Sketches of Pickpockets in Spain, Part II: The Comments

An overhead sign on a Paris tram warns passengers about pickpockets.

Sketches of Pickpockets in Spain, Part II: The Comments

By Patricia Tennison

Well, we seemed to have hit a nerve with the previous Paris Cafe Writing newsletter on pickpockets.

We were warned about the skill level of pickpockets in Barcelona, and my friend Jude and I took many precautions, but the team—we just didn’t “see” them as a team—got us good.
(See The pickpocket? We Never Saw it Coming)

For those who love to browse comments, maybe even more than the articles, read on.

(Yes, Warren, yours is here. It’s at the end.)

* * * * *

Loved your story. I just took this picture [on top] on the tram. Did I tell you how my son had his camera stolen and ended up with an open fracture of his little finger when he was living in Barcelona? He was tripped by the thief's accomplice which led to the fall and he had to wait 40 hours at the ER before the hand surgeon was able to take care of him.
And how a bunch of gypsy kids took off with my makeup pouch in which l had my contraception (diaphragm) at the time in the '70s on the Paris metro? I've always had a small sense of revenge when imagining the gypsy kids' puzzlement and disappointment!

Suzanne of Paris


Great story. Enjoyed it very much (especially since I know professional magicians who perform pickpocket acts). I used to perform at a restaurant in Malibu that required me to steal watches as part of distracting their patrons from the long wait for their tables. ... [My wife] and I are thinking about going to Barcelona for our 30th anniversary next summer (2019). Am thinking just safer to walk around naked ...

Erik of Ohio


I had no problem in Barcelona but barely squelched a pickpocket in Madrid, lost a nice satchel in the airport reaching for my other luggage and got ripped off by a taxi driver. All in 24 hrs. I use precautions like you and have had little other trouble in lots of trips.

Pat of DeKalb, IL


My son and his wife will be going to Spain in May/June as part of their honeymoon. I passed your story on to them, because they don't take my warnings about pickpockets very seriously.

Kathy of Pennsylvania


What a great story. Friends of mine from Florida are vacationing in Barcelona now. Sorry about Jude's wallet. That's a shame. Those guys must really be pro pickpockets to get one up on the two of you.

Karen of Palatine, IL


We hunted high and low in Paris a few days before to get my little waist belt! So glad we did!! When I got back to Paris, I sprained my ankle pretty bad, then my bank card got hacked. However, it was a great summer in Paris!!

(“The”) Jude of California


How about straddling your handbag over a chair in a cafe? Or as my friend did when she tossed her bag over her shoulder and behind her back to take a picture? By the Eiffel Tower—her passport, her credit cards, and money picked!

Olga of New York


I remember being trailed by an older woman and a “disabled” younger woman in Madrid in the late 1980s. We were very cognizant of pickpockets then and escaped their clutches by practically running away from them. My husband is the one who noticed them buzzing up behind me. (And I had my purse strapped across my body with my hand on the zipper!) We had discussed the possibility of pickpockets beforehand, and yet we were surprised that we got targeted. They really are thick as thieves, aren't they?! Ha!

Maria of Chicago


My tale of a pickpocket happened in Madrid, and like you, I was amazed with how deftly the feat was accomplished. When we went to the police station to report it, there was a very long line and everyone in it was comparing tales of their pickpockets.

Deborah of Naples, FL


What a tale. You know I’m in Spain EVERY summer. Nothing has ever happened to me ... yet.

Gale of Chicago


I was breathing harder and harder as I read the details of your trip. With pulse racing, I felt we were almost over the finish line. I was right there with you, on the train, clucking at the adorable baby—almost there—then, BAM! All that effort and planning and thinking of every possible trick or trap and STILL it happened. Dang! Well, I suppose you guys could have wrapped yourselves in plastic or Kevlar or scotch tape. But then your trip would have been pretty uncomfortable. And now you have a great story to tell. What a great adventure.
And the photo of that building wearing swim goggles is really creepy. I expect to see Sponge Bob floating by.

Marilynn of California


I liked the way you kept teasing us about the pickpocket so that we had to keep reading to find out. But, the title. Really, you did see it coming, all the way from Paris, or maybe already from Chicago. You were prepared and they still got you, but only a little.

Warren of Maine
(Patty’s note to Warren: “Thanks, little bro.”)


Top photo: An overhead sign on a Paris tram warns passengers about pickpockets.

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The pickpocket? We never saw it coming

Casa Batllo in Barcelona

The pickpocket? We never saw it coming


By Patricia Tennison


They are soooo good. When I told friends that I was leaving Paris for a few days to visit Barcelona, everyone had a pickpocket tale:

“They make Paris thieves look like amateurs,” a French friend warned.

“My son lived there. He’s pretty savvy, but they got him.”

And now I have a tale, too.

At first—and upon reflection, at the end, too—I was elated to be going to Spain. I had been trying to get there for decades but something always went awry: It was too far in the wrong direction. A friend canceled. Too many other distractions.

This past summer I decided to just go to Barcelona, and I invited a friend, a writer who had just come back to Paris Cafe Writing for the fourth time. Jude had already heard my usual safety orientation for Paris:

* Wear a purse with a strap across your chest.

* Keep your hand atop the zipper on that purse.

* At an outdoor cafe, keep your purse close, away from the sidewalk.

* Put a few Metro tickets in an outside pocket so that you don’t have to expose your wallet.

* Don’t stand next to the Metro door, an easy escape route for pickpockets.

* Be aware of who is behind you on an escalator.

* Ignore the sweet-looking woman who stands in the Metro asking, “Do you speak English?” She has friends nearby.

* If someone points down to something you “dropped,” ignore him. He’s trying to distract you.

* If a group of young women ask you to sign a petition, ignore them. They are trying to distract you.

I practice all those moves in Paris and have never been taken. But in Barcelona? Truly, every person has a tale about Barcelona, so I decided to add a couple more precautions.

* I put a photocopy of my passport in my overnight bag.

