Friday, July 14, 2017

Presidential Encounters


Yesterday I came this close to seeing U.S. President Donald Trump, here in Paris for Bastille Day, and French President Emmanuel Macron.

It wasn’t intentional. I was having my own presidential moment in a café in central Paris near Galeries Lafayette. You see, I was just elected president of my Toastmasters club, Paris Speech Masters, and I was meeting the past president for a formal transition of power. This amounted to handing over the club banner, and chatting about life as president over a drink and dinner.

Seriously, I’m proud to preside over the club, which boasts two International Speech Contest finalists. I definitely want to keep the bar high!

On my way to the meeting, I noticed a huge national police presence near the Eiffel Tower, but all was relaxed for the moment. The officers, in their vans, were being served hot dinner trays, airplane style. Baguettes graced the dashboards. They folded down their seat-back tray tables, spread napkins on their laps, and ate with cutlery. The only thing I didn’t see was the wine.

On the way back from my meeting, banner in hand, the police had long finished dinner. They were mobilized around the Eiffel Tower, their vans blocking all but two lanes of traffic to slow and check vehicles. It was an impressive show of force.
Source: AFP.

The reason? Up high in the Eiffel Tower, the two presidents and their wives were having dinner in the Jules Verne restaurant, one of France’s finest. I imagine that Trump and Macron, over drinks and dinner, were trading notes about their first months in office and life as president.

Photo above: Source: The Independent.




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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.





Saturday, July 1, 2017

Radio Days In Pittsburgh And Paris


Mired in a tedious task yesterday at work, I reached for some music therapy through my headphones. Via the internet, I usually tap into my favorite French station, but why not take a trip back home?

I tuned into Pittsburgh-based WYEP just in time for an unusual show, “Pairings with Chef Fuller.” On the sound platter was Son Little’s latest song, “Blue Magic (Waikiki).” The chef suggested, of all things, a frozen daiquiri. But hold the umbrella and blue curacao! Instead go for a mix of better white and golden rums. The cocktail definitely captured the '70s surfside vibe of the song. I was started to sway and develop quite a thirst, though Son's smooth style isn't my natural inclination. (For the amazing food pairings, why not listen to the rest of the episode yourself?)

What’s great about 'YEP (Yinzers say "why-e-pee") is that it’s independent radio. You won't hear the top 40 or commercials. You’ll hear a lot of alternative music from newer local and regional bands, as well as slightly better-known musicians like Little, an R&B-inspired “son” of Philadelphia. (I’m not sure how Son picked his name, but the word means “sound” in French. His birth name is Aaron Livingston.)

My husband has pulled many an all-nighter with WYEP in his ear, and counts as a contributor. Yes, listener-supported means the station is funded by its “members,” people like you and me. What's nice is the community that WYEP aims to create, going beyond programming to stage concerts and other events as well in its South Side studio.

In Paris, we listen to FIP, a similarly eclectic station, which was my mommy therapy of choice while raising my daughter. The three letters used to mean France Inter Paris, but now the station just goes by the acroymn. It's pronounced feep--like jeep. For the month of July the station is featuring Fredda, Babx, J. Bernardt, Charlie Parker, Dan Auerbach, The Rhum Runners, et Quantic. (Should I admit to knowing only one of those musicians?)


FIP is a public station, which in France means that is entirely funded by our French tax dollars. Every year we pay an audio-visual tax of about $150, which goes to a number of TV and radio stations. We think it's a small price to pay to avoid those annoying commercials. (Imagine watching a 90-minute movie in--90 minutes!) FIP is part of the Radio France group that also has its own orchestras and offers a full calendar of concerts. When my daughter was a child, we would walk down to the gargantuan Radio France building for low-cost classical family concerts on Saturday mornings.

