Architects' rendering of new first floor renovations of Eiffel Tower
Christmas at the Eiffel Tower - Ice skating above Paris
This week I may ramble a bit between history and the future, but I will get to the point about Christmas. There are no award winning decorations at the Eiffel Tower, but it does offer something special, and when I think of Christmas in Paris, it immediately comes to mind. Before I get to my point, I must first give a little background information.
It's difficult to talk about Paris without mentioning the Eiffel Tower. Last year, the management company and the French government began a major renovation of the tower. It had been over thirty years since the last renovation. More than just an icon of France, the tower (built in 1889) is a huge tourist draw and has seen more visitors in the past 23 years than it did during the preceding 100 years. Time has taken a toll.
The eiffel Tower is immensely popular and a must-see when visiting Paris. Forgive the pun. Indeed, you can't miss seeing the tower from points all over Paris, but first-time visitors to Paris should definitely consider a visit to the interior a priority. Going up, into the interior, is the only way to comprehend its true scale and to get a feel for what people must have felt in 1889 when they first climbed to the summit.
It's not just the impact of so many visitors that makes the renovation necessary. Since the last renovation, there have been huge leaps in technology which will be used to make the tower more energy efficient and handicapped accessible. LED lighting, solar panels, wind tubines and geo-thermal piping will be used to electrify and light the tower once the renovations are complete. New elevators will increase the number of people who can ride to the upper levels at one time, and these new lifts will be powered by modern hydraulic systems which are more environmentally friendly than the old systems which used oil and a tremendous amount of water each day. The first floor layout will be modified to allow better flow of foot traffic and will accommodate disabled visitors in ways which were not possible before.
The public spaces on the first floor had become dated and not used to their best potential. They will be completely rebuilt with glass-walled meeting rooms, a restaurant and pavillion spaces nestled under and fitted to the shape of the four pillars. Visitors will be able to walk on a glass floor up to a point where new glass safety rails will allow you to look 187 feet down, through the center of the tower, to the plaza at ground level (see photo's above). The renovation is scheduled to be finished in 2013 at a projected cost of 25 million dollars.
The new space will be amazing and was certainly overdue, but I wonder if one of my favorite Eiffel Tower events will return after the renovations are complete. For two months, during the Christmas season, the tower opens an ice skating rink on the first floor (remember - 187 feet above the ground). There are two more floors above, but the first floor has its own unique and beautiful view which is somewhat of a wonderland with the lighting effects on the ice and the skaters gliding around between the pillars. For me, it's the one time of the year when the first floor can actually compete with the floors above. There is such a great holiday feeling and everyone seems to be enjoying Christmas on the ice.
La Patinoire Eiffel - Ice skating at the Tower
I can hardly wait for the renovations to be completed so I can eat at the new restaurant and see the city from inside the new glass walls. I know it will be beautiful, and I'm sure there will be
Christmas decorations throughout the public spaces, but I hope they will find a way to bring the ice skating (la Patinoire) back to the tower after the renovation. It was such a great memory of Christmas in Paris. There are temporary skating rinks throughout the city each winter, but nothing is quite like skating inside the Eiffel Tower. You can see from the photographs (left and below) that the experience and location are incomparable and the views are outstanding. I realize that the renovations are necessary to bring the tower into this century and to make the spaces more marketable and environmentally sound, but I'll be sad if this oh-so-Parisian event becomes just another part of the faded history of the tower. I know they will plan other seasonal events and celebrations on the first floor, and I'm certain that it will be financially and aesthetically improved by the renovations. I'll be sure to post photo's of the new spaces when they are complete and I'll be one of the first to brag on changes that are sensitive to the design of the tower and are ecological improvements. However, the ice skating rink was like an exclamation point on the run-up to Christmas. I'll always have a great memory of the old first floor and ice skating above Paris at Christmas. I'll let you know if they bring it back after the renovations. Mimi
Ice skating on the first floor of La Tour Eiffel
Printemps Department Store
Entrance to Printemps
Side view of Printemps
Galeries Lafayette Department Store
Entrance to Galeries Lafayette
Atrium at Galeries Lafayette
Shops at Galerie Royale
The Shopping Mall at Les Halles
Festive Shopping - Paris Style
The shops and department stores of Paris are getting into the spirit of the season. The exterior decorations and window displays are exciting and colorful. The large department stores are a feast for the eyes at night. They also have fantastic interior decorations.
Only the largest department stores can rival the Champs Elysees when it comes to over-the-top Christmas decor. As you can see from the photos above, the Galeries Lafayette is so fully covered in lights that it looks like stained glass of a cathedral. It's as elegant a display as any you'll ever see. The Printemps department store uses colored flood lights and miles of tinsel and Christmas balls, suspended above the sidewalks, to create a visual fête that draws you into the store in true, north pole style.
