By special guest writer Philippa Campsie, Toronto, Canada and Barbara Redmond
In a few days’ time, Barbara will be leaving for the City of Light; Philippa will be joining her for a couple of weeks later on in April. We’ve rented an apartment near the Bastille, and have plans to do research on our book project. We have tickets, passports… and our survival kits.
What Barbara packs:
1. Four pencil skirts which I have had my seamstress make, plus Calvin Klein long-sleeved T-shirts: three black and one white T-shirts ($37 each). They are very packable, wash easily, and always retain their crisp black or white look. With an Hermès scarf at the neck or tied at the waist, my outfit dresses up or dresses down.
2. Repetto ballet flats to wear in the apartment. They are slim, easy to pack and wonderful after a long day of walking! Purchased at Rose Repetto Paris on Rue de la Paix near the Paris Opera. They are real ballet flats in ballet pink! [Historical Woman’s Paris note: Rose Repetto was the mother of the French choreographer Roland Petit and she started making shoes in 1947 at his request.]
3. Two wide-brimmed hats: black and straw-coloured. Not many French women seem to wear hats these days; it is generally just me and the Japanese. I wear hats all the time and have for years. Hats help keep the deep wrinkles away and when I sketch, the brim blocks out the light. Judging by the responses I get, the hats make me look chic. Many Frenchwomen smile or comment on my hat (even an haute couture dress designer I met last year) and French gentlemen comment or nod in my direction.
4. An absolute must – a pedicure file. Every morning and every evening I file my soles, heels, instep, and even the tips of my toes! Then, I apply the most wonderful French foot lotions and walk the apartment in my flip-flops until the lotion is absorbed. This keeps any blisters and corns from forming, at least until the very, very end of my visit. After all, every day I walk at least three hours in the morning toward my destination and three hours on the return. I like the Metro, but I use it only when I am in a hurry. I am never in better shape as I am when I return from Paris.
5. Paper, pens, and watercolours. When I need more, I go to the perfect art store located in the 6th arrondissement: Couleurs du Quai Voltaire at 3 Quai Voltaire.
6. Finally, my book of Paris information that I have collected over the years that includes telephone numbers for taxis, doctors, dentists, overseas Visa numbers, family, friends in Paris, photocopies of my passport and airline itinerary, as well as a list of all the places I have been to or would like to go to when I am there, listed by arrondissement. The book is photocopied and bound with a spiral binding. I make two sets. One I carry in my tote on the plane and the other is in my checked baggage.
All lotions, soaps, hair products I have fun buying in Paris. My daughter, who lived in Paris for a short time, has always said when travelling to Paris to treat yourself to a wonderful, fabulous bar of soap with the most delicious fragrance you can find. I follow her advice! It is a luxury at the end of the day. What liquids I do bring are not only wrapped in Saran Wrap, but I place them in a large storage baggie and all go into a flat plastic container with a tight fitting lid. The size is about 8’ x 12″ or so. This way if a bottle opens, it will not ruin the contents of my suitcases. Purchased in the Monoprix in Paris on Rue St. Antoine.
On the plane I wear black Chico’s synthetic silky travel pants, one of the black Calvin Klein T shirts, an Hermès scarf and a black patent leather belt. I also carry a big black shawl that covers me when I sleep on the plane and I can later wear in Paris. Twenty minutes after take-off, I take a sleeping pill, put in ear plugs, refuse the food, and go to sleep. In my tote I have one of the little pencil skirts folded neatly in a baggie, a washcloth in a baggie, clean undergarments in a baggie, and my makeup. Before I get into a taxi to head to my apartment, I go into the ladies washroom, wash up, change into the skirt, reapply my makeup, spot on perfume from a tiny vial, toss on a hat and I’m ready to enter my favourite city!
What Philippa packs:
Clothes: yes. Like Barbara, I stick to black, white and neutrals and add colour when I get there (I always buy at least one scarf, and I love to check out consignment stores for good quality but affordable accessories). And like Barbara, I bring the basics in toiletries and treat myself to new soap, shampoo, hand lotion and other delights in the nearest pharmacie.
But what I really need is my batterie de cuisine. We are staying in an apartment, and most apartment kitchens have only the most basic equipment. So I bring:
1. A really good bread knife and a large, sharp knife for everything else.
2. A decent corkscrew, bought for nine euros at La Dernière Goutte on the Left Bank.
3. Kitchen scissors, for all kinds of uses.
4. A milk frother for café au lait in the mornings. Bought it years ago in England and have never seen another one like it. It requires no electricity or battery; you just twirl it in the milk, et voilà. No idea why they stopped making this little miracle.
5. A Pyrex glass measuring cup – these are almost unobtainable in Paris, and I need them for things like warming stock in the microwave (French stoves are small and I can’t sacrifice a burner for this) or making recipes using North American measurements (I think in cups instead of millilitres and grams).
6. I wrap the cup in a dishtowel or two – French apartments never seem to have enough dishtowels.
7. A red-and-white striped chef’s apron I bought at the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville several years ago. I love the BHV’s housewares department and always end up buying a few more kitchen items when I’m there, depending on what the apartment needs – a grater, a serving spoon, a spatula.
8. Nylon shopping bags that fold away to nothing that I can keep in my handbag and use to carry whatever catches my eye in a market or food shop. These bags are washable, which is a bonus if the cheese is a bit too runny or a container leaks on the way home.
9. And like Barbara, I also have a list. I never do all the things on it, and I add more each time.
As for travelling, I cannot for the life of me sleep on planes, even with the help of pharmaceuticals. So I read a book, have a glass of wine, and, if what I am reading is in French, note down any useful vocabulary.
We try not to fill nos valises (our suitcases) too full, since we want to bring back gifts for the family (des cadeaux). We love it when someone in a shop asks us, “C’est pour offrir?” (Is this a gift?), because that means they will wrap it in beautiful paper and whirl it with ribbons (les rubans) and put it in an adorable little bag (sac), and the experience of carrying it back to the apartment (l’appartement) feels quite festive.
Vocabulary: French to English translations
Batterie de cuisine: Technical term for a range of tools and pans used in a professional kitchen.
Cadeaux: Analogical dictionary of English.
Café au lait: Equal parts of coffee and hot milk.
Sac: Little bag.
Valise: Small overnight bag for short trips.
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Text copyright ©2010 Philippa Campsie
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond
All rights reserved.