Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Going back in time at Maxim's Art Nouveau Museum

If, like Marion Cotillard's character in Midnight in Paris, you've ever longed to travel back in time  to the Belle Époque, I've discovered a magic portal located at 3 rue Royal. Simply walk through the doors of Maxim's Restaurant, pay for a guided tour and allow yourself to be transported to a 19th century courtesan's boudoir. Along the way, art historian Pierre-André Hélène will regale you with anecdotes about some of the famous people, such as singer Yvonne Printemps, Princess Grace of Monaco, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Jackie Kennedy, who used to frequent the city's most exclusive restaurant at the height of its glory.

During a recent visit to the Art Nouveau Museum, Mr. Hélène explained that since it wasn't possible for women to have a bank account in France until 1964, courtesans encouraged their male admirers to present them with the most beautiful furniture and decorative items from around Europe. In a seductive setting, Tiffany lamps cast a soft glow on a sofa inspired by Gaudi, china from the Riviera and a serving table with precious woodwork by Majorelle.

With more than 550 pieces carefully collected by French designer Pierre Cardin over a period of 60 years, the museum features characteristic masterpieces from the Belle Époque. My favorite items included a silver vanity set belonging to Sarah Bernhardt, who has been referred to as the most famous actress the world has ever known, an original poster of Jane Avril by Toulouse-Lautrec and a black dress newly fashioned out of 100 year old silk. Supposedly, even Mr. Cardin was suitably impressed when he studied the details of this exquisite creation.

Reading Nana, Emile Zola's novel about a prostitute from the slums of Paris who amasses great wealth and power, prior to your visit will provide additional insights into the decadent world of French courtesans.

Please click here to see additional photos posted on Facebook.

Musée Maxim's
Open from Wednesday to Sunday. English guided tour at 2:00pm. French guided tours at 3:15pm.
Tour and entrance to the museum: €20
3, rue Royale, 75008 Paris

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Je ne veux pas travailler

Je ne veux pas travailler.

If you're not in the mood to work today, please take a couple of minutes to enjoy this "Sweet French Cliché" by Pink Martini.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Dodging bullets on the set of "Three Days to Kill"

La Cité du Cinéma, the recently opened studio complex in Paris.

Stephane is traveling again this week, which means that we're back to using one of our most frequent modes of communication. Text messages.

10:00 pm., Wednesday, January 23
Stephane: How are things going?

10:25 pm
Mary Kay: Fine. We're dodging bullets again.

10:27 pm
Stephane: Ok. Be safe.

Just in case you think that I was speaking metaphorically, or that Stephane wasn't overly concerned about my safety, the bullets were actually blanks fired from real guns on the set of Kevin Costner's new movie, "Three Days to Kill". Saddened that our days of endless partying with our new friends had all too abruptly come to an end last Saturday night, Sara and I were overjoyed when we were invited back to the swanky Parisian penthouse for additional shooting yesterday. What the casting company neglected to tell us is that we would be dancing to Rihanna (again!) and running from bullets in high heels until 12:30 am. Would it have mattered? Not in the least because I'm hooked.

If low pay, unpredictable hours and interminable waiting sound like your cup of tea, Casting.fr and Cineaste.org list positions for professional actors/actresses and extras (figurines). But please remember that you must be able to legally work in France and that you will probably have to show proof that you pay taxes here. Current listings on Casting.fr include one for an Anglophone actress with an American accent to play different roles in a movie set in 19th century New York and another one for an American actor who resembles Joseph Pulitzer.

With the recent opening of the Cité du Cinéma, a Hollywood-sized studio complex offering high-grade film services on the outskirts of Paris, the city is expected to attract more foreign productions. Dubbed "Hollywood on the Seine", the $200 million complex was built on the grounds of a former 1930s power station in Saint-Denis. It's an impressive location, even if the colossal rooms are freezing in January and we had to trudge outside in our cocktail dresses because there aren't any indoor restrooms in the soundstage. Nonetheless, if you ever hear of a film being shot in Paris that needs extras, please let me know. I'll be there in a heartbeat!