* I wore a money belt. So did Jude. I habitually throw one into my suitcase, more like a good-luck charm, but I hadn’t actually used one in decades. This time I did.

My defense from pickpockets was an uncomfortable but trusty ally: a money belt.

When traveling by train between Paris and Barcelona, I put the following items in my money belt: passport, most of my money, credit cards, my romantically long Paris apartment keys, and even my iPhone. Wearing the lumpy money belt was a bit like being 8 ½ months pregnant: quite uncomfortable, but worth it.

I picked a 4-star, centrally located hotel in a good neighborhood, the Hotel Murmuri, 104 Rambla Catalunya, and locked the money belt and all its contents in the room safe. When we went out, all that was in my purse was the hotel key (a totally blank, white plastic card), tourist maps, pen and paper, reading glasses, a business card that could serve as an ID, and the most money I was willing to gamble on a daily basis: 100 euros. I even left the iPhone in the safe; I preferred to use an old-fashioned paper map rather than figure out how to replace a stolen phone in Barcelona. Oh, and I tucked a 20-euro bill in my shoe. Yup, I did.

These precautions worked beautifully during our tourist gadabouts—and here I must pause to extol Barcelona.

The clean and fast TGV train from Paris to Barcelona took about six hours and plopped us right into the middle of town, where it was just a few Metro stops to our hotel. I had been told that people in Barcelona might smile more than any other group in the world and it seemed true. To a person—uh, even the pickpocket—they were all so darn pleasant.

We figured out the better restaurants to visit for good tapas, and grabbed an on-off tourist bus to guide us from parks to wharfs and all the wonders of Gaudi’s famous architecture. Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, is extraordinary. Worth the whole trip. Even the Metro was clean—but it is here that we pick up the pickpocket story.

It was the last day. We packed our overnight bags, wore our money belts, slung our purses over our shoulders, grabbed the inevitable couple plastic bags of tourist purchases, and entered the Metro.

We had bought the Metro tickets the day before when we were not laden with bags. (Ha! How clever.) We made it through the turnstiles where pickpockets often like to squeeze in behind you, hopped a train, and hung onto the central pole near the door. Yes, we were near the door, but sometimes there just aren’t any seats on the Metro.

Then they entered. Two guys right out of the Central Casting call for big-city pickpockets. Jude and I exchanged quick glances. They were young and lean, in sleeveless shirts that exposed arms totally covered in tattoos, and they were wearing dark sunglasses. Who wears dark sunglasses in the Metro except pickpockets?

They were 18 inches from my face. They stared at me. I stared right back.

But wait. The babble of a child. I did break the stare to glimpse left toward a pretty, well-dressed woman with an adorable baby. Really adorable. The baby was in a stroller—right behind Jude—and the mother kept leaning over to make the baby laugh. Adorable. At our stop I even helped the young mother maneuver the stroller off the Metro. She looked embarrassed, maybe even shocked, but I do like to give a good impression of visiting Americans.

Less than a minute later, Jude was wide eyed as she patted her purse. Her wallet was gone. Gone from inside the flap of her purse. Yes, with one hand on the Metro pole and the other hand on her baggage and bags, her purse had been momentarily on its own. It had taken only a moment. She never felt a thing.

We were stunned. They were brilliant.

The pickpockets got 90 euros, much less than a Broadway ticket to Hamilton. Frankly, we applauded them. And headed back to Paris with a familiar tale from Barcelona.

Top photo: Casa Batllo, one of Antoni Gaudi’s fabulously organic creations, was an easy 10-minute walk from our hotel in Barcelona.

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Oops: The Mice Have Nibbled the Register Page

By Patricia Tennison


Something squirrely has messed with the Register page for Paris Cafe Writing. Or maybe it's the mice ...

If you filled out the Register page for one of the May, June, or November 2018 sessions, it’s possible that I didn’t receive the registration.  And I need to know how many glasses of champagne to line up for the welcome dinners!

When the page functions properly, you hit Submit and receive an automatic “Thanks for Registering” email, followed in a day or two by a personal email from me.

If you received neither, you will have to go back to, click on Register, and again fill out and submit the form. Send me a quick email or phone call for confirmation.

I am sorry about this. My tech support is working on it. If you have any questions, write to me at or call me at 773-525-2002.

(The mice in the photo are a test-batch I made this week for holiday cooking with my 3-year-old granddaughter. I got the recipe from a Chicago Tribune cookie contest. Below is the recipe—and a few tips from me. )

Happy Holidays!


Patricia Tennison

Director, Paris Cafe Writing



Chicago Tribune staff Contact Reporter


November 11, 2015.

Cute counts, as these Mexican mice cookies prove. They took second place in the Tribune's Holiday Cookie Contest in 2000. Their creator, Caryn Lerner, said she adapted cookies made from a Mexican wedding cake dough because her nieces and nephews wouldn't eat them. They changed their minds when the cookies reappeared in the shape of mice with mini-chocolate bits as eyes, almond slivers for ears and curly Chow mein noodle tails.

The recipe is excerpted from "Holiday Cookies," a collection of more than 100 recipes of winning cookies from 25 years of the Tribune's annual Holiday Cookie Contest. We are featuring a cookie per week, leading up to the Dec. 2 announcement of this year's contest winners, to mark the second printing of the book, which was published in 2014 by the Tribune with Surrey Books. The book is available for $17 at


Prep: 1 hour Bake: 27 minutes per batch

Makes: About 3 dozen

Caryn Lerner took second-place in the Tribune's Holiday Cookie Contest in 2000.

2 sticks butter (1 cup), softened

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup confectioners' sugar plus more for dusting

2 cups flour

1 cup finely ground pecans

1/4 teaspoon salt

Chow mein noodles, mini-chocolate chips, sliced almonds

1 Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add sugar; beat until combined. Mix in flour, pecans and salt.

