Friday, September 30, 2011

It's Paris Fashion Week. Want to see Beyonce and the other "beautiful people"? Follow the horses...

Serendipity - I love that word! Maybe because some of the best days in Paris are the unscripted ones when I just follow my nose to see where it will lead me, like yesterday. After having lunch with a friend at the Bistrot Vivienne, I decided to stroll down the Rue de Rivoli before going home. And that's when serendipity decided to take me for a ride. The only thing that I had to do was follow the horses that were clippity clopping down the street.

We passed hordes of people snapping photos on the Rue de Rivoli, turned right on Rue de Castiglione and ended up at the Place Vendôme, where the vintage cars participating in the annual Paris-Deauville Rally made me wonder if I had unwittingly stumbled back in time to "The Roaring Twenties".

While I was wandering back and forth between the troop of horses and the elegant cars, these newlyweds appeared as if out of a fairytale.

And then I noticed that there was a large crowd gathered in front of the Ritz, where a young Obama look-alike was talking with the press. Who is this guy? I don't know, but all of the professional photographers were taking his picture so I snapped one, too. [Edit: Many thanks to Mingou for identifying our mystery man. He's Guillaume Hoarau, a professional soccer player for Paris Saint-Germain.]

Following the horses had led me to the "beautiful people", who were gathered at the Ritz for the Paris Fashion Week show featuring the deluxe ready-to-wear creations for women by designer Barbara Bui.

The mood in the air changed ever so slightly when yet another glossy black car glided to a stop in front of the hotel. The photographers jostled for a prime spot and one asked, "Beyonce, how are you enjoying your stay in Paris?" [Edit: Many thanks to pipirupi and ATX_28 on TA's Paris Forum for telling me that this is not Beyonce! It's Ciara.]

Feeling fortunate that I didn't have to wait for the beautiful people to reappear after the show like the crowd clustered around the entrance of the hotel, I said goodbye to serendipity and headed home.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

On the outside looking in at Fashion Week and on the inside looking out at the Louvre

It's Fashion Week in Paris. The streets in front of all of the ritzy hotels are clogged with sleek chauffeur- driven cars with tinted windows, the Place de la Concorde and the Tuileries Garden have sprouted massive tents and the Twitter feed is all about the "beautiful" people who have invaded the city. [Side note: there was also a Jimmy Buffett sighting. Apparently, he's still in town after a concert last weekend and was spotted walking his dog down Avenue George V.] Having heard that much of the action takes place near the Tuileries Garden, I headed in that direction with a visit to the Louvre as my Plan B yesterday afternoon.

In case you're looking for an obvious connection between Fashion Week and the Louvre, there isn't one. But here's why I linked the two together in my mind -  when Joseph recently asked if I had written a post about the Louvre because he had just read an interesting article about it in the New York Times, I realized that 30 years is an embarrassingly long time to postpone my trip to the world's most visited art museum and decided to make it a priority...if I didn't get distracted with taking photos of leggy models along the way.

When I arrived at the Tuileries Gardens, it looked as if most of the fashionistas had already left one show and were on their way to the next, so I switched to Plan B and was inside the Louvre within a matter of minutes. No lines, no hassles. Even better, I managed to spot two of the most famous women in the world who have been around for a lot longer than any of the five minute wonders on the runway.

The Devil Wears Prada with Meryl Streep is a fun movie about the world of fashion.
Paris fashion week: Prêt-à-porter schedule Spring/summer 2012

Is this my post about the Louvre? No, there's more to come on that subject!

Venus de Milo has her share of fans
And the throng of admirers around Mona Lisa is so thick that it's hard to get a close look at her,
even on a quiet afternoon.
From the inside of the Louvre looking out...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What's your favorite book about Paris?

In the middle of a mad dash to catch my bus at the Place de la Concorde the other day, I came to a screeching halt when I noticed a couple who were completely captivated by their guidebook. He listened attentively while she read page after page. Since I couldn't make out the title without seeming overly intrusive, I inched my way towards them like an experienced member of Seal Team 6. Crouching behind the motorcycles, I discerned that the pink and white cover with large hearts was unrecognizable and it suddenly occurred to me that there is a book about Paris that I don't own: Le Routard des amoureux à Paris, or literally The Backpacker Lovers in Paris.

