#1 Foreign Buyers of Paris Property

July 25th, 2018

magazineHave Americans finally out-bought the Italians? You may not hear a ton of Italian spoken in Paris (at least I don’t) but Italians are the #1 nationality, after French, that bought apartments in the city last year. Or so it was thought until final numbers recently came in. It was Americans who, for the first time, were the #1 non-resident nationality to buy pieds-a-terre and investment property in Paris. This is according to Olivier Cheilan, writing in one of those slick apartment magazines published by real estate companies. (He does not cite his sources.) On the other hand, there are a lot of American selling apartments, too, recently. New laws passed to put airbnb and other short-term rentals in check have resulted in some investors cashing out.

What “Right Now” Smells Like

July 23rd, 2018

0714181257_resizedFragonard, one of the oldest perfumers in France, runs lovely gift shops around town as well as a perfume museum in its Opera location. (We wrote about this clever marketing operation seven years ago on this blog; visits are free, and the short tour ends up in the gift shop where guests typically load up on purchases.)

At this elegant location you can also take part in a perfume-making workshop. The hour-and-a-half course involves a bit of history, a bit of science, and a lot of test tubes. I took the class with my sister recently, and felt the 95-euro price (per person) was well worth it. We came away with a 100-ml bottle of our own homemade fragrance, along with a colorful pouch for it, a cute apron, a booklet and a keepsake “diploma.”the professor
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A dozen or so tourists from Asia and various Anglophone countries took seats at stations that were laid out with 9 essential fragrances. Our professor—a classically slim Parisienne of a certain age in an animal-print dress and heels—gave us a quick PowerPoint presentation about how perfume is concocted from flowers, herbs, alcohol and water. She instructed us to use paper wands to take in the smells from each bottle and make notes in a provided booklet.

There were four citrus options, including mandarin and bergamot, that we were told to form the base of our fragrances. A full 80% of the juice needed to be composed of one or more of those four. After that, other options, including verbena, rosemary and lavender, could be added to further customize. The materials were limited; there was no rose, sandalwood or musk—but there was certainly enough variety that, for instance, my rosemary-tinged perfume smelled completely different from my sister’s more pleasant lavender concoction.

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Using plastic droppers and tiny glass beakers, we mixed the juices and brainstormed on what to call our “babies.” (I’m thinking “Kel Konk” for mine, a play on quelqonque [“random”] or maybe Sékça, a shortened way of saying “What is this?” [Qu’est-ce que c’est que ca?]}

I can’t say that my perfume debut is a success. I can say that I enjoyed every minute of making it. Our creations were eau de toilette, so their smell disappears on you within an hour. It seemed a perfect metaphor for my sister’s visit to Paris, which was her first: luxurious, complex, bittersweet and fleeting. The perfume I made is not my favorite among the many that I cherish, but, to me, it is the essence of July 2018 in the City of Light, and, in the future, whenever I smell it, I know I will be transported back to this place and time.

Hmmm…maybe I should have called it Coupe du Monde.

Trailblazing a More Sustainable Paris

July 23rd, 2018

0722181207b_resizedIt’s easy to think of France being stuck in the past on many levels. But there are many ways that it points to the future, too. Anyone feeling like the country is spiraling downward need only make a trip to the REcyclerie, on boulevard Ornano, just outside the Porte de Clignancourt metro station, for a dose of inspiration. In a former train station, with tracks still intact, is a sprawling wonderland dedicated to sustainable living and eco-consciousness. There’s a cafeteria-style restaurant (with indoor and outdoor seating), a small flea market, a cozy library, a kitchen garden, and a studio, equipped with tools, for workshops on making repairs. We have seen such places in many cities around the world—my own hometown of Cincinnati had one that until recently held monthly dances and operated workshops for women on basic plumbing and electric work.

0722181329_resizedThe REcyclerie seems particularly Parisian in its refined touches. It’s less “crunchy hippie” and more “modern bohemian.” Members pay a fee to join, which entitles them to collect eggs from the henhouse on site, and learn skills in the workshops. But the public is invited, too, foremost in the restaurant, which was packed yesterday with what could have doubled as a Benetton ad in terms of wide-ranging demographics.

0722181207_resizedThe menu is vegan, and, as you can see, care is put into the visual appeal of the dishes. In addition to this plate laden with healthy creations (the chilled ratatouille was a standout), you also get a plate of 4 (count ’em) mini desserts! (Brownie, rice pudding, a slice of watermelon and pineapple in a mint sauce.) The meal, at 22 euros, includes coffee and a mystery drink, dark purple and refreshing, that I assume was made from a mix of juices and tea.