2 Shape dough into 1-inch ovals, tapering one end. Place on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Bake, 15 minutes. Remove from oven; insert noodle at tail end and 2 almonds about 1/3 of the way from pointed end for ears. Return to oven; bake until slightly browned, about 12 minutes.

3 Remove from oven; immediately place two chocolate chips in front of ears for eyes. (Chocolate will melt slightly and stick to cookie.) Dust mice bodies with confectioners' sugar. Cool on wire rack.

Nutrition information per mouse: 100 calories, 7 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 14 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 70 mg sodium, 0 g fiber


EXTRA MICE COOKIE TIPS From Patricia Tennison of Paris Cafe Writing

December 2017

1 Set the butter on the counter several hours or overnight to soften. Do not microwave or otherwise melt as it will affect the texture of the cookies.

2 When shaping the dough, taper well. The bodies don’t have to be perfectly smooth as they will smooth out while baking.

3 Before baking, have the decorations ready on separate plates:

(A) Select tails for interesting curls; one side needs to be straight to stay well inserted; very long ones tend to get hit and broken.

(B) Sort the sliced nuts to match pairs by size, shape, and color.

(C) Use tweezers to ready chocolate chips tip-side-up; use tweezers to place these “eyes” on cookies. (The chips will melt in your hands and/or smudge if you try to move them.)

4 Test your oven for timing. The first bake I do for only 14 (not 15) minutes. Otherwise, they are a little too crusty-firm for insertions.

5 Sprinkle the final confectioners' sugar after the cookies have cooled, maybe 10 minutes; otherwise, the sugar is absorbed and disappears.


Easiest chores for a 3-year-old helper:

Pick the tails

Level the sugar, flour, salt

Smell the vanilla

Early part of hand mixing

Shape the dough into balls

Insert tails? Cookie tin will be hot!

Tap a strainer of confectioners' sugar for that final touch






Paris – Memories and Cafe Writing

Paris – Memories and Cafe Writing

Editor’s note: We lead this newsletter with a post from Kathy Thomas, author of the Purposeful Travel blog, who attended Paris Cafe Writing in June.

It was a clear, sunny June day in Paris. A soft breeze from the east ruffled tree branches on the boulevard. As I drove through the city, I could feel the tinge of excitement and nostalgia fluttering inside me. I was returning to the city I had fallen in love with 40 years ago, but not as the young novice traveler of my youth. I now have five continents and 30+ countries under my belt and I worried that the thrill of Paris would be lost this time around.

I arranged to attend a weeklong workshop aptly named Paris Café Writing, run by Patty Tennison, who divides her time between Paris and Chicago. We spent our mornings with coffee and croissants, learning and writing in various cafes in the heart of Le Marais. Le Marais as you may know is a wonderful Paris neighborhood located in the 3rd and 4th arrondisements.

It’s tree shaded streets are lined with shops, cafes, and old apartment buildings, adorned with frilly Juliet balconies. Most of our afternoons were free, so I used that time to revisit the sites of my long ago sojourn in Paris.

A quick note here about getting around in Paris (I turned in my rental car once I arrived in the city). Before I left home, I downloaded the free Paris transit app, RATP. Once in Paris, this app synced with my Google Maps App to create an extraordinary tool for easily navigating the city. I would enter a destination in the app and Google would tell me several ways to go: walking, driving, bus, train, metro. The app is so specific that it is nearly impossible to make a mistake or get lost. Within 4 hours of my arrival in the city, I was hopping buses and metros with confidence. On the rare occasion that public transit is not convenient (toting luggage, accessibility issues), your Lyft and Uber apps from home work just fine in Paris.

Back to the workshop. Patty Tennison has taught at the graduate level and she has taught beginners. Her versatility enables her to easily adapt to her participants. She limits the workshops to eight writers, but due to last minute cancellations, our group was reduced to an intimate class of four. It was a unique, friendly, and open group representing the UK, Illinois, Colorado, and Pennsylvania. In addition to the morning workshops, Patty and her husband, Joe Prendergast, guided us on an informative walking tour of Le Marais, hosted a wine and cheese tasting at their apartment, arranged meals at wonderful restaurants, and a jazz night for our entertainment. We were encouraged to practice our French whenever possible, but English is perfectly fine too.

As part of the program, Patty conducted private one on one sessions with each writer. We had previously submitted a piece we were working on and Patty used the one on one to provide feedback and answer questions with each of us. My session with Patty on its own was worth the trip to Paris. I was really struggling with a subject and the brainstorming with Patty gave me a new perspective that will hopefully turn into the beginning of a book.

Because I frequently travel solo, adding in a volunteer purpose, or a learning activity, positions me to form new friendships with like minded people. We become part of the communities in which we are helping or learning. France was no exception and I hope to travel with or visit each and every writer with whom I had this wonderful experience.

To read more about Kathy Thomas’s experiences at Paris Cafe Writing and some of her work, click here.

Paris Is the Next Event for This Scholarship Winner


Candace Smith of Chicago is the 2017 Paris Café Writing scholarship winner.


Paris Is the Next Event for This Scholarship Winner

By Patricia Tennison

Once again we have a new scholarship winner! Candace Nzingha Smith, a student at National Louis University in Chicago, where I teach, will be joining us in Paris for a June 2017 session of Paris Café Writing.

“I called my younger sister in Dallas and we had a screaming contest for a bit. Then I called my best friend in Galveston and we had a screaming contest, too!” the winner said.

Candace, 36, and her five siblings were raised in Chicago by her maternal grandmother. “I was like a parent, and when my grandmother died I took care of my siblings,” she said.

“At 15 I left home and went to work.” While in high school in Chicago she worked at McDonald’s. In college in New Orleans and then L A. she worked full-time at Hertz Car Rental, plus helped at an events company. With that experience under her belt, she and some friends then started a fashion show and events business in L.A.

Candace Smith hears her name as the winner is announced.

France, though, seemed always on her mind. She looked into a writing residency program in France in 2014, but the cost was too high. Instead, she packed a bag and took off for Europe on her own, including exploring Paris for just one day.

