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San Francisco: A French Connection

Getting all Tippi with the birds at the bustling Union Square, San Francisco (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Slide, 1957)

Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis! (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Marie France, 1948)

By Theadora Brack

Bonjour! C’est moi! I’ve been in California, dreaming, with birds and flowers in my hair. Like a hard-boiled history detective, I’ve been combing the streets of San Francisco for traces of Paris. “Pourquoi?” you ask. Flashing back to the California Gold Rush, the French were probably the largest population in the city. That’s why!

Attracted by the gold, and escaping another revolution, thousands of “Argonauts,” braved the six-month voyage around Cape Horn from France to San Francisco. Faster than a toison d’or, soon the “Paris of the Pacific” boasted three French department stores: Roos Brothers, the Verdier family’s the City of Paris, and Raphael Weill’s White House—named after the Grande Maison De Blanc back in France. (Banana Republic is there now, but the White House still rocks a Parisian vibe, while Neiman Marcus sports the late, great City of Paris’s original stained glass dome.)

So in celebration of the New Year, rebirth, and reinvention, let’s recharge our batteries with a sentimental journey around Union Square. Here is where I left my heart, along with a few dollars, too. After all, it was wintertime, and love and a massive Snoopy the dog inflatable cold-air balloon were in the air, spurring me on to dizzying heights.

Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis. After we powder our noses in the celebrity photograph-laden ladies room, we’ll sashay forth to the Romper Room Tavern on Maiden Lane to watch the twilight sky fall.

As Sarah Bernhardt wrote in 1891, with gloved hands all a-flutter, “I mean to have lots of fun in this city before I leave. This is a jolly place to enjoy life in!” Or as Frankie Sinatra once crooned, “Now there’s a grown-up swinging town!” I couldn’t agree more.

Here’s a tease to please. Roll the film! Stay tuned for Paris-San Francisco stories. Just be prepared to leave your heart behind. Happy New Year! 

San Francisco, Globe made in France for the John Wanamaker Department Store, 1910-1914 (Photo: T. Brack)

San Francisco, Globe made in France for the John Wanamaker Department Store, 1910-1914 (Photo: T. Brack)

Like a hard-boiled history detective, I've been searching for traces of Paris, Neiman Marcus (Photo: T. Brack)

Like a hard-boiled history detective, I’ve been searching for traces of Paris, Neiman Marcus (Photo: T. Brack)

I spy the Eiffel Tower on the roof of the City of Paris Store, now Neiman Marcus (T. Brack’s archives, 1960)

All the sleeves are green and the sky is blue, Neiman Marcus, Stockton Street (Photo: T. Brack)

Bond, James Bond, Rotated not Stirred, Union Square  (Photo: T. Brack)

California Dreaming: Here is where I left my heart and a few pretend dollars, Chanel (Photo: T. Brack)

The Gimlets are on me at the Romper Room Tavern on Maiden Lane, Union Square (Photo: T. Brack)

Saint Francis Hotel, Union Square, San Francisco (Image: T. Brack's archives, 1960)

Saint Francis Hotel, Union Square, San Francisco (Image: T. Brack’s archives, 1960)

Feeling a “Groovitational” pull on such a Winter’s Day, Zara, Post Street, Union Square (Photo: T. Brack)

Powell Street Cable Car, spinning right round like a record (Image: T. Brack’s archives, slide, 1962)

Champagne and Sequins snap, crackle, and pop at Zara, Post Street, Union Square (Photo: T. Brack)

Blue Skies, Nothing but Blue Skies at the centuries-old Macy’s, Union Square (Photo: T. Brack)

High up on the rooftop at Macy’s, this Rose Infused Macaron calls to me, Union Square (Photo: T. Brack)

Wearing an “International Orange” hue, the Golden Gate Bridge woos at l’heure bleue (Photo: T. Brack)

BRACK San Francisco 455

 

 

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93 thoughts on “San Francisco: A French Connection

  1. We honeymooned in San Francisco, and fell in love all over again. After the 1906 quake more of the city was destroyed by dynamite than be the quake! They were still recovering from the Loma Prieta quake when we were there in 99. DiMaggio and Monroe were married there in 54 … bonne année!

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    • Oh, I love your honeymoon story! Where did you stay? Where did you dine? Do you have a favorite neighborhood? I’m now mad, mad about the City by the Bay. Obsessed. (I recently spent an entire afternoon at City Lights Bookshop on Columbus. Heaven. I was in heaven.)

      Bonne Année!
      Theadora

      (And thanks for the DiMaggio and Monroe tip!)

