Archive for the ‘La Vie Paris’ Category

Le fin d’année

Monday, December 29th, 2008 by Paul

Paris has been fairly quiet this past week. Many of stores are shuttered with notes saying they’ll be open after the new year. Other Parisian transplants most likely returned to their home cities and towns, while the rest of the city is huddled inside to avoid the below-freezing temperatures. However, in a bizarre reversal of norms, the Monoprix was open this Sunday.

On Christmas Eve we went to Patricia’s Paris Soirées, where Misty was invited again to sing, having delighted everyone the last time she sang there. On Christmas we made a cuisse de dinde (turkey leg) for dinner with brussel sprouts, some salad salad, and a tarte au fraises. (I also had to have some foie gras, a traditional appetizer on holiday occasions. I enjoyed it: Misty would have none of it.)

This weekend Misty and I took a walk through the ménagerie in the Jardin des Plantes. The animals seemed to be loathing the cold weather about as much as we were, with the possible exception of the snow leopard who appeared to be eyeing the French children a bit too closely. We also had lunch at Breizh Café, where we learned just what a galette should taste like, rather what had passed for one at the tourist café in Le Mont-St-Michel.

On Sunday we had a fantastic time at a cocktail party hosted by our new friend Howard, even if we did stay out a bit late. For Wednesday we’re having dinner at the Bistro Paul Bert, and if we’re lucky we can find a place not completely overrun with crowds to watch the New Year festivities.

I hope everyone has had a wonderful holiday, and I wish everyone a safe and happy nouvelle année!

It’s beginning to look a lot like…Noël

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by misty

This weekend Paul and I braved the balmy 11C weather (58F) to celebrate the holidays. Mind that I had the flu and a temperature of 40C which is higher than the water temperature I use to do laundry, so our daytripping was curtailed. The weather is cloudy but warm and I did enjoy the fake snow machine at the Swedish Cultural Center for the sense of winter wonderland.

Paris isn’t overflowing with Christmas shoppers. Strasbourg in Alsace with its world famous Christmas Markets hosts over 2 million tourists for the holiday while Paris probably only has somewhere between 1 million and 34 million. Something like that. You really can’t tell the difference.

Tour Eiffel in EU colors

Tour Eiffel in EU colors

We started with drinks at Au Petit fer à Cheval Friday night, a great old zinc bar in the Marais. I then slept for 36 hours or thereabouts and returned to the world for a whirlwind of Paris’ Christmas Markets. The Left Bank stalls were traditional, with the addition of mint tea with pinenuts (my favorite!) to the vin chaud and biere allemande on offer, and Peruvian flute players. Small wooden sheds decked with holiday lights on a bed of astroturf filled with knickknacks, chocolates, and charcuterie.

The disturbing thing we noticed as we hit two more Christmas markets was that all the stalls at all the markets were exactly the same. Each vendor was part of a chain with few exceptions. At St. Surplice, there were hand-made doggie bags. Which is say, someone took stuffed animal dogs, emptied out their insides and put a zipper and strap on them. Dog purse. I would like to see someone put a little yorkie in one of those.

Poodle shaped purse

Poodle shaped purse

Along the Champs-Elysees from the Ferris Wheel at Concorde to Franklin Roosevelt, stalls upon stalls of Christmas cheer await the giant crowd of tourists pushing slowly on to the even bigger crowds in front of Champs’ megastores. Quality of wares decreased and so we have nothing to bring back to our friends – unless you wanted 20 € plush toy eiffel towers with malevolent smiles, santa hats with red spirals going up instead of an actual cap, incredibly ugly jewelry shaped like snakes, or a Christmas back scratcher. Please tell us now if any of those items were on your list, we still have 2 shopping days to go!

We enjoyed it as much for the silliness of the mercandise as the presentation and showmanship (break-dancing Santa in front of drink stall). The vin chaud here is brilliant and the macarons even more so. That’s the thing about Paris, the best gifts are edible and would not last the shipping. Paul and I will happily eat these for you and think of you fondly while we enjoy ;>

How do the French stay thin?

