Bon Appetit

05/21/2013

 
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Rotisserie Cuisine. Photo courtesy pugfrea on Flickr commons. CC some rights reserved
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Moules at Leon de Bruxelles. Photo courtesy of RC! on flickr commons cc some rights reserved

Bon Appetit

     While it isn't exactly Mediterranean or Caribbean weather, it is definitely one of the many faces of spring weather in Paris.  Spring in Paris can be gorgeous and colorful, but can more readily be cool, damp and very gray.  The weather can turn on a dime or it can tenaciously settle-in and refuse to change.  This seems to be a year in which spring is sluggishly arriving in many places around the globe. Paris appears to be one of the cities where spring has sheepishly arrived, but the weather keeps slipping back towards overcast, damp and cool.  Some days it seems more like autumn than spring.  The views in any direction are like a black and white movie poster.  Only the flowers in the parks and window boxes, and the blooms on the trees, which seem to punctuate the gray like a freshly begun, paint-by-numbers painting, confirm the fact that spring has indeed arrived.  One thing is certain, blooms or not,  Paris wears gray extremely well.
    In fairness, I have to admit that I never need an excuse to want to eat in France, but cool weather makes me crave certain things.  Just as you might find bad restaurants in any city, you can find bad food and disappointing restaurants in France as well.  On the other hand, the food in France generally ranks somewhere between great and phenomenal.  I'm not suggesting that you should go to a fast food dive or a roadside kabob stand and expect to get food to rave about.  I'm talking about a busily buzzing restaurant with steady patronage rather than a restaurant with many empty tables and sedentary waiters. 
    When I want comfort food, but don't want to cook nor eat out, there are rotisserie ovens outside many of the butcher shops in Paris.  Rotisserie chicken is delicious, but my true weakness is the rotisserie duck.  8utchers line the bottom of their rotisserie ovens with cut potatoes which slowly cook beneath the rotating ducks.  The meat is incredibly tender and moist, and the potatoes are cooked to perfection as the rich duck grease drips onto them.  It all looks, smells and tastes delicious.  One stop at the market for a salad or another vegetable and you have a five star meal with very little effort.
     The rotisseries may be particularly tempting on a cool day, but there are certain favorites that must be cooked at home or eaten in a restaurant.   I especially love seafood and, on occasion, I like to go to one of the several locations of a restaurant chain called Leon de Bruxelles.  The restaurants are part of a Belgian chain of restaurants specializing in seafood, but known for their mussels and French fries.  The atmosphere is very relaxed and the food is dependably good.  It's great to catch the metro to the Champs Elysees and eat dinner at Leon's when they are having a special on all-you-can-eat mussels and fries.  When spring is here, but it's still cool and overcast,  there is nothing like going to Leon's for a huge plate of baked, garlic-parmesan mussels and endless French fries.  They have a good wine selection and will recommend a nice white wine to accompany the mussels, unless you prefer to have your meal with beer as is preferred in Belgium.  That wouldn't be my choice; I'll stick with the wine.  If you pace yourself and fight the urge to be a total glutton for the wonderful French fries, you can order a dessert and double espresso.  If, after dinner, you are planning to go to a movie at one of the theaters along the Champs Elysees, you'll need that espresso.  You may also want to choose an action movie to keep you awake.  There's more than one reason it's called comfort food.   It's one thing to eat your fill. It's quite another thing to have an endless supply of French fries.  It'll take all the caffeine you can drink to counteract the carbs from the fries. 
Bon appetit ,  Mimi    
 

April in Paris

04/04/2013

 
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photo courtesy ParisSharing on flickr commons. cc rights reserved

