Sunday, August 31, 2008


I pop across the street to the épicerie to get an avocado and some red wine to complete the dinner menu.

As I leave the outer door of the building, 5-year-old Thomas, the gardienne's impish son, greets me with a chirpy and perfunctory "Bonsoir, madame!" He's really proud of his new hair-gel spikes. We'd spent last evening talking about his vacation and the beginning of school, while he tortured his two-year old brother with sly belly-pokes. He knows how to get a grin out of me even when he's in total Dennis-the-Menace mode.

As I cross the street I speak with the elderly lady -- always wearing navy blue -- who runs the tiny lunchroom/salon de thé. She serves the best homemade food in Paris, but has been closed for four months since her fall, when she broke her forearm. Now she's back, slowly. She explains her medical trials, and is proud to be working again. After my two years of living here, she finally recognizes me as a genuine neighbor, and we discuss the health and general problems facing the ground-floor residents along the street.

I move down the sidewalk and enter the épicerie. Yesterday when I was there to buy a bottle of Coca Light, I was unprepared, out of cash, and the distributeur [ATM] at the corner was out of service. The owner had just said, "Don't worry madame, pay me tomorrow."

Tonight I enter, and it's like a joyous reunion in a tiny jam-packed aisle. Everyone's back from vacation, ready to start the new year tomorrow. Jean-Michel, from the restaurant around the corner, had un temps superb in Brittany. The waitress from the bar-tabac has a new coiffure and a nice tan. The other clients I don't know, but the air was familial and friendly, everyone shaking hands and greeting each other. Including me.

As I pay for my items and laughingly remind the owner that I'm reimbursing him for yesterday's debt, I hear strains of familiar music. Faintly in the background on the scratchy radio system in the épicerie is the Keane song, the finale of the soundtrack of Klapisch's film Paris.

The owner hands me my change with a smile. Inexplicably, I duck my head down into my tote bag. I have to hurry out. Suddenly my sinuses are burning, my throat has a lump, and I have to escape. Damn. Just like that damn movie, which I loved. This is Paris, my Paris. This is the place where I have made a home, and a quirky family of strangers who aren't strangers and aren't family -- but people who are dear, who know me and care about me, in their own way.

I slam all five doors in the building on the way back to my apartment, and burst into tears when I get home to my nest.

The Nickel Tour of Mr. Jefferson's Paris

Hey, Americans! Take a nickel out of your wallet. Flip it over to tails. What do you see?

Monticello, of course, the home of Thomas Jefferson.

But did you know that Monticello-- and ergo the nickel -- would be significantly different if it were not for Jefferson's stay in Paris from 1784-1789?

Now look at the Hotel de Salm, located next to the Musee d'Orsay.

Does anything ring a bell?

During his five years in Paris, Mr. Jefferson was besotted with the building, which he viewed regularly from the Tuileries on his daily walks. He loved the building so much that after returning to Virginia from Paris he had Monticello's roof torn town and installed the dome, inspired by the Hotel de Salm, which created Monticello as we know it today.

So here's today's Nickel Tour of Mr. Jefferson's Paris. It takes about half an hour on foot. Much less on line!

Start across from the Hotel de Salm, at the statue of Mr. Jefferson erected in 2006.

Look at the architectural drawing in Mr. Jefferson's right hand. It shows the drawings of the original Monticello (what the flip-side of the nickel would have looked like...).

Hmm. Today, the quill in Mr. Jefferson's left hand was sporting a frilly party lei. Maybe he was celebrating in between the two presidential nomination conventions?

In any case, Mr. Jefferson's statue is looking directly across the street at his dear Hotel de Salm.

The Hotel de Salm now houses the Museum of the Legion d'Honneur, definitely worth a visit. Entrance is free, and as you breeze in the door you can wave to the crowds standing in lines to buy tickets at the Musee d'Orsay. Be sure to peek around at the back entrance of the Hotel de Salm on rue de Lille, and see the rows of columns and courtyards, which I am convinced must have inspired some of Mr. Jefferson's columns at the University of Virginia.

