My Mom, Superwoman

I always knew my Mom was Superwoman – Superwoman of the mind. When I get stuck with my thinking, she has answers. When I get stuck with my writing, she has solutions. When I get stuck with my emotions, she has advice.

I never knew until this week that she is, simply, Superwoman. Not “just” Superwoman of the mind. She had COVID-19, and she beat it. Alone. Without doctors (except for herself, she is an MD after all). Without hospitals. Without “bothering” anyone about her condition.

When I realized that the novel corona virus became a threat, I worried for many of my family and friends – but most of all for my Mom. She splits her time between Paris and Geneva and travels a lot. She is in the high risk COVID-19 group, due to her age and her delicate lungs and asthma. She is a free spirit and I doubted her willingness to abide by the confinement rules. I worried that she would contract this virus (and I was right) and that it would beat her (and oh was I wrong) and that I would not get back to Switzerland in time.

Over the last two and a half months, she experienced many symptoms of this virus, one after the other. Terrible cough. Exhaustion. “COVID toes.” She followed the confinement and mask-wearing rules to the letter. She told my three sisters and me that she was doing this for us, so that we did not have to worry about her getting sick on top of all of our other COVID-19-related worries.

On Monday this week, she received the results of her anti-body test. Very, very, very positive. Of course, Barbara Polla has never failed an exam or test in her life… why should I be so surprised that she would pass this one with an A+?!

Thank you Mom for being Superwoman. In all ways, and always.

Two New Favorite Spots in Geneva

I love going home to Geneva, Switzerland, partly because I feel like the city is the same as when I left it in 1995. I love going to the same places over and over again, and have written about my favorites both in National Geographic and here.

Yet, as I leave after three days in my childhood home, to go back to my adult home of Washington DC (go Nats!), I was thrilled to discover two amazing new places that I look forward to visiting again and again.

La Comtesse Champagne & Cocktail Bar

My sisters and I had an apéro there last night, with Mom. A 6th generation family business run by the lovely Anaïs Leconte, this elegant yet cozy bar is an expansion of the core business, which is making champagne. Highlight: the champagne cocktail list is the longest I have ever seen. I will need to go back many times to try them all! 

Le Decanteur

Nestled in the Quartier des Eaux-Vives, this modern Italian restaurant and wine bar is my new favorite. Amazing pasta, amazing Italian wine list. Luca Ragnelli, the owner and master chef, has been cooking since the age of 13, studied at the Ecole Hoteliere of Geneva, spent time in Parma, and worked at the Noga Hilton (now Kempinski) before opening his restaurant. My favorite factoid? One of the restaurant’s signature dishes is inspired and named after is aunt Tina.

Tinos Reading List – 2019 Edition

One of my biggest pleasures on vacation is the ability to read during the day for hours on end. I try to consume a book every day or two. Fiction, non-fiction, recently published books, older publications. Always paper books – no e-book for me, even though it does mean all of these traveled in my suitcase from DC to Tinos, via Geneva. 

Here is my (very ambitious) reading list for this year’s time in Tinos. 

Bad Blood by Jon Carreyrou. I have been fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for as long as I can remember, thinking of her as an example of what a woman entrepreneur can accomplish. Her company’s demise makes her all that more fascinating to me. And this book reads like fiction – and is the perfect example of reality being stranger (and more stressful!) than fiction. 

The Next Girl; Her Pretty Bones; and Her Final Hour by Carla Kovach. These three will be my guilty pleasures, crime thrillers that will be hard to put down. 

Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing by George Cloutier. I have been meaning to read this for some time after my husband gave it to me as a reminder that while a company’s mission is everything, profits make the mission possible. 

The Naked Truth by Leslie Morgan. This is our next Book Club book, a memoir of a woman in her 50s who gets divorced and decides to actively date for a year (aka have sex with five guys) to get over her sorrows. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear. My friend Jenny gave me this book as she knows one of my favorites is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I can’t wait to dive into this one! 

Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham. A Brigadoon-recommended book, these never disappoint. 

Building a Great Business by Ari Weinszweig. Adam Ross, co-founder of Heyday, with whom I enjoy trading book recommendations, said this was the best book he read in 2018. “Unconventional, but awesome,” I believe were his exact words. 