Standing next to the couple and swiveling my head from left to right, I couldn't see anything amorous about the spot and wondered what kind of juicy information had them so enthralled. My more traditional guidebook only mentions the 1,119 people, including Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Danton and Robespierre, who were executed at the Place de la Concorde and that it's "the culminating point of triumphal parades down the Champs Elysées each July 14". Thinking that there was nothing remotely romantic about those descriptions, only some rather mundane information about the guillotine and displays of military might, I went home and told Stephane that we needed to buy another guidebook, one with hearts and a pink Eiffel Tower on it.

The only problem is that my Paris bookshelf is full. Over the past six months, I've purchased more than 30 books about the city and have an ever growing list of other ones that I would like to read. I'm not quite sure where I'll find the space to put them or the time to read all of these books, but I will. Paris is proving to be a fascinating subject.

What's your favorite book about Paris?

And don't think that reading has to be an indoor activity. Whether you're sitting next to the fountain in the Jardin du Palais Royale or at the Luxembourg Gardens, books make perfect companions. They're even better than iPhones!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Shopping at the Maille boutique in Paris: Is it caviar or mustard?

"Caviar or mustard?" Fall/Winter Maille's limited edition collection 2011/2012

Normally the thought of shopping for condiments doesn't excite me, but when Stephane mentioned that we were out of mustard I jumped on the task of replenishing our supply because it meant that I finally had a reason to visit the Maille boutique near the Madeleine Church. Even though I've peeked through the window when the store was closed, I had no idea that the shelves would be stocked with such an overwhelming array. Pistachio and orange, dried apricot and curry, grilled onion and wild thyme -- who knew that mustard could come in so many enticing flavors? Evidently the American woman behind me in line felt the same way because when an unintentional "Wow!" escaped from her lips, I turned and agreed that I had never imagined such a wealth of mustard. For someone who grew up in the land where French's ruled supreme, this was a culinary revelation.

After sampling the three different types of mustard that are "on tap" and sold in refillable pots, I took 200 grams of white wine vinegar and the traditional Burgundy Chardonnay whole grain mustard. When the pots are empty, I'll simply wash them and take them back to the Maille boutique for a refill. I love it when something is delicious and environmentally friendly, too!

Deciding on the two types of mustard in the pots was easy because I could taste them. Choosing four small jars to to put in gift boxes turned out to be more of a challenge, so I asked the saleswoman for some help in selecting from amongst the more than 30 different flavors. When I asked for their most popular ones, she proposed the fig and coriander with lamb chops and pork dishes, the dried tomato and Espelette pepper with red meat and fish, the green herbs with fish, and the blue cheese with red meat.

Gift boxes for the mustard lover in your life.

In addition to more than 30 different kinds of mustard, the boutique also has a large selection of their other products, including oil, vinegar and pickles.

Maille Boutique
6 place de la Madeleine
75008 Paris
Metro: Madeleine

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lunch at The Little Paris Kitchen (La Petite Cuisine à Paris)

The menu and our comments in the guestbook.

Have you heard about The Little Paris Kitchen? It's one of those "secret" places that everyone seems to know about, which means that the competition is fierce to obtain a coveted spot for lunch. After months of trying to get my foot through the door of this two-seat underground restaurant, I decided that I had to change tactics and respond as soon I received Rachel's newsletter listing the next available dates. When she replied that I could come for lunch on September 22, I felt as if I had finally won the lottery!

What did the winning ticket include? A 3-course set menu, a glass of wine and the opportunity to dine with Rachel, a self-described London girl who swapped her career in high-fashion for one in the kitchen after completing the pâtisserie course at the world's leading culinary arts school, Le Cordon Bleu. Much to my delight, the other two guests, Mingou and Claire, were French bloggers, so while Rachel worked wonders in her tiny kitchen, we sipped Briard cider and swapped stories like old friends.

Rachel in The Little Paris Kitchen

Rachel, who has just finished writing her third cookbook, charmed us by preparing the following "girlie" menu (yes, it does vary according to her guests!):

The first course lined up and ready to go - Chicken liver Pâté with gingerbread crackers in the shape of the Eiffel Tower.  
Quail stuffed with chestnuts and apple. Brussels sprouts coleslaw.
Rachel putting the finishing touches on the dessert: Candied clementine with meringue and dark chocolate sauce. 

If you would like to dine at The Little Paris Kitchen, subscribe to Rachel's monthly newsletter to learn about upcoming dates. Even though it may be even more difficult to get a spot because she will be traveling quite a bit in the near future, it's worth it to be persistent because the market fresh food that comes out of her minuscule kitchen is deliciously delightful! In exchange for dining in her cozy apartment, Rachel says that a 30€ cash donation per person is bienvenue (welcome).

