Thursday, August 24, 2006

Etes-vous une vraie Serial Shoppeuse?

Some things make me chuckle in France and some things make me laugh so much that I snort (only in the privacy of my appartement, bien sur).

This honest-to-God tag line from a junk mail advertisement from 3 suisses (kind of like Sears/Target) hit my funny bone.

Maybe a bit close to home, too? Although I have learned to keep my belongings to a minimum, because French lodgings just don't have much storage space, I am starting to master the art of shopping a la francaise.

Armed with my bible, "Paris Pas Cher" and combined with great advice and help from other local friends -- Mirenchu, Kathryn, Isabelle, Mary, Gisele and others -- I have managed to sniff out some of the better bargains available in France. From fabrics in Montmartre ( to la marche aux puces at Porte de Vanves to France's equivalent of the "Dollar Stores" , I have been making the rounds and have set up la vie a la Parisienne.

And when my tres glamorous friend Nina was visiting from New York in May we found Anna Lowe on rue du Faubourg St. Honore, which has real couture pieces that you can actually afford. So what if it's last season when you're an American fashion simpleton?

I've visited brocantes in the Yvelines and the Gers, the marche in Dinard and in Marciac, always comparison shopping.

When I needed to go to an important gala or have the right business clothes, I went to a great store called La Piscine. Yes, it is located in a former indoor swimming pool. Well, the pool is still there -- but the water is gone. They've added palm trees, so verrry French to make the most of what is. Great designer clothes at cheap cheap prices.

I don't really like to go to the big department stores, though it is tempting when it's raining.

My other favorite store in Paris is Deyrolle, not for clothes but for decor items.

If you're a PETA fanatic you won't like this store, but it is my idea of heaven. I got the most wonderful seashell there -- about the size of a soccer ball, a luminous and salmon colored cocnh shell. For anyone who thinks that a puppy is the only way to meet new people, let me tell you this: walk down the streets of Paris with a gorgeous huge seashell in your hand (too fragile to have it swinging from some plastic bag, of course) and you'll start conversations with all the kinds of people you'd really like to meet!

But I digress.

Shopping at BHV is another favorite. I have also discovered that my little neighborhood droguerie/quincaillerie (hardware store) has just about everything I need at BHV prices or less, plus good advice.

Next to my apartment building is "Le Depot Vente Rive Gauche", a great consignment store with everything from blue jeans to Hermes pocketbooks at rock-bottom prices. It is great to have the space restriction because it has forced me to become much more judicious and selective. I buy only what I really need (a suit for one business meeting, casual pants for another meeting) and then allow myself an occasional "coup de coeur" for the rest.

Now, where to put all that inappropriate apparel that I brought from the US? Actually some places in the US are great if you have an eye for French fashion and then go for a trip to the states -- especially Target and TJ Maxx.

My friend Michel disdained my shopping exploits when some American friends were in town. "Ah oui, les Americaines aiment ca, " he sniffed. Well, maybe les Americaines do like to shop, but evidently we're not alone if 3 Suisses coins the serial shoppeuse phrase.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Save the Cedars?

Last week I was riding the RATP bus on one of my "get to know Paris cheaply" afternoon excursions. In the seat in front of me was an American couple, about retirement age, both sounding relatively educated and cultivated. They were, however, bickering needlessly about who had the right idea about taking the bus and who , in fact, was right about just about everything they had done since their arrival in Paris. I was getting exhausted doing all that anonymous eavesdropping on all the petty acrimony.

As the bus approached Place de la Bastille, we could see a growing crowd of people, all either wrapped in or waving Lebanese flags. Music was playing. The people were resolute and smiling.

"Look, Bob!" exclaimed the American lady to her husband. "One of those French demonstrations. Let's check it out!!"

"What is it all about?" he grumbled, as he hoisted himself up, not wanting to be bested.

"Oh, well, it looks like 'Save The Trees' or something." she flung over her shoulder as she scrambled off the bus.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

L'Hopital Laennec

Just down the street from me on rue Vaneau is a huge abandoned property, the former Hopital Laennec. It is about to be transformed to a new mixed-used residential and academic center, with international collaboration from Stanford and some of the grandes ecoles in Paris. Here's one website for information. The city of Paris has some info in French as well, under Projet Laennec Rive Gauche.

In addition to being much contested for the demolition of some older buildings and amid local concerns about building heights and density, the property has acquired another place in neighborhood culture: the home of the beloved stray cats. A small band of residents juggle their schedules to make sure that each day the 6 adults and 15 kittens get fed. They slide opened cans of cat food under the rusted gate. While some folks gather to scrutinize the construction/demolition permit signs posted by the Mairie de Paris, others young and old hoist themselves up to peer over the wall and look at the admittedly beautiful felines.

Yesterday I saw one well-dressed lady being dragged by her dog down the street because he knew they were reaching the kitty stop. Being a French dog, he wasn't interested in the cat food at all -- just all those enticing chats. One of the neighborhood cat-feeders was there, and told us the story: 6 adults, feral and unadoptable. The neighbors have contacted the Mairie of the 7th arrondissement, which is helping them look for a new terrain for the adults who will soon be displaced by the construction. 15 kittens soon to be seeking a home.

I won't be one of the adoptive parents, but if I were, I could come up with some great names.

Monday, August 14, 2006

August in Paris

August in Paris -- you've heard it all before, right? Stifling hot, filled with tourists, all stores shut and shuttered, can't get a decent baguette without walking for miles.

Sshhh! Don't tell anyone. It's not really true.

We've had glorious clear weather, rain and positively autumnal chill.

The tourist spots are indeed crammed with a great mix of international visitors. Always will be, 12 months a year. The Louvre is a swarming madhouse, and on the Champs Elysees hardly a word of French is heard among the teeming masses.

But in the residential nieghborhoods, it is quite simply delightful. The pace is relaxed. Neighbors greet one another in camaraderie. The trees rustle in the breeze. I have friends, native Parisians both, who choose to take vacation in June and July so that they can enjoy Paris in August. If they let me divulge their names, I'll tell you. They may disown me for letting this secret out of the bag.

The majority of Parisian Fidos appear to be away with their owners, so the the narrow sidewalks are navigable and crotte-free. I can wander the streets and look at the facades (my favorite pastime) and not be jostled or have to practice Parisian "double vision," a neat trick of simultaneously looking upward at beauty and downward to avoid slippery little dog patties.

Closed? Sure, most of the small shopkeepers have taped "Fermeture annuelle" signs to their stores for their well-deserved holidays. One quick reconnaissance mission will let anyone know which favorite neighborhood spots are open and where to find substitutes. But staff in the shops that are open are cheerful and happy to have clientele.

Driving in Paris is a breeze in August-- now would be the perfect time for me to practice getting around the city by car, as there is very little traffic and lots of on-street parking.

There are a lot of planned activities -- like outdoor movies and Paris Plage, which turns the banks of the Seine into a beach for August. I haven't even checked those out. I'm just happy to explore the city and discover the Paris that gets lost in the hustle and momentum of the other 11 months. This is the reward.

On August 1 at the Sevres-Vaneau bus stop, a dear older lady gazed at the vacant street with delight. "Regardez cela, madame," she rhapsodized to me -- a total stranger -- as she waved her cane at the calm. "Pas une voiture sur la rue de Sevres. Enfin Paris est a nous!"
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