In these days of Apple iTunes, what it is about radio? I definitely use it to set a mood and escape the mundane. I want the songs to surprise and come to me—but also to take me elsewhere. To Pittsburgh and Waikiki, for instance.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Bonus: Speaking of rum, see this boozy review of Pittsburgh’s craft cocktail scene; “Whiskey: Pittsburgh’s Fourth River.” You’re bound to find the right rum for your frozen daiquiri.

Photo credit: Classic frozen Daiquiri; Copyright: Ogione | Dreamstime.com

Source: http://www.electronicdesign.com/blog/future-am-radio

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Homes For $100,000 In Pittsburgh And Paris

A $100,000 home
in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Beechview.
The other day, I got sucked into an article about “What $100,000 Will Buy You In Pittsburgh.” Even though I’m happy in my apartment here in Paris, I often dream about moving back “home.”

I think about cashing in my chips, taking my little pot of gold, and settling into a cozy home in that place that’s neither south, west, east, or north in the U.S.--but somewhere over the rainbow.

It’s amazing what 100 grand will buy in the ‘Burg. You’ll find decent homes in solid neighborhoods like Observatory Hill, Bellevue, Troy Hill, and Beechview.

These homes are no exceptions. The median price of a home in the Pittsburgh region is $130,000, compared with a national average of $235,000.

Who knows how long house prices will remain so affordable in Pittsburgh, highly ranked for livability for many years, which is one reason it's attracting millenials. One of my favorite neighborhoods, Brookline, saw the highest increase in home prices last year at 8%.
Here's a 7th floor chambre de bonne.
Includes kitchenette, shower, but no elevator.
Toilet? Unclear. Sometimes that’s down the hall.
Sale price: 89,000 euros or about $100,000.

What will $100,000 buy in the Paris area?

French property consultant Adrian Leeds, whose work has been featured on House Hunters International, says this: “There is NOTHING in Paris for 100K except a chambre de bonne,” or a tiny maid’s room at the top of an apartment building.

“Change that to 500K,” Adrian says, “and then we can talk.”

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

High School Graduation in France: Not for Party Animals




Forty years ago this summer I graduated from high school in Pittsburgh, and soon my daughter will do the same in Paris. My senior year ended with a cap-and-gown graduation ceremony (involving a small scandal, read more on that below), parties galore, a class ring, yearbook, high school photos, cards and gifts.

Here in Paris, rien. Nothing.

Instead, the end to high school is marked by the grueling baccalaureate exam for seniors—or “the bac” for short. It’s a marathon of over 10 tests that span two weeks in June, with a few starting in junior year. They consist of written, oral, and practical exams—like lab work or middle-distance sprints for sports.

Exam week officially began Thursday at 8 a.m. Paris time with the infamous four-hour philosophy test, featuring surprise questions. Picture over 700,000 students all over the world sitting with their ink pens and paper at the ready. They open their exam books to choose a question like this: To fight for your rights, is that the same as fighting for your interests? Can people free themselves from their culture ? Explain this text from Foucault : Ultimately, life means being capable of error. …
Class of 2017, anywhere in France


When the exam started my husband—like so many parents here—went online to see the questions, and texted them to me. Newscasts feature students preparing for the exam and interviewing them as they finish. It’s a national event.
Class of 1977, somewhere in Pittsburgh

And it’s a national debate. The bac is a big machine costing taxpayers €1.5 billion a year. The school year for other middle and high schoolers is cut short as teachers are requisitioned to staff the bac. Some teachers specialize in writing the exams, of which there are dozens of variations. There are over 4,000 test centers and 4 million tests to be corrected, by hand!

Seniors focus on the bac to the exclusion of all else. No extracurricular activities, internships, or part-time jobs. At my daughter’s school the yearbook was produced by the juniors, to free up the seniors. Parents hunker down with their children to keep them well fed. There’s no going away for the weekend or on vacation after December.