      Liked by 2 people

      • We stayed at what was the the Sheraton right across from Pier 39 – which is a wonderful night spot, street entertainers – human statues all painted in silver, and some of the best seafood places in the city. First of course was Alcatraz – tragic place really, and the Sea Lions that call the waterfront home along the pier are a sight but make sure the wind is offshore when you see them! The Presidio is fabulous, and there is a hidden story about it that I will have to dig up, along with Coit Tower, and the TransAmerica Pyramid Building … We walked the Golden Gate Bridge – There are signs and telephones all along, telling potential jumpers to call for help! China town is rich with tradition, but I don’t recall eating there. The fabulous Painted Ladies, the homes we all see in pictures are actually in a less than desirable neighborhood (at least then they were). Only got a quick look at Haight Ashbury, but one could see the attraction of it, a lot like Greenwich Village without the winter. The cable cars are like time machines, and still work exactly as they did when installed – a kinetic Museum! Lombard Street where the curves are is a must – I later saw a mentalist drive a Porsche down that street blindfolded – still can’t figure that one out. And of course there is Ghiradelli Chocolates along the waterfront. Out last day we drove up the coast to Bodega Bay where Alfred Hitchcock filmed “The Birds” although i never found the diner where the whole thing started … I will have to find the pictures, buried somewhere since our recent move, and post a few for all to see. It is an enchanting city for certain, one of our favorites, we will be returning sometime soon …

        Liked by 2 people

      • What lovely memories! Yes, please find the photographs. I’d love to see them. We’d love to see them! Do you remember visiting the Cliff House? I just ordered “The Birds” and “Vertigo.” A Hitchcock mini-marathon! Ghirardelli Chocolate! They recently sponsored the Jewel City: Panama-Pacific International Exposition at the de Young museum, so there were beaucoup bars (decked out in handsome wrappers) available for sale in the gift shop. And I bought more than a few! Thanks for sharing your trip memories. Keep us posted on the photographs!

        Enjoy the week!
        Theadora

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    • Thanks, Thom! Good. Golly. I missed your New York City holiday vitrine posts. I’ve got some catching-up to do. How was the window scene this year? I’ll visit your site, and dig up some links. I always love your dispatches from Fifth Avenue.

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

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  2. I lived in the Bay Area for seven years, both the city and –mostly– north in Marin County. I knew there were French connections but never knew about all those spots in Union Square — really enjoyed this!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Merci! Well, stay tuned for more French Connection tidbits. I haven’t been able to stop digging. Say, where in Marin County did you live? I also got to visit the Muir Beach, the Headlands and Stinson Beach. I have fallen head-over-heels for redwood trees and sea lions. I’m hooked. I even stopped by the Mammal Rescue Center.

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

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      • I lived in Corte Madera, way up one of the hills in a wooded hollow that backed up to a county park. Perfect combo of living in a beautiful quiet space but being in easy reach of big city life… I used to love going to Stinson Beach to walk on the beach and eat crab cakes at Stinson Beach Grill. I also headed quite often out to Point Reyes and quiet Drakes Beach out there, which I LOVED. Walking in Muir Woods was a fave too.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m green with envy. Lucky you! Great location. I didn’t walk, but I drove through the Muir Woods. Of course, I got weepy. I also trekked it up to Leggett, California, and drove through the Chandelier Drive-Thru Tree. It was a list dream come true (since the age of six). Totally worth the five bucks, in my book! I’m still dreaming of the Avenue of the Giants . . .

        Enjoy the day!
        Theadora

        Liked by 1 person

    • Fabulous tip! Thank you! Yes, Café de la Presse is located on Grant Street. I think I now have a post-shopping (at nearby Zara) hot spot. If you’ve got menu recommendations, do spill. It’s in a great location. Perfect for people-watching! I completely agree.

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

    • As always, thanks for your thoughtful words! I’ve missed your photography, by the way. I’ve already started creating part two. More historical tidbits and tales of heroism! Yesterday I got quite weepy.

      And Happy New Year!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  3. It was long time you did not post anything. I like your San Francisco presentation, its connection with Paris. You’ve brought some Paris air to this lovely American city. Thank you.

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  4. So wonderful to see you and in San Fran no less!!! Lucky, lucky you 🙂 Photos are stunning as always. You have such a way of taking us back and pulling us forward that is unlike anyone else T!! So fun and so oo la la…xo

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    • Merci, Rhonda! Your words made my day. My week! I’m now cuckoo about the city. The view Union Square from the rooftop of Macy’s is spectacular. This is where I enjoyed my shocking pink rose infused macaron. A glorious day! And up on the roof, I was able to touch the Macy’s sign. Not one cloud in the sky.

