Sunday, June 28, 2015

Hidden Paris! Café Cour - an Ephemeral Café in a Secret Courtyard.

Café Cour.  A hidden courtyard in the Marais with a tower from Philippe-Auguste's wall, built between 1190 and 1209.

Serendipity is the name of my favorite guide in Paris. Whenever I follow her lead, I'm sure to have a special Parisian experience.

Yesterday afternoon, Serendipity escorted us through the courtyard of the Hôtel de Soubise, a sumptuous mansion housing part of the national archives of France. As we were too late to visit the temporary exhibition about the four French Resistance fighters recently inducted into the Pantheon, our guide consoled us with a couple of surprises.

The first was a secret courtyard that's open to the public for a limited time this summer. Not only does the ephemeral terrace have an interesting selection of bio snacks and fair trade products, but it also offers the opportunity to have a rare glimpse of a tower built by Philippe-Auguste between 1190 and 1209. Serendipity certainly knows how to please -- What could be better than sipping a glass of rosé while sitting in the historic Cour Renaudot of the Crédit Municipal de Paris?

Hurry if you would like to enjoy a meal or drink in this peaceful courtyard. Like the fleeting pleasures of summer, Café Cour closes its doors on September 27, 2015.

Café Cour
55/57 rue des Francs-Bourgeois
75004 Paris

The University of California, Fullerton choir rehearsing at the Eglise Notre-Dames des Blancs-Manteaux in Paris

After leaving the tranquil haven of Café Cour, Serendipity urged us to step inside the Eglise Notre-Dame des Blancs-Manteaux. Walking past a group of American youths cluttered near the entrance, Stéphane and I took a seat to enjoy the cool interior of the church. It was only then that we realized that the group of Americans was a choir from the University of California, Fullerton. We listened in awe when they took their places in front of the alter and broke into song. They were rehearsing for a concert later that evening.

The Place des Vosges was our last stop on Serendipity's tour of the Marais...

Place des Vosges

Monday, June 22, 2015

Finding Hemingway for "The Pilot; Fighter Planes and Paris"


Author Ed Cobleigh when he was a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force.

Guest post by Ed Cobleigh

While writing my new novel, The Pilot; Fighter Planes and Paris, I embarked on a nighttime quest in the City of Light to visit some of Ernst Hemingway's old haunts, those he experienced during the 1920's Lost Generation era. Ernie's thoughts would figure prominently in the book and I needed to absorb the ambiance and the alcohol he adored to strike the right tone in my descriptions of  Paris.

I began my journey at the Shakespeare and Company bookstore  (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 5th Arr. across the Seine from Notre Dame) to see if they stocked my first book. This isn't the original location of the store, but who cares. They didn't have War for the Hell of It. For a moment, I contemplated secretly slipping my own copy on a back shelf, easy to do in the labyrinthine, cluttered shop. They would clear 100% of the price when someone bought it and I could boast of my book being sold in the famous store. But, I had an uncharacteristic attack of good judgment and abandoned the reverse shoplifting idea.

Next stop, a short walk away, was the bistro Les Deux Magots (6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés, 6th Arr) in the Quartier Latin where I nursed a café creme as Papa had and waited for James Joyce to show. He didn't. I wondered how Hemingway got any writing done there what with all the tourists.  Maybe it was different back then. I never liked Joyce anyway, he wrote unreadable gibberish.

A longer walk took me to another legendary bistro, La Closerie des Lilas (171 Blvd du Montparnasse, 6th Arr. on the edge of Montparnasse). An Armagnac at the bar was the obvious historic choice that night. As I sipped, I was appalled to find no Hemingway memorabilia in view. Strange, considering that The Sun Also Rises is rumored to have been partially written there. At least they could have displayed a small portrait of Ernie or mounted a stuffed Marlin on the wall. I pondered the lack of homage. For Americans, Papa is an icon, but for the French, he was just another expat writing novels, like me. Well, sort of. When I pushed away from the bar, a tiny brass plaque caught my eye. It read, "Reservée à E. Hemingway." I was sitting at Hemingway's place at the bar! Now, that was more like it. I felt inspired to write some bad Hemingway, at which I excel.

