Free French Classes in Paris

February 10th, 2015

mairie du 18emeThe Paris Mayor’s Office has added a “Learning French” page to its website with tips on who can take classes and where. Staying in Paris awhile? Check your with your local mayor’s office (each arrondissement has one) for information on free municipal classes. No restrictions on nationality or residence status, but students must be must be over 18.

Classes are held between September and into June, Tuesday mornings or Thursday evenings. So you have plenty of time to prepare a trip!


A Cafe That Does It Differently

February 5th, 2015

anti cafe parisThe Anti-Café now has three locations in Paris – Beaubourg (4th), Palais Royal (1st) and Les Olympiads (13th) – cozy lounges where you can meet, hang out, use Wifi, play board games, enjoy all-you-can-eat snacks and beverages (or bring your own food and drink), all for just €4/hour or €17 for the full day. There are tables, some sofas, rooms that can be reserved for groups, and even events for “community” members. Imagine an airline lounge (minus the CNN loop on the TV) and that’s the Anti-Café. Considering it usually costs €3-5 just for a tea in any café with wifi, this seems more than reasonable.


The Edgier Side of the Flea Market

February 3rd, 2015

pucesA banquet for the eyes: antiquated furniture, crate-loads of jewellery, sacred artifacts from across the world, ritzy vintage and couture clothing; marvels that once belonged to another person, another era. These are the sights at the heart of the St Ouen marché aux puces, a popular flea market located in the poorer area of north central Paris. The objects here beg the question, “What is their story?”

But, bedazzled by beauty from times long gone, a voyager like myself risks overlooking another mystery surrounding something that is less visible; What social life exists in this particular place? For me, an amateur anthropologist, the people, punters and sellers at the market, were of equal interest as their wares. The story of the humans in this part of Paris, in a certain snapshot of time, is worth considering if you yourself are to make a pilgrimage to the area.

puces 2Under a grey Parisian sky, I entered the market from the direction of the Porte de Clignancourt Metro stop. The first stalls I encountered were selling items such as brightly colored sweatbands for goths and gimmicky T-shirts. If you look at TripAdvisor or Yelp, the wares here prompt disgusted reviews, encouraging people to veer right in order to reach what they evidently see to be “the true market.”

Instead of heading straight to the market’s more celebrated center, I continued along this avenue of shops and stalls, which dwindled into smaller stalls, and eventually ended at a space where items were being sold from squares of fabric on the concrete. Nearby, overlooking the scene, stood four policemen. I had also read online reviews, written by people who must have arrived via this end of the market. According to them, the characters you meet here are “very edgy, druggy, and easily provoked.” And “It seriously looked like a bunch of homeless people gathering underneath a bridge with a variety of tacky items spread out on a tarp.”


Fashionable After All These Years

January 28th, 2015

cardinPierre Cardin, one of the most prolific fashion designers of the 20th century and the first designer to mass market his name and products, is still going strong at age 92. His latest project is a fashion museum in a former factory in the Marais.

Last week at the museum I time traveled to the swinging ’60s to the land of plastic mini-dresses and 3D clothes, when Cardin was at his prime.

After a brief stint working for Dior in the late 1940s, Cardin struck out on his own in the 1950s, creating tasteful ensembles in line with the time period. He helped revolutionize fashion in the ’60s and ’70s with his futuristic clothes including mini-dresses with geometric shapes and bright colors and using plastic and metal on the clothes. He was also one of the first designers to simultaneously design men’s clothes.

The museum features 130 mannequins on three floors spanning five decades of fashion. There is also a room with belts, shoes, hats, and other accessories. Other Cardin products are displayed throughout the museum including his line of furniture.


7-Day Slosh

January 26th, 2015

PCWParis Cocktail Week has just kicked off so I went out and got it all warmed up for you.

In addition to specials in 35 bars across the city, PCW’s programme includes other goodies like special tastings, master classes, food fun and even a couple of PopUps in The Chamber.

I started Saturday at the swanky Bristol for an inspired martini and Boutary Caviar presentation and pairing. Maxime and Charles guided us through history with a tasting that took us from modern day martinis and caviar to the 19th century. We learned about the parallels between the two including ebbs and flows in popularity, murky origins of their names, flavor profiles and rituals. While this was a one-day only event, you can still stop into the Bristol bar for their PCW special, the Xmas Carol.

Next stop: Copper Bay to test out their PCW special, the Lizzy Sour and catch up with the trio behind the bar (Elfi, Aurélie and Julien). Copper Bay’s menu includes The Beast, which is a fat-washed Bourbon made with grease (!) from the newly opened BBQ joint of the same name.


The Monsieur of Notre Dame

January 20th, 2015

Viollet-le-Duc-metro-posterEugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc renovated the crumbling walls and put his imprint on about 100 French monuments, including Vézelay, Pierrefonds, Notre-Dame de Paris, Carcassonne, Saint-Sernin. The poster for an exhibition on him at Cité de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine resembles a Pierre-Jules Hetzel edition of a Jules Verne novel. Cité gives no reason for the choice of cover but my guess is that like Jules Verne, Viollet-le-Duc was seen as a visionary with an active imagination; someone who saw the future.

