Thursday, August 21, 2014

Paris Favorites

A final round-up of my Paris trip -- these notes are in no particular order; I am literally going through a pile of business cards, notes, brochures, and other paper ephemera stacked on my desk and writing as I pick each one up.  Sorry for the delay, but I've been working on a terrific (but time consuming) project on cooking classes in Italy for the wonderful Dream of Italy newsletter -- look for part one in the next issue! 

*Atelier Brancusi: located on the plaza in front of the Pompidou Center, to me this is even better than the entire Pompidou museum.  Sculptor Constantin Brancusi was born in Romania but came to Paris in 1904, and he occupied a studio in the Impasse Ronsin near Montparnasse in the 15th arrondissement, first at number 8 (from 1916) and then at number 11 (from 1928).  Before his death, in 1957, he bequeathed his studio and its entire contents to the French State on the condition that it reconstruct his studio exactly as it was on the day of his death. Architect Renzo Piano's reconstruction is not intended to replicate the studio in every tiny detail, but rather, to quote from the brochure, "to communicate the  unity that Brancusi created between his sculptures inside that studio space."  I hadn't been here in a long time, and remarkably, admission is still free, but I would gladly paid an entrance fee.   And I was one of only about fifteen visitors.  I didn't take any photos and it appears that those I saw online are copyrighted, so I can't share any here; but if you haven't been, add this to your list!

*Vina Villa: I stopped into this tiny wine store at 85 rue Monge every other day, first because I saw a poster inside for Corsican wine (Corsica is one of my most favorite places on earth so I am always on the lookout for anything Corsican-related) and second because the owner is friendly and chatty.  He has a small selection of chilled whites (handy when your hotel room doesn't have a mini fridge) and he has a few corkscrews (handy when you forget yours; unfortunately I couldn't figure out how to use the one I bought until my trip was almost over).

Cards with sections of Paris from the Plan de Turgot from 1730 (like the one above, featuring the

Île de la Cité) can be found at Melodies Graphiques [10 rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 4th].  This is a lovely shop with a selection of papers, stationery, bound blank books, bookmarks, journals, cards, etc.  Very much worth a detour.    

*La Maison Ivre: readers of my Paris book may recall this shop in the 6th at 38 rue Jacob, lovingly presided over by Sylvine Nobécourt.  Fans of Rimbaud will recognize the pun on his poem "Le Bateau Ivre" (The Drunken Boat), which will also indicate that Sylvine has a wonderful sense of humor.  On this visit I stocked up on torchons (tea towels) imprinted with the store's name, and I bought a few birthday gifts for a friend: lavender wands made by a woman in Provence who is one of the few people making them at all anymore, and a sturdy Maison Ivre tote bag.  Somehow, I managed to walk out without buying any of the poterie artisanale -- there are a few pieces made in Corsica! -- but at least I left with the best gift of all: having a conversation with Sylvine.

This was mostly a budget trip, and the two hotels I stayed at were great budget choices that I highly recommend: Hôtel Maxim Latin Quarter [28 rue Censier, 5th] and the Grand Hôtel du Loiret [8 rue des Mauvais Garçons, 4th]. The staff at each was extremely helpful, friendly, and efficient, and both locations were very convenient.

Les Arènes du Lutèce [47-59 rue Monge] remains one of my most favorite places.  Positively nothing has been altered here since I last visited (not that I'm expecting anything to change), and it is a true pleasure to buy provisions for lunch in the rue Mouffetard, bring them back here, sit on one of stone steps, and watch Parisian schoolchildren on their lunch recess (and adults playing boules, reading books, and just enjoying the sunshine). 

Latitude Sud [48 boulevard Saint-Michel, 5th] is a good shop to buy items like T-shirts, tote bags, and cosmetic cases with La Vie est Belle imprinted across the front and keychains with an airplane, a globe, and a suitcase.