Now she is studying for her master’s degree in written communication at NLU, where the scholarship committee was impressed with her writing.

“I knew at 11 that I wanted to be a writer, but I had to put it off. Still, I haven’t been able to escape it. I want to teach, to build up confidence as a writer, and produce work including children’s books and poetry,” she said.

An interesting fact about Candace: “I don’t watch television. It’s too time-consuming. Other people usually purchase them for me as gifts so they’ll have a TV to watch when they visit me. The funny thing is—the last thing we end up doing is watching television.”

She’s talented, she’s hard working—and she’s going to Paris.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

But first, I’d like to sincerely thank those who contributed to the scholarship fund. It costs about $4,000 to send a student on a full scholarship abroad, a goal we want to achieve each year. I established this scholarship at National Louis University—one of only two travel scholarships at this urban university—and each year I donate the first $1,350. Your contributions do the rest.

The contributions go through the university, so they are tax deductible. To donate, click DONATE. The university will send you an email receipt for your taxes. Thank you so much.

*     *     *     *     *      *     *     *

Janice Canty, last year’s scholarship winner, published the following essay and poem in Mosaic, a literary magazine published by the Master of Science in Written Communication Program at National Louis University.

Paris—The City of Lights, The City of Love

by Janice Canty

After travelling since 3 p.m. the day before, I arrived in Paris around 8 a.m. (1 a.m. Chicago time). As the taxicab drove down the narrow streets to the hotel, the graffiti on the buildings alarmed me. I discovered later this was Parisians’ artistic expression of Street Art.

I received another shock when the driver pulled up in front of a building that was my hotel, and I thought there must be some mistake. Where was the big hotel entrance, the Holiday Inn lobby? I reluctantly checked in and went up the petite elevator; “petite” is synonymous for “tiny” in Paris, you know. Anyway, I opened the door to my “petite” room and wondered where was the rest of it? Overcome by jetlag, I crashed on the bed and slept for a few hours to get ready for the welcome dinner.

However, let’s go back to how I got here.

Ever since I was a little girl, or at least ever since my high school years—you can guess how long that has been—I’ve dreamed of going to Paris. Fast-forward to the National Louis University Master of Science in Written Communication Program—I was selected in Spring 2015 as the first recipient of the 2016 Paris Café Writing Scholarship. At first I questioned this blessing, “Why was I selected?” There were many more qualified and deserving classmates. Then finally, I said to myself, “Why not me?” It was beyond my wildest dreams. My family didn’t believe it and my friends were excited for me.

Then it happened. In November 2015, terrorists attacked Paris, killing 130 people and wounding several hundred others. I was inundated with the inevitable question from family and friends, “Are you still going?” I tried to stay positive. After all, this was a trip to Paris—not just any trip. I decided to wait and see. I decided if anything else happens that would be the deciding factor.

Then it happened again. Terrorists bombed an Egyptian flight out of Paris. Fear and doubt crept over me again. This time I saw it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to go. I called up one of my closest friends, who is a strong Christian, and asked her to have lunch with me to sort out my thoughts and to get an objective opinion. We met for lunch and she asked, “So, are you still going?” Then without my answering, she said, “I think you should go.” She said anything could happen to each of us at any time. Only God knows when it’s our time. I was surprised that she said this because it was pretty much the conclusion I had reached. Life is not a guarantee. We must live it in faith. We cannot allow fear to paralyze us. With that assurance, I went to the library and took out three French language lesson books.

Here I am in Paris at last! Exhausted, I dressed for the welcome dinner. By now, I was homesick too and wanted to get on the first plane back to America. I went down to the lobby and there was a fellow member of the Paris Café Writing group. She was friendly and right away I began to feel at ease. Then in walked Patty, effervescent as ever. Paris suits her. Bonjour! And kisses on the cheek—both cheeks in Paris, you know. She was with her husband Joe. Ahh Joe, wonderful Joe. I can’t say enough about Joe.

We arrived at the Le Cellar, and there we were treated royally by Christian. The dinner, the meal, the ambiance was none that I had ever experienced. It was lively, the wine flowing like Coca Cola—we were in Paris, you know. And Christian, Patty and Joe’s friend and the owner of this quaint restaurant, served up this delectable meal and entertained us the entire time. I had the most succulent dish of salade gesiers, chicken gizzards. Never had I tasted anything so delightful. I even had escargot for the first time. I just closed my eyes as I swallowed the first one, and didn’t think about what I was eating. I devoured the whole plate. By the time I arrived back at the hotel, I had forgotten all about being homesick and was grinning from ear to ear. I was in Paris.

The next day we met Patty at a café and had scrumptious croissants—ooh la la—with butter and jam. You haven’t lived until you’ve had a croissant in Paris. Patty took us on a tour; I was able to see Paris in a way that most tourists never have the opportunity to experience. I saw Paris through the eyes of the locals. After a few days, I was strolling down the narrow streets by myself, riding the bus and subways. I would stop at the boulangerie, Paris’s version of Panera Bread. I shopped at the supermarkets, the cheese shops, and the wine stores. The markets in Paris are specialized, you know.

What made the trip really special is the afternoon Patty invited us to their petit appartement. It was so quaint and Joe, as always, was the gracious host. We had samplings of lavish assortments of cheeses and breads. My favorite cheese has always been Brie; however,
I discovered I much prefer Camembert.

During my stay in Paris, as the scholarship winner, I felt at times Patty and Joe showered me with too much attention. Never did I feel alone. The trip was extremely educational. Patty’s writing workshops were imaginative and creative. One day she had the group write an essay about our experience in Paris. At the time, I was also taking an online poetry class and my first poem, “Salute to Fear,” written below, evolved out of this awesome experience.

Salute to Fear

by Janice Canty

Fear of the unknown; the unknown is fear.