April in Paris

     Let me first apologize for being away for a while.  It seems that bronchitis doesn't care about Paris, nor work schedules, nor blogs.  This year there has been an awful respiratory virus making the rounds.  For those of us who were unlucky enough to catch it, the recovery time has been about a month.  I might have been thinking about Paris and wanting to write, but even after 3 weeks, I was too miserable.  Although a month has passed, I'm still battling a persistent cough on occasion.  Since spring has sprung, the pollen has come with a vengeance this year and it's even affecting those of us with almost no allergies at all. It's not very pleasant when you're just starting to recover from a month of uncontrollable coughing.  I hope it's a sign that we're in for a very colorful spring.  Perhaps it will make up for the fog of pollen we're having to live with.
     The start of April is never dependably the same in Paris.  It can be warm and comfortable with short sleeves and picnics showing-up around the city.  On the other hand, it can be rainy and chilly for days on end.  Occasionally April will begin with snow flurries and damp, biting cold.  There is no way to predict which kind of weather will usher spring into Paris, but you can be certain that the middle and end of April will be phenomenal.  This year has seen a breezy, uncomfortably cool and wet start to spring.  The long term forecast is for the cold days to continue for a couple of weeks, but all the while, the tulips will start blooming, the shrubs will bud and the plane trees will begin to blossom.  There is nothing that I can think of that is quite like Paris in the spring.
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plane trees. photo courtesy ParisSharing on Flickr commons cc rights reserved
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Plane trees. Photo courtesy ParisSharing on Flickr commons cc rights reserved
     It may be cool and not very conducive to hanging out in the park, but in the next couple of weeks, it will suddenly be a different world.  The sidewalk tables in front of the bistros will be full of smiling, chatty Parisians and tourists who were unable to resist a glass of wine in the warm spring sunlight.  The city will be so fresh and the people seem so buoyant that nobody will even think about how soon the summer will be here with its stifling heat and humidity.  By the end of April, the snow will be gone and the days longer and very comfortable.  The urge to get home quickly and hibernate from the cold will be gone till next winter. There is just too much to do in Paris, and thank goodness the weather will soon be perfect for it and demanding our participation.  Mimi
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popies blooming. Photo courtesy ParisSharing on Flickr commons. cc rights reserved
 
 
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Notre Dame Cathedral photo courtesy simon&vicki on flickr commons, some rights reserved

Cloches de Notre Dame - Bells of Notre Dame

     In some of my earlier posts I mentioned how nice it was to hear the bells of Notre Dame Cathedral pealing across Paris.  It's always been a part of life in Paris.  I wonder if the Parisians who were born in the city even notice the bells when they ring.  On the other hand, I immediately hear them, during the day, when they're rung on the hour or when they're rung for special celebrations and religious services.  
     Not many things, especially sounds, are constant across several hundred years.  Even in the middle of the night there are enough cars, ambulances, transport trucks and the occasional noctilien bus on the roads to keep Paris buzzing like any other metropolitan city.  Considering that Notre Dame was completed in the year 1345, when  the bells were rung for the first time, there were no motorized vehicles, no boat motors on the Seine, no air conditioners humming and no radios blasting.  Although there were horses pulling buggies across cobbled streets, it must have sounded almost silent in comparison to the cacophonous riot of sounds in Paris today.  When the bells begin to ring at Notre Dame, I can almost imagine how loud they must have sounded when the building was new and they were rung for the first time.
    
