Paris Bike Rental 101

June 21st, 2016

dave velib muralI love using the Vélib to get around Paris, especially now that it’s so nice outside (read: between sudden thunder showers it’s actually sunny and gorgeous). It looks a lot scarier to ride a bike in Paris than it feels when you’re actually on the bike. Maybe it’s the high of cruising through the capital with the wind in your hair, but it’s very quickly addictive.

I got a native Parisian hooked last weekend when I suggested we grab two Vélibs to go check out the street art murals in the 13th arrondissement. I have an annual pass (€29), but he was a newbie and needed a day pass (which are currently €1.70; weekly passes are €8). We figured, being locals of average intelligence, that this wouldn’t take us long to figure out. But getting the pass from the terminal was enormously confusing.

Just to give you all a heads up, there are two main steps: creating an account, then checking out your bike.

First you need to create an account. We did this right at the bike terminal (there’s one at every bike rental station). One side has a map on it and a touchpad for those who already have a subscriber number. The other side has an interactive screen and a place to insert a credit card. Go here, touch any number on the keypad to get started, and change the language to English to make your life easier. Note that there are instructions on the big screen but also on the little screen next to the credit card slot. A bit confusing.

laurie velibTo create a subscription account you need to click on 2 to “Buy a Ticket,” then select a 4-digit code (pick any code you can easily remember, but not 1234 or 0000). Then you need to pay for your subscription with a credit card (and when it asks for your code, it means your credit card PIN, not the Vélib code you just made up). Once it’s done you get a little receipt (récépissé) with an eight-digit code which is your subscription ID (or abonnement) number. Hold onto this for the duration of your subscription. You can also create your account online in advance, which may be easier (at least you’re not standing on the street with your wallet out!) and is the only option for those without micro-chipped credit.

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A TV Hit About Small-Town France in WWII

June 13th, 2016

Un Village Francais“Un Village Francais” (“A French Village”) is about the small fictional village Villeneuve, in the Jura region of France, occupied by the Germans in WWII. The first episode takes place in 1940 with German planes opening fire on picnicking school children. Each season takes place in a different year, except for seasons one and two, which both take place in 1940.

The story lines revolve around the inhabitants of Villenueve and how they deal with the harsh rule of the German Occupation and, later on, the Gestapo. The crux of the series is how the townspeople cope with their dire circumstances which become unpredictable on a daily basis and the sometimes impossible choices they have to make. Some collaborate with the Nazis to appease them and to survive, some try and escape to nearby Switzerland, some join the Resistance. The wife of the stoic town doctor who becomes mayor and has an affair with a Nazi officer. The doctor’s brother forms a communist group to fight the Germans and abandons his young son after his wife dies. A French school teacher falls for a German officer.

uvfA number of episodes tell the story of how Jews are rounded up and sent to the concentration camps and how the townspeople either betray them or try to save them.

One of the great things about series is the multi-faceted depictions of the Occupation, not just one side of the story or a single group. It shows the various movements including Communism, the Gestapo, the Resistance, and towards the end of the Occupation in 1944 when the Militia takes over.

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A Sensual Italian

June 12th, 2016

gocce 1A few years ago, Julien Cohen added another fashionably trendy notch to his Italian belt with Il Professore & Gocce, in the 9th arrondissement. But unlike his earlier bobo pizza joints, (Pizza Chic and Grazie) this venture seems bigger and more ambitious.

The first “room” in this restaurant & lounge is Il Professore, a large, lively and sometimes loud trattoria. I ate here just after its opening in 2013. The food was tasty and the ambience was fun, but the service in the bar was just so-so. As a result, I didn’t get back in for further taste-testing until now.

Beyond the restaurant is Gocce, the bar. And it’s a very, very sexy bar. Low lighting, book-lined walls, candles, sofas and cozy nooks make it hard not to slip into a seductive mindset while sinking into their soft armchairs.

gocce2The cocktail menu was originally conceived by Oscar (the quietly intense barman who opened the bar at Grazie) and has changed little (if at all?) since then. The first of three sections offers up twists on classics like Infused Negroni (a regular negroni with some walnut and artichoke infusions) or the Ramos RIP, which involves genever, yogurt liqueur and rose syrup.

Oscar’s touch is evident in the “Perfume” section of the menu, featuring drinks such as the Terra Mare Gin Tonic made with Gin Mare, Fever Tree and a house-made sea-water spray.

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Trashed Foods Gets New Life

May 31st, 2016

discosoup 1This past Saturday, a friend and I participated in an event at our local market called Disco Soupe. It was co-sponsored by the Disco Soupe Movement and Les Rencontres Cuisine et Santé. The goal of the event was twofold: to raise awareness of food waste, and to show how fruits and veggies that would normally be thrown out can be turned into appetizing and healthy meals. Prior to our arrival, they had gone around to several market stands to collect the fruits and veggies that would be thrown out. They ended up with quite the selection – eggplant, zucchini, carrots, onions, bananas, strawberries, kiwis, apricots, apples and loads of peaches.

