Monday, February 27, 2012

Reflections - keep your eyes on the ground!


Squish, squish, splat! That's the symphony of sounds that Stephane and I used to hear during our evening walks in Cassis, France some twenty years ago. Tiptoeing on concrete mined with dog pooh (splat!) and slow moving snails (squish!) prepared us for the relatively clean sidewalks of Paris. At least that's what I thought until I was momentarily distracted by the Eiffel Tower last night and forgot the all-important dictum, "Never look up!" Weaving my way through the hordes of tourists, my eyes were resolutely fixed on the ground until the fateful moment when I allowed myself to be captivated by the reflection in a bus window. Splat! Chalk up another one for the dogs of Paris and their thoughtful owners.

Dragging one leg behind me as I scraped my soiled shoe on the cement, the words on the side of the bus seemed to mock me. More comfort - really?


Last night was also a flurry of activity as I finalized my travel plans for the week. I'll be in Geneva until Thursday, back home for a quick celebration of our one year anniversary of living in Paris at the end of the week and departing for Boston on Sunday. As always, my laptop is going with me. I may catch up on the backload of posts about things that I've been doing in Paris or I may write about my travels. I just wanted to let you know that I should be safe from dog pooh for a while and will use the opportunity to take my eyes off of the ground from time to time.

Sometimes you see the darndest things when you look up -- like cows! The annual Agricultural Show is in town until March 4 and according to everything that I've heard, it's well worth a visit. I may try to go on Friday.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday's pictures and a song - Musicians near Notre-Dame


Is it the same guy? I took these photos last Friday - a beautiful, sunny day in Paris - and found a YouTube video of a violinist playing in almost exactly the same spot in October 2011. Enjoy!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

"The Artist" shines at the French Film Awards - but what will the Americans think?


Better late than never - After making a last minute decision to see The Artist this afternoon, I rushed to the movie theatre and sank into my seat just as the movie started. Slightly annoyed that the woman next to me insisted on humming along with most of the songs, I'm thankful that I resisted the urge to ask her to be quiet because when the movie was over, she turned to me and said enthusiastically in French, "I hope that the Americans like it!" Assuring her that the French film was highly entertaining, she shook her head and said that she was worried that George Clooney would win the Academy Award for best male actor in a leading role. Having found Clooney's portrayal of a grieving husband to be lacking on so many levels in "The Descendants", I told her that I don't think that he'll be going home with an Oscar tomorrow night. She beamed and confided that she hopes that the The Artist will reign supreme in Los Angeles and that Jean Dujardin will be the first French-born actor to win the Oscar for a lead role. It seems that there's a lot more at stake than just a gold statue. It's a question of national pride - no wonder that Dujardin started singing the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, when he as asked what it would mean to him and to his country if he goes on to win the Academy Award after winning "best actor" at the Screen Actors Guild Awards.


While The Artist won a total of six Cesars for Best Film, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction and Best Music at the French Film Awards in Paris last night, the Cesar for Best Actor went to Omar Sy for his performance in the feel-good box office blockbuster Intouchables. According to a recent article in The New York Times, the movie will soon have an American remake produced by Will Smith. As Stephane and I thoroughly enjoyed the heartwarming tale about the friendship that develops between a wealthy quadriplegic and his caretaker, I'll be curious to see how this movie is adapted for American audiences.

Any thoughts about how The Artist or other movies will do tomorrow night? As always, I won't find out the winners until I wake up Monday morning.


Friday, February 24, 2012

You've got mail - No more Mademoiselle, new bells for Notre-Dame, things Parisians say and tearooms


Things are changing at a dizzying speed in France - in a move towards greater equality of the sexes, the government decided to banish "mademoiselle" ("miss") from official forms this week and four of the old bells in the North Tower at Notre-Dame will be replaced by new melodious bells to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the church next year. Many thanks to Joseph and Amy for emailing the following articles to me! Please click on the links if you would like to read more.

"Mademoiselle" Exits Official France, New York Times --  I hope that the near-sighted beggar who keeps waving his coin cup at me and saying "Mademoiselle, Mademoiselle" gets a copy of the official government memo!

New more melodious bells for Notre Dame



Stéphane and I had a good time watching "Things Parisians Say" sent to me by "My Little Paris". If you're not on their mailing list yet, you should be! As always, my ears and mind had to go into hyper drive to understand these fast talking Parisians. I love when the guy, who is obviously late for an appointment, says that he's at Châtelet metro station when he's at Buttes Chaumont (01:32). It's also funny how Parisians describe their fellow citizens as "selfish", "too stupid", "stressed" (01:40) and the 16th arrondissement as "dead, dead, dead, dead!" (01:42). Newsflash: The Rue Saint Denis is the new Rue Montorgueil (01:50) and the 20th arrondissement is the new 12th (01:48).

