12.16.2008

La Crémerie



On my first trip to Paris, I stayed in a charming hotel on the left bank, just steps away from St. Sulpice. I hadn’t been to this neighborhood in quite a while so I thought it was time for a visit.

Strolling through the neighborhood, I couldn’t help but notice a darling storefront called La Crémerie. At first, I thought it was just that…a little cream shop, but I soon realized it’s really a little wine bar.

The owners have preserved the architectural elements denoting the shop’s original purpose, but they’ve followed the modern trend toward opening a wine bar that offers only bio and biodynamique (i.e., organic) wines. This tiny place seats about 15 people, the menu is handwritten on a blackboard and includes a selection of charcuterie and organically grown cheese from Italy, Spain and the French provinces. It couldn’t be more adorable and it’s well worth a visit.
La Crémerie

9, rue des Quatre Vents

75006 Paris
01-43-54-99-30

12.10.2008

Carte de Noel


For my Christmas card, I chose an image by impressionist painter Afred Sisley, titled L'Effet de Neige sur Argenteuil.

12.05.2008

Paris Pratique - Le Louvre


Never wait in line at the pyramid to gain entrance to the Louvre. Instead, head to the lesser known entrance on the Rue de Rivoli, which runs along the north edge of the museum.

After entering at 99 Rue de Rivoli, take the escalator to the lower level, purchase your admission ticket at one of the electronic kiosks and enter tout de suite
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11.30.2008

Berthillon Ice Cream






Berthillon is my favorite ice cream in Paris - it’s flavorful, creamy and satisfying. The best place to enjoy a scoop of this delicious dessert is at the Le Flore en l'Ile, a delightful brasserie at the western tip of the Ile St. Louis.

From the terrace of the Flore en l'Ile, one has a spectacular view of Notre Dame, a gentle breeze from the Seine and all the pleasures of this festive atmosphere. Here, the ambiance is as flavorful as the food.

Ice cream in Paris...what could be better?


42, quai d'Orleans
75004, Paris
01-43-29-88-27








11.20.2008

Le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!




Every year, on the third Thursday of November, le Beaujolais Nouveau is released for sale in France.

Beaujolais wine is unique in that it is harvested, fermented, bottled and shipped within six weeks. Thus, the term "nouveau" is assigned to the wine. According to tradition, at one minute past midnight on the third Thursday of each year, Beaujolais wine is rushed from villages across France to Paris, where it is tasted, consumed and celebrated. From there, cases are shipped all over the world.

This fruity, light red wine is appreciated for the festivities surrounding its release more than the quality of its cru. In Chicago, four hundred guests celebrated at a party hosted by the French-American Chamber of Commerce at the Union League Club. Leading French chefs from Café des Architects, Restaurant 676 and Vanille offered a selection of delicious hors-d’oeuvres, while distributors provided the much lauded Beaujolais as well as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Cognac.

A votre santé!

11.17.2008

Salon Coiffure







Have you ever noticed the number of beauty salons in Paris?

There seems to be one on every corner…and for good reason. On any given Friday or Saturday morning women line up at the salon to have a brushing, meaning a shampoo and a blow dry.
Armed with a round brush and a powerful 2100w blow dryer, French stylists have mastered the art of an exceptionally good blow dry. A single brushing can last up to 4 or 5 days, depending on the weather, the dryness of your scalp, length of your hair, etc.

Brushings cost anywhere from 25 to 35 euros at a franchise salon such as Jean-Claude Biguine or Jacques Dessange, but, they’re well worth it. An additional fee of about 12 euro is charged for conditioner. No appointment is necessary and walk-ins are very welcome.

When I have a special occasion, I jump into the cue and wait my turn.

11.09.2008

France 2


While in the U.S., I keep up with French news and events by watching France 2 on my computer. Simply log onto their site at http://www.france2.fr/, click on Les JT and select a program: 8h, 13h or 20h.

11.02.2008

Bringing Paris Home - Penny Drue Baird


The other night, I headed to the Alliance Française de Chicago for a lecture and book signing by New York Interior Designer Peggy Drue Baird, author of Bringing Paris Home.

