August 31: A Solemn Anniversary in Paris

August 31, 2017 – Today marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. She, along with her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, died as a result of injuries sustained after their driver, Henri Paul, slammed into the 13th pillar in the Pont de l’Alma road tunnel in Paris. Henri Paul also died. Trevor Rees-Jones, Diana’s and Dodi’s bodyguard, suffered permanent injury.

I previously wrote a tribute to Diana for The Washington Post Magazine, and I do not believe I can improve upon it. Since it is jumbled together with other letters to the editor if you view it here, the letter, printed on December 21, 1997, is reprinted below in its entirety.

I AM 36, THE SAME AGE DIANA WAS when she died. Although I was born six months earlier than she, it was I who looked up to her. She helped me find myself; I would not be the woman I am today without her influence. Contrary to what Richard Cohen would have you believe, a person need not negotiate a peace treaty or be elected prime minister to make a positive impact on the world. Princess Diana radiated love to the world around her. She touched the lives of two generations of women, and we will remember her grace, her style and her loving heart for the rest of our lives.


There will never be anyone like her. May she rest in peace.

Princess Diana's final resting place, an island on the Althorp Estate, which belongs to her brother, the Earl Spencer.

Princess Diana’s final resting place, an island on the Althorp Estate, which belongs to her brother, the Earl Spencer.


Au revoir.











Image of Princess Diana by Trish, courtesy of Flickr, CCBY 2.0. Image of Princess Diana’s island on Althorp by Jon Merler, courtesy of Flickr, CCBY 2.0.

Elsa’s Tips on How to Learn French

Learning or relearning a language as an adult can be difficult, but it can be done. Find tools that work for you, practice practice practice, and NEVER give up.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don't forget the most important: commitment.

When looking for the right tools to learn French, don’t forget the most important: commitment.

Bonjour ! Comment ça va? (Hello! How are you?) I have been away from blogging about Paris for too long. I have many reasons for this — excuses, really — but one reason is that I have been focusing on learning French. Some day, I hope to move to France, whether it is to retire or to work, or both. Although more French people than ever are learning English, it is important to me to learn their language, for it is the only way to truly immerse myself in the French culture. And what better way for me to show how much I love France than to learn French?

I am the first to acknowledge that different people learn differently. That said, here are my tips on how to learn French.

1. Focus on learning French like you learned English, learning sounds (phonics), words, and putting together short sentences. Yes, this is how a child learns their first language: Since this method works for them, it will work for you. Look for children’s books on teaching French (see below). No need to be embarrassed: no one will know.

2. Watch “Learn French With Alexa” Videos. Click here: Overview of Learn French With Alexa Lessons 1-55.  Many people offer free French lessons on YouTube. Even though I took a year of French many years ago, I wanted to start from the very beginning, as I’ve stated above. Most lessons have you learning phrases without learning sounds or grammar. I found what I was looking for in Alexa, who teaches French from the ground up. After her first lesson on greetings, she teaches sounds, words, small sentences…everything I was looking for in a French teacher. She is also very funny: an added bonus. I highly recommend using ear buds to listen to language videos. You can miss the nuances of pronunciation without them.I watch her videos a minimum of 3 times: once as introduction, then to take notes, and a third time to go over the notes. I often also write words and phrases on flash cards to let the words sink in and become part of my way of thinking. I have watched at least one verb video 50 times to make sure I grasp it; after all, reciting what I’ve learned while watching a video is one thing — to be able to call upon it in the moment of conversation is something else. Repetition is key! I can still hear Miss Dawson, my first English teacher, saying,”Attention ! Écoutez, répétez après moi!” (Attention! Listen, repeat after me!) And we repeated and repeated and repeated…

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

I found these flash cards on Amazon. They include words in 17 categories, such as Travel, Time, Clothes, Food and Drink, and The Body.