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courtesy lavork on flickr commons, rights reserved
This year, Notre Dame is celebrating its 850th birthday since ground was first broken in the year 1163.  In their preparation for the year-long jubilee celebration, the church (with a lot of financial help from French citizens, tourists, parishioners and private donors) has spent several years restoring and replacing lighting, restoring the pipe organ, cleaning the exterior, working on the towers and preparing them for brand new bells.  Many times over the centuries the bells have been added to and replaced whenever necessary.  During the French revolution, all but one bell was removed and melted to make weapons. Napoleon prevented them from destroying the largest bell.   Eventually bells were cast to replace the bells which were lost during the desecration of the cathedral during the revolution.  Since then, additional bells were added to a grand clock above the trancept to toll the hours. In ancient tradition, all of the bells have names. The bell which was saved and returned to the towers on the orders of Napoleon is called Emmanuel.  It is now over 300 years old and is considered by campanologists to be one of the nicest and most perfectly toned bells of its size in Europe.        There are a total of 20 bells between the towers and the spire.  Although Emmanuel has a wonderful tone, the same cannot be said of the other bells which do not have the quality nor tone of Emmanuel.  This year,  with the exception of Emmanuel, all new bells have been cast to replace the older, inferior bells.  Each of these bells has also been named.  They are named for the first bishop of Paris, The Pope, Gabriel the angel who announced the birth of Christ, Saint Anne the mother of the virgin Mary , previous cardinals, the bishop who ordered the original construction of Notre Dame, the first christian martyr and early Catholic saints.  The king of the bells will still be Emmanuel.  Although it will remain the largest bell, it will have a new partner. 
     If you think about our own Liberty Bell, you will understand the desire of the French historic monument commission to protect such an old and historic bell as Emmanuel  from being damaged and to make sure that it is preserved for future generations.   They have cast a second bell of the same size and tone to be hung in the same tower with Emmanuel.  It will be rung daily with the other bells so that Emmanuel can be reserved and rung only on days of great national and religious significance.  The new bell is named Marie in honour of the virgin Mary and as a nod to the first grand bell that was hung in Notre Dame in the late 1300s.  Although there are records of bells being rung from Notre Dame's towers even before the cathedral was completed, the first bell of such a large size as to be called a great bell was Marie.  It seems fitting that a new Marie will be in the tower to protect Emmanuel for the ages. 
     Below are photos of some of the bells which have been on display inside the cathedral since December for parishioners, donors and tourists to enjoy until they are installed in the towers.  They will be rung for the first time to celebrate Palm Sunday, 23 March 2013.   It is important to remember that Notre Dame is not just a monument.  It is a very active Catholic church. It is nothing less than amazing that they are able to do the massive amount of restoration, renovation and repair necessary to maintain such an old church which is still being used as a local church, the seat of the Archbishop of Paris, and host to over 14 million tourists per year.  Yes, I said fourteen million.  There is so much to write about the history of the cathedral and the events which took place within its walls, but this week I chose to focus on the bells. 
     Enjoy the photo's and be sure to click the final photo which is a link to hear a recording of what the bells would have sounded like a few centuries ago, and how they should sound when they ring again on Palm Sunday.  If you want to know more, you can visit the official site of the cathedral.  notredamedeparis.fr           Till next time, Mimi

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photo courtesy ibach on flickr commons (C)
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photo courtesy ibach on flickr commons (C)
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courtesy jeremie guillou on flickr commons (C) some rights reserved.

click photo below to hear how the bells will sound

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click to hear bells. courtesy of the official site of the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.
 
 

Joyeuse Saint Valentin - Happy Valentines Day

     Just in case you didn't know it, Parisians -along with the rest of France- celebrate Valentines Day.  As a matter of fact, the origin of the holiday is debated and claimed by both England and France.  One undeniable fact is that the first recorded Valentine card survives today and was sent by the French Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was a prisoner of the British in 1415 after the battle of Agincourt.  
     It certainly doesn't help that the Catholic Church lists two different men with the name Valentinius. The legends, folklore and myths have intertwined until there is no clear history of the facts.  There are churches and chapels in several countries with relics of Saint Valentine.  In France, there is actually a town called Saint Valentin.  It's not, however, one of the towns which houses Saint Valentine's relics.  The town of Roquemaure in Centre, France houses relics in their reliquary.  It's important to remember that southern France was once home to the Popes.  The Papal palace is still a historic museum in Avignon Provence.  The influence of the vatican was great and the Catholic kings of France spent huge sums of money to obtain relics of martyrs and saints.   Saint Valentin was no exception and his mark is seen in France as in the rest of Europe.
     Although the village of Saint Valentin makes the most of it's name recognition each year on Valentine's Day, the town of Roquemaure also celebrates Saint Valentine's day in a big way.  They have a festival and take full advantage of their reliquary claims.  Throughout the rest of the France, just as in the USA, it's become a day for AMOUR.  The practice of celebrating love on Valentine's Day is certainly well practiced in France.  They've been at it since at least the 1400's,  so now you have an idea why the French have a reputation where romance is concerned. 
     You'll see signs, menu boards and store windows reminding Parisians to celebrate their loved ones on Valentine's Day.  The florists will sell tons of flowers, the wine shops will sell cases of champagne, the restaurants across Paris will have special Valentines drinks and desserts on their menus, and Paris will live up to it's reputation.    It's often said that Paris is for lovers.   It certainly is on Valentine's Day.
I hope you have a great one, and maybe one day soon you can be in Paris to celebrate it in style.
Mimi
 
