Monday, July 29, 2013

"The mechanics of underwear, an indiscreet story of the silhouette" - a "naughty" exhibition at Les Arts Décoratif

Peeking under a lady's crinoline, the entrance to the exhibition.

Who can forget the scene in "Gone with the Wind" when Scarlett O'Hara clutches the four-poster bed while Mamie tugs on the laces of her corset to cinch Scarlett's waist to a minuscule 17 inches (43 cm)? As Scarlett cries out in pain, Mamie scolds, "Just hold on and suck in." Mamie's determined to help Scarlett achieve her goal of being the most fashionably dressed young woman at the Wilke's barbecue, even if Scarlett has to suffer some pain in the process.

In a fascinating new exhibition, Les Arts Décoratif explores the underworld of female and male undergarments and the devices that were used to model the body to meet the demands of fashion. Starting with the 14th century, we peek under ladies' dresses to discover what artifices were used to give them wasp-like waists and uplifted bosoms. For the first time, some 200 stays, panniers, crinolines, bustles, corsets, waist cinchers, girdles and push-ups give have been assembled to provide fascinating insights into fashion's iron rule over our soft bodies.

Lest you mistakenly think that men are immune to shaping their bodies, you'll probably be as astonished as my friend Carolyn and I were to discover that the nobility enhanced their virility by padding their calves and their very remarkable codpieces to simulate erections. There's even a shiny suit of armor with a noticeable protuberance.

The exhibition is scandalous, yet fun! Much to the delight of all the women and girls who've ever wondered what it's like to flounce around in a crinoline, there's a dress-up space with bustles, push-up bras and ruffs. Imagine the comments when one brave Frenchman ventured among the women to strap on a codpiece. In an effort to keep this blog family friendly, I posted the photo that he nobly allowed me take on Facebook rather than here.

"The mechanics of underwear, an indiscreet story of the silhouette" is at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs until November 24, 2013. Don't miss this titillating exhibition!

Musée des Arts Décoratifs
107, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris
Open every day except Mondays from 11 am until 6pm (9 pm on Thursdays)
Admission: 9.50€ / 8€

The dressing room - the only part of the exhibition where it's permitted to take photos.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Ordering Wine in French with the help of Thierry Givone of "Wine Tasting in Paris"

Voulez-vous un verre de vin blanc, rouge ou rosé? (Would you like a glass of white, red or rose wine?)

To make it easier to respond to that question, I asked Thierry Givonne of Wine Tasting in Paris if he would help me make a video with some of the key French words that people may encounter when ordering a glass of wine in Paris. 

Fortunately, he agreed! Here's the result:

Filmed at Le Bistrot du Peintre, a charming Art Nouveau bistrot in the 11th arrondissement. 

I met Thierry, who is originally from Burgundy, a couple of weeks ago when I attended one of his test sessions for a wine tasting class that "Wine Tasting in Paris" will start offering in September. "Introduction to French Wines" will include a sampling of wines from five different regions of France: Champagne, the Loire Valley, Burgundy, Bordeaux and Côtes du Rhône.

Life doesn't get much better than when you're sipping a glass of wine on the terrace of a Parisian café and watching the world go by.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Getting the inside scoop on Paris from Élodie Berta of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau

For the past 28 months, I've been devoting most of my waking moments to learning about Paris. I walk her streets, unearth her secrets, study her moods and talk with her residents. And like most serious students who are keen to learn more about their chosen topic, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with someone who's an expert in my field of research.

Élodie Berta: Leisure marketing travel industry relations and ParisNews editor, Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau

Can you tell me a little bit about the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau?
It was created by the Paris City Council and Paris Chamber of Commerce and Industry as a non-profit making association in 1971. Our three missions, which we never forget, are to welcome, inform and promote. This means that we welcome and provide visitors with information; promote the capital’s attractions, in France and abroad; and provide assistance to Paris tourism professionals.

