Saturday, April 30, 2011

Lunch at Aux Artistes - A Funky Restaurant in the 15th Arrondissement

After taking care of a bit of business in the 15th arrondissement on Thursday, I realized that I had some time to spare before I needed to be at Place St. Gervais for a walking tour on the history of water porters in Paris.  Intending to have lunch somewhere in the Marais, I headed towards the metro but was sidetracked by Aux Artistes, a funky looking restaurant with a lunch menu featuring French cuisine. 

The red checkered table cloths and warm ambiance offered a welcome contrast to the chilly weather outside, as did the convivial behavior of the other diners who joked with the owner and asked if they should sit at their regular tables.  The Euros 14 lunch menu includes an appetizer, a main course, and either cheese, dessert, or coffee, although there are some selections, such as the homemade molten chocolate cake, that come with a surcharge.  In what may be an interesting way to circumvent any complaints about incorrect orders, each guest writes their selections on a slip of paper and hands it to the waiter.  I made sure to write my three choices, couscous, lamb cutlets with french fries, and chocolate cake, as neatly as possible!

Aux Artistes is the kind of place that invites you to become a regular with your own table.  I left  with a sense of nostalgia because I don't usually have any reason to be in that part of the city, although I've subsequently come to the conclusion that the homemade french fries are reason enough to make the trip.

The front of the restaurant is plastered with stickers from the French guidebooks, Le Guide du Routard and Paris pas cher.

Aux Artistes
63 rue Falguière
75015 Paris

Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Way to Look at Art

How would you describe Rodin's statue, "The Thinker", to a blind friend?  Which words would you use to convey the tautness of his muscles or his furrowed brow?

I was recently captivated by the smile on the face of a man who was feeling one of the statues near the Louvre.  Since I'm getting used to seeing all types of interesting behavior in Paris, it took me a few minutes to figure out that he was visually impaired and that he was using his hands to look at the statue with his wife.  Words cannot convey the expressions of sheer joy on their faces, their complete immersion in the moment, as they cherished the experience would have had to see them to understand.

After writing a draft of this post a few weeks ago and noticing several other visually impaired people in the city, I started wondering if any of the museums offer tactile visits.  The Louvre's page for handicapped people seems to focus only on those with physical disabilities.  I can't imagine what it would be like to not be able to see all of the visual wonders of Paris. 

Using the theme of water as their base, the French tour company, Percevoir, offers tactile visits of Paris.  One of the tours that they offer is "The Fountains by Feel/Touch".   

Click HERE to see a thread with useful information, including the fact that there is a tactile gallery in the Louvre, for visually impaired visitors to Paris written by members of Trip Advisor's Paris Forum.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Bed and Breakfast with a Heart

Mariette welcomed me with a Kir

No, I haven't opened a bed and breakfast in Paris, but I did meet Mariette, the owner of a small B&B in the 19th arrondissement, while touring the herbalist's shop. Mariette was the Frenchwoman who kindly offered to translate for the four English speaking people when the translator from Meeting the French failed to appear.  Being a former teacher of both French and English, she did an excellent job.

As I wanted to learn more about Mariette and her B&B, I was pleased that she agreed to accompany me to Starbucks* after the tour.  When I mentioned during the course of our lively discussion that I didn't know how to make Baba au rhum, Mariette invited me over for a private cooking lesson and assured me that it wouldn't be an imposition because she is used to showing her guests how to prepare simple French dishes that they can make when they return home.

Mariette's apartment, which is located on the tenth floor of a modern high rise building near the Buttes-Chaumont park, is quiet, filled with light, and has a lovely view of the city. The two guest rooms have an independent bathroom that Mariette has thoughtfully equipped with toiletries and a tea station. As I only spent the afternoon with Mariette, I can't tell you if the beds are comfortable, but I can tell you that she is one of the most charming hosts that you could ever hope to meet. If you've been to Paris before and would like to see a different, less-touristy side of the city, Mariette's B&B is a good option.  After one of her first Japanese guests wrote a favorable review in a Japanese guidebook, it has become one of the most requested B&Bs listed with Meeting the French.

One of the Japanese reviews of Mariette's B&B

If you would like more information, please look at Meeting the French listing (A27) .

