Monday, December 31, 2012

Here's to the Bright New Year...

Out with the old, in with the new. It's a bittersweet kind of day.

Maybe it's the dry heat in our apartment or the rustic French tree stand, but our Parisian Christmas trees don't last as long as their American counterparts. With our sagging tree on its last legs this morning, I ruthlessly decided that we wouldn't be able to wait until Epiphany on January 6 to take it to the recycling collection point. Relieving its brittle boughs of the Eiffel Tower keychains, red hearts, glass ornaments and twinkling lights, I remembered my mother telling me that some Christmases are extra-special. Christmas 2012 was one of those. The days have flown since our children arrived in Paris and we'll soon be hugging Philippe goodbye at Charles de Gaulle Airport when he heads back to Boston.

"Champagne in the 18th Century". A close-up of one of the bas reliefs in the Pommery cellars.

But before he leaves, we're going to welcome in 2013 and treasure our remaining days together.

Here's to the bright New Year and a fond farewell to the old;
Here's to the things that are yet to come and to the memories that we hold. ~ Unknown

Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! 

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Escape into the Marvelous World of the Musée des Arts Forains

Occasionally, people ask me if Stéphane is a spy. It's probably because questions about my husband's whereabouts have been known to elicit some rather cryptic responses: "He might be in Italy because he was in England yesterday" or "He was at a conference in Switzerland the last time we spoke so maybe he's still there." Now, I don't know how James Bond copes with early morning departures on crowded planes followed by late night dinners with colleagues, but Stéphane's travels had left him feeling exhausted during the days leading up to Christmas. He was in dire need of taking some time off from being a serious adult.

Fortunately, my Swiss husband is also a kid at heart, who happily accompanied me to the Musée des Arts Forains for a fun outing with Anne of "Just Another American in Paris" and her family. While the rest of us were admiring the elaborate costumes from the Folies Bergère in "The Marvelous Theater", Stéphane was busy buying a handful of tickets for the Belle Epoque amusement park rides and attractions in "The Fairground Art Museum". Before I knew it, he had disappeared into the crowd forcing me, once again, to give enigmatic answers to questions concerning his whereabouts: "Stéphane might be riding the bicycle merry-go-round" or "He was playing the 'Parisian Waiter Race' with Sara the last time I saw him so maybe he's by the Japanese billiards game now."

Parisian Waiter Race

If you're in need of a break from reality, I highly recommend visiting the magical world created by antique dealer and actor Jean-Paul Favand. Exceptionally open through the 6th of January, the Musée des Arts Forains is even more fantastic than I had imagined it would be after seeing it in the movie Midnight in Paris. It's not surprising that Woody Allen decided to use it as the setting for F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald's roaring 1920s party.

Musée des Arts Forains
Exceptionally open from December 26 - January 6.
Guided tours: By appointment for groups all year round. Individual visits upon request.
53 avenue des Terroirs de France, 75012 Paris
Tel +33 (0) 1 43 40 16 22

Many thanks to Anne for suggesting that we go to the Musée des Arts Forains. I only wish that our time in Paris had overlapped so that we could have explored other places together!

Please click here to see more photos of The Fairground Art Museum and here to see photos of Steampunks, a group whose members wear elaborate Victorian costumes.

Having fun: Stéphane (my serious Swiss husband), Sara and Jon. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Breaking News - Santa Claus has already arrived in Paris!

Today's post titled "Figuring out the Foie Gras and Champagne" was preempted by the early arrival of Santa Claus this afternoon.

Around 4:00 pm, the caretaker of our apartment building rang our doorbell and announced that a woman had just dropped off my wallet, the very same one that had been stolen out of my purse while dining at a restaurant in the 9th arrondissement on Friday. Thinking that I was either dreaming or had misunderstood the French words coming out of our gardien's mouth, I must have seemed confused because he assured me that my French driver's license, Swiss identity card and bank cards were all there. The only thing missing from my wallet was the cash.