The new French president wants to trim the bac down to size—to about four exams, with classwork counting toward the degree for the most part. That sounds reasonable, but is a matter of debate. Meanwhile, the parents in my daughter’s class, most of them foreigners like me, have organized a party for our children.

As for the scandal involving my class of '77, we picked “Freebird” by rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd for our class song. It was a bit too much metal for the nuns at our Catholic school. We were banned from playing it during the mass celebrating our graduation. Did we truly think we'd get away with it? You have to admit that the lyrics are rather sweet:

If I leave here tomorrow
Would you still remember me?
For I must be traveling on, now
'Cause there's too many places I've got to see …


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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.




Saturday, June 10, 2017

Paris And Pittsburgh: Together Forever


It’s been a whirlwind political romance for the mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris over the past week. They're getting a lot of "kilometers" out of U.S. President Trump’s line, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh not Paris,” in announcing an American pullout of the Paris Agreement on climate change (go here for more details).

The mayors both evoked the beauty of their cities, both nestled on riverbanks connected by bridges old and new, in a joint opinion article in the New York Times. Both cities have reclaimed their waterfronts, transforming them into parks and transferring traffic out of the city core. Pittsburgh has its Gothic Cathedral of Learning and Paris has the Eiffel Tower, built of iron, the metal that made Pittsburgh famous.


While Ann Hidalgo isn’t the mayor of Pittsburgh and Bill Peduto isn’t the mayor of Paris – and it’s humorous to picture them swapping cities – they say they’re doing right by Pittsburghers and Parisians to abide by the Paris Agreement. Why? Because it will ensure the future health and prosperity of both of their cities.

The motto of Paris is “fluctuat nec mergitur,” tossed by the waves but never sunk. That could be Pittsburgh’s motto too. One city was nearly destroyed by war, and the other by industrial collapse. But visionary leaders led the way to new futures. Let’s hope these fair cities are never sunk by the rising tides of climate change.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Bonus:
For the full size of the cartoon above, go to: http://timestribuneblogs.com/john-cole/from-paris-to-pittsburgh/






Saturday, June 3, 2017

Trump's Speech: Paris Loves Pittsburgh, And The Feeling Is Mutual

A protestor holds a sign in Berlin (Source: EPA)
World leaders don’t usually mention the words Pittsburgh and Paris in the same breath. But President Trump did that twice in a major speech on Thursday, in announcing a pullout from the Paris climate agreement.

Mr. Trump wanted to show how unconnected Pittsburgh is from Paris. How far they are from one another in physical and political distance. He was trying to “pitt” old-fashioned images of a working-class industrial city against those of a glitzy foreign capital.

I believe my two hometowns have a lot in common—starting with the air we breathe.

“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
Mr. Trump’s first reference to Pittsburgh has a nice ring to it, but the mayor of Pittsburgh represents its citizens too—and was none too pleased about the speech. Mayor Bill Peduto reacted with his own executive order for Pittsburgh to remain committed to reducing emissions. What’s more, he’s using the media interest that the speech stirred up to dispel old stereotypes: The city of blast furnaces is now a center for robot technology, and the main employers are now health care providers and higher education.

Among those reaching out to the Pittsburgh mayor was the maire of Paris, with a friendly video Tweet, thick French accent and all.

 “It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France."
Again, Mr. Trump is giving us a false either/or proposition. The point of the Paris climate agreement is that each country does its part to lower carbon emissions.

What's strange about what Mr. Trump said is that the U.S. scored wins on the way to the Paris agreement, after waffling about climate commitments in the past because it deemed them unfair. So what exactly isn’t fair Mr. Trump? (Read one fact check of Mr. Trump’s speech here.)

I grew up in the Smokey City and worked in the steel mills. The pollution has taken its toll on my family’s health in the form of lung cancer, emphysema, and asthma. I wouldn’t wish the Pittsburgh past for any city’s future.