Then stroll a few blocks south on rue de Bellechasse and peek in the courtyard at the Ministry of Defense, Department of Anciens combattants, and around the corner on rue de Grenelle see the exterior of the Temple de Pentemont, currently under renovation. Jefferson didn't stay there, but his daughters Patsy and Polly were boarding students there while he was Minister to France. It was known as the Abbaye Royale de Panthemont, and was a presitgious convent school for young ladies from the finest families.

I like to imagine that when Mr. Jefferson was looking longingly across the river to the Hotel de Salm, he was also thinking not only about architecture, but also about his daughter(s) just up the street at school.

Of course, there are many, many other spots to see on a Jefferson walking tour (maybe the $2-bill tour, not the nickel tour...) of Paris and environs.

"Today’s visitor to Paris can follow Jefferson’s route from his house on the rue de Berri, down the Champs-Elysées, and across the Place de la Concorde to the Tuileries gardens," wrote Diana Ketcham in a 1995 article in American Heritage magazine.

The excellent AH article provides a nearly exhaustive list of places that Mr. Jefferson visited or would have visited in Paris. And I can't wait to check out the sites it mentions that I haven't seen yet.

But selfishly, I love today's Nickel Tour because it's all on the street where I live. I mean, how lucky can a Polly get?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Color Purple

Do you remember that classic scene in The Graduate, where Mr. Maguire corners Benjamin to tell him the secret to success? "I just want to say one word to you. Are you listening?"

Well this season, The Word isn't "plastics."

It's, uh, "prune."

Okay, well maybe plum or purple in English. But hints of the color purple are the It fashion word this fall in Paris. I've inadvertently made the rounds of many of the boutiques pre-rentree, and apparently if you aren't tuned to prune you just aren't anywhere.

No total-purple outfits, please. No matching purple tops and bottoms. Just a hint. One smidgen, one item.

Thus spoke the fashion gods.

Mais il est ou le soleil?

When you've had a mostly gray and cool summer like we've had this year in Paris, it doesn't take much to wonder, "Where is the sun, anyway?" So no wonder I stopped in my tracks when I saw this clothing boutique on rue des Quatre Vents in the 6e arrondissement.

The eponymous Mais il est où le soleil? brand has a popular following, and the flagship store is in Brussels -- where there's no shortage of sunshine-deprivation, from what I hear.

The sign in the shop window announced an early September opening of the boutique, the first in Paris.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chez la dentiste

I finally did it. I went to the dentist in France.

I admit, I've been avoiding it. Oh god, the dentist. I get anxiety going to my US dentist whom I've known for 10 years, so the notion of dealing with an unknown dentist in France was way beyond unsettling. Instead, I'd had check-ups when I was back in Massachusetts, but the last one was over a year ago. I knew it was time to have my teeth cleaned.

Two important obstacles. First, I needed to locate a dentist, and second, I didn't know how to say "I need to have my teeth cleaned" in French. Was it nettoyer? I knew it wasn't brosser because that's, you know, what I do twice daily. I felt so inept. Of course, whenever I go to the doctor in France I feel mentally reduced to about a second-grader because I don't know even the basic terminology. Floss (the verb)? Rubber tip? Novocaine? Dental bonding? Fillings? Beats me how to say it. Or how about trying to mouth an entire phrase like "Don't poke that scary dental prong into the sensitive nerve above my right bicuspid, s'il vous plait." or "The saliva suction machine is making a callous in my sub-lingual tissue, madame." Definitely not vocab on the tip of my tongue.

Nevertheless, I bit the bullet and decided to go ahead with the ordeal.

I found a list of nearby dentists in the pages jaunes. But before I telephoned for an appointment I found a French dental glossary on line, and learned that the word for teeth-cleaning is détartrage. Now there's a word I'm comfy with. Whew. Détartrage -- a word close to my heart! It's what I do to the inside of my kettle, my Nespresso-maker, my plumbing. Get rid of scaly build-up. Yes!

Armed with my new phrase, I called around, and the second dentist I reached had just had un désistement [cancellation] this afternoon. She had time for a détartrage. No time to back out, so I booked the appointment.