I'm sorry that there aren't more pictures with this post. I had to use the camera on my iPhone because I left the battery for my camera at home.

*Why did we go to Starbucks when there are so many great French cafés? We went there because it was the only cafe in the area. As an ex-coffee drinker, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Starbuck's small tea is less expensive than the price charged in most French cafés. I couldn't believe it when a café on the rue de Rivoli charged me Euros 4.50 for a Lipton tea bag and a pot of hot water!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Stunning Buttes-Chaumont Park in the 19th Arrondissement

Rosa Bonheur Guingette/Restaurant

Most visitors to Paris don't make it to the 19th arrondissement, but if you've been here before and are looking for a new area to explore, the Buttes-Chaumont Park is the perfect destination, especially on a lovely day in April.

The Buttes-Chaumont Park, which is located on the site of former gypsum quarries, was created when Baron Haussmann, acting on the order of Napolean III, commissioned Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand to design a park for the working class village, La Vilette, that had just been annexed to Paris. The park's dramatic terrain, which was enhanced with the use of dynamite, features a grotto with artificial stalactites and a 32 meter (105 ft) waterfall cascading into an artificial lake.  A small temple, reachable by traversing two bridges, is perched atop a large rocky cliff.  It's easy to imagine the delight of the visitors to the World's Fair of 1867, which is when the park was inaugurated, as they strolled through the gardens and marvelled at its beauty.

Revelling in its pastoral pleasures, it's hard to believe that the park is situated on land that was previously used as a public dump, a slaughterhouse, and was also the location of the infamous Montfauçon gallows.  During my second visit to Buttes-Chaumont, the leader of the WICE tour read the famous poem by François Villon, "La Ballade des pendus", or the "Ballad of the Hanged Men", that was a chilling reminder of the area's infamous past.      

With its 25 ha (61 acres) of vast open spaces and secluded corners, Buttes-Chaumont is the perfect place for families, couples, and individuals.  Take a picnic with a bottle of wine or a good book and enjoy your afternoon at the park!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Sign of the Times - A Public Service Announcement

While riding the bus yesterday, I noticed this sign for the first time.  It caught my eye because it's fairly large and is in four languages, something that I haven't seen before in France.

You can click on the photo to enlarge the sign, but it basically advises people to be careful while using mobile phones because more than half of all of the assaults on the public transportation system in Paris involve mobile phones.  If I absolutely have to look at my phone while I'm on the metro, I make sure that it's only when I'm seated on one of the inside seats so that it's more difficult for a thief to snatch it and run away with it.

A Night at the Cabaret

One of the things that I like about having visitors who are already familiar with Paris is that they occasionally propose doing something that is completely out of the ordinary for me.  This was certainly the case when Geneviève, my Swiss sister-in-law, suggested that we go to the comedy show at Don Camilo, a Parisian Cabaret, that has been a destination for French speaking visitors to Paris for the past 60 years. 

Knowing that the evening would be a linguistic challenge, I was pleased to be able to comprehend many of the jokes about Sarkozy, Obama, and Berlusconi, but the best part of the evening was seeing my serious Swiss husband close to tears because he was laughing so hard at the impressions of famous French people.  Laughter really is a universal language that everyone can understand.

Don Camilo's offers three different dinner menus.  We settled on the one for Euros 99 that included, the show, a four course dinner, a Kir Royale, 1/2 bottle of champagne, wine, and mineral water.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Jardin du Palais Royal - An Update on the Roses

After seeing "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the Comedie-Française this afternoon, I quickly passed by the Jardin du Palais Royal to check on the progress of the roses.  They should be in full bloom by the end of this week.

While there, I stopped to watch a photo shoot of a model in the arcades and started talking with a Parisian man who declared that the Jardin du Palais Royal is one of his favorite spots in Paris.  It's really worth a visit if you're near the Comedie-Française.

Jardin du Palais Royal - A Restful Retreat Near the Louvre

Jardin du Palais Royal
Whew!  It's not easy being a tourist in Paris!  One of the best things about living here is that I can usually plan my visits to museums and to must-see places like the Marais for times when there aren't that many people, and if the crowds are too intense, I know that I can always return another day. 