Willi's Wine Bar, now in its 34th year, [13 rue des Petits-Champs, 1st] feels like an old friend.  I still love sitting at the bar and chatting with the bartenders, and I always have a very good meal here (and the wine-by-the-glass selections are great).

La Tuile à Loup [35 rue Daubenton, 5th] has renovated its shop so there is more room for its innovative, high quality ceramics.

In addition to my Plan de Paris, my best companions were:

 (since I now see these are a little hard to read, the one to the left is Paris for Pleasure Seekers and the one below is It's Nice to Be Alone in Paris -- how perfect for me on this trip!  Both are fold-out booklets published by Herb Lester in London, a neat company that every traveler should know about.)

Bercy Village [at the Cour Saint-Emilion Métro station, 12th] is today a restored area with shops and restaurants, but my friend Lorraine and I went there (for the first time) because we were interested in the history of the area: the Cour Saint-Emilion Métro station is named after the Bordeaux wine because it was built at the old Bercy railroad station where wine from the south of France arrived in Paris.  Up until 1960, the original wine warehouses -- dating from the 19th century -- formed the largest center of wine and spirits trade in the world.  The reason is because the area at the time was not technically within the city limits, and therefore not required to pay taxes.  Bercy is a really pleasant place to walk around, and the white stone warehouses are beautiful -- and they are listed as an historic monument.

The chocolates by Patrick Roger [6 locations in Paris] are off-the-charts, but I hadn't visited a boutique until this trip.  Last year a good friend brought me back the most extraordinary box of chocolate eggs -- and when I use the word 'extraordinary' it's no exaggeration -- and I made a note to make certain I stopped by the next time I was in Paris.  Wow.  I bought an assortment of delights for the train ride to Nice as well as some cocoa powder to bring home.  It's probably a good thing there isn't an outpost in New York...yet.  !

I'm off to Banff National Park in Canada - more in September!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Paris Favorites

Another quick post of my recent Paris visit:

*as readers of my Paris book already know, I am a big fan of the fresh mustard at the Maille boutique on place de la Madeleine [at number 6].  Though Maille is now owned by mega-conglomerate Unilever, the company was founded in 1747, and Antoine Maille was named official vinaigrier-distillateur for the royal court of France in 1769.  Maille mustards and condiments are of course reliably be found throughout North America, and at the Madeleine shop there are even more mustards and a few other culinary items, some packaged quite beautifully for gifts.  The reason to come here is for the fresh mustard pumps at the central counter.  Three different varieties are offered, all of which are more potent than the Maille mustards sold in the States.  The staff fills earthenware jars (like the one pictured above; you can choose small, medium, or large jars) with the mustard of your choice (I am most fond of the moutarde de Dijon au vin blanc).  The jars are sealed with lid made of coated paper and cork and the staff are quite adept at packing the jars for airplane flights.  If your mustard is a gift, they give you a sturdy, attractive black bag with gold foil (again, pictured above) with black cord handles, folded flat.  When I first began buying the fresh mustard, it was permissible to put the jars in carry-on bags, but nowadays they must be put in checked luggage.  Not a problem -- and on this visit I bought four jars and they fit perfectly fine in my small wheelie bag.  Note that the staff does recommend you try to keep the mustard refrigerated, so it's a good idea to plan a visit to the boutique on your last day in Paris.  As I was traveling on to the Côte d’Azur, I simply asked the hosts at my b&b and hotels to keep the mustard in the fridge for me and they were happy to do so.

I saw the Place de L’Apéro plaque displayed on a shelf in a cafe one morning, and I loved it (l’apéro  refers to the slang word for apéritif, and the phrase for cocktail hour is often referred to as l'heure de
l’apéro; it's also sometimes called cinq à sept, indicating the traditional five to seven time for pre-dinner drinks, and it's also a phrase that refers to a traditional time of day when men met their mistresses).  I thought I might find the plaque at the BHV department store -- there is a selection of the classic blue-and-white Paris street signs as well as those oval-shaped, black-and-white signs on the store's street level floor (52 rue de Rivoli, 4th arrondissement).  I didn't find one there (though the store takes custom orders) but I did find one on a spinner rack of postcards and plaques in Nice.  It's now in my kitchen and it brings a smile to my face everyday.

