Lost and Found

September 11th, 2017

lost objectsHere’s a diversion from stories about hurricanes and a certain anniversary happening today. The New Yorker looks into the Bureau of Found Objects. This was unknown to me. Here’s how the article starts:

On the southern edge of Paris, a five-thousand-square-foot basement houses the city’s lost possessions. The Bureau of Found Objects, as it is officially called, is more than two hundred years old, and one of the largest centralized lost and founds in Europe. Any item left behind on the Métro, in a museum, in an airport, or found on the street and dropped, unaddressed, into a mailbox makes its way here, around six or seven hundred items each day. Umbrellas, wallets, purses, and mittens line the shelves, along with less quotidian possessions: a wedding dress with matching shoes, a prosthetic leg, an urn filled with human remains.

Read the rest here.

Power Unicycle

September 7th, 2017

unicycle - 1
With apologies for the not-so-great quality of this photo–has anyone else noticed these power unicycles around Paris? I saw two just this past week. Are they considered hover boards? I suppose one needs to know how to use a unicycle to get started on one…curious!!

Petite Boutique of African Clothes and Accessories

September 4th, 2017

african fabrics - 1Seeking some modestly priced gifts in my neighborhood, I came upon this bare-bones boutique bursting with color. It’s called Aweny, and its designer Sofia Paraiso makes traditional and modern clothing in beautiful prints and hues.

Aweny Creations - 1
the foulard - 1For 20 euros I bought this scarf with an elastic end (which almost looks like a super-skinny pair of pants) that you attach to your head and then wrap as you see fit. “You personalize it,” Sofia said. She also has wrap skirts, long skirts, and shift dresses in those strong cotton fabrics.
necklaces - 1For those who may be a bit too shy to wear such attention-grabbing looks, there are blank books covered in the fabrics, and accessories both bold and demure.

Graffiti Strikes Again

September 3rd, 2017

grafitti painted over - 1Is it me, or is there a lot more graffiti lately in Paris? Each of the steps in the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station are tagged–that’s a lot of steps–and, when the metro arrived, I observed two of the cars were elaborately “pieced.” Typically the cars, at least on the 12 line, are fairly pristine. Today, upon arriving home, I came across a fellow covering scrawls on the community art space.

Announcing the Hot New Look for Men

September 1st, 2017

white t shirt - 1In a lot of the major style magazines, and at the luxury fashion houses (which lead the look with their collections and advertising), I’m seeing a lot of glorified housecoats, and garments and handbags covered in appliques. For men, a different look. Here’s a shop window (in the 6th arrondissement side street) that stopped me in my tracks with its unexpected statement: a white T-shirt. That’s all! In a time of stylistic goulash, it was a palette cleanser.

Gluten-Free Comes to Paris

August 29th, 2017

abbatoir 1 - 1
abbatoir 2 - 1In the baguette capital of the world, it is hard to find places that sell gluten-free food. But there are a few, mainly in the Marais, catering to tourists and people in the glamour trades. The helpful site GlutenFreeinParis lists just one gluten-free spot in the entire 18th arrondissement. So a gluten-intolerant friend and I (personally, I’m an omnivore) dropped into L’Abattoir Vegetale for lunch, excited and not quite sure what to expect.

The restaurant is immediately appealing, one of the many in town on the pale-wood-and-white-paint bandwagon. In a sign of the times, the space is a former butcher shop. It is is triangle-shaped, light filled, dotted with green plants. The sparse furniture, on the CB2 tip, feels modern.

My friend and I were waited on by a few different people, including a child who looked to be about 11 years old. “Feeneesh?” she asked, taking away an empty cappuccino cup (we were speaking English, obvi). The menu was small, usually a good sign. My friend ordered the Assiette Complete du Jour and I ordered the Blanquette de Seitan. (Ironically, seitan is concentrated gluten, and I think the restaurant would do well to notate that for diners who aren’t aware. The restaurant doesn’t claim to be exclusively gluten free, but still).

pink flower - 1Fewer than half the tables were occupied at mid-day today, but after 20 minutes of waiting after ordering, our food had not arrived. Bear in mind, this was for food that does not get cooked on a stove. Our waitress arrived, however, to tell us they were out of seitan, so I had to choose another main course out of the three on offer. I ordered the same Assiette as my friend had, and after another 10 or 15 minutes, it was delivered. It was a pretty plate, with quinoa, crunchy fried kale, thin slivers of courgettes, a ball of thick guacamole, and a flavorful dressing that tied it all together.