Fortunately, the woman (aka Santa Claus) left her cell phone number so that I could call to express my gratitude. After saying that she has had her wallet stolen twice and knows how much of a hassle it is to replace everything, the woman explained that she had found my wallet in the trash can in the bathroom of her restaurant. Not surprisingly, the restaurant is located just around the corner from where I had lunch. I guess that the thief got rid of my wallet while he was looking for another victim.

Having my wallet returned by a complete stranger is one of the best Christmas presents that I've ever received. I hope that Santa Claus leaves something just as special in your stocking!

Merry Christmas!

The police report that I filed on December 22. Next week I'll have to return to the police station to tell them that's there's no need to cancel my French driver's license, Swiss id card, etc. because they were returned to me.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit

Douce Nuit, Sainte Nuit. Swathed in a blanket of low clouds, Paris was unusually silent when Stéphane and I walked past Notre-Dame last night. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

A word of warning - keep an eye on your purse in Paris!

The things I carry: August 2011 and December 2012

Do you notice any difference between the things that I carried in my purse in August 2011 and those that I toted around with me this afternoon? Even though the piece of nougat in the picture on the left was eaten long ago and I've exchanged my sunglasses for an umbrella, the contents of my purse haven't changed significantly in the past sixteen months. There is, however, one very important item that's missing. My wallet. It was stolen while I was having lunch with my son Philippe and two friends today.

After piecing together the different bits of information gathered from the waiter and the people at our table, here's what we think happened. The thief entered the restaurant on his own and requested a table for four because he said that he was meeting friends. Absorbed by our conversation, I didn't pay any attention when the thief sat down at the previously empty table behind us and made the mistake of leaving my purse on the floor between Philippe's and my chairs. In the midst of our discussion, one of my friends noticed that the thief's jacket kept sliding off the back of the chair but didn't think much about it until I suddenly looked down and saw that my purse was wide open and my wallet was missing. By that time, the thief was long gone.

Playing detective after the fact, we suspect that the thief unzipped my purse and stole my wallet while he was ostensibly picking up his jacket from the floor. 

Instead of going Christmas shopping as I had planned this afternoon, I went to the police station in the 9th arrondissement to report the theft and to the bank to try to get a replacement debit card. Because of the holidays, there's little chance that I'll receive it before the start of the new year. I'm also going to have to get a new Swiss identification card, French drivers license, French social security card etc., etc. The good news is that the thief didn't take my phone, camera or Navigo pass.

Even though I'm very annoyed with myself for not keeping my purse on my lap as I normally do, a bomb threat at the international arrivals hall while we were picking Philippe up at Charles de Gaulle Airport on Wednesday was a vivid reminder to be thankful that our children traveled to Paris without any mishaps. Our family is together for the holidays and that's what counts. Not the material items that I carry in my purse. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

It's a Tradition: Celebrating our Wedding Anniversary with Afternoon Tea at the George V

Good things come to those who wait.

It's really not an exaggeration to say that Stéphane has been dreaming about the hot chocolate at the George V ever since we went there to celebrate our wedding anniversary last December. One year ago. Whenever he sampled hot chocolate at another café or hotel, he would let out a long wistful sigh before saying, "It's just not as good as the one at the George V." He even insisted that I include "his" hot chocolate in my post about the best hot chocolate in Paris. The man was obsessed.

So, I should have known that there was little point in proposing that we celebrate our wedding anniversary at any other place than the George V this year. When I mentioned the names of some Michelin starred restaurants that I've been wanting to try, Stéphane said that he had been eating too much while traveling for business and suggested that we have something afternoon tea at the George V. When I told him that Le Grand Véfour, the first grand restaurant in Paris, was supposed to be romantic, Stéphane replied that he had very good memories of the Christmas decorations and piano music in La Galerie at the George V. Knowing that my otherwise easygoing husband can be very obstinate when he has his heart set on something, like hot chocolate, we agreed on afternoon tea. Plus, it would give Stéphane the opportunity to see the incredible frozen Christmas trees in the lobby of this luxurious hotel.

After a short wait for a table on Monday afternoon, Stephane appeared to be slightly concerned as he settled into his comfy chair next to the grand piano. Perusing the menu, he said that he hoped that the hot chocolate would be the same as last year, with little chocolate sprinkles, whipped cream and fluffy marshmallows. When it finally arrived, Stephane's grin spread from ear to ear. He was a happy man. Clinking my glass of champagne against Stephane's cup of hot chocolate, we toasted our many years of marriage and agreed that celebrating with afternoon tea at the George V is our new tradition.

