Tuesday, November 30, 2010

small pleasures

Right now, my job is pretty much all-consuming, so when I make it home at the end of the day, I generally just toss some food in my mouth and then go to sleep.   

Please, don't be intimidated by the glamour of my lifetyle.

Anyway, my schedule will be pretty packed with work until Christmas, but until then, I'm trying to soldier through and enjoy small pleasures. Like hot bread from the bakery or cashmere socks to sleep in when the weather drops below zero. Or the occasional good movie.

Babette's Feast 1987
Last night I watched the Danish film "Babette's Feast" for the first time. The basic premise is that a Frenchwoman named Babette flees to a remote village in Denmark during the days of the Paris commune. She works as a servant for two elderly spinsters who hold church services for a bunch of querulous old Danes. One day, Babette discovers she's won the lottery and decides to spend her winnings preparing a real French dinner for her employers and their small congregation. The food is stunning- with things like blinis Demidorf, turtle soup, and cailles en sarcophages (which, in case you were wondering, are quails boned and then stuffed with foie gras and slivers of black truffle and served in a puff pastry "sarcophagus" with a truffle sauce. My eyes almost fell out of my head.)

It's a wonderful movie that speaks to the power of food, as an art and also as a means of bringing people together. 
Does that sound corny? Well, I don't care. 

As I said, focusing on the small pleasures

Sunday, November 28, 2010

il fait un froid de canard!

Since the temperature in my apartment is basically the same as the temperature outdoors, after huddling over my space heater for an hour or so after lunch, I gave up on ever feeling warm again and decided I might as well go on a walk. Absorb some of the Christmas spirit and what not.

But first I put on a hat.

I was given this hat at work about a year ago. Don't ask me why, I haven't the faintest idea- but for some reason, chapkas were distributed to all the employees in my office. It's made of fur, which I suppose is obvious, and large enough for a man. Yes, it's ridiculous, but it's also so warm.

Anyway, thusly attired, I headed out.

Now that Christmas is less than a month away, most of the large department have Christmas window displays up in full force. I made a first attempt to take a look on Saturday, on my walk home from the Parc Monceau, but when I arrived at Printemps, I was very nearly crushed by the teeming mass of shoppers/spectators.

Can you see the display?
Neither could I.

But I did start to see lots of little pine trees for sale.

At dusk, I took the metro to Concorde and then walked up to see the Marche de Noel and the lights on the Champs Elysees. The view across the Place de la Concorde was lovely, but it was so crowded on the Champs Elysees, with all of the little stands selling mulled wine and knick-knacks that I only stayed a short while. 

But I do love Christmastime- I can't believe it's nearly December....

Saturday, November 27, 2010

musee nissim de camondo

Today started off rather slowly. Not at all a bad thing on a Saturday morning.

I lazed around my apartment for a while, making coffee and reading P.G. Wodehouse, then talking to Daniel and his friend Atticus on the phone (they were up at 1am drinking Sparxx and making frozen pizza in Atticus's oven, which also apparently functions as the heating system for his apartment at Stanford. There was some debate as to whether that showed a European sensibility or was just, you know, ghetto.)

Afterwards, since we had the first snow of the season yesterday and the weather has become quite brisk, I set off to see if I could get an old fur coat I bought a few months ago at the Salon du Vintage fixed- there's a small tear in the sleeve, which I suppose is part of the bargain when you buy vintage things. Wearing fur fits into the category of Things-that-are-generally-frowned-upon-in-the-United-States-but-are-A-OK-in-France, like cigarettes or butterfat. So I decided that it would be acceptable to buy one while I was living here, especially since I mostly just wear it inside my icebox of an apartment.

Anyway, I lugged the damned thing down the street while a man followed me making meowing noises (...did he think the coat was made of dead cats ? shudder. Or was he taking cat-calling literally?) and then found out that a drycleaner can't fix such a thing and I'll have to take it to a fur-specific tailor, one with "special needles." Oh.

So I dumped the coat at my apartment and started over. I decided to go visit the Musee Nissim de Camondo up by the Parc Monceau in the 8th.

I'd never heard of this museum until last week, when a friend drew my attention to an article in the NY Times on artwork stolen during WWII. The author of the article made mention of the Musee Nissim de Camondo as being among the loveliest museums in Paris, so I felt I had to go and take a look.

This hotel particulier was built in 1911 by comte Moise de Camondo, the scion of a Jewish banking family of Turkish origin. In 1935, Moise bequeathed the house and the entire collection of 18th century furniture and art within to the French State in honor of his son Nissim de Camondo who was killed in combat in WWI.

The residence has been restored and is now open to the public. 

It really is something to see. It made me think of Proust, because doesn't this seem like exactly the setting for the sort of of world he describes in his novel? The Aubusson tapestries and Savonnerie rugs, the silver originally commissioned by Catherine II of Russia. There is an entire gallery devoted to the Sevres china that was used in the household. It's fairly epic.

The article in the paper also mentioned a book by Lynn Nichols called The Rape of Europa that provides a history of art plundered by the nazis during WWII. I bought the book and would absolutely recommend it to anyone at all interested in European art history. There's also apparently a documentary film based on the novel, but I haven't seen it yet. 

