Chez Alexandra

Last week, my friend Alexandra invited me to join her for coffee and a tour of her neighborhood. I was delighted. I hadn't seen Alexandra in years and I hadn't really spent much time in Montmarte, where she lives.

Alexandra and I were students together. She is one of the most beautiful people I've ever met. I say that because she is just one of those very warm, kind and friendly people who always has a smile on her face and something nice to say. In other words, her inner beauty is projected in just about everything she does.

So, it was no surprise that her apartment is warm and welcoming and the coffee table was beautifully arranged. We spent nearly an hour chatting about various things, while her daughter, Lou, played nearby. She is an adorable and very happy baby - except for the occassional giggle, she made hardly a sound.

It is also no surprise that she writes one of the most charming blogs I've ever read. It is called La Biscuiterie and it's about various things she finds amusing and inspiring. She been at it for only a few months, but she's already had more than 1,000 hits on her site. Click on the link above and you'll know exactly why so many people find it enjoyable.

After coffee, we packed little Lou into her stroller and headed out for our tour. Montmarte is darling, it's like having a bit of the countryside in Paris. But, I'll save those photos for a later post...

Merci Alexandra for a wonderful afternoon!
Alexandra et Lou

Lou who was all smiles all day!
Le café, les madeleines et le chocolat.

Le bel appartement d'Alexandra


Tosca at Opera Bastille

Dawn invited me to join her and a few other friends to see last night's performance of Tosca at the Opera Bastille. It was superb and thoroughly enjoyable. Thanks Dawn for wonderul "girls' night out."

Dawn, Brittany, Catherine, Moi and Barbara


The Steeplechase

Late Sunday afternoon, I headed out to Hippodrome d'Auteuil to see Steeplechase racing. I had never been to a Steeplechase, so I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had romantic notions of horses leaping over obstacles and successfully racing to a dramatic finish.

Reality was much different. During the very first race, two horses fell, tumbled and died on the track. I lived in Kentucky for several years and I've spent my fair share of time at the races - this was not my idea of fun. I stayed for one more race, but found myself wincing the entire time. I think I'll stick to traditional racing in the future.
On a much happier note, who can resist admiring the elegant ladies donning hats for race day? Très belles!

Les Chapeaux


Dancing the Night Away

Saturday night we had dinner at The Bistrot de Paris - the meal was delicious and the wait staff was very attentive. After dinner, we went to Le Caveau de la Huchette to listen to jazz. Little did we know, we would spend most of our time on the dance floor.

A couple of the photos are a little out of focus. That's OK - they remind me of Renoir's painting Le Moulin de la Gallette.

A Girls' Weekend

One of the nicest things about holiday weekends is the opportunity to spend time with friends. This weekend, my long-time girlfriend Allyson came to visit.

Allyson and I have known each other since college. Both of us majored in English, we had similar interests and we took a few courses together. Developing a friendship with her came naturally and easily. Not only is she loads of fun, but she is bright, insightful and sophisticated.

Shortly after graduation, she moved to London to be with Santo, then boyfriend, now husband. A couple of years ago, they relocated to Florence, where they lovingly restored a classic Tuscan villa into a beautiful family home for themselves and their two adorable daughters.

Although we are separated by divergent paths, active lives and nearly 3,000 miles, we have kept in touch and remained friends over the years. Whenever possible, one of us travels to the locale of the other for a fun-filled weekend of laughter, shopping and sightseeing. This weekend was no different.

Friday night, we celebrated her arrival with a glass of Champagne followed by dinner at a highly recommended neighborhood bistro. Our tête-à-tête lasted for hours. When we realized we were the only two people left in the restaurant, we walked to the Trocadero where we could enjoy a livelier atmosphere, an after-dinner drink and a view of the Eiffel Tour.

I am always amazed at how much we're able to accomplish in a short space of time. Saturday's activities included: breakfast at home, shopping in Passy, a leisurely lunch, an exposition at the Branly Museum, an afternoon nap, dinner out, and a night of dancing and socializing at a left-bank jazz club called Le Caveau de la Huchette. Our action-packed day lasted until the wee-hours of Sunday morning.

