of the teleworker). I kept on searching after Basile slipped through my fingers, kept checking the sites of all the shelters that were on an RER line (the Paris commuter rail system). I google mapped their locations so I’d be ready when the time came.

I went to see Fifi on Friday with Vincent’s daughter. She was a dainty little mutt described as “half angel, half demon” by her foster mother (some rescue organizations here put dogs in host families to socialize them till they find permanent people). She had been abused and couldn’t stand to be touched by strangers. Not the kind of dog I could take to cafés and barcamps with me… And that’s a requirement.

This is the one that didn’t get away. I found this little mutt online on Friday, went and met him Saturday with the kids, brought him home Sunday.


He looks a little dour here. Or suspicious. Or scary. But don’t be fooled. Turns out Wiley loves everybody — people and other dogs too — is house trained (two “accidents” the first day, but then he remembered the rules), sweet-tempered, affectionate, already devoted to us, chills out in between his walks, doesn’t sniff crotches, beg, bark, whine, chew, or jump on the furniture… He’s the most emotionally healthy and well-behaved shelter dog I’ve ever met. He’s not used to the big city; freaks out a little at all the cars and people. But he’ll get used to it I imagine.

wiley-2.jpgVincent took a pic of me holding him on the train on the way home. (You’d think I’d just given birth. Guess these instincts just don’t go away…) Vincent’s classic quote during the do-we-get-a-dog discussion: “I’m the voice of reason, you’re the voice of menopause.”

And your point is?

He’s 14″ (35.5 cm) high at the shoulders and weighs about 17 pounds (8 kilos). We named him Wiley cuz he has those disconcerting golden coyote eyes. And it suited his personality.

Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean frogblog will be turning into dogblog…