Saturday, January 30, 2010

Aux Champs Elysées

This song is so corny you can't help but love it.

And if you're the irrepressible type, there's a karoake version too.

Bon week-end à tous!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Waste Not

My hat is off to folks in the restaurant business. I have no idea how they figure out how much of anything to buy, what dishes are going to be the big sellers, and which ones will fall flat. It kind of makes my mind reel.

Still, it makes me sad to see this.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Contest Winner Revealed

Dear Readers:

You guys are awesome and way too clever. I am overwhelmed by the number of you (46!)who responded even without the promise of a halfway decent prize. Could it be that you are just a wee bit competitive?

At any rate, most of you correctly discerned that the colors for the two lines were inverted. Line 1, the most traveled line in the system thanks to both locals and tourists, should be yellow and line 6 should be green. The real question is this: if so many of you had no trouble detecting the error, what's up with the folks who work for the RATP who mounted it?

Here's the correct version, placed not 10 meters from the one in error:

And now what you've all been waiting for. The glory of winning goes to Laura for coming in with the first correct answer at 9:00 am Paris time. You might enjoy Laura's blog about Paris if you read Italian; or if you're like me and can only pick out a few words, you can just enjoy the photos. Congratulations, Laura! Since you already live in Paris, I'm assuming you don't want an Eiffel Tower keychain and you can buy your own Speculoos spread. Can I bake you a batch of American brownies or send you some tunes? E-mail me at and we'll figure it out.

As for some of the other guesses, it's true that line 6 shows only one terminus rather than two. But that's because the Charles de Gaulle stop is the end of the line on the 6, thus there's only one direction you can go on that line from there. Someone else noted that line 2 is missing. While it's true that line 2 does go through this station, you have to take another corridor to get there from the RER tracks.

Well played all. Perhaps there's another contest in this blog's future. If so, I promise to post it later in the day so those stateside have a fair crack at being first to respond.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Foreign Tongue

At first, Foreign Tongue, the debut novel by French-American author Vanina Marsot, kind of bugged me with its smarty pants insiders' view of Paris. The story of twenty something Anna, the novel begins when she has fled to Paris after a failed relationship in Los Angeles. Paris is a city she knows well from childhood summers spent with her French grandmother and a stint as a college student. But it seemed to me that there was almost too much specificity about Anna's neighborhood, the streets she wanders, the cafes she frequents, and the buses she takes. Yeah, yeah, I was thinking, quit showing off already. We get that you KNOW Paris.

Midway through, I changed my mind when bilingual Anna, who has taken the job of translating an erotic novel into English from French, starts to reflect on the intricacies of the French language and the intertwining of cultural values, expectations, and language itself. The ups and downs of Anna's love life take a back seat to these much more interesting musings on how language defines the self. Marsot takes on the tricky aspects of faux amis (words that sound alike in French and English but have different meanings), riffs on how the differences between Americans and the French play out in their speech, and shares with her readers a whole arsenal of French swear words. Personally I loved the fact that a bilingual person was just as confused by the construction "tu me manques" (literally "to me, you are missing") which translates as "I miss you." Bottom line? Not a must read but still a pleasant twist on the American in Paris theme. I'd call it classic chick lit with a healthy serving of linguistics and cross cultural angst.

Monday, January 25, 2010

My First Ever Readers' Contest

Something's amiss in this sign, which I spotted on the platform for the RER A at the Charles de Gaulle — Étoile stop. The first person to correctly identify the error wins the glory and maybe a prize. That is, if I can think of something suitable. Regrettably I don't have much free swag lying about. An Eiffel Tower keychain? A jar of that sinful Speculoos spread? A bootlegged CD of my favorite French/American musical classics?

Leave your answer in the comments section by 8:00 a.m. Paris time on Wednesday the 27th and let's see how it goes. I'm going to change the settings on the comments section so you won't see your answer until all have come in.

Ready, set, go!

Saturday, January 23, 2010


On Thursday, a few discrete signs went up on my block letting everyone know that a film crew would be on site shooting a Lancôme perfume commercial yesterday. No parking from 10:00 am on. I did a little Googling and found out that Julia Roberts, who had just signed a $20 million contract with Lancôme, was in town for them and the location was said to be super secret. Jackpot. Well, around noon, the crew arrived with a ridiculous amount of gear, power cords, trucks, cameras, walkie talkies, space heaters, craft services, and lots of people whose job it seemed to me was pretty much just to stand around. In short it was a scene. But the talent? Regrettably, only three models in party wear and no Julia Roberts in sight. They spent a couple of hours shooting, mostly short takes of the models running up the street, a distance of maybe 20 yards. I'm very curious about the final product, particularly since my street, while lined with Haussmanian buildings, is not what comes to mind when you think of romance. But oh the magic I'm sure they'll work in the editing room.