Still a little jittery, I arrived 10 minutes early to the appointment, a five-minute walk from my apartment. I rang the doorbell, walked up to the first floor and into Dr. A's living room. It looked like a faded Matisse tableau. Homey, inviting, with swirls of warm reds and vivid patterns. A white teacup poodle was curled up on the cozy paisley sofa across from the TV. I felt odd, sitting in my dentist's living room, even though I knew enough to anticipate the typical home-office scenario.

I had ample time to peruse this week's Gala magazine on the coffee table. (Boy, are the Parisian journalists all on vacation, or what? I think there were just three journalists in town last week who wrote the same three stories for every news magazine. Oops. I digress. Anything to get my mind off the imminent emotional agony of the dentist's chair.)

Gala was a breeze to finish cover to cover in under three minutes, so after that intellectual edification I just looked around the living room, wiggling my foot nervously as I checked out her personal DVD selections, the fern plants, her favorite books. I glanced over at tiny, timid Fifi. She blinked back.

Finally I heard Dr. A finishing with her patient. "See you next week!" she chimed. Ulp. He had to return? My mind raced. Then she greeted me, saw the dog, and scolded, "Oh, how did you get in here, Fifi?" Smiling, she turned to me. "Sometimes she scoots in from the kitchen when the door opens," she explained. "She likes to see people."

Dr. A was so warm and pleasant I began to loosen up a bit. Her professional dentist room couldn't have been more different from the waiting room/living room next door. Clean, bright, with modern lines, painted a soothing pale blue, with hi-tech Lucite furniture. I explained about needing a détartrage and all the particulars of my mouth, which I am always edgy about. The shiny instrument stand had all the terrifying sharp motor-driven tools that make me cringe. Dr. A was so reassuring and sweet, I really couldn't help but relax. I steeled myself for the dreaded scraping, poking, and -- even worse, the anticipated chiding for lack of proper daily care. I mean, that's what dentists and their hygienists DO, right? They scold.

Wrong on all counts. No rotating abrasive brush with "pick-your-flavor" granular paste. No criticism. No prongs. No hygienist -- Dr. A was an all-in-one dentist. She used an aeropolisseur, a machine that kind of sandblasts the teeth with a highly pressurized salt and water spray. After 15 zingy minutes, she said, "Voila. Rinse."

"That's all?"

"That's all. You have lovely teeth."

58 euros, and I was out of there with a dazzling smile, no plaque and no guilt.

I have just experienced spiritual conversion, dentally.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Je m'appelle Bob

One of the many delights of writing this blog is having friends, family, and acquaintances who pass along funny bits that might tickle my fancy.

Such is the case for this commercial for "happy cows" from California. The French bull, swaggering up to the cows. A hoot. A moo.


I'll -- sadly!-- return from vacation full force tomorrow.

Merci monsieur chateau pour l'info.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A la plage

Heart-shaped rocks are better than rock-shaped hearts. Definitely. This is part of my collection.

A random thought from my walk on the beach.
I often wax enthusastic about the mellifluous, poetic sound of the French language. This week's top two favorites from Ile de Ré:

"Tu veux m'accompagner à la déchetterie?" [Do you want to go to the dump?]

"Attention aux méduses!" [Watch out for jellyfish.]

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fermeture Annuelle

I'm taking the TGV south, heading to sunny Ile de Ré for a wee vacation. Don't hate me. I've earned this R&R, by gum, and I'm planning to enjoy it. While Polly-Vous Français is on break, here are some random links for your reading pleasure.

1. This summer the US is a popular tourist destination for the French. And, although the stats have slipped a bit, Americans still lead the pack for sheer numbers of tourists in France. Hey! Why don't we all just swap houses for a while? It's a great way to get to know another country and another culture.

2. Gourmet's September 2008 issue has just hit the newsstands in the states, and it's all about Paris. Which reminds me, if you haven't read editor Ruth Reichl's memoir Tender at the Bone, do yourself a favor. I laughed myself silly. And I'll never look at leftovers, or my mother's Chicken Fitchburg recipe, the same way again. Ever.

