Sunday, May 31, 2009

Running up that hill

Here’s a part of Paris you’ve probably never seen.

I shook off my quasi-hangover and/or stubbornly ignored the cold that has been threatening me for days and spent yesterday out in the beautiful weather.

I walked around Saint-Germain where—success!—I found a great bathing suit for my rendez-vous with Melody on the Cote d’Azur this weekend. Then I daydreamed in front of the windows of a few select patisseries (I’m telling you, I’m going to keep shopping for bathing suits because it seems to be the only thing that convinces me I don’t need to sample another warm buttery croissant or raspberry gateau).

It was only mid-day and I was enjoying the rare luxury of having no itinerary or pressing errands that needed tending (I do need balsamic vinegar, but that’s something that should be a joy to discover here in France, not a must-do-today item on the checklist). So I hopped on a Velib and started biking towards Canal Saint-Martin, over the glorious Seine and through the small streets of the Marais. En route, it occurred to me that I should head up to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. JP and Kyoko and Michael have all recently mentioned it. On such a pretty day, it made perfect sense.

The park is so un-Paris-like. It’s super hilly and on the verge of wild. Where else in this city do you see trees and hedges that haven't been touched by shears or shaping machines, much less the grass uncut?

The hills are enormous and offer gorgeous views.

The people, like the park, are a little more free-spirited and diverse.

Content with seeing this new part of the city, I walked down the hill through Belleville, a different route than the last time I was there.

I stumbled upon a graffiti artist adding color to the neighborhood.

A cute graffiti artist.

Lots of color.

Not your typical slice of Paris. But becoming so more each day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chocolate crémeux

Everyone who knows me knows how much I adored my old Creative Directors. I also knew and worked with Bruce’s wife, but never really knew her until she was in town these past few days for work. Now I adore her, too.

We had two fun nights of non-stop conversation and total French consumption: bottles of wine, overflowing bread baskets, filled-to-the-gills dinners. Last night, at Les Cotelettes, in addition to having the most delicious asparagus that has ever been sown, we ate chocolate crémeux for dessert.

Chocolate crémeux—qu’est-ce que c’est?? It was otherworldly. There was something in there that made it really special, but we couldn’t figure it out. Both the flavor and texture were light and fluffy, but also really rich and distinct. Was it mascarpone? Soy milk? Condensed milk? Chai tea? We asked the proprietor, but he was mum.

I Googled a few recipes, and some include star anise or coffee bean; all use egg yolks, heavy cream and sugar (naturally). One ingredient that came up a few times is gelatin. I’m thinking it could have been that. Or maybe it’s just best to leave it to that French je ne sais quoi.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Mad about Louis?

What is happening to me?? I went to LV today—I had to do some recon for work—and found myself pawing the merchandise. I’ve never even liked their stuff. Now I’m contemplating laying down the cash for a monogram bag. Maybe even the multicolored monogram. Dear god, help me!

Weather check: all over the place

The weather in Paris is like grandpa’s driving: likely to give you whiplash.

Sunday night, when I got home from Biarritz, it was so hot that I could barely sleep. Which lead to a dramatic lightening storm Monday night that cooled everything down.

By mid-week, it was downright chilly, and I had to scarf-up again.

This morning: glorious. A pitch-perfect sunny day. Except the fog and clouds have rolled in over the past two hours.

Square trees

Aesthetics are important in Paris.

And I love the Parisians' devotion to making things look just so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Good people

I really love my colleagues. They’re such a sweet, goofy bunch.

The little things I love

• That there’s enough to say about fashion and beauty for Elle to come out weekly.
• The rooftops and chimneys—so distinctly Parisian.
• The way the scooter drivers tuck their mobiles into their helmets so they can talk while they drive. Mais, tres dangereux!
• The varieties of honeys and jams.
• How you can find utter silence in the middle of the city.

Rue Saint-Denis

When I moved into my apartment, I was a bit chagrined to realize that I’m right around the corner from rue Saint-Denis. Many people know this street, if not intimately, then by name and reputation. It’s where many sex shops, peep shows and prostitutes can be found.

But it was only this past week, when I walked north on rue Saint-Denis to find the less expensive produce market that my landlord told me about, that I really understood how relatively clean and modest my part of the street is. About two blocks north, middle-aged women with clownish makeup, plunging necklines and impossible haute talons leaned in doorways, looking both bored and hopeful. Wow. Middle-aged hookers a plenty! I was shocked.

But on my return from the market, the shock turned to awe.