The shopping promenades around the city, and the underground mall at Les Halles are each dressed in their own festive finery. The store windows are decorated. The entrances to shopping alleys are elegantly draped in garlands and have lighted trees or topiaries marking their entrances and scattered throughout the passages. Everywhere you go, there are different styles and themes. It's truly an elegant and happy scene, never over-done, tastefully french.
Louis Vuitton Windows
Being in Paris during the holidays is like a gift in itself. It's a great time to window shop or sit in a cafe and enjoy the lights from the warmth of a table overlooking the sidewalks. Many of the restaurants have patios with heaters overhead so that you can comfortably sit outside and feel as if you are in the middle of the action. I'm always happy when the weather gets cool and I can order a large platter of warm garlic mussles and a nice wine to enjoy with friends at one of our favorite restaurants on the Champs Elysees with a view of the decor outside.
I know that I've mentioned in previous posts that Paris is a different city at night. It's also safe to say that most large cities are different during the Christmas season. Paris is no exception. I've often heard it said that Christmas brings out the proverbial child in all of us. That's true I think, but Parisians seem to do Christmas in the same exacting way that they do food and fashion. It's often very artistic. quite mature, and exceptionally beautiful. It's a fashion show that everyone can get excited about, and a feast for the senses and the heart. Mimi.
The Champs Elysees at The Arc de Triomphe
The Grand Roule Ferris Wheel at Place de la Concorde
The City Of (Christmas) Light - Paris In Winter
I held off as long as I could, but as Christmas decorations are being installed everywhere, it's hard to resist. Paris is surreal and idyllic on the worst days, so you can imagine how magical it becomes when the Christmas lights are draped on trees and the stores begin to dress their windows for the season. It's a sure sign that Christmas is on the way when you see the arrival of the big, lighted ferris wheel at Place de la Concorde, at the top end of the Champs Elysees, near the entrance to the Tuileries. It's a magical addition to an already sensational place.
The air is beginning to bite a little bit, and the smell of roasting chestnuts is pleasant as you walk from store to store along the avenue. It's funny how sounds and smells can be just as powerful as a view to get you into a holiday mood. The sounds of cathedral bells tolling in the background while Christmas music escapes from the open doors of the stores is a pretty elegant way to be ushered into the season.
Paris, like other metropolitan cities, is pulsing with cars and people. As often as I've been to NYC, I never seem to feel independant of the cars and the crush of people when I am there. Somehow, I'm always aware of the madness about me. It's different in Paris; the city has a way of keeping everything in its place. The traffic hums along and you certainly have to be aware of it when crossing the street, but it's so easy to completely ignore the cars and be swept away by the lights, culture and ambiance of the city. I never quite understood how such a large city could have ambiance. Paris is special that way. I suppose it's the intricacy and softness of the architecture as well as the sense of antiquity in Paris, rather than the cold modern skyscrapers common to other large cities. I love New York, Seoul, Tokyo and several other large cities, but I love them for their madness and exhiliration. Paris offers that same busy exhiliration, but like Amsterdam, Venice or Monte Carlo, Paris seems eternal - as if she stands above the swarm. The Christmas decorations and twinkling lights just add to the mystery and beauty. Perhaps it's subjective. Maybe others visit Paris and find themselves very distracted by the cars and crowds. I tend to forget they are there. Christmas lights makes it even easier to forget. They're like jewelry crowning the beautiful, old city. It's like another time and place.
I'll try to post some photos of other areas of Paris in the coming weeks. The Champs Elysees and Place de la Concorde are very festive, but other parts of the city are also decking the halls and stringing the lights. There really isn't a terrible time to be in Paris, but winter is truly something special. From neighborhood to neighborhood the city starts to shine. I'm not a big lover of snow, but when it snows a little earlier than usual, it really makes the city sparkle. Nevertheless, if I'm going out, I much prefer the cold without the snow; dry feet are warm feet. Paris usually reserves the worst snowfall for after the new year, so the messiest weather generally stays away during the holiday season. That's nice when you want to stroll through the Christmas market that comes to the Champs Elysees each winter. Between the Rond-Point and Place de la Concorde, under the plane trees, there are over 100 small chalets selling products from the French countryside as well as ornaments, food, wine, toys, souvenirs, costumes and art. It's just one more destination that transports you out of the bustling city and reminds you that Paris is timeless, and for a couple of months, more than any other time, it really is La Ville Lumiere - THE CITY OF LIGHT.
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
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...
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.
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. M
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.
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.
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.
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.