3. Here's a cute audio book for teaching your baby French (be sure to listen to the excerpt). I wish this had been around when my kids were little. Hmm, maybe they don't. But it might have saved us from that disastrous French au pair in 1993. All's well that ends well, though. Angie, our witty, saxophone-playing English au pair, won the prize. We still miss her.

4. Uh-oh. Everyone loved French Women Don't Get Fat, right? (Except me. Sorry. I gained 10 lbs. and almost went broke after reading it. All those leeks, all that champagne...) Now it's going to be a movie?

5. Do you like Art Deco? Have you dreamed of owning an apartment in Paris? Check out Paris 1930. Stay tuned for a full article on the fabulous opportunities and the benefits of owning more modern real estate in Paris. I interviewed Gonzague Feltz, founder of Paris 1930 real estate services, a few months back. It's a great niche market, and "Zack" is smart, suave, knowledgeable -- and, um, quite handsome.

6. What? You're kidding me. You haven't read Stuff Parisians Like yet?

7. Did you know that for the cost of a métro ticket (free if you have a Navigo pass or Carte Orange) you can take a boat ride on the Seine?

Of course, if the above aren't enough entertainment for you, you can re-read the overstuffed 600+ Polly-Vous Français archives or this best-of cheat sheet if you want. Guaranteed to outdo Ambien (Stilnox en français) for putting you to sleep.

Sweet dreams and bonnes vacances!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Vive les Maries

Aunt Polly here is frantically flinging virtual rose petals, transatlantically, today.

And quietly sobbing happily, oh-so-sentimentally, into her mouchoir. Yes, I'm a hopeless romantic who believes in True Love, especially because
The joyous celebration begins today, but the actual (raucous?) party will be in a couple of months or so. I'll be there.

Vive l'amour, vive les mariés, and félicitations and bisous from France to the happy couple from a loving aunt.

The Assumption

August 15 is a legal holiday in France. Most of my French friends just call it "le quinze août," which to me sounds like le canzoot. It seems as though anyone who is taking an August vacation -- which is most of Paris -- is out of town for the long weekend. The streets are quiet. Officially the holiday -- the holy day -- is the Feast of the Assumption. Several of my French pals confuse l'Ascension, which is in May, and l'Assomption, which is today. So I don't feel like I'm a total doofus if they -- born French and baptized Catholic -- can get mixed-up about the two days. To them those days are simply jours feriés to plan vacations around.

But in the 7e arrondissement, which has no shortage of churches, chapels, and convents, I discovered that le 15 août is a day of major importance.

This morning on rue de Babylone I saw a crowd clogging the sidewalk. "Oh, just another group of tourists," I assumed at first. But when I reached rue du Bac, I realized that I'd seen just the tip of the iceberg. Throngs of religious pilgrims were waiting in line to go to mass at Notre Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse.

I've been inside the Chapel once. A French guy whom I dated long ago had told me about it and joked, "I go into the Chapel every day after lunch to pray for the miracle -- that Polly will tomber amoureuse de moi." I later discovered that he used that line on all American women.

Curious, though, I visited the chapelle one day. Even the most skeptical or Protestant visitor has to be impressed by the devotion of those who have made the pilgrimage.

I was born and raised Episcopalian, and we're so... figurative. On the whole, we don't go for the whole transubstantiation/miracle message. I'm not even that good an Episcopalian, but I think we like the idea of a modern-day miracle, but just need more scientific proof in the here-and-now, I guess. My personal take on miracles and other huge leaps of faith is this: it may not specifically help, but it sure can't hurt; so go ahead and believe.
Which is why, for example, the night before French exams I used to sleep with the slim Bescherelle's L'Art de conjuguer 12000 verbes under my pillow. Who knew? It couldn't hurt.

So, I was actually quite moved by the notion of the miraculous medal. I'm honestly trying to say this without sounding coy. Someone has to believe, and I'm genuinely glad that there are so many fellow human beings who believe in miracles for me. The sweet nuns at the chapel said they would bless your medal if you bought one. American to the core ("let's buy in bulk!"), I bought a whole bag of medals and got them blessed.