And many thanks to Nancy for sending the link for an article about tearooms in Paris. I look forward to trying some of them. Speaking of Notre-Dame, today would be a good day to go to The Tea Caddy! Please note that the prices are in francs and not euros.

Her Paris Tearooms: Tea for One

Have you read about something interesting in Paris? I would love to know. Please send me an email at mkoutandabout@gmail.com.

Other news: School vacations mean long lines in front of Versailles. Fortunately, I had booked a guided tour on Tuesday, so I whizzed on past! But look at that blue sky. Spring is almost here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"Bringing Up Bébé" - Author Pamela Druckerman talks at the American Library in Paris




Until the youngest of our two children went away to college, my primary job was raising our "third-culture kids"*. Moving from country to country, I observed other mothers in action and was quite often struck by the cultural differences in parenting. In Switzerland, my doctor, midwife and friends advised me to put our firstborn on a strict schedule. Following their instructions, Sara ate, slept and played according to the clock, just like a good Swiss child. However, when we moved to the Philippines and had live-in household help, the normally acquiescent Filipino women argued that leaving our infant son in a room on his own was akin to child abuse. In their culture, where collectivism is valued over individualism, babies sleep next to their mothers and their needs are met immediately. Rather than looking at a clock to see if it was time to feed Philippe, Virgie and Viola urged me to be guided by his needs.

Watching and learning from my internationally diverse group of friends has convinced me that we parent our children according to what's culturally important to us. So, when I heard that Pamela Druckerman would be speaking at the American Library about her new book, Bringing Up Bébé, I marked the date in red on my calendar, not because I plan to raise another child in Paris but because I hoped that she would provide some insightful clues as to what's most important to the French. I wasn't disappointed.

While Druckerman, who has been overwhelmed by both the positive and negative reactions to her book, says that Bringing Up Bébé is more of a memoir than a manifesto, it's pretty clear that she's convinced that French mothers are on to something good. Saying that she has been transformed as a parent by living in France, Druckerman explained that there are four magic words in French: bonjour (hello), au revoir (goodbye), merci (thank you) and s'il vous plaît (please). According to the author, the French idea is that by making children, even those as young as one, say "hello" when they meet someone ensures that kids learn that the world doesn't revolve around them. In fact, the idea that babies and small children are rational beings and should be treated accordingly permeates Druckerman's anecdotes. She explained that while French mothers don't specifically teach their young children patience, there are ongoing lessons about how to delay gratification. Druckermann, who used to inhabit a world where moms carry a constant supply of Cheerios in Ziploc bags, was initially amazed that French children are able to wait for their goûter, the official snack time around 4:00 pm.

As almost all of my parenting years were spent abroad, I was surprised to hear Druckerman's descriptions of the intense "Mommy Wars" in the United States that pit working mothers against those who stay at home. According to the author, there isn't the same sort of competition between mothers in France because almost all of them put their babies in daycare and happily return to work at the end of their maternity leave. When Druckerman asserted that French women can technically have it all because there isn't the same sort of social pressure to stay at home, I found myself thinking of a recent article in the New York Times where Valérie Toranian, editor-in-chief of Elle magazine in France, said that French woman are exhausted. Sound familiar? Well, apparently it's even more difficult when you're expected to work, cook a delicious dinner, look immaculate in stiletto heels and raise children who say bonjour to everyone. When I questioned Druckerman during the book signing session as to her thoughts on why French women are the largest consumers of anti-depressants in Europe, she responded that it's because they're so inexpensive in France before adding that she's frequently asked this question and hopes to address it in her next book.

While I'm relieved that NBC's Today Show segment about Bringing Up Bébé wasn't my first introduction to Pamela Druckerman because I found myself more interested as to why she was wearing a black beret in her apartment in Paris than in what she was saying, she made many excellent points during her talk at the American Library. Appearing sans beret, Druckerman was less of a polarizing Francophile and more of a mother trying to figure out how to best raise her children in a foreign land. As another mother, I applaud her efforts.

What do you think? Can we learn something from the French about rearing children? It's not only the Anglophones who are interested in Druckerman's book. A camera crew from the German television channel ZDF filmed her talk last night.

Please click here to read Elaine Sciolino's review of Bringing Up Bébé  in The New York Times.

*Third culture kids - A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.