The George V High Tea (47 euros) comes with your choice of hot tea or beverage, assortment of fine savories, selection of pastries, homemade scones served with clotted cream and strawberry jam and carrot cake, chocolate brownie and cookies.

High Tea "a la Francaise" (57 euros) comes with a glass of champagne, your choice of hot tea or beverage, assortment of fine savories, selection of pastries, Cannelés from Bordeaux, madeleine, financier and homemade scones served with clotted cream and homemade jam.

In a welcome change from last year, it's now possible for visitors from outside the hotel to reserve a table in La Galerie. Simply call the hostess a couple of days in advance on the direct line: ++33 (0)1 49 52 70 06.

Kudos to the George V for having the friendliest staff in Paris!

Four Seasons Hotel George V
31, avenue George V
75008 Paris

Facebook album with photos from the George V. You don't need a FB account to view it.
Post about our first afternoon tea.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Paris of "Out and About in Paris": My Interview with "Paris-Lifestyles" (Aéroports de Paris)

Special thanks to "Joseph the Butler" for allowing me to use this photo commemorating our first meeting for the Paris-Lifestyle interview. It was easier "going public" with a friend by my side!

One of the first questions that people usually ask me as a blogger is how I learn about all of the "cool stuff" that I do in Paris. The answer is that I'm a research nerd who spends hours tracking down bits of information online. Unfortunately, my super sleuth skills failed to uncover "Paris-Lifestyle", one of the best websites for visitors and residents of the City of Light. If you've ever departed from Charles de Gaulle or Orly Airport, chances are that you're already familiar with the glossy version of this dual language (French/English) magazine because it's available in 11 of the airport terminals.

I became an avid reader of the online version of "Paris-Lifestyle" after receiving an email from them at the beginning of November asking if I would agree to do an interview. Ironically enough, I read their email while sitting in one of the departure lounges at Orly Airport on my way to Bordeaux. Talk about serendipity! Covering the latest trends and best events in this vibrant city, "Paris Lifestyle" takes you behind-the-scenes of renowned monuments, shares the Parisian stories of famous personalities who excel in their fields and reveals the trendiest fashions in ready-to-wear and luxury brands.

In addition to sections on the best restaurants, bars, boutiques, hotels and must-see exhibitions, the online version of "Paris-Lifestyle" also features the "bonnes addresses" (favorite addresses) of Parisian bloggers. As their first expat blogger, I'm pleased to invite you to read:

The Paris of "Out and About in Paris"

If you're interested in the latest information about Paris, I highly recommend joining the online Paris-Lifestyle Club, which offers exceptional invitations to shows and exhibitions, special previews, books, CDs and DVDs. Shortly after becoming a member of the free club, I was thrilled to win National Geographic's PHOTOgraphics, an impressive book featuring stunning photos from around the world.

Additionally, I'm a huge fan of the "Paris-Lifestyle" facebook page and free Paris-Lifestyle app, which is available in English, French, Chinese and Russian. And while I'm at it, I should also mention that My Airport, the free official Aéroports de Paris app, is an invaluable tool for frequent travelers or moms who are anxiously waiting for their children to arrive in Paris. It's what I'll be using on Wednesday to check the flight information for my son!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Christmas Caroling in Paris

Delicate Norwegian Christmas cookies. The grateful smiles of an elderly couple. Steaming hot cocoa topped with marshmallows. Old fashioned Christmas lights twinkling on snow covered houses. This is the potpourri of memories that I have of caroling for my grandparent's neighbors in Minnesota when I was a child. It's a tradition that I've carried with me around the world, organizing caroling parties for expat friends far from their families. There's something about singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and "O Little Town of Bethlehem" that always puts me in the holiday mood, even if it's in a karaoke bar in the tropics with the air conditioner running at full blast.