Le Prophète by Khalil Gibran. My sister Cyrille gave me this book (one of her personal favorites) last week. I guess she thought I needed to add something less prosaic than all my business books to my reading list…  

Le Nouveau Féminimse by Barbara Polla. It’s not a Tinos reading list without my Mom’s latest non-fiction… and this one will be quite the controversial read. 

What are you reading this summer? 

Never Ending Wisdom From Mom

In 2010 for Mother’s Day, I shared my mother’s life tips – which are still incredibly relevant today, and which I still prescribe to 100%.

Yesterday, on the Polla Sisters blog, I shared her beauty tips – which I utilize every day.

Yesterday, upon reading that latest post, she called to say how lovely it was, and also that she had a lot more tips now that she is reaching her late 60s. Tips about beauty as you age. So today, I share these – with gratitude that I have a mother that makes me look forward to aging, makes me look forward to everything that lies ahead, and never makes me feel like the best is behind me – in beauty or in life.

In Mom’s words:  (and here are more of Mom’s words)

“My daughter Ada just published on her blogs my beauty tips — and they were and are my beauty tips indeed, for everyday! When I turned sixty, I felt that I should add at least one each year.

60 : Think about your weight and check it everyday. A few kilos more make for a rounder face, fills in the fine lines: this is nice. A lot of kilos more make too round of a belly. Find the right balance.

61 : Beautiful hair is essential. I add one more Aveda product every six months to my collection of hair products, and now have almost as many hair products as I do skin and body care products.

62 : Lower the height of your heels just a little bit. Keep the highest just for home parties and sex of course. Otherwise, I prefer ankle boots and booties rather than low heeled shoes. 

63 : Cherish the scent of your skin. Use products that always make you smell delicious – whether lotions or perfume. I love blueberry, rose, … 

64 : Be smart with alcohol: champagne, but with ice (and even some sparkling water mixed in).

65 :  Double the frequency of medi-spa consultations. Never look “done” but take care of those brown spots as they appear. Mix a drop of the Alchimie Forever Kantic brightening moisture mask every day with your day cream and night cream.

66 : Dare to add some glittery powder on your arms whenever you do not wear long sleeves. And wear a lot of long sleeves.

67 : Tell young women how beautiful they are. They will look at you and see you how beautiful you are, and say the same back to you. Forever.

68 : Never say, nor even think, you are « old » . Just say your age as a number, not as a judgment: I am 68. 68 is what I am, I can feel it as I wish, and others will feel it as I make it feel.”

And as we get off the phone, she reminds me to smile. Smile at the sun, smile at the clouds, smile at life. That will make you “une beauté qui traverse le temps” – hard to translate as such poetic French words are, but something like “beautiful through the ages.”

Thank you, Mom!

BeautyView: Dr. Barbara Polla, author

After interviewing my three sisters for these BeautyViews, I had to get to the source… and interview my Mom, Dr. Barbara Polla. I have had her answers to my questions red-flagged in my email for over a week, but didn’t read them until this morning. I am not sure what I was afraid of… maybe that her eccentricities would overwhelm my need for order and propriety… Mom is eccentric  chaotic, and sometimes I think she lives part of her life in a dream world that only she can see… sometimes I wish I could live there too. She is also the smartest woman I know (intellectually brilliant), the hardest worker I know (and yes, daydreaming is working), the most private person I know (she makes me look like an extrovert). She gave my sisters and I her love of champagne, her love of freedom, her love of all things beautiful. She gave my sisters and me life! 

AP: What city were you born in? BP: In Geneva, a sunny Tuesday morning, the day of the market.

AP: What city to do you live in? BP: Essentially in Paris. I love big cities full of ghosts of the past and they are everywhere in Paris!

AP: What is your middle name? BP: Susanna, which was the name of my father’s little sister who died when she was 8 years old. She told her mother, just before dying : I have to go now … I want to live for both me and her, so at least 120 years!

AP: What is your astrological sign? BP: Pisces, with some Leo in there. I find my way swimming in just about any waters and when necessary, I roar!

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? BP: That I am a daydreamer forever. That I like silence and solitude. And… do they realize how fair-play I am?

