Monday, December 10, 2012

Le Centenaire

Spontaneity - I've become such a big fan.  

I usually travel throughout the city of Paris with three essentials:
1.  My Pass Navigo, which lets me ride around in the Paris métro and buses all day long, if that's what I desire or need to do, which seems like constantly.
2.  An umbrella.
3.  My Paris "plan pratique" (the detailed Paris map in booklet form, which is a must for even a weekend here - they're sold at news kiosques, tabacs and bookstores). 

Recently one afternoon, I forgot #2.  I stepped out of the métro looking for a store that turned out to be closed for lunch (so the handwritten note taped to the inside of the door read) and then felt the rain start pelting me.  Of course - when you forget the umbrella, it rains.  Universal truth.

It was lunchtime, so the note said.  I turned in a quick circle to find someplace to find a little lunch of my own so that I could stop again at the shop after whatever turned out to be the shop owner's unspecified lunch hour(s).

Right next door, I found a spot.  Using my radar for food quality, I saw that it was completely packed.  In fact, when I walked inside, even the bar was full.  That's usually this solo diner's quick refuge from waiting for an open table.  However, after a 3-minute wait, I got the perfect spot, at a tiny table nestled in the corner alongside a window.  

I reviewed the blackboard menu and decided it was the perfect day to try the coq-au-vin, a dish I can't recall ever ordering.

If it had been evening and I didn't have work to do that afternoon, that wine glass would been full of a nice red.

The coq au vin was as good as it looks in the photo, very "vin-y" (In fact, I really didn't need more vin in the wine glass).

This is a nice and very local option if you're in the 11th, around the trendy Oberkampf neighborhood.  The link below has more photos of the bistrot and a nice description of its long history, if you want to practice your French reading skills!

104 rue Amelot
75011 Paris
08 99 96 56 47
Métro: Filles du Calvaire or Oberkampf

After my belly was full and it had stopped raining, I went back to the shop, which was still closed!  Ah, Paris...

Friday, December 7, 2012

On Leaves and Fall

This is how I will remember Fall 2012 in Paris.
It's been so dark and wet, and the only colors that show through the gray are the gold, yellow and brown from these wet leaves.
It's typically not very windy in Paris and so these perfectly-shaped leaves cling to their trees until they just can't hang on any longer, and then drift to the sidewalk, to rest there for ...well, they're still there.
I enjoy these pops of color; they're my sunshine on these gray and extremely short days...

... as long as I don't slip on them.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Art, art and more art

The sun finally decided to shine over Paris, after many rainy and dark days, and so it was the perfect Sunday afternoon to spend....indoors?  Well, with the opportunity to spend a few hours under this particular roof, which I had not ever done, I wasn't going to pass up that chance.

FIAC, the International Contemporary Art Fair held in Paris each fall, is something to see, at least once, even if you're never going to be reaching into your stock portfolio to buy one of the thousands of works here.  And it's held under the incredible glass dome of the Grand Palais, created in 1900.  

With the sunlight streaming brightly down upon works ranging in value from 3,500 euros up to practically priceless, it got a bit steamy in there.  And during the four hours on my feet and nowhere to sit but for a few well-placed "bars" (thank goodness) with thousands of other mostly collector-wannabees like myself, it got to be a bit overwhelming.  Nonetheless, I thought was well worth the effort, energy expended and cost (not cheap - 60 euros for admission and enormous catalogue!).  Note to self if I ever do this again - wear flats with more arch support, and be sure to not pick up the catalogue until I exit the fair.

So, if you're not a millionaire contemporary art collector and not likely to ever get to experience this iconic event, here are a few photos and a New York Times article that provides more detail on some of the facts, figures and art on view during this four-day truly international événement.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Buying a Bed in Paris

It almost sounds like the title of a French comedy.  And it has its farcical moments, bien sûr.  Here are some of the things I've learned through my recent experience shopping for a bed in Paris.

1.  Do a little research online, just in order to find out the component parts of a bed, where you might be able to purchase one, what the price range seems to be (hint - higher than in the US) and what things are called in French. 