What advice would you give to a first time visitor to Paris?
Take a look at our website! It can be a little bit hard to navigate because there's so much information, but you'll find suggestions for places to stay, information about all of the museums and monuments, guided tours, as well as itineraries for visiting Paris.

I would also suggest that people plan what they would like to do and book their activities in advance. It will save them from having to stand in long lines during their vacation. At no additional charge, they can book museum passes, metro passes, river cruises, cabarets and tours on our website. We'll have everything ready for them when they arrive in Paris. All they'll need to do is pick it up from the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. It's very easy. For an extra charge, we can have a package with all of their tickets delivered to their hotel in Paris or have it shipped to their home address via Federal Express.

If someone hasn't had time to do much advance planning, what should they do when they arrive in Paris?
Stop by one of our six tourist information centers and pick up a free map. It's the first thing that I always do when I go on vacation! The reception team will be able to answer your questions and to tell you about current exhibitions and festivals. But since we get many visitors, it helps if you think of which questions you would like to ask in advance. We also have a lots of free brochures, like the "Paris Shopping Book", "Paris Gourmand Good Food Guide" and "Paris for You!" [a walking guide for discovering Paris].

But please don't wait until you have a problem to visit us. Unfortunately, some visitors only come to our office when the weather is bad and they need suggestions for indoor activities, or if something goes wrong. Sometimes we only see people if they've gotten separated from their family or tour group. That reminds me, one of the first things that you should do when you arrive at your hotel is to make sure that everyone puts a hotel card with the address in their pocket. You would be surprised by how many people don't know where they're staying because their spouse or tour leader did all of the planning. It's important to know the address of your hotel because Paris is a big city. One time a taxi driver dropped off a woman at our office after she asked him to drive her around the city street-by-street to look for her hotel.

ParisNews, the monthly newsletter of which you're an editor, is one of my favorite sources of information about Paris. If you don't mind telling us, where do you get your information?

We receive a press review with the most important news about Paris on a daily basis. I also read the free online edition of Le Parisien and the weekly Figaroscope.

It's good to know that you like the Figaroscope. Even though I buy it every Wednesday, I've always wondered if their restaurant reviews are biased.
Oh, no. Francois Simon is the most feared food critic in France. He's completely anonymous. No one knows what he looks like so he's treated the same as you and me. If he doesn't like a place, he says it. He has a blog, Simon ~ Says !, that not only tells us about new restaurants but also about places where Simon went as a child. If the restaurant is still good and worth a visit, he tells us. If it's not, he's very honest about it. There's also an English and Japanese version of his blog.

What do you wish that more people who visit Paris would do?
Try taking the bus, even if it's only the bus line that's close to their hotel. I know it can be intimidating for visitors who aren't familiar with the system, but you're above ground and get to see the city. And a bus ticket costs the same amount as the metro. There are some very picturesque routes, like the 95, that take you past some of the most scenic sights in the city. I almost always ride the bus.

What are some of your favorite spots in the city?
(Laughing) I'm going to give you a typically Parisian answer and say that I won't tell you because I want to keep them to myself! But seriously, I always go to Le Ciel de Paris when I pick my parents up at Gare Montparnasse. If you go to the restaurant, you have the same view as you do from the terrace of the Tour Montparnasse but you don't have to pay anything. I go for a coffee either before or after lunch. It's always quiet and the view is great. And they have a bar à millefeuille with delicious savory and sweet millefeuilles.

The place with the best view of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower is The Raphael Terrace at the Hotel Raphael on Avenue Kleber. There are terraces on different levels so it's really quiet and private. There's even one of those really large chess games. But the terrace is only open in the summer [Note: advance reservations via internet are required for lunch and dinner]. Hotel Raphael also has a painting by J.M.W. Turner in the lobby.

Do you have any recommendations for visitors to Paris who think that they've seen it all?
Yes! I recently did an interesting street art tour with the non-profit organization Paris Par Rues Méconnues. They offer tours in districts of Paris where visitors rarely go.

