Bienvenue Automne

10/23/2012

 
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Our tour company offers custom tours to Paris & Euro-Disney. (photo courtesy of Disneyland Paris)

Beinvenue Automne - Welcome Autumn

     Paris is a city of neighborhoods, some of which are almost like villages.  Every neighborhood has its own mayor and has activities, agendas, markets and events, some coinciding with the city or nation, but often unique and within their own calendar.  There is seldom a lack of things to do.  You'll run out of energy before you run out of opportunities. 
     One major difference you'll notice in late October is not what you see,  but what you don't see.  It's a bit of a shock to see such little notice of Halloween.  The celebration of Halloween is very much an American and British event.  The French have obviously seen American movies with depictions of Halloween, but most of them don't realize that it's such a popular and large event in the United States, and seems to be growing larger in the last few years.  The French seem to believe that it is something we did many years ago.  Parisians toyed with the idea of Halloween for a few years.  It appeard to be growing in popularity a few years ago, but since then I have noticed it slowly disappearing.  There will be a few decorations here and there, but not too many big parties and no major festivities.  Naturally there are expats Americans living in Paris who hold Halloween parties, but the one true exception to the rule is Disneyland-Paris.  Disney does a fantastic job of recognizing Halloween.  From the 1st of October till early November, Disneyland-Paris pulls out all the stops and celebrates Halloween well enough to make Ol' Walt Proud.  Even your favorite Disney characters are in costume.  Yes, a costumed mascot wearing a costume.  Leave it to Disney to pull-off such an idea.   So if you need a bit of Halloween to make you feel like the season is complete, then take the RER A-Train from Paris and in 35 minutes you will be celebrating ghosts and goblins with Mickey and Minnie.
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    Besides the routine fairs, expo's, salons and markets that spring-up throughout the year in Paris, as well as rural and metropolitan France, there is the annual Autumn Festival of Paris that has been held for 40 years. The Festival D' Automne is a celebration and introductory party for theater, music, dance, the visual arts and film.
The festival has grown in size and reputation over the years and has an extremely well rounded schedule of exhibits, shows and concerts. 
     As in any large city around the world, Paris has several very large venues for live concerts and orchestral events.  Rock, Pop, Rap, Country, Jazz, Blues, and even Operatic and Classical concerts come to Paris during the year.  Autumn however, brings the festival and introduces artists and musicians about whom you may have otherwise never known. It also comes when the weather is cooler, making it much more comfortable to attend concerts or queue-up to see an exibition.  
     There are so many fun, creative and educational things to do in and around Paris.  It's never a question of finding something to do.  The problem is choosing between them when you are in France for only a short period of time.  Luckily for us, Paris isn't going anywhere. So, if you miss something this year, you can always see it when it returns next fall.  I know that sounded like you can just grab your bags and go to Paris every year.  Well, you can - or you should.   Believe me, it's worth it, and fall is as good a time as any.  If the festival can come each year, so can we.
M.

 

Fall For Paris

10/15/2012

 

