Saturday, March 31, 2012

Looking back on one year of blogging

What caught my eye this afternoon? The Mont Blanc!

In between planning my next adventure, exploring Paris and writing posts, I rarely have time to reflect on the past. As tomorrow marks my one year anniversary as a blogger, I decided to indulge myself by looking backwards rather than forward today.

First post: Breaking News - Hostile Forces Invade Paris

Written on April 1, I've always thought that this auspicious date gives me an easy out if I decide to stop blogging because I can always say that "Out and About in Paris" is nothing more than an April Fool's Day joke.

The post that gave me the biggest thrill: Behind the Scenes of Roland Garros, Home of the French Open

Just when I was sure that my blog would forever wear the cloak of invisibility, I noticed that the number of visitors was off the charts one evening. Baffled by what had happened, I traced the traffic to a CNN/Sports Illustrated article by Jon Wertheim. By some fluke, Jon had decided that my post about the behind-the-scenes tour of Roland Garros would help his readers get in the spirit for 
the French Open. Best of all, the article brought Joseph the Butler to my blog!

Most popular post, according to the statistics: The bracelet scam guys near the Sacré Coeur Funicular

Even though writing it gave me an inkling of what it would feel like to be an investigative reporter, I wish that posts about other people, like Michel Fouchereau, received more attention than the bracelet scam guys.

The kind of posts that I really like to write: The American Cemetery in Normandy and the story of Pvt. John Daum and Touching a different part of the elephant - Grace, an illegal immigrant

While I occasionally get distracted by chocolate (it's Paris, after all!), these are the types of posts that are the most gratifying to write.

The greatest reward of blogging: the people I've met online.

What's next? I don't know. After making a deal with myself to blog for one month, six months and a year, I'm currently negotiating the length of my next contract. One thing's for sure, I still have a lot to write about. Like my visit to Versailles...

Friday, March 30, 2012

We should have started with dessert! Vatel International Hospitality School

Imagine being told that you can sample as many desserts as you would like after you've already eaten three courses of delicious food. Do you:

a) Say "thank you", but I've had more than enough.
b) Ask for a small serving of fresh fruit.
c) Remember that you're celebrating the upcoming one year anniversary of your blog and throw caution to the wind.
d) Wish that doggie bags were a common practice in France.

While I managed to show a bit of restraint, Stéphane requested four items and charmed the young pastry chefs at the Vatel International Hospitality School by telling them that we should have started with dessert!

With hindsight, Stéphane had a better strategy than I did on Tuesday evening because he opted for the Menu Vatel for 35 euros, while I went with the more expensive Menu Grand Vatel at 47 Euros. As dessert is clearly the main event, I'll know better next time.

In between courses, Stéphane and I enjoyed talking with the students from Italy, Mauritius and France about their reasons for attending Vatel. Naturally, he couldn't resist asking why they chose a French hospitality school over a Swiss one, while I wanted to know if they're required to learn English. All of the students agreed that at one third the price of Swiss hotel schools, Vatel was the better option for them. In response to my question about language training, they explained that all second year students are required to do an internship in an English speaking country.

Highly attentive, the students were quick to notice as soon as a glass needed to be refilled or a plate removed, even if one of them had difficulty remembering the name of the next course and another wrestled with the wine bottle while trying to open it. Knowing that the servers are learning the trade is part of the charm of dining at Vatel. Fortunately, they didn't make the mistake of trying to remove our dessert plates until after we had finished every last crumb!

Thank you, Stéphane, for selecting the perfect place to celebrate and for organizing the entire evening.

Vatel International Hospitality School (Open for lunch and dinner)
122 rue Nollet
75017 Paris
Metro: Brochant
Reserve at: 01 42 26 26 60

Please click on any of the photos that you would like to enlarge. Stephane's meal is on the right and mine is on the left. It's shown in reverse order because we didn't really start with dessert!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

9 Quai aux Fleurs, Paris - the perfect place for a marriage proposal

It's springtime in Paris! The flowers are blooming, the bees are buzzing and you're ready to ask the most important question of your life: "Will you marry me?"

Strolling down the Quai aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité, you pause in front of an elegant 19th century mansion and point at the medallions of a man and woman framed by elaborate wrought iron decorations. "Who are they?" your beloved asks in a hushed tone. "They're Abélard and Héloïse, two lovers who promised to be forever one."

9 Quai aux Fleurs, Paris - Former home of Héloise and Abélard 1118. Rebuilt in 1849.

After telling the fascinating tale of Pierre Abélard and Héloïse d’Argenteuil in a blog post last May, I've wondered why people from around the world journey to Pere Lachaise Cemetery to pledge their undying love to each other in front of the couple's crypt. Wouldn't it be more romantic to visit the place where Abélard and Héloïse's story began in 1118?