2.  The average French bed comes with the mattress (matelas, pronounced mah-tuh-lah) and something called a sommiel (pronounced so-mee-ay).  It's not a box spring exactly, but it goes in the same position as a box spring.  You don't have to buy the sommiel, and it's sold separately from the mattress.  Some people use only the mattress, either alone or in a platform setting.

3.  One must also consider les pieds (like it sounds, the feet).  These are squat round wooden posts that the mattress and sommiel stand on to raise them off the ground (in lieu of that ugly metal frame with wheels that American bed salesmen get a few extra bucks for).  Again, the pieds are not necessary, but sometimes they come with the set.  You choose color and height (my salesman recommended the taller height because it would be better for under-bed storage; right he was!).

3.  French beds seem to be very, very soft, even when called firm (presumably because if you want something really hard, you'd sleep on a Japanese-style bed, which are quite popular in Europe).  If you want a firm western-style bed, you really have to try them out.  And generally, the firmer you want the bed, the more it's going to cost if you want a bit of softness on the top layer of it.  

4.  Speaking of which, they call the feeling at the top of the mattress the "accueil" (welcome/greeting/reception).  That took a while to figure out, as the salesman kept saying it each time I would lie down on a mattress model to try it out!

5.  You can buy beds online.  There appear to be at least a couple of reputable companies, but since I didn't use one, I will not name names.  They are easily found with an internet search.  However, an American friend who has lived here for years prefers the online option and avoiding the department stores.

6.  I was told by consumer and salesman alike that the reason French beds are so much more expensive than U.S. beds is that French people make a big investment in a bed and keep it far longer than in the U.S.  I still don't follow the relevance, but perhaps without the economies of scale, they have to charge more for each one they sell?

7.  I bought mine in one of the grands magasins (department stores).  I got lucky and landed in Paris right at the start of the big fall sales.  (I didn't know there was such a thing, since there's only supposed to be two big sale periods throughout the country, but this was not called a sale and, thus, I suppose it was not one, even though prices were reduced 30-50%.)  Each brand was offering a few beds on sale promotion.

8.  In a department store, the bed department is manned (peopled?) by a sales rep who is affiliated only with one brand.  If you want to compare among brands, do it on your own.  You won't get comparison information from the salesperson, as you bounce among however many sales people as equals the number of brands you're choosing among.  This may be why they're so expensive.  It seemed that stationed next to every six beds or so, there was another salesperson at a tiny desk. 

9.  Beds come in so many sizes!  It's important to write down the exact dimensions of your bed, and also how deep it is, because bed linens likewise come in as many sizes!  For example, there's a bed measuring 140x190 centimeters and other measuring 140x200 centimeters.  Really?  A ten-centimeter difference?  Yes, really.  And ditto the sheets and comforter covers.

10.  When the bed is delivered to you, the pieds get screwed into the bottom of the sommiel.  Then, the delivery people check both sides of the mattress carefully before "installing" it, because the mattress will have a winter side and a summer side, presumably each topped by a fabric appropriate to the season and having the secondary benefit of promoting a semi-annual flip of the mattress by the user.

11.  Unlike in New York City, when the delivery is scheduled, you're given a range of hours (of about 3 hours) by the store.  That morning or the night before, you get a call telling you exactly when to expect them to arrive.  Amazing, especially since they actually arrived right on time!  And there was no delivery fee!  I don't know if that's common or not, or if was related to the sale or the particular store involved.  Either way, I'm not complaining.

12.  Bed linens are interesting, too.  There are square pillows and rectangular pillows (also of varying sizes), made of many different levels of down, down and feathers, feathers only, or synthetic (not so different from in the U.S.).  As for sheets, flat sheets are rarely used and not as easy to find as fitted sheets.  That is because the traditional comforter (couette) usually gets covered with a comforter cover and, thus, it seems that there is no need for the top sheet.  It is a lot easier to make the bed in the morning, for sure, especially with the fish tail of extra fabric at the bottom of the comforter cover which gets tucked into the bottom end of the bed under the mattress in order to hold it into place.  What genius!

I decided it was worth all the effort and every euro spent!  My sleep is crucial to me, and I can say I am a contented consumer thus far.  Zzzzzzzzz......