What Paris and Pittsburgh need and want are clean jobs at living wages, powered by renewable energy--and the jobs that they in turn create. What’s encouraging is that with or without Mr. Trump, the two cities will be working together to stay on that path.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find her on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.

Bonus cartoon fro the The New Yorker magazine by Kim Warp with the caption, "We'll always have Pittsburgh":
http://www.newyorker.com/cartoons/daily-cartoon/friday-june-2nd-pittsburgh-trump-climate-casablanca


Saturday, May 27, 2017

Love Locks or Love Litter?

Source: AP

The City of Paris just auctioned off about a ton of scrap metal, raising $250,000 for charity.

This was no ordinary junk heap, but 165 parcels of “love locks” that the City of Love stripped from the Pont des Arts in 2015. (See the video here.)

The heavy metal, some 50 tons of it, threatened to ruin the Arts Bridge, a Unesco World Heritage site. City officials worried that lock-laden sheets of the bridge would fall onto the heads of tourists below on the bateaux mouches. That would have been a new kind of guillotine, for which France is also famous.

The love lock auction in Paris
It was a cruel fate for these symbols of eternal love to disappear before they had even had a chance to rust. The auction, however, was a twist of fate, a second life for some of the locks. The city, previously seen as heartless for tearing them down, received hearty publicity for the selling them off in an art-style sale.

The love-lock trend started about a decade ago, but has become a global phenomenon and metallurgical dilemma. Locks are found on the Brooklyn Bridge, the Great Wall of China, near the Millennium Bridge in London and on bridges in Stockholm.

Love locks have even made it to my hometown of Pittsburgh. The city takes a no-nonsense approach, routinely chopping off the locks as it carries out work on its bridges (see a story here).

How did it start? No one knows for sure. But in fact throughout history, it was common for travelers who visited ancient sites—like the Pyramids--to leave their mark. With graffiti.

More often than not today, tourists want to take something, which has led to the whole souvenir industry—itself a French word for memory or remembrance. 

Tourists are still leaving locks around Paris, for example at the Flame of Liberty at the end of the Pont de l’Alma. The weight of the metal threatens to ruin that monument too. The whole thing is making some people so love-lock-sick that they’ve formed an association: No Love Locks.

OK, I get it. Hanging tons of locks from historic sites isn’t exactly sustainable tourism. But, City of Paris, why not channel this romantic energy in the City of Locks by building a monument where tourists are officially encouraged to attest to their love?

Turn Love Litter into Love Art.

Who knows, if locks are recyclable, and recycled once a year through an auction, the whole project could even pay for itself (and then some).  Love Locks Forever!

The annual take-down of the locks isn’t so very romantic, but as we know the bits of metal do tend to get rusty if exposed to harsh conditions for too long. A lot like love.

 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

How To Say "Merci" To Mom

Whether you’re in France or the U.S., it’s that time of year again to give thanks to the mom of your life. Over 100 years into the holiday, is it time to think more universally about what it is to be a mother?

Mother’s Day is celebrated today in the U.S. and in most countries of the world. In France, where it’s known as fête des mères, it’s the last Sunday of the month.

The founder of Mother’s Day in the U.S. would be upset with the French version, which is Mothers’ Day in translation. (If you missed the difference, one is a singular “mother” with an apostrophe “s” and the other is a plural “mothers” with an apostrophe. End of grammar lesson!) That’s because Anna Jarvis, who started the commemoration in 1908, wanted us to celebrate our personal “mother,” not “mothers” or motherhood in general.

A typical pasta necklace.
Source: Atout.org
Ms. Jarvis came to hate the commercialism of the day. Instead of buying flowers or presents, in her view people should honor their mothers with a handwritten letter. I personally like to be taken out to dinner, but I’m open to cleaning, laundry, and window-washing too!


In France, according to French blogger Clotilde Dusoulier, “children usually craft some kind of project at school for their maman — most iconically, un collier de pâtes, a necklace made of dried pasta — and graduate to buying her flowers, chocolates, or beauty products when they are older.” Hmm. Somehow my teenage daughter hasn’t yet graduated out of the dried pasta stage.

