Monday, March 18, 2013

Living Social: Spa Package at Aquamoon Vendôme

There's no doubt about it. Paris is an expensive city. Spend 11 euros for a ticket to the Louvre, 5 euros on a cappuccino and 38 euros for a 3-course dinner at the local brasserie and your hard-earned cash is gone in the blink of an eye. Fortunately, there are also ways to save money if you plan in advance. One of them is to subscribe to Living Social Paris, a deal-of-the-day website that features discounted gift certificates. After my daughter introduced me to the company in December, I've purchased a five-course meal at Guy Savoy's Les Bouquinistes for 59 euros per person, a three-hour spa package at Aquamoon Vendôme for 99 euros and a two-hour wine tasting class for two for 39 euros. As I redeem my vouchers, I'll review the experiences so that you can decide if Living Social is right for you.

Determining which gift certificate to use first was easy. The gloomy Parisian sky quickly convinced me that I needed a break, a mini-retreat from rain, umbrellas and frozen fingers. I picked up the phone last Sunday afternoon, dialed the number for Aquamoon Vendôme and scheduled an appointment for a massage at 5:30 pm the following day. The receptionist suggested that I bring a swimsuit and arrive at the spa two hours prior to my treatment so that I could make full use of their facilities. To confirm the appointment, she sent an email within minutes of our conversation. So far, so good.

Conveniently located next to the historic Ritz Hotel, which is currently closed for a complete renovation, Aquamoon Vendôme is an oasis of well-being in the center of Paris. As I entered the courtyard of the elegant mansion, the sounds of the city miraculously disappeared. When the receptionist offered me a cup of herbal tea with some drops of Bach Elixir and a hot towel to cleanse my hands before asking me to complete a brief questionnaire, I felt the tight knots in my shoulders start to relax.

For the next two hours, I stretched my body in the heated pool inspired by Roman baths, came close to falling asleep in the hammam, took a peek inside the sauna and rehydrated myself with more herbal tea while reposing in the relaxation room. Most remarkably, I only encountered one other guest the entire time that I was there. What a welcome change from being cheek-to-cheek with the other passengers on the metro and rubbing elbows with strangers in cozy cafes. It felt as if I was alone in paradise.

Just as I started to drop off to sleep while resting on the daybed, my massage therapist roused me from my reverie and escorted me to one of the 12 treatment rooms. For the next 60 minutes, Sandra's skilled hands kneaded my muscles and worked out all of the remaining knots of tension in my body. By the time that she lightly touched my shoulder to tell me that the session was finished, I felt recharged and ready to face the world again.

Rating of this Living Social Offer: The entire experience from start to finish was a breeze. I didn't have any problem making an appointment at the time that I wished to visit the spa and the 99 euros voucher, which included use of the pool/hammam/sauna for 120 minutes and a 60 minute massage, was very good value for the money.

If you purchase a voucher from Living Social to use while you're in Paris on vacation, be sure to check the expiration date of the deal.

[Edit] After publishing this post earlier today, I discovered that Vogue France included Aquamoon Vendôme in their new list of the eight most beautiful Parisian spas. Click here to read their review.

Aquamoon Vendôme
19 Place Vendôme
75001 Paris

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Kaas chante Piaf, La Vie en Rose

As some of you have remarked, I've been rather negligent about posting songs on Sunday. But thanks to Sanne, who recently hosted a giveaway on her blog Leben und Stil, I'm pleased to present Patricia Kaas, one of France's most popular contemporary artists, singing Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose.

Fortunate to have been the lucky winner of Sanne's giveaway, receiving the brightly colored package and Easter card in the mail was one of the highlights of my week. In between making travel arrangements for my upcoming trip to the United States and taking care of things at home while Stéphane was away on a lengthy business trip, I've been rather stressed lately. When I pack my suitcase tomorrow, the CD will be the first thing that goes in it. Even though Sanne wrote, "There is no better place to listen to Patricia Kaas singing songs of Edith Piaf than Paris", hearing these famous French songs will be a welcome reminder of home while visiting Boston, Texas, New York and Annapolis. Thank you, Sanne!