 
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Louvre Pyramid

Warm Activities In Cold February

     With winter hanging around and dropping some snow every once in a while, it gets pretty uncomfortable in Paris.  The past week has been no exception.  Sure, it would be easy to stay inside and eat rich, fattening French food and avoid the cold, but with all the options for fun and entertainment in Paris, why on earth would you opt to stay inside?
     February might be cold, but that doesn't mean that the museums, stores, live shows, theaters and a hundred other venues aren't open and waiting for you to visit.  It's especially easy to lose hours in the Louvre. I don't really know how to express how large the Louvre is.  It's almost like going to a city and expecting to see all of it in one visit.  There is no way to see and appreciate all that the Louvre has to offer in just one visit or, frankly, in many visits.  Don't forget, there are permanent collections in all museums, but there are also visiting collections that are on loan from other museums around the world. The louvre, like any large museum has plenty of visiting collections throughout the year. It is also such a massive museum with incredible funding and endowments that it is able to purchase or inherit more art than could ever be displayed at one time in one place.  As large as the Louvre is, it still has to rotate some of its collections in order to share it with the public.  There are also Louvre-owned collections which are on loan to musems around the world for short exhibits and there are collections that go on tour like rock stars.  There is always enough art rotating through the Louvre that you won't see it all.  If you get bored with the building and the crowds, there are so many other museums and galleries around Paris that I haven't even seen a fraction of them yet.   Museums like the Louvre and the Orsay keep me coming back, so I need to make myself visit some of the more obsure museums.
     You'd be forgiven if you stuck with the easy choices like the large museums and famous tourists sites, but every month there are expositions, conventions, trade shows, salons and fairs in Paris.  February is no exception.  Very near the entry to the Louvre is the Louvre Carrousel.  The Carrousel is an underground shopping complex with its own entry to the Louvre.  Inside the Carrousel, besides a food court and shopping mall, there is a large exhibition and convention center.  The Carrousel convention center hosts a fantastic book fair on which bibliophiles anxiously await each year.  There are antique and rare books on display or for sale.  Collectors, buyers and sellers of books come from all over the world to attend the annual Paris Bibliophile Fair.  It's a great opportunity to see books that are nothing less than fine art.  There will be books that have lasted for centuries and are loved and protected like the crown jewels.  If you love to read, you'll be impressed at the obvious importance that books held in the days before computers, television, movies and radios.  It's interesting that some of the same books which were only available to rich men of centuries past are now so valuable that, again, only wealthy buyers can afford to own them.
     Ok, books are great.  Some of them even become better when adapted into movies, but unless you are a collector, or you live in Paris full time and are just curious, something tells me that a book fair probably isn't high on your list of must-see events.  So let's get to the real event.  It's no coincidence that I'm writing about the Louvre and the Carrousel.  In the same location as the book fair, there is a highly anticipated, yearly fair.  For some people it's considered an artistic event, although some would consider it culinary or agricultural. To the hosts of the fair, it's all about science, artistry, a lifestyle and, at times in French history, it has been the financial salvation of France.  I'm talking about wine.  The Great Wines Fair of Paris introduces attendees, both novice and professional, to the finest wines from around the world.  If you love wine, this is an event to experience.  It's not about the prices of the bottles, but the taste of the wine.  You'll get the chance to taste wines that have been chosen specifically because of their quality.  The Great Wines Fair is an oenophile's dream come true.  You'll meet vintners, sommeliers, collectors and plain old wine enthusiats.  I'll let you guess which one I am.  I'll give you a hint:  the wine is unbelievably good and there is plenty to taste.
     So there you have it.  I've barely scratched the surface of things to do in Paris during the cold, sometimes snowy, month of February.  I didn't even talk about food this time, unless you count the one mention of the food court at the Carrousel.  Personally I don't count that because there is a McDonalds in the  food court.  That disqualifies it in my book.   Fast food among all that fine French cuisine.  More's the pity!    I'll stick with the wine...
-Mimi-
 