But please don't think that Abélard and Héloïse's tale is only suitable for young lovers. After taking some middle-aged friends to 9 Quai aux Fleurs on Monday, I excused myself to let them enjoy the rest of the evening on their own. As we said our goodbyes, I turned to wave a final farewell. With their arms wrapped around each other, my visitors from Ohio didn't even notice. They only had eyes for each other. Love is in the air, everywhere I look around...!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hunting for treasure with THATLou - the most entertaining way to visit the Louvre!

"Finding Noon" and "Une Femme" with our tools, a map and an information packet.

Dear Une Femme, Finding Noon and Out and About:

Your mission, should you choose to accept, is a treasure hunt for bloggers at the Louvre, the world's most visited museum. Out of the 35,000 works of art on display, your team must locate and photograph team members with as many of the designated treasures as possible within the allotted amount of time.

While the subject of the search, "Angels and Wings", may make your heart flutter with delight, please be advised that there are certain restrictions. Team members must stay within three meters of each other and may not ask for external help. Everyone must return to the pre-arranged point at the specified time or lose some of their hard-earned points.

Let's synchronize our watches and get started!

Daisy de Plume
THATLou, Treasure Hunts at the Louvre

Even though Daisy didn't really send us a Mission Impossible style letter and the soundtrack of Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn't playing in the background when we arrived at the Louvre, adrenalin was pumping through our veins as we rapidly scanned the information package and made our way to the 17th Century Flemish paintings. Worth 80 out of a possible 1,000 points, Peter Boel's Study of Parakeets was the first treasure that we unearthed on Friday evening. The elusive Eagles Attacking Ducks proved to be more of a challenge and "Une Femme" and "Finding Noon" were thrilled when we finally found it.

The scavenger hunt, which had five teams of Parisian bloggers scurrying from ancient Egyptian artifacts to neoclassical statues, was the most fun that I've had at the Louvre...ever. And best of all, I discovered parts of the museum that were previously unknown to me and learned some art history in the process.

THATLou treasure hunts are perfect for visitors to Paris, families, birthday parties, corporate-team building and bloggers. Many thanks to Daisy for organizing this entertaining event! In between sipping deconstructed martinis [cocktails] and tallying our points with the other bloggers at the Why Paris bar, we all agreed that she has come up with a delightful idea.

For a limited time, THATLou is offering an introductory rate of 18 euros per person, which includes the treasure hunt and a drink at a nearby bar. Louvre tickets must be purchased separately. Please click here to visit THATLou's website and join the fun! The theme for this Sunday is Fish + H20 for Poisson d'Avril (April Fool's Day). Be forewarned: I'm sure that Daisy has a couple of tricks up her sleeve.

Finding Noon and Une Femme, If the hunt included points for the most creative poses, we would have definitely received the award for first place. As it was, we made a great team!

Still smiling! Finding Noon and Une Femme in front of our last discovery, the sarcophagus of Ramesses III.
Une Femme's tweets tracked our progress throughout the treasure hunt as we raced to the finish line.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song - Sweet dreams!

If you would like to take a nap on the streets of Paris, may I recommend the Place Colette. Classical musicians playing Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven provide a soothing soundtrack to accompany your dreams. If snoozing on the pavement isn't your thing, enjoy a cup of coffee or glass of wine at Café le Nemours.

Edit: After responding to Denise's comment below, I decided to add a couple more photos that I took while at the Palais Royal. It was a beautiful afternoon.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The international language of yoga...Parisian style

My yoga mat is one of my most faithful companions - it has seen me upside down during headstands, trembling from exhaustion during a challenging series of sun salutations and limp as a noodle during relaxation pose. We've done Kundalini yoga together in the tropical heat of Trinidad, Hatha yoga in the USA and Kripalu yoga next to the Lake of Geneva in Switzerland. It has been a welcome constant in my life during times of turmoil and has introduced me to some of my closest friends. When I'm not practicing yoga, my life just doesn't feel right.

So, naturally, I joined a yoga class shortly after we arrived in Paris but decided that it wasn't for me when the instructor, who can do more with his body at eighty than I can in my late forties, slapped my foot because I used my left leg rather than my right during a complicated posture. It happens sometimes, the confusion not the slapping, especially when you're contorted like a pretzel and trying to figure out the instructions in a language that isn't your own. As I've always thought yoga class is supposed to be more about acceptance than abuse, I felt my enthusiasm waning and reluctantly delegated my mat to a dark corner of the closest. Every once in a while, I would peep at it to see how it was doing and to reassure it that it wasn't forgotten.