Yesterday, however, was a bit different because our visitors from Switzerland wanted to purchase tickets for a show at the Comédie-Française, so we found ourselves walking, or weaving our way, down the Rue de Rivoli at noon.  Staying together proved to be quite a challenge for our group of seven, especially because there were lots of people who were standing or squatting on the sidewalk while eating their sandwiches and crêpes.  I wanted to tell them, "Psst...there's a great place where you can sit down and eat your sandwich in peace just a short walk from here."  Since I couldn't tell them, I'm posting it here.

Finding the Jardin du Palais Royal isn't difficult, although I've walked behind quite a few confused tourists, maps in hand, who stop in front of the construction in the first courtyard because they aren't sure if they're allowed to go further.  You are.  Here are some pictures to guide you. 

Starting at the Place Colette, pass to the right of the Comédie-Française and enter the first courtyard, where you'll see lots of black and white striped stone columns with people posing for pictures.

  Pass into a second courtyard, where you'll see these:

Keep going, you're almost there!

Ahhh, you've found it, a soothing spot to recover from the rigours of being a tourist in Paris.

You can, of course, enter the Jardin du Palais Royale from other sides but this is my preferred route.  It should be particularly beautiful in the coming weeks because the roses are starting to bloom, which reminds me that I need to go back and take some pictures.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Light Lunch at A Priori Thé - Galerie Vivienne

I'm one of those people who can spend hours searching TripAdvisor's Paris Forum looking for leads on good places to eat in Paris.  If I'm going to eat out, I want the experience to be a pleasant one and the food to be above average.  So, when the guide of the Paris Fashion Walk recommended having lunch at the tearoom, A Priori Thé, during our visit to the Galerie Vivienne, I took note and decided to try it out when I was in the area last Thursday.      

With a limited menu offering salads, quiche, pasta, and two daily specials, this is a good option if you're looking for a light lunch in a quiet setting.  My zucchini stuffed with goat cheese and basil was served on a bed of tender greens topped with shaved parmesan and accompanied by a green olive and hazelnut tapanade.  Unfortunately, the cheesecake, which comes in two different serving sizes, disappeared before I thought to take a picture. 

The food was fresh and well prepared, the setting was tranquil, and the service was indifferent, although the waitress did bring a big bowl of ice for the American tourists seated next to me.  Would I travel across town to go to A Priori Thé?  No.  Will I go back when I'm near the Jardins du Palais Royale?  Yes, mainly because I like the setting in the Galerie Vivienne.  Will I order a larger piece of cheescake next time?  Most definitely! 

Lunch: Euros 13-18
Cheesecake: Demi portion - Euros 4, Regular portion - Euros 7
Opening hours:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Paris Fashion Walk, Part II - Galerie Vero-Dodat, Galerie Vivienne, and Place des Victoires

Talk about a stimulus package!  One of the reasons that I like going on the tours offered by Paris Walks is that I always learn fascinating bits of information that help me to better understand French culture.  For example, when our guide told us that, in an effort to bolster the textile industry, Napolean Bonaparte forbade women to appear at court in the same dress more than twice, I had an epiphany.  Following the latest fashions isn't a frivolous pursuit, it's a patriotic duty, for as Napolean supposedly said, "Luxury for the rich provides the essentials for the poor."

So, in an effort to do my part for the French economy, I spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon visiting some of the boutiques that we had passed on the Paris Walks tour.  After strolling through the delightful Jardin du Palais Royale, I went to Jean Paul Gaultier at 6 rue Vivienne and admired the new 3-D clothing line that comes complete with glasses.  Although the saleswomen made me slightly nervous by following me around the shop, they were friendly and even suggested that I try on the 3-D glasses to get the full effect of the design on one of the t-shirts. 

Galerie Vivienne
Next, I made my way to the Galerie Vivienne, which is located right next to Jean Paul Gaultier, and had a light lunch followed by some luscious cheesecake at A Priori Thé.  With small boutiques, a couple of restaurants, and lots of quiet ambience,  Galerie Vivienne is rapidly becoming one of my favorite spots in Paris.  It's not a bustling place like the Champs Elysées and a teenager would possibly find it a bit boring, but I absolutely love it.

