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...