28 Jul 2015

My French Summer Beauty

If you tasked some mystery shopper to call at my place, head right to my bathroom and then off to raid the bedside cabinet, they would have to report back that this woman is living her truth for a simple life in harmony with nature's nurture laws. And super beauty oils are a big part of it.

The French connection: Nuxe, Melvita, Lift'Argan and Caudalie

Gone are the days when I believed the hype of high-profile beauty brands with the so-called magic power creams, backed up by an ingredient list with unpronounceable words and aggressive formulae straight out of a chemical plant, only beautified by sleek, expensive packaging, and purported by a punchy media strategy packed-full with supercilious supermodels high on retinoids.

Let's just say that I went through years of the high-maintenance regimen, and the promised results were not quite as expected. Alongside this, the question of animal testing kept nagging me, with no clear answer from those beauty multi-nationals that just like to keep it opaque, I wonder why?

A flurry of French brands with nature at the heart!

Meanwhile after undergoing the high-tech cosmeceuticals treatment throughout the late 1990s to late 2000s, the beauty industry has undergone another revolution, this time over softer, and with caring in mind. It has been revitalised by a flurry of new and exciting brands like Estelle & Thild, REN, Tata Harper and One Love Organics that are organic, plant-based, nature-focused and irresistibly trendy in looks and offerings. They also state loud and proud that they do not test on animals. And that's a thumbs-up from me!

On the basis of less being more, my skincare routine has pared down, phasing out those products with the long lists of incomprehensible ingredients, cryptic formulations, misleading claims and/ or questionable ethics. I have switched to less ingredients, less products, less fuss. My quest for simplicity and honesty doesn't mean less efficiency or less potency, because the products I am now using daily harness the best that nature has to offer, backed by the wisdom and knowledge of our elders and ancient cultures who live(d) side by side with nature.

Borage is rich in Vitamin E, fights free radicals, and keeps skin supple.

Botanists and chemists have dug deeper to understand the make-up (compounds) of those miracle plants, verify their properties and ascertain their benefits, most of which have entered pharmacology. Plant cultivation has increased in line with demand and the renewed interest for natural remedies.

Well then, what are those super beauty oils I wax lyrical about? My numero uno is Nigella sativa. Every morning I cleanse my face, neck and décolletage with Caudalie Gentle Cleansing Milk, before taking a shower. Then I lightly massage pure (100%) Nigella (sativa seed) Oil by Melvita into my face, neck and décolletage, wait 5-10 minutes before applying a 50 SPF (*) mineral sunscreen (the latter only if I am planning on going out). I do not use any face cream because Nigella oil brings sufficient moisture. I am not ruling out face creams for the Winter months though, like the elegant rose-scented Rosa angelica by Sanoflore.

Nigella sativa

Nigella sativa (a.k.a. Black Cumin, Black Seed) grows wild, mostly in the Middle East, although I have found some specimens in Corsica. When dry, the flowers yield thick black seeds, which in turn yield a sacred, highly-reputed, vitamin-laden (A, B, and C) oil, rich in amino and fatty acids, not to mention calcium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and trace elements. Taken orally or applied topically, the oil has been used for over a thousand years, since (at least) the Pharaohs, with the emphatic claim of healing 'everything except death'. A bottle of Black Cumin oil was found in Tutankhamun's tomb as evidence of its importance in the immortality process. Meanwhile Cleopatra's legendary beauty was said to be a result of Nigella oil, and that is sterling testimonial to me! Yet beyond the skin-depth of beauty, the medicinal properties of Black Seed and scope of use, from epilepsy to diabetes via asthma and more, all backed up by scientific research, are certainly amazing.

In terms of topical use and skin-related properties, it purifies and tonifies skin, clears blemishes, blackheads, dull complexion, and treats skin disorders as varied as eczema, acne, psoriaris, fungal infections... and even skin cancer! My skin feels hydrated, soft, smooth and soothed all at once. A little oil goes a long way. I even used a few drops to moisturise the tips of Tickle's ears that were parched and dry, and this has worked wonders! Personally I love the oil scent, which reminds me of thyme in olive oil. Some users might find it a little overpowering, but this quickly dissipates. So yes, I am sold to the powers of Nigella oil!

