Grateful for My Friends in France and Belgium

Laughing with Marie in a Paris Café

Laughing with Marie in a Paris Café

My Petit Dejeuner in that Café

My Petit Dejeuner in that Café

Toasting Life Chez Michèle et Loic

Toasting Life Chez Michèle et Loic

Zee Sunday Brunch Spread

Zee Sunday Brunch Spread

Pain, Vin et Fromage Chez Steph et Véronqiue

Pain, Vin et Fromage Chez Steph et Véronqiue

I’m big at counting my blessings year round. As challenging as life can be, I try as much as possible to pause and feel truly grateful for all that I have in my life.

There’s so much for which to be grateful, especially when it comes to love. There’s nothing like feeling love and appreciation. There’s nothing like feeling valued. There’s nothing like feeling your heart swell with love–day after day after day.

I was blessed with an outpouring of love during my recent trip to Europe when friends in France went out of their way to meet with me for coffee, organize special dinners, include me in on Sunday lunches and chat with me at great length over leisurely breakfasts and afternoon teas. My friends in Antwerp entertained me all weekend long. And throughout every encounter, I felt a connectedness with my European friends that made it feel as though I had just seen them the week before. (It had, in fact, been many years.)

The Best Vegetarian Entrée You'll Ever Taste

The Best Vegetarian Entrée You’ll Ever Taste from Michèle

Charcuterie

Charcuterie

Simple Zucchini Salad

Simple Zucchini Salad

Sizing Up the Homemade Spirits

Sizing Up the Homemade Spirits

Mi5

Coffee & Dessert

M & M

Moi et Michèle, La Hôtesse Extraordinaire

The Perfect Components to a Sunday Brunch: Grapefruit Juice, Wine and Vinaigrette

The Perfect Components to a Sunday Brunch: Grapefruit Juice, Wine, Vinaigrette, Butter and Cheese

Best of all:  Most of these gatherings centered around food. That’s how people express love and hospitality in most cultures although in Europe–where your average meal, cup of coffee or cake is already superlative–even unexceptional food and drink experiences exceed what you find in America. Case in point:  A coffee is often served with a piece of chocolate or a little cookie even in a basic café; most meals aren’t considered complete unless followed by a creamy piece of cheese and, of course, wine and champagne are served à volonté, or freely.

Oh, the bubbles! The French don’t require big occasions to pop the cork on a nicely-chilled bottle of “champ” and thankfully they found that my passage in Paris gave them just cause.

Steph & Véronique Serving the Leg of Lamb with Flageolets

Steph & Véronique Serving the Leg of Lamb with Flageolets

Violaine, Me, Steph & Véronique

Violaine, Me, Steph & Véronique

So much of what I felt in Europe this last trip was a big affirmation of my life–the choice I made in living in Paris for eleven years as well as the choice I made in leaving and then eventually moving to Colorado where I’ve embraced a much more down-to-earth existence for almost thirteen years. My first real contact with Europe came when I did an exchange with Chantal, a girl from a French-speaking family in Antwerp at the age of sixteen. Most of my French friends I met in the mid eighties through Stéphane, the Frenchman with whom I lived a great love for over eight years. Along the way, I met a few French friends on my own–largely through my work–as well as some American women that have lived most of their lives in Paris.

Marc & Chantal:  My Belgian Friends

Marc & Chantal: My Belgian Friends

Chantal Preparing Her Special Whisky Cocktail Sauce Per My Request

Chantal Preparing Her Special Whisky Cocktail Sauce Per My Request

Voilà le Resultat: North Sea Shrimp and Avocados

Voilà le Resultat: Delectable North Sea Shrimp, the Special Sauce and Avocados

Sipping Belgian Beer and French Wine

Sipping Belgian Beer and French Wine

Antwerp Snacks

Gorgeous Antwerp Snacks

With the Rest of "My Belgian Family"

With the Rest of “My Belgian Family”

My "Belgian Father Jo" Always Knows How to Select a Fine Wine

My “Belgian Father, Jo” Always Knows How to Select a Fine Wine

We all have shared so much together. We have been there for each other through so many life-changing events, a full measure of happy and sad happenings as well as the banalities of our lives. (Yes, even in Paris, you can sometimes feel worn down by the daily grind or as the French used to say when I lived there, ‘métro, boulot, dodo,’ or subway, work, sleep.)