Ms. Baird gave a terrific talk about how she became interested in French culture and how she incorporates French style into her design projects. She also provided practical tips for navigating the Marche aux Puces, how to ship goods to the U.S., and how to source fabrics and wallpaper throughout the city.

Bringing Paris Home is a beautiful and inspiring book.

10.14.2008

Europa Books


Europa is one of favorite bookstores in Chicago. Here one can purchase books, magazines and newspapers from France. It is located in a vintage building at 832 North State Street, just around the corner from the Alliance Française.

10.12.2008

Alliance Française de Chicago


The Alliance Française de Chicago offers language and cultural activities for French enthusiasts throughout the city.

10.10.2008

My Kind of Town


Chicago: my home town and another great city that I love.

It's Friday and I feel as if I've slept for four days. For some reason, I was unusually jet lagged after this trip.
Well, I may no longer be in Paris, but I have plenty more items to post.

And, the next best thing to being in Paris is taking in French inspired cultural activities in Chicago...

10.05.2008

Going Home

The taxi to the airport arrived promptly at 7 AM. It is Sunday morning, it’s still dark outside and I don’t want to leave.

I know this routine well. I’ve done it many times and it’s always the same: a sense of melancholy brought on by my impending departure, juxtaposed with joyful satisfaction at the wonderful opportunity I’ve had to spend a month in Paris.

We load my bags into the trunk and head for Charles de Gaulle. It rained last night and roads are still damp. The reflection of oncoming headlights glistens on the pavement. After a short drive along the périphérique, the flow of traffic comes to a crawl. Eventually, we pass a badly damaged vehicle upside down in the middle of the road. The driver comments, “ahh, un petit accident.”

I smile at his comment. In my view, this accident is anything but “petit,” but the use of the word is so French. It's a subtle reminder of how the French take what life throws at them in stride. The moment reminds me of another occasion in which I noted the unexpected use of the word. I was in college and heading to class. I learned that my metro line was shut down due to “un petit suicide.”


The driver and passengers of the vehicle were standing on the side of the road. Everyone seemed fine. We continued on our way. My flight and the remainder of the trip went as smoothly as possible.

It feels great to be home, but I know that in short order I will be anxious to return to Paris
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10.04.2008

La Cristal Room Baccarat




For my last night in Paris, I wanted to do something special. My friend, Dawn, suggested that I go to Baccarat’s Crystal Room for dinner.

I had never heard of it. She was quite surprised as it opened a few years ago and it’s located on the Place des Etats-Unis, not too far from my apartment.

Specifically, it is a restaurant in the former home of Marie-Laure de Noailles, a well-known and respected patron of the arts and the great, great, great granddaughter of the infamous Marquis de Sade.

This was one of the most surreal dining experiences I’ve ever had. French designer Philippe Starck beautifully and creatively merged traditional and contemporary design elements to create a modern and inspiring experience that could only take place in Paris. Baccarat crystal chandeliers, serving pieces and decorative objects added an element of opulence rivaling that of the most luxurious homes I have ever seen in France.

We entered the dimly lit building and ascended a red carpet staircase to the reception desk. There, we were greeted by two very large Baccarat crystal urns flanking the room. Each urn contained a ghost-like image of a beautiful woman’s face, who greeted us upon our arrival. The mysterious images spoke in a soft voice; they likened the attributes of fine crystal to the attributes of a woman's beauty. This was the start to what would become a magical night.

Before being seated for dinner, we browsed the Baccarat boutique which contained mirrored display cases lit from below. The lighting technique created a sense of mystery and mise en valeur (put into value - as the French would say) the perfection of the crystal. Everything from unusual sculpted jewelry to stemware was on display, and everything exuded a combination of magnifience and artisitry. The chandelier photographed above, for example, contains more than 200 lights. We had reason to pause as we marveled at its beauty.

We dined in a very sweet, yet very elaborate, baroque inspired dining room. The walls were decorated in burgundy and green veined marble accented with gilded accents. The banquets were upholstered in bubblegum pink leather with cameo images centered on the back pillows. Glorious crystal chandeliers hung overhead from a tromphe l’oeil painted ceiling reminiscent of those I had seen at the Chateaux de Bagatelle. The same cameo images adorned a central portion of each wall that revealed exposed brick where plaster had been removed.