Oils of Hooray!

Other oils I use: -
  • Huile Prodigieuse by Nuxe (Nature & Luxe) is the French brand's cult product and best-seller that has spurred countless imitations on the beauty market since its creation in 1991! The multi-purpose dry oil nourishes, repairs and soothes face, body and hair. It is a Summer, beachy lifestyle must-have as well as a party companion! Huile Prodigieuse is made up of at least 95% natural ingredients. It is the successful alliance of 6 botanical oils (Macadamia, Hazelnut, Borage, Sweet Almond, Camellia and St. John's Wort), and is enriched in vitamin E (known to protect skin cell membranes against ageing). In addition, Huile Prodigieuse is heavenly-scented. It is available in its 'Original' version and 'Or' (contains gold particles for a shimmer effect), and countless limited edition bottles. 'Or' compliments my Summer tan beautifully with a hint of iridescence. Most of all, I spray it to the dry ends of my highlighted locks (especially after an afternoon at the beach), and  otherwise apply a few subtle touches here and there (exposed shoulders, collarbone), or sometimes to highlight certain areas of my face (cheekbones, T-Zone).
  • Huile d'Argan by Lift'Argan is 100% unadulterated organic argan oil. Referred to as 'Liquid Gold', argan (Argania spinosa) was once the closely-guarded anti-ageing beauty secret of Moroccan women. It is rich in fatty acids (Omega 6 and 9) as well as vitamin A + vitamin E (tocopherol, a powerful natural antioxidant). Argan oil has a rich yet delicate nutty fragrance reminiscent of walnut and olive oil. As an aside, goats are said to climb into the argan trees in order to eat the fruit whose properties certainly help them keep supple joints! Like Nigella sativa, argan is powerfood for the skin, soothing and nourishing it to great effect. Argan trees grow wild in the Atlas Mountains of northern Morocco. Once picked, the fruits are sun-dried before argan nuts can be extracted. Cracked open by hand using two stones, the nuts release kernels which are then pressed and filtered into oil. Argan oil benefits skin, hair and nails. I am fonder of argan oil in the colder months of the year, when I massage it into my face, before daycream. In the Summer, I use it when my skin feels a little taut. I apply it before bedtime, as a night-time boost to my Nigella sativa morning skincare routine. You can purchase Organic Argan Oil directly from Neal's Yard.
  • Wild Rose Body Oil by Weleda is a rich and heavenly-scented body oil made up of a combination of Jojoba seed oil, Sweet Almond oil, Rose flower oil and antioxidant-rich organic Rosehip seed oil, as the main ingredients. I use Wild Rose Body Oil as a revitalising pick-me-up for when my body needs a little relaxation (after a spot of gardening or DIY for instance), or to moisturise legs and arms.

Rosa damascena, northern Corsica

P.S: The first two pictures of this article feature Vinoperfect Radiance Serum by Caudalie. Please note that this is not a face/ body oil. It is a serum that addresses sun spots, age spots and other blemishes. I have included Vinoperfect to the photo because it is part of my skincare routine, albeit not majorly anymore, especially since I have started developing melasma on my cheekbones. Melasma has made me reconsider my blemish-free quest, to investigate new ways of addressing the skin condition that is notoriously difficult (if not impossible) to eradicate. I have a little hope in Nigella sativa to at least tone down the effects, though I am aware that more drastic measures are required.

(*) P.P.S: Addendum (30/07/2015): In her latest video, famed international make-up artist Lisa Eldridge discusses sunscreens and points out an interesting fact about SPF50 vs. SPF30 that should make us reconsider SPF30 as a healthier option.

Further Reading:

19 Jul 2015

William Blake's Animal Manifesto

A few days ago, I rediscovered a famous poem by Romantic English poet William Blake (1757-1827), and I was instantly struck by the modernity and vivacity of its author and the modernism of its tone, themes and values. The piece might well have been written today and thus shatters any preconceptions one may hold against poetry that is two centuries old. Now is an invitation to rediscover the great poet, and you might surprise yourself at relishing in the potence of his words and delighting in the message they behold.

