First I need to tell you that Pere Noel is a pretty wise old dude.  While I intend to update you on our taste-test of the Beaujolais Nouveau, as I promised in my post last week, I would be amiss if I didn't point out that Mr. Kringle somehow manages to be in Paris every year when the Beaujolais Nouveau is released.  While all the world believes he is working like a mad elf to meet his deadline, he is in fact decompressing in Paris and getting sloshed.  
     Before I talk about Santa I will tell you that my partners and I have tasted it and given it a big thumbs-up.  After last week's post, one of my friends decided to beat me to the punch and have a couple of bottles ready for me when I visited.  Now that's a good friend!  Not only did she read our blog and buy the wine for me, but she had it waiting for me at her own birthday party.  Let me use this forum to say thanks again, and to tell her that I know what higher-order thinking skills are (inside joke) and she has proven once again that she has them.  Looks like she is in good company with Santa except that he goes to Paris to get his bottles fresh from the vineyard. 

     Speaking of Santa...
I can't blame him for being in Paris for new wines and holiday lights, but this you've gotta see:

Pere Noel at CineAqua, the Paris Aquarium. (www.cineaqua.com)
     Cute, huh?  One of the coolest things to do in Paris, especially if you have children, is to go to the Paris Aquarium.  Not only is it in an amazing location, but it's also as secretively hidden as something from the DaVinci Code.  It's located amongst the best real estate in Paris, and occupies a historic site where you might never know it existed if you weren't told.  The aquarium is called CineAqua and is in, or actually under the trocadero. 
     If you've visited Paris, you probably stood on the great white esplanade of the Palais Chaillot, with Rue Benjamin Franklin and Avenue du President Wilson behind you as you looked beyond the Trocadero gardens, across Avenue de New York and over the Seine at the best view in Paris of the Eiffel Tower.  I'm willing to bet, that of the millions of people who have stood and taken photographs of the tower from that vantage point, only a tiny percent knew that they were standing on top of a 1200 seat theater and the Paris Aquarium.
     The aquarium was actually built within old subterranean quarries and the foundations of a previous palace which had been built for the Paris Exposition of 1867.  The old palace was unpopular and was eventually demolished to make way for the Palais Chaillot, built in advance of the return of the World's Fair in 1937.   The aquarium is modern and beautiful, but it's not new.  There was an aquarium there for decades.  In fact, the old aquarium, which had been built to showcase the river creatures of France, was renovated after construction of the Palais Chaillot and eventually the new aquarium replaced it in 2006, after several years of construction.  The new aquarium features sea life rather than just the native fish of France.
     One of the coolest things about the aquarium is suggested by its name - CineAqua.  It's not just an aquarium, but a cinema complex as well.  There is a large stage with a massive aquarium as its backdrop. Performances can be held with the ocean as their setting.  There are 25 screens in the complex and the theater is the home to classic French film.   At all times, you can visit CineAqua to enjoy the silver screen of France.  So, beyond the forty-something aquariums, the interactive learning center, and the numerous aquarium shows at CineAqua each year, there are plenty of movies, and if you have a sense of humor, you'll love the sushi restaurant inside the complex.  Strange, but true.
     Let's not forget Santa.  From November till the end of December, you can find him doing one of the shows at CineAqua.  Hey,  I warned you that he was getting sloshed.  You seriously didn't think he was a wino, did you?  Can you say 'naughty list' ?  I'm sure the wine is just to settle his nerves after swimming with the sharks.   M.

