For you Francophiles


The spankin' new website for the American Friends of Chantilly is up and running.
The "archives" section features the writing of yours truly.

As some of you know, the AFC is a non-profit based in Nashville and started by Francophiles. The group supports the arts in the Domaine (town) de (of) Chantilly. I had the pleasure and great fortune of living and working in this quaint, posh, equestrian, SEXY jewel of a town. (Sexy is in the eye of the beholder, but in my mind sexy involves having more horses than people and treating every morsel of carbohydrates as a work of high art...it doesn't hurt that the Hermès family lives here and the Château has the largest selection of French art outside the Louvre.)

So many people spend tiring, stressful hours trying to hit up the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée D'Orsay, the Centre Pompidou...and forget all together about soaking in the culture. My one suggestion for the next time you travel to Paris for pleasure (and in France, it's ALL about pleasure...) is this: take the 20 minute train ride to Chantilly. You won't be dissappointed and if you're anything like the friends and family I've taken there, you'll not only see it as a pleasant respite from the city...it may just become the highlight of your trip.

Oh how I miss drinking rosé after French class with Caroline, Devi and Sarah (my German, Indonesian and English friends, respectively). How I miss the pre-dinner baguette run and two hour post-lunch rides through the forest. Eating copious amounts of Mont D'Or and hearing children say, repeatedly, j'en ai marre! ranks right up there as well. Being poor enough to split a burger from McDo's does not rank up there...although it DOES help in staying in competitive French shape. Vive la France!

I've had a couple people ask me recently where they can practice speaking French along with sundry other France related questions.

Here's some info:


Alliance Française: Check it out for lectures, speaking groups and fun soirées

Where to speak French in Birmingham:
UAB has two weekly French tables
there is also a MEETUP group
The Hoover Library has infrequent language tables as well.
(Please let me know what I'm missing!)


French investment in AL
Recent news: French see AL as fertile business investment ground
Did you know that an Honorary Consul of France lives and teaches in Auburn, AL? (Insert AU joke here.)


Chez Lulu and Continental Bakery
Chez FonFon- Frank Stitt continues to impress even the most discerning Frenchies themselves
Café de Paris - Recently they've been having weekly wine tastings from different local importers. Make sure you meet owners/chefs Serge and Evens. Every time I've visited, they've made a point to meet patrons, share stories and engage in a little français.


Where I buy French cheese: Whole Foods (try Époisses, Comté and St. Nectaire for starters.) It is far better to have a personal importer in the form of a boyfriend when it comes to cheese. (But not saucisson, that's illegal.)

What MUSIC I listen to when I'd rather be in Paris:

Charlotte Gainsbourg (check out her new album IRM)
Nina Simone
Edith Piaf
MC Solaar (a good jumping off point into the wide and wonderful world of French rap)
Doc Gyneco (caution: explicit...but if you don't speak French, it doesn't matter!)

What has tickled my fancy lately:

An Education (not because I relate to it, but because it's simply beautiful and Carey Mulligan is a STAR), Lancôme High Résolution (because good skin is oh-so-French), Tory Burch flats (yeah, I know she is American, but the inspiration she draws from both France and India is just parfait to me).

...or, just google Je t'aime moi non plus ...watch that ugly, sexy man Serge play the game... and you will yearn for Paris. You will.

Addendum: IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN A TRIP TO FRANCE ORGANIZED BY MOI, PLEASE LET ME KNOW. References on request. There is some interest in a diplomatic/trade related trip to build connections between Alabamians and our French counterparts. There is also interest in a cultural/off-the-beaten path tour. There is no one better to go with than me.

Kim Thomas, director of the Alliance Française will be teaching a Spring session for Beginners/Travelers. Starting Thursday, March 25, the class will run for seven (7) Thursdays, ending on May 6, 2010. The class time is 5:30-7:00 p.m. and is located at Community Education South in the Crestwood neighborhood. Here is their link with directions and a map

The cost $125- all materials are supplied!

If you would like to register for the class call Kim at 205-985-2062.

An additional advanced convo group takes place on Wednesdays from 5:30-7 p.m. in Homewood. Email Serge at sbokobza@aol.com for additional info!


US Cities

As we're talking about where to move, Forbes just came out with this list of the most miserable cities.

A lot of obvious one: Detroit, Flint...