Dhara the baby Indian elephant, rescued in July 2012 by IFAW, was a casualty of monsoon season in Assam. I sponsored her vet fees, only to be informed 2 weeks later that she had sadly not survived her ordeal.

The poem is called 'Auguries of Innocence', the full version of which (one undivided sequence of 132 aphoristic lines) is a click away at Poetry Foundation. The original manuscript may be viewed at The William Blake Archive. I concede that the poem title might not strike a chord right off the bat, but its exact first four lines somewhat will: -

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

The piece is assumed to have been written in 1803, yet was not published until decades after Blake's death, in 1863. It starts off as an introduction of sorts, a reflection of the wider cosmos into the finite and defined that is a grain of sand and a flower, then themselves imploded into an inner expansion and extension of cosmos into micro-cosmos, and the correlation between the two.

Luna was saved from the dairy industry and now lives peacefully at Mino Valley Farm Sanctuary.

Then the poem develops into a manifesto for the welfare, respect and dignity of animals, and in particular those who share our environment or revolve in its periphery, from cat and dog to horse and hare, via the humble gnat and dutiful spider. It then expands to the different segments of human society. The poem is a cautionary tale of retribution to those who scorn innocence and purity of heart in all their guises. The powerful forces of the Law of Attraction will eventually remedy any wrong-doings - or failing that - chastise the wrong-doers. If you mistreat an animal, expect to be mistreated back: 'You get what you give'. Bad karma boomerangs back, so beware!

For the purpose of this article, I am only including herewith excerpts. Missed-out parts are identified as "[...]". As for the animal pictures I have included, all have in common a connection to man - good or less so. Now let's get back to our poem...

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
A Robin Red breast in a Cage
Puts all Heaven in a Rage

Mondika baby gorilla, Cincinnati Zoo, photography by Mark Dumont, via Flickr (August 2014)

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons
Shudders Hell thr' all its regions
A dog starvd at his Masters Gate
Predicts the ruin of the State
A Horse misusd upon the Road
Calls to Heaven for Human blood
Each outcry of the Hunted Hare
A fibre from the Brain does tear
A Skylark wounded in the wing
A Cherubim does cease to sing
The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight
Does the Rising Sun affright
Every Wolfs & Lions howl
Raises from Hell a Human Soul
The wild deer, wandring here & there
Keeps the Human Soul from Care

I adopted this lovely little lad, Tickle, from Manchester Dogs Home, in August 2006.

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife
And yet forgives the Butchers knife
The Bat that flits at close of Eve
Has left the Brain that wont Believe
The Owl that calls upon the Night
Speaks the Unbelievers fright
He who shall hurt the little Wren
Shall never be belovd by Men
He who the Ox to wrath has movd
Shall never be by Woman lovd
The Wanton Boy that kills the Fly
Shall feel the Spiders enmity

Mendoza canestrinii (female jumping spider), photography by Juraj Komar, via Flickr

He who shall train the Horse to War
Shall never pass the Polar Bar
The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat
Feed them & thou will grow fat
The Gnat that sings his Summers Song
Poison gets from Slanders tongue
The poison of the Snake & Newt
is the sweat of Envys Foot
The poison of the Honey Bee
Is the Artists Jealousy
The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags
Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags
A Truth thats told with bad intent
Beats all the Lies you can invent


Esther the Wonder Pig might well be the most pampered pig on earth! (pict source)

He who mocks the Infants Faith
Shall be mockd in Age & Death
He who shall teach the Child to Doubt
The rotting Grave shall neer get out
He who respects the Infants faith
Triumphs over Hell & Death
The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons
Are the Fruits of the Two seasons
The Questioner who sits so sly
Shall never know how to Reply
He who replies to words of Doubt
Doth put the Light of Knowledge out

Twiggy was saved from the 'mean' streets of Vigo, Spain. (pict source)