For more information, please visit the website for The Little Paris Kitchen. If you would like to see what my French dining companions thought of the experience, keep an eye on their blogs:

La peau d'ourse

Click here, to see Rachel's photos of our lunch and the menu.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sunday's pictures: Dogs just want to have fun - looking out at the world in Nîmes and in Paris.

With my red kerchief, I'm all dressed up to go out and play!

Whether they're on the second floor of an apartment building in Nîmes or on the ground floor of one in Paris, these dogs are sure that the outside world is much more fascinating than the one inside.

So very close and yet so very far...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tatiana de Rosnay at the American Library in Paris - "The House I Loved"

The long line of fans waiting to have their books signed by Tatiana de Rosnay at the American Library in Paris.

While wandering through the maze of narrow streets in Nîmes last weekend, I thought about how different it is from Paris, with its Grand Boulevards and row after row of homogeneous apartment buildings. Whether you approve of Baron Haussmann's modernization of the French capital or not, Tatiana de Rosnay's new book, The House I Loved, is sure to enthrall those who want to learn more about this fascinating period in history.

Although Mrs. de Rosnay's latest novel will not be released in the United States until February 14, 2012, I was fortunate enough to get a sneak preview of it when she read twenty pages of it at the American Library in Paris on Thursday night. The brief introduction to Rose, whose dead husband's familial home stands in the way of Haussmann's ambitious plans for Paris, left me yearning for more. Written in the form of a long letter to her beloved Armand, Rose recounts the emotional turmoil that she experiences upon learning that she must leave her home on rue Childebert because it is one of the thirty streets that will be completely razed to build the Boulevard Saint-Germain. Inspired by Charles Marville's old black and white photographs of an asymmetrical yet charming city, de Rosnay urges her readers to consider the price that former inhabitants had to pay "to air, to unify and to beautify" Paris.

For those of you who are fans of Mrs. de Rosnay's bestselling novel, Sarah's Key, you may like to know that the author wholeheartedly endorses the recent movie version of her book starring Kirsten Scott Thomas. Prior to making the film, the director assured her that he would not harm "her Sarah" and de Rosnay affirms that he was true to his promise. I'm happy that I haven't seen it yet because now I'll know to watch for the author in the restaurant scene, where she is seated behind Kirsten Scott Thomas.

If you can't wait until February to read Tatiana de Rosnay's latest novel, it is already available in French under the title, Rose.

As mentioned in previous posts, author events are a wonderful way to spend an evening in Paris. Be sure to visit the American Library's website or sign up for their e-newsletter to learn more about future programs.

Dating back to 1540, the Rue du Chat qui Pêche (Street of the Fishing Cat) in the 5th arrondissement escaped Baron Haussmann's reshaping of the capital. Considered by many to be the narrowest street in Paris, it measures 5.9 feet (1.8m) wide and 95 feet (29m) long.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Mom, stop tweeting at the table! And another funny cartoon from The New Yorker

The New Yorker, September 5, 2011          

A recent conversation between Philippe (my 21 year old son) and me:

Ph: What are you doing?

MK: Nothing. (While discretely trying to finish typing a tweet on my iPhone.)

Ph: Are you tweeting at the table?

MK: No, I just wanted to tell everyone about this great lunch that we're having together.

Ph: I can't believe this, you would have never let me tweet at the table. You would have said that I was being rude and told me to put my phone away.

MK: I know, but I just want to finish this tweet...

Ph: Mom, stop tweeting at the table!

I admit it - I'm a tweeter! But it's my children's fault. After all, they're the ones who suggested it in the first place. They just didn't know that I would have so much fun tweeting about everything from the trendy black toilet paper at Grazie (I mean seriously, have you ever seen black toilet paper before?) to the help wanted ad for a new masseuse when my regular one mentioned that I had gained a bit of weight (What does she expect? I live in Paris and am surrounded by delicious food!). OK, maybe I shouldn't have tweeted about that because then I noticed that people were taking sneak peeks at my stomach to see if she was right.

But I'm sure that it won't take long for my children to start seeing the benefits of tweeting since it's such a good mental workout. Think that I'm exaggerating? Then try taking a big important thought and condensing it down to a small important thought of 140 characters or less. Here's an example of when I couldn't do it and had to use two tweets:

Tweet 1: Crossing Swiss border to go shopping in France. Wanted to throw away glass bottles there but was told that "garbage tourism" is not allowed.

Tweet 2: Am I repatriating the garbage if I live in France and have French license plates or am I bringing in illegal garbage. Tricky question!

And what does Stephane think? He thinks that I'm talking gibberish when I tell him about twitter, tweeting and retweeting.