It's obvious from your enthusiasm but I have to ask -- you love your job, don't you?
(With a big smile on her face) Of course. I get paid for knowing about what's going on in Paris. Who wouldn't love to do that?

If you would like to receive regular insider's tips about Paris, follow Élodie on Twitter and register for the monthly ParisNews. [Note: Elodie said that since it will be difficult to register for ParisNews online before September, anyone who is interested in receiving it can send her an email at Click here to see the June edition of ParisNews.

A small sample of the FREE brochures available at the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Chatting about Paris with Rudy Maxa, aka "The Savvy Traveler"

When you're an expat, you tend to fly a lot. It comes with the territory. So does trying to find the cheapest way to get from point A to point B. Enter Rudy Maxa, whose travel advice my mother quoted whenever I told her that I was getting ready to book our family's annual home leave tickets. Without fail, she would share helpful bits of information gleaned from Rudy's NPR radio program, "The Savvy Traveler". Thanks to his astute advice, we must have saved a small fortune on round-the-world flights while living in Asia and the Caribbean.

But since my mother only ever reverentially referred to Rudy as "The Savvy Traveler", I never knew his real name. At least not until early last week when I received an email from his executive producer Janet de AcevedoMacdonald asking if I would appear on "Rudy Maxa's World" to chat about Paris's new campaign to be friendlier to tourists. When I read Rudy's bio and realized that he's "The Savvy Traveler", my first thought was that there was no way that I would be able to work up to the courage to talk with my mother's travel guru. Fearful that I would stammer, stutter and make a complete fool out of myself on the most widely listened-to travel radio show in the USA, I was ready to say "thanks, but no thanks".

Yet there was one part of my brain that kept telling me that I should at least try. After all, Rudy currently lives in Minnesota, which is my mother's home state. Like me, he's a Midwesterner. We tend to be friendly people. And most importantly, my mother would have been thrilled to know that I had the opportunity to chat with her favorite travel radio show host.

Banishing Stéphane from the apartment a couple of minutes before I received the anticipated call from the show's sound engineer last Saturday evening, I reminded myself to relax. After all, my mom always enjoyed Rudy's company. I did, too!

Please click here if you would like to listen to a podcast of the radio program. The Paris section starts at 33:12.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Paris celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Tour de France

Unlike last year, when I was completely caught off guard by the cacophony of noise when the Tour de France passed under our balcony, I began plotting and planning where to watch the finish of the 2013 race shortly after it started on the French island of Corsica in June. With a mere 21 days to develop my strategy for viewing the 100th anniversary celebration of cycling's most grueling race, I vacillated between watching the riders pass through the courtyard of the Louvre for the first time in history or seeing them sprint up the Champs Elysées.

Simon Gerrans wearing the yellow jersey during Stage 6. Photo credit: Stéphane

My excitement increased when Stéphane, who works for one of the race's corporate partners, rode with the Tour's caravan during Stages 6 and 7. Suddenly, I was receiving a flurry of text messages from my husband about the incredible speeds that the riders maintain while cycling through the French countryside and over steep passes. While Stéphane's enthusiasm didn't prompt me to turn on the television and actually watch the race, I did feel compelled to learn a little bit more about the significance of the colorful jerseys. Most interestingly, the origin of the yellow jersey worn by the overall leader comes from the distinctive yellow newsprint of L'Auto, the newspaper that organized the early races. The green jersey is worn by the best sprinter, the polka dot jersey designates the best climber and the white jersey is awarded to the highest ranked rider who's 25 years old or under.

When the cyclists finally arrived in Paris after pedaling over 6 mountain, 5 hilly and 7 flat stages, they passed the cobblestone courtyard of the Louvre in a blur of color. As my friend Carolyn reported in an email, "Abigail and I were standing by a couple from Texas as the riders passed by in a flash. None of us realized it would be so quick. We got a couple of snaps but the man next to us was still focusing his camera and missed everything. Abigail and I decided it would make a good advertisement for the versatility and dependability of the iPhone. "

Knowing that the cyclists were only scheduled to ride through the courtyard of the Louvre one time, I ran towards the Tuileries Garden to catch another glimpse of them as they veered around the corner at breathtaking speeds.