Nonetheless, Sunday was equally productive. Our day included: breakfast at home, the Marmottan Museum, a tour of the Parc du Ranelagh, a leisurely lunch in the neighborhood, then over to the right-bank to see the Carrousel du Louvre, tour Tuileries gardens, and a walk to the Champs-Elysées, where we caught the Metro home.

Despite all the walking, we perfectly planned our day according to Allyson's departure time. She jetted off to Florence with a smile on her face and many well wishes from me.

Allyson is a delightful and gracious guest. She brought her good company and a lovely hostess gift - an amazingly fragrant artisanal potpourri from the Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. Founded in 1612, it is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world.

I always look forward to seeing her and, already, I can't wait for our next "girls' weekend" together.


Les Fêtes de Mai

The city was quiet when I awoke this morning. It's a holiday and everyone has headed out of town for an extended weekend. When I booked my trip, I didn't realize that May is a month of celebration in France. Here is a rundown of this month's holidays:

May 1 - Fête du Travail and Fête du Muguet (Labor Day and May Day) - Laborers are celebrated with a day off, just as they are in the US. Simultaneously, the month of May is celebrated with a bouquet of Lilly of the Valley, symbolizing the arrival of spring. As decreed by King Charles IX of France, who offered Lily-of-the-Valley to all the ladies of his court on May 1st, 1561. On this day anyone in France can legally sell flowers without a license to sell, as long as they are a reasonable distance away from the nearest flower shop.

May 8 - Fête de la Victoire (VE Day) - Celebrating WWII victory in Europe in 1945.

May 21 - L'Ascension (Ascension Day) - Celebrating Jesus' last appearance before his disciples and his ascension in heaven.

May 22 - This is not a holiday, but because Ascension Day falls on a Thursday, the French faire le pont. That is to say, they "make a bridge" to the weekend, taking Friday off as well.

May 31 - La Pentecôte (Pentecost) - Celebrating the descent of the Holy Spirit.

June 1 - Le Lundi de Pentecôte (Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday) - It's the day after Pentecost, so why not celebrate?


Eiffel Tower

Nothing says Paris like the twinkling lights of the Tour Eiffel...except, maybe an accordionist in the Metro. I saw both on my way home tonight.

So bummed though, I took a little video clip of this guy playing, but I can't post the clip. While here, my blogger site appears in French and there seem to be some restrictions on uploads - no videos allowed. It worked just fine in the US.

Oh well, you'll just have imagine the Swing Valse and the music of Gus Viseur echoing through the corridors of the Metro.


Rendez-vous at the Bristol

I spent a good portion of the afternoon with friends, Sylvia and Bruno, in the bar of the Bristol Hotel on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

We were classmates at Christie's and we haven't seen each other much since finishing our courses. We chatted for nearly three hours, bringing each other up-to-date on our own activities and inquiring about other students.

Originally from Argentina, Sylvia is a consultant for private collectors. She provides research to individuals, letting them know what's available for purchase and the market valuation for those objects. She also provides advice on subsequent purchases to enhance or complete a collection. At times, she serves as liaison between individuals, gallery owners and dealers.

Bruno personifies the notion: Follow Your Passion. Having worked in finance for years, he was a fan of art deco furnishings and collected it for his own home. What did he do? He quit his job, enrolled at Christie's, leased gallery space and became a dealer by moving his personal belongings into his gallery. Now, he does real estate development, using his knowledge of architecture and design to renovate buildings and resell them. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit and his willingness to pursue what he enjoys most.

We had a wonderful time and the Bristol Hotel is a great place to meet. It's open, airy and welcoming. The bar overlooks an interior courtyard lined with magnolia trees and geraniums. The service is good and the bar menu offers light fare anytime of day.
112, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré
Paris, France 75008


Sunday with Friends

Sunday was spent with good friends Dawn and Michael at their lovely home La Charmeraie in Louveciennes. Blog readers may recall my September visit.

What started as a dreary and rainy day in the city ended as a cheery and sunny afternoon in country. Once again, Dawn provided an amazing feast for everyone. She served tomato basil soup, followed by roast chicken, basmati rice and cauliflower gratin as the main plate, a cheese course, then my favorite…chocolate cake and coffee for dessert.