The exhibit has two objectives: An opportunity for the public to see for the first time a considerable quantity of newly acquired graphic drawings and writing and relate to the public the various facets of this temperamental artist. This retrospective exhibit (English and French explanations and labels) celebrates the two hundredth anniversary of his birth.

v le dThe themes of the exhibition include: man of his times; Romanticism and voyages through France; his voyage throughout Italy; working on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris; architecture and the living organism (study of building, nature and human structure); restoration of Notre-Dame de Paris; its décor, furnishings and decorative arts; understanding the Middle Ages through medieval architect thoughts to understand the French identity and its reason for being; Viollet-le-Duc’s desire to write and teach and pass on his knowledge; and (PHEW!) his museum and legacy for comparative sculpture. I can highly recommend the Beaux Arts magazine’s special edition at the museum shop for 7,90 euros on the exhibit and Viollet-le-Duc.


An Odd Coincidence

January 15th, 2015

appertStreet names in Paris are one way to discover the history of France. With over 5,000 streets, avenues, boulevards, cul-de-sacs and dead-ends, the street often has a simply phrased history beneath the name. An example is rue Nicolas Appert in the eleventh arrondissement. Nicolas Appert (1749 and 1841) was a French confectioner who made pastries and candies. He invented the method for conserving food in a tin can.

Direct Matin is one of the free metro newspapers in France. It has a section called “Pourquoi…” (“Why…”). This section is my favorite for tidbits of Paris and French history. The question on January 7 was about Nicolas Appert’s invention: “Why can you keep canned food for such a long time?” I recognized the inventor’s name, Nicolas Appert.

In one of life’s coincidences, on January 7, Parisians were picking up their morning Direct Matin newspaper and maybe some bought the newly published satirical edition of Charlie Hebdo. Employees of Charlie Hebdo went to work January 7 on rue Nicolas Appert.


Multi-Media Arc de Triomphe

January 13th, 2015

new years eve on he champs elyseesThe Paris Mayor’s Office brought in the new year with a spectacular display of “video-morphing” on the Arc-de-Triomphe. The spectacle lasted 20 minutes and ended with fireworks from the top. Wherever you were on December 31, you can relive a slice of the moment virtually on their Daily Motion (think: French YouTube) channel.

Visit the Mairie de Paris’ website for more virtual moments, with New Year 2015 page for photos along Champs Elysées and stills from the video. You will be awestruck by the masses that clogged the boulevard and the fun the mayor’s office had “morphing” the Arc.


New Year Price Hikes

January 12th, 2015

postage stamp vintage french- Metro tickets went from €1.70 to €1.80 and a carnet of 10 rose from €13.70 to €14.10 (however any tickets purchased before January 1st are still valid). Monthly Navigo passes are up 4.3% to €70.
- Airport RER/bus tickets rose on the Orlyval (€9.30 euros), the Orlybus (€7.70), and Roissybus (€11).
- The minimum taxi fare is now €7, no matter what it says on the meter.

- Regional train tickets (RER, TER, TGV) went up 2.1%.

- Parking in the 1st-11th arrondissements has gone from €2.50 to €4/hour for street parking (€2.40/hour in the 12th-20th arrondissements). It has been extended to 8pm and now includes Saturdays and August. And if you are a resident you now have to pay €45 for your annual street parking permit plus €1.50/day.

- Postage stamps just went up a record 7% (wish I had bought a bunch last month!) so now a regular French stamp is €0.76, a Timbre Vert is €0.68, and to mail a letter internationally beyond Europe (ie US or Australia) will now cost a whopping €1.20 (it was €0.95 before…some of you may not get your new year’s cards). On the plus side, packages are up just 1%, and they have simplified the shipping rates, so now there are just 30 whereas before there were 200 (yes, 200; that’s not a typo) and now offer more pre-paid envelopes and boxes for small packages.

Oh, Kei!

January 11th, 2015

keikobayashiDining in Paris has gotten more exciting this year with the addition of Kei to the roster of divine Parisian restaurants. As a student of Ducasse, Piège and Moret, Kei Kobayashi is known for bringing together the finesse of Asian cuisine and the strong tastes of local French dishes – this, obviously just reeled me in more.

With a purposefully plain exterior: you would never think to stop in when walking by Kei. Once having entered the unimaginative and immaculately white dining room, it becomes hard to imagine that you would be served beautifully plated and colorful dishes.

For an appetizer, we start with a granita (sorbet) that smoothly caresses our palette, a mini black olive loaf to die for, and a bread and butter combo sporting the Kei name: OK, I’m starting to understand…

Except, no…It’s unbelievable. In this next spectacularly plated dish resembling Eden’s Garden with its delicate feminine touches, Joël Thiebaut’s vegetables are presented solely with their natural beauty – delicately sliced with sublime precision alongside a cube of beech tree wood smoked salmon, lemon mousse and arugula emulsion.