Other people, like the man who came equipped with a ladder and the fans who booked rooms with balconies overlooking the at the Westin Hotel, had prime spots for watching the cyclists whiz down the rue de Rivoli.

When no one invited me to join the party on their balcony, I switched into high gear (or would that be low gear?) and hightailed it over to the Champs Elysées to catch the grand finale at the Arc de Triomphe. It was spectacular!

More photos of the laser light show on the Arc de Triomphe and the arrival of the Tour de France in Paris.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The best way to visit the Eiffel Tower - "The Eiffel Tower Romance" with Visites Spectacles

Visiting the Eiffel Tower doesn't have to be a hectic experience!

With almost 7 million visitors per year, it's not surprising that the Eiffel Tower is at the top of everyone's "must see" list when they visit Paris for the first time. Since it's also the one place where almost all of my guests ask me to take them, I've started providing family and friends with maps and detailed instructions so that they can visit Gustave Eiffel's masterpiece on their own. Don't get me wrong, I love the Eiffel Tower. It's an impressive structure. But there's a limit to how many times I'm willing to be accosted by scammers, like the petition girls, at the bottom and jostled by tourists rushing to get to the top. Over the past couple of years, the entire experience has become an unwelcome obligation rather than a pleasure.

That's why I'm pleased to announce that I've found the best way to visit the Eiffel Tower for regular folks, like me, who can't afford a private VIP tour. It all started when I met Gilles, an actor and tour guide for Visites-Spectacles, while working as an extra on a French film a couple of weeks ago. In between takes, Gilles' enthusiastic description of "The Eiffel Tower Romance" tour and his knowledge of little known facts about one of the world's most beloved monuments convinced me to visit the Eiffel Tower ... one more time.

Not surprisingly, I didn't have to wait very long for an occasion to return to the Eiffel Tower because Sara, Philippe and Sara's friend were visiting last week. When Bridget mentioned that she wanted to ascend the Eiffel Tower before flying back to Boston, I booked five spots for the Saturday morning tour with Gilles.

Gilles dressed as a French Resistance Fighter in the bunker under the Champ de Mars.

Hoping that the experience would be a success and not a waste of valuable vacation time and money, I was immediately relieved when Gilles delighted everyone in our group by swooping into sight dressed as an aviator. After introducing himself, or rather his character, he enthralled us by recounting a fictional love story interlaced with fascinating facts about the Eiffel Tower. Thanks to Visites-Spectacles' status as an official tour company for the Eiffel Tower, Gilles escorted us to places that most people never see: the former bunker where Radio France was housed underneath the Champ de Mars, the original machinery room that still operates the elevators and the roof of the Jules Verne Restaurant for a spectacular view of the city. Best of all, we weren't fighting like banshees when we left the Eiffel Tower (I've seen it happen to the most loving families!) because we had a wonderful, stress-free time.

The original machinery room fascinated Stéphane.

"The Eiffel Tower Romance" - I'm going to recommend it to all my guests as THE best way to visit the Eiffel Tower! Since the tour ends on the second floor of the Eiffel Tower, those wishing to go to the top floor will need to purchase an additional ticket once they're on the Eiffel Tower. If you have mobility issues, it's helpful to know that the 90 minute tour includes some walking and climbing steps.

Did you know that the Eiffel Tower used to be Venetian red"? And yellow? Please click here to see a photo of Gilles showing our tour group an iron beam with an archive of all the previous colors.

Visites Spectacles also offers two other guided tours in English, "The Spirit of Montmartre" and "The Riddle of the Covered Arcades". As I haven't done either of these tours, please click here to read the reviews on TripAdvisor. Please note that most of the reviews are written in French because Visites Spectacles only recently started offering tours in English.