Please click here to read Sara's post "Dances with Extras" in which I learned about my daughter's crush on Kevin Costner!

We were lucky enough to eat inside one of the main buildings at the Cité du Cinéma a couple of times while filming.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Is that really me? An extra in "Three Days to Kill"

Sara, Clement (my husband at the party) and an unrecognizable me.

I have straight hair. Really straight hair. And I never wear red lipstick. Ever. Plus, my eyes are almost always framed by a pair of black glasses. When they're not, I squint because my vision is bad.

That's why I laughed when Emma, another extra for "Three Days to Kill", asked "Do I know you? You look familiar?" because I considered myself to be completely unrecognizable. Suddenly, I was someone with voluminous hair and dramatic eye makeup. Someone who would receive an invitation to a high energy party at a luxurious penthouse apartment with a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tower. Someone with a Cambodian, not a Swiss, husband.

But that's the magic of Hollywood, or in this case, the Cité du Cinéma in Paris.

Where the team of makeup artists work their wizardry on your face...

Sara getting her hair done.

And the hair stylists tease your hair into submission.

Once you're all glamorous and ready to go, you wait. And wait. And wait some more. When munching on a baguette with Nutella smears your lipstick, you're told to return to the makeup chair for a touch up because everyone has to look their best at this party. Kevin Costner, Hailee Steinfeld, Connie Neilson - they're all going to be there, along with some bad guys who will put a damper on the fun when they frighten the guests with gunshots. How rude! (Note to self: when you host a swanky party in Paris, be sure to ask everyone to check their weapons at the door).

As with all things in life, it quickly becomes evident that some people are better waiters (those who wait) than others. They've come prepared - with scripts to study, crossword puzzles, books, games or earplugs. Chatting with my fellow extras, I learn that many of them are doing this for the first time, like me. Some of them have taken a couple of days off from their regular jobs in finance, building management, engineering and parenting to try some completely different. They want a change, something out of the ordinary. They're my kind of people.

When we're finally escorted to the set, I'm given a husband. We introduce ourselves. We're told to stay in the elevator until the doors open. When they do, we're to join everyone else on the dance floor. Darn it, late again! How did they know that I always tend to arrive a couple of minutes after the designated time, no matter how hard I try. Now I'm typecast and will forever be the last one to make an appearance. Or perhaps the bad guys will arrive after me. It depends what ends up on the cutting room floor. To be continued...

Lunch on the set. A baguette, some cheese, wine - and a 3 course meal. We're in France, after all!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Dancing for Days on the Set of "Three Days to Kill"

Celebrating Kevin Costner's birthday on Friday. Since we were asked not to take any pictures while on the set, I completely missed this photo op because I left my camera at home. I was pleased, however, to find this picture on Twitter because it also shows the back of my daughter's head! Photo credit: @MonthezinRobin 

My feet are killing me and my body aches, but I'm a happy woman. Working as an extra in the new Kevin Costner movie, "Three Days to Kill", was an amazing experience. I'll write a full post about it tomorrow, but in the meantime, here's the song that we were dancing to for the past three days on the set. I didn't know any of the words before last Thursday, but I sure do now!

On a completely different subject:

It's snowing in Paris! Please click here if you would like to see some photos taken from our balcony. Now that I've traded in my high heels and cocktail dress for boots and a warm coat, I'm going to venture outside to take some more pictures of the city while it's blanketed in white.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Dream Big!

"My Little New Life Box" arrived on Saturday with the message:

Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.

It was a timely reminder because I'm going to step way out of my comfort zone this week when I do something that I've been wanting to do ever since I wrote my first blog post on April 1, 2011. At the time, I was joking ... more or less. But now that the opportunity has presented itself, I'm half excited and half scared. Or maybe I'm ninety-nine percent petrified and one percent enthusiastic. I don't know. All that I know is that I'm going to do something that's completely out of character for me. I'm going to be an extra in Three Days to Kill, a movie starring Kevin Costner that's currently being filmed in Paris. Whew! I said it. There's no turning back now.