Sunday, December 21st, 2008 by Paul


It’s commonly called “The French Paradox.” The French eat foods high in saturated fat, drink more, eat later, eat chocolate and pastries and baguettes made from refined flour, and yet obesity rates in France are some of the lowest in Europe.

Even as there is evidence that obesity is on the rise in France, it’s still uncommon to see overweight people walking the streets of Paris. So while the nutritionists can point to the lack of processed foods or snacks in the French diet, perhaps it’s also because of the streets themselves.

Imagine yourself shopping along Rue de Rennes in the Montparnasse area of Paris. Or perhaps walking down Rue Faubourg St-Antoine on your way to the Monoprix. While walking you may have to speed up to pass people who are walking slower than you, or stop because there are people who are going in the opposite direction and there isn’t enough sidewalk space for everyone. Perhaps you have to swerve to avoid a scooter, or a car, or a delivery person, or the lovely and plentiful sidewalk hazards left by dogs. You may suddenly stop because the person in front of you who is talking on his cell phone stops and isn’t paying attention to the people around him (and if he were, he wouldn’t care).

When walking on these busy streets, you are never at a constant pace. You are constantly slowing down, speeding up, stopping and moving again. What you end up doing is something close to what athletes call interval training, something many fitness experts recommend as a fast way to lose weight.

This type of walking, of course, is common to many large cities, whether walking the Champs-Élysées in Paris, 5th Avenue in New York, or Leicester Square in London. So perhaps it’s not so much how the French stay thin, but how Parisians stay thin.

If you’re really wanting to stay thin the Parisian way, then take eating seriously: eat unprocessed foods in moderation, cut out the high fructose corn syrup, sit down and enjoy your meal, and don’t snack all the time. Then go for a walk on a really congested sidewalk.

If that doesn’t work, then take up smoking.

Parties in Paris

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 by misty

Saturday, Paul and I had a few people over to celebrate December. We tried a white elephant gift exchange but I think my guests were too polite to get into the Stealing spirit. Well, I also made the spending limit 10 euros. What can you buy for less than 10 euros?

Bottle of wine from Saumar Champigny
Mini votive candle powered fondue set
Mr. Grumpy hand warmers
Foot long cardboard eiffel tower filled with Lindor milk chocolates
Cardboard form of an elephant for decopatch supplies
Edith Piaf Greatest Hits CD
A Japanese towel specially designed to clean the backs of your faucets. I won this and I have never had a better gift. Truly, I know just what faucets are going to get it!

After our friend Howard was kind enough to take us to a French party. Everyone there had a “detail” like a pin on the back of a shirt, a small toy chick in a pocket, a small cow toy hanging from an earring, one fake sideburn, a clown nose, bangs like Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, blue hair, etc. The party was super informal, silly string was constantly sprayed. Everyone used the “tu” form which we thought was cool. As we were by far the oldest people there, Paul and I were happy to fit in at all.

Paul was monopolized all night by a man dressed as Vincent Cassel playing Mesrine, the French gangster. The man was either trying to practice his English or get a date with Paul. Meanwhile, I “geeked out” considerably with my IA buddy, Milan, and practiced my French by discussing Vincent Cassel’s other films with another mec named Vincent. No one has seen Eastern Promises. How can that be?

Paris instructions

Friday, December 12th, 2008 by misty

What I’ve learned from living in Paris

The mice in the metro stations are cute
Bus drivers slow down if they see people running for the bus
People will block your way on the street, subway, store, bar, wherever, they aren’t being rude, they just don’t notice you.
Wine is sooooo good
If you don’t give someone a cigarette, he may spit on you
There is foie gras at the grocery store
You are never very far from a ham sandwich

Night of 1000 Accordions

Sunday, November 30th, 2008 by misty

On the unveiling night of Beaujolais Nouveau, the streets, caves, and bars are full of people eager to enjoy the fresh wine. It is customary to hire an accordion player to entertain the masses. Lucky for Paul and I, after wandering through the overcrowded sidestreets we settled at the one cafe where the accordionist played covers of the Clash along with French classics. Cheers to Trent who introduced me to the Clash and to Scott, our favorite accordionist. We toasted to you both and to all our friends and loved ones who’ve been reading along with our journey.

