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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Seventh Heaven

April 16th, 2016

The 7th, the roof terrace bar of the 4-star Terrass Hotel in Montmartre, is a bar with a view. But not just any old view: the 7th floor vantage point that lends its name to the bar offers a spectacular view of Paris, with the Tour de Montparnasse, Les Invalides and the Eiffel Tower, lined up perfectly from left to right along the horizon.

The open-air setting is open from early April to the end of September, weather permitting, with white parasols to protect you from the sun and the breeze of being up high to cool you down on a hot summer day – and with a reasonably priced drinks menu offering cocktails, soft drinks and wine as refreshment. Despite being just minutes away from the grey urbanity of the Place de Clichy, up here in the clouds at the 7th there is an overall atmosphere of being on holiday away from the city. This is perhaps due to the riviera vibe brought about by decor of comfortable yet luxurious garden furniture usually seen in swanky beach resorts, accented with ostentatious touches such as bottles of Dom Perignon displayed on pedestals, and the shiny and bright fake grass that carpets the ground. But the eurotrash undertones fade into the background when you’re faced with such a spectacular view of Paris with a glass of chilled wine in hand. The main obstacle to enjoying the terrace this summer has been the awful weather – but if there are any more nice sunny days before the end of the season, we recommend checking this place out for the view alone.

12-14 rue Joseph de Maistre, 75018

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Hipsters Take to Petanque

April 13th, 2016

petanque_arena04Whether you call it pétanque or boules, the traditional French game with the shiny silvery balls has made a comeback. It used to be the only people you’d see playing in were old men in berets sipping pastis. Now everyone plays, particularly Parisian hipsters (les Bobos) who don’t have to worry about breaking a sweat.

In the mood to try your hand? You can learn the rules of pétanque here, and find a great list of places to play here, but what about les boules? You can either buy inexpensive sets of balls at sporting goods store like Decathlon or from pro shops like Obut. You’ll probably see another game with little wooden pins, almost like bowling. That Jeu de Quilles, a Finnish game that has become more popular around Paris, possibly because the equipment is lighter and less expensive, and little kids can play. Not sure where they rate on the cool-o-meter, though. Stick with boules unless you’re devoid of hipster aspirations or immune to subtle Parisian mocking.

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Frogs Love This Dog

April 10th, 2016

The French bulldog is descended from an Asian “mastiff” type of dog, that have a flattened muzzle and a strong jaw, but the race was really developed from the British bulldog.  Mixed with the bulldog brought over to French by British workers around 1850, and bred with the terrier dogs or the “doguin” dogs that the butchers would have around their shops to keep the rodents away, it was reduced in size. During the siege of 1870, bulldogs were used to kill rats, with one clamp of their jaw, so that people could bring them home and cook them. The city of Paris was starving and even the animals in the zoos were not spared. But the bulldogs proved they had a function, so lucky them. The artist Toulouse-Lautrec loved these little dogs, and many other celebrities and personalities of history also helped make them a popular pet, such as Josephine Baker, Mistinguett, Colette et Yves Saint Laurent. A kennel club was formed as early as 1898 for the breeding and promotion of the particular race. Poupoudou (pronounced Poopoodoo) has become a star of the Flickr-sphere… and it’s not hard to see why… he embodies the adorableness and the spirit of the Frenchie which is irresistable and beyond cute!

Photos by K. Pujol

Brass Knuckles for Paris

April 9th, 2016

brass-knuckles
Artist Jessie Kanelos Weiner on one of her watercolor works:

Paris was brokenhearted after the November attacks. I had this visual in my head the dark days that followed, but I was worried the idea of brass knuckles was treating violence with violence. But finally, I shared it and was swept away by the response. I forget how powerful the creation of timely images can be, especially during times of crisis.

The American watercolor illustrator’s biggest project to date is Edible Paradise: a Coloring Book of Seasonal Fruits and Vegetables. See images from it here.