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Universal Comfort Food

Only one week in, and already I'm craving something I rarely consume in the U.S.  Peanut butter!  Sometimes not that easy to find in Paris, hiding as it does among the Nutella and Speculoos, I grabbed it right away to throw into my first full basket of groceries at the neighborhood Franprix.

And voilà, my mid-afternoon snack on leftover baguette.  

Like my life here, it's not entirely French, nor do I ever expect or wish for it to be.  American in my soul, apparently American still in much of my palate, too. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Brownstone Curves

I never realized how pretty this architecture is, always taking it for granted right under my nose, or above it, just down the street from me on the Upper West Side.  

Something else to miss about New York.  After living here for a long time, it's easy to take it all for granted.  Getting up and leaving now and then is really good for sharpening the appreciation of home.

Here I go again...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New York Fashion Week

Fashion Week is here.  No harm in some creative advertising to the hoards of hungry fashionistas.  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Scraping the Sky

As we come upon the 11th anniversary of September 11, 2001, it would be hard to miss what's growing up to the sky downtown.  This will be known as One World Trade Center (not Freedom Tower, as it was previously referred to).

As Wikipedia tells me, at the time of its completion in 2013, One World Trade Center will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest building in the world by pinnacle height, with its spire reaching a symbolic 1,776 feet (541.3 m) in reference to the year of American independence.

Already, it's the tallest building in New York City, since April 30, 2012. 

So much has been said and written about 9/11 that it's just not possible for me to add more.  So I will remain silent, alone in my still vivid memories of that day and in thought of the tragedy's victims and the people close to them.

Friday, September 7, 2012

My favorite New York app The Scoop, from The New York Times. 

It's like having an in-the-know friend in the city, and it's free.  As the easy-to-use home screen (example above) shows, there are specific categories that are updated regularly containing short reviews from Times reporters and often a link to the longer review that appeared earlier in the newspaper itself.

I love the great GPS locator in it, so that if I'm somewhere and looking for (more often than not) a coffee bar, it will tell me where to go - you'll find something new and never get lost. 

And speaking of coffee bars, this app is a wonder if you're anywhere below 34th Street, but the Upper West Side?  Oh, I wish.  Where are you, great coffee places, in my neighborhood?  Besides Joe, of course.

It's super for finding out what's happening in art, music, theater, dance and all things cultural in New York.  And I love the ideas for day trips out of NY, most of which can be reached by train or bus, if a car isn't in the cards.  The "Only in New York" section is perfect with its suggestions for out-of-town visitors (and for the weekend "tourist" that I so enjoy being even though I've lived here for so long).

Check it out and go somewhere new!  As you do, you can even feed your competitive soul, if you have one like I do, by check marking the spots you've been to.  Email, Facebook, web links, etc., are also easy to access from each of the posted items.  It's full of great ideas.  Even if you're a jaded New Yorker, you'll find something you never knew or thought about before.

Get out this weekend and do something new!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wifi in the NYC Subway...and Phone Booths

Wifi on the subway platform of New York City!  And for free!  What a fabulous new thing to come home to find.  It's not everyone's ideal; take two New Yorkers - give them a new idea to ponder, and you'll get at least one negative perspective on it.  Maybe two.

As for me?  Fantastic.  I tried it out last week and, of course, was simply amazed that it even worked.  I know that's ridiculous; there's wifi in so many places, both in New York and all over, including Paris public parks, and so why not?  

More information and subway stations currently with Wifi are here.

And speaking of which, why not have Wifi offered at unused telephone booths?  Someone thought of that, too, and it's starting in New York as well.  I just found one in Soho at the corner of West Broadway and Spring Street.
And it worked, too!  Ah, yes, we live in the future...

The list of current phone booth locations with free Wifi is here.  Go use it; the City is counting, and if it's well-used, it may spread to all of the over 12,000 phone booths that now exist in New York City!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Central Park in the Summer

Summer is always a busy time for me in New York City, and every chance I get to walk through Central Park on my way to a destination like a meeting, doctor's appointment, or visit to the French Consulate for yet another student visa, I take that opportunity, especially when it's sunny, as it was the other morning, when I passed so much going on in just one part of the Park (the area around the Zoo, the Children's Zoo and walking through the Poet's Walk up towards Bethesda Fountain).  The variety of sights and sounds in just a few minutes is always beautifully overwhelming to me (and causes me to write in really long, run-on sentences).