Some I'm going to have to disagree with: Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, NYC

How can a city with amazing BBQ, great weather and MUSIC rank so low? Memphis has a soul and a lot of US cities just can't say that. (Atlanta?!) And St. Louis- I went there this past August for a friend's shower. Gorgeous old neighborhoods, vibrant college communities, entertainment districts, pretty architecture. And NICE people. Easy to get around the city, even for someone totally unfamiliar with everything. Stayed at a super funky-fresh boutique hotel, and ate the best dessert I've ever put in my mouth. And the perks of living in Chicago and NYC clearly outweigh the "miserable" aspects.

best news Friday

Birmingham, Alabama, the South. Should I stay? Should I go? Should I stay? Should I go? repeat

I have a family in Birmingham, a gorgeous boyfriend in Paris and a soul riding a rickshaw somewhere in India. Kolkata, we'll say. And a head that is in outer-space.

And while I am, perhaps, "too open-minded and international" for Birmingham (as a friend recently said), the one thing that is truly exciting to me currently is the idea of bettering this city and creating a place here. I go back and forth on this topic. The real fear isn't about not chasing a dream or not being original enough. It's about getting stuck...in places, habits, ways.

I've really never made living in NYC a goal, so why does it all of the sudden seem like my only option? I have friends that fell in love with D.C. at first sight. I didn't. So why is it high on my radar? I know people say "go where the jobs are," but the truly successful people I've met say "merge your ideals, passions and talent and create your own job." (It's true that I've never looked at a job description and said 'THAT'S ME!') One particularly successful businessman in Birmingham recently told me "...there is no recession. There is only a recession for people without talent and ideas." Easier said than done, I suppose. (But it helps that this particular person does a majority of his business overseas!)

The only place outside Birmingham (or Paris) where I've wanted to live is New Orleans. Or on a pecan plantation in Louisiana. Really, I just wanted to be a part of the Ya Ya Sisterhood. And that is a book of fiction. Although living in Nola's warehouse district is a close second to actually being Vivi Walker.

Maybe it's just where I'm looking, but the past two days have filled me with enthusiasm for my hometown. Maybe it's just a small minority of people who are interested in making the city- especially the city's core- a vibrant, walkable, international, exciting and economically powerful place. Maybe those developers, city-planners, restauranteurs and entrepreneurs investing their hopes and money in the city aren't enough to reach a tipping point among the larger community. Maybe their efforts aren't enough to truly re-invigorate (not just revitalize) Birmingham. It seems to me, though, that maybe they are. Read on and give me your opinions!





And finally. Last night I had a wonderful Indian dinner with a group of Alabamians (some originally from Birmingham, some from smaller cities and some from India) who had all visited India and had a fascination with the country. We all agreed that there is no place more incredible, life-changing...or that takes weeks, months, years to understand. (And if you're honest with yourself, who really ever understands India?! As a wise old Indian man in Varanasi told me 'You come to India for one day, you know enough to write an article. You come to India for one month, you know enough to write a book. You come to India for one year, you know NOTHING!') How true.

And how cool that you can fill a large dining room table in a suburb of Birmingham, Alabama with people ages 24-50...Caucasian, African-American and Indian...all with different interests, occupations and backgrounds. It's the kind of thing that gives me hope and a reason to be here.

(BTW, I don't think I'm too open-minded for Birmingham. It's all where you look.)


being accountable

What I will be blogging about this week:

1. My new year's resolutions. (Yes, I go by the Chinese New Year). Not every goal has to do with weight loss!!
2. The three books I've read in the past two weeks (and reviews)
3. Style advice and wine recommendations from across the globe
4. "International Birmingham" as in...who to know, organizations to be involved in, business outlook

This entry serves as a teaser and a form of accountability to my readers. Roll Tide.


right foot

it´s not broken. but that x-ray tech was questionable. evidently sometimes broken bones don´t appear in an x-ray immediately. which sounds crazy. i really don´t feel like icing down right now.

also, i´ve decided that hurting my foot is my punishment for being a lousy traveler. when my foot was in sound condition, i didn´t take advantage of it (in a good way). instead, i slept in, didn´t work out, didn´t explore, and ate take out sushi for dinner 50% of the time. now that my foot is swollen and hard to walk on...just look at me. i´m all sorts of blogging, about to finish a pretty decent book and...well that´s all. but it´s better than yesterday. so, since i´ve been in a bit of an Aesop´s fables kinda mood today, i´ll say this- and i don´t know if it´s a John Milton quotation or not- if you don´t use your gifts (aka feet, legs) they will be taken from you (or rot, or break, or develop cankles).

PS- the name of the book I´m reading is The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant. This silly computer won´t let me use links.



if you think you are a flexible person, try flying standby.

my bad karma

I don´t think I was meant to be alone in Argentina.
Last night I´m pretty sure I broke my foot outside my hotel in Palermo Hollywood, Buenos Aires.
Thanks to my wearing high heels on cobblestone roads and uneven pavement.
I´m bruised, scabby and my foot is swollen, almost unmovable, wrapped in an ACE bandage. I blame the pavement...and my significant other who has convinced me that I should wear heels more often, even though I tower over the general Argentine public.
I am 6´1-ish with said heels on. That is a long way to fall.