There, I saw the largest fake breasts I’ve ever seen in my life. They were unfathomably large. Like, basketball-sized. Seriously. Of course my awe (and shameless staring) was mixed with sadness as this woman was old and had done so much cosmetic surgery to her face that she looked deformed. But still, I could not get over those breasts. How does your skin even stretch that much? How do you put on your shoes? In what position do you sleep? Can you zip up your jacket?

Beneath the surface

I am thankfully swinging back to the other side of happy.

The past couple of weeks have been tough—nothing crazy, but it can be hard here. Why did I leave my friends, apartment and life in New York? Is the struggle to learn a new language, within a new culture, worth it? How can it be that I have fewer friends and am doing less freelance, and yet am always gasping for air?

I knew these feelings would be inevitable when I planned to come over. But still. It’s no fun feeling lonely and lovelorn, being tired from work and studying French, and not being able to figure out how to hook up a tv, how to pick the right milk out at the grocery store, or how to make someone from HR return your messages.

But thankfully this city still makes me laugh out loud. Each morning when I pedal into the Place de la Concorde on my way to work, I am shocked and elated by the grandeur: the giant plaza with the gold-tipped monument and all the cars buzzing around it; the trees rimming the Tuileries Gardens to my left; the magnificent dome of Les Invalides in the distance and, there, further still, peeking over the sculpted trees, the Eiffel Tower. All of these things, in one place, so massive, so gorgeous, so exciting and storybookish.

And that is when I laugh and feel good and know I’m getting to that happy place again.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

Milo stood guard, protecting our valuables with his life.

Biarritz in photos

La Grande Plage before it’s crowded; surfers like sharks cruising the coastline.

My view of the Port Vieux from Le Caritz’s terrace.

That little footbridge was built by Gustave Eiffel.

I like the way these nautical accoutrements look like jewelry.

This is in the fisherman’s village, seen from above, here:


Dreamy architecture everywhere.

Windy little paths and streets—so fun and charming.

And the sweets. Chocolates…

...and cakes.

Les enfants

It might just be me, but it seems like the French have the cutest kids per capita.

A weekend at the beach

Salty sea air. Fresh fish for dinner. Smutty reading on the train... It was a great weekend in Biarritz.

This adorable town is not even 15 miles from the border of Spain, in Basque territory. If I had had more time, I would have ventured over, but with only two days, I wanted to absorb what was there—that is, great beaches, shopping, vistas and, bien sur, food.

The coastline is very ragged with gorgeously sculpted bluffs. The main beach, La Grande Plage could be likened to the Jersey Shore: tons of families and teens, the sand covered in sunbathers and excitable swimmers… but I guess you don’t see topless 70-year-old women or moms changing in front of you in Jersey.

Further south, the Plage du Port is a little protected cove, over which I looked during lunch on the terrace of Le Caritz.

And further south still is la Plage de la Cote des Basques. This was the coolest beach as this is where all the surfers were and, in fact, is where they shot the film “The Sun Also Rises.” On Saturday morning, I stopped at the town’s incredible marché—another French orgy of bread, cheese, pastries, fruit, vegetables, wine, meats, you name it—to bring a beautiful hunk of pain aux cereals (fresh, dense multigrain bread), brebis (the region’s specialty, sheep’s milk cheese) and strawberries (so sweet) with me to the beach where I watched—tres jalouse—the surfers.

There’s a footpath connecting all of these beaches, which, as you would expect of a seaside town, has incredible views of the ocean. There are also many staircases and side streets that are great for exploring. I made good use of them, revisiting the twists, turns, ups and downs again and again. It’s a hilly town, and the architecture (grand stone villas with terra cotta tile roofs) and foliage (tamarisk trees and hydrangea bushes) were my favorite parts.

And, unbeknownst to me (I swear!), the Basque region played a significant part in the history of chocolate, so they have a chocolate museum. Of course I went. It was sort of like being an elementary student getting schooled in chocolate production, but it was fun to see the vintage machines, tools, advertising and packaging for my favorite thing in the world (besides Milo, of course). It set me up to visit the town’s five chocolatiers—but I only bought bonbons from one of them.

I did, however, sample a couple of the other regional sweets: the gateau Basque and pate d’amandes. The gateau Basque actually comes in two varieties: one, a drier circular shortbread cake filled with cherry preserves. The other is a square slice of shortbread pastry that sandwiches a lemony custard filling. Both were good; neither was earth moving.

