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.
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.
A wine shop in the Marais.
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.
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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,
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