I can´t get a flight out of here. I´ve been on standby since last week. I missed the National Championship. I´m burned, starting to peel on my arse, which makes sitting and falling asleep a big PAIN.

I have no cell phone. My attempt to buy a cell phone was met with laughs. Oh well.
The owner of my little boutique hotel has taken a liking to me. Economically, this is good for me. I am paying half of what other patrons are paying, and I get unlimited free water bottles and speedy in-house medical attention. Besides these advantages, there are none. Ugh. Late check out times, the only hair drier in the hotel and free wine here and there are mine for the taking, too. It could be worse...


So I´ve been thinking a lot about nature vs. nurture related to travel. As in, is it more important who you´re with or where you are? There are some quotes about this. Most people like to say ¨it doesn´t matter where you are, it´s who you´re with that really matters¨ etc.
And you, the reader, probably agree. I´ve always been more on the other side. I think where you are is pretty damn important. Like, I had amazing experiences in India and France...and I´m pretty sure those were more a result of me and where I was, as opposed to who I was surrounded by. I´m pretty certain of that.

But then, enter Argentina. The first 16 days were perfect. BEST VACATION EVER. Since then...same place...and misery. Been staying alone, not going out, hibernating 80% of the time. I´m staying in a better hotel than anywhere I stayed in India....and yet, it´s not good enough, I don´t feel enlightened, and I don´t feel like exploring the city, trying new things, learning....nothing! I don´t feel like staying or going.

So, in this case I´ve got to say, it was much more important who I was with. Because without that person, the whole landscape here has changed.

The only thing I can come up with is that it doesn´t matter that much where you are OR who you are with. I think it´s all in the mindset you have coming into the new place. I look at myself in India...on a disgusting, smelly sleeper car at midnight...passing through the countryside. No AC, 100plus temperature, beggars poking me. Yet, it didn´t fluster me. I was there for a reason and I had a bit of a plan. Now, I´m in beautiful Argentina. It´s sunny and the temperature is perfect. Maybe 75 or 80. I´m in a cute, brand new hotel in the hippest part of the city. I´m surrounded by boutiques and bistros, parillas and hip bars. Life is laid back and easy here, and the locals are some of the friendliest people around. Yet, I feel lost and definitely am without my A game. More like C game. Breaking bones, not attempting to speak the language, ordering take-out sushi as if I´m afraid to be seen alone...not the broad abroad I´m SUPPOSED to be. What happened? And if you´re thinking ¨Duh Kali, you forgot your medicine!¨ You would be wrong, because I have not forgotten! I´m actually more consistent than usual!

So, as it turns out, it doesn´t matter where you are or who you´re with, but what is going on upstairs, that really matters when you travel. I think. All this to say, my brain is currently thinking about how I miss my FranFran, how I don´t want to be in cold Alabama...jobless...figuring out ¨what to do with my life¨ for the 2397th time.

(Pictures of injuries coming atcha soon!)


Argentina Updates

Last night marks the second time I have been in a cab where the driver has passed out multiple times. The first time wasn´t as scary because we were in slow stop and go traffic. This time I was sharing a hot, foul-smelling, mosquito-infested car with a nice older couple, and our morbidly obese driver had evidently not slept in a very long time.

We were speeding down the interstate at 1 a.m. in two lanes...
My fellow passenger thought it was funny. ¨He drives like me,¨ he said.
I was about to ask him to pull over and let me drive. It was that bad. Once we were off the interstate, he decided that every red light would be power-nap time. The lights don´t stay red for long in Buenos Aires. There was a lot of nudging and seat kicking...and me wishing that I had a seatbelt. Seatbelt had been broken off...

When we arrived at our hotel, the brand new Be Hollywood in Palermo Hollywood, I said ¨you go back to your casa?¨ and made a sleepy gesture. He nodded. I really hope he made it. I must say that I was impressed with his ability to open his eyes when he heard passing cars.


more fun in Colonia, Uruguay

these are so out of order

black and whites of Estancia Tierra Santa

hanging out in paradise

out to pasture in Carmelo, Uruguay

Fran fell in love with Phoebe the dog at Estancia Tierra Santa. He also fed his first pig, Colette.