Sorry Ms. Jarvis, I see nothing wrong about using the holiday to reflect on what motherhood means in this day and age.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today is running a story about Christie Pham, who lost her mom at 17, and now commemorates Mother’s Day by performing random acts of kindness.

Source: Pinterest.
In “The Birth of The Mother,” The New York Times today published an article by Dr. Alexandra Sacks saying that the becoming a mother in medical terms is largely unexplored territory, and argues for greater understanding of post-partum depression, and other psychological issues that grip women.

That’s not to deflate the role of fathers or grandparents, or aunt and uncles—teachers too--who may not have children but devote countless hours to child care. Now that’s the way to build a “maternal" instinct. Happy Mother’s Day to you too!

Believe it or not, it’s become trendy to affectionately tag these people as “moms” on social media. If a handwritten note is not going to happen, why not log on and reach out each #mom or #mere in your life to say thank you.
 
Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After many years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.






Monday, May 8, 2017

New President, New Era?



Macron supporter at last night's celebration in Paris.
Source: AP, Francois Mori.

Last night we hunkered down in front of the TV set at 7:45 p.m. in anticipation of the historic moment. At 8 p.m. sharp, the polls were going to close in France, and the name of the new president was going to be announced. (Until then, the country imposes a media blackout.)

I felt a hush fall over France as the countdown proceeded: 3 … 2 … 1 … 

It was like watching the countdown on New Year’s Eve, or a countdown to blast-off. Would this be the beginning of an era? Or a countdown to catastrophe? I wedged myself on the sofa between my daughter and husband for moral and physical support.
And then the winner was announced: Emmanuel Macron. The 39-year-old leader of the brand-new party, En Marche!, won by a wide margin with 66% of the votes against the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. However, Macron was weak in rust-belt areas of France like Pittsburgh that have suffered from the decline of manufacturing. And a high number of voters didn't cast their ballots.

For us, as foreigners here in France, it was a relief. For me, who works in the world of finance, it was a relief. And for those who believe that the European Union is (generally) a good thing, it was a relief.

But it won’t be easy for the new president, who takes office in a few weeks. Macron has to build a cabinet and start campaigning for legislative elections. It’s uncertain whether the French people will give him a strong mandate to govern by electing En Marche! representatives.

Macron posters
in our neighborhood
I frankly don’t know much about Macron, but most people don't. He's new to the game and didn’t have much chance to win until the top candidate on the right became tainted by scandal. (Because Macron is so young, he doesn’t yet have a political past!) He’s by all accounts smart, reasonable, and likeable. Just a few days ago, one of his campaign workers handed me his program, a 32-page booklet of campaign promises. Many of them seem, again, reasonable. (By the way, all serious French candidates publish a “programme.” Good idea, U.S.!)

Regarding education, one area where I feel half-way competent to comment, Macron promises access to special needs assistants in schools to all children who need them, which is sorely needed. This in a country where special education is rare and where the educational system is in general denial about special needs. France is definitely behind the U.S. here, which made education a right for special needs children in 1975.

What I like most about Macron is his optimism and genuine love of France. It’s so refreshing in this great country that’s often mired in negativism.

With the election of Macron, I’m hoping that France will enter a new era of economic growth that lifts all boats. And I hope that last night’s blast-off won’t end in catastrophic failure but instead show the country new horizons.

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Ça Alors! Learning French Through Comic Books

I’m always on the lookout for a good book to read in French, but it can’t be too hard, too easy – just right s’il vous plait. And it’s even better if it’s actually interesting and fun, which makes finding the right book nearly an impossible task.

At my local French book store, I gravitated to a new section: a large table featuring comic books, or more correctly, ”graphic novels.”