The iPhone picture that provoked the above conversation with Philippe.
Wouldn't you have wanted to tweet about having lunch at this place?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Let's go for a peaceful stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens

After yesterday's post about the bullfight, I thought that a peaceful stroll through the Luxembourg Gardens would be a pleasant change of pace.

No words - just photos of a perfect afternoon in September.

Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Garden)
Entrances at Place Edmond Rostand, Place André Honnorat, Rue Guynemer, Rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
Metro: Odeon

If you're in Paris on October 5, 2011, there is a free tour in French of the Luxembourg Gardens with one of the gardeners. The meeting point is at 9:30 a.m. in the part of the garden that is nearest to the Place André Honnorat in front of the gates of the Observatory.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Can I blame Hemingway? Watching a bullfight at the Roman amphitheater in Nimes

Not only for men - the women around us had definite opinions on the performances of the matadors.

Warning: this post contains graphic images of bullfighting.

I'm still not sure what I was thinking but let me try to explain. When Stephane asked if I wanted to watch a bullfight at the ancient Roman amphitheater in Nîmes, images of Ernest Hemingway and The Sun Also Rises popped into my brain. And since I'm an American expatriate living in Paris, it seemed like the thing to do.

But why am I writing about it? Shouldn't I just move on to the next post and pretend as if it never happened? That's what one side of my brain has been urging me to do.  The other side, however, reminds me that this blog is a journal about this period of my life and that I did go to a bullfight. There's no denying it.

While dining in close quarters at a tapas bar after the bullfight, we spoke with several aficionados, who all asserted that bullfighting is an art on a par with ballet. One impeccably dressed Parisian woman in her sixties enthused about the grace and skill of the matadors. When she explained that their harmonious communion with the bulls often reach levels of the sublime, the other diners nodded their heads in agreement. The French Ministry of Culture has even listed bullfighting as part of the cultural heritage of France.

When I told the aficionados that the inhumane treatment of the bulls overshadowed the well-executed movements of the matador, they replied that it was a shame that my first bullfight was so bloody and blamed the matador's poor performance. The matador, in turn, stated on his website that he attributed it to the inferior breeding of the bulls.

Now I'm going to share something that doesn't make me proud - after telling Stephane that the scenes in the arena were making me ill, he asked if I wanted to leave. And my response? I enquired how much he had paid for the tickets. My brain must have been addled by the sight of so much blood, for I can't help but wonder how long I would have stayed if he had paid more than 160 Euros ($ 220). When we reached the locked exit gate, the guard confirmed that we really wanted to leave. Assuring him that we did, he said, "Then I release you." With a sigh of relief, we walked down a narrow side street made impassable by the large crowd gathered to watch the bullfight on television.

In a dual called a mano-a-mano, the top two French bullfighters, Juan Bautista and Sébastian Castella alternately fought six bulls on September 17, 2011.

The following photos show the three stages of a bullfight.

Tercio de Varas (Lances third): Shortly after the bull enters the ring, the picadors arrive on horseback and stick a lance in the bull to pierce its thick neck muscle and straighten its charge. Enraged, the bull uses its horns to attack the horse, thus further fatiguing the neck muscles and causing the 1,146 pound (520 kg) bull to lower its head. It's during this critical first stage that the matador assesses the movements of the bull, determines its character and discovers any quirks that it may have.

Juan Bautista, one of the top two French matadors.
The picador plants the first lance.

Tercio de Banderillas (Banderillas third): The three banderilleros attempt to plant two brightly colored barbed sticks in the bull's shoulders. This causes an additional weakening of the neck and shoulder muscles and loss of blood. After the banderilleros have finished their work, the matador waves his cape inciting the bull to charge. I didn't take any photos during this stage.

Tercio de Muerte (Death Third): The matador exchanges the large dress cape for a small red one or muletta. By this point, the bull was so tired that I found myself hoping that it would have a speedy death. In spite of its heaving sides and extended tongue, the bull fought valiantly until the very end. Its dead body was rewarded by the cheers of the audience as it was unceremoniously hauled out of the arena.

Using a small red cape, Bautista brings the bull in for one of the last passes.
Bautista plants the entire sword in the bull during the final blow.
Bautista studies the bull to determine if he will need to use another
dagger to cut the spinal cord and hasten death.
The bull is hauled out of the arena to the enthusiastic cheers of the crowd.
A crowd watching the bullfight on television.

If you would like to visit the website for the Alliance Against Bullfighting to sign the petition to abolish bullfighting, please click here.