Graffiti buildings or Street Art it’s called
Narrow streets like Chicago alleys
Stone-faced cigarette smokers

Fear of the unknown

Rooms so tiny, so petite
A strange beautiful language
Petite sidewalks for petite women

The unknown is fear

Motorcycles racing, racing
Horns blasting, blasting
Sirens screeching, screeching

Fear of the unknown

Armed guards uniformed in black
Green Berets patrolling the streets
Monuments gated and closed

The unknown is fear


Immersed in the city’s culture
Strolling down the cobblestone walkways
People watching at cafés

Ooh la la the fashion
The marvelous French architecture
Ahh the croissants, the chocolate éclairs

People so lively still
Wandering about without fear
In face of terrorist threats looming

Paris is still blooming.

The unknown is known.


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Get Creative with Gifts from Paris

Get Creative With Gifts from Paris

By Patricia Tennison

Sure, you’ve had a great time in Paris and then the guilt sinks in: What do I bring home as gifts? They’ve got to be small enough to jam into your suitcase, and inexpensive enough so you can afford to fly back to Paris yourself. But the gifts still need to be creative, things you can’t easily buy back home.

I’ve been through this, and offer 10 fun ideas:

Bring your dog home a treat from Paris: a rabbit dinner.
Bring your dog home a treat from Paris: a rabbit dinner.

Rabbit dinners for dogs

Go to the pet food aisle in a grocery store, and look for a little aluminum packet of terrine au lapin & aux legumes (rabbit terrine with vegetables). How … French. I love the product description: une solution quand on n’a pas le temps de chasser le lapin (one solution when you don’t have time to chase the rabbit). Yes, there are also lapin dinners for cats. Price: about 50 cents.





Pack a cassoulet dinner to bring back from Paris.
Pack a cassoulet dinner to bring back from Paris.

Cassoulet TV dinner

Still in the grocery store, find the aisle with pre-fixed, shelf-stable, microwaveable meals. We’re not looking for gourmet quality, just a quintessential French dish—cassoulet, for example—that someone in the States can warm up in 3 minutes, serve with a better quality glass of wine, and laugh as they think of you. (You might suggest doctoring up the white bean stew with a twist of black pepper.) Price: about $4.





Pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar)
Pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar), representing Corsica.

Pâtés by Reflets de France

While the cassoulet TV dinner is a bit of a blague (joke), this brand of prepared food is not. Mega-Michelin-star chef Joël Robuchon tests and endorses the products by Reflets de France, a line created in 1996 for the Carrefour chain of grocery stores. The quality is very good and designed to highlight various food regions of France. Look for the distinctive, tan-colored paper label on jars of pâté au foie de canard (a pâté with 20 percent duck liver) representing the Aquitaine region, or perhaps a jar of pâté de sanglier (pâté of boar), representing Corsica. Price: about $8 to $10.

Salers, a semi-hard cheese from Auvergne, is an excellent gift from Paris.
Salers, a semi-hard cheese from Auvergne, is an excellent gift from Paris.

Salers cheese

Bringing home cheese is not a new idea, and you’ll find numerous French cheeses on sale at the airport. However, the cheeses meant for export at the airport are pasteurized, which eliminates many of the bacteria that make French cheese taste so good. Head to a fromagerie (cheese store)—not a grocery store—that will shrink-wrap your cheese for an extra euro and buy a cheese that is cru (raw). Pick one that your friends might not see as often in the States, such as Salers, a semi-hard cheese from cows that summer in the mountain pastures of Auvergne. A lovely image, a lovely cheese. Be sure to store it in your checked luggage where it will be kept cool. Price for a nice chunk: $6.

A gift idea: a couple pounds of Poilânebread.
A gift idea: a couple pounds of Poilâne bread.

Poilâne bread

You can grab a baguette from a boulangerie (bakery) on the way to the airport. But even better, find a shop that sells Poilâne bread, a brand with a slightly sour-dough taste and firm mouth feel that many foodies adore. A whole round loaf with the famous “P” etched on the top would make an impressive gift. It’s hard to find in the States. The larger loaf also stays fresher longer, so you could buy it the day before you leave. Stash it on board in your overhead space. Price: about $10.

Look for consignment finds at La Jolie Garde-Robe in Paris.
Look for consignment finds at La Jolie Garde-Robe in Paris.

Consignment store purse

I love shopping at a friperie (second-hand store) for clothing accessories. Because you can never be sure what the store might have that day—or even if it’s open that day—your gift ideas must be flexible. My favorite find one year was a used Nina Ricci purse that I gave to my sister Ninnie, largely because I liked the Nina/Ninnie name similarity. Fine. It’s particularly fun to search for a high-fashion name like Nina Ricci or Pierre Cardin because you pay a fraction of the original price yet have priceless fun imagining the backstory of the previous owner. One of my go-to spots is La Jolie Garde-Robe in the Marais at 15 rue Commines, 75003. As usual, the place got practically cleaned out in March by the crowds in Paris for Fashion Week, but my husband, Joe, still managed to shoot photos of a few purses. Price: $60 and up.

Not sexy and not French—find another piece of underwear.
Not sexy and not French—find another piece of underwear.

Monoprix slips

 Backstory on the photo: So I asked Joe to do me a favor: Go to the department store chain Monoprix and take a photo of a sexy French slip, pronounced “sleep,” which is the French word for a lady’s panty. Maybe red, maybe leopard, you know. One year I packed a half dozen into my suitcase, then threw them on a bed back home so that my sisters could laugh and pick their favorites.

The lingerie set in this photo is red (good) but those cover-everything slips are not sexy—and they are made by Playtex, an American brand. I can’t send Joe back; he’s really a nice guy. And anyway, he won’t go back:

This was the sexiest thing I could find at Monoprix! I couldn’t find anything on the ground floor, so I had to go up to the ladies’ department. I had to wait three times to go through the racks because people kept passing by me. I am no way secure enough with my manhood to rummage through women’s lingerie at Monoprix!

Okay. Okay. Price: $10 to $50.

A Corolle brand doll—with its vanilla scent—makes a lovely gift from Paris.
A Corolle brand doll—with its vanilla scent—makes a lovely gift from Paris.