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I can’t get over how much the James Bond photo looks like it was taken in Paris! Leave it to you to find traces of the City of Light wherever you go! Marvelous!

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    • Like? Heck, no. I love your words, Martino! JCDecaux installed the street furniture in San Francisco in 1996. Chicago got a set in 2001.The company is based in Neuilly-sur-Seine, Paris, France. Interesting, eh?

      Happy New Year!
      T.

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  6. My favorite city Theadora that I left my heart in when I left the city in 1987 – an amazing place. Your trip into Union Square was my one-stop on the weekends usually walked down to the Square visiting the many stores Neiman, Saks, being transported to another place of Channel make-up counters, perfume and jewels – just loved the whole scene and wonderfully dressed women. This my friend was a most enjoyable post today, you brought back many great memories for me. I was just wondering the other day where you’ve been – so nice to know you were enjoying Tony Bennett’s San Francisco.

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    • I remembered you tales about the city, Mary! In fact, I almost sent you a message. Union Square was beautiful, decked out in tinsel. Stockton Street (between Macy’s and Neiman Marcus was a special pedestrian-only zone with musicians and kittens in the vitrines. I loved exploring in the Hotel Saint-Francis. Each time, I spotted quite a few pilgrims standing under the clock! Stay tuned for more stories. Obsessed. Like Sarah Bernhardt, I’m now obsessed with the city. Apparently, Christian Dior also love it. I think San Francisco was his favorite American city. He visited in 1947 and 1957. The de Young Museum has a few of his dresses.

      During your strolls, did you visit the perfume shop?

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

      • So lovely. When I lived there I used the cable cars to ride to work when it was raining, but when it wasn’t I walked and had some of the best walks down to the financial district. Another favorite was going to church over in Pacific Heights, the older ladies all wore hats and white gloves, simply another time – just loved it. A couple favorite hotels for me was Hotel Intercontinental and Fairmont (wonderful elevator ride to the top, w/a photo-documentary of the city’s history). It was the restaurants at the top of these hotels that offer amazing views and wonderful mimosa’s. The perfume shop (oh yes) – something very romantic about the whole scene. Really you bring back so many wonderful memories, love it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I am so digging the flashbacks and memories! The Fairmont. It’s now on my list. The church in Pacific Heights? Are you thinking of the 1895 Swedenborgian Church? At the corner of Washington and Lyon Street? If so, I loved this little Arts and Crafts stunner. The chairs are incredible. I spent one rainy afternoon here. They opened it up for me. The perfect place on a blustery day. The Cliff House is now another favorite spot. I could go on and on . . .

        Thanks for sharing, Mary!
        Theadora

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Theadora, the church that I was referring to is St. Brigid on VanNess. Another gorgeous church is St. Dominic’s. The Cliff House is a wonderful spot for some magnificent views and while enjoying a mimosa or two! I too could go on and on – I always called SF the Paris of the US. Love your get aways ~

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    • Thank you! Any flashbacks? (It was great fun to see the signed celebrity photographs in the Cliff House. Such sweet notes. And what a view!)

      Fingers are crossed!
      Theadora

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  7. From deep in the cupboard of buried memories she pulled out the dusty box marked “photos – l967”. Searching for the iconic photo of herself standing under the street sign HAIGHT ASHBURY. A psychedelic fashion statement in a brilliantly patterned dress and purple shoes.
    Years passed. She returned again and again to the city but the memories she cherished were not of the sophisticated restaurants and posh hotels – but the exciting adventures of that free spirited flower wearing time.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haight Ashbury! Oh, I would love to see that photograph, Virginia. Was it on the top of pile of images in the dusty box? Decked out in a purple shoes and a patterned dress? Was it a mini or maxi? Velvet shoes? Flower power, indeed. Now I’m singing the Scott McKenzie song YET again. If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair . . .

      Big Hugs,
      Theadora

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      • Dear Miss T. Didn’t find the photo but I am still looking. The shoes were dark purple leather with a thick heel. I was completely in love with them, and I was wearing my dresses ABOVE my knee. I bought a tiny bouquet of fresh flowers – violets that I managed to keep alive and take back to minus-forty below Saskatchewan.
        Happy New Year dear Theadora
        XXX Virginia

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dear Virginia, Do keep searching for the photograph. At least we have your ab-fab word painting. You can never go wrong with purple leather shoes with a thick heel and a bouquet of violets. So they survived the jaunt? Of course, they did.
        I’m not at all surprised!
        Theadora

        Liked by 1 person

    • Happy New Year, Janet! Sorry about the head spinning. I always travel with one foot in the past. Say, where did you stay? Any hotel recommendations? Favorite museums? Did you make it to the swanky Cliff House?