I was lingering over two biographies about American dancer Isadora Duncan (1877-1927). I had just seen the biopic “The Dancer,” about the life of dancer Loie Fuller, who at one point hires Duncan. And I just saw the miniseries “Zelda,” about the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who knew the dancer. Bios about women and the 1920s were in the air.

So I picked up “Isadora,” by Julie Birmant and Clément Oubrerie (2017). Little did I know was how daring and unconventional this dancer was. She was enamored with ancient Greece, and danced in bare feet and a flowing tunic, improvising her way through music by the likes of Wagner and Stravinsky.

Isadora and later her students often went on tour—including
to Pittsburgh on Dec. 18, 1918, invited by The Art Society of Pittsburgh. In 1921, her leftist sympathies took her to the Soviet Union where she founded a school in Moscow, but the government did not support her work as promised. She died as dramatically as she lived, when in 1927 her long flowing scarf became entangled in the wheel of a sports car in the south of France. She is buried in Paris at the Père Lachaise cemetery.

Graphic novels have become seriously popular in France. Starting in the 2000s, nearly every big French publisher started a line of literary comic books. But then this is a country with a long history in quality hardback comic books such as “Babar” and “Tintin.”

What I liked about reading “Isadora” is that much of the writing is dialog, which is one of my weaknesses. How people speak in France is much different than how they write. Comic books are definitely an enjoyable way to learn some phrases I hear in conversation. And now trendy as well. Ça alors! (Well how about that?) One of the many very useful phrases to be found in a French comic book!


Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.











Saturday, April 22, 2017

Paris-Pittsburgh People: Michael Keaton

Michael Keaton in "Birdman"
I recently saw the movie star Michael Keaton – and native Pittsburgher – here in Paris, at the impressive new Paris Philharmonic concert hall.

Keaton was there, figuratively speaking, in a showing of the Oscar-winning film “Birdman” (2014) accompanied by live music. My daughter organized the evening, and I went along without knowing a thing about what I was going to see.

As I exited the nearby Métro, my eyes were stunned as the expansive site unfolded into view. It was more like going to a stadium, the size of PNC Park in Pittsburgh, than to a concert venue.
The new Philharmonic hall in Paris

Inside, I had expected a full symphonic orchestra, but all I saw on stage was a drum kit. My expectations sunk.

The drummer, Antonio Sanchez, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, told us his story and how he got involved in Birdman. The five-time Grammy Award winner who has worked with Chick Corea and was part of the Pat Metheny group happened to bump into Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu.

This was no ordinary drummer, but perhaps the world’s greatest living jazz musician. He was touring the world playing in concert with the film. The drums took us inside Birdman’s disturbed mind as he moved around the backstage maze that was the setting for most of the movie.
Drummer Antonio Sanchez

Although Michael Keaton didn’t win one of the Oscars, I think he should have (but won many other awards). He played an aging movie star known for his superhero films, longing to be taken seriously as a stage actor. Eerily, Keaton himself is an aging movie star perhaps best known for “Batman.” (1989)

Keaton is also a hometown acting hero as well. He first appeared on TV in several episodes of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" (1968). Keaton also worked as an actor in Pittsburgh theatre; he played the role of Rick in the Pittsburgh premiere of David Rabe's "Sticks and Bones" with the Pittsburgh Poor Players. Keaton is reportedly an avid Pittsburgh Pirates fan, and has been seen at seen at Steelers and Pirates games as well, but these days called Montana home. (Thanks Wikipedia!)

Michael Keaton, I hope to see you again in Paris, or perhaps at a game in Pittsburgh? For real?

Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. Or find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.








Friday, February 24, 2017

My “Secret” French Recipe For Chocolate Cake



Source: Seasaltwithfood.com
Stashed in my suitcase en route to Pittsburgh this week was a tattered and torn French recipe for what I think is the world’s best chocolate cake. And it’s so easy.

The dense layer, somewhere between brownie and lava cake, is called a “Reine de Saba” or a “Queen of Sheba” cake.