Corolle dolls

 When I was looking for a baby doll to bring home to my two-year-old granddaughter, my French friends all suggested the same brand: Corolle. The 12-inch doll I selected has eyes that open and close, a soft body, flexible plastic legs and arms with a thumb that fits neatly into the baby’s mouth. The Corolle brand has a lovely oh-so-French kicker: the baby dolls smells like vanilla! You’ll find Corolle dolls in better department stores or specialty boutiques. The 12-inch doll is about $28.

Get your book stamped at Shakespeare and Company, Paris.
Get your book stamped at Shakespeare and Company, Paris.

Stamped book from Shakespeare and Company

 For a friend who likes to read, head to the famous English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in the Latin Quarter, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005. Yes, you could buy the same volume of James Joyce or Ernest Hemingway in the States, but if you buy it at Shakespeare—and remember at the cashier register to ask; I’ve made that mistake!—they will stamp the book with a sketch of Shakespeare and the words “Shakespeare and Company Kilometer Zero Paris.” Very cool. No extra fee.

Chat lunatique

There is no photo with this idea. Joe is still seeing red over the sexy French slip ordeal, and sometimes in a marriage it is best to just … step … back.

For this fun gift, go to a hardware store or the sous sol (basement) of the BHV department store, 52 Rue de Rivoli, 75004 and wander the section of small signs for doors. There are many in French equivalents of Welcome to Our Home, but my favorite find has been chat lunatique, roughly translated: wacko cat—perhaps one that chases rabbits. Price: about $10 to $15.


Jan Powers and Patricia Tennison represent Paris Cafe Writing at the AWP convention in D.C.
Jan Powers and Patricia Tennison represent Paris Cafe Writing at the AWP convention in D.C.

Who Won the Umbrella?

I sooo wish I could have talked to everyone who stopped by our Paris Cafe Writing table at the Association of Writers & Writing Programs convention in D.C.

Instead, I had to flip over my name tag to the show the word “laryngitis.” An extrovert with laryngitis. Sounds like a writing prompt.

I have recuperated, thank-you-very-much, and can now announce the winner of the lovely French umbrella. She is Sarah Davis, a faculty member at Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.

“Thank you! I’ve never won anything, so this is a treat,” Sarah said.






Top Photo: Consignment purses and jewelry from La Jolie Garde-Robe, 15 rue Commines, 75003, Paris. Gift idea photos by Joseph Prendergast.

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Best laid plans in January = A trip to Paris in June

Paris Cafe Writing group June 2016


 Best laid plans in January = A trip to Paris for June

By Patricia Tennison

Paris Cafe Writing participant June 2016
A Paris Cafe Writing toast before dinner in June 2016 at La Coupole.

Replace the old winter boots. Start a new file for tax receipts. Remember to write dates with 2017… 2017… 2017.

January stuff hits you like a nasty cold front from Canada,* but you can hit back: mark your calendar for Paris in June.

*(Aww. We love you folks from up north. Each Paris Cafe Writing session typically has travelers from England or India or Bulgaria or Canada—but it is cold up there in Canada!)

Registration is open for both of the one-week sessions of Paris Cafe Writing in June. We will be writing and dining and enjoying a night of jazz.

Paul Cézanne
Paul Cézanne

While with us in Paris this summer, you’ll also be able to catch a special exhibit of portraits by Cézanne at the Musée d’Orsay. And depending on when you arrive or how many days you tack on, the French Open, aka Roland Garros, runs May 22 to June 11; Fête de la Musique fills the city with free concerts and street performers on June 21; and the summer sales start June 28 and run for six weeks.

Save $100

If you sign up by Feb. 15, you save $100. This winter can also be a good time to nab a decent airfare, and to reserve at the best value hotels, which tend to be the first ones to fill.

There’s lots more information here:

Send tips

Do you have a favorite way to save money while traveling and visiting Paris? Jot me a note to and I’ll try to include it with your first name and last initial in an upcoming newsletter.


Photo on top: Paris Cafe Writing group in June 2016 waits for the jazz to start at Duc des Lombards.

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Somber in Paris after U.S. Election


By Patricia Tennison

I admit that I expected this posting would have a different ending. I would write with a glass of wine and a chunk of cheese by my side, recording the elated mood in my neighborhood here in Paris as we all watched the television results of the American election.

Now I sit with a cheap sandwich—something to yank and tear on—and a cup of strong coffee. The world here is sobering up.

Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, started with hope. With levity. The mayor’s office in the 3rd Arrondissement of Paris offered an all-night affair—with food and cocktails and “Dallas” reruns that the French adore—to watch the American presidential election results.

This neighborhood is part of Le Marais, home to many of the city’s artists, Jews, homosexuals, and jeans-clad liberals. There is no question that they prefer Hillary (pronounced without the “h,” as the French are wont to do) over Donald—although you never hear the name Donald spoken alone. It’s “illary Cleenton” vs. “Trump.”

The festooned mayor’s office of the 3rd Arrondissement in Paris
Le Carreau du Temple

In late afternoon I walked to take some photos. American flags and balloons were being set up in front of the stately mairie (mayor’s office). In the adjacent Le Carreau du Temple, a refurbished 19th-century covered market now used for public sports and cultural events, workers were fussing with tables, a bar, and large television screens.

It was early and cool outside, but the choice outdoor seats in the cafes surrounding the mairie and Le Carreau were filling up.

A short line outside the mayor’s office
Patricia Tennison votes in mock U.S. presidential election in Paris
Patricia Tennison votes in mock U.S. presidential election in Paris

At 7:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. in New York) there was a short line outside the mairie. I heard only French voices as I made my way upstairs to the standing-room-only live panel discussion, en francais, of the American election process.

You could even vote! There was a mock ballot box and a stack of ballots with just two names: Clinton or Trump. No one was watching, so I couldn’t resist: I voted twice. For the same person. It felt in the spirit of the evening.