The chef gave each one of us a knife and then we started sorting through all of the boxes of food, first cutting out the bad parts, then washing, then cutting into pieces and peeling. They also had a live band (of anglophones!) playing ’50s music to accompany us while we chopped and peeled. Then it was time to start cooking, mixing and assembling. There were several different t<ables going at once.

chef at discosoupOnce it was done, everyone was handed a bowl and a spoon and invited to dig in. The various tables had prepared a vegetable soup, an asparagus soup, an eggplant dip, a spicy salsa, and several different fruit smoothies (apple-kiwi, banana-strawberry, pear, peach-apricot, etc).

A torrential rain started pouring down right at that point – which was right when those poor kids were struck by lightning in the park – so everyone started packing up and leaving. They had suggested in the welcome email to bring Tupperware, and no one else had really brought any, so my friend and I loaded up ours with the leftovers and it made for a lovely “recycled” dinner that evening.

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Semi-Nude Adonis in the Cemetery

May 21st, 2016

nude dudeThe Cimetière Sud de Saint-Mandé is possibly the city’s least interesting graveyard, short of charm and celebrities (a sign at the entrance highlights a handful of ex-mayors and the wife of the founder of the Grevin waxworks museum). In one corner though, framed by a solid block of thriving horse chestnut trees, stands perhaps the cemetery’s single striking monument – the half-naked statue of a strong and healthy-looking young man.

Who is this verdigris demigod? A closer look at the tomb provides an answer – but also provokes further questions. His name was Calixte Delmas – a lutteur et rugger (wrestler and rugby player) born January 17 1906 in the southern city of Perpignan. More poignently, the date of death reads April 5 1927. Tragically, the 21 year old had succombed to “an accident at the école de Joinville.” Finally, at the bottom of the plinth is a bas-relief portraying wrestling and rugby and a list of his numerous sporting achievements.

This is the only time I have seen ‘rugger’ used to describe a person in France (today the term used is ‘rugbyman’, one of several curious anglicisms used in sporting contexts), but my ruminations drift elsewhere. What exactly had this 21 year old – forgotten today – done to inspire such a monument? What was the école de Joinville and exactly how did he die? The story is one of glory ending in grotesque calamity.

nude dude 2 Calixte Delmas was the offspring of a line of wrestlers, a southern dynasty of sport fanatics who also enjoyed gymnastics and rugby. The family were far from being burly giants though. Calixte, following in his father’s footsteps, competed as a lightweight wrestler (less than 67kg), and lined up as a hooker for the Sang et Or rugby team, traditionally a post reserved for smaller players.

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Lunch in a Former Stationer’s Shop

May 5th, 2016

caffe sternI met a friend for lunch at Caffe Stern and was trepidatious about how much the space would be changed. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw that the original moldings, woodwork, signs and architectural details were intact from its past as a stationer’s shop, and later learned the interiors and furniture were listed as an official Historic Monument of France. The atmosphere was still dark and club-like but modernized in a tasteful and befitting way.

My friend had raved about the food when she dined there last summer, especially about the potato cappuccino with ragu Bolognese. Many months later the memory of the cappuccino was still lodged in the food side of my brain and I was breathless to finally try this intriguing dish. It arrived in a big cappuccino cup with a tomato red saucer. dish at caffe sternIt was a cold blustery day and the combination of the hearty meat ragu and the soft whipped potatoes were a godsend of comfort food reimagined in the most delicious way. Even though any other dish after the cappuccino would have been a letdown, the lamb Milanese was almost as sensational. Expecting a thinly pounded cutlet, we were surprised when three thick slices of meat (rare, of course), delicately breaded on the sides looking more like a pork tenderloin, was served. It was accompanied by an artichoke heart and stem that was crispy brown around the edges, giving it a crunchy effect.

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The Women on the Paris Beer Scene

May 4th, 2016

kate hydeI asked some of the awesome women in the city’s growing craft beer scene to give recommendations for their favorite Paris beer bars.

Kate Hyde worked in publishing and fashion before getting into the beer game. She is currently the marketing manager and one of the house brewers at FrogPubs.

Kate says that when it comes to her favorite bar. “I have to say Frog…because it was the Frog that made me love beer. Frog Revolution at Bastille [is] my local, because of the big old comfy armchairs and stags head light fittings, and most of all because it has the most taps ! If I had to pick a second it would be Les Trois 8 for beer selection, character, wild times, sassy toilet deco and bitchin’ jam with their charcuterie.”

