Saturday, March 31, 2012

Paris vs. New York

Living as a New Yorker in Paris constantly brings comparisons - "Oh, that place is like Balthazar, but the real deal!"  "Living in the 16th, yeah, the Upper West Side of Paris."  "Oh, don't spend time on the Champs-Elysées - it's like being in Times Square with all those tourists!"  "Well, how to describe the 19th and 20th?  Kind of like Brooklyn."  Etc.

Now it's official; a charming and funny map has been drawn placing New York locations onto a Paris map, and vice versa.
From what I've learned about Paris in the months I've been here, it's pretty on the mark!  

It might be hard to examine closely in this post, but it's worth finding on the internet for a better view.  Check out the book by Vahram Muratyan and his blog,  It's clear to me that he loves both cities, loves to compare and contrast...and so do I!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bagels and Brownies

Am I missing something here?  Every day, it's like this!  The line out the door of this bakery in the 6th arrondissement.  I'm not knocking it; I assume everything in there must be wonderful, but when I've peeked in from time to time, all I see are bagels, brownies, donuts and muffins.

I guess I just don't get too many American bakery cravings when, about two steps away, I can buy a crêpe made-to-order, or a croissant or baguette the likes of which I've not yet found in the U.S.  

Maybe those good folks making the brownies and muffins can come over to New York and bake us some good baguettes!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Tragedy in France

I didn't post for a while because I had such a hard time deciding if I wanted to take the tone of this blog into something as highly emotional, politically sensitive and global and let's face it - serious, as the events of the past week in France.  I've posted from here mostly about beautiful Paris treasures, the weather, the changing of the seasons, food, art, and the joie de vivre I've come to appreciate and enjoy every day.

But even the terror that shook France last week was something I learned from, witnessed from a much closer distance than had I been in the United States, and the media and politicians were producing the news even more quickly than they could process it.  In that way, it felt to me a bit like September 11, 2001 in New York City (not at all on the same scale or at the same proximity).  There were questions, horror and confusion; and it was practically all that the French news covered all week.  

I bought and photographed the covers of France's major newspapers, because even their differences and emphases were worth noting.  
"The Tragedy that Moves France So Deeply"

"Massacre of Toulouse - France Horrified"

The names of the victims in the 3 Toulouse attacks
Is there anything more I can say?  Not really.  My words will not make a difference.  It's just that I couldn't say nothing.  

Life went on, absolutely normally, here in Paris, miles away from Toulouse.  Nonetheless, I believe that the entire country was affected in some ways, not least of which because France is in the last month of its presidential election campaign.  Most of the candidates decided to take a couple of days off from their campaigning, but the reality was that they were still everywhere the cameras were.  Now, they're trying to figure out how these events are to be integrated into their positions.  As an American, this all sounds familiar. 

May the memories of these innocent victims live on, and may those who make decisions make wise ones in their memory.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First Hints of Paris Spring

Today's 60-degree sunny weather not only felt like spring might really be within reach, but these branches along the Seine confirmed it with their bright green blossoms.
The days are getting longer, too - sunset near 7pm - and once daylight savings time (or heure d'été, literally summer time) starts here on March 25, the long well-lit evenings will begin  - and don't we need it!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Here's a fun game I was playing with myself as I walked the aisles of BHV for the first time a couple of days ago:  "Do they have ____?"  I would think of an item, then check out the wall placard on each floor of the grand magasin (department store) on the Rue de Rivoli just behind the Hôtel de Ville of Paris, to see if I could track down its location in the store.  And, voilà!  It would be there - clothes hangers, wall paint, towels, Chantelle lingerie, door signs to label bathrooms for men or women, electric power tools, cooking supplies, alarm systems, lamps, school supplies, handbags, dinner plates, makeup, sushi.  Yes, sushi - shoppers get hungry, right?

There wasn't a thing I could think of that this place didn't carry.  It was a Saturday and a sale day, and the whole world seemed to be there, too.  BHV, short for Bazar de l'Hôtel de Ville, is pronounced "bay-ash-vay" and everyone who lives here for any length of time knows this store, although it is less known to tourists.  

It is pretty close to being central Paris's answer to Sear's and Target.  There are other places to obtain many of these items but they are not as centrally located or all in one store.  Besides, when you ask someone where to find "X," that thing you cannot think of where to possibly locate, the answer invariably comes back, "BHV will have it."