AP: What is your most prized possession? BP: Freedom – i.e. something you never possess.

AP: If you could have dinner with the person of your choice, who would it be? BP: Louis Calaferte, a French writer. I would fall in love with him if I had dinner with him. He is dead but I am sure Alchimie will be able to get him back …

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. BP: 
Kris – Van – Assche. Three words.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? BP: No … Time doesn’t exist – does it?

AP: Diamonds or pearls? BP: Pearls. Specifically, a pearl necklace around my waist.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? BP: Joy.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? BP: Narciso Rodriguez for her.

AP: Botox or not? BP: Once upon a time …

AP: Hair color: natural or not? BP: I am blond from head to toe.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? BP: Eat uncooked stuff : apples, mangoes  tomatoes, cheese, salmon, yogurts, kumquats  tangerines, oranges, olives, apricot jam, carrots, avocado, salads…; if bread, rye; drink a lot of coffee and Zinfandel at night. And have chocolate every day.

AP: What do you do for exercise? BP: I walk. I walk in Paris. The city is large, beautiful, alive, I walk in it and watch and dream.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? BP: Perrier, Champagne, lemons.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? BP: Champagne, Perrier, and a drink called Tonic at the Remor Cafe in Geneva, which contains orange, carrots, ginger and whatever else they have that day. It’s magic.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? BP: Work is life!

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? BP: No idea, I don’t keep track.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? BP: 1. Champagne, Perrier and Kantic calming evening cream by Alchimie Forever. 2. Dreams. 3. To have my computer with me and write.

3 songs on your ipod right now. BP: Balla Linda by Lucio Battisti. L’été Indien by Joe Dassin. Juda by Lady Gaga.

AP: What book are you reading right now? BP: I am writing my 22nd book… More writing than reading right now.AP: Quote to live by. BP: We are what we do to change what we are” by Eduardo Galeano and “We are not determined by our circumstances but we create our circumstances every minute of our life” by Jhafis Quintero, an artist who became an artist while in jail and will represent Panama at the Venice Biennale this year.

What is your worst pet peeve? BP: When people are outrageously grumpy and behave as if they deserve to be. When people say “impossible” before considering any possibility. When I have to leave my bags in the coat room of a public space.

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? BP: On average, I sleep about 6 hours per night; wake up time is 6 hours after sleeping time.AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? BP: Ada Polla, the CEO of Alchimie Forever, and by the way my first daughter. She puts into Alchimie what she is: smartness and softness, efficacy and deliciousness!

AP: Least favorite thing. BP: The most frequent sellers of beauty products are young women and I often feel they don’ get the respect they deserve in particular in retail.

AP: Who is your mentor? BP: In medicine, Professor Alex Müller. He shaped my academic career. In art, the art historian Paul Ardenne. In writing, my beloved friend and writer Ornela Vorpsi. In life, Spinoza.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. BP: Decide everything for yourself. Be convinced that you can have it all, but maybe you don’t want it all and that’s fine too. Have fun!

An interview with the Swiss Doctors Polla

People are always asking me about Georgetown, about my favorite beauty tips, and my favorite Alchimie Forever products. For once, I thought I would take advantage of my parents’ stay in Georgetown to ask them these questions (in addition to being my parents, they are the co-creators of our skin care line, Alchimie Forever, and both medical doctors). Indeed, while I could have picked their favorite products correctly, I would not have been able to guess at their favorite Georgetown spots!

What do you love about Georgetown? What is your favorite place in Georgetown?

Dr. Luigi Polla:

I love Georgetown because it is so filled with the history of the United States. I love the harmony between the urban feel of this neighborhood and the tall and lush trees. When I am in Georgetown, I feel at the same time in a city and in the country.

My favorite place in Georgetown is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on South Street, where I always stay when I come to D.C. The space and architecture are beautiful, again bringing together the past and the present, conveying both a feeling of history and of contemporary style.

Dr. Barbara Polla:

I love Georgetown because to me it represents the perfect blend of the best of Europe with the best of America. The people in Georgetown look beautiful and happy. There are no McMansions here, but houses that are small and that touch each other – I love row houses.