I distribute the medals to friends who are in need, I drop them in sidewalk beggars' cups, I pack one in each piece of checked luggage. They're useful in many ways.

Who knows? What do I know?
It may or may not help, but it sure can't hurt.

Big Wheel Keep on Turnin'

Heading out of W.H. Smith with a book under my arm, I glanced up. The Thing beckoned. Sometimes I hate the Thing. The Big Wheel of Paris, La Grande Roue.

I despise that Ferris Wheel when it's in the middle of the place de la Concorde: a gaudy neon eyesore marring a magnificent vista. It looks like Wheel of Fortune plunked into the middle of Merchant Ivory.

But when La Grande Roue is tucked into the corner of the Tuileries, it's unobtrusive enough. And the birds-eye views of Paris are a treat. I hadn't ridden it since my kids were little. And today it was calling to me.

Judging from the number of empty cars, I knew there wouldn't be a line to get on. I was half right. There was zero line, but since I was going solo, I had to wait for others to show up. "For reasons of security, no one may ride the La Grande Roue unaccompanied." That's kind of a creepy and way-too suggestive pronouncement. And trust me, if I had been harboring any morose thoughts of Ending It All, the tiny Spanish lady who wound up on the ride with me wouldn't have prevented me from taking a fatal sky dive.

She was glued to her curved bench, beaming from ear to ear, her head wrapped in a scarf like a mantilla, repeating "C'est magique, c'est magique." But it seemed that whenever I attempted to snap a photo of the Eiffel Tower or Montmartre, she was front and center --- she got the Good Side. It's okay. I was probably beaming goofily too. I was having F-U-N.

A refreshingly different perspective of the 3-D geometry of the Pyramide at the Louvre.

I liked looking down at the Tuileries most of all.

It was over all too soon. Why is it that it always seems that the group before you got to ride longer?

At 6€, it's not exactly a bargain for about a 10-minute ride. It's worth it though. You only go around once in life. Well, actually, about eight times, in this case.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Barometer of Love

This morning I spotted the Barometre de l'Amour and immediately knew I had to give it a try. For investigative purposes only, of course.

No, I wasn't wandering around Pigalle. This love-o-meter was stationed right next to the kiddie cars in the summer carnival in the Tuileries.

Here's how it works: insert 2€, place your left palm on the "sensor," and press firmly until the bell rings. Your success rate will appear. In theory.

The score categories were too wonderful. My approximate translations:

Superman - Superman
Etalon - Stud, stallion
Satyr - Satyr
Virtuose - Virtuoso
Chaud Lapin -- Playboy
Champion -- Champion
Puissant - Powerful
Fougueux -- Fiery, steamy
Jeune coq -- Young cock
Debutant -- Beginner

Erotique -- Erotic
Volcanique -- Volcanic
Gloutonne -- Glutton
Experte -- Expert
Voluptueuse -- Voluptuous
Gourmande -- Eager, Hungry
Chaude -- Hot
Sensuelle -- Sensual
Amoureuse -- In love
Insensible -- Insensitive

I'm not going to divulge any personal details, mind you; but let me simply say that the machine doesn't work.

Monday, August 11, 2008


"Zat nice Américaine on le troisième étage. She seems so gentille, usually so calm and quiet. Bien elevée. Mais, alors, do you hear her? Zose.. euh.. kinky activities in her shower?"

This is the elevator gossip that I imagine taking place among my building neighbors. They hear me, I know. I haven't showered silently in months. The screams, the moans, the shrieks, the begging for more! Or less!

The daily soundtrack they hear echoes up and down the building’s air-well, broadcast via the half-open casement window in my bathroom.

Sounds of trickling of water, then a rushing spray. Then:

"C'mon, dammit."
"Jeez, get going, will ya?"

End of water sounds. A pause. Pattering of wet footsteps.
Resuming of sprinkling sound.
"Okay. Okay."
“Yes, you can do it.”
"Stop that, you jerk!"
A sob. A bang. End of water sounds.
Resuming of drizzle. Louder gushing.
"There, that's better. Keep going, keep going."
"Just DO it."
"FOGGIT! I give up on this. Never again!"
“I HATE you!”