In a tribute to one of France's most beloved singers, Patricia Kass will perform songs from her album, Kaas Chante Piaf, at the Olympia in Paris on September 26, 27 and October 10, 2013. If you would like to attend one of these legendary concerts, please click here to purchase tickets.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to be a Parisienne: Margot's 10 Golden Rules

As promised in yesterday's post, here are Margot's humorous (but true!) "10 Golden Rules for Being a Parisian":
  1. Complain about your country and the weather of Paris (every Parisian does this but at the end of the day we all stay here...)
  2. Go for brunch every Sunday
  3. Try the new designed-by-a-famous-designer restaurant on Saturday evening
  4. Visit the latest temporary exhibition at Beaubourg or Le Grand Palais or... 
  5. Watch the television program "Top Chef" on Monday evening 
  6. Prefer the "Vélib" to the taxi - taxis are old fashioned, although some people will not agree with me ... :)
  7. Have an apéritif with your friends in a nice wine bar
  8. Get invitations for private sales - never go shopping during the official sales dates
  9. Do some sport, but not too much - body building is really not trendy
  10. Look "nonchalant" 
Margot's favorite:

French movies - La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) with Alain Delon and Romy Schneider,  Nos Jours Heureux and Jeux d'enfants (Love Me If You Dare)

Music - Jenifer Bartoli, a French singer who got her start on the television show Star Academy and classical music.

Apps - OuBruncheran app that lists all the best places to have brunch, Le Monde for news750 grammes for 77,000 recipes and le Tournedisque for music.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Paris: Through the Eyes of Margot, a Young Parisian Lawyer

One of the goals that I set for myself as a blogger last year was to learn more about some of the other people who live in Paris. To resurrect the series, "Touching a Different Part of the Elephant", I'm very pleased to introduce you to Margot, a 26 year old native of Paris. With the exception of brief periods when she lived in Senegal as a child, traveled in Asia and Australia for a year and studied at King's College in London, Margot has spent her entire life in the City of Light. She's a real Parisienne.

Margot and I met after I snapped some photos of her sipping champagne at the launch party for Guerlain's new eau de toilette. Curious as to why I was taking pictures of the other guests, she introduced herself and made the mistake of mentioning that she's an international patent lawyer. As I had been wondering about the legalities of posting photos of strangers online, I rather shamelessly jumped on the opportunity to get some free legal advice. Thank goodness that she didn't say that she was a gynecologist!

In spite of my pushy behavior, Margot kindly agreed to an interview and suggested that we meet at Telescope, one of the hottest new cafes in town. It's so trendy that we even spotted chef Gregory Marchand of Frenchie restaurant chatting with the owner while ordering a cup of coffee to go. Turning my attention from the activity at the counter, I asked Margot the question that has long puzzled women around the world.

Mary Kay: How do Parisians always manage to look so stylish? What's your secret - is it in your genes?

Margot: (laughing) I don't know. Maybe it's true that it's in our DNA. But I guess it's that Parisians wear classic clothes, items that are elegant but not too flashy. I don't like when there are big labels on something, like Gucci or Louis Vuitton. Purses and shoes are probably the most important part of my wardrobe. I would rather save money for a year to buy one really stylish purse than three less fashionable ones.

Mary Kay: As an American expat, there are certain things that I miss in Paris. What did you miss the most while living in England?

Margot: I missed my friends and family, of course, but I mainly missed French food, especially my mom's cooking. My family always gets together on  Sunday for a long lunch, usually we'll sit at the table for three hours. We talk about what happened during the week and my mom always makes amazing pastries and tartes. I also missed the wine. We have really great wine in France. My favorites are from Bordeaux and St. Emilion, but I also like Gigondas from the southern Rhone region and Pouilly-Fumé from the Loire Valley.

Mary Kay: Before we moved to Paris, I had the mistaken idea that French people don't work very hard because we always hear about the 35 hour work week and long vacations. What's a typical day like for you.

Margot: The 35 hour work week doesn't apply to everyone. People like me, who are lawyers, doctors or engineers, usually work much longer hours. Many of my friends work until 11:00 pm every night. I'm lucky, I only work until about 8:00 pm. Since I start at 9:00, I work about 50 hours a week. When I leave the office, I usually go to a restaurant for dinner, a friend's place or to a bar for a drink. I try to do something with my friends every second day. When I'm too tired, I stay at home to watch a movie or read a book.

Mary Kay: Your weekends must be really important to you. Describe your ideal Saturday.