"rock climbing"


carriage rides for all ages

sun dappling on Poet's Walk

beach volleyball

Bethesda Fountain wrapped in summer green

Monday, August 27, 2012


After not even approaching this blog for almost three months, it feels like we're just being introduced again, the blog and I.  I'm a bit apprehensive and tentative.  But, like getting back on a bike after some time away, it'll feel like old times soon enough and I'll be back to writing about my daily impressions of what surrounds me.

But today I have to write about change. 

As a person who doesn't much like it, I manage to put myself through quite a bit of it (though, to be honest, don't we all?).  I returned to my home, New York City, in June.  Aside from short periods of a few weeks each to leave Paris and "visit" New York during the last 11 months, these three months home have provided me the chance to really take a look around, and also to persist in irritating friends and family with my "compare-and-contrast" of Paris and New York. 

The biggest thing I noticed this summer is CHANGE.  New York changes a lot.  Paris not so much.  

I've lived in New York for over 30 years, and this city is in a constant state of flux.  It makes the pulse and pace of this city very quick.  Restaurants come and go.  Trends in clothing, activities, music, architecture and especially neighborhoods "of the moment" fly past like a plastic bag caught in a breeze.  These things used to mean a great deal to me; I had to try all the new hot restaurants and see all the new shows.  Ah, youth (and a lawyer's income).  But, years pass.  The kids arrive and dinners start being at home (when they're not at work), and the trends pass you by.  And then -gulp- you leave town!  For months...

And then you come back.  And the buildings are different.  Old ones torn down, new ones up...or coming up.  Store fronts empty (what was there before?).  New stores open up.  Ditto with the restaurants, frozen yogurt shops, yoga clothing stores (how many of those do we really need?) and banks, banks, banks everywhere.  What is up with that?!

Things appear to stay the same in Paris.  Little things do change, and trendy quartiers are definitely now a real force in real estate there.  Is it the 3rd now, or the 11th, or maybe even the 19th?  But much stays the same.  The old architecture remains, thank goodness.  And most of my favorite Rive Gauche boutiques, cafés, boulangeries and patisseries are in the exact same locations they were in 20 or more years ago.  The ethnic food and bistronomie scene is definitely on the move, with little casual foodie places opening up all the time.  But, when you look into the distance, Paris is Paris.  It doesn't change.

Although I am not qualified to speak with certainty, I think Parisians like it that way.  On the other hand, I've heard young Parisians complain that Paris is boring and that New York has the excitement they dream of.  It's made me wonder if perhaps the pace and manageability of Paris are better suited to people of, um, un certain âge.  Like me, perhaps.

When I arrive in Paris, after no matter how much time away, it's the same.  It doesn't change.  

And with all the changes I'm facing in my life right now (which are not much different than the changes I've been dealing with for the last few years and that face all of us with kids moving out, moving back in, moving out, repeat), a little sameness suits me just fine.

Especially if that sameness comes with croissants!

Not that I wouldn't miss the charge - and even the changes - of New York.  But keeping up with them?  No longer remotely (literally and figuratively) possible. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wifi in Paris (and other good things to know)

Now that my days in Paris are winding down, all too quickly, I am reminded of a few things I've learned since spending about 7 months here.  I hope these little bits of information can be useful to all!  Of course, many are highly opinionated and reflect my personal taste and experiences, so take it for what it's worth (which is entirely up to you to decide).

Today's post covers Wi-Fi in Paris.

Free wifi (pronounced wee-fee) is available in more places than you imagine, so go ahead and bring the ipad or smartphone, even if you're going to turn off the data and cell service, including roaming, which you really MUST remember to do (do it on the airplane before you land in Paris so you don't forget), or you'll get a big surprise with your phone bill when you return.  

And by "free," I do not mean "Free," which is a cell service provider in France and is most certainly not free (as in gratuit).  So, when you see "free" pop up on your available wifi networks, that's not the one to select.  

