Friday, April 26, 2013

RedBall Project Bowls over Parisians

Riding the metro is a fairly mundane experience. People get on, others get off and every once in a while there's a musician singing "Besame Mucho" to break the monotony. April 18, however, was different. There was a palpable buzz of excitement as the group next to me huddled around a woman who was pointing at some photos in the newspaper. Repositioning myself to eavesdrop on their conversation, I overheard the words "red ball". No wonder they were so enthusiastic. The "RedBall Project" had just arrived in Paris and everyone was speculating about where the huge sphere would appear. Since I was on my way to its first performance in front of the Centre Georges Pompidou, I asked the woman's permission to take a photo documenting her enthusiasm about the event.

According to New York artist Kurt Perschke, the RedBall Project's magnetic, playful and charismatic nature has also generated high levels of excitement at previous performances in other cities around the world, including Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Barcelona and Chicago. But most importantly, it stirs the imagination and prompts people to talk about art. As Perschke says, "people approach me on the street with excited suggestions about where to put it in their city. In that moment the person is not a spectator but a participant in the act of imagination. That invitation to engage, to collectively imagine, is the true essence of the RedBall Project."

Given the company's mythique "ball and bar" logo, it's not surprising that Bacardi-Martini France invited the American artist to exhibit the inflatable ball in spots around the capital as part of its 150th anniversary celebration. During the past week, the 15 foot (4.5 meters), 250 pound red balloon has been spotted at the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, Canal St Martin and has even cruised past famous Parisian landmarks on a bateau mouche on the Seine. If you would like to get a glimpse of this public art project before it travels to its next destination, it will be at the Place du Commerce in the 15th arrondissement from 12:00 - 4:00 pm on Saturday, April 27, and the Luxembourg Gardens from 12:00 - 7:00 pm on Sunday, April 28.

After chatting briefly with Perschke during the cocktail party hosted by Bacardi-Martini, I was pleased to bump into him at Charles de Gaulle Airport yesterday morning and to learn that the RedBall Project's next stop is Lausanne, Switzerland. As a Swiss-by-marriage, my mind started racing as I began thinking of the empty public spaces where I would display the inflatable red ball. My first choice would be floating next to the huge silver fork that's stuck in the Lake of Geneva because both objects play with scale.

The artist hopes that future destinations will include Istanbul and Kyoto. Please click here to visit the RedBall Project's website and follow its travels around the world.

A young woman interacting with the RedBall Project and artist Kurt Perschke.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Paris kiosks celebrate 150 years. My interview with "kiosquier" Jacky Goubert.

Jacky Goubert (right) and his daughter Gaelle.

From April 17 until April 21, Paris is celebrating the 150th anniversary of one of the most iconic symbols of the French capital - its kiosks. On Friday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jacky Goubert and his daughter Gaelle, who operate the kiosk on the Boulevard Saint-Germain between Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. It's where I buy the International Herald Tribune whenever I'm in the neighborhood.

MK: This has to be one of the best kiosks in Paris. How were you able to get the concession for it?
Jacky: Normally, it's not possible to pass a kiosk from parent to child because they are only licensed and not purchased from the city. But somehow my mother arranged for me to take it over when she retired. She started working here in 1972.

MK: I've noticed that different kiosks offer different magazines. Do you select the ones that you want to sell?
Jacky: No. The company that manages the kiosks for the city of Paris sends us the newspapers and magazines that are popular in our neighborhood. We get a lot of ones about interior design.

MK: What is the best selling French newspaper?
Jacky: Le Monde.
MK: And magazine?
Jacky: Of the biweekly publications, it would be Elle. But for the monthly ones it's Vogue.

MK: Which newspaper do you read?
Jacky: Le Parisien, the local paper.

MK: I would imagine that quite a few of your clients are tourists. Is there anything that you would like to tell future visitors about shopping at a kiosk?
Jacky (without hesitation): Yes! Don't be afraid to buy Pariscope. People always ask if there's a magazine with information about events in English. There isn't. Even though Pariscope is in French, I think that a non-French speaking person should be able to understand it. Ok, maybe not all of the interviews, but they will certainly understand the information about the current exhibitions and shows.

MK: When I first arrived, you were eating your lunch in the kiosk. It must be hard to take a break. What hours do you work every day?
Jacky (looking at his watch): Well, I've been working since the kiosk opened at 5:30 this morning.  It's open until 11:00 pm from Monday to Saturday and until 8:00 pm on Sunday. We're almost never closed because people expect to be able to buy a newspaper when they visit the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots. We divide the work in three shifts so I'll be going home soon.