Every Night & every Morn
Some to Misery are Born
Every Morn and every Night
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to sweet delight
Some are Born to Endless Night
We are led to Believe a Lie
When we see not Thro the Eye
Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night
When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light
God Appears & God is Light
To those poor Souls who dwell in Night
But does a Human Form Display
To those who Dwell in Realms of Day

* * *

P.S: Dying to entertain you? The Tyke Elephant Outlaw documentary film exposes the drama and outrage behind performing animals and the abomination and cruelty of the circus industry, as epitomised here by Tyke, an elephant whose spirit had been broken as a calf so she could just follow orders and perform circus tricks on cue. In August 1994 in Honolulu, she snapped. She trampled down her trainer and went on the rampage. She escaped the circus and her prison sentence of a life, but her natural quest for freedom would see her robbed of her life, under a hail of gunfire.

10 Jul 2015

Marching Down the Champs-Elysées

On foot, horse-back, motorbikes, in camouflaged tanks and other combat vehicles, on fighter planes and helicopters short of a supersonic bang, French troops and allies will be marching down, driving past, flying over, and jumping off aircrafts down the Champs-Elysées for their yearly military parade, on 14th July, otherwise known as Bastille Day. The super-mediatised military event packs a punch and raises the goose bumps, but do we still feel grand and patriot in a fractured nation within a fractured Europe within a fractured world?

The foreign legion marches on! (14 July 2013)

First off, here's a little-known fact for our foreign friends: France is only one of less than half a dozen nations in the world to conduct military parades of the sort, alongside Russia, China and North Korea. Sounds a little, ahem, unsettling? Thing is, this is not just a military parade, it is a solemn and orchestrated showcase of our savoir-faire, technological expertise and prowess, and other tools of propaganda and self-promotion flaunted not just to France itself but also to the rest of the world, as a military power and potential belligerent to be reckoned with, alongside being a manufacturer of top-notch military engines, and re-affirming our services as an intelligence consultancy, and other 'peace-keeping' endeavours. Any warmongering undertone is channelled into 'Si vis pacem, para bellum' (If you want peace, prepare war). The Bastille Day send-off is a little like a fashion catwalk for military gear. Foreign nations watch the show, scratch their noses and fill in those order forms. The message sounds clear enough.

Yet not clear enough as to why we need to flaunt such an expensive and lavish operation in times of economic austerity and when so-called European unity dispenses us from any overzealous national pride. In terms of costs, the parade might have worked out at only 5 cents per French inhabitant back in 2013, it still added up to €3.3 million, no less! And the sumptuous firework displays that are partaken with later in the night are not accounted for. Besides I doubt that deep down the military feel like parading past the French president, when the government's cutbacks are drastically affecting their budgets.

La Garde Républicaine (14 July 2013)
Sadly, as grand and respectable as the parade is, I cannot help but see it turn more and more into some obligatory charade, not only because European rule and the worldwide banking system rule out any national spirit and pride and squash in the bud those Free Trade and entrepreneurship values that once gave an individual their chance at making it for themselves and for their nation, but also because what remains of national spirit and pride is either condensed into a national holiday, or channelled by the media into a political rally. It feels almost contrived and certainly out of context, almost discordant.

The irony of the Bastille Day parade goes even further. A few years ago, France landed a juicy military order from Russia: two BPC Mistral warships, Vladivostok and Sébastopol. With the French presidency being nowadays little more than Obama's labradoodle and Merkel's schnauzer, it bowed to the pressure and refused to deliver the goods to Russia in some sort of blackmail retaliation regarding the Ukraine and NATO. Problem is, the warships had been manufactured, they were ready to be delivered, and Russia had paid the bill. The ships are now stranded in a French port and their upkeep alone is costing us €5 million a month, notwistanding the hefty penalty charges. I doubt the US and Germany will help us with that!

Going over(board)? (14 July 2012)
When a government bangs on about employment, and bangs on about cost-saving measures, and bangs on about Bastille Day - virtually all in one sentence, and then in the next refuses to deliver a military order they originally honoured, they find no other response than to promise to create 8500 public service jobs in 2016! Forget about the logic, there is none.

