Monday, April 9, 2012

Married to the Maestro – Part 2

In “Married to the Maestro – Part 1” Janet Lacombe, who is married to international Conductor Jacques Lacombe, shared with us some of her best packing tips, must-have travel items and where to find the world’s most luscious tomatoes. In this last segment of our interview, Janet shares some of her favorite travel stories and places to shop. Time for the fun stuff !!

M-T: You and Jacques are constantly on the move, but I know you both consider Montreal to be a home base. When you and Jacques got married, you not only had to adapt to a new country and culture, but to a new language. How is the All-American Girl doing with her French these days?

J-L: Actually, it’s hard to learn French in Montreal, because people switch to English so quickly. One of the wonderful things about traveling so often to France is the fact that I do get to practice speaking French with the locals. This can be painful for the speaker and the listener.

Avignon Opera House
In my early days of learning French (not that I have stopped learning French, mind you – it never ends!), Jacques and I were in Avignon in the south of France for Jacques’ latest adventure in the opera world.
I remember this particular trip, because it was my first time celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the U.S. At that time, Jacques, coming from a culture that does not celebrate Thanksgiving in the same way as Americans, did not understand how important Thanksgiving was (and still is) to me.

For me, as I would guess for many others, it is not only a time to reflect and gather family around you, but it is, also, the beginning of the wonderful onslaught that is the Christmas season. It is when all the excitement begins!!

In France, not so much; and that’s okay. There are many other traditions that I know nothing of, at least, not yet! In the meantime, here I am in the south of France, desperately looking for a turkey. Ham I can find. They have sliced ham, chopped ham, sweet ham, spicy ham…ham, ham, ham. And then there is cheese……..cheese from the North, cheese from the South, cheese from the left and cheese from the right……..crumbled cheese, dry cheese, soft cheese, hard cheese……green cheese and ham, Sam I am.

But turkey? Non! I am persistent, though. I decide that any form of turkey will do. I finally do find a few items that look like turkey legs, but I’m not so sure. There are many mystery meats at the grocery stores in France, some of which I would rather they be left unknown.

You would think by now that I would know the words for a few kinds of meat, but that wasn’t really at the top of my list of vocabulary words that month. I knew the basics, and I figured I could “wing” it (oops, sorry!).

So, I pick up the choices for the would-be Thanksgiving dinner and can’t determine which meat is a turkey leg and which is a part of a rabbit. My selections are labeled lapin and dinde. Hmmmm….dinde and lapin. I know one means turkey and the other means rabbit. I really don’t want to make a mistake here, particularly since, at the time, I truly did not like rabbit and positively did not know what to do with a rabbit, other than feed it lettuce, which would have been nearly impossible at this point.

I muster up my courage and begin to approach any store clerk who looks slightly approachable to ask what it is I am holding. Since I already know that lapin and dinde are not good enough answers, I point to one of the packages and ask for the word in English. That doesn’t work.

So, I boldly try to jump like a rabbit, gobble like a turkey and ask, “Which is which?” No good. I do understand enough to know that it was going to be a few days before I could re-enter this store again; nonetheless, I still needed to decide what was for dinner.

I wander back to the meat section carrying the dinde in one hand and the lapin in the other. I begin to weigh them from hand to hand. I think to myself, “Even if justice is blind, I still have a 50% chance of being right.”

That year, I was thankful for good guesses and a Happy “Dinde” Day.

M-T: It didn’t take you too long to make a bit of progress with the French language, at least judging by a very interesting encounter you had at one of my favorite cafés in Paris.

J-L: Never leave a lady alone too long in Paris. She could either much too easily, single-handedly reinvigorate the French economy via her credit card or be whisked away by some random Frenchman – or both!

On more than one occasion while lingering in some European apartment, Jacques has said to me, “You look bored. Why don’t you go shopping in Paris for a few days?” And who am I to argue with such logic? The last time he made that proposal I quickly booked my non-refundable hotel room (no chance for a change of heart) and the cheapest airline ticket I could find. Why spend any more on airfare than necessary? One could waste good shoe money, if one is not careful!

So, off I went on an early spring weekend a few years ago to spend a few shillings in Paris on some definite “Me-Time.” Three days in my favorite city with credit card in hand! (M-T Note: Cue the heavenly choir!!!)

I arrived early my first day – no time to waste! I checked in at my hotel and quickly unpacked in order to enjoy every moment of Paris that I could.

After many hours of “perusing” every store I could find, and there are soooo many, I decided to have dinner at one of my favorite cafés, Les Deux Magots. I was having a wonderful meal while simultaneously people watching and working on my NY Times crossword puzzle.

By the time my coffee arrived, a very handsome Frenchman, who had been watching me curiously from time to time, began to speak to me. Thankfully, I had learned enough French to be able to respond intelligently enough. We continued to have a lovely conversation about everything under the sun. Of course, fairly early on in the conversation I did mention that I was married…happily. That did not seem to bother him. After a few hours and exchanging e-mails, we both decided it was time to leave. He proceeded to walk me back to my hotel. About halfway there, I stopped and told him what a lovely evening I had had and thanked him for allowing me to barrage his ears with my broken French. Graciously, he kissed my hand and bid me adieu as I sent him on his way. Ever hopeful, he sent me a charming e-mail that very night.

The next evening, while having dinner with Jacques’ Parisian agent and his wife, I recounted my activities of the night before. Incredulous, Jacques’ agent said to me, “You did what? Had dinner with a man? …Was he French?”

His wife and I laughed ridiculously. I guess I know what is on the minds of Frenchmen! As it happens, the largest charge on my credit card that trip was for dinner at Les Deux Magots.

M-T: While we’re on the subject of shopping, a subject near and dear to both our hearts, where do you love to shop?

J-L: Giorgio Armani Collezioni at Le Printemps in Paris or on avenue George V, but only during les soldes (the sales). (M-T Note: les soldes occur twice a year in France and are a bargain hunter’s dream!)

My favorite find was a pin-striped Armani suit on sale at Le Printemps. It fits like a glove and was an absolute STEAL!! Oh, and don’t forget to get your VAT (M-T Note: Value Added Tax) back.

I also love the 2nd floor of Bergdorf’s in New York at sale time. There’s nothing more All-American than finding a great bargain!

Overall, my favorite American mall is the King of Prussia Mall. It’s just HUGE! (M-T Note: The Mall is located in King of Prussia, PA, and has a small but well stocked Hermès Boutique!) And the best part is……….it’s sales-tax-free! Although I haven’t discovered all of New Jersey’s wonderful malls, I definitely should. (M-T Note: Jacques is now Music Director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra). Unlike New York, New Jersey has no sales tax on clothing.


M-T: Traveling all over the world, attending operas and concerts, meeting interesting people and talented artists, not to mention eating in the finest restaurants and shopping in a très chic quartier…….it all sounds so wonderful; but I’m sure there are times when it’s great to be home, n’est-ce pas?

J-L: Absolutely! Whether in New Jersey or Montreal, sleeping in my own bed after a long trip just feels sooooo good -- time to relax, kick off my Jimmy Choos, eat sushi and shoot some pool. It’s good to be home.

* * * * *

And so we bid a fond adieu to the Maestro’s wife. Another long trip over, she will sleep in her own bed tonight. How lovely! But first, she must clean out the Fridge.

Hmmmm – mystery meat! Is it dinde or is it lapin?

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- the Prelude"

Check out "Married to the Maestro -- Part 1"

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