MK: Are your customers mainly tourists or locals?
Gaelle (responding to my question while Jacky covers the magazines with a tarp to protect them from the rain): It's difficult to say. There are a lot of people from the neighborhood who pass by every day. They stop for a chat and to tell us how they're doing. Sometimes they even bring us croissants for breakfast, especially on Sundays. People from all walks of life buy their newspapers here, from street cleaners to Catherine Deneuve. One day my colleague was doing a crossword puzzle and couldn't think of the first name of a television star. He turned to one of our customers and asked for the answer because it was the same star whose name was in the puzzle.

MK: You must have all kinds of interesting anecdotes about people. Is there anything that customers do that you don't like?
Jacky and Gaelle (in unison): Yes! When they enter the kiosk and don't close their umbrellas.

Jacky: The water ruins the newspapers and magazines. One day there was a woman who came inside with a dripping umbrella. When I asked her to close it, she said that it wasn't wet. After asking her again, she finally snapped the umbrella shut. It sprayed water everywhere, including all over me. Then she set it down on top of the art magazines, the most expensive ones. When I asked her to move it, she insisted that her umbrella was dry. The magazines were obviously wet so I said, "Oh, then I suppose that it was my magazines that got water on your umbrella." She left in a huff.

MK: With more and more publications offering online editions, are you worried about the future of print media?
Jacky: No. I think that there will always be people, like me, who prefer holding a newspaper or magazine in their hands. There's something about opening a newspaper, the noise that it makes when you turn the page, that you don't get when reading something online. There was a magazine that I had been reading ever since it first appeared, when they decided to only offer it online, I stopped reading it. I liked reading the magazine in bed, before I went to sleep at night. You can't do that when you have to read it on a computer. Look at Newsweek. They decided to be a digital only entity but now they're offering a print magazine again [available only in Europe, the Middle East and Africa].

MK (addressing question to Gaelle): Would you like to take over the kiosk when your father retires?
Gaelle: No, I'm just helping him right now. I don't want to do it on my own. Physically, it's very hard work. Some of the individual magazines weigh 2 kilos which makes it very difficult to move entire stacks of them.

MK: Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Jacky: In 2011, it was decided that kiosks could supplement their income by selling souvenirs, drinks and snacks. We're one of the few remaining kiosks in Paris that only sells print media.

The next time that you're on your way to a cafe, please buy a magazine or newspaper from one of the 340 kiosks in Paris. We want them to be in business for another 150 years. Just be sure to close your umbrella before entering the kiosk if it's raining!

Please click here to see a map with the locations of all the kiosks.

Jacky Goubert's kiosk at 170 Boulevard Saint-Germain.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Past, present and future ...

"Parisian" red awnings, I used to see them everywhere except over my windows.


Today's a red letter day. It's huge. Monumental. When I heard the news, I cleared my calendar of all appointments to stay home and wait ... wait for the arrival of the awnings that I've been anticipating ever since the owner of our apartment agreed to have them installed 697 days ago. As I've come to learn, things take time in France. A lot of time. And lots of nagging emails. The waiting game started when our landlord told us that all new awnings must be approved by the owners' association of the building. It didn't matter that almost all of the other windows already have awnings. There's a certain protocol that must be followed. Next, there was the question of the color. Did we want red awnings? Sure, why not. We were ready to take whatever color they would give us, anything to stop the sun from turning our living room into a sauna. "Good," our owner replied, "because the association only allows 'Parisian' red awnings." If that was the only color that was permissible, why were we wasting valuable time discussing it? Well, it turns out that there are four different shades of Parisian red.

In the intervening months, our hopes of finally receiving the awnings had been raised, only to be dashed by yet another demand for the measurements of the windows. The measurements? The ones that we had already sent the owner numerous times? So, when I received an email from the owner last night asking if the workmen could install the awnings today, you better believe that I responded with an enthusiastic "YES!". By this point, I would have cancelled a lunch date with George Clooney to be home when they arrived.

Mlle Ella Coquine, one of my favorite Parisian bloggers, and Oliver in his miniature beret.