Pamela Druckerman, the author of Bringing Up Bébé talking at the American Library in Paris

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Je thé...me - a romantic restaurant off the beaten-track


Now that Valentine's Day 2012 has come and gone, Stephane and I are left with fond memories of our dinner at Je thé...me, a romantic restaurant whose name is a play on the French words for "I love you" (Je t'aime).


Situated on the corner of Rue d'Alleray and Rue Francois Villon, two narrow streets in the 15th arrondissement, Je thé...me is well off the beaten track for most tourists. But that didn't stop Anthony Bourdain, a celebrity chef and host of The Travel Channel's Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations from discovering it when he was looking for tripe and kidneys while visiting Paris for the 100th episode of his show. Now, I've got to admit that I wouldn't have been as excited about this cozy restaurant if I would have known that its claim to fame in the United States is offal, but since I only learned about Anthony Bourdain when his name kept appearing in enthusiastic reviews and hadn't seen the aforementioned show, I was eager to try it.


Retour de Montagne is the chef's ode to traditional mountain foods - potatoes, Reblochon cheese and air dried meat. Reminiscent of meals normally eaten in Alpine chalets after a day of skiing, the creamy concoction was hearty yet amazingly light at the same time. Good thing because I still had two more courses to go!  


As there's nothing more succulent than duck breast when it's prepared to perfection, Un Malard, Une Orange was a superb choice. Served with seasonal vegetables, there wasn't the tiniest speck left when they removed my plate.


And since Valentine's Day wouldn't feel like Valentine's Day without a bit of chocolate, I opted for the luscious Tarte Chocolat Sarrazin for dessert. It was a sweet way to finish an outstanding meal.



If you would like to watch Anthony Bourdain's segment on Je thé...me, it starts with a visit to a butcher at 06:10 on the video. If you want to skip the close-ups of the cows' heads, intestines and tongues, start at 06:49.

4, rue de Alleray
75015 Paris

The three-course dinner menu, which changes several times a year, is 38€ . Otherwise, you may also order individual courses. Starter: 12€; Main Course: 23€; Dessert: 9€.

While we would have liked to sit downstairs, we felt very lucky to get the last table upstairs since we had only reserved the day before Valentine's Day.

Click to read more reviews of Je thé...me on Yelp and Trip Advisor.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Riddle for the day: What does a Swiss man notice in Paris?


What does a Swiss man notice in Paris, the most beautiful city in the world? If you answered a) one of the famous monuments, b) romantic restaurants or c) seductive Parisian women, you haven't met my husband. Come to think of it, while I've occasionally noticed Stéphane's eyes following an attractive female long after she has disappeared in the distance, he's always smart enough to fervently deny it. So, even though c) could potentially be the correct answer, it's not.

Last Saturday night, while walking home with some friends from Bistro 31, one of our favorite neighborhood restaurants, I overheard Stéphane say that he wanted to show them something. Intrigued as to what it could be it, I was surprised when we stopped in front of the Volvo dealer and he pointed his finger at the Volvo V60 in the window. Can you guess what caught his eye? Although the answer is fairly obvious if you're Swiss, you may want to click on the photo to enlarge it if you're not. And, no, the answer isn't simply "the skis" (they're Rossignol and not Stöckli, anyway!). That would be too easy.

Personally, I think that Stéphane's just upset that he hasn't been skiing this year. It's really hard for a Swiss guy to live in a place that doesn't have mountains and easy access to the slopes. Plus, there's always a bit of one-upmanship between the Parisians and the Swiss French, where the Parisians usually have the upper hand.

Answer: Just as a Parisian man would notice if the Mona Lisa was hanging upside down in the Louvre, Stephane saw that the tips of the skis were pointing towards the front of the car rather than the back. Thinking that aerodynamics may not play such an important role with more modern ski racks, I did a google search and found that it's still the recommended way to transport your skis. Needless to say, the incorrect placement gave Stéphane a good chuckle because the city slickers at Volvo don't know how to load skis. To make matters worse, I'm fairly sure that the Volvo salesmen thought that I was interested in purchasing a V60 when I asked if I could take photos of it for my husband. 

My apologies if my comment that "the answer isn't simply 'the skis'" was confusing. I was trying to give you a bit of a hint by using the word, "simply" but was told by my daughter that I actually made it more difficult. I'm sorry!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Carnival - a hot celebration in Paris!


After spending three years in Trinidad, where Carnival is a festive season that lasts a couple of months rather than a couple of days, Stephane and I were anxious to see what it looks like in Paris. As it was the French planters who introduced this celebration to the Trinidadians when they first settled on the Caribbean island in 1783, we wondered if there would also be huge masquerade bands of people dressed in skimpy costumes, steelbands playing the latest calypso tunes and lots of "Carnival babies" born nine months after the revelry. Marking the parade route on a map, we hurried over to the 10th arrondissement to join the fun yesterday afternoon.