Margot: I'd start the day at a little café called Le Loir Dans La Théière. Do you know it? They have a really good brunch. Then I would do a bit of shopping in the Marais. For lunch, I would go to one of the restaurants at the Place du Marché St-Honoré, maybe Cuisine et Confidence, Little Georgette or the burger restaurant, but I can't remember its name. Afterwards, I would definitely go to the Grand Palais. They have the best exhibitions but you have to buy your ticket in advance. A friend of mine went to see the Hopper exhibition at 4:30 in the morning and said that the line was still really long. For an apéritifChez Prune is a good place to go on the Canal St-Martin. Since I don't like clubs, I would probably go to Workshop, a new restaurant/bar with an exhibition space on the ground floor and dancing downstairs, with my friends.

Mary Kay: Lots of people would love to travel to Paris, what's your dream destination?

Margot: I've already been there, but I would like to go back to India to visit Udaipur and Varanasi. I'm fascinated by the people and the culture. If I had more time, I would meditate and do yoga.

Mary Kay: Is there a part of Paris where you don't like to go?

Margot: Yes, the Champs-Élysées. My friends and I never go shopping there!

Tune in tomorrow for Margot's "10 Golden Rules for being a Parisienne" and her favorite French movies, music and iPhone apps.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Sounds of Paris

Paris is a smorgasbord for the senses, whether it's the tantalizing smell of crepes as you exit the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro or the sight of small children at play in the Tuileries Gardens. After watching a film about a young deaf woman in New York City, who marvels at the cacophony of city sounds after she regains her hearing, I decided to pay more attention to the sounds of Paris. Here's what I heard.

On Friday, I had an appointment to test "les ambiances sonores du réseau" of the RATP. Imagining incorrectly that I would be riding on a metro train with a group of people assessing door buzzers or public announcements, I was surprised when the man conducting the test escorted me to the beginning of a long tunnel in the Opéra metro station. As we stepped onto the moving walkway, the RATP representative instructed me to do something that I would have never done on my own - to stop and listen. He explained that the sounds emanating from the four speakers spaced equal distances apart on the ceiling were the subject of the survey.

At the end of our short journey, the man ushered me to the side and started with some fairly generic questions, like "How often do you take the metro" and "On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you rate the Parisian metro system?" The next series of questions pertained to the sounds of musical instruments, singing and clapping that I had heard coming from the speakers: "Did I find them soothing or disturbing?" and "Did the sounds make the experience of going through the tunnel more or less pleasurable?" Considering that comprehending and answering the questions was already a linguistic challenge because we were speaking French, I felt pretty pleased with myself when he asked if there was a connection between the sounds and the location of the tunnel. Mais, bien sûr, the sounds represented the progression of an operatic performance from beginning to end at the Opéra metro station. What a clever idea!

From late Friday night until the wee hours of Saturday morning, I spent most of the time with a pillow plastered over my ears. While our upstairs neighbors had posted the requisite note on the front door of our apartment building forewarning the other residents that he would be hosting a party to celebrate his birthday, he had also promised to be considerate. He lied. With the sounds of high heels clacking on the wooden floors and the vibrations from the music shaking my bed, I nonetheless found myself smiling when the Parisians started singing along with the American songs. Admittedly, their pronunciation left a lot to be desired, but they were young people having a good time. I took two herbal sleeping tablets, clamped the pillow back over my ears and tried in vain to sleep.

On Saturday afternoon, I had the great pleasure of having a poem by the Argentine poet Roberto Juarroz whispered in my ear. Traveling from the mouth of la Souffleuse through the hollow cane placed against my ear, the words went straight into my heart. As part of the 15th Printemps des Poètes ("Spring of Poets"), Les Souffleurs were whispering poetic, philosophical and literary secrets as part of the flashmob gathering at the Pompidou Centre yesterday.

It's amazing what you hear when you take the time to listen. Please click here to see additional photos of Les Souffleurs.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Eat your veggies!

A cow sleeping at the International Agricultural Fair

There are times when my mouth gets ahead of my brain. Way ahead of it. And that's when I blurt out things that are totally inappropriate. Case in point, I managed to singlehandedly alienate an entire group of expats last Friday when I declared that I couldn't stop thinking about the amazing carpaccio that I had eaten for lunch at an Italian restaurant the day before. As I described the dish in great detail - thinly sliced beef, shaved Parmesan and peppery rocket salad covered with a tart lemon and olive oil vinaigrette - a hush fell over the room. Baffled by the horrified expressions on the faces of the people seated next to me, I suddenly remembered why we were all gathered together. It was for a course entitled, "Vegetarian Living in Paris". Oops. Open mouth and insert foot.