It's called Mortal Kombat: Paris. Polly Versus the Shower.

Oh, that shiny chrome bathtub fixture may look contemporary and modern, but believe me, it has just two settings: arctic and cauldron. I try to run the hot water at the tub tap: it's about the right temp for icing down a bottle of champagne. I nudge it a little more, move the lever to warm. A hot sprinkle emerges, then vanishes. I wiggle the lever to the middle: more frigid H2eau. Fuming, I dart out of the shower, slipping across the dining room to the kitchen to see if the chaudière is operating or if the wind has blown out the pilot. Yesss! There is a flame; but to claim the water-heater is actually functioning would be a wild exaggeration. I shiver and dash back to the shower.

Then the hand-to-handheld combat begins. Frigid Niagara blasts me first; I yelp and bat the showerhead to the right, readjust the hot/cold lever. It seems to be reaching almost tepid, so I position myself hopefully under the spray again. The water goes from polar to bi-polar in a nanosecond, in one quick, scalding stream. I swear and scream and knock the shower head aside again. Lather, repeat, lather, repeat – no rinse. I mutter and moan. I thought that water torture was Chinese or Spanish, not French.

Score: la douche - 258; Polly - 0

What? Oh, of course I’ve tried to fix it, and to get it fixed. I may be a tad lazy at times, but I’m hardly a masochist. I turn the sélecteur de temperature down a notch, and then get no warm water at all. I’m worried that it may be a calcaire problem or some other unknown French plumbing nightmare, so I descale all the robinetterie. Again. Then I call in the experts.

I ask the plombier. "Oh, it's not a plumbing problem, Madame,” he insists, “it's a question of the chaudière. You need to speak with the company that maintains your water heater."

I ask the ramoneur. "Oh, it's not a chaudière problem, Madame.” He insists, “it's a question of the water pressure in your building. You need to speak with the syndic." (For this I pay him 180€ annually for a maintenance contract?)

I ask the... well, on it goes. The apartment syndicat will say it's the problem of the City of Paris, who will say it is the problem of Lyonnaise des Eaux, who will say it is because of the government, who will say it's all because...of God or the Pope or the Socialists.

You know what, fellas? I really don't care. I promise not to blame anyone. I just want to take a shower. Just a short, steady, happy warm one. Please?

Meanwhile, I am convinced that a bulging, secret dossier bearing my name is winging its way from Lyonnaise des Eaux to the Trésor Publique, denouncing me for secretly harboring an Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool in my 70-square-meter flat. This is the only logical bureaucratic deduction to be made by the water company, judging from my astronomical monthly water consumption. Water which, ironically, rarely touches my skin.

And, meanwhile, my personal hygiene is taking a major hit. Body odor may help clear out a section of the bus if you’re trying to score a seat, but vague lingering odiferousness from long-term shower-deprivation is not a desirable condition. Especially not recommended for general dating appeal or job interviews.

The upside, of course, is that houseguests never overstay their welcome. Heh-heh.

Sometimes I daydream. What was a real shower like, anyway? It’s been so long. When I try to remember, it’s like leafing through the pages of a tattered high-school yearbook, wracking my brain trying to recall the memories of happy showers of yesteryear. The bygone bathing days in when I could actually loofah and do all those other perfumed girlie tasks while the après-shampooing conditioner worked its one-minute magic on my flowing tresses. Did those golden years of bona fide showers really exist, or is it my imagination?

These days I'm lucky if I eke a decent birdbath from ten minutes’ wrangling with the shower. And even then, I grit my teeth and embark on my morning ablutions with a sense of dread matched only by my enthusiasm for, say, having my tonsils yanked sans anesthesia. Anyway, with all these eau chaude/eau froide shenanigans, I’ll be easy to recognize at the beach next week: I’ll be the unkempt lady sporting first-degree burns on one shoulder, minor frostbite on the other.

