The last two months afforded me many fashion opportunities from Paris, Venice and Australia. In mid April, I roamed the streets of Paris, peering into the grand windows of stores that line Avenue Montagne, Rue St. Honore and Boulevard Saint Germain. Zigzagging from the Right to the Left Bank, my mission was to capture the season’s trends in a photo or memory shot. The big apparel news of the week was the outlawed burka-style Islamic veil. The controversial new law bans wearing the veil in public throughout the City.

The move affects a tiny minority of the country’s Muslim women, but has had significant symbolic repercussions. Muslim women who wear
the niqab or burka can face a fine of 150 Euros ($205 U.S.) under France’s veil law. On the day it became law, two burka-wearing women from Avignon demonstrated against the ban in front of Notre Dame Cathedral and were arrested by French police. On that same evening, while strolling the Avenue Des Champs Elysees, we watched as a woman wearing a burka accompanied by her husband (dressed in Western clothing) crossed the bustling thoroughfare. Interestingly, no one seemed to notice, not even the uniformed foot patrol. Significant trends besides the veil were boots, leggings and of course, scarves. The scarf is now the “it" accessory for both women and men. Perhaps it’s becoming the burka alternative.

In Venice, the maze of cobblestone pathways and countless bridges revealed world-class shopping with gorgeous leather handbags, Italian clothing and lots of glass. The stores are tiny, but utilize space in surprising and innovative designs that don’t compromise their historic integrity. One boutique had taken a boathouse and created a retail space with a water view of the canal under Plexiglas floors. In one of the courtyards near a marble fountain, we found an antique fair with treasures dating back hundreds of years. I was especially fascinated with the jewelry, and imagined who might have worn these delicate pieces and how they made their way to the 21st Century. Venice holds romance and a certain joy for me. There is nothing better than sitting with your husband at one of the restaurants or cafes on the Grand Canal, sipping red wine and watching the water taxis, gondolas and cruise liners navigate the waterways of this magical city.

Australia in May is a bit of a time travel experience as the seasons are the opposite of ours. So our Spring is their Fall and their Winter is our Summer. You lose a day going and gain a day on your return. The 14 hour plane ride gives you ample time to figure it all out between 6 movies, audio entertainment, a few meals and cocktails. We were invited to attend a black tie event in Melbourne for Australia’s construction industry’s 50th anniversary, and were treated as international dignitaries. Since I’m not the long, evening gown type, I wore a modified tuxedo with a large crystal necklace. Formalwear choices included mostly cocktail dresses with sparkle, lace overlay designs, and a lot of little black dresses. The Aussies know how to throw a party: great music for dancing, an entertainer who sounded like Neal Diamond and lots of beer and champagne. There was no evidence of a recession in Australia. There were very few vacancies in the retail areas, and stores were full of fall and winter merchandise. An Australian friend took me on a tour of Melbourne, including its neighborhoods. We spent the most time shopping and having lunch in Brighton, which is close to Port Phillip Bay.

On my return to Benicia, I was greeted with the June issue of Sunset Magazine, and the article about Northern California Weekends, which featured Benicia. This was a major media coup from the City’s tourism and marketing campaign and Wolf Communications.
Benicia also participated in the annual Sunset Weekend Celebration, a two-day event sponsored by the magazine. It focuses on tourism destinations, top chef cooking demos, home and garden design and lots of wine tasting. Benicia is finally getting the attention it deserves as a "Great Day By the Bay" and can give any of my world city stops a run for their money with a marvelous a combination of art and glass blowing, California history, fashionable shopping, eclectic dining, and a bridge-to-bridge waterfront view of the Carquinez Strait. There’s no place like home when it’s Benicia!