 
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Snowy Trocadero 2013. Photo by Geoffroy65
     Almost everyone has seen beautiful photo's or paintings of Paris in the spring and summer.  Winter, however, does come to Paris and it can be bitterly cold because of the damp air.  The worst and coldest weather doesn't usually arrive until January or February.  This year, Paris got hit the second week of January with snow and frigid temperatures. 
     Paris always has a special color about it; her light is unusual.  Painters love the light in France, but it's not the same everywhere.  Paris can sometimes seem grey, but in summer it's a calm and seductive grey which adds to the romantic feeling and historic look of the city.  On a grey, wintery day however, it can make the weather feel even colder and has a very melancholy atmosphere about it.  There are only so many days I can stay inside and avoid the cold.  Sooner or later, cabin fever kicks in and even the most cold natured person will get antsy and want to go outside for a while.  Regardless of great bus and metro systems, it requires trodding through the cold, damp snow to get to and from your bus stops or metro stations. 
     There are plenty of museums, restaurants, theaters, stores or events to take advantage of in Paris, but that would still be escaping the inside, just to go back inside again.   Of course, those are all fun things to do, but I sometimes want to go to a special place which will remind me that spring will soon come back to Paris.
     I take the metro to the Cite' metro station and come out near the entrance to the large flower market (Marche aux Fleurs)  along the Seine and not far from the cathedral Notre Dame.  This is one place in Paris where you can escape from winter and enjoy exotic flowers as well as the usual annuals, perennials, hanging baskets and potted plants.  It's more than just a simple, commercial green house.  There are several beautiful conservatory style green houses built of iron and glass.  Selling more than just flowers, the Marche aux Fleurs is a good place to find a souvenir or gift.  
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Paris flower market. Photo by Jaclyst
There are a few shops inside the market which sell bird houses and reproduction antiques.  Many vendors will have sachets of lavender, colorful provençal linens, pottery and decorative ironwork to sell.  The setting is lush and the plants are beautiful.  It's funny how the decorative items seem to be quite at home among the plants.  Some of the plants are huge and very old. Giant, gnarled and ancient looking olive trees in massive pots are waiting to be sold for someone's veranda or courtyard.  Bamboo plants, an odd favorite in old european cities, are grouped like groves in black nursery pots and will sell briskly to stand duty as privacy screens between the close Parisian balconies. 
Citrus plants, some in bloom and some fully fruited are always available at the Marche aux Fleurs.  The colors of the blooming mums, hydrangeas, geraniums and tropical flowers, along with the intoxicating smell of the citrus blossoms, at least for a few minutes, make the snow seem like a thing of the past. I love the market. I've probably visited it more than any other place in Paris. It's hard to leave without buying something, but I know I'll be back again very soon.
     Eventually, I brave the cold and go out in search of a restaurant with a double espresso and a view of Paris in the snow.  Snow or not, there just isn't a bad time to see Paris. 
Mimi

 

Wine Shopping

01/15/2013

 
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A wine shop in the Marais.

WINE SHOPPING

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Everyone knows that France is heaven for wine lovers.  Many countries now produce award winning wines, but the history and heart of wine is, without a doubt, still centered in France.  I imagine that there are more tours to the wine regions of France than to those of any other wine producing nation.  Don't, however, assume for a second that there aren't mediocre and even some bad wines in France.  There certainly are. 
     There are wine shops galore in Paris. The photo at left is the interior of one of my favorite cavist shops which is on Rue de Belleville in the 19th arrondissement of Paris.  

