Saturday, December 24, 2011

New York Favorites - Union Square

Union Square Greenmarket
It's not exactly "raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens," but these are a few of my favorite things in and around Union Square in New York City.
the fabulous produce at the Greenmarket

Beads of Paradise

Union Square Café

So many places, so little time!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Zut Alors!

You mean I didn't need to leave New York City?
Let me put it another way - when they start selling Parisian baguettes and Poilâne's chaussons au pommes in the subway, too, I might reconsider.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Happy Chanukah!

Chanukah starts today.  And one could find freshly made-to-order latkes (potato pancakes) in the Union Square Greenmarket today, just for the occasion.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Heading Home

How timely.  I should probably buy this magazine from its wet kiosque display and read it on the plane, just so I remember what New York looks like after months away.
"New York, The New Dream"
Actually, after a 5-hour delayed flight (not due to Parisian strikes of any kind!),  courtesy of a good old United States airline, I am finally home sweet home.  This morning, New York is bright, sunny and bracingly cold.  I look forward to re-exploring my hometown.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

'Tis the Season, Edgy Paris Version

I saw this being painted by this team of artists(?) on a wall along the Canal Saint-Martin, a neighborhood of Paris in which it appears that graffiti is prized as an art form, or a representation of individual expression, or something like that.  Anyway, it (graffiti, that is) seems to be everywhere in this quartier.

If the mural is self-explanatory, do let me know, because I have no idea.  It's a fun neighborhood (more about it in another post), so I guess I better go back there to see it finished.

Anyway, ho-ho-ho!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Windy City

"Risk of violent winds, falling branches"
Not usually the scene I'm used to here, but the wind has picked up and has been banging the French door windows in the apartment since last night.  Strong rain, too.  No, I'm not in Chicago.  There's a storm blowing through France from the ocean (Atlantic, for those of you not into geography), named Tempête Joachim that's apparently doing some real damage closer to the sea.  

Here a bit of local scenery to provide a better idea - 
These chairs are not lying down on purpose.

In fact, on my walk today, I got stuck in the Luxembourg Garden and realized there were no other people around me.  There seemed to be just one entrance open on each side of the park, and no others.  I'm not quite sure how that helps prevent anyone being hit by a flying branch, but I suppose it's Paris's way of saying, "We'll let you in the Jardin, but only if you really make an effort to find an open gate, and then it's your problem if after you've given it that much thought, you have decided to take the risk."  Kind of passive/aggressive, if you ask me.

And then there's that sign at the top, which is located at the open entrances, to make the point extra clear.  I can just see a lawyer (working with an Impressionist artist) having thought that one up.

Thursday, December 15, 2011


If you're looking for a different kind of place to sit and rest your feet in the center of Paris, to have a coffee, tea or something stronger, enjoy a dessert or more, and have a wonderful view, Kong is the place.  Typical of a Philip Stark-designed bar/restaurant, it is as much about what you see inside as what you see outside.
It was a rainy afternoon when I arrived there for tea and dessert.  The word I got was that this is the best time to beat the crowds.  True enough.
It was a calm and chic respite from the rain and traffic on the streets six floors below.  But it's quite the scene at night, I'm told. 
KONG is located just north of the Pont Neuf (pictured) and is next door to the former La Samaritaine department store.  The view of the detailing along the exterior wall alone is worth the visit (that's the yellow area along the right side of the photo).  It's also well-located to a few métro lines and stops, so that if it rains, you can finally put your umbrella away and still enjoy a view of Paris.  That's what I call having your cake and eating it, too. 

1, rue du Pont Neuf
75001 Paris

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Gothic Paris

Much like New York, I find Paris has many facets.  The historic tends to reign for the first-time tourists in their pursuit of the grand architecture, museums (many of which are housed in the most historic buildings of the city), the great gardens, the winding rues of the pre-Revolution days and the Hausmann boulevards.  

I am most surprised by all that I see that is new and alive about this city, and I will start to post more about those's just that it's impossible not to point a camera at a building like Notre Dame Cathedral.

Case in point - last Saturday night's full moon (we didn't get the eclipse, as far as I know), bright and pushing through the clouds that tried unsuccessfully to hide it.  And it made for some very Gothic-looking photographs of the Cathedral.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

La Toilette

The subject for today is toilets.  There will be no photos.


I am a bit confused (but certainly have been and shall continue to be accepting - given no choice, there is truly no need for discussion on the subject, but it is curious to this American).  Here are the, I believe, contradictory facts.  But perhaps they're not, and I just don't have the full cultural history to understand completely.

