Museum of Fun!

July 25th, 2016

Blue Sky RioA new museum opened in Paris by the name of Art Ludique Musée, housed in the same building as the MoonRoof restaurant and the Mode et Design museum–you know, the big crazy green thing on the Quai D’Austerlitz. If you’ve not yet been there it’s a hotbed of happenings including Wanderlust and Nuba restaurant, cocktail and nightclubs.

Jeanne & Chris Wedge, whom I know from back home in New York, were attending a show in Chris’ honor at the Museum, a retrospective on his work at Blue Sky Studio–the only East Coast animation studio in the US. Despite the rainy week, we had Blue Sky in Paris. He’s an Academy Award-winning animation director and has directed such movies as Epic, Robots and the first of the five Ice Age movie. His studio has produced many more films. Some of the best animated work out there in the past 30 years was created Blue Sky Studios. The company that he created with a group of colleagues will turn 30 next year.

ludiqueHe says it all with art. And that’s the point of this show and in the museum in general, to let people in on the artwork and illustration as well as the hundreds of hours of conception work that is done to create great animated movies. As a lover of film but someone who knows absolutely nothing about animation, getting the headphones at the museum was critical.


Understanding Champagne

July 15th, 2016

dave in champagneFact: A bottle of Champagne pops open every 2 seconds somewhere around the world. If you’re like me, that fact conjures up a bevy of celebration images; people clinking glasses at weddings, Bat Mitzvahs, graduations, anniversaries, cheering career promotions, expanding families or new adventures. But the reality is that in France, Champagne isn’t merely reserved for momentous occasions nor is it only suitable pre and post-mealtime. This is something I came to fully understand on my recent trip to the Champagne-Ardenne region (now known as the Grand Est region, which also includes Alsace and Lorraine) where I was on assignment for Atout France last month. In fact, awareness around champagne (it pairs well with food! It’s complex!) and its aging process is still rather weak. I had a lot of ground to cover in four days but I do believe I came away with a new appreciation for Champagne the drink, and Champagne the historical and cultural destination, thanks to pairings, tastings and tours, both through the vines and through cities like Reims, Epernay, and Troyes.


Moroccan Paradise in the Latin Quarter

July 10th, 2016

MosqueParis is not only a romantic city, it’s also a melting pot of cultures. So sometimes your steps lead you to an exotic architectural site right in its heart. That’s what happens in the 5th district, at the foot of the Saint Geneviève hill, where a white wall hides a mysterious building, flagged by a colorful tower and a massive wooden door. This monument is actually the Great Mosque of Paris, a little piece of Morocco hidden in the French capital.

mosque3This sanctuary, built between 1922 and 1926, is a tribute to the Muslim soldiers who died during World War I fighting for the French Republic. 100,000 volunteers from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia perished during the war, far from their native lands. Afterwards, the French people wanted to give the Muslim community a place to commemorate this tragedy. That was the beginnings of this mosque, a Muslim Institute, several reception rooms, and a library. A restaurant and hammam (steam baths) completed this Moroccan haven in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

Mosque2Nowadays, visitors and prayers go together in this quiet atmosphere of the Great Mosque. A peaceful garden welcomes you to this reconstituted paradise, with its fountains, palm trees and roses. Beyond that is the courtyard of the mosque, decorated in the tradition of Fez, the spiritual capital of Morocco. Ceramics, engraved plaster, sculpted wood, and calligraphy running all along the walls and beneath the arcades evoke the North African heritage. At the end of the corridors and terraces a huge door opens onto a majestic reception hall reminding us of the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights.


Gros, Not Gross!

June 30th, 2016

gros 1At lunch Gros, in the 10th arrondissement, has a 17€ (appetizer and main course or main course and dessert) or 22€ for appetizer, main course and dessert. You choose between three items for each course. I started with lentils mixed with a delicious and delicate hummus and a big crust of hard sesame bread. My lunch date Lynn was delighted with her poached egg perched on sautéed mushrooms with spinach pesto.

Since we are both sticklers about portion size, Lynn was pleased with a more than ample sized piece of codfish accompanied by buckwheat tabouleh and a Greek yogurt sauce. I had Banh Mi, a Vietnamese-style sandwich with pork, carrots, and cucumber with a dusting of coriander. Wrapped in brown paper, the sandwich seemed as though it was from a local food truck.

gros 2The dessert, rice pudding drizzled with salted butter caramel sauce, was a little too sweet for my palate, and it was too finely pureed to taste the texture of the rice.

The faux sandblasted pinky-beige walls and tin inlaid tables gives the dining room a cool, industrial look. Service was laid back and pleasant but the wait between the appetizer and main course dragged close to 30 minutes. Still for the prize, Lynn and I declared Gros a winner!


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.