Among the hair bow, hand cream, nail polish, agenda and colored pencils in "My Little Box", I spied a plain envelope with the words, "The secret to happiness is here". Quickly opening the flap, I pulled out a charm instructing me to "Dream big". I will. After all, dreams occasionally come true.

If there's something that you've been wanting to do, I hope that you'll also take the plunge when the moment feels right.


Friday, January 11, 2013

Stay healthy in 2013. My "dream team" of doctors in Paris.

"When was your last eye exam?" demanded Dr. Cohn as I squinted my eyes in a futile attempt to read the minuscule words on the card in front of me. After explaining that I haven't had my eyes examined since we moved to Paris almost two years ago, he replied, "You should have an exam every year. But times flies, doesn't it?" It certainly does, especially when you're an expat trying to build a new life for yourself in a foreign country. How was I supposed to know that ophthalmologists are the rock stars of the French medical community and that it takes new patients 3-6 months to get a much-coveted appointment.

Being one who's slow to commit, I had kept my full roster of Swiss doctors on standby when we moved to Paris. After all, four hours by train didn't seem too far to travel if I was suddenly struck by some bizarre illness that required immediate attention. I always figured that I could hop on the TGV in the morning, see my doctor in the early afternoon and be home in time for dinner. That all changed when I had to go to the emergency room on my birthday last July. The French doctors completely won me over with their professional, yet compassionate, care. Plus, it's reassuring to know that they're nearby when I need them.

If you're still trying to assemble your medical team in Paris, the best place to start is at your local pharmacy. Based on feedback from their customers, they'll be able to make recommendations for the doctors in your neighborhood. If having a doctor who speaks English is a top priority, click here to see the list compiled by the American Embassy.

No matter where you live, be sure to stay on top of your medical check-ups in 2013. It's what I've been doing this week and it feels good to have almost all of my annual visits behind me!

Here's my "dream team" of doctors, each of whom I would recommend without reservation.

General practitioner: Dr. Robert Steinmetzer, 14 avenue President Wilson, 75116 Paris. Tel: 01 58 12 09 35. Dr. Steinmetzer is a Belgian who is well-versed in the American approach to medicine. He practiced at the Cleveland Clinic in the United States and currently practices at the American Hospital in Paris.

Dentist: Dr. Sophie Cohen-Allouche, 133 avenue Emile Zola, 75015 Paris. Tel: 01 45 79 97 44. After hearing negative reports about French dentists from my Canadian dental hygienist in Switzerland, who has lots of French patients who cross the border for their dental care, I doubted that I would be able to find a good dentist in Paris. Dr. Cohen-Allouche has completely changed my mind because she has done a remarkable job replacing my old fillings with inlays. She's meticulous and has small fingers, which is important when she's working on a tooth at the back of your mouth for two hours! We've only spoken French together but she also speaks English.

Ophthalmologist: Dr. Howard Cohn, 45 rue Vineuse, 75016 Paris. Tel: Dr. Cohn is an American who was also an Assistant Professor at Cornell University. I figured that I better stick with an English-speaking ophthalmologist so that I wouldn't mess up the vowels while reading the eye-chart in French!

Dermatologist: Dr. Stephanie Régnier, 19 rue Molitor, 75016 Paris. Tel: 01 46 51 11 60. After being diagnosed with melanoma 2 1/2 years ago, I was very pleased to have found Dr. Régnier because she is the most meticulous dermatologist that I've ever seen. We've only spoken French together but I believe that she speaks English.

Gynecologist: Dr. Marie-Noëlle Menard, 2 Square Mignot 75116 Paris. Tel: 01 47 55 07 70. Recommended to me by the radiologist at the American Hospital and Sylvia (Finding Noon), Dr. Menard's excellent care after my visit to the emergency room in July is what convinced me to give up my doctors in Switzerland and to switch to those in Paris. After all, it's where I live!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The perfect gift for someone who is addicted to social media!

View from Le Jules Verne Restaurant on the second level of the Eiffel Tower.