     It's great to build a relationship with your local cavist so you can have access to wines by the case when you have a party or want to stock a wine cellar.  He is also indispensable as a source for new wines or special sales on your favorite type or vintage of wine.  It's not unusual for your neighborhood cavist to hold an informal wine tasting (degustation) where you have access to some labels which you may have never tried.  It's usually like a sardine can in the shop during a degustation.  You will see many familiar faces from the neighborhood, a few people whom you may have seen in the shop on occasion and plenty of new shoppers, lured into the shop by the temptation to taste some different wines or grab a bottle or two on sale.  You'll have the chance to deliberately shop for wine rather than grabbing a bottle in a rush while shopping for groceries.  It's an opportunity to learn a little more about wine pairings or the nuances of different wines and the affect of the weather and soil on their flavors.  The French have known for centuries that the soil of a region or even at a particular vineyard can determine the flavor and complexity of a wine.  They give tremendous credit to Le Terroir , the geology, micro-climate and geography of an area on the type of wine grown.  While you don't need to know so much to choose a wine, a really good cavist will know a lot about the terroir of the your favorite wine so he will be able to use that as a starting point for suggesting other wines which you are sure to love.  
     Now let's talk about the reality of wine shopping.   In Paris, we are in the grocery store several times a week for one thing or another.  It's the way of life in Europe, especially in large cities where kitchens are small, refrigerators are miniscule and green grocers or markets are readily available in every neighborhood.  As a matter of fact, Paris is overloaded with produce sellers, grocery stores and open markets.  People often shop for what they need as they need it.  While in the grocery stores,  you will find a pretty varied selection of wine.  You will even find wines from other countries.  The only difference is that you will be on your own and won't have the help of a highly informed cavist.  Of course, the same can be said in the USA.
When I shop for wine in the grocery, I know there will be some basic wines, some pretty great wines and, believe it or not, some wines with screw caps and plastic bottles.  That's a shocking evolution in the French market place.  I suppose they finally learned from Americans and Germans that there is a segment of society that may buy generic and cost-saver products, whereas they would otherwise buy nothing at all.  In an effort to reach the frugal, the cheap, and the local winos, the grocery stores carry a wide variety of wines, covering most price points.  I would only consider the plastic bottle with the twist-off top if I were buying sangria.  I'll be honest and admit that some of my French friends and I have a bit of a hobby in looking for inexpensive wines which may surprise us and be very good.
It wouldn't be fair if I didn't say that I have friends in Paris and in the USA that are a bit on the snobbish side and would never consider paying less than 8 dollars or 7 euros for a bottle of wine.  They are convinced that any less would indicate a terribly unaccepaible wine.  I would never grab a 2 euro bottle of wine for a dinner party, but when just my friends and I are at a casual gathering, we will grab a few different bottles, all below 6 euros each, and will take a risk.  We have had some bottles that are unfit for pickling cucumbers, but we have also found some exceptional wines.  Some have been so good that we rush to the grocery the next day to grab several more bottles while they are still available.  You can never expect the same inexpensive wines to be available all the time.  You can figure that other people will also rush back to buy them again if they taste good.  There is also a limit to the number of bottles available in a certain production year.  A wine that was great in one year may be horrible in other years.  It's a game of chance, but worth the effort to discover a good wine at a bargain basement price.  It's a nice way to add to a home wine collection.  With the cost of living so high, and the exchange rate so poor, who can complain about finding a good value for such a necessary part of life in France?  Plus, after the hunt, all I have to do is hop over to another aisle and there is the cheese and fois gras.  I may not find a great price there, but who cares... I saved money on the wine.   
Cheers  - 
à votre santé,
Mimi
 
 

Struck by Lightning - Coup de Foudre

     Although the English language is ripe with opportunities for word play and dual meanings, it is certainly not the only language where one word or phrase can have two meanings.  It happens in a lot of languages and the French are pro's at it.  As a matter of fact, we have a name for that kind of dual meaning. It's called double entendre and is actuially a French term for which the lteral translation is double meaning.  That brings me back to the title of this week's blog post.  Coup de Foudre,  which means struck by lighting in French. It also has a figurative meaning.  It's the common term for love at first sight.  A more frequently heard term is Coup de Coeur.  People often mistake it to mean love at first sight, but it's more of a temporary passion or a sudden desire for something.  You can say coup de coeur when you love a new restaurant or a pair of shoes that you absolutely must have.  That's not the same as love at first sight.  Believe me, for many of us, that is the only way we can explain how we feel about Paris; it's love at first sight.
     I have been to many countries and have thoroughly traveled Europe.  There are cities and villages, countrysides and coastlines, mountains and islands which I can honestly say that I still love to visit.  I will go again and again to see some of those places because they are special enough to merit repeated visits.  As with most places, nothing stays the same forever, so it's nice to revisit them and enjoy the tried-but-true as well as the new and chic.
     You've read in some of my previous posts about how much we are like the French in certain ways.  That can be comforting at times.  On the other hand, the differences are the reasons we travel anywhere.  For an American, coming from one of the original 13 colonies, it's still amazing to stay in an apartment that is almost 400 hundred years old, furnished with lovingly worn antiques, or sometimes ultra-modern decor that would seem more at home in Manhattan.  Even a 400 year old apartment seems young when you consider that it overlooks a 700 year old church or an old Dutch barge that transported goods from Holland to Paris for a couple of centuries before it was replaced with a modern steel barge and was converted to a floating home on the Seine.  Time takes on a new meaning in Europe.
     I love to walk through gardens which were once reserved for royalty, to see ancient statues, monuments and fountains dedicated to kings or the citizens who revolted against them.  Sometimes the city will sponsor artists to exhibit their art throughout a park or scattered around the gardens of a museum.  Frankly, Paris itself is a living museum.  Everywhere you go and everywhere you look there are reminders that Parisians put tremendous value on beautiful surroundings.  
     As a kid, before ever visiting France, I had read their history and seen photos of the famous sites and priceless art.  For me, Paris was a passion and heart-struck desire (coup de coeur).  It wasn't until that first trip on the train from Cologne, Germany to France, so many years ago, that things changed.  I didn't begin in Paris.  I visited friends in the center and south of France before boarding the train again and traveling to Paris.  I walked out of the station, into the city and must have looked like a kid in a candy store.  I walked towards the center of the city with an occasional glimpse of the Eiffel Tower as a beacon, and I remember seeing the elaborate monuments and the beautiful buildings along the way.  When I reached the Place de la Concorde and saw the huge Egyptian obelisk, I knew exactly where I was.  The Tuilleries garden was on my left, the Champs Elysees to my right. It matched the maps I had seen in books for so many years.  I looked up the avenue and could see the Arc de Triomphe.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and that special light that artists love about France was in its full glory.  I knew it when I walked out of the train station, but if any doubt were left, that moment at the Place de la Concorde sealed the deal.  J'ai eu le coup de foudre pour Paris  -  I fell in love with Paris at first sight.  Struck by lightning, Mimi
 