3. Use French Vocabulary Flash Cards. This is just another way for me to build my French vocabulary. I have copied the flash card words onto my own flash cards to carry with me during my commutes (so as not to ruin the originals). The only problem with the flash cards is that they don’t give you the pronunciation. Which brings me to #4…

4. Use the French to English, English to French tool on Google. I love it! Again, use your ear buds to hear the nuances of pronunciation. Click here: Translate French to English Google link.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children's books in French to help learn French grammar.

I found this book on Amazon. Once you start building your vocabulary, I recommend getting children’s books in French to help learn French grammar.

5. Look for books aimed at children learning French, such as French for Middle/High School by Carson Dellosa Education. The book basically reiterates Alexa’s videos. But that’s just the point. There’s no such thing as redundancy in language learning: You have to go over lessons over and over and over again until you think in French.

6. Watch movies with more child characters than adults in French and in English with French subtitles, such as the Harry Potter series. Children, even in middle school and high school, are still developing their vocabulary and sentence structure, so they express their thoughts with less complexity than adults. This lower language complexity, when translated into another language, is perfectly suited for an adult to learn the new language. Also, since children tend to be less sophisticated speakers, they don’t generally talk so fast that you can’t hear individual words.

7. Listen to French music. Many people have told me to watch French news and movies to learn French. While I frequently see French movies at the French Embassy in DC (with English subtitles, thank heavens), the characters speak much too fast for me to hear individual words. French music is better for me at this stage of my learning French: it’s much easier to hear individual words, and I’m becoming familiar with French artists while I’m at it. I listen to the RJM French Music app: I  love Avance by Garou, De L’amour le mieux by Natasha St. Pierre, and Les Matins D’hiver by Gerard Lenorman, just to name a few.

8. Join a French group. Chances are, there are groups of native English speakers in your area who want to practice their French. A friend introduced me to one that meets in DC once a week: they meet in a church and go out to dinner together. I don’t feel I am quite ready for it, but I will attend their meetings when I am ready.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

Surround yourself with French things and you will start to think in French.

9. Surround yourself with French things. To learn a language, you have to learn to think in that language. I can think of no better way than to surround yourself with French things, such as a comforter with French words and pictures, French tea towels, a French clock, a Page-A-Day calendar of French locales, even a print from a French master painter, such as Monet or Renoir. These things help to transport you to France — at least in your mind, anyway — so you can think in French.  I am the first to admit that learning a language as an adult can be tough for a variety of reasons, especially because of the time it takes. All I can say is: Don’t give up. View any progress as real progress. Use any down time you can to practice or recite what you know. While I cook, I try to name all the kitchen items I use. While vacuuming, I recite all the parts of the room I can. I’ll review a small stack of flash cards while I’m waiting for my dinner to cook. If ever I start to feel hindered in my lessons, I think about how much I want to speak French when I travel to Paris the next time. It keeps me going. Find your own motivation to learn French and keep it in front of you. It will help you when you feel like quitting. It certainly has helped me.

Au revoir !





Learning French image by CanStockPhoto. French Vocabulary Flash Cards from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. French Workbook from Amazon, CCBY 2.0. Vintage French poster from Pinterest, CCBY 2.0.




International Women’s Day 2017

International Women's Day 2017Today is International Women’s Day, a day to acknowledge the power of women in the world. In my view, the day is celebrated much more in other parts of the world than in the U.S. — I had never heard of it until I worked in Kazakhstan and stayed on a street named “8 March” — but there’s nothing like a cause to make a day more relevant.

Today many women in the U.S. and elsewhere will be taking the day off work as a way to show people — and the man in the White House in particular — how important women are to everyday life. Life won’t stop, but their lack of presence in their usual places will be felt: many classes have been cancelled because of requests for the day off.