I love Georgetown University, one of the best in the United States (which is why two of my daughters went there). I love it because there are as many squirrels on campus as there are students, which brings a lightness of spirit to the campus. Specifically, I love the University’s writing program. As a writer, I am fascinated by how many writers are Georgetown University alumni. I want to read all of the books they have written!

My favorite place in Georgetown is the Alchimie Forever showroom, where art blends with beauty, where I love to work while in DC, sharing the space with my daughter Ada, whether in person, or just looking at her portrait by contemporary artist Vanessa Beecroft.

What are your top tips for beauty?

Dr. Luigi Polla:

1.       Eat healthy, which to me means eating real food, mostly vegetables and fruit, and stay away from processed foods.

2.       Work out to enhance the strength and suppleness of your body. I work with a strength training coach for specific strength and muscle group, and I also play golf twice a week, never with a golf cart however – walking is one of the most essential parts of the game of golf.

3.       Have a positive outlook on life. Visualize positive outcomes and events. This may sound non-scientific, but I truly believe in the effect of such visualization not only one’s own happiness, but also in how good someone looks.

4.       Work to preserve the health and beauty of your skin, in a harmonious way. Avoid the sun, use antioxidant products, visit your dermatologist regularly for various non-invasive procedures, but never go too far. I always tell my patients they want to look the way they feel, not look like they are 20 when they are 50.

Dr. Barbara Polla:

1.       Smile. A beautiful face with perfect skin and a flawless complexion cannot be beautiful without a smile. Smile to yourself, smile to strangers, smile with your eyes and with your lips. Smile lines are so much more beautiful than frown lines. (A corollary to this, wear lipstick … that is the one makeup item I never leave the house without. I am loving the glosses from Haughty Cosmetics for the summer.)

2.       Move every day. Walk fast whenever possible. Leave your car at home, take the stairs instead of the elevator. Dance. I also think moving is energizing in terms of moving cities, moving jobs.

3.       Take baths. I have never gotten used to bathrooms without bathtubs. I don’t like showers, I treasure my time in the bathtub. I take the time to exfoliate, to put a mask on my face, and oils in the bath water. The time in the bath is a time of wellness, but also a time of reflection, a time of quiet, a time for you to take care of yourself. When stepping out of the bath, massage every inch of your body with your favorite lotion, from the tip of your ears to the tip of your toes.

4.       Look at yourself in the mirror. Every day, twice a day. Really look. Looking at myself in the mirror with love and attention enables me to see the subtle changes in my skin, in my face, so that I never wake up and feel that I have aged 10 years overnight. And of course, smile while you are looking at yourself …

What is your favorite Alchimie Forever products?

Dr. Luigi Polla:

1.       As a dermatologist, the products that I recommend to every single patient are our Brightening Moisture Mask and our Firming Gel for Neck and Bust. The mask is a treatment product that I use on all of my patients after peels and injectables, and it truly helps to heal the skin, give it an immediate glow, and minimize redness. It is a product that is both effective and results-oriented, and a sensorially delicious product to use. Our gel for neck and bust is the best product to maintain the health and youthfulness of an area of the body that women tend to neglect, namely neck, décolleté, and arms. It is both tightening and helps to even out pigment.

2.       As a man, I love our Antioxidant Defense Gel. I use it every day after shaving. It is oil free, it penetrates immediately in my skin, and I love the fresh, masculine scent. I truly believe this is one of our best products.

Dr. Barbara Polla:

1.       I love our Gentle Exfoliating Scrub. It is a face product, but I use it all over the body. The beads of cranberries and jojoba, and the papaya enzyme, physically exfoliate my skin and leave it soft, and the shea butter nourishes it. I use it up to four times per week.

2.       Our Brightening Moisture Mask is also one of my favorites, indeed I believe it is our hero product. I follow the scrub with an application of the mask to treat my skin, nourish it, and keep it supple and youthful-looking.  I love this product so much that I even mix a little bit of it in my favorite moisturizer, our Intensely Nourishing Cream.

3.       Our newest product, which we are launching next week, is a professional-only peel. I have been testing it on myself for the last two months, and I have to admit I am in love with it. It will be available at the end of the month in D.C.’s best spas, it is a fabulous treatment to help heal the damage of the summer, even out pigment, and prevent signs of aging.