From the Galerie Vivienne, I wandered over to the Galerie Vero-Dodat on Rue du Bouloi and tried on some Christian Louboutin shoes that were priced around Euros 2,000.  In spite of Napolean's dictum, I left the store empty handed.  The shoes were wonderful, but I wouldn't make it very far in stiletto heels!  Interestingly enough, the cobbler next to Christian Louboutin was putting red rubber soles on the bottom of shoes.  I wonder if there is a connection between the two stores or if people bring in their regular shoes and have red soles put on them to resemble Louboutin's trademark.

As previously mentioned in my first post about the Fashion Walk, I recommend joining the Paris Walks tour if it is offered during your stay in Paris.  If it isn't, here's a list of the stores in the order that we passed them on the walking tour:  Galerie Vero-Dodat, by Terry (Galerie Vero-Dodat. Custom made cosmetics by appointment only), Christian Louboutin (Galerie Vero-Dodat), Kenzo (Place des Victoires), Victoires (Place des Victoires), Jean Paul Gaultier (Rue Vivienne), and Galerie Vivienne.

Happy shopping!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Funny Cartoon in "The New Yorker"

"The New Yorker" April 18, 2011
I hope that I'm not breaking any copyright laws by posting this, but I had to share it with you.

Albert-Kahn Gardens: An Oasis of Serenity

The discordent sounds of the city, close encounters with sweaty bodies on the metro, rushing from here to there --- sometimes it's necessary for me to slow down the tempo of my life, so when Laurence suggested a visit to the Albert Kahn Museum and Gardens, an oasis of serenity on the outskirts of Paris, I gratefully accepted her invitation.

As it was a beautiful day, we decided to forego visiting the museum and to devote all of our time to strolling through the different gardens that were inspired by Kahn's desire to acheive universal peace by fostering respect for other cultures.  While I'm sure that the French and English gardens are lovely at other times of the year when the flowers are in full bloom, the highlight on the day of our visit was the Japanese garden.

Albert Kahn created a small Japanese village after being influenced by a trip to Japan in 1897.  The two houses were constructed by Japanese craftsmen using materials imported from Japan and are thus recognized as a part of that country's cultural history.

To learn more about Albert Kahn and his extraordinary vision, look at The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn,  a website about the BBC book that accompanied the successful television series, Edwardians in Coulour: The Wonderful World of Albert Kahn.

Albert-Kahn, Museum and Gardens
10-14, rue du Port
92100 Boulogne-Billancourt
Metro: Boulogne Pont de Saint Cloud

Closed Mondays

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Pep's Umbrella Repair Store

Why would anyone want to repair an umbrella when it's possible to purchase an inexpensive one for a couple of Euros?  Thierry Millet, the proprietor of Pep's, says that people bring their "sick" umbrellas to him for three main reasons: it's less expensive to repair an old umbrella than to buy a new one, they have a sentimental attachment to their broken umbrella, or they wish to protect the environment from the 15 million umbrellas that are thrown away in France every year.

Mr. Millet, the only umbrella repairman in France*, welcomes people from around the world into his shop in the charming, yet somewhat hidden, Passage de l'Ancre Royal.  They come bearing 8-10,000 broken umbrellas per year that are in need of his expert attention.  After analysing the problem, Mr. Millet gives his diagnosis and proposes a price to repair the umbrella.  If the umbrella is beyond repair, it can be disassembled and the parts recycled to extend the life of another umbrella. 

Classified as a "Living Heritage Company" by the French government, Pep's is a cultural curiosity that shouldn't be missed.  I'm pleased that "Meeting the French" organizes these visits with skilled artisans because the enthusiasm and pride that they bring to their craft is evident.  If they are not offering a tour to Pep's while you are in Paris, I strongly encourage you to stop by his store on the delightful Passage de l'Ancre Royal.  It's well worth the trip, especially if it's raining and you need to buy a new or used umbrella!  Pep's is open M-Th 1:30-7:00 p.m. and from September to May on Saturdays 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. 

*UPDATE:  After writing this post, several readers wrote comments telling me that there is another umbrella repairman in Paris.  Please see the related post, Fashionable and Functional: Parasolerie Heurtault.