Since it was much colder than we had expected, we grabbed a window seat in a cozy cafe on Rue du Fauburg du Temple. Just as we were preparing to order something hot to drink, an adorable little clown in pink boots appeared and I suggested that we wait outside so as to not miss any of the action. While the minutes ticked by without a sequined costume in sight, Stephane made frequent forays into the McDonald's across the street to warm up and to keep me supplied with macarons, cappuccino and hot chocolate topped with a miniature mountain of whipped cream. After more time passed, Stephane and I finally sought refuge in the McDonald's and shared a Big Mac with fries.


With bulging bellies, we were just about ready to give up and go home when we heard the first strains of drumbeats and followed a cute little butterfly to the parade, like moths towards a hot flame. We both agreed afterwards that it was well worth the wait.


As always, click on any of the photos to enlarge.






One of the beer carts.




Sunday, February 19, 2012

Sunday's pictures and a song - Bonjour, Paris! with Michael Pereira and Liza


Bonjour, Paris! That's exactly what I was thinking as I snapped a couple of photos on my way home from dropping some friends off at Gare de Lyon. The city looked so lovely in the early morning light that I was tempted to break into song.

Many thanks to Michael Pereira, an "Actor, Singer, Seeker, Lover" in New York for sending me a tweet about his YouTube ode to Paris. If I could sing as well as Michael, that's what I would have been doing on Pont Royal this morning. Bonjour, Paris! with Michael and Liza! is the perfect song for the start of a perfect day.



Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sandwich and Snack Show in Paris - the latest trends in snacking!


When Patricia posted a comment a couple of weeks ago telling me about the "Sandwich & Snack Show", I was intrigued because snacking is a relatively new concept in Europe. Frequently named as the cause of obesity in the United States, snacking has more often been viewed with suspicion than as something to promote. So, there was no way that I was going to miss this event even though it meant dashing out to the convention center at Porte de Versailles Thursday morning before meeting a friend for lunch near the Louvre. I'll have to plan better next year because I would have happily sampled more donuts, sandwiches, bagels, pancakes and sushi if I hadn't already arranged to eat a "proper" meal.

With more than 300 exhibitors from 65 different countries and an estimated 12,000 visitors, snackable food, described as nourishment that is easily eaten even while standing or in motion, is seen as a model of virtue by the younger generation, who prefer to consume their food more quickly than their parents. According to the information in the press kit, French people eat the same proportion of take-away food as Americans, but the products are very different. Take a look at the photos and let me know what you think!


While I've never seen pizza vending machines in the United States


or crepes made with sprinkle on flavors like apricot, strawberry, coconut and honey, 


I've noticed that bagels are becoming more popular in Paris. 


Even though the display case full of donuts looked reassuringly familiar, I did have to question why they were serving the pancakes on the top shelf with jam rather than maple syrup.


63% of the sandwiches sold in France are currently made using a baguette and two out of three are made with cheese and/or meat, such as ham. If the 2012 winners of the DeliFrance Sandwich World Cup are any indication, ingredients like marinated sardines, confit tomatoes and lotus root may change the way we think about what we put on our bread. Held in conjunction with the "Sandwich and Snack Show", the sandwiches created by the international candidates are judged on the basis of 5 criteria: practical aspect, aesthetic qualities, originality of the recipe, nutritional balance, cost price less than €2.


As I would prefer buying sweet potatoes that are rich in fiber and vitamins rather than donuts from my local grocery store, I was pleased to see Chef Martial hard at work at the stand for the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission.

Many thanks to Patricia for telling me about the "Sandwich and Snack Show". It was a delectable treat! Please let me know if you hear about something interesting that's happening in Paris. I truly do appreciate it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Can you spot the differences?

Tuileries Garden. September 12, 2011.
Tuileries Garden. February 4, 2012.
Here are two photos taken five months apart from approximately the same spot in the Tuileries Garden - can you spot the differences? Please click on the photos to enlarge, if necessary.

If you have an astute eye, you probably already noticed the empty chairs facing away from the fountain rather than towards it, the bare trees and people wearing jackets instead of short sleeves. But keep looking - there's another difference, although you may need to use a magnifying lens to see it. If you look very closely, it's possible to discern a white obelisk in the top photo. I think you would agree, wouldn't you, that it's remarkable only to those with a keen sense of observation?

That's exactly what I thought when I noticed, yet didn't really notice, the colossal object during my feeding frenzy on September 12. As I passed through the garden, I remember being slightly annoyed that there was an obstruction blocking the quickest route to a big scoop of Berthillon ice cream. Snapping a photo and muttering under my breath about strange structures, I took an alternate path and promptly forgot about it as soon as I tasted my luscious peach sorbet.