You know, sounds really ricochet in this apartment building, but I never hear my neighbors making any noise in their showers; maybe they all take soaker baths instead.

But this I know. I know they can't see me, but they hear me. And they wonder about me and my showertime theatrics.

They wonder if I’m some sort of Irma la Douche.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Free Parking in Paris in August?

Myth: Parisian meter maids are on vacation in August, and all on-street parking is free for the entire month.

Reality: 90% of on-street parking spaces in Paris are free of charge this month. Meter maids are still on duty, though.

Here is a list of streets, by arrondissement, detailing whether parking is free (gratuit) or still requiring a payment via Moneo or Paris-Carte (payant).

Tip: I don't own a car. But the best advice I've heard is to check at the nearest borne where you would normally buy a parking slip for your dashboard. Make sure that you've landed in an otherwise legal space (not for handicapped, deliveries, etc., which are usually well indicated.) If when you push the yellow horidateur button for payment it says "le stationnement est gratuit," -- bingo -- you're in luck!

Vanity Fair [hearts] Paris

This month's Vanity Fair offers not only a great feature story on Premiere Dame Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, but also an in-depth article by Olga of Greece on one of my favorite Paris institutions, Deyrolle.

Hey, I think they like us!

I've written frequently about Deyrolle, which you can read here. The VF article explains the history of Deyrolle, its acquisition by the Prince de Broglie, the devastating fire last February, and the poignant subsequent offers of help from well-wishers around the globe, most notably Hermes, who designed a scarf to raise money for the reconstruction of the partially charred building. It's fascinating reading.
Gee, VF could have solicited me for photos of the burned wreckage and the sooty taxidermied animals: I witnessed it all in February. Oh well.

I haven't been able to find Vanity Fair at any Paris newsstands, but fortunately a friend scanned the Deyrolle article for me. Copyright laws being what they are, I can't include the whole article here. But if you haven't bought this month's issue for the sake of the Carla piece, please buy it for the excellent article on Deyrolle.

Vive les vacances

It's August vacation time in Paris.

Many owners of smaller shops have papered their vitrines with brown packing paper (papier kraft) and taped a small sign on the door announcing the closure dates for congés annuels.

Every August, the owner of Ciné-Images on rue de Babylone tapes vacation theme-related vintage movie posters in his window instead.

Keeping up with her neighbor, the lady who owns Le Temps de Lire, a bookstore a few doors down the street, has emptied her window except for a few theme-related books.

Friday, August 08, 2008

I'm strong to the finish

I suppose in France it's culinary heresy to be consuming frozen vegetables in the middle of summer. But life doesn't always allow time to go sashaying off to the nearest picturesque outdoor marché, perfect French panier at the elbow, whiling away the morning squeezing the tomatoes and sniffing the melons for the day's perfect repast.

So sue me, I eat frozen. Sometimes.

Anyway, Popeye has no leg-up on me in terms of loving spinach. But in the states I always despised cooking chopped spinach from those clunky four-by-six-inch frozen blocks. It thaws, you turn it, it thaws, you turn it. Until it gets reduced to a slimy soap-bar-shaped green thing in the bottom of the pan with semi-cooked spinach around it.

What a surprise and relief to discover in France -- ta-da! -- frozen spinach briquettes. Every time I pour them into the pan, I have to supress the urge to haul out the hibachi. No kidding, they're shaped exactly like these.

Thursday, August 07, 2008


A fellow patriot was in Paris recently, and, knowing my love for Lafayette, he kindly invited me to lunch at 1728. Located at 8 rue d'Anjou, 1728 is a restaurant with the kind of historic karma that I adore. It is in the same building that housed my hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, in his twilight years, and where he died in 1834.

I'd been to 1728 once before, and was looking forward to giving it a second try. Or, rather, a second chance.

Really, though, what's not to love about a Paris restaurant theatrically staged to a tee in ancient grandeur, in an artfully restored -- or is it re-created --18th-century setting?

The décor is sheer sumptuous splendor. Richly panelled wood, velvet-topped Louis-something armchairs, exquisite silk curtains. I felt as though I were stepping back in time, an honored guest in Madame Recamier's salon littéraire.