1. Recoleta Cemetery, where Eva Peron is buried
2. Enjoying the vineyards of Mendoza
3. The gang post excrutiating bike ride, wishing we had taken the surrey. There is nothing like trying to steer an ill-fitting, top-heavy bike along busy intersections after four wine tastings, all the while feeling a constant breeze as dump trucks almost graze your left shoulder. Funny now...painful and scary then. Really. They don't make anyone wear helmets, sign release forms...and they definitely don't inform riders of just how treacherous the journey through Chacras de Coria is. The tour organizer is Bikes and Wines. Others have had better experiences with them....just be warned these tours are NOT for the faint of heart.

found in San Telmo

We wondered around the San Telmo markets one Sunday and had the pleasure of hearing this man/fellow restaurant patron sing some tunes at the neighborhood's French brasserie, La Pétanque. According to our waiter this guy played with Elton. He looked like a pirate of the Caribbean to me.


Man purses are all the rage in Tigre, Argentina

Sunset in Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay

They are known for their sunsets but the ones we experienced were a bit subpar due to the rain clouds. The Frenchie is fried.

Our mode of transport in Colonia.

Fran was a daredevil and is convinced these can't flip...


Another favorite small town/city

François and I arrived two days ago in Colonia, Uruguay via Buquebus (this is the ferry that crosses the Rio de la Plata and who happened to lose our luggage) from Buenos Aires. After over a week of traveling, this is my first post...that's what I get for traveling light and leaving my computer at home. I've just downloaded the first batch of pictures and don't even know how to retrieve them on Fran's computer :(

In brief, I arrived in Buenos Aires on December 17, left for Mendoza the 20th, was back in BA on Christmas Eve afternoon and celebrated ensemble with the Alabamians (Sarah Kate, Alice and Jay) and the Parisians (Fran and Rudy). Christmas day was spent mostly barefoot on the patio-drinking rosé, sunbathing and enjoying the occassional whiff of animal dung from our 13th floor apartment that overlooks the Buenos Aires zoo and botanical gardens (the apt. was lent to the Parisian boys by their Parisian friends who went back to Paris for the holidays...it's perfectly located with great wrap-around decks, fun decor- the gal who lives their deals street art- and a great ambiance.)

That about catches us up to today. We were in Colonia del Sacramento the past two days. Rough cobblestone streets, blooming vines, baby pink and blue sunsets and a day long go-cart/scooter excursion around the outskirts and beaches of town (Fran is a better driver than me despite the fact that I used to school peeps at The Track, Gulf Shores).

Tonight we are staying at the glorious Estancia Tierra Santa in Carmelo, Uruguay. We arrived this morning bright and early and Karen Vandergrift, proprietor of the estancia, picked us up and escorted us to this amazing piece of paradise. Horses, cows, sheep, creeks, pigs, dogs, exotic birds and plants and lush greenery...and she REALLY used her background in design and textiles to make this the most comfortable, classy, down-to-earth and romantic place I've ever experienced. We have just returned from a fabulous horse ride and are genuinely enjoying Karen's company. She spends half her time with her husband in San Francisco (she's American) and half her time at this fabulous ranch she founded in 2002. Mom- you would LOVE her style.

Colonia totally captivated me and I can't wait to go back. From what I've seen of South America, I think my family would enjoy it above everwhere else I've lived/traveled.

I still don't feel like I know Buenos Aires well enough to write about it except in the bits and pieces of experiences I've had. Mendoza (wine country) was wonderful-more to come on that. I'm sad to leave Uruguay- Colonia joins my exclusive little list of favorite small towns/cities:

Beaufort, South Carolina
Bruges, Belgium
Chantilly, France
Colonia, Uruguay (topping the list in my mind right now)

Fran is BEGGING for his computer...must go...à bientôt!


New Birmingham Blog of Note

I met a fellow New Collegian last night who has recently moved to Birmingham from Charleston, SC.

Her blog shows the Magic City from the perspective of a total newcomer- with a new family and on the job hunt- and is full of quaint neighborhood discoveries and great photos. I look forward to following her journey and think you should check it out, too. Sometimes all you need is a fresh set of eyes...


Indian Ambassador visits Alabama with stops in Huntsville, Birmingham and Montgomery

Yours truly with Indian Ambassador to the United States, Meera Shankar. Tuesday at Innovation Depot.
Her visit was sponsored by the Alabama India Business Partnership and Computer Technology Solutions. She spoke to the AIBP and guests at the Space and Rocket Center Monday night and paid a visit to Governor Riley Tuesday morning before a dessert reception at Innovation Depot and lunch at the Museum of Art.

Shankar is the first career diplomat serving as Ambassador in over 20 years. She is committed to promoting economic ties between our state and India. Neat lady. Cool opportunity for me!