Writing from Paris

Supplementary Book Writing Tour SuppliesWhen writing down your story that includes some difficult experiences to recount, and thus to re-live, it is advisable to nourish your body with good-tasting and pretty-looking food, while feeding your soul with inspirational sites, experiences, and chance-encounters. A box of tissue and bouquet of flowers, too, are essential. Changing physical locations, moving the body, and getting some fresh air: these also help lubricate the creative channels in the mind.

The Writer's Café Workspace

The Writer’s Café Workspace

Over my jet lag now, I try out various workspaces around Paris. Frequenting cafés not being in my bones, I do try out this ancient French tradition. Sipping verveine-menthe infusion (mint verbena herbal tea) and tearing at a buttery croissant, I spend one morning writing at a café around the corner from my Paris apartment. It is perhaps too early still for the barrage of Parisian smokers to spoil the tranquility of the semi-outdoors patio; yet, the servers silently wonder at my intermittently reddening eyes as words pour onto my keyboard from my fingers.

The Writer's Home Workspace

The Writer’s Home Workspace

Writing from my Paris apartment, I surround myself with flowers, various snacks, and a constant flow of tea. It is summer in Paris, yet temperatures are low and skies often grey. I envelop myself in a cheerful quilt and try to keep my shoulders from rising. My 3-5 minute morning Pilates routine of plank, 5 full and 5 demi-pumps, shoulder “protraction and retraction” while in plank, and occasionally the side plank (now that I can do one after nearly 2 years of practicing), helps me develop the muscle strength and habit to keep my shoulder blades drawn back and down, thus reducing the pain in my neck and back. While in Paris, I have managed to keep up with my Pilates classes as well, with the little added challenge of them being in French! But my Pilates instructor in Vancouver is an excellent teacher, so I managed my two weekly classes in le quartier du Montparnasse (see location map for photos). I have now learned to breathe in French: inspirer et expirer (to inhale and exhale), and very importantly: reposer (to rest) my arms and legs. In these terms, Pilates seems much simpler in French after all. And when in Montparnasse, it is recommended to take some crêpes for dinner at Crêperie Josselin immediately after your Pilates class, taking the Vélib bike-share to and from, of course.

Returning once more to Cimetière Père Lachaise, I seek solace and inspiration among those who came before us, and from the alluring commemoration of their bodies in the tombs raised among the trees over the ages. Having on previous visits, in 2009 and ten years earlier, too, sought out the resting places of Jim Morisson of The Doors, of writer and poet Oscar Wilde, and Polish piano composer Fryderyk Chopin, this time I look for the joint tomb of the 12th century French star-crossed lovers, Hèloïse et Abélard.

The Writer's Cemetery Inspiration at Père Lachaise

The Writer’s Cemetery Inspiration at Père Lachaise

With a mini-picnic of wine, apple, chocolate and almonds sharing space with my netbook in my backpack, I head to the top of the mound, where I have picnicked before with a loved one, and I recount into words on my screen a time of turmoil and difficult decision from my teenage years. Chased away by an impending thunderstorm and threat of falling branches, as to avoid permanently joining the ones remaining, I return home and write, well into the evening, that story of an irrefutably right decision, which would determine the course of my life.

Changing to more lively company, I arrange a rendez-vous with my Parisian host’s colleague, who is also a writer. We all meet over lunch, and at first, exchange summaries and some challenges and successes in French, switching to English when I begin to feel a little too lost. Recounting my story in French, explaining my motives for sharing it now in a book, is quite interesting for me, and rewarding as well. My French lessons, will to practice, and desire to learn better my third language now that I am better able to, appear to be paying off. Confirming it in English, I had well understood, that my new writing colleague is writing a biography of a 20th century female Russian communism activist, Angelica Balabanoff, the challenges she is having with telling the story, and her motivations for undertaking this endeavour. Partly in French, but mainly in English, I share some insights from my experience and readings about moving forward in the writing process. The overview of my own story, told at first in French, is received with much expression of interest, accompanied by suggestions of which details of my story would find more general interest among readers. Details are important, we both agree, and later I read the same in “The Artist’s Way”.

My French is put to the test, though, at a soirée of about 20 at a friend’s of my Parisian host. One-on-one conversations in French go not too badly, even while needing to block out the background noise, concentrate on hearing my conversational partner, and not try too much to make myself be heard and understood. Listening to group conversation, I feel I don’t stand a chance. Yet, I have done this before when I was child, as have many others even at my age – learn a new language.