The table looked inviting. Dawn has more sets of dishes than anyone I know. These, by Gien, depict the gardens and fountains of Versailles.

After lunch, we all watched The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury. It is no wonder we watched a musical, as Dawn and Michael are incredibly gifted vocalists. In fact, their son, Ethan, who is living and studying in London, has completed his third audition for X Factor, the British version of American Idol. We're all keeping our finger crossed.

By the time the movie was finished, the rain had stopped and we all enjoyed the sun drenched terrace. The garden is bordered with thousands of purple pansies and rows of lavender creating a fragrant and welcoming retreat from busy week-days in Paris.


A Night at the Museums

Last night, the 5th Annual "Nuit des Musées" was held throughout Europe. Once a year, museums are open until 1 AM and most museums host special events such as lectures, dance programs, films and concerts.

There were so many wonderful options, it was hard to choose. So, I decided on two smaller museums I had never visited: Musée de l'Orangerie in the Tuileries Garden and Musée de la Monnaie. At l'Orangerie, I realized I hadn't made good choices or, I should say, everyone thought it was a good choice, because the line wrapped around the building.

I abandoned the idea of smaller museums and headed to the Louvre instead, it's large enough to handle a crowd. Besides, you can never really see everything at the Louvre no matter how many times you've been. And, the façade is looks magnificient at night.


Café Constant


This afternoon, I lunched with my good friend Cécile. Blog readers may recall her daughter's charming display of chestnuts posted last September.
Cécile and I met many years ago. She worked for a French production company at the International Film Festival, which was hosted in Chicago. She is a true Parisian in every sense of the word: elegant, discreet and sophisticated. And, raised in the city since birth. With two active children, a busy husband, and homes in Paris, Normandy and Munich, she has more than enough to keep herself occupied. And, she knows all the best spots in Paris - to dine and otherwise.

Today, we went to the Café Constant, a classic little place around the corner from her apartment and just steps away from the Tour Eiffel. I highly recommend it to anyone visiting the sites in the Seventh. Owner Christian Constant was formerly the Chef at the Hôtel de Crillon.

Café Constant offers everything I love about a casual lunch in Paris: quality food, excellent service, locals clients, and a hand-written menu. 

I had a delicious and beautifully presented lunch of Croustillant de Crevettes relevé au basilic, Pommes Grenailles rissolées. That is to say, Fried Shrimp and Fried Potatoes, but it sounds so much lovelier in French. This is the best meal I've had since my arrival last week - 15 euros + 4 euros for a glass of white wine - unbelievable!

139, rue Saint-Dominique
75007 Paris


Les Saints de Glace

The sun is finally shining and just in the nick of time, because today is the last day of Les Saints de Glace.

According to tradition, Les Saints de Glace: Saint Mamert, Saint Pancrace and Saint Servais (May 11th, 12th, and 13th, respectively) represent the cold and frost of winter. Gardeners know that it is prudent to wait until after the "Ice" Saints' days have passed before planting.

The Roman Catholic Church removed these three saints from the calendar in 1960, but they remain part of French tradition. In small villages and towns throughout the country, Les Saints de Glace is celebrated with music, food and wine.

For the occasion, I decided to plant my flower boxes, which were empty upon my arrival.

A quick trip to the flower market...

et voila! They're a little sparse, but I'm certain they'll fill in nicely.


Paris Pratique - Taxis in Paris

Finding a Taxi

A friend of mine, who recently visited Paris, was about ready to wring my neck upon his return. I had given him several travel tips, but I failed to tell him that he would NOT be able to “hail” a taxi. Instead, he would have to go to a taxi station and wait for one to arrive, much like waiting for a bus.

If you know this, finding a taxi is quite easy. If you don't know this, it can lead to a missed dinner reservation.

Taxi stations are noted on most maps and they're usually near Metro stations. Almost any local person can point you in the direction of the nearest station.

Paying for a Taxi

On another occasion, another friend was absolutely convinced the drivers were crooks! While some fares seemed reasonable, others seemed expensive. “Why was the meter racking up fees at various rates? And, why did he charge me more than the meter rate?” he demanded to know.