      As always, thanks for your sweet words. Stay warm!
      Theadora

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  8. Happy 2016, Theodora!! Always great to see a post from you and this one was so much fun. The mix of old and new photos had my head (or mind; no “Exorcist” stuff here) spinning for a moment and pulled me back to a few years ago when we were in SF and stayed just off Union Square. Always a pleasure.

    janet

    Liked by 2 people

  9. San Francisco is one of my favorite cities! I am not surprised that you found so many French connections and fell in love with it too. Your photos of Union Square brought back many memories and so many things to see and experience there. Husband and I were there last about three years ago and are considering going back for our 40th anniversary this year. You must go back as there is always more to see and Napa Valley is not far away! A lovely post

    Liked by 1 person

    • So you plan to return for your anniversary? Enjoy! And Happy Anniversary! Do you have a favorite neighborhood? The Vesuvio Café (near the City Lights bookshop) broke my heart. So many literary ghosts! It was great fun to drink a glass of wine on the second floor as the sun set. A great place to people-watch! It was a hustling, bustling scene, inside and out. And I agree! Napa Valley is also beautiful. Managed to visit more than a few wineries. Gorgeous drive! Eureka (home of the Kinetic Sculpture Race) was also pretty darn wonderful.

      Sigh!
      Theadora

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  10. Happy new year, T! How fascinating and another city I’d love to visit. Why is the sight of Snoopy a spur to wistfulness (this is party rhetorical, so feel free to ignore)? Adore your shots!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know, Richard! On that day, Snoopy the dog was the closest thing to heaven. It was nearly a sob fest. Blame it on the rooftop view and the macaron sugar rush. The nearby café was even playing The Cure’s Mint Car: “The sun is up, I’m so happy I could scream!” Yes! You must visit San Francisco. You’d love it.

      Happy New Year!
      T.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. As a former Bay Area resident (I lived on the island of Alameda, between SF and Oakland) I too, enjoyed your post about sites in Union Square I took for granted. Please keep sharing your research! I travel back every six weeks for work, so I plan to head back into Union Square and try to visualize that Eiffel Tower on the rooftop.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your swell words! Yes, stay tuned for the San Francisco retail sequel. I’m hard at work on part two. Have you seen the City of Paris department store’s original stained glass dome? It’s now in the Neiman Marcus building. Pack a hankie and your camera. It’s a showstopper!

      And thanks for popping by the site!
      Theadora

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  12. Happy New Year Theadora! 🎇🎆 San Francisco is one of my favorite cities – nice post. Glad you’re enjoying a good start to 2016 – Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Sir, A shopping spree? What a treat! By the way, I did stop by the Jacqueline Perfumery on Geary Street. Fabulous vitrines with the dreamy gigantic bottles. (I’ll keep you posted on my return dates.)

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

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  13. San Francisco – oh lucky you as it is one of my favorite US cities. The ethnic variety is quite the thrill for me. Personally, I love the North Beach area. Hope you had a wonderful time at the city by the bay.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you, Frank! San Francisco is now one of my favorite US cities. When I wasn’t snooping around in the City Lights Bookshop, I was hoofing about the city–walking, talking, and gawking! Heaven. I was in heaven.

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

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      • Wonderful. We vacationed there once for a week. Stay in a hotel near Union Square, then got around the city by using a one-week bus pass. Simply wonderful … only rented a car one day for a day-trip to wine country. I’ve got the feeling you had a great time!

        Liked by 1 person

      • We love Sonoma over Napa … less traffic, more rural. Also had two days in SF on a cruise stop (Vancouver to San Diego) … of course one of the days we went to Sonoma.

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  14. OMG, I was there last month for the 2nd time… and I already miss IT!!! ❤ my very close & beloved relatives live Van Ness… 🙂
    * * *
    my very best and vive Frisco! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Love this post Theadora! All the vintage San Francisco pics– as well as your current inserts!! I did not know the French side of SF! We’re driving up to SF this weekend. Our kids live there so we pop in often. My favorite store on Union Square is the flag ship William Sonoma store– beautiful wares, fabulous cooking demonstrations. It looks like you had a fine time– thanks for sharing a fascinating look at SF– I’ve learned so much about Paris from you, now moving to points beyond! Your blog is the amazing. xox

    Liked by 1 person

    • Again, what timing, Rhonda! Enjoy your trip! Oh, yes, I stopped by the Williams-Sonoma store. It was hustling, bustling. During your next Union Square visit, stop by the Neiman Marcus store. Here you’ll find the City of Paris department store’s original stained glass dome. There’s now a café on the top level. And speaking of food, do you have a favorite restaurant or cafe in the city? Again, have a wonderful jaunt with the family. And as always, thanks for the kind words!!