Harry's New York Bar in Paris

A taxi ride to La Rive Droit deposited me in front of Harry's New York Bar (5 Rue Daunou, 2nd Arr)  a side-street watering hole that looked like it hadn't been remodeled since Hemingway was last in. My libation choice was a French 75, the cocktail supposedly invented by Franco-American WWI flying ace Raul Lufbery during the Great War and named after a lethal anti-aircraft gun. While Harry's and the French 75 were achingly authentic, I found the joint to be too much like, well, New York. With visions of Fokker Triplanes and Sopwith Camels dog-fighting in my brain, I decided to end my night's pilgrimage at the Hemingway Bar in Le Hôtel Ritz on Place Vendome (15 Place Vendome, 1st Arr). Ernie wrote about personally liberating the bar at the Ritz in 1944 to make the world safe for drinking among civilized company and to rescue his trunk containing the manuscript for A Moveable Feast from the basement.

At the Ritz, the Maitre' D barred my way in. I told him in my best "Foreign Correspondent" voice, "You let Hemingway in.  He was far rowdier than I am."

The reply came back, "Ah yes, but you see Monsieur Hemingway, unlike yourself, knew how to dress properly."

Shot down in fashion flames, I sulked off into the night, but not before I had gathered enough material to bring a chapter to vivid life in the new book. Did I capture Hemingway's Paris? No, but my fighter pilot protagonist patrols the present-day city when not engaging the Bad Guys in air combat. The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz is now closed. By all accounts, it was a true and honest and brave bar where a man could get a straight drink and meet a beautiful woman. A strong woman who would help him to drink and love and live and die like a man, which aren't the same things.

Ed Cobleigh is the author of War for the Hell of It and The Pilot; Fighter Planes and Paris.  He has flown fighters with the US Air Force, US Navy, Royal Air Force, and the French Air Force. He and his wife Heidi live in California's wine country.

Don't miss the giveaway of The Pilot; Fighter Planes and Paris on "Out and About's" Facebook page on Thursday, June 25, 2015!

Les Deux Magots, one of Hemingway's haunts, decorated for the holidays.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Looking for something new to do in Paris? Visit Rungis, the world's largest fresh food market, with La Route des Gourmets!

The fish market at Rungis is a beehive of activity in the wee hours of the morning. It's open from 2:00-7:00 am. 

Even though I'm more of a night owl than an early bird, a couple of not-to-be-missed adventures have compelled me to roll out of bed in the wee small hours of the morning. When we lived in Indonesia, it was hiking to the rim of a volcano to watch the sun rise over the island of Java. In Trinidad, it was traveling to an isolated beach to observe leatherback sea turtles lay their eggs.

In Paris, the only item on my "must get up early to see" list was Rungis, the largest fresh food market in the world. Unlike my trips to the volcano and remote beach, figuring out the logistics of visiting Rungis proved to be a daunting task. The pavilions of the massive market, which are spread over 234 hectares (578 acres), are strictly off limits to the general public.

When I learned that Carole Metayer, one of twelve official guides with access to Rungis, had an extra spot on a private tour, I immediately jumped on the opportunity. Not even the 4:00 am meeting time at a hotel in the first arrondissement dampened my enthusiasm.

"Les Halles", the enormous painting by Léon Lhermitte. It was restored thanks to the patronage of the Marché International de Rungis and returned to its original place in the Petit Palais in 2014. 

As Carole skillfully navigates the deserted streets of the city, she tells us about Les Halles, the former food market that was created in 1110 in what is now the 2nd arrondissement. In his classic novel, "The Belly of Paris", French author Emile Zola powerfully describes the olfactory sensations experienced during a visit to one of the cheese stalls at Les Halles. One section recounts in vivid detail how the gamy odor of a ripe camembert overpowers the milder scent of the marolles and limbourg cheese. If you add the heady aroma of fish, beef, chicken and vegetables, it's little wonder that city officials decided to tear down Les Halles and move the massive market outside the center of Paris during the modernization campaign of the 1960s.

"Departure of Fruit and Vegetables from the Heart of Paris" at the church of Saint-Eustache

Even though I still mourn the loss of Les Halles, it's hard not to be impressed by the overwhelming size, efficiency and cleanliness of Rungis. Located seven kilometers south of Paris, the market includes 17 restaurants, 20 banks, a gigantic tower for producing ice and its own train station. More than 11,000 people work at Rungis. There's even a school where future fish mongers learn their trade while enrolled in a three year program.



As we don sanitary white coats and disposable hair covers, Carole explains that we'll start our visit at the fresh fish pavilion since they will soon close for the day. It's not yet 5:00 am!