When I saw the crew this morning, I was initially disappointed to realize that they were the same workmen who had renovated our apartment, the ones who had made a mess of the electrical wiring and always seemed to forget an important tool, the one that was absolutely necessary to complete the job. Seeing them reminded me of my first days in Paris, when I didn't know anyone. Looking back, there's no way that I could have anticipated everything that has transpired during the past two years - and there's absolutely no way that I could have imagined being at Mlle Ella Coquine's "boozy lunch" bachelorette party last Saturday. As I haven't even told my family about what transpired at Ella's enterrement de vie de jeune fille, I invite you to click here to read Mlle Ella's blog post, wild women do. Be forewarned, there were striped French shirts, one or two berets and some multi-colored straws!


If you're in the process of planning a trip to Paris, be sure to look at "Out and About's" Facebook page. It's where I curate information about upcoming events, items of interest to Francophiles and photos of Paris. Today's posts featured the drive-in movie theater and roller skating rink that will be at the Grand Palais from June 10-21 and the series of silver and gold commemorative coins for the 100th Tour de France. You do not have to have a Facebook account to view the page.

One of the photos that was recently posted on Out and About's Facebook page.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston - that's where my thoughts are today...

I'll be back to blogging about Paris tomorrow. My heart just isn't in it today. Instead, my thoughts are with the people who were injured by the explosions near the finish line of the Boston Marathon and with the families who lost loved ones.

Unable to pull myself away from the horrific images on television last night, I was reminded of my discussion with a Haitian taxi driver when I arrived in Boston a couple of weeks ago. While sitting at a red light on Boylston Street, the man pointed at all of the banners fluttering from the lamp posts and asked if I would be in town for the Boston Marathon. When I replied that I wouldn't be there, he told me that it's a wonderful time to visit the city because the event attracts runners from around the world. Convinced by the driver's obvious enthusiasm, I promised to go to the marathon one of these years. And I will. Our world needs international sporting events to foster mutual understanding between nations and bring people closer together.

But for now, my thoughts and prayers are with the people whose lives have been altered forever by this tragedy.

Thank you to everyone who sent emails and messages asking about my children. Your concern and support has been heartwarming. Both Sara and Philippe are safe, although it was disturbing to see the location of the bomb blasts because they were very close to Philippe's apartment on Newbury Street. Fortunately, he spent the afternoon working across the river in Cambridge rather than watching the marathon. Sara is currently in New York.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

For Sale - 3,500 Objects from the Hôtel de Crillon in Paris!

Bedroom furniture on display in the Marie-Antoinette Salon on the first floor of the Hôtel de Crillon.

Are you in the market for a new couch, some silverware, a grand piano or a marble fireplace? Do you like to regal your guests with fascinating stories about how you acquired your home furnishings? Would you like to own a piece of Parisian history?

If you answered "yes" to the above questions, stop reading this post and make haste to the Hôtel de Crillon. From April 12-16, this historic Parisian hotel has opened its doors to the public to preview the 3,500 pieces of furniture, fine wine and hotel linens that will be auctioned by Artcurial from April 18-22.

After a short five-minute wait in line yesterday afternoon, I followed the signs directing the flow of curious people from the Marie-Antoinette Salon, where Marie-Antoinette took piano lessons, to the Presidential Suite, the Leonard Bernstein Suite and back down five flights of stairs to Les Ambassadeurs restaurant. In between, I admired the spectacular view of the Place de la Concorde and imagined what it would have been like to have spent a couple of nights in this palatial hotel, like Madonna, President Bill Clinton and Michael Jackson did in the past. The elderly French people around me must have had other "guests" on their minds because I overheard several references to the German forces, who occupied the hotel during World War II, and to General Eisenhower, who moved the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces into the Hôtel de Crillon until 1945.

Having worked up a thirst while admiring the fine wines for sale, I ordered a glass of champagne (half of all the proceeds go to the Foyer de la Madeleine) in the Cesar Bar and asked the barman what he will do while the hotel is transformed to include a swimming pool, a spa and larger rooms. Carefully considering the tulip shaped champagne flute in his hand, he explained that he'll be on stand-by until asked to return. The hotel, which was recently purchased by a member of the Saudi royal family, may also ask him to do a short assignment at one of their other properties. Curious to know what my French companions thought of the hotel being owned by a foreigner, I asked the woman seated next to me. As Parisians are pragmatists, her response wasn't surprising: "Given the poor economic situation, it doesn't matter who owns the hotel as long as it provides jobs in France." The Hôtel de Crillon plans to re-open in 2015 with 125 instead of 147 rooms.

Hôtel de Crillon
10 Place de la Concorde
75008 Paris

Please click here to view more photos of some of the items for sale and click here to view the complete Buyers Guide for the auction. It's possible to place bids online. Prior to the auction, people are invited to view the objects at the Hôtel de Crillon from 10 am until 8 pm, April 12-16, 2013.

