Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween. Trick or treating at the Garment District in Boston!

Trick-or-treat! Dressed up and ready to go. But hang on - are you
 sure that this is me and not some other ghoulish fiend?

When our children were younger, they would start planning their Halloween costumes weeks in advance. Sara usually wanted to be something pretty, like a princess or a ballerina, while Philippe always wanted to be something scary - like the year that he insisted on being a lime green ghost even after I explained that ghosts are almost always white. Upon hearing that they were going shopping together for their Halloween costumes at The Garment District last year, I imaged the two of them trying on masks and giggling like a pair of co-conspirators.

But since it didn't seem fair that they should have all of the fun, I decided to visit The Garment District while I was in Boston at the beginning of October after being reminded of it in a post written by Penny at Boston Zest. (If you're a resident of Boston or planning a trip to the city, be sure to take a look at this website because it's full of useful information)

Grab whatever you want. Dresses, scarves, capes, curtains for $1.50 per pound.
 It's even a better bargain on Friday when the price drops to $1.00 a pound

With over 40,000 pieces of vintage and contemporary clothing organized by decade and style, Sara and I were like a couple of kids in a candy store...or in a costume shop. Laughing as we tried on monster masks and capes, we caused quite a scene.

I didn't see a JFK, Obama, Schwarzenegger or Kermit the Frog mask at the costume stores in Paris. On the other hand, I didn't see a Sarkozy or Tintin mask at The Garment District in Boston!

Am I on the left or the right? I'll give you a hint - which one of these two characters would have been "out and about" in Paris during an earlier time? As soon as I started waving my swashbuckling sword over my head and fighting a fierce duel with an imaginary opponent, one of the stores security guards decide that he better keep a close eye on us. With my knack for getting into character, it's a good thing that I didn't follow Sara's suggestion to try on a French Can-can costume with these sparkling shoes. Red glitter would have flown all over the place as I did high kicks and danced like a performer at the  Moulin Rouge while the guard escorted us out the door.

Happy Halloween, everyone! What's your "trick or treat" for the day?

200 Broadway
Cambridge, MA 02139

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Métro, boulot, dodo - a night out at the movies to see The Adventures of Tintin

Released October 26 in France, The Adventures of Tintin will be in cinemas on December 21 in the USA.

Just in case anyone thinks that living in Paris is all romance and roses, a useful French idiomatic expression to know is métro, boulot, dodo (subway, work, sleep). That's the normal tempo of our lives from Monday to Friday.

So, when Stephane started his Tintin propaganda campaign, I expected to see Steven Spielberg's latest movie this weekend because we rarely go out during the week. But in a real demonstration of affection for one of his favorite comic book characters, Stephane said that he would make an exception and leave work before 7:00 on Thursday evening. Now that's devotion!

If you're reading this and wondering about a grown man's affection for what appears to be a children's story, you're probably not European. For as I discovered when I mistakenly thought that the cinema would be full of kids, Stephane is not the only person over 12 years old who is a fan of the boyish investigative reporter with his Kewpie doll curl. The 360 seat UGC Danton cinema was packed with adults who couldn't wait to watch Tintin and his faithful dog, Snowy, team up with the drunken Captain Haddock to solve the mystery of the Unicorn's missing treasure.

Since I'm not qualified to judge Spielberg's adaptation of one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century, The Adventures of Tintin was a fun night out at the movies for me.  Whenever the dialogue between Tintin and Captain Haddock felt a bit cliche, Spielberg changed gears and took us on a rip-roaring chase through a Moroccan marketplace or to fierce battle between two galleons at sea that reminded me of my recent visit to the USS Constitution ("Old Ironsides") in Boston.

Many movies are shown in English in Paris. Look for VO (original version) after the title of the film but  be sure that the film's original version is English. I learned that lesson some years ago after sitting through Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon in Chinese! An adult ticket costs 11 Euros ($15.50), although we didn't see the film in 3-D.

When passing Belgian chocolatier Jeff de Bruge's chocolate store the other day,
 I noticed his homage to Hergé, the Belgian cartoonist who created Tintin. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

Dressing up for Halloween in Paris? Better hurry - the costumes are going fast!

Yikes! Where did October go? Those were my thoughts yesterday when I happened to look at the calendar and noticed that there were only three more days until Halloween! All of a sudden, I realized that I still hadn't responded to Penny's question (in the comment section) about where you can buy a costume in Paris.

Part of the problem has been that I didn't really have a good answer until a couple of days ago when I came across Kerouac's photo report about the rue du Faubourg Montmartre. Without a moment to spare, I jumped on the metro to the 9th arrondissement just as the ghosts and goblins were starting to appear. Scary things happen in Paris when the sun goes down...

Watch out behind you! These poor unsuspecting people are sitting right in front of a ghoulish vampire in the metro!
"After work I always drink a neck."
There are devils in our midst. You can just make out the tips of this young woman's red pitchfork.
The lines in front of Au Fou Rire (22 bis rue du Fauburg Montmartre) and Clown Montmartre (22 rue du Fauburg Montmartre) were growing by the second as more and more people arrived to select their costumes. I'm glad that I wasn't the only one that didn't realize that Halloween is on Monday!
While standing in line, wannabe witches and pirates studied books with photos of costumes. The crowd became more and more nervous whenever one of the employees announced which costumes were already sold out. 