9 Jul 2015

Palomitas de Cúrcuma

Serves 2
Preparation: a few seconds!
Cooking: approx. 7 mins 

Weary of the savoury junk snacks from the shops, I had been contemplating for a while the idea of making savoury popcorn as an appetiser for Summer alfresco apéritifs. Yet I didn't want it plain and was looking to devise a tropical version of popcorn: jazzed up and with a kick to it. I improvised a healthy veg(etari)an recipe out of the blue, using only four simple ingredients: organic popping corn, olive oil, sea salt and turmeric powder. It came out wonderful! The hints of olive and turmeric give it a light sunny taste and hue, with the salt bringing out the flavours.

I had to give this recipe a Spanish name because Palomitas de Cúrcuma sounds so much more mellifluous, moreish and tropical than plain Turmeric Popcorn, don't you think? It just rolls off the tongue in a twist and is a lovely echo to our recent Santa Fe excursion! The Spanish language beautifully captures the sunny undertones of this recipe. And "palomitas" is one of my favourite Spanish words - together with "pastel" (cake) and "estrella" (star).

Please note that I do not have a special popcorn pan. I make my popcorn using a standard medium-sized saucepan and lid. I find it easier therefore to make small batches of popcorn at a time, rather than one big portion in one go. That's why this recipe is for two servings.
  • Half a cup organic popping corn
  • Enough olive oil to generously coat the entire surface of the pan and the maize kernels (i.e. approx 4-5 tablespoons oil)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
Pour the olive oil into the pan, then add the turmeric and a good pinch of salt. Tilt the pan and swoosh around to ensure its bottom surface is evenly and generously coated. Add more olive oil if necessary. Then add the popping corn, place a lid securely onto the pan and swoosh some more. Heat up on medium heat, keeping an eye on the stove. Shake the pan regularly to prevent the kernels from sticking, and keep the lid firmly onto the pan while doing so.

After a few minutes, you will start hearing the kernels pop. Carry on shaking the pan, keeping the lid on. Then when the popping noises have started subsiding, carefully lift the lid and check. Take the pan off the heat, pour its contents into a serving bowl. Add another good pinch of salt and roughly stir with a wooden spoon (or just run your fingers through). Et voilà! The palomitas are a perfect accompaniment to soft drinks, long drinks and shorts. Let's get the party started, amigos!

4 Jul 2015

Santa Fe Way

When you feel sizzled to a jalapeño on fire, and the colours on your photography have discoloured to a shimmy on the horizon line... When your day is air-conditioned, with a view over next door's dusty empty pool, and the desert heat beats down your windows like vacuumed into the cooling pipes... When Georgia O'Keeffe's desert flowers are as freshly-picked as Heaven on your mind, and Bananarama's Cruel Summer drifts from the radio to you like a whiff of sticky cotton candy from the fun-fair down the road... Somehow my friend, you are heading Santa Fe way.

Source: All photography La Baguette Magique, except (4). From top down: (1) Mr. Tickle prancing on the bed, all "dandified" in his recently-acquired pareo! (2) A handful of dried bougainvillea bracts reveal their inflorescence... and their decorative power. (3) If Piña Colada were to be a candle, it probably would resemble this one, from French retailer Monoprix. (4) 'Rose', oil on board painting by Georgia O'Keeffe (1957). (5) Small ceramic 'Sunshine' bowl by Chehoma. (6) Wild euphorbia, northern Corsica. (7) Ladies, feel fresh and fabulous with 'Jasmin' eau de toilette by French perfume house Fragonard. (8) The Sago Palm (Cycas revoluta) in my parents' garden is growing new leaves. They start off soft as baby skin, before going spiky! (9) Set for the beach - and the desert heat - in my stunning 'Capri' Tunic in Coral Woodblock by Stella & Dot! Still packaged up but not for long! (10) "My name is Tickle, not Tiki! Let's just forget about that pareo!" OK, Tick-Tick! Now come on, let's go to the beach!

P.S: If you have a Pinterest account, do check out this excellent Georgia O'Keeffe pinboard.