The recipe came my way via Eve Bark (merci!), at an orientation session to life in Paris called Bloom Where You're Planted. She not only gave us the recipe, but baked enough cake to give everyone in the audience a bite. Oh la la!

If this cake was any clue, life in Paris was going to be sweet.

For the longest time, I thought the cake was Eve’s invention and my personal secret weapon for dessert, even as France fell in love with le brownie, le muffin, and most recently, le cupcake.

Finally, I thought, I’ll bring this recipe to Pittsburgh – to America!

But in converting the recipe to U.S. measures and in Goggling around this past week, I realized that SOMEONE ELSE brought the Queen of Sheba to America a long time ago.

Julia Child in 1961.

She beat me by 56 years!

Julia included the cake in her book, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” And she featured it on her TV show "The French Chef." See the vintage video here.


You’ll also see the cake in the film “Julie & Julia,” about Julia Child’s foodie experience in Paris, and Julie’s experience following in the master’s foodsteps, er, footsteps.


 
Respectfully speaking, Julia’s cake complicates things. You really don’t need the rum and almond extract, or the chocolate-butter frosting, or the slivered almonds decorating the whole thing.

The cake itself is amazing, and if you must, a dusting of powdered sugar or vanilla ice cream will do the trick. It doesn’t have to be difficult. Eve’s variation, and my variation on hers, is a one-bowl one-layer wonder. So here we go. Done the apron, and get to work:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour one 8-inch or 9-inch cake pan. In a large microwavable bowl, melt 4 ounces of dark chocolate (or semi-sweet chocolate chips) in a microwave on medium power. Whisk in 1 stick of butter (or margarine or canola oil), 2/3 cup plus one tablespoon of sugar, three eggs, one-third cup almonds ground in a food processor, and ½ cup flour. Bake only 20 minutes for a 9-inch cake or 30 min for an 8-inch cake--until barely done. Cool for 10 minutes. Eat warm.

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

The United States Of Pittsburgh?

Source: http://www.unitedstatesofpittsburgh.com/about/


In a week I’ll be flying home to my native Pittsburgh for a week’s visit. Take me home city roads! They say you can never truly go home again, but I'll try.

Tens of thousands of us Pittsburghers left home in the 1980s, mostly for job reasons in what's called the Pittsburgh diaspora. It’s an almost biblical story of exodus.

One measure of the sheer size of this migration is the reach of The Pittsburgh Steelers. Via SteelerNation, the city is known to have the broadest fan-base of any football team in the U.S. That aside, the Internet and social media have made it easier for ex-yinzers to keep in touch.

Apart from seeing family, of course, I hope to check out some new sites. I especially want to see places with Paris-Pittsburgh connections. Like the birthplace of writer Gertrude Stein, who lived in Paris and cultivated artists like Picasso. And the birthplace of Mary Cassatt, the American Impressionist painter who joined a circle of artists in Paris including the Manets and Berthe Morisot.

I’m also curious to see the up-and-coming neighborhood of Allentown, which was spiraling down when I was growing up. My high school, Hilltop Catholic, now closed, had one of its buildings there. Allentown is also home to magnificent St. George church, recently closed as well.

My favorite neighborhood is under-rated Brookline, just a walk from my parent’s place. There I find authentic and amazing donuts for breakfast, Greek sandwiches for lunch, and Mexican sidewalk tacos for dinner. In between bites, I like to stop at the Carnegie Library branch to grab a book or a DVD.

The good news is that the exodus of of Pittsburgh has stopped. The city’s vibrant culture and affordability is attracting millennials, a new generation of workers who are digging in. The Lost Generation of natives that left Pittsburgh can never go home again to exactly the place we remember, but perhaps to a better place, which has become less blue and more white around the collar.

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Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog, http://parispittsburghandmore.blogspot.fr/, about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home." You can also find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+.