Ascending Montmartre on the way to lunch at the foot of Sacre Coeur

Ascending Montmartre on the way to lunch at the foot of Sacre Coeur

I change my French immersion surroundings again, this time for the company of tourists and their café servers, as I take sweetened mint tea at the Paris Mosque and mount Montmartre, with its steep, narrow streets. In a side courtyard café at the foot of Sacre Coeur basilica, I enjoy a canard (duck) dish and a dessert crêpe with my Parisian host and excellent French teacher.

To round out the week, I make Special Dish for the Week: Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry, and mid-week a second Special Dish for the Week: Mushroom, Beet, and Parmesan Cheese with a Lentil and Quinoa.

I have added some more pictures of my visits and activities from my Book Writing Tour 2013 on a location map – continually under development, so check back again!

Special Dish for the Week: Mushroom, Beet, and Parmesan Cheese with a Lentil and Quinoa

The Special Dish for the Week: Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry from Paris, during my Book Writing Tour 2013, was very tasty, indeed, although the presentation could be improved, and be more interesting, like the creation that I made mid-week as a second Special Dish for the Week, based on the same recipe book, but which is much more labour-intensive:

Mushroom, Beet, and Parmesan Cheese with a Lentil and Quinoa

Mushroom, Beet, Lentil, Quinoa and Parmesan Cheese

Mushroom, Beet, Lentil, Quinoa and Parmesan Cheese

This dish calls for 4 steps in the recipe, one of which involves the oven. Having none, I still managed to generate 4 steps by introducing lentils and quinoa for some added protein sources:

  1. lentils cooked with onion, garlic, olive oil, and chopped cilantro;
  2. vinaigrette comprised of ginger, garlic, balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, lemon, sugar, sesame oil, Dijon mustard, and chopped cilantro, for mixing with the lentils;
  3. mushrooms of various sorts sautéed in olive oil; and
  4. quinoa, a complete protein, cooked simply on its own, as a side dish.

The added bonus of being in Europe is that beets here are sold already cooked, only requiring quartering for assembly of the dish. Lightly sprinkled with parmesan cheese, the assembled dish has an interesting look and a varied combination of flavours and textures.

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.

Special Dish for the Week: Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry

Another Special Dish for the Week from Paris, during my Book Writing Tour 2013. Together with my Parisian host, we enjoyed this week’s dish:

Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry

Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry

Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry

The recipe of this dish calls for charring of the eggplant over a gas flame. Having none, and having tried it before with and without charring the eggplant, this is the non-charred version of this curry dish. This time though, the cashews get roasted in a frying pan and sesame oil, which makes for an interesting texture and a slightly different flavour.

For added veggie-source protein, I add a side of three-coloured lentils, and serve the dish on brown rice.

Onions, garlic, ginger, red Thai chilies, garam masala curry, and some sugar, spice up this delicious, nutritious and colourful dish. Lots of cilantro, the juice of a lime (but it could be a lemon, as the recipe calls for), and freshly stewed market tomatoes. The stewing of tomatoes helps them to better release their coloufully pigmented lycopene substance, with its antioxidant and antiproliferative properties, essentially to help prevent healthy cells from becoming damaged, and damaged cells from spreading.

Super easy recipe to make, and it tastes great! Presentation could be improved, however, and be more interesting, like the Mushroom, Beet, and Parmesan Cheese with a Lentil and Quinoa creation that I make mid-week as a second Special Dish for the Week, based on the same recipe book, but which is much more labour-intensive.

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.

Parisian Influence

Additional Book Writing Tour SuppliesOn my way out the door in Vancouver, with some room and weight to spare in my luggage, I grabbed my last minute Book Writing Tour Supply: “The Artist’s Way” book – a gift from my Developmental Editor. It has been most useful during the sleepless hours of jet lag for the first few days in Paris. Re-reading about the Daily Morning Pages and the Artist Dates, I know I have good tools for company with me as continue to spill my recollections and insights onto the pages of my eee PC book files, while often spilling tears onto my cheeks as I work through some difficult to recall parts of my story. The posted notes and highlighter were an acquired addition at la papeterie in Paris, as I realised these tools would have been good to bring too! The roses from le marché du jeudi symbolically keep me company and maintain my motivation.