Glittering, imposing crystal chandeliers.

Books and bibelots on the etagères make a homey touch.

And bien sûr, busts of the dear boy himself, the Marquis de Lafayette.

I have to admit, this oversized contemporary Lafayette bust made me snicker. Not polite of me to do so in such a genteel setting. Of course I was quiet about it, for Pete's sake. But it seemed kind of surreal, and dominated the room.

Kudos, though, for the restaurant's top-notch staff, so courteous and attentive. The tone is hushed and polished. The service is impeccable.

I just wish the cuisine were better.

You know, I wonder sometimes if in Paris there is an inverse function between interior-décor effort and food quality? It seems that some of the most delicious food comes from the humblest settings, or in fact, from some real dives. And vice versa. You do the algebra: in my book, 1728 ranks 9-1/2 stars for excellent décor, so the food is... well, you catch my drift.

I'm not an epicure, a foodie, a gastronome or any of the other monikers applied to people who dine and critique. I just know what appeals. Maybe it's something about 1728's modern fusion Japanese-French cuisine in such an ornately antique French setting that caused an eye/palate disconnect.

My first visit to 1728, two years ago, was an eye-opener. I was lunching with an American friend who has lived in Paris for 25 years. We ordered a cheese course after the plat principal. The cheese arrived: chilled and stone-like. Firm as jello. Horrors, cold Camembert! We sent it back, and requested room-temperature fromage. A new platter -- again of well-refrigerated cheese --was delivered. Were they banking on the fact that as American women we might not know the difference -- or care? My friend politely chided the waiter. "Ce n'est pas acceptable," or something similar.

Next the maitre d' swooped over to our table, apologizing profusely. They simply don't serve much cheese at lunch, he explained, so it is taken out of the fridge before lunchtime in order to hit perfect, oozing, room temperature by dinnertime. Would we like something else? Well, no, we really had wanted some delicious French cheeses.

Fast forward to my recent lunch. For an entrée, there was an appealing-sounding coquilles St. Jacques item on the menu. Uh, it arrived with a flourish: four slivers of a bland scallop atop a molded bed of bean sprouts. Supposedly a terrine?

So, I add a new cuisine corollary: maybe there is also an inverse function between glowing food description on menus and actual palate-pleasing dishes?

The rest of the meal was forgettable. As in, I forget what I ate.

And that, my friends, is a very bad sign. I'm no gourmet, but I remember good food. I can recall each mouthful of a creme brulée that I ate in 1990 in a local restaurant on Ile de la Jatte. I can remember every mouthwatering scoop of a half a melon with Pineau de Charentes that I savored one evening the summer that I was 18. I cherish the memory of the sweet and tart tarte aux fruits rouges that I shared this week after a perfect lunch at my neighborhood hangout, Au Pied de Fouet. The buttery crust!

(I even remember really bad meals, like the canned tomato soup masquerading as minestrone in a Dublin pub.)

No, this meal was simply and utterly forgettable. For me to forget much of an entire meal in Paris requires a great deal of blandness and boredom coming from the kitchen.

But what do I know? Apparently other Paris denizens are great fans of 1728: lots of Elysée and other dignitaries in the neighborhood apparently use it as their cantine. Go figure.

Fortunately, 1728 does have a luxurious WC.

Well, maybe a third time would be the charm, but somehow I don't think I'll ever get invited back.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Genuine Buzz in Paris

Le Jardin du Luxembourg is well known for its lush flowerbeds and impressive statuary. But did you know that the flowers also serve as a source of pollen for the honeybee-residents of the park?

This bee is painted on the gatepost outside the beehive enclosure.

The beehives -- les ruchers -- were abuzz yesterday.

The sign outside the enclosure poetically proclaimed the not-so-secret lovelife of bees and flowers.

"In nature, the bee and the flower desire one another and indulge one another with a true act of love."

Ah, romance!

There will be a sale of honey from the hives on September 20 and 21 in the Pavillon Davioud in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

Friday, August 01, 2008

August 1

Ils sont partis en vacances, je crois ...
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