But here's the thing, I don't usually eat meat. I'm much more of a veggies, grains and fruit kind of person, which is why I enrolled in the class in the first place. I wanted to learn where vegetarians dine in Paris, a city known for steak frites and confit de canard.

Fortunately, Aurelia d'Andrea, a journalist and the author of Moon Living Abroad in France, had lots of useful tips, addresses and advice to impart during the three hour class. If you would like to learn more, please visit Aurelia's blog, My Vegan Parisian Adventure. It's a wonderful source of information and inspiration. Additionally, Aurelia has written "Vegan Wine and Cheese, Parisian Style" and "French Twist", an article with advice on how to host a vegetarian Thanksgiving dinner à la française.

During our group discussion, Cafe Pinson, Marcovaldo and Nanishi were mentioned as being vegetarian or veggie-friendly restaurants. Aurelia also told us that the French guidebook, Paris Vegetarian, features approximately 100 restaurants where vegetables reign supreme over meat. Interestingly enough, there's even a vegetarian restaurant in a beauty salon and another one in a clothing boutique! Be sure to check out Aurelia's blog post, "Bibliophilia", for additional information.

In a rather surreal switch from one world to another, after attending the "Vegetarian Living in Paris" course last Thursday, I invited Stéphane to the International Agricultural Show on Friday. Seeing all of the sheep, pigs and cows reminded me that meat is big business, which shouldn't have come as a surprise considering that my paternal grandfather was a cattle buyer in Iowa. According to a recent article in The Economist, meat consumption has grown from 22 kg  per person in 1961 to 40 kg in 2007. Which country eats the most meat? Luxembourg (136.5 kg per person) followed by the United States (125.4 kg). At number 19, people in France consume 88.7 kg of meat per year compared to the 3.2 kg eaten in India, which is at the very bottom of the list of 177 countries.

If you would like to reduce the amount of meat that you eat, try adding kale to your diet. It's currently being touted as the new beef. The Kale Project website provides lots of information about this healthy green vegetable, including updates about where it's available in Paris.

Many thanks to WICE and Aurelia d'Andrea for offering the "Vegetarian Living in Paris" course. With horse meat being sold as beef in some European countries and the recently released Harvard Medical School study showing that eating red meat can shorten a person's life expectancy, it's good to know that there are plenty of alternatives to steak frites and carpaccio in Paris!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Roger Vivier Hosts Pre-Launch Book Party in Paris!

Inès de la Fressange and Bruno Frisoni

My friend Sylvia (Finding Noon) loves shoes. More specifically, she adores Roger Vivier's exquisite creations. This explains why I wasn't too surprised that the code to the front door of Sylvia's apartment building mysteriously didn't work when I went to pick up the invitation for the Roger Vivier cocktail party that she had generously offered to give me. I secretly suspect that Sylvia, who was busy packing for her ski vacation in the French Alps, inadvertently told me the wrong number for the code so that she could hang onto her invitation for as long as possible, just in case she had a last-minute change of heart. If she had, I would have totally understood. Having been to soirées at Roger Vivier in the past, Sylvia knew that she was going to miss out on a fabulous evening. But like a munificent fairy godmother, she kissed me good-bye on both cheeks and graciously told me to go and have a wonderful time.

Cheers to Roger Vivier, both the book and the house!

While brand ambassador Inès de la Fressange and creative director Bruno Frisoni host cocktail parties several times a year, this particular soiree was to pre-launch Roger Vivier, a lavish book tracing the history of the historic house. With 300 color photos and sketches by Vivier and Frisoni, the tome includes Vivier's creation of the first stiletto heel for Dior in 1955 and the pilgrim-buckle pump made famous by Catherine Deneuve in the 1967 movie Belle du Jour.

Deciding to arrive fashionably late rather than too early, Kate (Mais Oui Paris) and I missed seeing Scottish actress Tilda Swinton and Catherine Deneuve, who stopped by before going to the Saint Laurent show. We were, however, happy to be there when Inès de la Fressange and Bruno Frisoni blew out the sparklers illuminating a three-tiered cake topped by a sugar-coated book with "Roger Vivier" emblazoned on it. Suspecting correctly that the lanky fashionistas in attendance would shun dessert in lieu of the red lollipops being distributed by the waiters, Kate and I graciously accepted huge slices of the sweet confection.