Want to be a sexy female pirate or a doctor? Costumes range in price from Euros 22-30 ($31-42). 

Time for a treat? Go to A La Mere de Famille at 35 rue du Faubourg Montemarte. Founded in 1761, their chocolate is delicious and the woman in the store was extraordinarily nice. She readily agreed when I asked if I could take some photos of their displays and even went to the back to get some more chocolate to fill in the empty spots. I could do a whole post on their tasty sweets.
Looking for a more theatrical costume? Go to Theatr'Hall, 3 carrefour de l"Odeon, 75006. 

Now that you've seen the costumes that Paris has to offer, what are you going to be on Halloween? I'm not sure if it will be a "trick" or a "treat", but I'll reveal my costume on Monday!

Wondering if most of these people are French or Anglophones? I know that I was -- so I hung around and eavesdropped on some of their conversations. The vast majority turned out to be French. Who says that they don't like to dress up for Halloween?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Good news and bad news - Pantheon offers the best views of Paris

Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides with the gold dome and Saint-Sulpice. La Defense is in the background. 
The good news:

Over the years, I've had the pleasure of admiring Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower, a hot air balloon, the terraces of Galeries Lafayette and the Arab World Institute, the Montparnasse Tower, the panoramic bar at Hotel Concorde La Fayette, and the Panthéon. Without a doubt, I have to admit that Jean-Arthur Olive was right that the best view of Paris is from the dome of the Panthéon. After climbing 206 steps, the sweeping 360 degree panoramic views of the city are awe-inspiring. Seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame from this height made me realize the scope of their size. And to think that the cornerstone of Notre Dame was laid in 1163. Simply amazing!

The bad news:

Stop reading, drop everything and make haste to the Pantheon because if you get there after October 31, 2011 you'll have to wait two to three years for another opportunity to see the spectacular views from the external colonnade at the base of the dome. I'm not sure if the tours are offered at the same time every day, but yesterday the times were 11:00, 12:00, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 and 4:30. The free tours are limited to 50 people. The last tour is very much in demand.

After getting distracted by some ice cream and hot chocolate on the rue Mouffetard on Saturday, Stephane and I arrived at the Pantheon only to learn that we had missed the last guided tour to the dome for the day. When they told us that it would be closed for the foreseeable future, I went back yesterday to take some pictures. It was well worth the trip and the 8 Euros admission fee. Tomorrow's post will be about the inside of the Pantheon, but first I'm going to take you on a photo tour of the dome.

Click on the photos to enlarge them.

Arial view of Foucault's pendulum from the inside of the dome. Those little specks are people.
Painting on the interior of the dome. It's not really noticeable from the ground but looks beautiful up-close.
External colonnade at the base of the dome.
Notre Dame Cathedral
Not a great photo showing Sacre Coeur in the distance. I'm including it because when I told Stephane that the crane in the foreground prevented me from getting any good shots of Sacre Coeur, he commented that there aren't many construction cranes in Paris. That's true. But where would you put another building?
Ahh, the rooftops of Paris! What is it about this hodge-podge collection of buildings that makes them so romantic? I couldn't help but think about all of the individual stories that are currently unfolding under these roofs and have been for centuries.
Going up 206 stairs was the easy part.
Going down was the hard part, especially since it will be 2-3 years until I can enjoy the views from the dome again!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

It's time for tights. "Young man, you don't have the weight!"

An advertisement for tights in the metro: "Which one of us has the most beautiful shape?"

Rain, brilliant sunshine, thunderstorms, we saw it all yesterday. As the warm days grudgingly turn cold, eye-catching advertisements for tights are starting to appear. But after having spent a large portion of my life in the tropics, I'm still not convinced that winter is the best time to bare my legs to the frigid blasts of Arctic air blowing through the tunnels of the metro. Plus, the tights that I saw at Galeries Lafayette last year were way too sexy for my buttoned-down self. I don't think that there's anything in my closet that would go with the red ones!

Photo credit: Sara
What's in store for this winter? 

With lots of black lace and monochromes, it initially appeared as if the forecast would be rather grim. Nothing lighthearted, nothing frivolous...

But then I spied these colorful tights sticking out of the wall. With multi-hued leggings, it looks as if the long grey days of winter will be more cheerful. Even though I'm not going to wear turquoise tights, I'll be happy to see them on someone else.

The advertisement is a play on the words, "poids" (weight) and "pois" (dots) , "Young man, you don't have the weight!" 

Have you seen the movie, "Paris, Je t'aime"? If so, you probably remember the scene where an American tourist becomes involved in a conflict with a young couple in the Tuileries metro station after breaking the cardinal rule of "no eye contact".