Visit the Aquarium de Paris CineAqua

Bottoms Up


Official Theme for 2012 Beaujolais Nouveau

Bottoms Up Beaujolais Nouveau is for here and now

     If you aren't a fan of red wine, but want to venture beyond white wines, then Beaujolais Nouveau might be the medicine for you.   Lovers of this seasonal wine are on pins and needles each year as they await the new release.  French law dictates that Beaujolais Nouveau cannot be released for sale until the third Thursday in November.  Besides that, it's a wine that should be consumed as soon as possible and usually no later than the following spring.  Beaujolais Nouveau is a very young wine that was fermented under a special process which keeps tannins very low. The grapes are not pressed, but allowed to ferment as  whole grapes. Only some of the grapes in the bottom of the tanks are crushed from the weight of the grapes above. These grapes begin to ferment and aid the remaining grapes to begin fermenting as whole berries. This keeps tannins very low.  Tannins come from the crushed skins of grapes and permit the long storage of wines.  The less tannins, the shorter the shelf life.  A short fermentation period of only a few weeks means a short life on your wine rack. 
     Beaujolais Nouveau is only made from Gamay grapes coming from a very small area of the Beaujolais region. The entire region amounts to an area averaging 8 miles wide and is only about 35 miles long.  Within that small region, there are the appellations of Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages.  Only a third of the Gamay grapes grown in this small area of the beaujolais region are used each year for Beaujolais Nouveau.  The remaining grapes are kept for the production of the regular varietal wines of the region. 
     Champagne and Beaujolais Nouveau have one similarity.  Both wines are produced from grapes which are exclusively picked by hand; no machinery is used in their harvesting.  It's safe to say that Beaujolais Nouveau will never compete with Champagne.  I suspect it may only come close on the third Thursday of each year.  There are people who love Beaujolais Nouveau and don't care for champagne at all, but those people are few.  The Beaujolais Nouveau roll-out is a special event each year, while champagne is for every event all year.  Nevertheless, it's a fun event and a good reason to go out, enjoy the season and get an idea of the depth of flavor in the grapes and how good the regular wines of the year will be when they are finally ready for bottling.  Beaujolais Nouveau wines are softer, fruitier (sometimes flavored with hints of apricots, peaches, pears or even bananas) and like white wines, are best served cool.  While a red wine is preferably served at room temperature and white wines are refrigerated,  a Beaujolais Nouveau tastes best at around 55 degrees and is sweet and mild. 
     This should be an interesting year for the wine and for the vintners specializing in Beaujolais Nouveau.  The past year was hard in the Beaujolais region.  The grapes were hit by severe frost, damaging hail storms and excessive rain which also led to diseases caused by high moisture.  Growers were already battling the decrease in popularity of Beaujolais Nouveau over the past few years, so to control the loss of value, they planted and maintained fewer vines .  The weather this past year has drastically cut more of the already smaller harvest.  I haven't tasted a bottle yet, so I'm not sure if the weather had a good or bad affect on the flavor of the grapes, but hopefully they are great.  There are only 2300 producers of Beaujolais Nouveau. The government of France has given financial aid to a large number of those producers and the french media has estimated that several hundred producers will file for bankruptcy because of crop damage this year.  Perhaps this season's grapes will be exceptionally good and that will lead to increased sales and value. 
     On a lighter note,  the photo above of the wine bottle dressed in haute couture is the official theme for the publicity campaign  of the region and was chosen because of the similarity between fashion and wine.  They each (fashion and wine) suggest glamour and a sense of refinement.  The advertisers also remind buyers that the word robe has two meanings.  In French, robe means color, but it also means dress.  Therefore, they've dressed their bottle of the purple-pink wine called Beaujolais Nouveau for its November debut.
    I will be going for a bottle this week.  I doubt it will make me glamorous or refined, but let's give it a try. At least we will be helping the vintners.  Remember - it's not a wine for collecting.   So bottoms up...

Obviously American


Thanksgiving - American grocery store in Paris
The Real McCoy - American grocery in Paris