In between sipping glasses of Ruinart champagne and admiring the garlands of white paper flowers hanging from the ceilings, we spent most of our time looking down. It's not that Kate and I are shy and didn't want to interact with the other guests, it's just that we preferred to admire all of the glamorous Roger Vivier creations, including the beaded Indian slippers worn by Inès de la Fressange. Absolutely gorgeous!

Roger Vivier will be on the bookshelves in April.

Please click here to see additional photos from the soirée posted on "Out and About's" Facebook page.

Roger Vivier's boutique festooned with flowers for the fête!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The hottest new pop-up bar in Paris with a stunning view of the Eiffel Tower: 180 Restaurant and Bar at the Pullman Hotel

Better hurry! The clock is ticking and there are only 126 days, 13 hours and 26 minutes left to enjoy one of the most spectacular views of city from the hottest new pop-up bar in Paris.

Situated on the 10th floor of the Pullman Hotel, the bar offers an intimate encounter with the Eiffel Tower in all its sparkling glory. Watching the day fade into night as we sipped glasses of Veuve Clicquot champagne with friends visiting from the States yesterday evening, Stephane and I regretted that we hadn't reserved a table for dinner. In keeping with the theme, the pop-up bar has specially concocted drinks and menu items honoring the seven deadly sins. With offerings like le Charnel (the carnal), a savory cheesecake, and le Sensual (the sensual) a sweet cheesecake, I was sorely tempted by the sin of gluttony.

As enticing new sins appear on the menu on the 7th of each month, I'm already planning to surprise Stéphane with a romantic dinner for two at a table next to the window. I just hope that he doesn't mind if I spend most of the evening staring at the Eiffel Tower rather than at him. She's a beguiling sight!

The 180 Restaurant and Bar opened its doors on January 7 and will close them definitively on July 7, 2013.

180 Restaurant and Bar
6:30 am - 2:00 am
Pullman Hotel (10th floor)
22 rue Jean Rey, 75015 Paris
+33 1 44 38 57 77

Please click on photos to enlarge.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Making history at Les Deux Magots: Sandrine De Sousa Costa, the café's first female "garçon"

Sandrine De Sousa Costa

"You're making history!" That's what longtime customers of Les Deux Magots frequently tell Sandrine De Sousa Costa, the first female "garçon" to work at the world famous cafe located on the bustling boulevard Saint Germaine. Indeed, the idea of a woman entering into what has long been considered an exclusively male domain was so progressive that the director of Les Deux Magots, who had already worked with Sandrine at another establishment, asked the waiters if they would agree to have the 23 year old join their ranks prior to hiring her. Held under close scrutiny by both her colleagues and the regular clients of Les Deux Magots, many of whom dine at the cafe on a daily basis, Sandrine was pleased when they declared that she "works like a man". In fact, even though it was difficult to find a uniform that would fit her petite size when she started working at Les Deux Magots last April, the only discernible difference between Sandrine and the other "garçons" is that her long hair is swept into chignon and she wears a black tie rather than a bow tie.

Knowing that most visitors to Paris have an opinion about French waiters, I asked Sandrine what she likes and doesn't like about serving tourists. In between deftly delivering steaming cups of coffee to a table full of Parisians and taking the order of the German woman seated next to me, Sandrine didn't need any time at all for reflection before answering, "I like it when tourists are zen, or relaxed...when I can see that they're happy to be on vacation. Sometimes they'll ask me about the history of the cafe or a question about Paris." After returning from a trip to the kitchen to place an order, she added, "I don't like it when people are impatient and expect me to serve them the minute they sit down. It's not always possible, especially when we're very busy."

Sandrine, the daughter of Portuguese immigrants, started working in her family's restaurant in a western suburb of Paris at the age of 14. From there, she polished her skills at La Coupole before moving to Chez Francis, a chic brasserie with a view of the Eiffel Tower. Accustomed to working long hours, Sandrine hopes to one day open her own restaurant, perhaps with her father now that the family restaurant has closed. In the meantime, she feels very fortunate to have a position at Les Deux Magots. Not only is she their first female garçon, but she's also the only woman to work at any of the mythical cafes and brasseries (Café de Flore, Brasserie Lipp and Le Bonaparte) in the neighborhood.

Les Deux Magots
6 Place Saint-Germain des Prés
75006 Paris
Tel: 01 45 48 55 25

Sandrine De Sousa Costa