Though the staff didn’t seem to be in the weeds—it was clearly the kitchen that couldn’t keep up—we were not offered bread or water. (The little girl took a load off to draw in a notebook.) My hope is that l’Abattoir won’t become too self-satisfied with its trendy press (the actor Fabrice Luchini eats there!) and will focus on ironing out its kinks. If France experiences even a small percentage of the gluten-free mania the US has, it could do very well.

Secondhand Behemoth

August 23rd, 2017

emmaus 2 - 1Emmaus is the closest thing to Paris has to a Salvation Army or Goodwill chain. It’s an organization that helps people get back on their feet, and their social enterprise component is a handful of secondhand stores. One of the largest, if not the largest of those stores is Emmaus Defi at 40 rue Riquet in the 19th arrondissement. It is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting at 1:30 in the afternoon. emmaus 1 - 1Today it was mobbed! And for good reason. It;s got massive armoires, sofas and other furniture, most for under 100 euros. The clothing is clean and in good shape, and there’s plenty in the under-5-euro range. A second Emma’s Defo store, at 104 rue d’Aubervillier, opens next week, on August 30.

Le Rentree

August 23rd, 2017

archivesLa Rentree has an official date (this year it’s Sept 4) but the term more frequently applies to the entire end-of-August period during which tanned vacationers reluctantly return to Paris (and other metropolises) to work. Until then, many of our local parks, such as the one inside the Archives Nationales, look like this! Aaahhh….

There seems to be a growing number of people who actually prefer to stay in Paris during those quiet weeks of August. Sure, a lot of businesses are closed, but there remain plenty of stores and restaurants open. In fact there are more businesses open on Sundays and in the late hours than ever before.

Who remembers the days when the entire town would roll up on Sunday afternoon?

A New Eye on Eiffel

August 22nd, 2017

le build
posterWe all know that the Eiffel Tower was erected in 1889 for the Universal Exposition; only meant to stay in place for a short while; and was reviled by many Parisians at the time. But that’s just the tip of the steel iceberg, as I learned last week on a fabulous 1.5-hour night tour of the monument. I decided it was time to delve deeper into Paris’s most famous—and sometimes, famously shrugged off—image. How little I knew!

expo univThe man behind it, Gustav Eiffel, is one of history’s more fascinating characters. A civil engineer keen on marketing, he had changed his last name (his Bönickhausen forebears had a bad reputation), and he rigged the competition to create an attraction for the Exposition by having its rules changed to stipulate that the object had to be made of metal. He even offered to pay 80% of its construction cost.

laura the guide - 1Our delightful tour guide explained that the Universal Exposition was the Internet of its day, a marketing behemoth that was the best way to spread news far and wide. And so the Tower was first and foremost meant to bring attention to the late 19th century modernization of Paris. The city’s tangle of narrow streets, literally seething with raw sewage, had been freshly replaced by sewers and Baron Haussmann’s urban renewal designs—controversial at the time but also, like the Tower, an unexpectedly enduring development, and now among the city’s most defining characteristics. (I think I learned more Paris history on this tour than in a full year at the Sorbonne.)

Normally I’m not much of a tour-taker; I’d just as soon do my own research and go it alone. But the nighttime tour of the Eiffel Tower by City Wonders turned out to be well worth its 45-euro price. It included not just admission into the monument but—even more importantly—the ability to skip the line. As a bonus, our guide filled us in on several other monuments visible from the Tower: Sacre Coeur, La Defense, Notre Dame, and the other tower on the city’s horizon—the one that’s even more controversial than the Eiffel Tower—the Tour Montparnasse.

France Outlaws OTC Codeine

August 21st, 2017

prontalgineParty’s over. In line with a new awareness of the widespread abuse of opiates in the Western Hemisphere, France last month instituted its own law requiring a doctor’s prescription to buy painkillers and cough suppressant medications that contain codeine. Paderyl and Prontalgine, two popular medications for symptoms such as headaches or dry coughs, will no longer be available at pharmacies without what the French call an “ordinance.”

city of syrupEurope has not seen anything close to the carnage that opiates have caused in the United States, since hydrocodone and oxycodone, in pills such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, respectively, are not available here. (French doctors often prescribe opium or codeine for severe pain.) It was Purple Drank, the buzz-inducing mix of cough syrup and soda pop, that the French ministry of heath was concerned about. A handful of overdoses of the sticky stuff, mainly by adolescents, was enough to prompt the new law. (Purple Drank originated in the Southern US hip-hop culture; some of the artists who rapped about it died of overdoses. Here’s an impressive investigative article that documents its origins and spread.)