1.   Even the smallest apartment (like mine in Paris, for example), if it has its own bathroom facilities, separates the "loo" from the bathing/sink area.  Yes, of course in the U.S., in fancier hotel chains such as Four Seasons, and in some upscale private residences, there may be a door that separates the toilet from the rest of the bathroom, but that isn't what I mean.  In Paris homes, the toilet is a separate room, distant from the bathing area, and most often even without a sink to wash hands afterward.  I've had to seek out a nearby kitchen for an available sink on several occasions.  I find this inconvenient for all (and perhaps even discourages contemporary hygienic practice).  After getting past the lack-of-sink-near-the-toilet issue, I began to think how "civilized" it is, to remove toilets from the rest of the house, just to stick it in its own "closet," basically.  How private, how refined, how solo this practice is.

BUT - 

2.  Many cafés, schools, museums and other public spaces do not divide the bathroom facilities by gender.  La toilette, c'est pour tout!  The stalls may be individual (though I've sometimes found unenclosed urinals in the same environment but luckily have not found them in use), but the door to the general environment of the stalls and sinks is used by all...or there may not even be a door - just a tiny winding spiral staircase at the bottom of which are one or two sinks and one or two doors behind each of which is a toilet.

Is this really a major culture discovery?  No.  But is it a bit contradictory?  Perhaps, but maybe just to us puritanical Americans.  Here goes - there is no need to divide the sexes in this basic human function (this is a country that bares the female breast in the media and on beaches with ease); let them all use the same bathroom.  It saves all kinds of resources and space.  And, as for the function itself, in the home, put it as far from the other aesthetic niceties as possible, as there's nothing aesthetic about it - a simple toilet in a tiny empty closet to be segregated from the rest of the home.

And there's France in a nutshell.  Aesthetics rule.  Gender privacy, not so much.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

'Tis the Season, Paris Version

It's a first for me - December in Paris.  And I've been carrying my camera around, looking for Christmas.  I assume this is "part I" because I must, really must, find more.  Thus far, Paris is no competition for New York (not that there's anything wrong with that)!  

Store front windows might be decorated more brightly than usual, with packaging more on display and highlighting gift items, maybe a sparkle here or there as well -
- but, otherwise, not so much.  Some shopping streets have lights strung overhead.
The Pantheon has a cluster of Christmas trees in front.
The métro features a few (and by that, I mean a minority) of posters featuring or promoting Christmas.
Of course, those métro posters are both ads for department stores.  And speaking of which, since Bon Marché is just down the block and is such a lovely store, I wondered what I'd find there, figuring perhaps a Bergdorf's kind of glitz and glamour.
(The building's exterior lighting changes in the darkness of a winter evening.)
Nope, these windows are a bit interesting, but definitely understated, and no lines of children, tourists or anyone else for that matter were crowding either the store windows or the aisles of the store itself.  
In fact, the holiday store windows are, to this American consumer's eye, a bit odd.  As you can perhaps see, in front of each window has been placed a protective shell that extends outward onto the sidewalk.
One walks into this covering to view and hear a little sound/light show (and to be protected from the rain - now there's a reason!).  It's in French, of course, and features not particularly Christmas-y music, more like rock-and-roll, the beat of which pulsates with the lights from the store windows.  I hate to be a nay-sayer, but I wasn't compelled to spend money on gifts or to go inside the store.  Too bad, I believe, because I understand that in 1909, the first moving-figure window for Christmas shoppers was in fact in the window of Le Bon Marche.  That I'd like to see!

I'll have to get over to Printemps and Galeries Lafayette and report back further in part 2 of this minimalist review.

Friday, December 2, 2011


I finally got myself the weekend travel I'd been talking about for two months and went as far east as I could go on the TGV and still be in France.  This took me to Strasbourg, the seat of the European Parliament and principal city of the Alsace region.  

As the pictures show, it's a beautiful place.  In fact, Strasbourg's historic city center, the Grand Ile, was classified a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988, the first time such an honor was placed on an entire city center.

It's a quick and very comfortable (reserved seats) two-hour TGV high-speed train ride from Paris, and is a couple of kilometers from the German border.  This time of year is the time to be there, with the Christmas markets set up and open (I was a week too soon, and only got to see the markets being built, but enjoyed plenty of Christmas lighting and decoration).
Pastry shops and chocolate shops were scattered throughout the many pedestrian streets, featuring the local delicacy, kougelhopf.
Strasbourg is a major college city; so of course pubs, live music and local beer like Kronenbourg were also easily found.  And along the many shopping streets were traditional cafés featuring chocolat chaud and vin chaud (the aroma alone could cure a head cold, sore feet from walking, or tourist brain from history acousti-guide overload).

I enjoyed the Cathedral, which was in the middle of Sunday mass when I went (that's really the way to see a cathedral, if you ask me, even if it's not your religion of choice, because you get to experience the building the way it was intended - sounds, scents, organ, voices, and in this case, a full orchestra "backing up" the voices and organ; it was a "take your breath away" moment).  And let's not forget climbing up the much-exposed spiral staircase that leads to an upper level outdoor terrace of the Cathedral for stellar photo-ops and a good chance of contracting acrophobia.