Now that we're into the start of our second year in Paris, I decided to free my yoga mat from solitary confinement and try a teacher at another gym. While I've only taken one class, I'm pleased to report that I like her. It would be hard not to like someone who uses uniquely French metaphors to help her students envision the correct alignment of their bodies. Whereas an American yoga teacher might tell her students to be as limp as a rag doll while bending forward at the waist, my new yoga teacher told us to envision les cloches de Normandy (the bells of Normandy) that swing from the cows' necks. During a standing posture, we were told to imagine ourselves to be ", large Eiffel Towers standing erect in the sun." I couldn't help smiling like an idiot - my yoga mat and I have a home!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One thing leads to another - touring the Horticultural Center for the City of Paris

While strolling through the Butte Chaumont Park in the 19th district or picnicking in the André Citröen Park in the 15th arrondissement, have you wondered about the origin of the colorful flowers, plants and shrubs that beautify the more than 400 public parks and gardens in the city?

I hadn't least not until I tried to solve the mystery of the falling rocks at the Hôtel de Sens. As is often the case, one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was standing out in the middle of nowhere (or as the Parisians would say, dans la banlieue) trying to find my way to the Horticultural Center for the City of Paris. Taking two different metros and a bus turned out to be quite a trek, but it was well worth it to join the free tour organized as part of the international Pesticide Action Week.

Located on 109 acres (44 hectares) in Rungis, the Horticultural Center grows more than three million flowering plants used to decorate the city of Paris every year. And most of them start out as tiny seeds!

Machine used to plant seeds.
After spending a brief period in the carefully controlled climate of the germination room, the seedlings are moved to the nursery and then to one of the many greenhouses, which are called serre in French from the verb serrer, to squeeze.

One of the things that I like the most about going on tours with the locals is that they usually provide me with some interesting insights into their way of thinking, like the fact that annuals, a plant that lives only one year or season, are typically French. While I'm not much of a gardener and never really stopped to consider the nationality of different plants, all of the Parisians nodded their heads and wholeheartedly agreed that annuals are more a part of the French heritage than perennials.

In addition to 460 different kinds of annuals, the city also grows 3,500 trees and 115,000 shrubs, some of which are stored in greenhouses from October until May.

As part of the international Pesticide Action Week, our guide also explained the use of alternative solutions such as those provided by Biobest, a sustainable crop management company. This is when my French language skills failed me because I didn't understand much of the terminology for biological insecticides and pesticides. Admittedly, I probably wouldn't have understood it in English either!

The next time that I walk through a park, I'll appreciate all of the hard work, time, water, gas and electricity that went into beautifying Paris. Do you know where the plants and flowers are grown in your city? One of the other visitors asked me how the Horticultural Center for the City of Paris compares with those in the United States and I couldn't tell him.

Please click here to see a list of upcoming tours and activities organized by the parks and gardens of Paris.

Horticultural Center for the City of Paris
27 avenue de Fresnes

The flowers and plants in the Luxembourg Garden and the Tuileries Garden are not grown at the Horticultural Center. I'm going to have to do some more research but I think that they may be grown in the greenhouses in Auteuil.

Row after row of greenhouses protect the plants that decorate the city of Paris from May to October.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The danger of falling rocks - and other things I don't understand in Paris!

After my tour of the 4th arrondissement yesterday, I may start carrying an umbrella around with me in Paris. Not because there has been a lot of rain recently but because there seems to be a high risk of falling rocks. The first indication came when someone asked our guide if Notre-Dame was having structural problems because she had noticed a pile of debris (fallen rocks!) on the floor the previous week.

The second occurred while our guide was explaining the historical significance of Hôtel de Sens, the oldest civilian monument in Paris built between 1475 and 1507. Even though I'm sure that I'll regret not paying closer attention to the architectural features of the only example of the transitional period between the Gothic and the Renaissance, I couldn't help being distracted by the ominous sign on the gate leading to the garden:

To ensure your safety the garden of the Hôtel de Sens is closed due to a risk of rockfall.

The sign on the gate.

Feeling like Chicken Little, I glanced up to see if the sky was falling - for where else would these deadly rocks come from? Certainly not from the buildings bordering the garden. I don't understand. If you think that you can solve the mystery, please click here to see a 360 degree view of the garden.

When the risk of falling rocks subsides, I promise to return and take more photos of this medieval building that has alternately served as a jam factory, a laundry, a glassworks, a warehouse and is the current location of the Fornay Library. The reading room is open to the public and well worth a visit, especially on a rainy day.

Hôtel de Sens/Fornay Library
1 Rue du Figuier
75004 Paris

Other things I don't understand:

Why was this pair of men's shoes sitting on a window ledge this morning? I noticed them on my way to yoga and they were still there on my way home.

Edit: Shoes on ledges seems to be a fairly common event in Paris. Take a look at this post by Anne.