And the pate d’amandes came in an infinite number of flavors: raspberry, pistachio, lemon, pine nut, chocolate… sometimes it was sliced and packaged like a chocolate bar, sometimes smaller bite-sized pieces were rolled in sugar and sold like a bag of suckers. It was delicious both ways.

Let’s see… what else… beautiful weather, friendly people, a cute hotel, fresh food, crooked streets and breathtaking hillsides for exploring. It was pretty perfect.

Next time, though, I want to catch a game of pelote, indulge in a thalassotherapy spa session, dine at the Grand Palais, and maybe meet one of those surfer boys.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Les vitrines

There must be an unofficial (or maybe it's tres official) competition among window designers here in Paris because they are like little theater pieces.


Hugo Boss:


And, sadly, I can't remember who this one was, but I liked the parrot heads:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A valuable tip from Jerome

I think if I start singing, I will be better understood.

"The Hankster"

I don’t think it’s on quite the same “spectacularly bad” level as Australia, but Angels and Demons is, as expected, pretty much the shits.

The only reason I went was because a) I haven’t been to the movies in three months and b) Melissa wanted to go. So, pourquoi pas? It was fun to have a girly date, and we laughed at the absurdity the whole way through. Plus, the snacks, wine and conversation afterwards on rue Montorgueil made it more than worth it.

Lost in Translation

In my attempt to change it up yesterday, I went to one of these “garden of fruit” type restaurants that offers smoothies (big in Paris right now), salads and lo-cal plates. It looked fresh and interesting and was exactly the food I’ve been craving.

But leave it up to me and my paltry French language skills to botch it up. I thought I ordered a nice big salad, topped with smoked salmon. Light, healthy dee-lish.

Somehow I managed to order a salmon and egg club sandwich with fries.

French phrase of the day: Des pépites artistiques

Def: artistic gems

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Discoveries near the office

As much as I love my lunch break at Cojean, where I eat pressed veggie sandwiches and “read” French Elle, it’s good to change it up. With the weather getting nicer, and the menu getting predictable, I figured I should wander in a new direction.

So what did my exploring eyes discover? That there are Patrick Roger and Neuhaus chocolatiers very close to the office. Oh la la.

And what did I discover as I wandered just a little further yet? La Maison du Chocolat and Marriages Freres. Oh la la la laaaaa.

A few summer fashion trends

• Jumpers. Definitely one of those choices that I’ll look back on in a few years—hell, who am I kidding, a few months—and wonder, “What was I thinking??” But I’m going for it.

• Plaid. Not grunge flannel plaid, but cute countrygirl plaid.

• Jellies. The shoes, but then I also saw those plastic shopping bags from the 80s this past weekend that sent me on a crazy trip down memory lane.

• Ballerinas. The brighter the color, the better.

• For that matter, color. Anything emerald green, royal blue or juicy purple.

Little things I love

Florists in the rain:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Thank god for the weekends

And thank god for the sun. This morning I woke up to blue skies for the first time in 10 days. It really makes a difference.

That, and a weekend that was everything I needed: equal parts recharging at home and enjoying the city.

It started with a jog on Saturday morning. Actually, the jog was thwarted by a trip to H&M to try on bathing suits. This was not good for two reasons. 1) I was supposed to be exercising. I can’t really afford to skip a workout right now. And 2) ugh, trying on bathing suits?! Is there anything crueler? It wasn’t exactly a boost for my body image.

But it was good because I need a new suit for my two upcoming beach holidays and I’ve been putting off shopping for one. Even though I didn’t find a winner, I tried. Plus, it altered my morning in a positive way, setting me down the path of unexpected explorations and healthy eating.

In addition to Shakespeare and Company, I discovered the original Eric Kayser in the fifth arrondisement—but I only went in to inhale. Owning to my pledge to a weekend of healthy eating, I didn’t purchase anything. Ditto at the most adorable patisserie on the Ile Saint-Louis with the most beautiful rows of the most beautiful cakes in the window, and ditto at the boulangerie with the most delicious looking focaccia that I’ve laid eyes on in France. But I did go to the farmer’s market, where I bought all kinds of salad fixings. (Oh, how nice it is to eat a tomato with actual flavor!)

Then it was onto my hair appointment. Needless to say, I was anxious about this, my first haircut in Paris. What if I couldn’t communicate with my stylist? What if I walked out with lopsided bangs, nicked ears or an afro? Unwarranted nerves, they were—the salon and stylist were great. And the salon has a sister spa right across the street so I had my brows shaped to boot.