In a back corner of the Cathedral as well is the third astronomical clock that has been on this spot since 1681, which is a must-see at 12:30pm each day at it sounds the noon hour (don't ask) and the 18-inch high figures of Jesus and the Apostles proceed through openings located above the clock face.
Also good is the boat ride that circles the Ile on the Ill (that's the river on which Strasbourg is situated).  The Rohan Palace (really) houses three museums, the Archeological Museum, the Museum of Decorative Arts  and the Fine Arts Museum.  There's also a museum of the city of Strasbourg, which is kid-friendly and interactive and does a pretty good job of reinforcing the powerful place which the city and the region hold in the history of France, even through this century.
The Rohan Palace
It's a perfect two-day visit from Paris, or from anywhere in Europe.  There's enough going on here, as a tourist spot and as a living, breathing city, to be a destination for anyone seeking a charming, friendly, warm spot to visit and explore.  PS - if you bike, bring!  It's hard to find a rental on Saturday and Sunday, but bike lanes are all over and traffic is light on most roads in the center.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

une demi

In another one of my "aha!" moments here, I recently made the highly important discovery that one can purchase half of a baguette at the local boulangerie!  This is incredibly serious business, as the French want (and now, of course so do I) their bread fresh, fresh, fresh.  And, being alone here, what I've been doing with the rest of entire baguettes uneaten the next day is a tragedy that shall not be revealed.  

But you can guess.  Either it's:
1.  Eating the whole thing and feeling horribly guilty.
2.  Throwing over half of it away and feeling horribly guilty.
3.  Well, there's really not a #3.

I now feel very cool (and thrifty) doing as the locals do...and it costs (drum roll, please) half the cost of the whole baguette.

Friday, November 25, 2011


On the everyday end of the food shopping scale in Paris, meaning the type of store carrying all the basic needs (kind of like a Target or Walmart, minus the scale of those stores), is Monoprix.  I know there are other options somewhat larger or smaller (such as Carrefour, 8 à Huit and the little Monops), but the Monoprix at Boulevard Saint Germain and Rue de Rennes is my neighborhood big supermarket, and a very nice one, notwithstanding the gripes I'd read or heard before I arrived.  
with Saint-Germain-des-Prés just across the street
I actually look forward to shopping here.  At first, it was just fun (and frustrating) figuring out what was what inside the products' packaging (mistakes were made - paper towel packaging is similar to toilet paper roll packaging).  It's easier now; for example, I know that I have to get fruit and veggies weighed and price-labeled BEFORE I get to the check-out counter!  But the contrasts are still numerous and there's always something new to find out, try or buy.
First off, where else in a grocery store can you buy so many types of wines, many priced under 5 euros?  (Oops, the photo is of "les whiskies" - oh well, you get the idea - full service wine and liquor.)
 And get to taste a sample of pastis while you shop?
As in all French supermarkets, there are a million yogurts, of course, taking up two dairy aisles, and then another dairy aisle for all the other dairy items (not including the non-refrigerated milk which hangs out by the water aisle).  And what a great idea that is -  I haven't had milk go bad at all here!  PS - "nonfat" is "écremé," and it not impossible to find in a grocery store; however, forget about it in a café.  There, you just get the "stupid American" look from the otherwise very nice bartender.

The fresh cheeses and patés, fresh fruits and vegetables are pretty impressive, too, with prices about as reasonable as you're going to find in that part of Paris.  And the guy behind the counter is a hoot (he offered to pose for my pictures, for a small fee).
But, really, what's with the Philadelphia Cream Cheese fetish?  We need to taste samples of it?  I don't think so.
All the world is there on a Friday after work hours, the checkout lines are long but move quickly, and the cashiers are the only ugly part of the experience (and, yes, I'm stereotyping here).  
You bag your own items, preferably in your own sacks, but the cashier will part with a plastic bag or two if you look pathetic, and then you get the "stupid American" look back.  And the worst is yet to come - if you don't bag your items quickly enough to get them off the counter, the cashier will just halt  the entire process and not commence checking out the customer behind you, and then you're getting the evil eye from the entire checkout line!  So, I've learned - start bagging immediately, even before you've paid.  Whew.

But if you have free time while you're waiting to check out, there's always the TV monitor hanging from the ceiling, offering specials, the weather and, most importantly, today's horoscope.
Practically speaking, for a visitor to Paris, definitely stopping at a Monoprix (or any grocery store) is a must-do.  First is the cultural experience (see above).  And second, you can pick up sandwiches, water, wine, fruit, croissants, chocolates, picnic supplies, etc. (whether the picnic is in your hotel room, a park or as you stroll), and save a lot of euros on the basics, which can then be spent on something else in Paris.  It won't be hard to figure out what to spend them on.