And why were the women on the left taking a cigarette break while exercising at a gym called Health City? 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Planking at kilometre zero

Even though I've been tempted to kiss the ground of Paris after a long absence, there's no way that I would lie face down in front of Notre-Dame. The mere thought of all of the pigeons, dogs and people who have trod across the square would have me squirming. On the other hand, I guess that it would give me the opportunity to more closely consider the ancient paving stones dating back to medieval times. While on my belly, I could also think about how the area in front of the entrance to a French church used to be called paradis (paradise) for obvious reasons and was later shortened to parvis.

According to the Urban Dictionary, "planking" is when someone, e.g. the young Italian man in the photo, places themselves horizontally on the ground in a strange or unusual place. To qualify as a plank, the body must be straight, while the fingers and toes are pointing down. The plank is named and a cohort takes a photo to put on a social media website, usually Facebook.

While I give the Italian high marks for form and artistic interpretation, his plank would have been so much better if he would have positioned his face over the marker for "kilometre zero", the physical and spiritual center of Paris. Dating back 2,000 years, it marks the spot from which the distance to any other place in France is measured. If you're feeling wild and crazy the next time that you're on the Île de la Cité , I hope that you'll remember to plank over the word, "zero". It would be symbolic of so many things - zero inhibitions, zero concern for the pigeon poop under your nose or zero ________ (fill in the blank).

Point zéro des routes de France

Thanks to Anne's post on planking in November 2011, I realized what the Italian man was doing and didn't try to save him by administering CPR!

Want to know more about planking?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gü - an unfair advantage!

What I wanted to buy - Perle de Lait yogurt...

I'm 5 feet 5 1/2 inches (1.67 m) tall, which according to Wikipedia means that I'm 1/2 inch taller than the average American woman. Even though I'm 2 inches taller than the average French woman, I figure that I'm also about the average height here because Parisian women frequently wear heels.

So, when I came face-to-face with the new display of chocolate brownies, chocolate mousse and chocolate melting cakes where my preferred brand of yogurt used to be at the grocery store, it didn't take me too long to figure out their target market. Women!

Talk about taking advantage of the so called weaker sex. I tried to resist... I really did, but Gü (pronounced "goo" as a play on the French word for taste, "goût") got the best of me.

The next time I go grocery shopping, I'm wearing high heels and sunglasses!

What I ended up buying - Gü! It's hard to believe that a French grocery store has given some of its most valuable shelf space to an English brand.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

"My Little Box" of surprises - Someone is thinking of you!

My Little Box - Someone is thinking of you!

When you were in elementary school, did you ever receive the adventure boxes that featured a different country every month? Not only were they stuffed full of tangible items like activity sheets, postcards, stickers and traditional toys, they were also overflowing with dreams. In the days when far away lands captured my imagination yet travel seemed as illusive as a unicorn in an enchanted forest, I eagerly awaited the arrival of the postman to discover where the items in my box would take me next. Spain, Malaysia or Kenya?

Fast forward to the Special-T event at the Shangri-La Hotel when I heard from one of the other guests that My Little Paris offers a monthly box full of surprises - I immediately knew that they were on to something good. As it was too late to sign up for February's "My Little Flirt Box", I've eagerly been awaiting the arrival of the postman ever since I returned from Boston. To intensify the suspense, I received an email saying that My Little Box was on its way along with a special playlist of songs about New York City ranging from Madonna's "I Love New York" to Billie Holiday's "Autumn in New York".

Feeling like a little kid, I shouted "My box is here, my box is here" when the gardienne rang our doorbell on Saturday morning. Stéphane, who didn't know that I had ordered a present for myself, was confused as to why I was so excited about the arrival of a mere package. In between explaining to him, ripping open the cardboard box and trying to remember to take photos, I marveled at all of the products that it contained.

The Little New York Box:

  • "I Love N.Y." - A non-permanent tattoo designed by Kanako
  • Nail polish created by the New Yorker, essie
  • Package of Oreo cookies (Yummy!!!)
  • "Essence", eau de toilette by Narciso Rodriguez, a New York fashion designer
  • "Essence" scented body lotion by Narciso Rodriguez
  • A city guide to NYC with secret addresses, illustrated by Kanako
  • Redken professional shampoo
  • Five large cards to frame from the book, Paris vs New York by Vahram Muratyan
  • A gift from My Little Paris designed by Kanako
  • My Little New York Book

Do you speak "New Yorker"? I don't - so it was kind of fun to see that "flying rats" means pigeons and "Dumbo" refers to a hip neighborhood in Brooklyn. 

According to the My Little New York Book, the height of heels in New York grows with the passage of time starting at 0.5 cm for sprinting to the subway in the morning to 5.5 cm for lunching in Central Park to a staggering 12 cm for sipping a cocktail in Manhattan in the evening.

If you would like to experience the excitement of receiving a monthly box of surprises and beauty products for 15.50 Euros, visit My Little Box. I can hardly wait to see what will be in My Little Spring Box in April. They're also an excellent gift idea for friends!