The view of the Champ de Mars from the second floor of the Eiffel Tower. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Sunday's Picture and a Song: Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale) 2013

Liberté, égalité, fraternité.

There was a REVOLUTION of sound and explosions on the Champ de Mars last night. If you would like to relive Bastille Day (La Fête Nationale) 2013, here's the spectacular firework show in its entirety!

Please click here, if you would like to view the complete album of photos that I posted on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Minted raspberry lemonade and how to make ice cubes in Paris

Minted raspberry lemonade: my new favorite summertime drink

While there are already lots of Minted Raspberry Lemonade recipes in existence, I would like to share a super easy one that I created after spotting "Mon jus de citron" ("my lemon juice"), a new product at Picard. It's the perfect summertime drink.

Ingredients for one glass:

Raspberry Syrup (Sirop de Framboise) to taste
1-2 cubes 100% frozen lemon juice ("Mon jus de citron" from the sauce section of Picard)*
Lemon slice 
Fresh mint leaves
A couple of raspberries, fresh or frozen

Put raspberry syrup, frozen lemon juice cubes and bruised mint leaves (roll the leaves between your fingers to bruise them) in a glass. Fill the glass with cold Perrier. Garnish with a lemon slice and raspberries. You can add ice cubes if you would like but the frozen lemon juice does a wonderful job chilling the drink.

*If you don't have access to a Picard, squeeze fresh lemons and freeze the juice in cubes. Add the desired number of cubes to your drink.


How to make ice cubes in Paris (No, I'm not kidding!)

For Americans, the question of how to make ice in a country where most refrigerators don't come equipped with integrated ice makers is a serious one. In fact, it's often the first question that visitors ask during the summer months when they can't locate the ice cubes in my freezer. But the reason that they can't find them is because they're mysteriously wrapped in plastic.

If you would like to make ice in Paris, buy some "sachets glaçons" ("ice bags") from your local grocery store. They're located near the plastic wrap in my neighborhood Carrefour. Pull a bag out of the box, find the end with the funnel and fill the bag with water. Unless you want oddly shaped cubes, place the bag in a flat spot in the freezer. Wait a couple of hours. And, voilà - you've got ice!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stalking the Marquis de Lafayette

I've got a confession to make. Not only have I been stalking the beloved chef Julia Child, but I've also been hot on the trail of the Marquis de Lafayette for the past couple of years. With all of the Fourth of July celebrations last week, Lafayette once again returned to the forefront of my mind because many historians believe that the colonies would not have been able to win their struggle for independence from Britain without the fervent support of the French aristocrat.

My obsession with Lafayette dates back to a visit to Boston in June 2011 when I enquired about historical links between the United States and France at the tourist information office. After mentioning the Chevalier de Saint-Sauveur, a French nobleman who was killed during a brawl over some baguettes in 1778, the officer added that he had heard that Lafayette was buried at Picpus Cemetery in Paris in soil that was purportedly collected from Bunker Hill during the Frenchman's last trip to the United States in 1825. Unable to visit Bunker Hill and confirm the veracity of the story because we were scheduled to leave for Annapolis, I filed the information away in my brain for future reference.

The plot thickened when we traveled to Annapolis and discovered that Lafayette had already left his mark on the city.

Lafayette, who became impassioned by the American rebels' cause when he learned that they were protesting an unfair system of taxation, volunteered to serve with General Washington at his own expense. In return, the 19 year old nobleman received a commission of major general in the Continental Army. After Lafayette was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, he briefly returned to France where he worked to secure aid from his government. So insistent were his arguments that the Count de Maurepas said in the royal council: "It is fortunate for the King that Lafayette does not take it into his head to strip Versailles of its furniture to send to his dear Americans as his Majesty would be unable to refuse it."