In between takes

Ready ladies?

And run! (Well what passes for running in those heels.)

Get the shot. I love the fact that the cameramen were wearing helmets even though that vehicle was only going maybe 5 miles per hour.

Cut. Brrrr...get those sweaters back on.

Walk back down the street. Smile for the stills though.

Friday, January 22, 2010


Some times those reminders of the past can be just plain confusing. The sign below shows the current name of this street; the one above dates from some other era.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Vive Le Roi

In case it wasn't marked in your date book, today is the 217th anniversary of the execution of Louis XVI. And if you can't keep your Louis's straight, he's the one who was married to Marie Antoinette and like many others, lost his head during the French Revolution. It may seem like ancient history to you but there are those in France who will be mourning today. A memorial mass will be held at the Basilica of St. Denis at noon as well at many other places throughout the country. If you can't make it, you can always become a fan of Louis XX, the current Bourbon heir, on Facebook. No joke. These folks really know how to keep hope alive.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Tale of Two Restaurants

Disclaimer: I'm not a restaurant critic. I don't even play one on TV. What follows is just my opinion, take it or leave it.

Call me spoiled but I've already gone out to lunch twice this week. No, this isn't the usual state of affairs and my guess is that today's lunch will be more along the lines of peanut butter and jelly or some stray leftovers lurking in my fridge. But the back-to-back experiences suggested to me that either a) Paris dining isn't all that it's cracked up to be, b) sometimes the best meals come at the most reasonable prices or c) all of the above.

Yesterday, I joined a group at Brasserie Flo, one of Paris's venerable Belle Epoque brasseries, hidden away in a courtyard near the Porte St. Denis. It's got the whole nine yards: gruffy waiters in tuxedos and aprons, white tablecloths, incredible decor, and plates heaped high with choucroute. Or make that a platter of oysters on the half shell if you like. The place was packed. Definitely an experience. And the food? I took the 22 euro menu (which offered a choice of first course and main dish, or main dish and dessert) starting with foie gras served with Poilane's dark bread followed by duck accompanied by a mound of green beans. All perfectly fine but nothing to get excited about. Plus it was so noisy I had a hard time keeping up a conversation with my lunch companions.

The day before, I enjoyed a rare lunch with my husband at Le Taxi Jaune in the 3rd arrondissement. The setting is simple: tile floors, ladderback chairs for maybe 20 people, and just a few choices on the blackboard. My husband had a hearty pea soup while I started with a light salad, and we both dug into the rabbit with mustard sauce served on a bed of noodles and root vegetables for our main dish. It was the perfect match for the cold damp day. Better yet, the bill was just 38 euros for the two of us, including wine and coffee. Now that's, as the French say, a good "rapport qualité prix." Not a bargain but definitely value for the money.

Was Brasserie Flo worth the visit? Certainly. Will I go back? Probably not. As for Le Taxi Jaune, see for yourself. And buyer beware, dinner's always twice the price of lunch.

Brasserie Flo
7 Cour des Petites Ecuries
75010 Paris
01 47 70 13 59

Le Taxi Jaune
13 Rue Chapon
75003 Paris
01 42 76 00 40

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

La Défense

La Défense is the place that everyone loves to hate. Torn between protecting the historic center of Paris with its low profile and wanting to create a modern, high-density business district, regional planners came up with the idea of building the skyscrapers across the Seine, straddling the towns of Nanterre, Courbevoie, and Puteaux. Up close, the atmosphere, to my mind, is quite sterile and the windswept Esplanade uninviting. But from a distance, when the light is hitting those towers just right, here catching the first rays of the morning sun, it has its own kind of beauty. (Sorry about that light pole; no way was I going to risk my neck trying to get across the traffic choked intersection at Porte Maillot to get a more pristine view.) La Grande Arche was built to anchor a western extension of the axis that runs from the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.

Although the district is the largest business center in Europe, it's going to get even bigger. The crane pictured here is just one of the new projects anticipated between now and 2015. Time, the economy, and modern architecture march on.