The opulent décor, the juxtaposition of materials and the beauty of the crystal were not the only things that impressed me. I had a delicios dinner. As an appetizer, I had foie gras accompanied by a glass of the same Muscat de Baumes-de-Venise wine I had a few nights earlier. This was followed by steamed lobster served over a bed of asparagus spears in a Marinière sauce and a glass of white wine from Burgundy. For dessert, I had the degustation, which usually means a small sampling of various flavors. In reality, this was anything but small. The selection consisted of five full-size desserts, including a chocolate soufflé, raspberry tarte, strawberries and vanilla cream served in an almond wafer box tied with Baccarat inscribed white ribbon, a timbale of hot chocolate and a lemon tarte. So much for eating light the night before a long flight…I devoured most of every dessert presented to me.

After dinner, we toured the Baccarat museum. The museum held a fascinating display of items made by master craftsman. The exhibition included an impressive array of extraordinary pieces used by or created for a virtual who’s who from around the world: a chair for the Czar of Russian, stemware designed and created for the Sultan of Brunei, the service used by Coco Chanel.

My apartment was close enough to the restaurant to walk home. I knew that if I walked, I would pass the Eiffel Tour at approximately midnight. This would be my last opporutnity to see the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tour before my departure.

During the walk, I became a little self-reflective as I thought about all of the wonderful experiences I had had in the preceding four weeks. Then it occurred to me, “Well, I’ve come full circle. My first visit took me to crystal garden and my last visit took me to crystal palace…a poetic coincidence.”

10.03.2008

Fashion Week




Fashion Week in Paris is coming to a close. Most major fashion houses have shown their Spring-Summer 2009 Collections on runways at the Grand Palais, the Carrousel du Louvre and in tents along the northern edge of the Tuileries Garden.

The French magazine Madame Figaro has published video of the runway shows for collections such as Dior, Balmain and Givency at:



10.02.2008

Cercle de l'Union Interalliée




Last night, I was invited to have dinner at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée. I accepted with great pleasure. I knew this would be a wonderful experience and I love seeing the inside of private clubs. I arrived early to take a few photos in total privacy.

We had a glass of Champagne in the cocktail lounge on the ground floor, before going to the dining room which overlooked an enclosed garden. Both rooms were decorated in pale shades of blue and off-white, one of my favorite color palettes.

As you imagine, the dinner was divine. I had foie gras accompanied by a glass of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise as an appetizer, followed by Marinière à la Sole and a glass of Pouilly-Fumé Loire Valley wine as a main course. Sole is my favorite white fish and this was delicious. It was prepared in white wine and served with pearl onions, shallots, mussels and steamed vegetables. For dessert, I selected millefeuille. This was an unintentionally excellent choice from the dessert cart because the vanilla flavor was the perfect finish to the previous two courses.

We stopped for a cocktail at the Crillon Hotel bar. I had my usual “Marie Brizard” anise liqueur.

The entire evening was an unexpected treat.

Jacquemart-André Museum





During the rain, I visited the Jacquemart-André museum, the former home world travelers and art collectors Nellie Jacquemart and her husband Edouard André.

The late 19th home itself is a museum. It was designed by architect Henri Parent and constructed during the Second Empire when Baron Haussman was creating his grand boulevards and Monceau Village was annexed to Paris. Architecturally, the home is reminiscent of the Palais Garnier Opera House and reflects the Eclectic Style with its grand staircase and elaborate gilded embellishments.

This is perhaps my least favorite architectural style in France, I liken it to Renaissance Revival bordering on garish. Nonetheless, I love touring the interior of homes and the art collection is impressive and well worth seeing, with paintings by Rembrandt, Fragonard, Vigée-Lebrun, and Boucher among others.

Much to my amazement, during the guided tour, a painting by Hubert Robert was featured for the artist’s ability to create perspective. I found this to be an incredible coincidence, because just the day before I had seen (and wrote about) the tromphe l’oeil coffered ceiling Robert had painted in the Chateau de Bagatelle.