0722181328_resizedThe flea market was a bit quelqonque (random) with a handful of artisans selling jewelry and fabric-covered notebooks alongside women with a rack or two of secondhand clothing, When I picked up a bottle of Serge Lutens perfume and smelled it, the woman tending the space said, “40 euros.” I demurred, saying I didn’t have that much to spend. “Fine—35,” she said, rather sharply. I scurried away, laughing at the thought of being given the hard sell at a place whose motto–”Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”– encourages people to consume less.

Intimate Concert with Fabulous After-Party

June 11th, 2018

sinfonietta parisIn Paris, there are many opportunities to hear chamber music, but this series is truly unique. It makes the music approachable.

Sinfonietta, a Paris chamber music organization, sponsors a series called Music by the Glass which features intimate concerts in small concert halls and private homes throughout the city. The same concert is performed on Friday and Saturday evenings, once in a hall and once in a lovely, spacious Paris home. Audiences usually number around 100, and such small gatherings mean there are no bad seats. Seating is not assigned, so you can decide on your place after you see the hall. These comfortable yet elegant venues let you experience chamber music the way it was meant to be heard–up close and personal.

Artistic director Michael Boone chooses the music carefully, and includes not only music that is familiar to chamber music lovers but more unusual works as well. The 2017-2018 season includes well-known masters such as Mozart and Ravel, and lesser-known composers such as Britain’s Frank Bridge; Germaine Tailleferre, who was the only female member of Les Six; and Debussy’s piano trio, which was lost for decades after his death and first performed in the 1980s. The concerts last about one hour, with no intermission. Before the concert Dr. Boone gives the audience background information on the the music and the performers (in English with French translation). sinfonietta 2The quiet setting and description of the music and performers lets the audience invest emotionally in the music, and the intimate setting and varied choice of repertoire are a welcome change.

The performers are all young people, graduates of some of Europe’s best conservatories, and currently working in orchestras or engaged in solo and chamber careers. These chamber groups perform throughout Europe.

What truly makes Music by the Glass unique is the afterparty. The evening is not over when the music ends: after the concert, everyone enjoys aperos and wine while mingling with the performers. The audience usually consists of French and expats, so dress is Paris casual and the conversation is lively and diverse.

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A Left Bank Speakeasy

May 24th, 2018

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The Left Bank continues to step up on the Paris cocktail scene with its own speakeasy, Fitzgerald, hidden within a restaurant of the same name, which serves a simple, seasonal menu.

Located in a relatively residential area not far from the Eiffel Tower, Fitzgerald speakeasy is hidden behind the unmarked door at the back of a luminous, chic restaurant. Since opening over a year or so ago, it’s polished itself up a bit and settled nicely into this somewhat traditional neighborhood. This lounge is small and cozy and offers an up-to-date take on decor of bygone days with stylish flamingo wallpaper and shabby-chic velour banquettes. There are no doormen; there’s no need for them. This is a low-key lounge for well-behaved adults.

Fitzgerald2The hidden lounge is probably the biggest surprise in the restaurant, which serves tried-and-true fare like burrata, lamb tajine or prawn risotto. The cocktail menu follows suit with solid offers that don’t stretch cocktail boundaries — though they may stretch the palettes of Parisians unused to particular flavors like the bitter notes of their negroni with its tonka infusion (following the trend). Things here are conventionally good. And that’s not meant pejoratively. While so many try to stretch their wings before properly learning to fly, it’s refreshing to see something that’s regular good stuff. Now that cocktails are mainstream, your average customer is probably going to want a good standard on a regular basis rather than searching out the mindbending oddities that the cocktail geek may seek.

The drinks are based on the usual suspects with whiskey, vodka, gin and mezcal from solid nicely priced brands like Tanqueray, Monkey Shoulder, Plantation. Their (literal) smoking cocktail carafe is a bit of a show stopper, but otherwise, they do up a decent martini and I’m pretty partial to their Guadalquivir with Bulleit bourbon, lustau Pedro Ximenz and Cointreau. Prices are about 13 to 15 Euros per cocktail, which is a touch above average but unsurprising given the area and the ambience.

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May Day!

May 1st, 2018

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.)