Some no-cost wifi options are:

1.  Paris city parks.  All of them, large or small, if they are Paris parks, offer free wifi through the Orange network (that's the network's name, Orange).  Easy to access.  You'll have to sign in on a screen that pops up and type in your name and email address information, and click that you agree to their terms, but it is free and automatic.  This doesn't include the Luxembourg Gardens, because it isn't a Paris city park (it's the garden of the French Sénat, so it's French property, not Paris property, not that that's a good reason to not offer wifi, but trust me, they don't).

2.  Starbucks and McDonald's.  Do not, under any circumstances, think I am recommending their food and beverage products when you visit Paris; you have enough of it in the US and you'll see it everywhere here, too.  However, if you must, you must.  But you needn't.  You can simply walk in, pull out your iphone, catch the wifi network which automatically appears, download your emails and walk out.  Maybe that's not good consumer behavior, but you'll probably buy a coffee at least once doing that, so that's more than might otherwise occur, and I assume that's why they offer the wifi for free.  By the way, Starbucks is also a good place to hang out with your computer for long periods of time if you are more comfortable being somewhere you can be assured that no one will come up to you and ask in a language you might not understand if you want something else, or where someone will sit down next to you and begin smoking (unless you're outside, and then that happens at every café).

3.  And speaking of cafés, many of them (but by no means all), have free wifi.  If they do, probably there's a little sticker affixed to, or next to, the front door that indicates "WIFI" in some logo.  However, if they do, they all will require a password, which means you have to ask for it.  [Asking isn't hard, even if you don't speak French - smile, point at the smartphone, and say "wee-fee?"  If the reply is "oui," continue smiling and pointing to the smartphone and say "code?"]  About half the time in my experience, the server has no idea the place even has wifi, until the café's proprietor then appears and tells me the code, or tells me that, yes, they have wifi but it has never worked, shrugs and moves on.  You do get used to not exactly being able to have wifi access even when you think you're going to, and in fact, I still see more people with books and newspapers in front of their eyeballs at cafés than electronic gadgetry.  But it's a way to begin to develop and distinguish your favorite morning or afternoon coffee places, if you know you'll be able to pick up some email messages when you stop there.

4.  Your hotel.  If you want free wifi in a Paris hotel, rest assured, it's not a sure thing.  It seems that the more expensive the hotel, the more likely you're also going to have to pay for wifi.  The 2- and 3-star places I've stayed here all offered wifi for free, but sometimes not in the room - only in the lobby.  The best thing to do is check with the hotel before you reserve.  But there is no reason you need to expect to pay 10 euros or more per day for wifi when so many Paris hotels do offer it for no charge.  Also, most often it won't work without a pass code, and the front desk can give it to you.  Those codes often change each day for some odd reason and you have to ask every day for a new one.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Changing the Air

As I write this morning, I manage to avoid a few minutes (hours?) of hitting the books to study for my final exams tomorrow (oral - 15 minutes) and Saturday (written - 3 hours!!).  

My French classes at the Sorbonne Cours de Civilisation Française just ended yesterday, marking for me a full academic year of studying French as a living language right in the heart of academic Paris.  It's been a dream come true, in fact, much more than that, as I could have hardly dreamed up the pleasures, challenges and surprises this experience has brought to me.  My life has changed as a result and, probably more importantly, my perspectives on life, on my life, that is.

Of course, I expected many things, such as new food, new surroundings and challenges in communication on a daily basis, for just a few examples.  But the sweetest pleasures have been the nuanced cultural differences I'd hardly have known about in my American life.  There are too many to list or briefly describe - perhaps someday a book on that, but one that arose each and every class day made me smile, for no particular reason, just because it was so obviously different and occurred in every classroom, without fail.

The change of air.

Upon arriving to class, I always found the window(s) wide open.  In winter, that meant the room was many degrees colder than the hallway and the door to the class often hard to push open because of the pressure against it from the wind rushing into the open window.  In rain and humidity, a bit of a damp, rainforest-like presence, unusual for an indoor sensation but equally refreshing in its own way, would greet my entrance.

And then, once the professor has arrived, the windows are quickly shut, to return the temperature to the appropriate indoor range and to permit the students to remove coats and sweaters and begin work.