Anyway, quite fascinating. And now I'm really looking forward to reading this, another book along a somewhat similar vein that my friend Lena pointed out to me... perfect reading for the long cold days ahead.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

thanksgiving in paris

Thanksgiving is, I think, my favorite holiday.

Though I have to admit, it doesn't feel very Thanksgiving-y here in Paris.
Well, obviously.

Instead of a four-day weekend, I just have a regular week of work. And a big presentation on Friday. So I will have to settle for cranberry yogurt for breakfast (that's a standard yogurt flavor here, oddly enough) and calling my family in California. Violins, please.

My mother will make last-minute trips to the grocery store and try to keep the dogs out from under foot. My aunt Roseanne will roll up her sleeves and make pie after pie while my uncle Robert prepares the birds and various elaborate side dishes. My fifteen year-old cousin Pierson will act as sous-chef. My brother will sleep in until noon and my dad will play golf.
In the evening, the adults will drink Manhattans before dinner.

And I will wish I was there!

Oh and if you're wondering, the picture above was taken in front of a Cajun restaurant/American grocery store in the Marais that's actually called "Thanksgiving." Though I have never been in (I somehow manage to live without Jiffy peanut butter or Stay Puft marshmallows here in France) I kind of love that it's named that.

20 rue St. Paul
75004 Paris

thinking of summer

As the weather becomes more rotten by the day, I find myself daydreaming of summer more and more often. 

I took this picture back in late August, when I took the train out to Chartres for the day. The weather couldn't possibly have been more perfect and all of the flowers were in bloom. 

The cathedral looked so brilliant against the sky. I took off my shoes and sat in the square facing the church and lifted my face to the sun.

I miss that day now.

But it's nice to have it stored up in my memory to think of as I layer on sweater after sweater and stuff my stockinged feet into boots.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I went into Diptyque on the rue des Francs Bourgeois yesterday and wanted to buy everything in the store. I'm not a huge candle person and I don't like anything that smells too sweet or too fruity, but Diptique candles are just so lovely. Not only do I love the way they smell, but I love their labels. Sleek, unfussy.

When you go into the store, the staff encourages you to turn the candles over and tip them out of the glass holder so that you can smell the base of the candle, where the scent is the most condensed. It makes a big difference to do this, since the smell of a new, unlit candle can be rather faint and if you're going to spend 40€ on a single bougie, you probably want to make sure you really like the frangrance.

 Some of my favorites were Figuier and Sapin, which I think would both be perfect in a living room as a small, elegant touch.

Already thinking of who these might make good Christmas presents for just so I can have the fun of going back into the shop...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

heinrich kuhn @ l'orangerie

Today was a very rainy Sunday, so I decided it would be best spent indoors. 
But after loafing around my apartment for most of the morning, I was feeling stir-crazy and needed to get out of the house. So I bundled myself up and headed out to see the Heinrich Kuhn exhibit at the Orangerie; when my mother was here last week, she had stumbled upon it and told me afterwards that she thought I would like it. 

She was right.

 Still Life with Oranges - Heinrich Kuhn, 1905

On the Hillside - Heinrich Kuhn, 1910
His photographs are marvelously beautiful, at least to my eyes.*

 I'd never heard of him before this, but I'm sort of in love now. I even bought the coffee table book of his photographs. It's exactly the type of art I'd love to hang on my own walls. 

Anyway, it was a perfect way to spend a piece of my otherwise soggy Sunday afternoon. 
Happy weekend.

*This shows a bit more.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

view from pont alexandre III, 4pm.

Really, today was just stupidly beautiful.

bon voyage, maman!

For my mother's last night in Paris, we decided to go out for Italian food. I know, I know- Italian for a last night in France? But both of us were feeling a little bilious after a week of French food.

L'Altro is one of my favorite Italian restaurant in Paris. The food is simple and delicious and they have an upstairs dining room that allows for great spying on people-watching on the street below. I ordered caccio e peppe and enjoyed my last evening of having my mama in France.

It's always a bit sad to say goodbye at the end of a lovely visit, but a delicious bowl of pasta can work wonders on a despondent spirit.

16 rue Dragon
Paris 75006

Friday, November 19, 2010

portraits of lovers

Some portraits of famous loves from around the interwebs. 

Happy Friday.

Mary Pickford & Douglas Fairbanks

Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas

Zelda & F. Scott Fitzgerald
Wallis Simpson & Edward VIII
Jean-Paul Sartre & Simone de Beauvoir

Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera

Spencer Tracy & Katherine Hepburn

Julia & Paul Child

Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall

Paul Newman & Joanne Woodward

RIchard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor

Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

Yoko Ono & John Lennon

Angelica Huston & Jack Nicholson

Antonia Fraser & Harold Pinter

John Gregory Dunne & Joan Didion

Thursday, November 18, 2010

i heart picnics

My parents came to France a few months ago as part of a wine tasting tour  with a group of friends. Everyone met up in Paris and together we took a bus to Beaune
I don't know a lot about wine. I mean, I know I like it, but I am really very ignorant about it. Still, it was an amazing trip and so much fun to visit Burgundy with people who really know a lot about the wines of the region.