Years ago, when Patricia Wells introduced her first edition of The Food Lover's Guide to Paris, I learned about a wonderful shop called Le Furet-Tanrade (readers of my Paris book may recall the entry for this in the Paris Miscellany).  Initially, I went to the store (then on rue de Chabrol in the 10th) in search of confiture de poire passée, a smooth, somewhat runny pear concoction that Wells recommended for mixing with plain yogurt.  Ooh-la-la was it ever delicious! Later, I discovered pêche de vigne jam, and as I noted in my book, if you think you've had better peach jam anywhere in the world than this one, you are dead wrong.  Later still, I discovered the shop's orange-flower water made from the blossoms at the orangerie at Versailles, and the chocolates, which are of quite good quality.  Tanrade has, according to Naomi Barry in Paris Personal, "enjoyed the reputation of being the first house in Paris for fine jams, jellies, and fruit syrups" for nearly 250 years (her book was published in 1963).  So I was crestfallen when I learned a few years ago that Tanrade had closed.  Before my recent visit, I learned that it had reopened, still in the 10th but on rue des Messageries at #1.  The new space is not nearly as nice and welcoming as the old one -- not that the old space was ever a gem, but still, this new one seems rather depressing -- but coming here is still vaut le détour (worth a detour).  I tried to get the explanation for the move from Alain Furet -- something about a fire, and something about the arrondissement and the city not helping out the way they should -- but I couldn't quite follow it.  I gave up and steered our conversation to the goods at hand, and I walked out with confiture mi-figue mi-raisins (half fig, half grape), abricot, and speciale NKM: noisette, kiwi, and mangue, now all firm favorites.  (Note that all the confitures here are seasonal, so I was too early for both the poire passée and pêche de vigne.) 

Anyone reading this who may be going to Paris before the 31st of August is in luck: the absolutely fabulous Il Était Une Fois l’Orient Express exhibit at the l'Institut du Monde Arabe closes on that day - do not miss it!  I'd read about the exhibit before I arrived, but somehow I didn't really grasp that the actual train cars from the original Orient Express were there (set up opposite the south facade of the museum) and that visitors walked through them.   !!  This is one of the very best shows I've ever seen and it was one of the highlights of my entire trip.  Tickets are timed as only about a dozen people are permitted in each car at a time.  I tried to buy a ticket one afternoon but the times I wanted were all sold out, so I returned the next morning about a half hour before opening time and was able to buy a ticket with no trouble.  Truly, my head practically popped off when I was walking through these cars, and fans of train travel, wanderlust, quality craftsmanship, the Near East, European history, and Agatha Christie, James Bond, Mata Hari, Graham Greene, and Josephine Baker will positively love this. 

And, in enthusing so much about this exhibit, I don't want to take anything away from the wonderful l'Institut du Monde Arabe itself, which (again) readers of my Paris book already know is one of my most favorite museums in the city.  The Institut is not only a museum but also a cultural center, library, concert hall, bookstore, restaurant, and cafe (on the 9th floor, with a great view of Notre-Dame and beyond).  I won't repeat here what I noted in my book, but I will quote from a little book (Spirit of Place) about the building found in the museum's bookstore:  "Those who designed it were able to express an Arabic style without resorting to overly simplistic Oriental stereotypes.  Here, the Orient is neither copied nor parodied, neither reinvented nor even re-examined.  Instead, it is simply and brilliantly interpreted."

Lastly, since it seems apropos, an excellent article, "A Walk Through Historic Arab Paris," may be found in the July-August 2012 issue of Saudi Aramco World magazine.   

D'accord: one more Paris post and then on to the Côte d’Azur.....