Tea with Marilyn, My American Friend Whom I First Met When She Did a Story on Me for the Associated Press

Tea with Marilyn, My American Friend, Whom I First Met When She Did a Story on Me for the Associated Press in Paris

Drinks with Michèle, My Franco-American Friend, at the Plaza Athénée

Drinks with Michèle, My Franco-American Friend, at the Plaza Athénée

Plaza Apéritif Snacks

Plaza Apéritif Snacks

Two Americans in Paris

Two Americans in Paris

With the passage of time and the great geographic distance that separates us, I think we all have come to realize how much we mean to each other. Ties have been strengthened by occasional visits to the States, sometimes by my friends, other times by their children. Each contact has allowed them to understand my life in Colorado more and then, most likely, share my news with the rest of la bande d’amis, or group of friends.

Arnaud Dipping into the Dîner Chez Olivier & Erwane

Arnaud Dipping into the Dîner Chez Olivier & Erwane

Si Bon

Si Bon

With Marie, My French Godchild

With Marie, My French Godchild

And Her Maman, Fanny

And Her Maman, Fanny

Fanny's Apple Pie

Fanny’s Apple Pie

Je me souviens à quel point tu avais mal avec la grisaie de Paris,” my friend Erwane said in speaking about how she remembered how hard it was for me to deal with the grey days of Paris.

Erwane at Her Balcony

Erwane at Her Balcony

Oui, il y a trois cents jours de soleil dans le Colorado,” I tell her referring to the three hundred days of sunshine in my Rocky Mountain state. And with that remark, she seems to really get it, she seems to understand why I’m so much happier in the American West.

Acting Goofy with the Girls

Acting Goofy with the Girls

French Fun

French Fun with the Guys

After the initial couple of days of adjustment, this trip to the City of Light felt bright and sunny despite some grey and rainy days. In Paris–and Antwerp–my spirits were lifted by the love and companionship of my friends.

Late-Afternoon Get-Together with Victoria at Le Panetier

Late-Afternoon Get-Together with Victoria at Le Panetier

Victoria in Her Beautiful Boutique Wolff & Descourtis

Victoria in Her Beautiful Boutique Wolff & Descourtis

When I did my junior year abroad in France, I remember being told by Americans, the French and other foreigners that it’s hard to make friends with the French. “But once you do, you’re friends for life,” people would always add. I believe this to be true, mainly because the French–and other Europeans–tend to be more reserved and guarded than Americans. And once they get to know you, they do indeed hold you dear for life.

Lunch and Spa Visit with Cassandra from Clarins

Lunch and Spa Visit with Cassandra from Clarins

For this and much more, I am so very grateful.

The Sweet Life in France

The Sweet Life in France

And, of course, the food and drink was wonderful, too.

Bon Appétit

Bon Appétit

In Case You’re Wondering

Stéphane, my ex and a successful photographer in Paris, can be found at Bourgies.com. Do check out his site–he has some stunning portraits. Read my post on his work at Portraits from Paris.

Victoria’s boutique, Wolff & Descourtis, located in the lovely Galerie Vivienne, rates as my all-time favorite in Paris. Go there to buy a gorgeous scarf or shawl that you’ll treasure forever. Victoria and I first met when I had my Paris shopping service called Chic Promenade. Read more about her shop at Reaching Out to Victoria, Paris and Wolff & Descourtis.

I met Cassandra Moonen, the Director of International Press Relations for Clarins, many years ago. She’s a standout among the many professional contacts I have in France and I’m happy to consider her as a friend in addition to a peerless representative of one of my best-loved French companies. Read these posts to learn more.

And yes, I had a superlative time at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris with my Franco-American friend, Michèle. I will be posting that story and others about the above and many other discoveries I made during this recent trip to Europe in the months to come.

 
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