Champagne in Champagne

August 22nd, 2014

champagne1Over brunch one Sunday years ago, a friend raised her glass and said, “Thanks for introducing me to champagne.” I responded, “You’d never had it before?” And she said, “Well, at weddings. Not, like, every day.” Regrettably, I don’t drink champagne everyday. It’s more a once-a-week thing. Though I can be cheap in other areas of my life—I never buy water, and I peel uncancelled stamps off envelopes—I splurge on champagne. It comforts me to know that when I am on my deathbed, I can say to myself, “I drank a lot of really good champagne.” champagne_regionSo last summer I made a pilgrimage to the region of Champagne. It’s just an hour and a half by car to the east of Paris, and you know you’ve arrived when you see a gigantic bottle pouring liquid into a glass on top of a hill…overlooking a cemetery. Its proximity to Germany gives Champagne’s architecture a Hansel-and-Gretel look, and you see crunchy Teutonic names on the many churchyard memorials to fallen soldiers. Just don’t tell anyone who lives here how German it feels, or they’ll go off on you as one woman did to me: “Four years of occupation was enough!” My boyfriend and I found Chateau D’Etoges online, and were thoroughly charmed by the castle’s moat, expansive but simple gardens, and discrete updates, such as a large bathroom with a tub. champagne_chateaudetogeWe ate at L’Orangerie, the chateau’s fancy restaurant, and went all out on a 200-euro bottle of Krug Grand Cuvee. It was like drinking diamonds. Surprisingly, we were tipsy after a single glass. I was so involved with the flavors and experience of the wine that I didn’t have much of an appetite for my pork loin dinner. Failing to convince my boyfriend to peel the aluminum casing off the bottle’s neck—to wrap the leftovers in—I instead used my dinner napkin, sneaking it all into my purse. The champagne gave the dinner an epic quality. champagne krugIt lasted for hours—or seemed to, though it was a mere (albeit fabulous) three courses. The champagne amounted to more than a night at the chateau, and it was worth every penny. We took cellar tours in Epernay (Moet) and Rheims (Taittinger) and found small owner-operated vineyards for afternoon tastings (Doyard-Mahé was a revelation; besides being delicious bubbly, it is also exclusive—you have to drive to the place to by a bottle, since it is not sold in Paris or anywhere abroad.)

After the trip, and back in our Montmartre apartment, we went to Le Bon Marche to buy provisions for our last night of our three-week holiday in France. Spotting a bottle of the same Krug Grand Cuvee, I snapped it up. That evening, we drank it a different way than we had at the chateau in Champagne. We opened a bag of chips, invited down a neighbor, and quaffed it without even mentioning to him what it was. If that’s not living, I don’t know what is.

Chic and Ew

August 21st, 2014

subwaychicsubwayawThe two extremes of Parisian style for women of a certain age were displayed across the aisle from each other on my subway ride this morning.


August 20th, 2014

readerA reader who lives in the States, and is apparently more Francophile than even me, has sent in his photo and asked that we publish it. How could I say no? He looks so French with his fisherman’s sweater, hair matted from infrequent washing, mechant little mustache, and a tongue sticking out to either French kiss someone or taste some obscure animal innard. Readers, if you have images of yourself that illustrate how much you love France and the French, send them in! A suivre

Generous Shopclerks

August 19th, 2014

gladiolasOne of the zillion things I love about France is that very often a shopkeeper won’t, for artistic reasons, upsell you. This afternoon I bought flowers on rue Caulaincourt in the 18th. I asked for 6 stems of gladiolas, to which the fleurist responded, “five or seven–it should be an odd number.” I agreed to seven and asked why. “It looks much better,” he declared. I asked him to add one stem of white lilies (€6,50) to the bunch. “Ah no,” he said. “That won’t look good at all. Leave the gladiolas on their own.” Similarly, my caviste gives me a discount on the wine I buy from her. After having purchased one bottle, she informed me I was a bonne cliente.

Look Familiar?

August 18th, 2014

eiffelchairHow cool is this metal chair inspired by the Eiffel Tower? It’s “Sifel Chair,” the work of Caroline Corbeau, who works just outside the city. She is one of the designers represented at Outdoorz Gallery, a specialist in forward-thinking all-weather furniture. Wouldn’t it be amazing if Luxembourg Garden, which is always hosting art shows, gave this company an exhibit this summer?

>have a look at other furniture from Outdoorz

Paris Gets Liberated Today

August 17th, 2014

liberationOn the 70th anniversary of The Liberation of Paris, the Hotel de Ville (in the Marais, with its own eponymous metro stop) commemorates one of the most important events in 20th century French history. Told through posters, photographs, newspapers, as well as memorabilia, the exhibit goes from Thursday, August 17, 1944 and the suspension of the National Radio to the arrival of Captain Dronne to City Hall Thursday, August 24, followed the next day by the 2nd Armored Division and General de Gaulle, signing the defeat of Germany in Paris.

>more August events in the city

Firemen Frolic

August 16th, 2014

pompiersYesterday in the 6th arrondissement I did a quick about-face on my Velib when I saw some handsome firemen whiling away their time in the station by playing ping-pong and working out on mats close to the large open entryway. At dinner, Parisian friends lamented that the calendars sold door to door by firemen each year are short on beefcake and nudity. “The rugby calendar, on the other hand, is basically porn,” one fellow explained, “because they realized no one cares about that sport so they had to use desperate measures.”

Quittin’ Time

August 15th, 2014

blurry eiffel tower
Who’s ready for the weekend?

>more pretty pictures here

Thrift Pleasures

August 14th, 2014

Paris thrift shops—not second-hand stores, but real thrift shops—are a glass-half-empty/glass-half-full enterprises. On the negative side, there are few of them, and many of those are scary-scummy. The more salubrious ones in the central parts of Paris, like the two Emmaus locations in the 11th, carry very little furniture, home décor, appliances, or dishes. The mega Emmaus in the 14th, which carries everything from beds to washing machines, is only open on Saturdays, and thus is mobbed during its few hours of operation. But the plusses, to me, outweight the minuses. Parisians have not taken to thrifting the way Americans have.

Used clothing a la mothball carries a larger stigma here. That results in fewer people picking through the goods, and quality scores resting on shelves longer. There may not be a ton of contemporary clothing on the racks at Emmaus, but what’s there is almost all in great shape and reasonably fashionable. And unlike the resale shops of Chatelet or in the 10th, the prices in thrift stores are sometimes shockingly low. Plenty of tables and shelving units in Emmaus costs under 10 euros. Store employees cleave the the unspoken thrift-store operational rule of being totally clueless, slow, unhelpful, and unable to do simple tasks such as putting a price on a tag-less item. But that’s a plus, too: they wouldn’t know a mid-century modern masterpiece if it bit them in the fesses, so treasures at that mega Em this past weekend included a vintage miniature pram was priced at 30 euros (WHY did I not buy it?) and a ’60s Formica tables and chairs went for a fraction of what you’d see if going for at the puces

Ossifying France

August 13th, 2014

tousistsI am thrilled that Paris is holding its spot as the most-visited destination on Earth.

However. The refusal to modernize its social programs and economy in general is turning the entire country into one big museum. Have you ever gotten the feeling that France is increasingly becoming a vacation from the modern world instead of a participant in it? (Remember the Minitel, which predated the modern-day Internet?) Maybe it’s just the August doldrums, which slows French “efficiency” to a crawl, that makes me feel this way.