Yesterday, I was very happy to join an expat Meetup group caroling in front of the St-Michel fountain in Paris. Singing off-tune to "Silent Night" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", I was surprised when a young man from Serbia asked me how I knew all of the lyrics. It's because these songs are a part of my life, my history.

The shoe was on the other foot, so to speak, when I went to the "Christmas Carol Service" in French and English at Les Féeries d'Auteuil because I only knew a couple of the songs, like "Entre le bouef et l'ane gris". Not wanting to hurt your ears by screeching off-tune in bad French, I kept my mouth firmly shut while filming the following video. Much to Stéphane's dismay, however, this is the song that got stuck in my head, so I've been singing the first verse over and over again at home.

Entre le bœuf et l'âne gris
Dort, dort, dort le petit fils,
Mille anges divins, mille séraphins
Volent à l'entour de ce grand Dieu d'amour.

Friday, December 14, 2012

It's a Winter Wonderland - Ice Skating at the Grand Palais

From an outdoor rink surrounded by mountains in Saas Fee, Switzerland to an indoor rink in a glitzy shopping mall in the tropical city of Surabaya, Indonesia, I've skated in some fairly unique settings. But I can honestly say that none of the other locations matched the Grand Palais in Paris. The only drawback was that I had to keep reminding myself to look down at the ice rather than up at the magnificent glass barrel vaulted roof. It's an impressive structure!

Arriving shortly after the doors opened at 10:00 yesterday morning, Sara and I whizzed past all of the metal barricades set up in anticipation of the 200,000 visitors that will flock to the Grand Palais during the holidays. In no time at all, we had picked up the tickets that I had purchased online, passed the security check point and were trying to decide if I should get size 38 or 39 skates. If you're like Sara and travel with your own pair of skates, it's helpful to know that there aren't any lockers to stow your shoes. Fortunately, the man behind the counter agreed to put them with mine but this option probably won't be possible when there are more people. There's a cloakroom, located to the left of the rink, where it's possible to check coats and large bags, for 2 euros per article. Additionally, there are a couple of vending machines that sell gloves, which are required, and socks.

As we glided on to the largest ice skating rink in France, I thought about how much our adult-aged children will enjoy sharing this experience with their friends while they're visiting from the USA. Even though New York and Boston have ice skating rinks, I'm fairly sure that they don't have a skate-up champagne bar that also serves hot chocolate and coffee. According to the weather forecast, it's supposed to snow inside (that's right - inside!) the Grand Palais once every hour. The meteorologists were wrong yesterday, but that's probably because it was opening day. When everything is working as it should, it's going to be magical.

With a huge disco ball, lots of lights and a stage, ice skating at night in the Grand Palais will also be an amazing experience.

The ice skating rink will be at the Grand Palais through January 6, 2013. Please click here to consult the official website for more information about the opening hours and to buy skip-the-line tickets. The 12 euro entrance fee includes the skate rental. The price is the same if you bring your own skates.

Time for me to go pick up a copy of Le Parisien from the new stand because a photographer took quite a few photos of Sara and me while we were sipping champagne at the skate-up bar yesterday. When one of them asked to interview us in French, I have to admit that I was a bad mother who left Sara to fend for herself. Much to her relief, they didn't use her interview in the clip, but they did show a fleeting glimpse of her gazing at the rink with a champagne flute in her hand. Please click here if you would like to see the video and here to see the additional photos that I posted on facebook.

Sara being interviewed.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Sara's pick of the day: bánh mì at Saigon Sandwich and cappuccino at Ten Belles

"It's all about the sauce!" At least that's what Sara kept telling me when she said that she was craving bánh mì and asked if I knew of a place to get them in Paris. Since I hadn't ever eaten one of these Vietnamese style sandwiches served on a baguette, I asked for help on Twitter:

Anyone have recommendation for where to get Banh Mi (Vietnamese sandwich) in Paris. Daughter's craving one.

Within minutes, I received a response from Richelle VHP with a link for the six best bánh mì according to L'Express.