Feeling a un peu plus jolie, despite the intermittent rain showers (10 days straight, I tell you!), I journeyed over to the 10th and 11th arrondisements for no other reason than to explore and then back to the Marais, where I finally visited the coolest new store in town, Merci. A combination of Corso Como, Barneys and a Paris flea market, it’s lofty space chockablock with clothes, books, art, housewares, furniture and flowers—simultaneously inspiring because everything is so cool and depressing because you can’t have a nice big loft like that to live in.

After a little more wandering, my feet were hurting so I hopped on a Velib to the eighth arrondisement. Saturday night was La Nuit des Musées, where all the museums are free and open until midnight. It was about 7 when I pedaled up the Grand Palais for the Andy Warhol exhibit—and about 7:01 when I turned around after seeing the crazy line to get in. I just wasn’t going to do it.

But I stuck it out in line at L’Orangerie. When the girls were in town, we went here and discovered the most amazing artist: Didier Paquignon. He was definitely worth waiting in line for 45 minutes. Sated with activity, art and salad, I went home, read and slept for over nine hours. Yesss!

Sunday involved beaucoup studying, which included a great two-hour conversational session with Let Them Talk, a conversational group I found on craigslist. We met at a nearby café, and I was in a group that consisted of another American, an East Indian, an Australian and a Parisian who moderated. It was the perfect level for me - I understood about 85% - and it was really nice to speak French in a relaxed setting and to laugh and commiserate about how freakin’ frustrating it can be living in a foreign country.

And the perfect finale to the weekend? I managed to find a little memory on my laptop to download a new season of Top Chef. Now that is living.

Shakespeare and Company

Um, duh.

I’m a big reader. A big lover of the Beats and the Lost Generation. And I’ve passed by the famed Shakespeare & Co a gazillian times. So how is it that this past Saturday was the first time I ever went inside?

This is more than a bookstore. It’s a cultural icon and institution. It’s welcoming and quirky, crooked and grand, musty and inspiring. It’s loaded with new and used books and the epicenter for Anglophone readers and writers in the city. I’m so happy I finally visited.

I resisted buying any books since I have a good dozen at home that I still have to read. But I know I will go back and I know it will lift my spirits then the same way it did this weekend.

French phrase of the day: Manger des mots

Literal def: Eating words

This is the cute little expression that describes how the French shorten all their words: “Bon app” instead of “Bon appetit”; “resto” instead of “restaurant.” It’s an endearing practice but difficult for foreigners who have to learn even more words and phrases.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The French and their food

There are all kinds of fairs and festivals in Paris this weekend from art open galleries in Bercy Village as well as the free museum night across the city) to sustainable luxury (at the Palais de Tokyo). Of course, this being France, there are also festivals about food. I went to two.

When I went to the Prefecture to collect my Carte de Sejour (my resident’s permit. My god, I am officially a resident of Paris.), I took the opportunity to stop by the Fete du Pain, which is a four-day festival outside Notre Dame.

Maybe they have fairs like this in the Midwest, where farmers share their trade and try to generate enthusiasm with younger generations and I just never saw it because I lived on the coast. But here, hordes of schoolchildren are bused in to see how bread is made. The French are so proud of their culture and traditions.

Those big industrial ovens are almost exciting as tractors if you ask me.

I also went to the Salon Saveurs des Plaisirs Gourmands, which is basically a fancy food fair that takes place twice a year. There was tons of olive oil and jam, wine and champagne, ham and cheese, foie gras and chocolate. It was a dazzling exhibition of good food.

Although I don’t eat red meat, I can appreciate the sight of a roasted pig being sliced up.

The spices smelled amazing. So did the stands with tea and whole vanilla pods.

I enjoyed a fair amount of cheese samples, but am kicking myself for not buying some of this luscious looking marzipan.

I did bring some a little cheese and some fleur de sel, and I got ripped off by the dried fruit vendor. When I saw the gorgeous dried pineapple and apple, I couldn't resist an evening snack. I asked for two slices of pineapple and a handful of apple pieces. At my local shop, this would cost about 2 euros. There, it cost 6. I hate getting ripped off.

Le jogging

Yes, that's really how the French say "jogging" — just put a "le" in front of it.

I'm committed to burning off some of those chocolates by jogging through the Tuileries this morning. Right now, I'm procrastinating.

The Left Bank

Young women who write seldom have much sense of moderation (neither have old women, for that matter).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Meet Denise Acabo

Inviting you to chocolate heaven.

My goal is to become at least fluent enough to read this web site. Maybe this weekend I will buy the print edition and start studying it.

French phrase of the day: Une chasse au trésor

Def: treasure hunt

Everything just sounds cooler in French.