Monday, January 18, 2010

My Life on Rewind

My blogging mojo is not what it should be these days. And let's just face it. Even in a storied place like Paris, there are days when nothing really seems, well, blogworthy. Out and about this weekend, it seemed that every thought I had was one I had written about before:

dreary wet weather,

and then when the rain stopped, the light amid the crazy clouds in the sky over the Right Bank;

the puppeteer on Line 6,

riding the 63 bus,

a visit to the American Library to restock on books and DVDs,

going to half a dozen places and still failing to find an everyday item,

even the miracle of ever delicious bread from a Parisian boulangerie.

Perhaps I should just think of it as time spent reliving my greatest hits?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Same but Different

Gare St. Lazare still has the same glass ceiling that appears in Claude Monet's iconic paintings. But let's just say that the look today is a bit more prosaic, a bit less atmospheric than 130 years ago. Sigh.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Musee d'Orsay

With my computer still on the fritz, I regret that I have no new pictures to share with you this week. So here's an old standby of one of my Paris faves: the clock at the Musee d'Orsay which I saw for the first time on a visit in the late 1980s. Many of the details of that sojourn in Paris are foggy but not the feeling of being astonished, elated, and thrilled by the Orsay. Whomever had the genius to turn an old train station into a temple for 19th century art has my eternal gratitude. And each time I go, I swear I spend more time gazing at the building and the design of the galleries than at works of art in the collection. If you only have time for one museum in Paris, make it this one. And to all visitors, here's a tip. Don't start on the ground floor. Go up as high as you can and work your way down. The crowds thin with the altitude but the experience never does.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Banning the Burqa

Look out Madonna. If some folks in the French parliament have their way, you may not be able to wear a get up like this and stay out of jail. Yes, the debate on the burqa rages on here with the latest proposals either creating a hefty fine or outright banning the wearing of anything that covers the face in public places. While it's dangerous to analyze a debate like this when you're only half up to speed on the cultural, political, and historic forces at work, I have to admit that I'm baffled by the whole thing, particularly given that there are fewer than 2,000 French women who wear the veil. Threat to the Republic? Protection of women's rights? Give me a call when you can do better than that. The final word is expected by the end of the month.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hors Service (Out of Order)

It's been quite a week so far. First I found out that my laptop, which I thought just had the sniffles, actually needs something like open heart surgery. And then, I managed to run my cell phone through the washing machine. It's dead as a doornail and amazingly all the fidelity points I've earned from Orange over the past 29 months aren't nearly enough to get a free phone. The fellow in the Orange store pointed out to me that I could have earned more points had I ordered the replacement phone over the Internet. But I got in the last word, explaining that when I tried to go on-line and realized that I didn't have the password to access my account, the new password was sent by text to my nonfunctional phone. Thanks a lot folks.

In a less traumatic but equally baffling vein, my TV is bringing me programs in English -- last year's episodes of the CBS series, The Mentalist, on TF1 and even more oddly in primetime on Arte, the 1955 movie, All That Heaven Allows, starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson. In my technological state of distress, I was riveted to both and particularly enjoyed the tidbit of dialogue in the movie when Rock Hudson says, after failing to bag a pheasant while hunting, "I can't shoot straight anymore." Sometimes a little irony is just what you need.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Art for Art's Sake

For those with the impulse to cocoon when the weather turns bad, Paris poses certain risks. At some point, you realize that this situation isn't temporary and that if you keep giving in, you'll end spending three months in sweats and slippers, and maybe ending up looking like Miss Havisham in the bargain.

Fortunately, there's no shortage of amusements and here's one more reason to get back out there: le Musée national Gustave-Moreau. Tucked away in the 9th arrondissement, this little gem of a museum was both the home and atelier of a somewhat obscure but nonetheless interesting 19th century artist. Moreau never left the home he shared with his parents (which tells you something right there) and he managed to both absorb and completely ignore the prevailing artistic trends of his age. In sweeping canvases and tiny detailed drawings, his art had me thinking he was either an incredible genius or a complete nutjob. But it's never dull and you can easily spend an hour or two perusing his work and touring the private apartments, left as if Monsieur Moreau had just gone out for a coffee and never came back. You may not find his work to your taste but I defy you not to admit that that staircase isn't awesome.

And here's a tip for the budget conscious: save your ticket and for up to a week afterwards, you're entitled to a reduction on entrance to both the Musee d'Orsay and the Palais Garnier.