Little olive oils

Saturday, November 15th, 2008 by misty

Before I was hit with the rhume de normandaise (a cold from Normandy) that kept me in bed for the last three days, I went to the olive oil shop to buy olive oil. That’s right, the olive oil shop where you buy olive oil. It’s like the bread shop where you buy bread. The meat shop where your meat is waiting. The cheese shop, the bean shop, the underwear shop, you get the picture. The grands magasins are overwhelming in their breadth and price tags, and so much empty white space! But the tiny shops teeming with all varieties of one specialty – like say, an algerian pastisserie displaying 20 trays of 20 different confections – are just more enjoyable places to spend your Euros.

At L’olivier, you get your bottle of olive oil poured from a big keg after you’ve done various taste tests. It’s not revolutionary, there are fancy olive oil shops everywhere but not as many as there are here. I also purchased tiny bottles of flavored olive oils and vinaigrettes. Shake and voila – the perfect amount of salad dressing. Guess what you’re all getting for Christmas!

Now, I must go to the wine shop where you get your to-go wine poured from a barrel!

Speaking of spending Euros, it’s been reported that the EU is officially in recession. Only one country has seen increased spending this quarter. I’d like to say, “You’re welcome, France.” It’s been a pleasure handing over our money.

Also – our Halloween pumpkin! Thank you, Michael, for sending these pics from our night carving pumpkins in Paris. Yes, I did eventually find one and here he is. He’s a French pumpkin.

Credit Crisis, Microchip Edition

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008 by Paul

There’s certainly enough French news and commentary on what’s called la crise économique, la crise financière, or simply la crise. Just like in the States, no one is sure when it will end, where it will hit the worst, and what’s going to happen next week.

In comparison with that, the credit “crisis” I’m talking about is quite a bit smaller. It’s the “crisis” of French credit cards.

Since the early nineties, the French bank system switched to using cards with microchips in them to help prevent fraud. Much like a debit card, these cartes bancaires à puce don’t require a signature — just stick your card in a little machine, enter your PIN number, and voilà.

For the French, this is wonderful. For American tourists, it’s a pain because it renders unavailable a lot of the automated payment machines that require chip-enabled credit cards, everything from buying train tickets to those ubiquitous rental bikes you may have heard about.

As Canada and most of Europe switch to this new “chip-and-PIN” credit card, Americans are increasingly being in the cold.

Let’s hope that the larger financial crisis comes to an end quickly, and that American banks start issuing credit cards that work in other countries. That is, if there are any American banks left.


Friday, October 24th, 2008 by Paul

This isn’t London, and I’m not going to go on a murderous rampage turning people into meat pies, but I was very glad to see my friends again:

These are my friends

At last, my arm is complete again.

Misty and I have been on a sustainable seafood kick for a while; living in the Pacific Northwest makes us susceptible to all things green, and when we hear about all kinds of fisheries on the decline, it makes us want to do our part. Inspired by Clotilde’s recent post, we wandered over to the market on Boulevard de Richard Lenoir to pick up some mussels. I’ve always had a fondness for the tasty bivalves, and when I learned that these particular mussels had their own appellation, I was eager to try them.

Moules marinière

They turned out well, I think. They are a lot smaller than the mussels we get in the Northwest, but a lot cleaner. Their beard was more of a soul patch. While they are still in season I might make them again and add a bit of fennel or some Pastis instead of saffron. Of course, there are plenty of other fish in the sea and at the poissoniere markets.

Bois de Vincennes

Monday, October 20th, 2008 by Paul

What better way would a Parisian spend the lovely weekend than going out to the one of the two parks bordering the city. On the west side, there is the Bois de Boulogne, and on the east there is the Bois de Vincennes.

Bois de Vincennes

We chose the Bois de Vincennes because we intended to visit the zoo there. However, time got the better of us, so we’ll have to save the animals for another day.

To get a sense of the Bois de Vincennes, think of Volunteer Park. Then think bigger. Think Central Park, then think bigger. Then add this:

Château de Vincennes

Then you can get a sense of how large this place actually is.