The Definitive Pere Lachaise

April 6th, 2018

pere lachaise - 4Painter Modigliani. Playwright Moliere. Actor Yves Montand. Rock star Jim Morrison. That’s just the “M”s. With hundreds of famous people buried in it, Pere Lachaise is not only the most famous graveyard in the world, but it is also, according to the website City of Immortals, a “magnificent open-air museum of sculpture and architecture spanning more than two centuries of art history.”

pere lachaise - 3The tombstones and mausoleum design, and sometimes unusual statuary, “represent an encyclopedic grouping of many periods, including Gothic, Romanesque, Neoclassical, Italian Renaissance and Art Nouveau next to Egyptian Revival pyramids and obeslisks.”

pere lachaise - 1If, like me, you haven’t visited since the de rigueur junior-year-abroad pilgrimage to Jim Morrison’s accessorized and graffiti-covered grave, it is time to take another look. Thankfully, a passionate American has set her laser focus on these 107 acres of corpses and copses. (It’s almost always an American stepping in where the French haven’t succinctly contextualized a behemoth, n’est-ce pas?) Carolyn Campbell’s well thought-out map measures 17″ x 19″ and features NO SMALL TYPE!

pere lachaise - 2It is indispensible for anyone who wants to truly get their mind around this amazing maze of art and death. The flip side of the map features a capsule history in three languages, precise locations of notable graves and some beautiful photographs. For those who insist on being guided by their phone, fear not. Campbell aims to launch a GPS map app this summer, complete with three tours that she has created. To delve into Pere Lachaise in advance of visiting in person, Campbell’s website is a great place to start.

A Realistic French Touch

March 30th, 2018

aurelie - 2It’s hard to find lifestyle tips and inspiration that are truly useful, do-able, authentic and charming. Social media has spawned so many phony selfie-obsessed gurus that I had given up looking. So I was thrilled when a friend turned me on to The Home Within. The host, “Aurelie from Paris,” takes you to her farmer’s market, or speaks to you from her chic (but realistic-looking) apartment in the 6th arrondissement. She dispenses advice for gracious everyday living with traditional French flair mixed with modern takes on mindfulness and sustainability. Her short videos are professionally shot, and they move along at a clip.
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She may start with no-brainer kind of information (to decorate with groceries, display fruit on a plate in your kitchen or living room), but will drill down with info you may not have thought of before (you really don’t have to refrigerate olives or eggs; a selection of different fresh herbs arranged in a vase not only look and smell good, but will prompt you to use them more). I most enjoy the sense of humor in Aurelie (“Because I’m French, I put cheese in every room,” she deadpans, as the camera pans to a plate of fromage in her shoe closet) and in her guests. A feng shui expert visiting the host practically recoils at the sight of a wood valet holding a faux-fur coat. “Please take out that hanger,” she commands. “It looks like a decapitated woman.” To take an armchair visit to Paris—free of cheesy selfies—check out The Home Within on YouTube here.

Walk This Way

March 23rd, 2018

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A look at the first and last entry  Paris in Stride tells you right away this is not some rehashed greatest-hits kind of guidebook. Structured around eclectic leisurely strolls, the book begins with an observation of the “canopied roof and gabled exits” of the former factory that is now the Gare d’Austerlitz train station in the 13th arrondissement—not something you expect on a must-see list—and ends with the museum showcasing the work of 19th century Gustave Moreau, in his former family home inthe 9th with a “stunning spiral staircase”—another spot that I have, so far, failed to really appreciate. So I was excited to delve into the 168 pages between those two unlikely destinations. And I was richly rewarded.

paris in stride - 3The paragraphs about each point of interest—a historical greenhouse in the botanical garden, a pottery boutique resembling a country house, a micro-taqueria—are concise, detailed and free of cheesiness. Author Sarah Moroz certainly knows her art, architecture and history. But the book is not all about obscurity; there’s a hearty helping of hipster hangouts (The Compoir Generale curiosity shop; Point Ephemere bar and music venue). And the old must-sees are not overlooked, although you will most likely learn something new about them. The book is beautifully illustrated with more than 150 watercolors (by Jessie Kanelos Weiner).

paris in stride - 2Such a rich trove in a book small enough to carry with you through the city leaves only one negative feeling in you: If you consider yourself an expert on insider Paris, this book will prove you wrong!

The book, published by Rizzoli, appears in early April.

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A Good Idea, Non?

February 23rd, 2018

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