I, for one, will not be joining them. Not because I don’t think the cause is worth it, or that I am uninterested, but the fact is, if I don’t work I don’t get paid. My hard work over the course of my career has never paid off: I’ve given everything in me to every job I’ve ever had, and it’s never been enough. I’m back to making an hourly rate I made 22 years ago. I’m not working in the field of my choice, event planning, but I am working  — and I am grateful for that. Maybe someday someone will give me a chance, but being an older woman whose most immediate experience isn’t event planning doesn’t exactly make me the most viable candidate. Employers don’t understand that event planning is in my blood: it’s like I was born to do it.

Perhaps I don’t have the power to take the day off, but I have lived through many ordeals in my life. And I’m still standing. I keep moving forward. In that way, I am powerful. I am woman.

Salut !

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Vancouver Cappuccino by Gord McKenna_FlickrToday I am sharing a recipe for French Hot Chocolate based on Cafe Angelina’s recipe, and a poem about love. We might live in a crazy, mixed-up world, where little makes sense, but that is no reason to forget simple pleasures in life, like love and good hot chocolate. In fact, I’d say it’s all the more reason to embrace these things. Take time out to read this short but lovely poem about love, which I’ve illustrated with scenes in Paris. Then enjoy the hot chocolate with the one you love.




Paris in rain by Milena MihaylovaCome watch the rain with me,



Couple walking in rain in Paris by four12_Flickr_2480754339_894bc0cf50_zAnd as it pours over our shoulders,







Under the rain by Vincent Anderlucci_Flickr_18126238743_f2e85c833d_zAnd beats atop our heads,






Paris dancing by Quentin ChernierLet it be said,




Montmartre after rain_3680661782_827f9ea4ee_z



That the rain confirmed our love.

by Samara Kae Gibbs





French Hot Chocolate

Yield: 2 large, intense cups of hot chocolate or 4 more reasonably-sized cups

Prep Time: 3 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 8 minutes


    • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
    • 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but delicious. Will intensify chocolate flavor)
    • Giant bowl of whipped cream, for serving


In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, whisk together the whole milk, heavy cream, powdered sugar, and espresso powder until small bubbles appear around edges. Do not allow the mixture to boil.

Remove saucepan from heat and stir the chopped chocolate until melted, returning the sauce to low heat if needed for the chocolate to melt completely. Serve warm, topped with lots of whipped cream.

Choose the best quality chocolate you can, such as Guittard, Ghiradelli, or Godiva, as the flavor carries the drink.

 — from

Salut !



Trump, Putin & Climate Change: Could It Be A Matter Of Quid Pro Quo?

Is there a secret agreement between Trump and Putin regarding climate change?

Is there a secret agreement between Trump and Putin regarding climate change?

While I write about traveling to Paris and France in general, I also write about political and cultural issues that are important to France. It is only natural that France is the leading voice against climate change since Claude Lorius, a French glaciologist, was instrumental in proving man-made global warming. [See the trailer for the documentary about his work, “Antarctica: Ice and Sky” (2015) by clicking here.] France also does not deny what is right in front of them. As a supporter of France and an American horrified by what I view as an assault on American values coming out of Washington, I feel it is my duty to add my observations and questions to the discussion. I hope I am dead wrong about the suppositions I write about here.

There is evidence that Russian President Vladimir Putin had a hand in electing Donald Trump as U.S. president this past November by conducting a widespread cyber operation directed at the election. In fact, some believe the Russians changed voter counts, and while this fact has been disputed, as a former election judge, it wouldn’t surprise me after seeing firsthand just how temperamental voter machines can be. Computerized machines are supposed to do what people program them to do; these machines seemed to have a mind all their own. Whatever the method, it is clear the Russians are guilty. The expected response from Trump by many is that he would be outraged over outside influence in our election process, even if he is the declared winner; after all, he has alleged that the Clinton Foundation illegally received millions of dollars from foreign powers in exchange for special treatment. One would think Trump would want to avoid similar accusations. But instead of condemning Russia’s unlawful actions, he wants to ease U.S. financial sanctions against Russian individuals and groups, such as those put in place in 2014 after Russian military aggression in Ukraine. Why would Trump do this?