Paris Day 1 book writing view at a park near la rue Mouffetard

Paris Day 1 book writing view at a park near la rue Mouffetard

The first day of writing in Paris took me and my netbook to Square Saint-Médard near rue Mouffetard, where upon not finding a smoothie store as indicated on Google Maps but locating good selection of fresh fruit, I spent my morning warming up with ~1,500 words in my Daily Morning Pages. Much of my first week has been spent writing, napping, and perusing and eating dans la rue Mouffetard.

Et voila ! La rue Mouffetard

Et voila ! La rue Mouffetard

Other highlights and book-writing motivational events from the first week in Paris:

  • one crashed Contacts iTouch app (causing the loss of all addresses, phone numbers, birth dates, etc.) that the Apple Store near le Louvre could sadly not assist with
  • visit to the Panthéon and Marie Curie-Sklodowska tomb in the crypt
  • visit from my Belgian friend from Brussels
  • parlant le français with my Parisian host, his badminton club friends, and shopkeepers
  • purchase of a fait à Paris parapluie (umbrella)
  • few rides on the Vélib (easy to use, no helmets required, bike-share)
  • Special Dish for the Week: Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine
  • one sore throat, despite all the vitamin C precautions
  • and to “Soothe My Soul”, if not quite my throat, one Depeche Mode concert!

Few pictures of my visits and activities from my Book Writing Tour 2013 on a location map – under development so check back again!

Special Dish for the Week: Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine

In 2011, I decided to each Sunday (give or take a Sunday) make a special dish for the week to keep myself motivated to eat well, and to enjoy making and eating my meals. It feeds my body and my soul, and keeps me feeling creative for my book writing.

I like to make the dishes delicious, nutritious and visually appealing. I often wish that in addition to being able to share the list of ingredients, health benefits of some, and a photo or two of each dish, there would be an invention to also share the smell and taste of such dishes.

This week, the Special Dish for the Week was made in Paris, during my Book Writing Tour 2013. Together with my Parisian host, we enjoyed this week’s dish:

Zucchini and Chickpea adaptation of Butternut Squash Tagine

Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine

Zucchini and Chickpea Tagine

Originally a couscous topping, the first time I made this dish, I turned it into a soup (as I misread the intent of the recipe). Both times, it turned out delicious!

Main ingredients, where I aim at veggie-source protein, included:

  • chickpeas
  • brown rice
  • fresh market tomatoes
  • zucchinis

To spice it up, I use most of the suggested herbs and spices, but add or exchange a few:

  • onion
  • garlic
  • ginger
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • ground cumin
  • paprika
  • turmeric & black pepper
  • Thai chili
  • honey (just a tablespoon, but perhaps enough to bring out the other flavours)

For garnish and added nutrients, I add some chopped:

  • cilantro

A dash of olive oil for sauteeing of the onions at the start, and no salt of any kind – amazing how good dishes can taste without any added salt!

Meal ideas & recipes from Maria Elia’s “The Modern Vegetarian” book from a good friend.

Book Writing Tour 2013

Book Writing Tour 2013 - 1This summer, 2013, I am taking my book writing on a tour.

I committed to writing down my story in a book on New Year’s 2010/2011. It has been a slow but steady process. I have received nothing but support and encouragement – even if some with slight hesitation at such an ambitious undertaking, and although most in the writing world warn of the publishing demise.

“I have a story to tell, as I continue to weave it. Want to become a thread in my story?”

Tour dates and locations:

  • My 2013 Book Writing Tour began on May 16 in Vancouver.
  • On June 10, it moves to Paris for 2 1/2 week French immersion (voulez-vous parler français avec moi ?).
  • On the June 28 night train, off for a week-long French-German fusion in Hamburg (lasst uns essen, guten appetit, prost!).
  • First weekend in July, for a little break from writing, but not from interviewing some of my sources, when I meet with my family in Poznan, Poland (dzien dobry, prosze mow dalej, dziekuje!).
  • As of July 8, wrapping up the European leg with 1 1/2 weeks in London, nearly my home-away-from-home but not quite (jolly good, bloody well, cheers!).
  • July 17, dropping in to Toronto for another 1 1/2 weeks for some familial pursuits and collegial feedback (the novelty of walkability in TO!).
  • The tour concludes with 3 more weeks in Vancouver, before returning to regularly scheduled programming at NRCan on August 19.

Book Writing Tour 2013 - 2See what develops! Follow along where the tour takes me in my writing, cooking, travelling, and growing. Join me (virtually, if not in person).

Je vous remercie pour tout votre soutien ! / Thank you for all your support!