The next time you're savoring sole meunière and potatoes at a Parisian café, it's worth pausing for a moment to consider the journey that the fish made from the Atlantic Ocean to your plate. After being offloaded from a fisherman's boat in Normandy, the fish was transported in sterile styrofoam boxes to Rungis by one of the 26,000 trucks that arrive at the market every night. The café's chef, who rose before dawn to select the best ingredients for his customers, spots the sole and decides to make it a prix fixe option for lunch. He quietly negotiates the price with the wholesaler while standing in a box marked with paint on the floor. It's a strictly private discussion because the price varies from client to client. It depends on the relationship between the buyer and seller, the quantity purchased, the freshness of the fish and the time of day.

The meat pavilion at Rungis, the world's largest fresh food market

With a mind-boggling number of beef carcasses hanging from ceiling hooks, the meat hall is not for vegetarians or the faint hearted. Walking past row upon row of Burgundy's famous Charolais beef, aging steaks and Limousin veal, I'm staggered by the amount of meat consumed by Parisians in a single day. Just as corpses in a morgue have identifying tags attached to their toes, the carcasses have labels indicating their breed, origin, weight and the exact dates that they were slaughtered. Each detail is meticulously recorded to ensure that the cow, calf or bull has been "born, raised and killed in France".

Pointing at cow heads hanging from hooks and bins full of entrails, Carole assures us that all of the organs are used. Nothing is wasted. I'm somewhat relieved when we leave the hall. The blast of cold October air feels fresh against my face. As we walk past a group of jovial butchers seated at a bustling café, our guide tells us that 3,000 cups of coffee are consumed there every morning, more than at any other café in France.

The next stops on our tour are the poultry and game pavilions, cheese halls, flower market and the fruit and vegetable pavilions, which comprise the largest part of the market. Along the way, Carole shares fascinating bits of information. Holding a bulb of Lautrec pink garlic in her hand, she explains that it's one of twelve AOC ("controlled designation of origin") fruit and vegetables in France. With a Master’s degree in Food and Food Culture from the Institute of Geography at the Sorbonne University of Paris, Carole considers Rungis a living museum of French heritage.

Du Champ Secret is the Rolls-Royce of camembert
When Carole spies a small wheel of cheese, she asks us if it's a "real" Camembert. Slow to provide any kind of answer because our minds are overwhelmed by all that we've seen, Carole reveals that a real camembert is always labeled "Camembert de Normandie" and weighs 250 grams. Without the "de Normandie", it's not an authentic camembert.

The sun is starting to cast a pre-dawn glow over the horizon as Carole drives us to our last stop of the morning, a café for a "Rungissois breakfast". Fortified after a cup of steaming coffee, buttery croissant and plate of charcuterie and cheese, I'm ready to start the day. It's not yet 8:00 am!

To book your trip to the world's largest fresh food market or another culinary tour of Paris, contact Carole Metayer at La Route des Gourmets. You can also connect with Carole via her blog, L'Actu des Gourmets, and her Facebook page.

Flowers,  Lautrec pink garlic, Gruyère cheese from Switzerland and Bresse chickens at Rungis, the world's largest fresh food market. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Looking for something new to do in Paris? Try a Gien faience painting workshop!

Traditional peony design stamped on the plates for the Gien ceramic painting workshop in Paris

Living in France has taught me to be flexible. If it rains on the day that we've scheduled a picnic with friends by the Seine, we'll change gear and spread blankets on the floor of our living room. If metro line 10 isn't running because security guards have found a suspicious package, I'll check the RATP application for alternative routes to my destination. I've learned that the need to be adaptable is an integral part of life in a dynamic city like Paris.

Perhaps that's why my morning coffee has become such a ritual. I have to drink it out of one of the Gien faience cups given to me by Mercedes or my day feels completely wrong. If all the cups are in the dishwasher, I invariably open the cupboard and gaze despondently at the assortment of other coffee cups before washing one of my favorites. There's something about the delicate weight of it in my hand that makes drinking coffee an even more pleasurable experience.

This obsession with my Oiseau Bleu coffee cups explains why I was so excited when Solène Colas of A Journey in Paris asked me to join a ceramic painting workshop at the Gien flagship showroom near La Madeleine. It was only after I had accepted her invitation that I started to feel the first pricks of doubt. I'm not at all crafty. Would I be able to paint anything that didn't resemble a child's art project on the first day of school?

In a desperate search for inspiration, I reviewed photos from Stéphane's and my visit to the Gien museum during one of our trips to the Loire Valley last summer. I even began stalking Solène's Instagram account to see what other people had painted.

Elodie Berta snapped this photo while I was diligently trying to paint within the lines!