Images like this of a lone Polar Bear floating in the Arctic are not faked. How can they be denied?

Images like this of a lone Polar Bear floating in the Arctic are not faked. How can it be denied?

Perhaps the answer can be found in Trump’s climate change policy: he flatly denies it exists. He has called climate change “bunk” and a “hoax” and has said that taking measures to halt its pace would “make us noncompetitive in the manufacturing world…” Photographs of melting Arctic ice, estimated to be melting at rate of 13.3% per decade, are not a hoax, nor are images of starving polar bears who can’t find food. How do Trump’s denials about this help Putin? As 60 Minutes reported on October 2, 2016 in the segment entitled “The Arctic Frontier,” the melting Arctic ice means ships will be able to pass through the once-impassable Arctic Ocean, specifically the Northern Sea Route, a possible alternative to the Suez Canal that could mean a decrease of as much as 28 days from northern European markets to Asian markets. The savings for the shipping industry would be a “big boon to business around the world.” The Northern Sea Route runs along Russia’s Arctic coastline, and Russia now has a strong military presence along the route. When 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl asked Philip Breedlove, a retired four-star general who most recently was the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO with responsibility for the Arctic, what would happen if the Russians gained control over the Northern Sea Route, Breedlove responded, “If the Russians had the ability to militarily hold [it] at ransom, that is a big lever over the world economy.” By denying that climate change is real, Trump has ceded his leadership role to challenge any country on whether this shipping route should even be used, much less challenge Putin on Russia controlling it. This all but guarantees the United States will remain silent as the Arctic ice melts into the ocean and numerous species go extinct – and while Russia gains control over the Northern Sea Route. Russia as a superpower would be reborn.

Unfortunately, unlike Antarctica, which is governed by an international treaty that bars countries from owning or exploiting its land, the Arctic has only a council that meets every six months and issues a non-binding declaration of its business every two years. Only states with territory in that region can be members with voting rights. So if it is in a member state’s best economic interest to allow the Arctic ice melt so as to open the Arctic Ocean to trade ships, no observer state on the council can vote against it. The U.S. is a member state on the Arctic Council due to Alaskan territory contained within the Arctic, so it has the power to be a dissenting voice. But it seems the U.S. is just as anxious to see the Arctic ice melt as Russia. When Lesley Stahl visited the temporary U.S. Navy base in the Arctic for the 60 Minutes segment, the Navy was there to map the bottom of the ice and was “amassing…research to prepare for an expanded presence in the Arctic, as the ice continues to melt.” If U.S. policy prior to Trump being elected was indeed to halt the march of climate change, would the Navy have been there gathering data on how to maneuver beneath the ice? My guess is they would say they were there so they could eventually match Russia’s military presence within the Arctic region, not that they were there to prepare for the U.S. to send commercial ships through the Arctic. It feels like U.S. climate change policy is a kind of doublespeak: Take some actions to show we’re against climate change, but don’t do too much if it impacts us economically in the short term. Remember, this segment aired on October 2, 2016, while Obama was still in office; Trump was elected on November 8. I freely concede, however, that with ExxonMobile CEO Rex Tillerson as Trump’s Secretary of State pick, whose company stands to profit from oil deals in the Arctic region, Trump isn’t double-speaking his climate change policy, he is screaming.

Unless Trump completely changes course, he will likely lose the chance to prevent a climate change tipping point that scientists predict will happen between 2020 and 2030: the defrosting of the Arctic permafrost. Billions of tons of plant material frozen for centuries and containing carbon are slowly thawing out from within the permafrost, but as time passes and more carbon is released, the thaw rate will increase. Excess carbon in the atmosphere heats the planet; excess carbon in the ocean makes the water more acidic and therefore deadly to marine life. Once the plant material has thawed, there is no putting back the permafrost. The cycle will continue, and the earth will continue to heat up at an accelerated pace.