It was too early for the activities at Le Carreau so I went to dinner with a friend, Jude Logan of Los Angeles, who is one of the returnees for my Paris Cafe Writing session that starts Sunday. We picked an Italian restaurant behind Le Carreau and chose a little round table upstairs where it was warm.

The only annoyance was the amount of noise from a group of eight at a nearby table. Surprising, really. There are customs in Paris and this rude noise is just … not done. We brushed it off because the night was young and hopeful. And the group surprised us by eventually settling down.

Hundreds "font la queue" for La Nuit Américaine outside Le Carreau du Temple
Hundreds “font la queue” for La Nuit Américaine outside Le Carreau du Temple
The first in the line were already inside watching American television election coverage

At 9:15 p.m. we left Le Soprano restaurant and noted a group on the other side of the sidewalk outside Le Carreau.

“Smokers,” I said. And we turned to circle the building in the other direction.

Alors, when we reached the main entrance, a thick crowd blocked the door, which was not opening to let in more people. Hundreds font la queue (stood in line), mostly young, mostly French-speaking. The line went down the block, around the corner, down the other side of the block, around the corner, and ended at that group that I thought were the smokers. They were, instead, the end of the queue.

Inside Le Carreau I could see the early arrivals upstairs, sipping drinks while watching CNN on a giant screen. They weren’t going to leave soon to make room for hundreds outside. This line was never going to move, and it was cold. I walked home to my apartment and set the alarm for 4 a.m. (10 p.m. in New York).

Viewers in Paris watch as Clinton is temporarily ahead of Trump.

At 4:30 a.m., the 5-minute walk back to Le Carreau was depressing. There was no one on the streets, just a few pigeons fighting in the rain over a chunk of wet bread.

There were no lines outside Le Carreau, only a group of smokers.

“Trump is going to f… our arses,” one said in a British accent.

“I’m running out of countries to flee to,” another said.

I had listened to a few minutes of CNN before I had left the apartment, so I had an idea about the incoming results. By 5:04 a.m. (11:04 p.m. in New York) Clinton was ahead 190 to 171 in electoral votes. Everyone knew, however, that she was irreversibly behind.

Somber youths sit before a torn and turned cardboard image of Donald Trump.

The thin crowd was now dispersed into mostly English voices watching CNN upstairs, and French voices around a French broadcast on the main floor.

A cheer let out from upstairs and the downstairs group looked around. It was another state for Clinton but one with few electoral votes. Nothing was going to change.

Someone had torn the head off a cardboard image of Trump and turned it around.

Meanwhile, two young French women opened the door to join 50 people scattered in seats in the dark auditorium. They didn’t know which film was next but this was where the city had already shown First Date, the biographical Hollywood film about President Barack and Michelle Obama, and the award-winning The Butler.

Watching as the final U.S. election results became clear
Watching as the final U.S. election results became clear

Finally, there was resignation. Long, tired faces and resignation.

Most were quiet. There were no cheers. One American woman sobbed:
“My family. My children. My grandchildren!”

We all know the ending: Donald Trump has been elected president of the United States.

He surprised us once. May he surprise again by evolving into a sober statesman who lets us hold our heads high at home and around the world.

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Up Pariscope: A weekly guide to movies in Paris

Pariscope magazines

 Up “Pariscope”: A weekly guide to movies in Paris

By Patricia Tennison

Pariscope magazine
Pariscope magazine

(Note from author: Alas, months after this newsletter was published, Pariscope stopped publication. Continue reading, though, for a slice of Paris history.)

When I arrive in Paris, the first thing I do is dash to the nearby kiosk and buy a copy of Pariscope.

It’s a paper magazine guide, small enough to stuff into a purse, filled with what’s going on that week in Paris: theater, museums, music, expositions—and especially movies.

I can thumb through the magazine while I sit at a cafe. If my feet are tired from museum walking or if it’s starting to rain, I can pick a movie for before or after dinner.

Yes, thumbing through paper rather than swiping a smart phone is a bit old-fashioned, but I like it. It’s a lovely habit. Anyway, Pariscope dropped its website years ago. There is a free Pariscope app but I find it too slow.

On any given week there are about 300 movies showing in Paris. Many are American movies in the original English (easy!) or dubbed into French. Some are French movies, never dubbed. Some are non-French foreign movies with French subtitles, and these are a fun challenge for those who at least read French fairly well.

To add to the complication, a theater might show a particular movie that week only, say, Monday and Friday, on the other side of Paris. You need to have a plan—and need to know how to read a guide like Pariscope. I will show you, step by step.

Is it in English?

Sorry, no. The small paper guide, which has been printed weekly in France since the 1960s, used to have one page in the back written in English. That English page has disappeared, so now the magazine is entirely in French. However, if you speak English you already understand these French words: restaurant, café, théâtre, musique, cinéma, film. Below, I have translated some useful French words and abbreviations that you will find in the magazine.

When and where do you buy it?

Buy Pariscope at a sidewalk kiosk. (While there, buy a paper newspaper, too. Support the industry that supported Hemingway!) The weekly magazine comes out on Wednesdays, the day movie schedules change in Paris. It’s best to buy it by Wednesday or Thursday. If you wait until Saturday, the kiosk might be out.

It costs 70 centimes; to be kind, use exact change or at least a euro coin—not a 20 euro bill. When the week is over, slip the magazine into your suitcase. It makes a fine souvenir.

How to find an American movie, step-by-step

1. Thumb through to find the cinéma section. The first half-dozen pages include featured films and films nouveaux (new films), and you will need to know a few codes.


signification des codes


The films are organized by these labels:
• FN: films nouveaux (new films)
• AF: autres films (other recently released films)
• RE: reprises (revivals; older films)
• FE: festivals (a group of films by theme, such as director or actor)
• AV: avant-premières (sneak previews)






2. To see how the local French critiques rank the latest movies, look for the l’avis des critiques chart.

l'avis des critiques








3. To see the most popular films in France for the previous 12 months, check out box office.










4. Thumb through the listings and find a movie you want to see. Let’s select Mad Max: Fury Road. (Big, blow-up action films are not my usual genre, but the special effects and production in this one are awesome.)