When Lafayette returned to America in April 1780, he delivered the welcome news that King Louis XVI had agreed to send a French Expeditionary Force of 6,000 elite troops, artillery pieces, munitions, ships and money. The arrival of the French troops in July brought fresh hope. As a result of the combined efforts of the American and French forces, the British surrendered on October 19, 1781. Washington credited Lafayette's unselfish devotion to the American cause and the assistance from France for turning the tide of war towards an American victory.

Before Lafayette sailed back to France on the American ship the "Alliance", he wrote a letter to Washington that said: "Adieu, my dear General; I know your heart so well that I am sure that no distance can alter your attachment to me. With the same candour I assure that my love, respect, my gratitude for you, are above expression; that, at the moment of leaving you, I felt more than ever the strength of those friendly ties that forever bind me to you."

Paying my respects to the Frenchman who ardently supported the American Revolution has long been on my "must do" list. When I finally get around to going to Picpus Cemetery, it shouldn't be a problem finding the Marquis de Lafayette's grave because an American flag has flown over his tomb ever since an American minister placed it there six weeks after his death in 1834. Lafayette was posthumously made an honorary citizen of the United States in 2002.

Myth buster: Even though there are rumors that the Marquis de Lafayette is buried in soil gathered from the twenty four states that he visited during his final tour of the United States in 1824-25, it isn't true. Lafayette's plan was foiled when the steamship carrying the soil that he had collected sunk in the Ohio River. Lafayette had to resort to his Plan B: he's buried in soil from Bunker Hill.

What's named after Lafayette? Many streets, cities, parks, counties, townships, schools and colleges have been named after the Marquis de Lafayette, including Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and Lafayette, Louisiana. There was even a luxury automobile company named LaFayette Motors Corporation that had a cameo of the Marquis as their logo.

In a roundabout way, I think that Galeries Lafayette may also have been named in the Marquis' honor because the famous Parisian department store is located near the street that bears his name. I'm still trying to find a document that supports this idea. If you come across anything, please let me know!

A monument at honoring the French soldiers and sailors who lost their lives during the struggle for American independence at St. John's College in Annapolis, MD .

One of these days, I hope to be able to spend a night at the Château de Reignac, the former home of the Marquis de Lafayette in the Loire Valley. As it was fully booked when we were there in May 2011, I only got to take a quick peak inside.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013



I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the passing of minutes, hours and days this week. Maybe that's what happens when your husband takes you to a Mad Hatter's afternoon tea party during a birthday trip to London. Or, it could be the result of turning 50 years old. In any case, I've been contemplating the past, present and future. Am I on the right path? Is this where I want to be at this stage in my life? Should I take a sip of the magic potion from the "Drink me..." bottle?

One of the good things about having lived half of a century is that my experiences have made me somewhat wiser than I was at twenty five, at least that's what I've been telling myself. Here are five lessons that I've learned along the way, one for each decade of my life:

*Travel as much as possible when you're young and impressionable. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” - Mark Twain

*Read, especially if you can't travel. “For one who reads, there is no limit to the number of lives that may be lived, for fiction, biography, and history offer an inexhaustible number of lives in many parts of the world, in all periods of time.” - Louis L'Amour

*Be adaptable and embrace change. "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin

*Ask questions. There's no shame in not knowing something. "When you stop learning, stop listening, stop looking and asking questions, always new questions, then it is time to die." - Lillian Smith

*Be brave, even when you're no longer carefree!

While working as an extra on a mini-series for French television last Tuesday, I met an inspirational American woman who has made some significant changes in her life. From what I could glean from our all-too-short conversations in between shoots, Katrina Maxwell, an engineer with a Ph.D., stopped working as a senior research fellow at one of the world's leading graduate business schools after she turned fifty to enroll in a year long acting program. She also decided to rekindle a relationship with one of her first passions, music. Here's Carefree, a song that Katrina said she felt compelled to write after watching some video clips of her daughter when she was on the cusp of womanhood.

Please click here to visit the Facebook page for Katrina Maxwell (Singer/Songwriter).