In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a number of special exhibitions. A Van Dyke exhibit opens on October 8, 2008 and runs to January 25, 2009.

There is also a lovely café on the ground floor that is decorated with Belgian tapestries and a ceiling painted by the famous Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo. An outdoor terrace overlooks the courtyard.

This museum is just the right size and so conveniently located that it provides the perfect opportunity for a morning guided tour, followed by a delicious lunch and more sightseeing in the surrounding neighborhood
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Bonne visite!

10.01.2008

Gray Skies


The weather has changed. Gray skies, wind and late afternoon showers occurred yesterday. The forecast indicates the same sort of weather for the remainder of this week.

On the bright side, I will make the most of it with plenty of museum visits.

9.30.2008

Debauve et Gallais




Years ago, my friend Michael told me the best chocolate shop in Paris is Debauve et Gallais on the rue des Saint Pères. He was very correct!

Every variety of chocolate I’ve ever had from this shop is rich and delicious. They are expensive, but with their high concentration of cacoa, they are worth the splurge.

This wonderful chocolate shop was founded by Sulpice Debauve, a pharmacist for Louis XVI and Marie-Antionette. At the request of Marie-Antionette, Debauve began preparing chocolates to ease her distaste for taking medicine. After the Revolution, he abandoned being a pharmacist, opened a shop on the Left Bank and focused solely on making chocolates.

These delicious treats are now available online and in boutiques around the world.

9.29.2008

Chateau de Bagatelle





The 12th annual Fêtes des Jardins was held in gardens throughout the city this weekend. The Festival featured a variety of concerts, games and public tours. So, I decided this was a good time to return to the Jardin de Bagatelle to see the interior of the Chateau, which was closed during my previous visit.

Like the Petit Trianon, the Chateau de Bagatelle is a neoclassic architectural jewel. Both these houses remind me of music boxes; they are perfectly square, sweet, feminine and filled with treasures. The interior of the Bagatelle is well-preserved and beautifully outfitted with 18th and 19th century furniture, porcelain, and drawings. The décor is in soft shades of celadon, blue, pink and gray. Straight lines and pastel colors marked the beginning of the neoclassic period in France.

One of the most notable things about the Chateau is the amazing trompe l’oeil painting. Blue skies, billowing clouds, and cherubs painted by famous artist Hubert Robert create a light and cheerful space. The trompe l’oeil coffered ceiling in the music room is remarkable.

The dining room was fully furnished and beautiful as well. The table was laid with Sevres porcelain, 19th century crystal, and silver candelabra. A walnut rafraichissoir sat in the corner. These little tables were popular in the 19th century, as they were used to hold wine needed to refresh beverages during a meal.

The Chateau is one of many notable historic homes in Paris. I highly a recommend a visit.

9.27.2008

Charming Chestnuts



It’s beginning to feel a bit like fall. It’s still warm and sunny, but the leaves are changing color and chestnuts are falling to the ground. Throughout the city, I’ve noticed children enthusiastically running around like little squirrels collecting them.

The other day, I went to my friend Cécile’s house for lunch. Her five-year old daughter, Hannah, had decorated the mantel in the living room with a charming display. Cécile told me using the chestnuts as décor is a typical childhood activity.

Now, I know what all those children are doing with all those chestnuts.

9.26.2008

Le Petit Trianon




I read that the Petit Trianon and all the furnishings have been completely restored thanks to generous funding by the watchmaker Breguet.

So, I headed out to Versailles to see Marie-Antoinette’s country home for myself. Much to my surprise, the space was being staged for an inauguration dinner prior to the public opening on October 2.

I was able to get a sneak peak and tour the first floor of this stately home. One would think that my visit was compromised due the limited access and work being done around me. On the contrary, it was actually enhanced. Landscapers and gardeners were trimming hedges, laying pea gravel and planting flowers. Inside, florists and designers were putting last minute touches on the décor.

I love getting ready for parties, but it’s even more fun to watch other people get ready for a party. The experience made the home come alive. I could well imagine similar efforts taking place in the late 18th century, when Marie-Antoinette herself was holding a party.