Mad Max: Fury Road listing in Pariscope
Mad Max listing in Pariscope

The information on top is easy to decipher: It’s a 2015 movie, two hours, science fiction, American–Australian, in color, with the named director and stars.

The bottom bold-faced section lists all the movie theaters where Mad Max is showing that week. (Impressive listing!)

**If you want to watch the film in its original language (here, English), look for the letters v.o. (version originale). If you want to watch the film dubbed into French, look for v.f. (version française).

The bold-faced section lists the salles (movie rooms) by arrondissement. For example, listing #1 is at the Les Halles theater, which is in the 1st arrondissement. However, there are many more than one theater in each of the 20 arrondissements, so the salles numbers go up to about 83.

Let’s pick salle #41 where Mad Max is in the original English, and thumb to the next section: Salles de Paris.



  • 5.

In the Salles de Paris section we find #41, which is in the 8th arrondissement.

Mad Max at the George V theater

Again, the information at the top is easy: This is the UGC George V theater, address 144 and 146 avenue des Champs-Elysées; closest metro stops are Etoile or George V.

The prices for one full-priced ticket (Pl) is 11.80 or 11 euros. The rest of the top information is mostly a variety of prices, which will not apply to you as an adult short-term visitor.

Thumb down to our movie, Mad Max. It’s in the original (English) version and shows every day that week at 11 a.m., 2:15 p.m., 4:50 p.m., 7:25 p.m., and 9:55 p.m.

You are all set to go to the movie!





How to find a foreign movie, step-by-step

For a bigger challenge, let’s try a smaller film in a foreign language.

1. Thumb back through the autres films listings and let’s pick Un pigeon perche sur une branche philosophait sur l’existence, a black comedy in Swedish.

"Un Pigeon" listing in Pariscope
Un Pigeon listing in Pariscope


The top part tells us that this 2014 film is 1:40 hours, a dramatic comedy, in Swedish, in color, with the stated director and actors. Also, it won the highest prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival. Bon!

**The language choices in boldface all state v.o. (version originale). This also means that there will be subtitles in French. You would be watching the original film in Swedish with French subtitles.

Let’s pick salle #50.





2. In the Salles de Paris section we find #50, which is in the 11th arrondissement.

"Un Pigeon" show in the Bastille
Un Pigeon show in the Bastille

The information at the top tells us that this is the La Bastille theater at 5 rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the nearest metro is Bastille. A full-priced ticket costs 8.50 or 7.80 euros.

Further down we see that the Un pigeon movie plays in salle 2—but not every day.
It plays at 11:30 a.m. daily, except Thursday and Tuesday; at 1:30 p.m. daily; at 9:45 p.m. daily, except Thursday, Sunday, and Monday; and at 10 p.m. daily, except Thursday and Sunday.







Note: If you want to watch a contemporary or classic French movie in the original French with English subtitles, check out Lost in Frenchlation. The group screens about one film a month at various cinemas, with a cocktail hour just before. For more information go to

More useful vocabulary

Days of the week:
lundi (lun): Monday
mardi (mar): Tuesday
mercredi (mer): Wednesday
jeudi (jeu): Thursday
vendredi (ven): Friday
samedi (sam): Saturday
dimanche (dim): Sunday
tlj (tous les jours): every day

salles climatisées: air conditioned rooms
séance: starting time

That’s all folks!

Ah, one more tip: The films start after 10 minutes of French commercials—which can also be a lot of fun.


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We Stay Strong in Paris—and Yet

Memorial flowers and notes amass at Place de la Republique after the Nov. 13 attacks.

We Stay Strong in Paris—and Yet

Nov. 19, 2015

By Patricia Tennison

A flower blooms in the window box of my apartment in the Marais.
A flower blooms in the window box of my apartment in the Marais.

Next time, I will tell you where to tap dance in Paris. Another time, we’ll talk about movies and theater and food.

Right now, we are walking in the aftermath of the ISIS attacks of Nov. 13.

Some scenes

The homeless couple who camp across the street in a sheltered doorway have disappeared. Sometimes they do this anyway, but now I wonder.


I wonder about a gentle friend, Nabil, who walks in his slightly darker skin. He has the age, the look that people would fear.


Yes, we are back at the outdoor cafes here in Paris, defiantly sipping coffee on the terraces. And yet …


And yet, I have started to walk on the driver’s side of the street. I figure it this way: One guy will be driving, the other guy with the AK-47 will be sitting in the passenger’s seat. So I don’t want to be on the passenger’s side. This new habit should be a great relief to my family and friends.


I splurged and had lunch for the first time at Michelin-ranked restaurant Suan Thai in the 4th arrondissement. A pretty flower on each plate. A man wearing a tie. A woman of a certain age who entered in an impeccable, two-piece white suit.

“Ça va," the waitress said, a familiar “how goes” that one says to a regular customer.

“Ça va?” the woman replied. “Je ne suis pas morte.” I am not dead.


The particular whine of the emergency vehicles is an audible passport stamp that I am again in Paris. But now, when I hear one go by, I wait for the second. No second one? Good.


I have started to shop for a cashmere scarf. This will take me days, as I decide which exact shade is best. It’s a miserable, lengthy chore because when I buy an item to store in my small closet, I intend that it will last me a lifetime.


Peace? Yes, I am for peace—right after we catch those guys.

Place de la Republique, strewn with memorial flowers and candles.


Gendarmes are out in force near Place de la Republique
Gendarmes are out in force near Place de la Republique.


Across from the Bataclan, a group of protesters hold white roses and a sign that identifies them as the Iranian resistance, in unity with France.
Across from the Bataclan, a group of protesters hold white roses and a sign that identifies them as the Iranian Resistance, in unity with France.


A handwritten note to a massacre victim, across from the Bataclan theater in Paris.


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