That is, I forgot about it until I received a brief email from Joseph last night asking if I had seen Argentine artist Adrián Villar Rojas's sculpture, "Poem for Earthlings" in the Tuileries Garden last fall. Scratching my head and reviewing my photos, I realized that I had seen the 300 feet long extraterrestrial toothpick without understanding its significance. The work of art, which I mistakenly viewed as a hindrance, was destroyed as planned on October 24. After rushing from here to there this week, I'm particularly grateful for the reminder to live in the present moment and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me in Paris instead of thinking about what lies ahead, even if it is Berthillon ice cream!

Did anyone else see Adrián Villar Rojas's creation? The sculpture was on display for less than two months.

Many thanks to Joseph for sending me the link for "Argentine Artist Sticks a Massive Extraterrestrial Toothpick Into Paris's Tuileries Gardens". The slideshow of photos at the top of the article shows the sculpture from different angles.

The end of the extraterrestrial toothpick is barely visible on the left side of this photo.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"What's Eating Paris" - and thoughts on blogging and social media

David Lebovitz, Trang Minh Lê Bozon, Elodie Fagan, Lindsey Tramuta and Ann Mah.
The guy at the back is probably tweeting about the event!

For the past week, I've been inhabiting the genteel world of Grantham Estate, where people dress for dinner and are reluctant to use that new fangled contraption, the telephone. Unable to pull myself away from the addictive British television series, Downton Abbey, I watched episode after episode in rapid succession and was struck by how many letters were written and received. Studying the characters' faces for signs of joy or grief as they opened yet another envelope, I wondered if the news was good or bad.

"What's Eating Paris", a social media and food event at the American University last night, brought me back to the fast-paced world of blogging, facebook and Twitter, where  good and bad news travels around the globe in seconds rather than weeks. Listening to the panel of well-known food bloggers, Lindsey Tramuta, David Lebovitz and Ann Mah, discuss their thoughts on blogging versus community websites, like Yelp and Trip Advisor, gave me much to think about in terms of this blog.

When asked why someone would use their blog over a community website to locate a good restaurant in Paris, all of the bloggers felt that people are looking for someone whose opinion they trust because they've developed a relationship with the blogger. David Lebovitz mentioned that readers have more confidence in someone if they know that the blogger doesn't have an agenda and doesn't write sponsored posts. In response to the question of how bloggers foster these feelings, Lindsey responded that she tries to give a little bit of herself in each post so that people know that there's a real person behind the blog. According to her, recounting personal anecdotes helps create an identifiable voice, while David revealed that his readers have even seen the inside of his bathroom.

Even though the expat bloggers and Elodie Fagan from Yelp Paris were somewhat reluctant to share statistics about the number of people who visit their websites, they all agreed that having a facebook fan page and a Twitter account help increase a blog's traffic.

It's early in the morning and I'm getting ready to head out for the day, but I'm sure that my mind will continue to process much of what I heard last night as I consider what changes I should make to this blog. From time to time, I receive emails with feedback, both positive and negative, about its content and/or layout. If you have any thoughts on something that I should do differently, please write a comment. It would be helpful to have a dialogue about what works and what doesn't  - not only about this blog but about blogs in general.

Questions I have for myself: How much do I want to share about my life on the internet? Aren't people more interested in learning about Paris than me anyway? Am I too old to blog, Tweet and have a facebook account? How can I create a sense of community? More words, fewer words? More photos, less photos? and it goes on and on...

"What's Eating Paris" Panel (from left to right):

Ann Mah - journalist, author and blogger. Ann Mah
Elodie Fagan - community manager for "Yelp Paris". Yelp Paris
David Lebovitz - pastry chef, author and blogger. David Lebovitz
Lindsey Tramuta - writer, blogger and cookie maker supreme. Lost in Cheeseland

Click here to see a video recording of the panel discussion.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day - With love from Paris


I wanted to surprise you for Valentine's Day but didn't know if you would prefer chocolate...


or roses...


or bread from Poilâne that says "I love you" in French...


or some sexy lingerie that's so hot that they had to call the firemen...


or a necklace...


or a necklace with a tiara...


or a message on an official signboard.

Happy Valentine's Day - with love from Paris!

And if you're still looking for more romance, please click here to take a look at Ella Coquine's Valentine's Day post. It's magical!

When I enlarged the following photo, I noticed that the woman is looking at the ring on her left hand. Was this a wedding proposal at Place Vendôme at 12:14 pm today?!?