View of the Place de la Concorde from the Presidential Suite at the Hôtel de Crillon. 

Friday, April 12, 2013

Get off the bus! - "Quilt Art" at the Mona Bismarck American Center in Paris

Baltimore Album Quilt (Circa 1847). ©American Museum in Britain

"America is not like a blanket - one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same size. America is more like a quilt - many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes all woven and held together by a common thread ... " -- Jesse Jackson (The Rainbow Coalition Speech)

Bus 72 is my bus. On its way into town, it passes the Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries Garden and the Louvre before reaching its terminus at the Hôtel de Ville. It also passes the Mona Bismarck American Center, located in a discrete Parisian townhouse on the bustling avenue de New York. Being an American in Paris, it would seem rather logical that I would have felt compelled to venture inside. But day after day, month after month, year after year, I kept riding the bus to and from town without stopping. When I noticed a brightly colored banner proclaiming "Quilt Art: February 13 - May 19", I told myself that I should make an effort to go to the exhibition. After all, I had read rave reviews about it in the newspapers. But I doubted that it would happen because I had also instructed myself to go to the exceptional Mary Cassatt exhibition before it ended in January.

Riding the empty bus home on Wednesday afternoon, I rather inexplicably found myself pushing the red "stop" button as we approached the Mona Bismarck American Center. Perhaps it's because I had been thinking about my paternal grandmother's quilts, the ones that are lovingly stored in a large wooden trunk in Annapolis, or perhaps it's because I was searching for a reason to avoid going home to the piles of post-vacation laundry. Whatever the reason, I'm thankful that I finally got off the bus.

Lafayette Orange Peel Quilt (1830-75). ©American Museum in Britain.

Not only are the 25 quilts on display a metaphor for the United States, they also provide unique links with American history – the Civil War, life on the frontier, relationships with Native Americans, Amish traditions and Hawaii. As a fan of the Marquis de Lafayette, the French aristocrat who fought in the Continental Army under George Washington during the American Revolution, I spent quite a bit of time admiring the intricate stitching and design of the "Lafayette Orange Peel Quilt". According to popular myth, when Lafayette quartered his orange before eating it at a celebratory banquet in Philadelphia, one of the female guests was so enraptured that she took his orange peel segments home and designed a quilt block with them.

In addition to exhibitions, such as "Quilt Art" and the upcoming "Little Black Dress", the Mona Bismarck American Center also hosts musical and theatrical performances, seminars, workshops,  artistic demonstrations and educational programs, like art classes in English. The recently opened Mona Café, with a view of the beautiful private garden, is a quiet spot where visitors can sample American treats.

Mona Bismarck American Center
34, avenue de New York 75116 Paris
Tel: 01 47 23 38 88

Just as quilts are made from scraps of fabric, family lore is created from snippets of stories passed down from one generation to the next. For as long as I can remember, I've always thought that my grandmother had stitched the quilts that I inherited. Wanting to learn more about them after seeing the "Quilt Art" exhibition, I flipped through a book that my aunt had written about our family only to discover that our quilts were purchased at the annual Thanksgiving Day bazaar at the Lutheran Church!

... Afterwards, a bazaar was held and handicraft that the women's aid society donated were auctioned to the people in attendance. Gorgeous handstitched quilts were their speciality and they would sell from fifty to well over a hundred dollars*. As we could always use an extra quilt at our house, Dad would bid on the one he and Mother thought the most beautiful. Usually, he would have a lot of competition ... but usually he would secure the quilt he wanted regardless of what he had to pay for it. He thought of it as a contribution to the church, which it was, but it was also a status symbol in our town to be a "big buyer" at any of the church bazaars ...

*As my grandfather was born in 1888, I would imagine that this was the price of handstitched quilts in approximately 1918.

A fascinating piece of social history, the Redwork Quilt Top (after 1881) juxtaposes domestic scenes with those of a military and patriotic nature, including a portrait of George Washington. ©American Museum in Britain

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

If I lived in Boston ... I would be a member of the French Cultural Center

When you visit a city, do you find yourself imagining what it would be like to live there? It's what I do whenever I'm in Boston. I daydream about early morning breakfasts of pancakes smothered with maple syrup and eggs nestled next to strips of crispy bacon at Trident Booksellers and Cafe. I'd sit on a barstool at the counter and my meal would magically appear. The eggs would be sunny side up because the waitress knows that's exactly how I like them. We would chat about the latest happenings on Newbury Street and local politics while she refills my mug with steaming hot coffee. Other customers would chime in with a joke or a contentious comment because Bostonians relish lively discussions. My days would be full of museum visits, shopping at the nearby farmers' market and auditing courses at the local universities. Just as the sun starts to set, I would stroll through the Boston Common to listen to the soulful songs of the street musicians.