Important to know

I was reading Richard’s (great) new feature in which local writers share a favorite Parisian place, person or thing when I stumbled upon this very important French law:

You can only advertise your bakery as a “boulangerie” if the baking is done on the premises.

I just love how seriously the French take their baking.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


When Michael and I road-tripped to the Loire Valley, we both forgot CDs and were stuck with hours and hours of Parisian radio. It is shockingly bad. Most stations don’t have live DJs, but rather set a playlist on an infinite loop. Some songs, we heard probably seven or eight times, which was sometimes maddening.

But on the flip side, some of these stations are so quirky that they surprise you with songs you haven’t thought of, much less listened to, in eons. And the compilation of songs is crazy. For example, listening to the radio tonight, I’ve I heard:

• Woody Allen spoken word
• The Trial, Pink Floyd
• From This Moment On, Sarah Vaughan
• Come to the Cabaret, Liza Minelli
• Austin Powers theme song

Yeah, baby!

A plum

I just ate a tart but sweet plum while standing on the balcony overlooking the Champs-Elysée.

Life is funny, isn’t it?

Weather check: il pleut et il pleut

There’s something nice about a thunderstorm. Everyone stops to stare out the window and makes pleasantries about the weather. It’s an imposed break from the grind, and an automatic camaraderie fills the air. A girl can dream during a thunderstorm.

Unfortunately, it’s rained a little bit every day since Saturday and the forecast is the same through this Saturday. It’s not exactly magic for the spirits.

If the fish doesn’t get you, the monkeys will

My energy and spirits have been low lately. This video made me laugh.

JP sent it to me. In addition to picking up a vicious bacteria from the raw fish he ate while in Japan with Kyoko, he was attacked by a troop of monkeys—the same kind seen waterskiing here. I was very happy to see him alive last night.

French phrase of the day: Tu m'épates

Def: You amaze me.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Loire Valley road trip

Michael and I planned a trip to the Loire Valley, which was this past weekend. I use the term “planned” loosely. We picked a weekend, found a hotel, rented a car and agreed on Friday night to leave Saturday morning at 9. That was as far as our preparations went. Luckily, this was a non-issue except that we both forgot to bring CDs for the car. And a map.

Chartres was our first stop. We strolled through the famed gothic Cathedral (read all about its interesting history here), but it was the town market that wowed me.

I just can’t get enough of the beautiful fruits, vegetables, cheeses and honey around here.

We then stopped at this chateau, but it was closed.

The French don’t kid around. They just close from 1 to 2 for lunch. It was 1:15 when we arrived and we weren’t inclined to wait 45 minutes so we missed out on that one.

Next, a pit-stop in the largish town of Blois, where we grabbed sandwiches, saw the exterior of the huge and impressive Blois Chateau and, most importantly, went to the office of tourism where we got a map of the area and some tips on which chateaux were must-sees. Finally, we were armed with info and a game plan.

By late afternoon, we made it to our first chateau: Chambord. Spectacular in its scale and history.

I liked this hall filled with antlers of deer, which were all apparently taken down by a woman. But it’s a systematic hunting thing where she was removing the old and deformed so the strong could procreate and thrive.

The sun peeped through for about seven minutes in the afternoon.

It’s too bad: the estate covers about the same area as Paris and it would have been nice to walk through some of the 5440 hectares.

My favorite chateau of the weekend was our hotel: Chateau de Reignac. It was so gorgeous and cute—if a sprawling historic chateau can be called cute.

This was the view from our room, way up “under the roof” as the owner put it (Michael and I shared a room, but it was a buddy-trip, no romancin’).

The grounds were lovely and the rooms were giant but warm and comfortable. Before a solid dinner at the chateau’s subterranean restaurant, we enjoyed Vouvray in the drawing room. The owner told us this sparkling wine, which we loved, could be found cheap at the caveaux in the town of Vouvray. So we made the town a priority on our itinerary the next day, but in the end, we couldn’t find the same vintage we drank at the hotel.

But, we did see another grand chateau: Chenonceau.

This photo doesn’t do it justice. That back part of it is built across a river. It was actually quite spectacular.

But these places are sort of crazy: Throngs of people, like Disney World.

Other highlights of the trip included lunch at an old-timey “restaurant de poissons” in the town of Tour called La Chope and another pit-stop in the evening in the city of Orleans. Apparently we just missed the finale of the town’s Joan of Arc festival, but we did see a bunch of Frenchies dressed up in Renaissance Fair-like garb, grunting and dancing.