In Paris, the fares vary considerably, depending on the time of day, the destination and a number of other factors.

It's a little complicated, but I'll try to explain…

Taxis are least expensive within the city limits from 10 AM to 5 PM, charging 0.86 euro per km. After 5 PM, on Sundays and during holidays, the fee increases to 1.12 euro per km for the same zone. For suburban destinations, Orly or Charles de Gaulle airports for example, the fee is 1.12 euro per km between 7 AM and 7 PM and 1.35 euro per km after 7 PM, on Sundays and holidays. Meter rates change as the trip progresses from zone to zone.

In addition to varying rates, there are a number of supplemental charges, they include:

-- 1.00 euro for each suitcase or cumbersome object, such as skis, baby stroller, etc.;
-- 2.85 euro for each additional passenger, beginning with the fourth passenger;

The base price for an unreserved taxi is 2.20 euro and the minimum fare for transport is 5.00 euro. If you call a taxi for a pick-up, the meter runs from the moment the driver responds to the call. So, there may already be a substantial fair on the meter when you get in.

Penalties for taxi drivers who do not follow the rules and regulations are severe, so its unlikely that one would risk the penalty. Providing a tip is optional, but customary. Ten percent is standard.

My best advice: Enjoy the ride, don't worry about the fare...afterall, you're in Paris!

Rainy, but romantic

It's been overcast and mostly raining since Sunday evening.

While gazing out my window early this morning, I saw a man with an umbrella walking toward the Metro. Suddenly, he stopped, turned and began blowing kisses in the air. I looked in the direction of his gestures and saw a woman with an umbrella, hanging over her balcony, capturing those kisses. It was as if a Sempé cartoon had come to life!

There's always time for romance in Paris - even during a downpour.


Evening Promenade

Very often, I am asked, "What is it about Paris?" I don't know exactly how to respond. There is just something about this city: the language, the people, the culture, the architecture, the cuisine. The list goes on and on. These qualities blend together and produce magic. In Paris, the mundane becomes extraordinary.

Tonight is a great example. It is Sunday and most people have spent the day with their family. Having no plans myself, I decided to see a movie. As the movie let out, it began to rain. I "waited it out" while tucked under the awning of a café with a glass of champagne. I felt as if I was watching the world go by. When the rain stopped, I became part of the scene and walked home.

I didn't think too much about it, just started walking. Then it hit me. Where else in the world would a simple walk home take one past some of most beautiful architecture in the world? Kind of like seeing the Eiffel Tower the night before.

Here's a peak of some of the sites.

L'Assemblée Nationale, the French parliament building. It is located directly opposite the Place de la Concorde on the left bank.

La Fontaine des Mers at the southern end of the Place de la Concorde. In the background, the Obélisque de Luxor, to its left the Hôtel de Crillon and to its right La Madeleine.

L'Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysées. The flag was hung to commemorate V-E Day on May 8.


La Tour Eiffel

I arrived in Paris early this morning. Despite a quiet and easy flight, I didn't sleep a wink. This lead to an afternoon nap and a later than usual start to my evening.

As I emerged from the Metro station at my destination, I couldn't help but notice how beautiful the Eifffel Tower is at dusk. Seeing it brought a smile to my face.


L'art de la cuisine - Quiche Lorraine

Plain pastry dough for a 9 inch tart (see below)
1 tablespoon of bacon drippings
1 cup of thinly sliced onions
1 1/2 cups cubed Gruyère cheese
6 slices of crisp bacon, crumbled
4 large eggs, beaten lightly
1 cup each heavy cream and milk,
or 2 cups light cream
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper

Cook onions in the bacon drippings until they are transparent. Cover the pastry dough (as prepared below) with cheese, onions, and crumbled bacon. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the top. Bake in a preheated very hot oven (450 degrees F) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to moderate (350 degrees F) and bake until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean - 15 to 20 minutes.

Allow the quiche to set-up before serving or refrigerate for later. Quiche can be reheated in the oven or microwave very easily.

Served with a green salad and Riesling wine, this is a delicious meal.