 I've heard really good things about Banh Mi in the Marais. Look at this too:

Deciding to start at the top of the list, we headed to Saigon Sandwich, a tiny hole-in-the-wall gem in the 11th arrondissement. As we watched the two women behind the counter stuff crispy baguettes with freshly grated carrots, thinly chopped cucumber and sprigs of cilantro, we deliberated between lemon chicken, pork or beef satay for the amazingly low price of 3-4 euros. Ten minutes later, we were shivering on a park bench savoring each mouthful of these unique sandwiches that are a delightful marriage of piquant Vietnamese flavors and French bread.

Shortly after we had thrown away the empty bags from our bánh mì, I received the following tweet from Anne about a place in the 13th arrondissement. 

 If it's not too late: Thieng Heng on avenue d'Ivry right next to the main Tang Freres.

As luck would have it, Thieng Heng is right next to the Chinese grocery store where I'm going to get some mangosteens for Sara's birthday treat in two weeks. I guess that I'll have to make a slight detour!

Saigon Sandwich
8 rue de la Présentation, 75011 Paris
Mon-Sat 10am-6pm; Sun 10am-2pm

One good thing then led to another. With frozen fingers from our bánh mì picnic, Sara and I were in dire need of a hot cup of something when Yelp (the app) came to the rescue with a recommendation for a nearby cafe just off the Canal St. Martin.  It felt wonderful to claim the last two available spots - only recently vacated - in the tiny hip coffee shop, mysteriously named "Ten Belles". According to Sara, "Two Beaux" would have been more accurate given the two male baristas. Maybe the belles were in the back baking the delectable home-made mince pies, while the men skillfully prepared the best cappuccino that I've had in Paris.

10 rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 Paris
Tue-Fri, 8am-6pm; Sat & Sun, 9am-7pm

Oh, now we get the name... Please click here to see more photos of Ten Belles on facebook.

Photo credit: Sara

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stéphane's pick of the day: brunch at Saint James Club

Just as I was about to turn off the reading light next to my bed after a long day at Disneyland Paris last Wednesday, a very enthusiastic Stephane returned home from a business dinner bearing a couple of embossed booklets that he thrust into my hands. "I want to take you to this place!" he exclaimed in an excited voice that was a surprising change from his normally reserved demeanor. As I started to place the pamphlets on my bedside table, Stephane opened the black booklet with a discrete "Saint James Club" written on the front and pointed to a photo of Le Club. "This is where I had dinner, at a castle in the 16th arrondissement!" Feeling slightly superior after having just visited Sleeping Beauty's castle at Disneyland, I scoffed and said that I highly doubted that it was a real castle, with a great deal of emphasis on the word, "real". Undeterred, Stephane opened a thick envelope full of oversized postcards and pointed to a photo of the magnificent maison particulier that did look rather castle-ish in an aristocratic, non-Disney sort of way. Realizing that he finally had my full attention, Stephane added that Le Club was also the location of an aerodrome, the first in Paris, used by hot air balloons. As I flipped through the photos showing a spiral staircase in a library full of leather bound books, a luxurious restaurant richly decorated in the style of Napolean III and a terrasse with three large hot air balloon pavillons, I asked Stéphane when he was going to take me to the Saint James Club.

Always prompt to fulfill his promises, Stéphane invited Sara and me to brunch last Sunday, which is one of the times that the private club/hotel is open to the public. Not knowing that brunches in Paris normally last until 4:00 pm, we arrived at 11:30 am, a popular time for brunch in the USA. The advantage to getting there so early was that we had the dining room to ourselves and could imagine that we were seated next to the marble fireplace in our own private mansion.

After enquiring if it was our first time to have brunch at Le Club, the waiter invited us to help ourselves to the wide selection of cheeses from the historic Crémerie Quatrehomme on rue Mouffetard, smoked salmon, salad and other items from the cold buffet and main dishes, like grilled tandoori salmon and veal stew. With a charming smile, he added that crêpes and eggs are made to order.

As we sipped our champagne and contemplated what it is that makes Bordier butter so superior to the butter that we've had elsewhere in the world, the restaurant slowly filled with groups of extended French families and friends ready to enjoy a leisurely Sunday afternoon together. Pleased to have been the one to introduce us to Le Club, Stephane smiled broadly as Sara and I made plans to return to the bar for drinks after Philippe, the only missing member of our family, arrives in Paris shortly before Christmas.