This marks every class change.  Is it for health reasons, perhaps to rid the air of accumulated aerial residue of the dozens of students who enter and exit every couple of hours throughout the day?  Perhaps.  I have no idea.

I have grown to appreciate the practice, and I have found myself doing the same every time I arrive back "home" in Paris.  I fling open the two French doors to the air, no matter the temperature, no matter the precipitation, for a few minutes of what the French professors called "changing the air."

In addition to my conscious efforts to learn something here, namely, the French language, I realize I'm learning unconsciously, too.  These things, small as they may be, continue to open my eyes to a different world.  And for that, I continue to be enormously grateful.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


I've been scoping out new neighborhoods in Paris - new for me, at least - beyond the well-trod historic and museum-filled center - where I'm told the "vrai parisien" lives.  Because a novel I'm currently reading is set in Belleville (a neighborhood in the northeastern part of Paris) in the post-World War II years, I decided it was time to check out the Parc de Belleville, which is situated on one side of a hill, facing towards Paris' center and, as could be expected, has wonderful views of the city.  
It's not a very big park and not much of place for a run (unless you're into hill work, which I'm definitely not); it's rather more for a slow stroll, and preferably downhill rather than up.  It's also lovely, of course, for a picnic or reading a book or taking in the rare Paris sun.

The best way to start, then, is to take the métro to the Pyrénées station.  Coming out of the métro, head in the downhill direction and turn left on rue Piat.  It's just a bit further down that street, also downhill.  

The walk itself through the park is lovely and leisurely because the path winds and turns down the hill with views so spectacular that you can't help stopping to gaze into the distance to try to pinpoint landmarks.

As for the neighborhood itself, it is much like it was in those post-war years - a melting pot of newcomers to France.  At the same time, though, it has become very popular with younger Parisians who are seeking affordable apartments and so are turning it into one of the more trendy parts of town, as has been occurring through much of the northeastern quadrant of Paris in recent years.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A room with a view

No wonder I like being a student again, when this is the view from my phonetics classroom window...
Online learning doesn't have a case, by comparison. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

No Debate

I just fell asleep during watched the French Presidential debate; it is the only one between the two final candidates before election day next Sunday.  Hey, I'm entitled.  I'm coming down with a cold, it's raining and chilly, and, besides, trying to understand all that political rhetoric in French is épuisant (exhausting).

So, to wake me up, I just had to look at these beautiful creatures I photographed the other (sunny) day at Pain de Sucre.
I was in such a rush as I walked by, I only had time to take the pictures.  What an odd priority, I know.  And, then again, I have to admit, I hadn't yet been tempted to try a Parisian guimauve (marshmallow) until I saw those.  

There's no debate that I have to go back and try them.  At least I don't have to choose between them (or, in fact, between the Presidential candidates here).

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May 1 - Lilies and Labor

Odd combination that it may appear, it is even odder (to me) in practice.  Today was my first May 1 in France.  It was a public holiday - May Day: La Fête du Muguet, La Fête du Travail.  It is a day to campaign for and celebrate workers rights.  It is also an occasion to present lily-of-the-valley or dog rose flowers to friends and loved ones.
The two have nothing to do with each other (as far as I can tell), but because it was a perfectly gorgeous day, and because of the upcoming Presidential Election here next Sunday, May 6, it was the perfect storm of manifestations (political marches), large public speeches by the candidates (as well as the candidates who didn't even make the cut after the first round), and the gifts of a sprig of lily-of-the-valley, which seemed to be carried around by everyone.

The story goes as follows:  King Charles IX of France was presented with lily-of-the-valley flowers on May 1, 1561. He liked the gift and decided to present lily-of-the-valley flowers to the ladies of his court each year on May 1. Around 1900, men started to present a bouquet to women to express their affection. The flowers are given between close friends and family members these days.

Some images of my May 1 in Paris:

 A little street music.
 A little afternoon wine to watch the march go by.
 Street sales of the flowers, which are permitted without license on only May 1.
 Posters for Presidential candidates and their "meetings" (use of the English word to describe rallies).
 Certain political leanings are manifested through the use of strategic vandalism.
Full evidence of spring, neither requiring the buckets of lily-of-the-valley or political speeches or parades.  But in Paris, on May 1, they all happen together.