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

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      • Theadora– fun to hear from you! Loved hearing more about your trip. I’ve seen the Neiman Marcus dome once– my daughter-in-law took me there to get me things to wear to their wedding. But did not know there is a cafe to lunch in! I will check on that. My SF favorite is Zuni Cafe in SF for a pretty meal out, the Wooly Pig to pick up sandwiches for Golden Gate Park, Nopalito for Mexican, Shanghai Dumpling King for small bustling storefront Chinese. You can see we love to eat! Oh, and BiRite ice cream in the Mission– and Tartine Bakery. Do have a Paris restaurant list hidden somewhere on your blog?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know! I know! I also love food. Jotting down the names now. Thank you for taking the time to create the list, Rhonda! And YES. Maybe I’ll start a list of favorite Paris joint. A great idea!

        Again, enjoy the trip!
        T.

        Rhonda’s San Francisco Picks:
        1. Zuni Cafe
        2. Wooly Pig
        3. Nopalito
        4. Shanghai Dumpling King
        5. BiRite ice cream
        6. Tartine Bakery

        Liked by 1 person

      • HI Theadora– sitting at our son’s house this evening in SF– just back from Smitten Ice cream shop– where they used liquid nitrogen to freeze up each serving on the spot– so creamy! I’ll be anticipating your Paris favorites!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Interesting! Lucky you! I just checked out their menu. I’ve got my eye on their homemade signature cookie dough, chocolate and pretzel mix. Oh, Sigh! ~T.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh dear Theadora, there you are! I was worried! And in San Francisco with flowers in your hair! Well, happy new year/bonne année, Chérie, and I hope you will be back to Paris before too long! I tried to reblog your incredible post after the Paris attacks and for some reason it didn’t work. I just read it again now while I was here and am going to try to reblog again on Monday after I talk to my tech person. Have a grand time in SF! Your photos and comments are as eclectic and sizzling as ever … and I’m still waiting for your ultimate Paris guide! Bisous!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’ve been working on the road! As always, thanks for your thoughtful words, Patricia. Oh, I loved, loved your recent nod to chocolate and the “Chocolat” movie. In fact, over the weekend, I re-watched the film. The power of suggestion and Johnny Depp, of course! The perfect film for the February! (Your photographs are also gorgeous, by the way.)

      “Once upon a time, there was a quiet little village in the French countryside, whose people believed in Tranquilité – Tranquility!”

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

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    • Thanks, Resa!

      As you know, I’m a big time fan of your Art Gowns. La Vie en Rose and Lux are personal favorites. You can never go wrong with a bodice in gold. Do you have a favorite city in world? And if so, has it inspired one of your confections?

      Enjoy the week!
      Theadora

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      • Well, I do love New York City & Los Angeles lots & lots, but in all fairness, I have not been to Europe. I’ve been all over N. & S. America. There are some beautiful historical areas in cities such as Lima, Bogota, Mexico City & more, but I find the grinding poverty in other areas ruins them for me.
        I’m sure I would adore Paris, Rome, London & more. Europe looks fantastic.
        Let me add where I live, Toronto. Like NYC, it is North American, and lacks a lot of the types of beauty prevalent in Europe. Nonetheless, it is marvelous over here.
        I haven’t done a gown inspired by a city, but it could be coming soon!
        You have a great time as well!
        Resa
        You have an awesome blog!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Well, do keep us posted on your City-Inspired dress. Fingers are crossed . . .

        And again, thanks for your kind words!
        T.

        Like

  17. It’s funny how I just left California and now you’re there. How was your visit? As always I adore the photos; SanFran can feel European in the right places 🙂 Rose macarons are my favorite flavor, so that was a tease…

    Liked by 1 person

      • God no! There’s a limit to how much sunshine I can take. And I don’t mean I like to be emo or something. I was afraid if I stayed any longer I’d be one of those people who is permanently orange…you know the kind I mean….[What did you think of the news that M@’s 2nd two children were fathered by Axel?]

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    • Thanks, Julia! It’s a great city for shoe shopping and window-shopping. I spotted more than a few beauties in the Louboutin vitrines.

      Happy New Year!
      Theadora

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    • I’m with you, Captain N.! I left my heart in San Francisco. I will return! What a pretty shot. I love the red cable car. I love the red rain slicker. Timeless. Flawless, too.

      Thanks for sharing!
      Theadora

      Liked by 1 person

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