Located just off of the famous Avenue Foch, the Saint James Club is a private club and a Relais & Châteaux hotel that is open to non-members for dinner from Monday to Saturday and for brunch (60 euros per person, 70 euros with champagne) on Sunday. Please click here to see the album of photos posted on "Out and About's" facebook page.

Stephane, who was given a tour of some of the rooms and suites after his business dinner, was impressed by the feeling of grandeur and intimacy created by Franco-American designer Bambi Sloan, who recently redecorated Le Club. Perhaps I'll have an opportunity to see some of the rooms the next time that we're there. In the meantime, I'm still trying to figure out which spices they used to flavor their fresh tropical fruit salad. With exotic hints of cinnamon, star anise and cardamom, it's the best that I've ever eaten.

43 Avenue Bugeaud
75116 Paris
tel: +33 (0)1 44 05 81 81
The sitting room in the lobby.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Sunday's picture and a song: Grown up Christmas List

The Christmas season has officially started. I just listened to Natalie Cole and David Foster's "My Grown up Christmas List". It brought tears to my eyes, the same as it does every year, because it always makes me think about what would be on my grown up Christmas list. After visiting the Christmas market at the Apprentis d'Auteuil, a Catholic organization in France that welcomes, educates and trains boys and girls ranging in age from 6-21 years old, one of my wishes would be that there were no more parentless children in the world.

If you're looking for a good dose of Christmas cheer and are near the 16th arrondissement, please visit the Christmas market. There are about 20 booths selling gastronomic specialities, jewelry, baby clothes, scarves and Christmas trees. Additionally, the boutique selling vintage fashion, household items and a wide selection of books is open during the Christmas market. Sara is very pleased with the pink Givenchy coat for 24 euros that she found yesterday. Best of all, the proceeds from the boutique go to the Apprentis d'Auteuil. 

From December 8-16, the Christmas Market is open from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm. There are concerts and special activities for children, including an English style Christmas Carol Service on December 15 at 5:30 pm and American Gospel on December 16 at 5:30 pm. The Melbourne Grammar School will perform a selection of classical Christmas music today (December 9) at 5:30 pm.

For more information about the Apprentis d'Auteuil, please click here to read a post from the archives and click here to see the FB album of photos from the Christmas Market.

Apprentis d'Auteuil
40, rue Jean de la Fontaine
75016 Paris

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Disneyland for adults? An adventurous night at Hotel Seven in Paris!

Behind the panel in the "007 Suite", there's a 160 cm screen for viewing the collection of James Bond films.

What a contrast! On Wednesday evening, Sara, Gwan and I were surrounded by screaming children and crying babies as we toasted Gwan's 30th birthday in the bar of the Disneyland Hotel. Everyone was exhausted after spending an exciting day at the happiest place on earth and it showed. The parents, who were gulping down florescent colored cocktails to ease the pain in their ears, looked stressed beyond belief as they patiently dealt with the tantrums and the tears. The chaotic pandemonium brought back all too vivid memories of the days when my children were small.

On Thursday evening, I visited an entirely different kind of hotel. Located next to the Latin Quarter and a short walk from the renowned rue Mouffetard, Hotel Seven is the perfect place for a romantic interlude in Paris. Whether you've ever fantasized about spending a night in Marie Antoinette's boudoir or James Bond's sleek lair, the seven different suites in this boutique hotel are designed to serve as a backdrop for your imagination. With levitating beds seductively strewn with rose petals, luxurious shower stalls large enough for two and an open fireplace in the "Lovez Vous" suite, Hotel Seven is like a Disneyland for adults.

In the "Close to the Stars" room, the clear shower is strategically located behind the bed. 

Not surprisingly, many of the guests at Hotel Seven are Parisians seeking respite from their frantic lives. Instead of planning a romantic getaway outside the city, savvy couples leave their children with the grandparents and head straight to the boutique hotel on Friday evening. Some of the guests have even arrived with blindfolds covering the eyes of their spouses after offering them the ultimate present. Time together. And best of all, the last hours of their amorous weekend aren't spent sitting in the endless stream of traffic returning to Paris on Sunday nights. Even though Stéphane and I no longer have small children, I'm going to keep Hotel Seven in mind. It would be the perfect antidote to our full house of visitors during the holidays. Plus, our wedding anniversary is this month!