Musée national Gustave-Moreau
14, rue de La Rochefoucauld
75009 Paris
Métro : Trinité or Saint Georges

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Business of Books

I've been a sucker for books all my life. The weekly visit to the library when I was a kid always netted a stack of 10 books to take home and it was rare that I hadn't finished all of them before it was time to go back. As an adult, I've always felt that bookstores are a bit like candy shops -- all those colorful titles from which to choose. It's usually hard for me to resist no matter how many titles are stacked up on my nightstand or that I've got a valid library card.

But the French publishers clearly have a different kind of consumer in mind. Both Flammarion and Gallimard have lines that take simplicity to a whole new level. For example, take this book:

A browsing American would just pass that one by. So here's the English language version put out by Knopf. Now hmmmm...dashing French officer, a touch of the Arc de Triomphe, what's that all about?

Call me shallow but I like the pictures.

P.S. Happy birthday to my favorite Capricorn. :)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

In Which I Allow Liberation to Blog for Me

Températures glaciales, chutes de neige et fortes gelées sont attendues dans la nuit de vendredi à samedi sur une grande partie du pays.

Because after all, when the weather goes to extremes, it's pointless to try to talk about anything else. In other words, I think we're staying in this weekend.

Friday, January 8, 2010


So sad. This is what goes for "American foods" in our local supermarket. Of course, the Mexican aisle is mostly Old El Paso products and the Asian section has lots of soy sauce and instant noodles. So I suppose we're in good company in this reductionist vision of our national cuisine. (Not that I really have anything against Oreos or Pepperidge Farm cookies. Even a marshmallow straight from the campfire is pretty tasty every now and then.) Now if they could just figure out how to stock barbecue, Maine lobsters and blueberries, Southern biscuits, freshly picked corn on the cob, hot from the oven bagels, and a nice Wisconsin cheddar, we'd be in business. For the moment, I'll just pass this aisle and keep on shopping.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

All Good Things Must Come to an End

Behold my beautiful geraniums...well at least what they looked like when I potted them at the end of last March. I tried to save them from the brutal weather we've been having by bringing them inside on Monday. I don't know if it was the shocking change in temperature between outdoors and in, or if the damage had really already been done. Suffice it to say that the end result was not pretty. Sniff. The good news? It's only ten weeks until the end of the March when I can start all over again.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Long and Leggy

Darn those French women. I really should tape a picture of these two on my refrigerator or maybe even on the kitchen door. Despite the fact that the holidays are over, demands for baked goods keep rolling in and I keep obliging. These gals would probably be content just to take a whiff and move on. Regrettably I don't have the same willpower and frankly, I'm not even close to being from the same gene pool. As I passed by these two after taking their picture though, I had a good chuckle when I saw that both had lit up cigarettes. Figures.

We've been having some awfully nippy weather here and I've pulled out the layers, hat, gloves, and wooly scarves. What's interesting to me is that the modal Parisian, bundled up when the temps are in the 50s (Fahrenheit, that is), have not reacted to the cold by adding more layers. Maybe once those French furnaces are stoked, they keep on an efficient burn all winter long.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Vehicles of Paris, Part 19

It's been awhile since I posted about the vehicles of Paris but fortunately, since the post that was scheduled to run this morning seems to have evaporated, I had this one on ice: a tandem bike, recumbent in the front, traditional in the rear.

Paris is fairly flat (with a few notable exceptions like the Butte de Montmartre) so it's probably not bad for the recumbent cycler. Interestingly, this bike was parked on a slow but significant uphill grade. Did the cyclists give up or just stop for coffee?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Laugh Track

We went to see "It's Complicated" over the weekend and although the reviews have been mixed, I thought it was fun. Most of the audience was speaking French before the lights went down on this VO (version originale) showing, English with French subtitles. But judging from the audience reactions, they were all following along with the spoken dialogue.

Best laughs of the night? After Alec Baldwin says to his ex-wife, played by Meryl Streep:

“I think this is very French of us - I have a young wife, but I’m having sex with my old wife.”

Most painful silence of the night?

The trailer for John Travolta's upcoming film "From Paris with Love" in which his character, while being interrogated by French police, throws out every hackneyed American putdown of the French people, language, and state. Hope there's more to that film than they're showing in the previews.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Marketing Mystery

So just how did this

become this?

I knew it was about roller derby and couldn't figure out why on earth it would be called "Bliss." The logical explanation? That's the main character's name. Still, it seems strangely bland compared to the original title.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Wishing everyone health, happiness, and all things good in 2010.
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