Fall For Paris - Autumn comes to The City of Light

     Coming from Georgia - in the sultry, humid, southern US - it might seem like the temperatures in northern Europe would be no big deal.  Well, in my opinion, humidity is humidity and the older I get, the less I like it.  Summer in Paris is beautiful and I will take Paris at any time and any chance I can, but summers can be stifling and quite humid.  Remember, there is a river running right through the middle of all that concrete and ancient stonework. The summer humidity settles-in and makes for a sticky, hot micro-climate.  It's often the same in NYC.   Oh sure, it's almost like spring when you compare it to the weather in Georgia or other deep southern states, but as I said before - humidity is humidity.   Autumn brings reentree, the return of French children to school after their summer hoilidays and the opening of many shops which were closed while Parisian shop owners retreated to the countryside for vacation.  It also brings the start of cooler weather, lower humidity, more colorful foliage and eventually the Halloween celebrations at the Paris Disneyland.  If that doesn't remind you of Fall, I don't know what would.
     I love autumn in Paris.  The light changes and the scenes look totally new.  In fact, I believe it may be that the scenes look even more historic.  I think about the centuries of Parisians who've seen the start of Autumn and began to prepare for the arrival of winter - just around the corner.  The grape harvests are in full-swing across the country from the end of August through late October.   The markets begin to have fall fruits and vegetables while the mannequins in the shop windows begin sporting their fall and winter styles.   Some neighborhoods seem unable to wait till the first blast of cold to begin stringing their winter lights in the trees and between buildings.  One of the best treats is the Bastille Brocante Sale (huge neighborhood yard sale in the Bastille neighborhood) in late fall.   People will fill the tents and pick through the antiques, books, clothes and a million assorted objets d'art.  It's not the most affordable brocante sale, but it certainly is the most exquisite.  The antigues and collectibles are fantastic and in perfect condition.
     I love to grab a bench at one of the parks in Paris and spend some time reading or people-watching once fall has arrived.  I don't often think about walking through the gardens of the Tuileries throughout the year unless there happens to be an art exhibit at the Orangerie Museum in the Tuilieries, but when fall arrives, I somehow can't resist the urge to go into the gardens and enjoy the change of pace.  There are a couple of small bistros inside the gardens to take care of lunch or a caffeine craving, so I don't have to leave the park if I want a break.  I almost hate to admit that I buy saucisse and pommes frites with a carafe d'eau.  Isn't that a nice way to say "hotdog link and french fries, with a carafe of tap water"?  Don't be too quick to disparage the old hotdog.  The french fries are freshly cut and deep fried while you wait, and the hotdog is fresh off the griddle with dijon mustard for dipping.  You can also order the hotdog, slathered in mustard, on a freshly sliced baguette.  Is there really anything bad when it's served on a fresh baguette?  I might never consider a hotdog in the summer, but sitting under the colorful, fall leaves in the Jardin de Tuileries  while watching the parade of tourists, photographers, artists with sketch books, and the fancy french dogs walking their masters - I can't think of a simpler, more satisfying way to spend a beautiful, HUMIDITY-FREE, autumn afternoon in Paris than to spend it in the former royal gardens with a book and a hotdog. 
M.
 

When In Doubt...

10/10/2012

 

When In Doubt - Finding quality in Paris

     The French have a tendency to take the otherwise mundane or normal and raise it to the level of an art form.  Whether you are shopping for groceries, wine, bread, pastries, meat, fish, cheese or even chocolate, there are specialty stores all over France where you can get basic products or the creme de la creme available today.  There are even special days to buy certain products.  Fish mongers get their freshest catch, the cheese sellers get farm fresh cheese and even the butchers get lamb or wild game on specific days.  It's always available, but the locals know exactly which day to expect the fresh products to reach each shop.   Of course the large grocery stores (think neighborhood grocery, not the giant groceries we have in the USA) have a range of all the products which are available in specialty shops.  Buying them from the grocery store is fine if you find a good price and need the product quickly or when the specialty shops are closed, but the products are mass produced and not as fresh.  Being a card carrying American, I will often grab fruit or cheese at the common grocery because it's convenient and quick.  Plenty of locals buy these products, but when they need a larger amount or are planning a party, they would never consider the grocery store.  They go directly to the specialty shops.  Believe me when I tell you that the quality and the taste is beyond compare.  There is quite a difference.
     I'm not sure how it began, but the division in french retail is stark and ingrained.  If you wish to buy frozen foods such as vegetables, meats, fruits and newly-available tv dinners, you would go to stores which sell nothing but packaged, frozen foods.  If you want the best vegetables, you go to the fresh markets.  Naturally you visit a boulangerie for daily-baked bread, and you see your neighborhood patisserie for desserts.  To buy a dessert at the boulangerie is possible, but most older frenchmen would cast a disapproving eye if it appeared that you were buying more than an indulgent, spur of the moment snack.  Who would EVER consider taking home enough to share with family or friends.  Especially when there are patisseries in every neighborhood as well.  Why not go a few doors down and buy your pastries or cakes from the baker who specializes in desserts?  I can attest from first hand experience that the product may look the same, but the taste is not.  There is no question that the patisserie makes far superior desserts and the boulangerie offers the best bread.  It's the same with the chocolates, candies, wines and cheeses.  Go to the specialist and you will get the best prices and the best products.  There is no comparison. 
     Whereas Americans love competition and the convenience of having everything available at the first store we visit, it's only slightly true in France.  Perhaps the competition has spawned lower prices in the USA, but it has done little to increase quality.  In fact, it has caused a wider range of quality and we have to be careful that we are getting the same item at a cheaper price.   In France, the specialization has led to competition between the specialists.  It forces the bakers to compete for the title of best baguette in Paris, or the best creme brulee in Ile de France.   It seems to have worked.  I can't be positive yet, but after I eat ten baguettes from every bread store in Paris, and have a creme brulee at each patisserie, I'll get back with you. (I bet you think i'm joking).  
      Although it takes some acclimation, it's not long before you join the French in their attention to nuance and you expect each product to have that extra little something.   Thank goodness for the French tenacity.