>meet four other amazing women on Paris’s beer scene

May Day!

May 1st, 2016

May 1st is both the Fete du Travail (Labor Day) and the Fete du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). The latter is a spring celebration dating back to the Middle Ages. Flowers were given by men to women they liked as a form of spring courtship. The Labor Day part of the holiday started much later–and was inspired by events in the US. In the late 1800s, Chicago workers rallied for an 8-hour workday. Not long after, French counterparts fought for the same thing. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Despite France’s 35-hour work week and 5 weeks of paid vacation mandated by the state for salaried employees, France recently found that emailing and texting for work during “off” hours is a growing problem. The French may have a rep for being lazy and inefficient (aren’t we all, at times?) but the tough economy means that the shrinking number of people with full-time work need to do the jobs of many people. For every French person I know who has abused unemployment benefits and other hand-outs, I also know someone who is hugely overworked in a job that pays much less than it would in the US. (The need for work is, in part, why you will see people selling those flower bunches after today, even though the government only allows it on May Day itself.)

Alsatian Gastronomy in the Shadow of Sacre Coeur

April 28th, 2016

Antoine Westermann’s Alsatian roots shine in all their glory at his bistro-rotisserie, which gasconades the barnyard (or basse-cour) in a simple yet elegantly Parisian fashion. Located in the quaint rue Lepic, just west of Sacré Coeur, le Coq Rico ostensibly represents his attempt to fly the coop from his Michelin-starred existence at the luxury Paris restaurants. The inspiration for these belles volailles comes from his childhood favorite: roasted chicken. Known for his emphasis on products, Westermann, no spring chicken himself, has Thierry Lébé taking on the birds and Adrien Boulouque stocking the wine cellar, showcasing a carte of chicken specialties as well as rabbit and game dishes.

I’ve been an admirer of Westermann ever since a delicious experience at Drouant, one of my favorite Paris restaurants. Appreciative of his quality ingredients and deep respect for seasonality, I must admit that this radical back-to-the-basics approach roused some skepticism. Could my strict German bang-for-the-buck value system justify a 90-euro bird, however high end?

I stepped into the restaurant with an ambivalent heart. The plain but graceful interior harbored about a dozen polished Parisians relishing in the degustation—we’d be the only Anglos making relentless puns on the restaurant’s inopportune name tonight. Two obliging servers welcomed us, and after a considerable wait (didn’t I make reservations?) seated us at a large, communal table mimicking the Alsatian Stammtisch, traditionally reserved for regulars, which we shared with a handful of other chatty patrons.

Our waitress, whose attitude remained belittling in that French sort of way, promptly delivered our rillettes de canard served with rustic country bread—an impeccable if simple start. A forewarned 40 minutes later (excellence takes time), our poulette for four and sides of rice embellished with fried foie gras, oyster mushrooms and peas appeared. Roasted to perfection—white meat equally juicy as dark—it really was a beautiful bird! The perfectly bronzed skin exuding a few fatty beads was crispy and flavorful. The fried liver dotting the rice provided some earthiness, while the oyster mushrooms added a subtle, sweet pleasure tied together by fresh peas.

98, rue Lepic, 75018. tel: 01 42 59 82 89. Open daily, noon–2 p.m. and 7 p.m.–midnight.

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It’s Back! Les Bain Douches Nightclub

April 21st, 2016

bains douches paris 80sNew York City had Studio 54, and Paris had its own era-defining, decadent club, Les Bains Douches. The location that served as Paris’ first public baths, in 1885, and counted Marcel Proust among its regulars, was converted into a nightclub in 1978. The pool remained from the former bathhouse and over the next two decades an impressive roster of regulars came by to dip in their toes – or in many cases, dive right in. Iggy Pop, David Bowie, a young Kate Moss & Johnny Depp, Mick Jagger and countless supermodels passed through. “Les Bains” helped launched the career of Philippe Stark, who designed the space, and David Guetta, resident D.J., both relatively unknown at the time.

les bains douches 2016But nothing lasts forever. In 2010, Les Bains Douches was forced to close due to its dilapidated state. In 2015 it began its third act as a multipurpose venue with a hotel, restaurant, boutique, club and upscale bar, all under the shortened name Les Bains.

bain douches parisDownstairs, the club retains its edgy-yet-elegant ambience…for those who make it past the doorman. Here, bottles of champagne are de rigueur and the cocktail menu is relatively simple with just a few mixed drinks. However, those who don’t want to stay up past midnight or deal with door policies can enjoy a selection of craft cocktails at the main floor bar. There are also two terraces off either side of the bar. The bar clientele is more sophisticated and subdued than the club-going crowd, but this mix-it-up philosophy is classic les Bains, whose guests have always been lowbrow to highbrow, grit to glamour, newbie to big names.

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