We ate a lot of incredible food over the course of the trip, but one of the nicest meals we had as a family was when we decided to pick up a few things from the Saturday farmer's market and have a picnic.

The farmer's market in Beune was incredible. We brought our feast back to the hotel where they set us up on a little patio and we tucked into the spoils: melon, strawberries, cherries, a roasted chicken, dried salami, radishes, bread, cheese and some wonderful Burgundy.

I have always loved picnics. But it's not until recently that I realized you can have picnics anywhere- a field, your house, a hotel courtyard...really, it just means choosing an assortment of delicious foods you don't have to cook and then eating with friends and/or family. Preferably with wine.

Anyway, after a lot of restaurant dining this week with my mother, we decided last night that we'd rather stay in. 

So a dinner picnic in my apartment was the perfect choice. And because I live right off of rue Montorgueil (read this to get an idea of the magnificence) it is the work of mere minutes to pull together a picnic of astounding deliciousness.

We bought radishes, two kinds of cheese, a baguette, rabbit pate, cold whole shrimp, a cucumber and roquette salad, and dark chocolates. After our big (and long!) meal the night before at Chez Dumonet, it was lovely to have a relaxed evening at home.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

le dome, revisited

One of my very first posts here, over a year ago, was about the restaurant
Le Dome.

It's one of those venerable old Parisian restaurants, famous for their seafood.
Last night, we went there for dinner.

This time of year is the best for shellfish, which is what I make a point of ordering when I come here. They also have wonderful fish soups. I came here a few years ago with one of my friends who lived just across the street from the restaurant and ordered an appetizer of the soupe de poisson. When you finished your portion, they would shimmer over and refresh your bowl. We were elated- soup refills! I don't even think we ordered main courses; we just gorged ourselves on warm, briny fish soup.

However, this time I was going big and ordering the Plateau de fruits de mer.
You need a lot of implements for the enormous tray they bring.
Oysters, mussels, clams, tiny shrimp, crab, winkles...

See, I told you it was enormous.
And though there were six of us at dinner, my mother and I polished this off pretty much by ourselves.
We are like-minded.

For our main course, we ordered the Bouillabaisse Marseillaise, which is for a minimum of two people. They come out with a huge platter of the cooked fish that goes into the soup and show it to you before dousing it in broth and ladling it into your bowls from a large turreen they keep warm on the table.

Bouillabaisse is emphatically not Parisian, but it was delicious, so who cares.
Still, it's the shellfish that have my heart. We are already scheming about how to fit in another oyster fest before my mother leaves on Saturday...

Le Dome
108 boulevard Montparnasse
Paris 75014

Monday, November 15, 2010

change of plans

Well, we meant to go to Fontainebleau yesterday.

But we ended up sleeping in and then breakfasted in a leisurely manner on toast, coffee, and Poilaine pastries while listening to Billie Holiday and didn't make it to the Gare de Lyon until after noon- too late, as it turned out, to catch a train to Fontainebleau. So we bagged the idea and decided to go to Montmartre instead.

We took the metro to Notre Dame de Lorette and then walked up rue de Martyrs. We stopped at Jiga, a darling candy store so Joleen could pick up sweets for her five-year old twins.

Then we went to Rose Bakery to see about some lunch, but there was (as always) a line out the door, and since patience does not run in my family, we left and went for brunch at the Hotel Amour.

Very charming.

After lunch, we started the trek up to Sacre Coeur.

That's my mama, with her little red umbrella.

Even though it was sort of wet and windy, it was still fantastic. The church really is so impressive, poised on top of the hill the way it is. And even though my mother studied in France when she was in college, she had never been to Montmartre before. She was duly impressed.

The area has character. Something cool around every corner.

One of my favorite things is the tiny vineyard on the Rue des Saules, the Clos Montmartre. It's the only remaining vineyard still left within Paris.

Then it was time to go- we'd made reservations to see the Monet exhibit at the Grand Palais

It was pretty amazing to see so many of Monet's paintings gathered together in one exhibit. The organization of the pieces was sort of confusing (not by date but by subject...kind of) but so many of the paintings were so breathtaking, that it seems rather small to quibble over the curation of the show.

Some of my very favorites were the series of paintings of the Parliament in London.

For a post-exposition dinner, I had made us reservations at the newly revamped Mini Palais, which is actually inside the Grand Palais. The decor was sleek and the food was delicious (I had a duck burger!), perfect after a long day on our feet. 

Finally, to top it all off, Jolene wanted to see the hotel George V, so after dinner we hopped in a cab and headed over. We sat in their beautiful lounge and listened to the piano. Jolene and I had champagne cocktails and my mother had an armagnac. Yes, it was heavenly.

Such a lovely Sunday. I love having my visitors in town!

17, rue de Martyrs
75009 Paris

Hotel Amour
8, rue de Navarin
75009 Paris

Mini Palais
Grand Palais
Avenue Winston Churchill
75008 Paris

George V
31, avenue George V
75008 Paris
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