I have to wonder what prevents world leaders like Trump and Putin from seeing what is right in front of them. Is it that they don’t care because they won’t be around to experience the worst effects of climate change? Besides being world leaders and seem to be scratching each other’s back, there are three other things Trump and Putin have in common: They are both older, rich, and have adult and young children. Trump will be 71 years old this year, while Putin will be 65. They are both billionaires, though Putin is far richer than Trump. Trump has four adult children; Putin has two. Trump’s son Barron will be 11 years old this year, while Putin reportedly has three young children under the age of 10 with Alina Kabaeva, who may or may not be his wife. Because of their respective ages, Trump and Putin will unlikely be alive to suffer the full effects of the heating earth. But their young children will – and their adult children are witnesses to their respective father making choices that will impact their lives, and the lives of their children. The earth will one day belong to the children of today. Will it be habitable for them? Do Trump and Putin think their billions will somehow save their children from having to live with the full effects of an overheated planet?

If that is the case, they fail to understand an ancient proverb: “Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.”



Image of U.S. & Russian Cooperation by CanStockPhoto. “The Last Polar Bear” by Gerard Van der Leun, Flickr, CCBY 2.0.


“The Arctic Frontier,” 60 Minutes segment, aired October 2, 2016. “Arctic Council” from Wikipedia, CCBY 3.0. “Claude Lorius” from Wikipedia, CCBY 3.0.

“Global Warming Climate Change Forecasts – 2030” from Global Warming Forecasts,

“Effects of Changing the Carbon Cycle,” by NASA Earth Observatory,




Today Women March on Paris and on Washington

Women's March in Paris logo.

Copyright Women’s March on Paris.

As a Washingtonian woman concerned about the direction the U.S. is taking with a Trump presidency, I will be marching in Washington, D.C. today with my fellow concerned-sisters. Women in Paris and elsewhere will be marching in support of us. While I appreciate the efforts of women worldwide in this endeavor, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what good the march on Washington will do.

It is against my nature to sound so pessimistic; I consider myself to be a realist with idealist tendencies. But a successful march would involve changing powerful people’s mindsets and behavior towards our new president, and I don’t see that happening. Many Republicans and others have decided to embrace President Trump and disregard, at least to themselves, his horrible rhetoric and actions, if only for their own self-preservation. I suppose I can’t blame them, lest they not have a seat at the power table — or even work, for that matter. But what I can’t get over is…many working women support him.(!) How can this be? Does a man who says he feels he can “grab women by the [crotch]” deserve to be president of the United States? Would any of the women who voted for him allow him to grab them — or their daughters — by their genitals? (To be technical, that wouldn’t be the same thing, since they would be giving him their consent.) Joking about sexually assaulting women is nothing to laugh at or to take lightly. I agree with what Meryl Streep said in her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, that seeing someone in such a position of power do such horrible things creates a culture in which it is acceptable to do what formerly was unacceptable. She was citing Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter when she said this, but it still applies.

I don’t know what scares me more, a U.S. president who displays unconscionable behavior, or one who might disregard any and all previous international agreements. Trump has said he wants to evoke Nixon’s unpredictability, but the world is a very different place than it was in Nixon’s time. The U.S. is not the only nation with nuclear weapons. A global economy exists today that didn’t exist in Nixon’s time; economic trouble in one nation will eventually be felt around the world. And Nixon was a peacemaker: He opened the door to trade with China, and it was during his administration that the Vietnam war ended. Say what you will about Watergate, but I felt safer with Nixon as president, even if I was just a little girl. And President Nixon sent me a lovely press kit when I wrote him a letter telling him how much I admired him. President Trump, on the other hand, wants to build a wall at the Texas-Mexico border, and he wants to force Mexico to pay for it. He has spoken of “bombing the [censored]” out of a nation whose policies he disagrees with. And he wants to ban reporters at the White House. I somehow doubt that if I were a child now and wrote a letter to President Trump, that he would send me such a lovely press kit; more like an apple with a razor blade in it. Trump is the bogeyman I was warned about when I used to go trick-or-treating. Only he’s not the creepy man living in the corner house; he’s the leader of our nation, living in the same White House as Abraham Lincoln, FDR, JFK and Ronald Reagan lived in. That’s enough to give me nightmares.