When I feel homesick for Paris, I would go to Boston's thriving French Cultural Center. Visitors are assured of a welcoming "Bonjour!" as soon as they step through the front door of the stately Victorian mansion. After practicing my French with the receptionist, I would settle into a leather chair underneath the bust of Marianne, the national emblem of France, to catch up on the current news in Le Figaro or the witty political satire in Le Canard enchaîné. Afterwards, I would wander upstairs to the largest private French library in New England to peruse the stacks laden with fiction and non-fiction books. If it was a rainy day and I needed something to pass the time indoors, I would check out some of the latest French movies or CDs.

The children's collection of French books.

Musings about my imaginary life in Boston intensified after "liking" the French Cultural Center's Facebook page last year. Scrolling through my newsfeed, I'll find myself getting excited about an upcoming event, such as Le Bal de Saint Germain des Prés or the French Wine Scholar Program, only to be disappointed when I realize that it's happening in Boston and not Paris. Perhaps one of these years, I'll join the thousands of other Francophiles who gather on Marlborough Street on July 14 for a huge block party that is reputed to be one of the largest Bastille Day celebrations in the United States. With live music, dancing in the street, food and wine, it's the ideal way to exalt liberty, equality and fraternity.

If I lived in Boston ... I would definitely be a member of the French Cultural Center. Many thanks to my friend Carolyn for first taking me there in August 2012 and to Stefanie, one of the receptionists, for answering my questions about the center during my last visit.

French Cultural Center and Alliance Française
53 Marlborough St.
Boston, Massachusetts

With branches in the USA and 137 countries around the world, there's a good chance that there's an an Alliance Française near you. Please click here for additional information.

The kitchen where Julia Child taught cooking classes for members of the French Cultural Society. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Propelled back into the blogosphere by Cara Black's "Murder Below Montparnasse"

One of the best things about being a blogger is that I can set my own hours and work whenever the mood strikes me. One of the worst things about being a blogger is that my boss is with me 24/7, which explains why I was called in for a conference about my disappearance from the blogosphere at 2:00 am this morning. Even though I wasn't fully awake at the time, I'm fairly sure that our discussion went something like this:

Boss (shaking her head with disappointment): What has happened to you? You haven't posted in days ... or is it weeks?
MK (rubbing the sleep from my eyes): I told you that I was going to take a break. Go on vacation. Disconnect from social media. Spend time - really spend time - with my family. Be present in the moment. Do all of the stuff that's important for maintaining relationships.
Boss: I know but I really didn't believe it when you said that you were going to take a break. I mean, no one goes cold turkey from blogging, Twitter and Facebook. In this day and age, it's virtually impossible. What with your children tweeting and blogging, I was sure that your resolve would crumble like a chocolate chip cookie. The temptation is just too great. Plus, you visited all kinds of interesting places in Boston, Texas and New York. You'd be lying if you say that you didn't have the slightest urge to write about your first real visit to NYC or the tangy beef BBQ that you devoured in Texas.
MK (momentarily distracted by the memory of the beef BBQ): How about if I start blogging when I get back to Paris on Sunday morning? That makes sense. After all, I don't think I'll have time to write a post before leaving Annapolis because I've got a lot of other work to do. Stuff that really needs to be taken care of. And there's happy hour at the Chart House tonight. I don't want to miss that.
Boss: Get some sleep. We can talk about it tomorrow.

Now, I don't know if it was serendipity, kismet or if my wily boss pulled a fast one on me, but I couldn't keep my trembling fingers away from my laptop after being inexplicably drawn to the Annapolis Bookstore this morning and discovering that Cara Black, the author of Murder Below Montparnasse, will be there at 6:30 pm tomorrow evening. Suddenly, I had a mission that couldn't be postponed. I tweeted about it, posted the information on Facebook and found myself feverishly writing this blog post. I sure hope that my boss is happy and let's me sleep tonight!

Be sure to check author Cara Black's website for additional information about her national tour of the USA. If you attend one of the events, you can enter the sweepstakes for a trip to Paris with the author, "Killer Trip to Paris with Cara Black", in October 2013. Good luck!