Hotel Seven
20, rue Berthollet
75005 Paris

But visiting the hotel wasn't the only event on the agenda. After oohing and aahing over all of the special touches in the rooms, we made our way to the breakfast room for a DIY Craft Party organized by Do It Yvette. Sitting across from Jacki, the winner of my "Happy Holiday Giveaway", was a rather intimidating experience because not only is she the mother of an adorable little boy, Jacki worked at a school for children and adolescents with special needs in the United States. She's a whizz with a pair of scissors! Thanks to the careful tutelage of Do It Yvette, I made a Christmas ornament and snow globe that I was proud to show to Stéphane and Sara after I returned home from a very enjoyable night out in Paris.

Many thanks to Do It Yvette for hosting the DIY Craft Party and to Jacki of HJ Underway for joining me!

What do bloggers do when we finish making Christmas crafts? Take photos, of course!

Friday, December 7, 2012

It's already Friday?

This week has passed in a blur. Here are some of the highlights.

Monday: Dinner at the almost-impossible-to-book Frenchie Restaurant as part of the "December Indulgences" intimate gatherings organized by the team at My French Life. If you're not already a member of this active global community of Francophiles, I highly recommend joining. Membership is currently free and they're busy planning lots of exciting events in Paris and Melbourne for 2013. Other "December Indulgences" options included afternoon tea at Le Meurice, lunch at Racines, dinner at L’Ecaille de la Fontaine and cocktails/drinks at Le Singulier. Please click here to visit the website for My French Life.

Tuesday: WICE tour of some of the niche perfume houses in Paris.

Wednesday: Disneyland Paris to celebrate blogger friend Gwannel Sandiego's 30th birthday. The amusement park is a special place any day of the year but even more magical during the holidays. When it started to "snow" on Main Street, the freezing temperatures had me convinced that it was real until Gwan, Sara and I noticed that we were standing in a microclimate of Christmas cheer. Best of all, Gwan received a surprise call from Mickey Mouse wishing her a happy birthday when we visited the welcome office. The only downside was the food. Without exception, everything was awful. I didn't even finish my french fries or barbecue ribs, which is almost unheard of for me. Gwan, who is from New Zealand, may never want to try American food again!

The 20th anniversary laser show was spectacular and well worth the frozen toes!

Thursday: Champagne brunch for Gwannel that turned into a fun all day affair followed by the DIY Craft Party at Hotel Seven (blog post to follow).

Friday: Fallafels at l'As du Fallafel and ice cream at Pozzettos in the Marais.

Now I'm ready to settle down for a long winter's nap ... and dream of Santa Claus and elves with pointy ears.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Perfume Tour: Niche Perfume Houses in Paris

... they gave me a bottle of Chanel perfume ... (excerpt from a letter to my parents dated June 1983)

I'll never forget the day that Mme M took me to Galeries Lafayette to select a bottle of perfume for my 20th birthday. It was the quintessential Parisian experience. The older French woman initiating the younger American one into the ways of the world. She made me feel special, a part of the club.

Fast forward to 2012, almost 30 years later - thanks to a WICE tour that I did yesterday morning, I'm now the savvy older woman with an insider's knowledge of some of the latest trends in the perfume industry.  Instead of taking a novitiate to a large department store selling perfumes, like Dior, Chanel, and Guerlain, that are produced for the mass market, I would introduce her to the seductive world of "niche" fragrance houses.

Parfums Divine, a discrete boutique that is known only by word of mouth, is the perfect starting point. Using raw materials of the highest quality, Yvan Mouchel and his team approach the creation of a new perfume the way that they would a painting, a symphony or a novel. All of their fragrances are works of art. With perfumes like, L'âme soeur, a marriage of noble flowers and aldehydes, and L'être aimé, a fragrance that soars with sun-drenched notes of neroli, bergamot and nectarine, Parfums Divine is a French perfume house that places the accent on creating timeless fragrances. Even though selecting a perfume is a usually a highly subjective experience, the majority of the women on our tour preferred L'infante, a bouquet of freshly gathered white flowers with a final hint of sensuality. It also contains vanilla, which we learned appeals to 70% of men.