When I think back on what is surely the most successful march on Washington — Dr. Martin Luther King and his followers for equal rights for African-Americans — I marvel at the changes Dr. King helped to bring about, the crowning achievement being the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But before the Civil Rights Act, and before “separate but equal” restrooms, water fountains, and schools were outlawed, Dr. King changed people’s minds. Perhaps even more importantly, he changed people’s hearts. Maybe it came a little at a time, even grudgingly at first, but people of all races came to understand that African-Americans deserved the same human and civil rights that Caucasians and others took for granted. And along the way, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest person to have received that award up to that time.

Does it look like Donald Trump is on the road to being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize? He’s on a road all right: the U.S. is going to hell, and he’s driving the bus.

For the record, I was a fan of Donald Trump at one time. Many years ago, I saw him interviewed on Donohue, a popular talk show at the time. While I don’t remember specifics, I do remember walking away from that program being impressed. Donald Trump came across as well-spoken, well-mannered, insightful, and terribly smart. His sense of himself was powerful without being arrogant; I thought he was sexy. What I want to know is, what happened to this man who made such a positive impression on me? I didn’t think it was an act, for he seemed genuine. Never could I have guessed he would turn into the bogeyman of my nightmares.

I’ll be marching in Washington today in an effort to keep the bogeyman at bay. I want to thank my sisters in Paris and elsewhere for supporting this march today. May your efforts not be in vain.

Paris location details:
Where: Human Rights Square at Trocadero, 75016 Paris
When: Today, 2:00 P.M.

Washington DC location details:
Where: Independence Avenue SW & 3rd Street, SW
Washington, DC  20024
When: Today, 10:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.


Salut !

Bonne Annee ! Happy New Year!

Fireworks on Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec_Flickr_7574806098_6ca78260e3_zHappy New Year! I hope January 1, 2017 finds you well and ready for a new year.

French people today will typically get together with only close friends and family. Having consumed crepes and Galette des Rois (“the Cake of Kings”) yesterday, tonight they will have a special dinner and might attend a ball, une soirée dansante (“a dancing night”).

Make a new year’s resolution to be more like the French, and focus on friends, family, eating well and enjoying life. Life expectancy in France as of 2012 is 82.57 years; in the U.S., it is 78.74 years. There is likely a myriad of reasons for this difference, and some might point to the French having socialized health care. But my time spent in France tells me there are probably other reasons for this difference. To begin with, French people eat far more fresh food than Americans, and take their time eating it. This is one reason why they eat less: the slower you eat, the less you consume. Having wine with dinner also helps, since it helps to satisfy the palate, also allowing you to eat less.

Wine, specifically red wine, has other health benefits as well: it releases flavonoids, which helps the brain to be more plastic, or in other words, makes the brain more capable of forming new memories and recover from injury. Sounds like a prescription for preventing Alzheimer’s Disease, doesn’t it? Dark chocolate, widely consumed in France, also provides this health benefit. Think quality, not quantity, should you decide to incorporate red wine and dark chocolate in your diet for health benefits. More is not necessarily better.

I will continue to write about how to incorporate the French way of life into your own life, as well as write about travelling to Paris. I am signing off for today to spend time with friends.

Those work emails can wait. Have a glass of wine. Eat some dark chocolate. Spend time with those you love today. Be more French.


Salut !


Fireworks on the Eiffel Tower by Yann Caradec, Flickr, CCBY 2.0.