It was only after Solène welcomed our class at the Gien showroom that I started to relax. There, on the table next to the paint brushes, were plates stamped with a peony design dating from the 19th century. My fears were completely assuaged when Solène explained that we only had to decide if we wanted to use the traditional multicolor theme, blue variation or our own variation. We didn't have to come up with a completely new pattern! As the peony is one of Gien's oldest designs, I opted for the traditional colors: light red, yellow, Delft red, green, light blue, dark blue and brown.

A masterpiece in progress! Gien ceramic painting workshop in Paris.

While we mixed our gouache paints, Solène shared some of the secrets that she has learned from the professional painters at the Gien factory. As you may have noted in the photo taken of me by Elodie, Solène's advice to work with a light hand went somewhat unheeded. It seems that I had a death grip on my brush! I did, however, strive to test the colors on a sheet of paper after mixing them rather then applying them directly to my plate.

By the time that the two hour workshop drew to a close, I had developed an even greater appreciation for my Gien coffee cups and saucers. Not only are they a testament to French elegance, they're also a tangible reminder of the craftsmanship that went into each piece. Even though it would take years of training for me to match the proficiency of the painters at Gien, I'm very pleased with the end result!

If you're looking for a unique experience in Paris, please visit Solène's website for additional details. The two hour class, which is 90 euros per person, is for groups of two to eight. The plate, paints and tea or mineral water are included in the price. The class is held in the studio of the Gien flagship showroom, 18 rue de l'arcade, 75008 Paris.

Et, voilà! Here's the end result. If I wouldn't have had to rush off, I would have probably filled in a bit more of the white. Nonetheless, I'm very pleased with my plate!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Anish Kapoor's (controversial) contemporary art exhibition at Versailles

Anish Kapoor's "C-Curve" at Versailles

There's a lot of controversy surrounding Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor's newly opened exhibition in the gardens of Versailles and at the Salle du Jeu de Paume (Royal Tennis Court). Did he really tell the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche that a rusty, funnel-like structure installed smack dab in the middle of the world's most famous garden has an overtly sexual connotation: "the vagina of the queen coming into power"? Yes, he did!

Kapoor, however, rapidly back-peddled in response to French royalists and conservatives who protested that his steel and rock abstract sculpture entitled "Dirty Corner" is insulting to the memory of Queen Marie Antoinette. At a press conference last Friday, the 61-year old artist admitted that he had used the word vagina to describe parts of the exhibition but that he didn't remember referring specifically to the queen's vagina. "In any case," he said, "I don't see why it's problematic. ... The point is to create a dialogue between these great gardens and the sculptures."

The back of Anish Kapoor's controversial 60-meter (200-foot) long, 10-meter (33-foot) high "Dirty Corner" at Versailles

Kapoor's exhibition has also irritated the more liberal minded. "Oh, dear, is this how men still see women?" bemoans Michelle Hanson in her article, "Artists have done vaginas to death – will someone please tell Anish Kapoor".

Normally, I try to avoid Versailles like the plague during the summer months. It's too crowded. The pathways are frequently enveloped in swirling clouds of dust causing me to sneeze until my eyes water. But thanks to Kapoor's exhibition, this is the first time that my "A year in Versailles" card will be put to full use. I'm looking forward to the challenge of photographing the oversized shapes, textures and colors of Kapoor's works at various times of the day. If you like taking pictures and aren't disturbed by vagina-esque sculptures, there's a good chance that you'll find some of Kapoor's works mesmerizing. I certainly did.

To better enjoy the sculptures, try to schedule your visit during non-peak hours. If you only want to see the exhibition and not the château, go on a Monday when the palace is closed. The gardens are open every day from 8:00 am to 8:30 pm during high season.

For the works exhibited in the gardens of Versailles, the exhibition is free, except on days of the Musical Fountains Show and the Musical Gardens (every Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday).

"Shooting into the Corner" is at the Jeu de Paume (Royal Tennis Court) located on Jeu de Paume street. The historic building is open from Tuesday to Sunday, 2 pm to 6 pm (last entry at 5:45 pm). Free entrance.

Kapoor Versailles - June 9 to November 1, 2015

Anish Kapoor's "Sky Mirror" at Versailles
Anish Kapoor's mesmerizing "Descension" at Versailles
Anish Kapoor's "Sectional Body preparing for Monadic Singularity" at Versailles
 Inside Anish Kapoor's "Sectional Body preparing for Monadic Singularity" at Versailles
Anish Kapoor's "Shooting into the Corner" at the Salle du Jeu de Paume (Royal Tennis Court) in Versailles