Bonne Année

12/29/2012

 

Bonne Année  -  Happy New Year

     I hope everyone had a great Christmas.  Now we look towards the new year and many will have their televisions tuned to the festivities at Times Square in New York.  Some of you may even be there in person when the ball drops.  There's no doubt about it, it's a happy, good time.  Be assured that Parisians also know how to throw a killer party on new year's eve, but that's just the beginning.
     While you may hear the celebration called a fête, you are unlikely to hear it called a new years eve celebration.  Although it may be said on occasion, it is far more likely that you will hear the day called La fête de Saint Sylvestre.  A more formal name would be Le Réveillon de Saint Sylvester (the feast of Saint Sylvestre).  There is an easy explanation as to why Saint Sylvestre commands such a priviledged date on the French calendar.  For centuries, long before they had a constitutional freedom of religion, France was officially a Catholic country.  Sylvestre was the Catholic Pope for 21 years, beginning in the year 314.  The year 314 seems almost incredible to consider for Americans, but not so incredible for Europe.   It also seems unlikely that an ancient Pope would command such a memorable place in the modern world.  There is more to his story than merely being the Pope.  Sylvestre was Pope at the time of the Roman ruler Constantine.  Contantine was the first king to give religious freedom to Christians and to outlaw their mistreatment.  He was also the first Roman king to be baptised and to credit the Christian God for his victories.  He was the first king to march into war with symbols of Christ and the cross on his shields and flags.  Without a long history lesson, I can just tell you that the fortunes of the Papacy and Catholicism changed forever because of Constantine.  What he put into motion led to eventual sweeping religious changes across Europe.  Pope Sylvestre is given credit for converting Constantine to Christianity and for gaining a royal proclamation declaring that Popes have temporal authority which is unlike the authority of men and kings which ends with their deaths.  Pope Sylvestre died on December 31st in the year 335 AD.  Thus the date was his forever in France.  The impact of his historic record as well as the folklore and myths surrounding Pope Sylvestre have all contributed to his eventual beatification to sainthood and his firmly ensconced position as the namesake of the French new year's eve celebrations. 
     Parisians celebrate the new year with wonderful food, fois gras and champagne.  The more you eat, the luckier you will be in the coming year.  Alot of time will be spent with family on new years eve.  There will also be dances around the city and lots of public and private parties celebrating the new year.  Besides going to the Eiffel tower to join the crowds awaiting the midnight fireworks, you could also go to one of the parties or music venues.  Even the Paris Opera has a tradition of presenting a new years eve ballet program at the Opera Bastille.  You could grab tickets and go to an outstanding production of Don Quichotte.  When you leave the ballet or one of the dances, or when the fireworks begin at the Eiffel Tower, you may be surprised to learn that the french have a midnight kiss under the mistletoe.  In France, mistletoe is a new year's eve tradition instead of a Christmas tradition. 
     When it's time to go home, you can take a free ride on the Paris Metro.  During large national or citywide events, the government keeps the metro stations open later than usual and everyone rides for free.  Now that's what I call a designated driver!
     On new years day, family members and friends may exchange small gifts and will begin a week of celebrations which end on the 6th of January to coincide with the Christian celebration of epiphany.  One of the world's best parades is the Paris New Year's Parade.  It travels through a couple of cities and through several neighborhoods of Paris.  It's a 2-day parade with singers, musicians and dancers.  It's a fantastic parade.   New years celebrations are very popular in France and everyone enjoys the little get-togethers with friends and extended family to exchage gifts and share sweets.  When the 6th of January finally rolls around, most people celebrate with a king cake (Galette des Rois) and everyone hopes to be the lucky recipiant of the tiny figurine (feve) which was baked into the cake.  That person is crowned king for the day or at least the king of that party.  The cake is named for the three kings which had their epiphany of the Christ child.
     So there you have it  -  a fistful of tradition surrounding the new year in France.  We may have a great celebration at Times Square, but don't feel sorry for Parisians.  They keep the party going for a week.
Tous nos meilleurs vœux de bonne et heureuse année.
 All our best wishes for a good and happy new year,  Mimi
 