And that's what happened to me.  For some reason, I've been losing buttons lately.  Two coats and a blouse.  It was finally time to try to locate buttons!  Good grief.  I tried first in retouches,  clothing repair shops/tailors.  Nope; I just got blank stares and the Gallic shrug.  Unlike in New York, I guess if you show up without the actual button you want to have sown on the garment, you are asking for too much to think that they might either have a bowl full of stray buttons or a recommendation of where you can buy one.  What I was thinking was that they'd be able to direct me to Paris's button district, assuming that it might be like New York in that way.  There's not a button you can't find in New York; it may take a hunt through a few tiny shops,  mainly in the Garment District but even on the Upper East Side (like Tender Buttons), but that's all part of the hunt, and the reward is an exact match.

After I had tried three retouches without any luck, I turned to a friend who's lived here a while and asked where the tiny button shops were.  She replied, "Why a tiny shop?"  I had to explain that it wasn't the size of the shop that was important; rather, it was those New York button boutiques I was thinking of when I asked.  She shook her head and said "BHV!"

BHV did indeed have buttons.  It had none of the charm of button hunting in New York (not that I'm either a pro at this or have any desire to be, I just was tired of the cold drafts from the missing button locations on those two coats).  I quickly found two close-enough matches (who's really going to notice, right?) and got into the checkout line for my 3.90 euro purchase, alongside the customers with slightly larger items in their baskets - like floor lamps, pillows and house paint.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Du Pain

This has a been a small but repeated news item recently.  95% of the French eat bread at least once a day, according to the reported study.  Even such a seemingly high percentage still reflects a huge reduction in quantity consumed per person (130 grams versus 600 grams) from the beginning of the 20th century.  

This is, of course, part of one of life's great mysteries - why Parisians are not fat. 

I, on the other hand, feel like simply gawking at the marvels on display in the boulangerie and patisserie windows adds pounds, but perhaps that is just a national plot against foreigners. 
Yes, I indulge once in a while.  And I will admit to consuming my share of daily bread, too.   Life's short, after all!  But that still doesn't answer the question of the fat versus not-fat populations on either side of the Atlantic.

Upon giving it great thought at an outdoor café table as the early spring sunlight dissipates into evening, I'm going to stick with my belief that the answer is red wine.

Friday, March 9, 2012


Sometimes a Texan (even if we're talking ages ago, or as they say here, jadis) just HAS to have a taste of Tex-Mex, even in Paris.
This guac with some nondescript salsa wasn't half-bad.  I could close my eyes and pretend it was a true Tex-Mex place back in my hometown, especially since the music playing in the background was what you'd expect in a Mexican restaurant in Paris.  

And if that didn't pass the "high" standards of a Texan, well, when I opened my eyes, I was in Paris!  As consolation prizes go, that's pas mal.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Montmartre Revisited

Too often too much of a good thing isn't extra good.  That happened to the touristy parts of Montmartre years ago.  And as a result, I haven't been there since the 1980s.  OK, yes, I was a bit tempted by the film "Amélie" but apparently not much.

Since I've been living in Paris (I do love saying that, though only believing it in the same way that a student in Boston is "living" in Boston), I've heard from time to time people talking about the charming area north of Sacré Coeur.  "Charming" is always the word used.  

And then one evening, I had a meeting at a café in that neighborhood.  But it was dark, I was only there for an hour in a café that looked like any other, and the streets that I walked along appeared to be nothing special...except for the staircases - all over the place were stairs breaking up the streets, leading to parallel streets either below or above.  I knew I needed to come back when there was light and could finally see around me.

I recently did just that.
To get there, the thing to do is take the Métro to the Lamarck-Coulaincourt stop (but others nearby will do - Paris is really quite small and so walkable), and be sure to be wearing your most comfortable (and flat-heeled) shoes.  Between the stairs, the uneven surfaces, cobblestones and all that climbing, fashionable heels just aren't going to get you anywhere.
And just start wandering.  I can't even tell you exactly where these pictures were taken but I do know that I saw very few people, and even fewer tourists. 
The architecture is varied; there were even single-family homes with petite gardens.  It took me back to another time like other parts of Paris do not.
 And, of course, there are the famous Montmartre Vineyards.
 As well as the historic Lapin Agile Cabaret.
 And those stairs, so many stairs.
Do not, however, go there looking for (i) big time shopping (except for apartments - I must have walked past a real estate agency every other store-front), (ii) trendy anything, or (iii) loads of people.  This doesn't mean that you won't find a place or two or three to rest your weary feet and be able to enjoy a nice café or dessert while pondering your map or the newspaper. was my idea of the perfect sunny Friday afternoon.