I forgot to bring my camera and took these photos with my mobile phone; they leave a lot to be desired. In reality, the home looks amazing and I would encourage everyone to see this neoclassic jewel
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9.25.2008

Perrier-Grenadine

Strolling around Paris on warm weather days sometimes requires a little refreshment. One of my favorite beverages is a Perrier-Grenadine. Quite simply, a bottle of Perrier served with four tablespoons of Grenadine syrup.

It’s sweet and flavorful.

9.24.2008

Chateau de Chantilly







The Chateau de Chantilly is enormous and impressive.

It sits on nearly 20,000 acres in the middle of one of largest forests in the country. As with many of the chateau in France, Chantilly began as a defense fortress constructed in the middle-ages. It was transformed into a magnificent residence over the subsequent centuries.

Today, the overall chateau it divided into two principle parts: the grand chateau, pictured in the background to the left, and the petite chateau, in the foreground on the right. Together, they reflect a variety of architectural styles and influences. In fact, one can very well see that the foundation of the structure is indeed like a fortress, while the turrets are very eclectic, combining neoclassic and baroque architectural elements.

The interior space is beautifully maintained and well appointed. The most recent resident, Henri d’Orleans duc d’Aumale (1822 – 1897), was an avid collector of paintings, furniture and object d’art. He left the chateau fully furnished to be kept as a museum. Everything is in place as it was when he lived there.

In the gallery, one can see the paintings by Delacroix, Corot, Poussin, Ingres and others. The console in the sitting room photographed above belonged to Louis XVI. It was removed from Versailles after the Revolution. The chandelier is by Baccarat and the tapestries on the chairs are by Beauvais. The quality and condition of the collection is remarkable.

In reference to the console, I want to make a larger comment on the French Revolution. Many people have the false impression that the tumultuous and violent period leading up to and during the Revolution left the country in a state of total havoc. This is true to a limited extent. It is almost impossible to find pre-Revolution tapestries that contain gold or silver thread or sterling silver flatware and serving pieces because they were stolen and melted down for monetary purposes. But, when the government was transformed from a Monarchy to a Republic, property of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was seized and inventoried in an orderly fashion. Yes, the Bastille was stormed by an angry mob, but it was a prison containing no valuable objects. The Chateau de Versailles and the Louvre were never stormed and their contents were preserved by the State as part of what the French refer to as le patrimoine d’Etat; i.e., state property.

OK…enough editorial! Getting back to the Chateau…

The grounds are equally spectacular. They were designed by the famous landscape architect André LeNotre, who also designed the grounds of Vaux-le-Vicomte and Versailles. Anyone who has visited either of those two chateaux can see the similarity of design. Key elements for which LeNotre is known include a large central axis bordered by parterres and fountains, leading to a man-made lake.

The Grand Ecuries, or horse stable, are just across the road. This structure very well could have been named the Enorme Ecuries because of its size. The Ecuries runs the length of the famous Chantilly race track. The building holds the Museum of Living Horses, with breeds from all over Europe. There is also a performance ring in the central portion where free equestrian dressage shows take place daily. On the day that I visited, an outdoor horse festival was taking place in the infield of the Chantilly Race Track. It was a bit of carnival atmosphere, packed with families and vendors.

I was very impressed with all that Chantilly had to offer and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone with an interest in seeing one of the great chateaux of France
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9.23.2008

Apremont





Apremont, where the Polo Club is located, is a pristine little town about five kilometers northeast of Chantilly. It only takes about 15 seconds to drive through this town, but it's worth a visit.

These photos were taken in the town center. They include the Church, which sits at the highest point, the Mayor’s office and the library. Just down the road is the only restaurant in town. It looked warm and welcoming. I would have stayed for dinner, but I knew there would be a lot of traffic heading into Paris and the return trip would take much longer than my outbound trip had taken. So, I opted to hit the road.

And, it's a good thing I did. The Stade de France is on the north side of Paris. Madonna was performing there and traffic was a nightmare. I had just enough time to return my rental car before the agency closed for the night.