Parfums Divine
3 rue Scribe
75009 Paris

After a brisk walk from the 9th to the 1st arrondissement that helped clear our noses for the next stop on our olfactory tour, we entered Parfums Jovoy, a boutique with a pleasing contemporary design dedicated to niche fragrances. Inviting us to take a seat in the cozy alcove at the back of the boutique and to help ourselves to a croissant, owner François Hénin rubbed his hands together with the excited air of a schoolboy as he asked us how we would like to start our scent-laden tour of his world. With more than 1,200 niche perfumes at his disposal, Mr. Henin guided us through a rich parade of floral notes, with scents like the remarkable flor e cantoa tantalizing mixture of tuberose, magnolia and plumeria that transported us to the warmer climes of Mexico, and Betrothal,  a scent originally created to honor Queen Mary of England's betrothal in 1893. Most surprisingly, I learned the secret of how French women "waft", or leave an enticing trail of scent behind them, from a man. Mr. Henin told us that the trick is to spray perfume on your scarf or jacket and not only on your skin.

Parfums Jovoy
4 Rue de Castiglione
75001 Paris

Theresa de Belder, our very knowledgeable guide, also recommended that we visit Penhaligon's, a boutique selling niche fragrances made in England.

209 rue Saint-Honoré
75001 Paris

Monday, December 3, 2012

Looking for the Gingerbread Man in Paris

Can you spot the Gingerbread Man at the Christmas Market? Even though the picture is a bit blurry, I love the people's reactions to Stéphane holding a Gingerbread Man on the Champs-Élysées. 

What started as a simple expedition to take a picture of the big Christmas tree and ferris wheel at the Place de la Concorde quickly turned into "Project Gingerbread Man" when Stéphane and Sara decided that we needed a real Gingerbread Man to pose in a photo that I was taking for Joseph the Butler. By the end of the day, the Gingerbread Man had been spotted at the Christmas Market on the Champs-Élysées, in front of the Eiffel Tower, having tea at the Shangri-La, riding the metro and hiding on a pedestrian light. It was all a good-spirited effort to help Mrs. H's class in North Carolina, who are currently looking for the Gingerbread Man. Here's the letter that my daughter Sara wrote to the fourth graders:

“Bonjour” from Paris Mrs. H's class!

A little birdie [aka Joseph the Butler], who’s friends with A and Grandma S, told me you’ve been looking for the Gingerbread Man.  I, too, have been looking and looking and looking. I looked for him on the plane yesterday when I flew from New York to Paris. I looked in the airport when I arrived but only found my parents.  I kept looking for him out of the window when we drove home, but no Gingerbread Man. 

Right when I was about ready to give up, I looked up from the car to take a picture of a famous monument… when there he was! “Wait, Gingerbread Man” I called out. But the Gingerbread Man was too fast. He ran away saying “Run, run as fast as you can, you can’t catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man”. As quickly as I could, I snapped a picture. And can you believe it, I caught him just in time. Here’s a photo. Do you recognize the famous monument in the background?

Later that day, I went for a walk by the Seine River. I was sad that the Gingerbread Man had run off so fast and that I didn’t get a chance to tell him I wouldn’t eat him. I told myself I should be happy that at least I caught a glimpse of him in a picture… when, lo and behold, there he was again! I think he thought I couldn’t see him because he was trying really hard to blend in to background. Can you spot him in this second picture pretending to be another famous monument in Paris?

I decided to approach him really slowly and pretend like I didn’t see him there, pretending to be a mini-Eiffel Tower. Moving as cautiously as I could, I went closer, and closer, and closer… Just when I was about to say “Gingerbread Man, I promise I won’t eat you” he jumped off the shelf and disappeared. From a distance, and ever so faintly, I could just hear him say, “Run, run as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I’m the Gingerbread Man”.

Good luck with the rest of your search!