Joyeux Noel

12/24/2012

 
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Notre Dame Cathedral
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Virgin Records, Champs Elysees
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Column at Place Vendome______________
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Printemps Department store side walk decorations
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Laduree on the Champs Elysees
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Christmas markets with view of Eiffel Tower
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Christmas market in Paris

Joyeux Noel - Merry Christmas

     Well, the month has flown by and Christmas eve is here.  I hope everyone has enjoyed the photo's of Christmas in Paris over the last few weeks.  They were pretty, but they can't tell the whole story.  Paris is a large city and is composed of a diverse collection of neighborhoods.  The scenes vary from the elaborate and glorious, to the simple and understated.  There are markets full of shoppers, but there are also regally dressed chapels and cathedrals proudly reminding the passersby to not forget the origin and meaning of the holiday.  You can hear orchestral music and pipe organs pealing from some churches and, if your're in the area of La Madeleine church at just the right time, you may catch a free Christmas concert by a choir from one of the great cathedrals of Europe.  Last year I was fortunate enough to visit La Madeleine when a large and formidable children's choir from Britain was performing.  It was amazing and beautiful.
     If the French patisseries, with all their fantastic desserts, weren't Parisian enough for you, then you should see them at Christmas. They really know how to sweeten-up the holidays.  Even the candy shops specializing in macaroons have decorated their windows and made large christmas trees from stacked confections.  It looks like an elegant, Christmas version of Willy Wonka's factory.  It's funny how the chocolate shops and bread stores are doing pretty much the same things as usual, but the smells coming from their doors seem to be so much more special when the streets are lit by Christmas lights and there are decorations in the windows.  
     The holiday season is also a great time to shop for Christmas ornaments and uniquely french gift items that aren't usually sold until Christmas time comes around.  Shopping is made twice as fun when you have a couple of glasses of warm, mulled wine while out and about.  You can also ride on one of the dinner cruises or visit a music club aboard one of the barges on the river.  It's a perfect time to sit in a restaurant and enjoy a glass of kir royal or champagne to toast the season.  There are bound to be special desserts on the menus for the holidays.  Go ahead - live it up. It's Christmas and you can walk-off the calories tomorrow.
     Whether you're into ice skating, as I wrote in my last post, or maybe a concert or movie, there are always things to do in Paris.  Some venues will be living in the moment and will offer a full holiday experience, but others will be going about their business in routine fashion.  Nevertheless, you will undoubtedly feel how special it is to be in Paris at Christmas.  The charm and beauty of Paris is amplified during the holidays. People seem to be happier, and the sights and sounds of a Parisian Christmas can lift the worst mood. 
     I really hope that the photo's have given you an idea of just how exceptional it is to be in Paris for Christmas, but wherever you are this year, we wish the best for you and your family.  We hope you have a safe and happy holiday and a very Merry Christmas.  When I write my post next week, the countdown will be on for New Years  (St. Sylvestre) celebrations in Paris.  Till then, JOYEUX NOEL.  Mimi