Well, I had my own moment in the metro yesterday when the young man (wearing the white t-shirt in the photo) shouted across the train tracks to ask if I was taking a picture of him. Darn - so much for discretion! Hoping to avoid a scene, I reassured him that I was taking a photo of the advertisement behind him -- and not of him. Wrong answer. He turned around, read the slogan, laughed out loud and shouted that he wanted to be in the picture, too. By this time, we had attracted quite an audience on both platforms. Even the more sophisticated Parisians were probably wondering why the strange American woman was busy snapping photos of advertisements and young men. Thank goodness that I wasn't wearing a pair of red tights like these!

"I'm the most beautiful red light in Paris."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Culture, food, views and more at the Arab World Institute (l'Institut du Monde Arabe)

Finding a good restaurant that's open on Sunday isn't an easy feat. I know because we try it often enough and are foiled in most of our attempts. Last Sunday, we decided to think outside of the box and find a place that wouldn't be closed because of religious beliefs or French cultural constraints. Our first burst of inspiration was the Marais, but since the historic Jewish quarter is our standard "go to" spot and we've already tried quite a few of the restaurants there, we scratched our heads and thought some more. Then, voila, the sun shining through the window provided us with the answer -- Le Zyriab, a Lebanese restaurant situated atop the Arab World Institute (AWI). With spectacular views of the city and supposedly delicious food, we had a destination.

As the AWI is ideally located right next to the Seine, I've walked past it on many occasions and have always been struck by the dazzling facade that merges geometric shapes reminiscent of the East with a contemporary Western design. With interesting architectural features, a museum, exhibition areas, a massive library and a restaurant, the AWI merits a visit in its own right. But since it was getting late and I was hungry, we only took a few minutes to study the outside of the building before passing through the security check.

Once inside, we noticed that the 30,000 light-sensitive diaphragms that control the light levels cast a mystical play of reflections on the walls giving the place a magical feel.

Stephane and I decided to go to Noura's full service restaurant, Le Zyriab, since we wanted to linger and enjoy the views of the city. If you would prefer a faster, less expensive meal, there is also a self-service restaurant on the same floor. While savoring each bite of our moujaddara (lentils and rice decorated with fried onions), Oriental salad seasoned with lemon juice and olive oil and lamb kebabs with a subtle hint of cinnamon, we decided that we didn't mind that all of the restaurants that we had originally wanted to go to were closed.

Lunch, anyone? You can't beat the view of the Notre Dame and the Seine. It's possible to visit the terrace of the Arab World Institute without dining in the restaurant. After the security check, turn immediately to the right and take the elevator to the 9th floor.

Le Zyriab
Arab World Institute/l'Institute du Monde Arabe (9th floor)
1 rue des Fosses St Bernard
75005 Paris
tel: 01 55 42 55 42
Open daily from 11:00 am - 11:00 pm with the exception of Sunday evening.

Monday, October 24, 2011

World Chocolate Masters Competition at the 2011 Salon du Chocolat in Paris

Chocolate necklaces made by Francisco Somoza of Spain and Luis Robledo of Mexico.

While most people's attention was focused on the Rugby World Final between France and New Zealand yesterday, there was another international competition taking place at the Salon du Chocolat in Paris. Tension was running high as finalists from around the world neared the end of an eighteen month competition that would result in one of them being named "World Chocolate Master 2011".

During this challenging chocolate competition, each of the nineteen finalists, who have already won the title of "National Chocolate Master" in their respective countries, produced a chocolate cake, two pralines, a dessert and one exceptional artistic creation based on the theme, "Cocoa, the gift of Quetzaicoatl". Even though Sylvain Bertolini, the executive pastry chef at the Bellagio Las Vegas, was representing the United States, I decided to follow the Swiss team, mainly because they were easily recognizable in their red and white shirts.

Tension was already running high for the Swiss team as Claudia Schmid, head of ice cream production at the world-famous Confiserie Sprüngli in Zurich, focused on her artistic creation. A hush fell over the large room when the announcer commented that Claudia was running short of time and would perhaps have a problem completing her necklace.

With their cowbells, red shirts and flags, the Swiss team was easy to spot.

Fortunately, Claudia Schmid was able to complete this dazzling chocolate necklace with turquoise stones, golden cocoa beans and an amulet inspired by the Aztec calendar. 

Claudia's sculpture entitled, "Quetzalcoatl'z Favorite Spot", however, may have been overly ambitious because it crumbled into a rather heartbreaking pile of chocolate on the display stand, as did a couple of other sculptures.

In a fortuitous stroke of good luck, the winner of this year's competition was announced at 9:50 this morning, just in time for me to incude the results in this post. Congratulations to the new "World Chocolate Master", Frank Hassnoot from Holland! Yoshiaki Uezaki from Japan placed second and Palle Sorenson from Denmark placed third.

Winner Frank Hassnoot's chocolate sculpture, "Warrior: The warrior of darkness is in search for cocoa in the mysteries of the jungle".

Jana Ristau from Germany won the award for best chocolate necklace.

Other posts about the Salon du Chocolat: