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Red and and a guest get ready for Christmas Eve

Dear Readers, Friends,

I must apologize for the delay in setting up my new website, it just took a little longer than we expected to get it exactly right and with all the information in accessible places!

Meanwhile I trust your Christmas was fun and that your New Year will be a very happy and successful one. Richard and I spent Christmas in France at the country house of our dear friends, whom you've met under the alias of the "Shoups" in a supporting role in my novel, Last Time I Saw Paris and who you will meet again, under the same name in my forthcoming novel HOTEL RIVIERA.

Red is absolutely the hostess with the mostest, and the most welcoming. We arrived on a dark rainy night after seemingly endless hours in airports and flights from LA to Atlanta, then to Paris and on to Bergerac, to be greeted with love and champagne and a sparkling fifteen foot Christmas tree that didn't even begin to come near the rafters (the house is a converted fifteenth century barn.)

The cats schmoosed our legs and five peacocks, mom and dad and three young ones, peeked at us through the windows.

I never realized peacocks had personality – these are adorable, hand-raised and just dying to come into the house and hang out, in fact every time you look out a window there's a little face peeking back at you. And they're so breathtakingly beautiful, even with their tails closed and trailing.

Christmas Eve was dinner at friends riverside house in Bergerac – fourteen, black tie (black satin skirt and black velvet long-sleeved top, heels and a touch of "glitter" around the neck- quite good).

Rosetta and Bruce cooked and served the most delicious food, plus everyone got merry and told naughty stories. Much later we emerged into a clear, cold starlit night. The old church in Bergerac had its own bright stars cascading from its steeple and the ancient stone bridges were strung with lights. Magical.

On Christmas morning somehow Santa managed to find us out there in the French countryside (in the rain.) We cooked a goose and people came for late afternoon dinner. We drank good wine and reminisced about our lives and travels together, about families and old friends.

On Boxing Day (as we English call the day after Christmas) our hosts had invited forty-five people, locals from the village, including the mayor and his wife, plus many expatriate friends(who all I must say, love living in this part of France) So there we were, Americans, British, Norwegian, Belgian, Swiss, German, and so many French I was forced to break the language barrier. Not only did I manage to converse with a Monsieur Christian about (I think) how Napoleon's top general's brother built a house in the village that still exists, and that Monsieur Christian is historian of the area, I also managed to tell him I was an "écrivisse." I wondered why everyone nodded solemnly and looked a bit puzzled until I realized I had just told them I was a "shrimp" – What I had meant to say was a writer, an "écrivan!"

After that it was a welcome rest, with country walks, lots of rain, big fires in the grate, a glass of wine, delicious cheeses (I love cheese, but save myself for France.)

New Year’s Eve was Red and Jerry's "piece de résistance" – dinner for fourteen, again black tie (white taffeta shirt, black velvet pants for me) with the most spectacular table you could ever imagine. My dear and lovely Red is a true artist – and nothing is too much trouble.

Me and Red on New Year's Eve

Getting the table ready for
New Year's Eve

The spectacular finished setting!

My favorite Paris patisserie

Our Paris hotel in the snow

At the Cafe de Flore

Sunny, our new kitten

Me and my true friend, Red

The photo can only give a pale glimpse of how spectacular the table was, and I cannot begin to tell you how delicious the food was – all cooked by Red herself – and every plate a perfect picture from Gourmet magazine. Including the wonderful old-fashioned Beef Wellington – not an easy dish to prepare and cook, but heaven to eat, as was the prune and armagnac crème brulée. Plus there were paper hats, in the very English tradition, and crackers to pull, liberal amounts wine dispensed, and a lot of very jolly Englishmen acting like schoolboys with noise blowers and kisses under the mistletoe, and of course the midnight champagne toast for the Happy New Year we all long for.

Our visit passed too quickly and we soon were on the TGV, the rapid train to Paris for two nights — meeting friends for lunch at La Coupole in Montparnasse, striding the streets in the rain — which we didn’t mind a bit, shopping at Biche de Bere on the rue de Rennes for the best inexpensive faux jewelry, and on the rue de Grenelle for shoes – it’s the best "shoe street" in St Germain, (turn off Blvd St Germain on to rue des Saints Pères, make a right onto Grenelle) I bought two pairs of very pointy shoes at L.K. Bennett – which turns out to be an English store, with a super selection at good prices — and they are, thank heaven, comfortable. Sadly, I was a week too early for the sales, and besides I didn’t have much time, so I merely gazed longingly in passing into my favorite Sonia Rykiel's windows. If you ever wanted the perfect little black dress, she has it. But then for a lot less (around 100 dollars) so did almost every other store I passed! Paris will not let you down in the fashion department – and I love that it's all so feminine.

By the way, at Biche de Bere I bought a spectacular necklace, square silver nuggets, hollowed out and each nugget tied with tiny black organza bows! It’s the most flirtatious piece of jewelry I own.

So, Saturday morning we were sitting in the Brasserie de Buci, after having explored, still in the rain of course, the marvelous street market on the rue de Buci.

We were having our usual heavenly (and heavily caffineated!) café grande creme and croissants (here’s Paris for you – they had run out of croissants so the waiter popped out to the bakery on the corner and bought more for us! I can't imagine that happening in LA, New York or London!)

Then out the window we saw the rain had turned to big fat flakes of snow. How lovely, we said, how beautiful, Paris in the snow. And we rushed around taking photos, loving it. Then came time to go to the airport. Hours in a taxi, inching along on the icy roads. We were supposed to check in at 2 for a 4 o’clock flight. No check in – try later. At 4 perhaps. And no they wouldn't check our luggage. So there we were, along with thousands of other passenger at Charles de Gaulle. Stuck.

We finally checked in at four, sat impatiently around in the lounge until 8, boarded, then sat on the plane which had ice on its wings for five hours – (they even served dinner) We were told we were going to disembark, then heard we couldn’t because fifty flights were grounded and nobody could get a jetway. The incoming flight from LA was stuck out on the runway unable to disembark its passengers because nothing could reach it! Horror stories ran around like wildfire – a riot in the airport by passengers whose flight was definitely not going to leave for the Dominican Republic. In fact, Paris’s major airport – and Air France had simply closed down, outfaced by the ice and winds.

Our flight crew were amazing, lending people their own cell phones to call waiting relatives in America, but there was nothing they could do. A 1 a.m. we were disembarked with the words "Courage et bonne chance" ringing in our numb ears, and an inaccessible Air France number to call. In fact, none of the phones worked. The ground crew had gone home, even the police had gone home. Young girls travelling alone were in tears, people were sleeping on the floor. And a couple of desperate attendants were trying to sort us out, without success. In the end by some miracle, Richard, using MCI, got through to American Express in the States, got us on a Monday flight and back into our room at the hotel we’d just left, plus we managed to help out a couple of "stuck" young people, including Kelly from Atlanta – who was still perky after 12 hours at the airport! Of course our luggage was still on the plane and we were told it would be sent on to our "final destination" — meaning L.A. So, here we were in Paris again — with no luggage. Story of my life, right? I want to tell you it's amazing how you can manage with just a black sweater, pants and boots. Why, I wonder do we take so much "stuff" in the first place? (By the way, the luggage was delivered to our house, five days later.)

So, at three a.m. we were back at the hotel — with two extra nights in Paris. Did I grumble? Of course not!

The snow turned to rain again. We visited the Musée d’Orsay, and back to La Coupole for dinner — it's becoming more eccentric by the minute, the waiters either solemn and very French, or mugging and making you laugh.

The people at the next tables – mostly French — are entertaining and it's good "people watching" territory. Glasses of champagne in the Deux Magots, lunch at the Café Flore, wandering the rue Jacob and Place von Furstemberg, admiring the vibrant colors of the silks and velvets in the decorator stores, and the antiques and the art galleries, as well as the baby clothes in Petit Faune on rue Jacob.

Friends, readers, if I had to invent a city, it would be Paris. Here is a place where you really feel like a woman. Soon, you’ll be able to go there on my own specialized tour. I’ll keep you informed of the dates and details, but please look forward to it in the spring. Contact me if you need more details.

And finally back home, to our new kitten, Sunny – who though minute is a fast bundle of energy and is managing to wreck the place (two broken vases so far, shut in cupboards twice and already sleeping on the bed. What can I tell you?) Except he definitely needs a companion and we plan on finding a couple of Siamese to keep him company. As you know my beloved Siamese, Coco died in August. She can never be replaced in my heart, but a home without a cat or two, and maybe a dog, is too quiet a place.

Sunny came from our local pet Rescue Center where he was discovered on the front doormat. He was about two-weeks-old, wet and very sick and looked like a little rat. They thought he would die. But in the loving caring hands of the Pet Rescue workers, he was brought back to life and now you’d never know he'd been a "foundling," brought up in a cage. He's as sassy and confident as any feline I know! And as you can see, he's really pretty. And besides, when I opened up that cage, he took a flying leap into my arms. Of course, he was mine.

Well, the holidays are over and I’m back at work on my next novel set in a chateau in Provençe, and involving a family reunion and a murder mystery – I can’t wait to finish it. This one will be published in the summer of 2004, so as you can see, we writers (or écrivesses/shrimp!) are always a year ahead of ourselves. As I said my latest novel, HOTEL RIVIERA will be published this summer.

I need to tell you that if, when you read this, it sounds like the perfect life and that everything is easy and pleasant, this is not always the case. I had a wonderful Christmas and New Year, but every New Year brings its own thoughts about life, and about our place in it, and about who we are, what we do, about happiness and sometimes not about happiness; about families, and sometimes how they can be dispersed, and about the blessing of good friends. You only need a few and those who claim "hundreds" are deluding themselves. True friends are those you can count on in any circumstances, who can set you straight when you’re thinking is not good, who can offer you a shoulder to cry on and who can make you laugh. You can hang out with friends, with not much being said, only that you know you'll be there for each other if needs arises.

I know for some of you Christmas was probably lonely and that New Year is a time to be dreaded. It’s then we need to look into our own hearts and ask who we are? Perhaps an answer is in what can we offer, what can we do for others, who can we help who is in even sadder or more desperate circumstances.

How do we do this? Introspection can lead to heartaches. Being with others is better, serving in some way, perhaps in the community. Looking for our own "soul" and hanging onto it despite difficult or adverse circumstances, is not easy, but it is necessary. My hard-earned advice for the New Year, dear readers and friends, is to hang on to your soul. You only have one and it's worth more than you think.

I would like to say thank you for finding my books entertaining and please, remember to take care of your "hearts" as well as your day-to-day. If you wish, you can write to me, let me know how you feel about what I said. And if you don’t feel like doing that, then just enjoy my Christmas vacation story.

All my good wishes,