Obviously American - It's all in the name

     It's very difficult to avoid writing about the Christmas lights and holiday decor which are popping-up across Paris right now.  I'll save that for my next post.  Instead I'll talk as much about Thanksgiving as is fitting for Paris.  It's the name of one of the two American grocery stores in Paris. That's it. That's all. No more.  You might think it's obvious, but you would be surprised how often I have been asked whether Thanksgiving is celebrated in Europe.  I guess I could say yes; on every American military base across Europe, our troops and airmen are eating Thanksgiving meals.  As for Europeans, unless they have lived in America and have adopted the holiday (which I doubt) they don't celebrate Thanksgiving.  Most Frenchmen have probably never heard of a pilgrim or the history and folklore surrounding our holiday.  Many of them may have seen actors eating Thanksgiving dinner in movies, but even more than Halloween, Thanksgiving is a strictly American historical event and holiday celebration.  Therefore, as I said before, in Paris, Thanksgiving is no more than the name of an American grocery store.  So that's what this post is about.
     I understand that some expats in Paris may longingly miss instant macaroni and cheese or the nine million different cereals and candies available to us in the USA.  I'll even admit to the convenience of boxed cake mixes and jello puddings, but they seem horribly anticlimactic to me because Paris offers the mother lode of cuisine and desserts.  I personally get a kick out of introducing my friends in France to some of our instant cake or brownie mixes, and yes they are good, but not worth the postage it takes to ship them when you consider that almost every corner in Paris is sporting a patisserie loaded with the finest desserts you'll ever eat.   Nevertheless, there are two crave-fulfilling, American stores  in Paris for those odd items that you can't live without while in France. 
    Both of the American stores have a nice variety of unique, regional American items and their employees offer the sound of an American accent when your ears need a break from French.  The biggest clue that they're not typical French stores is their names.  Thanksgiving   and The Real McCoy are names that stand out so uniquely amongst the neighboring signage that it's evident to passersby that these two stores are selling something different.  You can also see in the photo above that The Real McCoy has a facade which mimics a building in the USA rather than Parisian architecture.  American through and through.
     As the holidays come around each year, expats visit the two American stores to place orders for the necessary ingredients to make their typical Thanksgiving or Christmas meals.  They can also order canned pumpkin or place orders for pumpkin pies. The Real McCoy also has an American cafe which sells lunch and dinner.  It's a pretty good place for the locals to order a bagel or a nice hamburger.  The Thanksgiving store, for many years, ran a popular cajun restaurant at a different location, but eventually down-sized and moved the restaurant upstairs above the store.  The owners closed the restaurant in 2010, but they continue to carry a wide range of American products, take orders for special holiday items and because of continued demand, they still sell a wonderful American cheese cake that was popular in their old restaurant.
     If you have the time while in Paris, and you happen to be in the Marais neighborhood, which is the home of Thanksgiving , or you're in the area of Rue Cler and the Eiffel Tower, where The Real McCoy is located, you should visit the stores and check them out.  You can thank them for spreading a little American patriotism and comfort food.  When you leave the store, you should immediately pay penance by going directly into a French restaurant where you can order a creme brulee and a double espresso. 
Just in case you needed an excuse.   M.


Seeing Spots


Leroy Merlin in Paris sells hardware, building material, home decor and garden products
Truffaut is an upscale company selling plants, garden products, craft items, home decor and pets

Seeing Spots -  An American leopard in Paris

     If you know me, you know that I love plants and landscaping, building materials and renovation, gardens and architecture, and frankly almost anything to do with homes and gardens. From the original concept to the final plant in the garden or chandelier in the house, I like the transformation that occurs.  Whether it's a renovation, a restoration, a remodel or even new construction of a home or garden, it's more than a job; it's a real coup de coeur (passion / love at first site). 
     You would assume, since I spend so much time with a hammer, a screw driver or a shovel, that whenever I am walking around enjoying myself in Paris, I would cross the street to avoid a home improvement store.  It's quite the opposite, because I love to see the difference between American and French products.  I get great ideas when shopping in Paris and it's a good way to learn the techniques and products available to me when gardening or renovating homes in France.
     There are plenty of bricolage (hardware and building material) stores in France.  Paris is dotted with small hardware stores and a few larger stores that carry a broad range of building materials, garden products, home decor and sometimes even pets.  Some of them are up-market and also sell seasonal products such as Easter and Christmas decorations. I should say expensive decorations.  
     While some building products are the same as those used in the USA, there are lots of things that we don't have in America.  Sometimes I wonder why we don't have some of the things I see, but it's more often that I'm struck by how easy we tend to make life in America.  We create a tool for every job and we have an abundant selection of brands, levels of quality and assortment of styles.  That's not generally the case in Europe.  Frequently, one is obliged to choose from a small selection unless he goes to a specialty store which offers a greater range of choices or special orders.  Perhaps it's because our stores are so much larger and we have more room to offer a greater selection.  In Paris I might have a smaller amount of choices, but it's easy to live with the limits because of the unique items I find that aren't sold at all in the USA.  It really makes up for the compromise.
     It's especially rewarding to shop in the garden centers or furniture and decor departments.  That's where I can really find interesting things that won't reach stores in the USA for a couple of years.  Sometimes you will see people get on the metro with something they bought from one of the large hardware/decor stores.  A couple of different times I've seen people get on the metro with massive lamp shades designed to go over dining room chandeliers.  They're not your typical lamp shades.  I'm talking about shades that are nearly three feet in diameter.  It's quite the site on a crowded metro car.   You name it and someone will try to drag it onto the metro if they don't have a car.  I keep expecting to see someone leave the bricolage store and get on the metro with a brand new, high tech toilet.  Hey, I bet it's be done before.
     I really do enjoy walking through the stores and trying to decide which cool, new item I will wrestle onto the metro and use at home.  I like building and gardening too much to pass by a store.  This leopard can't change his spots, but don't worry - if i need a new toilet I'll have it delivered.