It's not always easy being the mother of adult-aged children, especially when they start discussing my foibles like I'm not even in the same room as them. I mean seriously, don't they know that my hearing is still intact?!

Sara (sighing): Mom keeps tweeting.
Philippe (in an exasperated voice): I already told her that she had to stop tweeting at the table a long time ago.
Sara: Well, she hasn't tweeted at the table...yet...but she has been tweeting on the metro...and the bus. And she even tweeted in the D'Orsay Museum even though I told her not to.
Me: (attempting to get a word in edge-wise) I was checking me email not tweeting.
Philippe: (completely ignoring my explanation) She would have never let us tweet at the table when we were young.
Sara: I know! She didn't even let us answer our text messages while we were having dinner, so I don't understand why she's tweeting all the time now.

Knowing that they were right (kind of) and that there was no way that I would be able to sneak in some covert tweets while under their close scrutiny, I disconnected from Twitter during the holidays.

I didn't tweet about the magnificent view of the Place de la Concorde from the Jules Verne Restaurant on the Eiffel Tower...

the delicious venison...

the crowds at Versailles when we mistakenly went on a Sunday instead of during the week...

the disco lights sparkling off the ice skating rink in the Grand Palais...

or standing in the pouring rain waiting to welcome in the New Year on the Champs-Élysées.

Instead, I simply enjoyed being with everyone.

Realizing that I had made a big effort to change my errant ways and wanting to reinforce my good behavior, Sara surprised me with a pair of texting gloves for Christmas. They're really great because now I'll be able to tweet, write messages and check my Facebook account without getting my fingers cold...but only when I'm on my own. I promise!

My new texting, or touch screen phone smart, gloves.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Sunday's Picture and a Song: 50 Shades of Grey

Nope, this isn't the day that I change the tone of this blog. I'm talking about the 50 shades of grey lurking over Paris and not 50 Shades of Grey, the erotic novel!

Just in case you were expecting something about the latter, here's 50 Shades of Grey - the Musical:

I hope that you're Sunday is SUN-ny, at least in spirit if not reality.

Friday, January 4, 2013

One of my Favorite Bookstores: La Librarie de l'Hôtel de Sully

After taking so many days off, I've had a severe case of writer's block that not even an afternoon cup of coffee was able to cure. To help jump start my brain, I decided to ease back into blogging with a post about one of my favorite bookstores in Paris, La Librarie de l'Hôtel de Sully.

Located in the former residence of Henri IV's famous minister, the Duke of Sully, people frequently rush past this magnificent structure without realizing that it's open to the public seven days a week. The next time that you're wandering around the Marais, I urge you to pass through the impressive arched doorway at 62 rue Sainte-Antoine. Once you're inside the courtyard, spend a couple of minutes admiring the architecture of one of the finest Louis XIII buildings in Paris before walking up the steps and turning left into the bookstore.

Painted beams in La Librarie de l'Hôtel de Sully

Classified as an historic monument in 1862 and designated as the official headquarters of the national monuments in 1967, the Hôtel de Sully has an extensive collection of fictional and non-fictional books about France. While I was immediately absorbed by Boutiques Anciennes de Paris, Stephane was fascinated by Les plans de Paris: Histoire d'une capitale. Perusing the descriptions of the most important maps of the French capital from the 16th century to 2001, Stephane was particularly interested in the "Plan de Bâle" because he had received an antique facsimile of this map of Paris as a Christmas gift.  Most importantly, the book revealed that the vertical, rather than horizontal, portrayal of the Seine illustrated the leading role that the river played in 1552. Additionally, the isometric view, or "Vue Cavalière", allowed the cartographer to feature the facades of most of the churches of Paris.

62 rue Saint-Antoine
75004 Paris
Open from 10 am - 7 pm every day.

La Librarie de l'Hôtel de Sully also has a wide selection of English language books about France and Paris. 

When you're finished browsing in the bookstore, be sure to spend a couple of minutes in the Hôtel de Sully's tranquil garden. From there, you can go to the Place des Vosges via the door at the back.