Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jill Jonnes and Eiffel's Tower

Always on the lookout for a good read, I came across this soon to be released book while thumbing through the latest edition of Vanity Fair which, by the way, was a great read. It brought to my attention, Eiffel's Tower by Jill Jonnes,  which delves into the creation of the tower during Belle Epoque France and all that surrounded that heady time period.

As Eiffel held court that summer atop his one thousand foot tower, a remarkable host of artists and personalities--Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Gaugin, Whistler, and Edison--traveled to Paris and the Exposition Universelle to mingle and make their mark.....Eiffel's Tower combines technological and social history and biography to create a richly textured portrayal of an age of aspiration, dreams, and progress.  Amazon.com

The book won't be released until April 30th, which is just in time to pick up for some up-coming summer reading.  Just thought I'd give you a heads up.  

Additional information: 

Monday, April 20, 2009


I don't know if it's Paris or a new global world trend, but shops are opening all over and calling themselves 'concept stores'.  I have a hard time figuring out what that means exactly.  My first exposure to the 'concept' thought process was Colette on rue du Faubourg Honoré.  It is consistently the absolute talk of the town, selling itself as a concept store, yet what this means is totally lost on me.  It comes across as a fashion/jewelry/music/latest artsy-fartsy must have shop with the added bonus of a water bar where the beautiful crowd hangs out sipping water. Crazy.  The space looks a lot like a fashion store that sells jewelry, make-up, some CD's, and other odds and ends that are kitschy and expensive.  Oh, and of course they have some water.  Is the water the concept part because that's normal or is price gouging the concept as they sell makeup for about three times the price that it costs at my local Wal-Mart here in the states?  A certain segment of the world's population goes ga-ga for it so either I am missing something or am consciously choosing not to be a part of that segment.  

Recently, a new shop has opened in the Marais calling itself a concept shop as well, although this is an idea I get.  Merci, a cavernous space by French standards, is dedicated to all things that would point to a lifestyle with a conscience.  An eclectic mix of fashion, both new and vintage, housewares and furnishings provide much for customers to spend time mulling over.  There is a perfume bar, as opposed to a water bar, where one purchases perfume and a floral shop run by Christian Tortu who does amazing floral things.  All the mulling that you find yourself doing might require a break for lunch which can be found in their inspired street level café.  Here, haphazardly arranged tables and chairs find a home among shelves of second hand books in several different languages available for sale.  The food is described as well prepared "healthy cuisine"--nothing pretentious like haute H2O.

The store is getting rave reviews for breaking down a huge space into more intimate sections and combining both new and used of everything into an eclectic, artful mix.  Here's the real kicker:  Merci donates all its proceeds (after breaking even) to a woman's co-op in Madagascar. They are committed to giving back.  That is certainly a new twist for Paris as overt philanthropy isn't a part of main stream thought.  Raised on the idea that the government will take care of things, the need to solicit funds as we do in the states for specific causes hasn't really caught on.  At Merci they are boldly going where others have not, creating the idea of conscientious consumption in Paris.  

Now that's a worthwhile concept!  

Additional information:  
111  boulevard Beaumarchais  75003
Metro:  Saint Sebastian Froissart (Line 8)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Can We Talk? In French?

Learning a language is tough work.  New sounds, conjugations, masculine or feminine and in some instances, a whole new alphabet.  With Greek or Russian, I'd be doing a lot of polite pointing.  French has been in my world forever and I still struggle with it.  Listening to newscasts or conversations--no problem.  I understand what's being said.  My response to it all, well that is a different story. Do I use passé composé or future or the dreaded conditional?  Generally, I keep what I have to say in the present to avoid all that craziness whether or not what I am saying makes sense--similar to how I speak in English.  Just like to keep everyone guessing as to what I am really trying to say. 

If you are going to Paris, a few phrases are helpful to know and easy to learn.  Merci, s'il vous plait, bonjour are three of the biggies.  If you stumble and humble yourself by using those few words, no matter how silly you feel, you are going to make major points with whatever French person you are speaking to.   Through your tiny effort of using a tiny French word, they will usually reciprocate by helping as much as they can to understand you.  They might even whip out the few English words that they know to make things move along nicely.  It is our (Americans) absolute refusal to speak French and expectation that they know English that gets their goat.   

I found a great website ConversationExchange.com that will help you with simple phrases used in a variety of situations--shopping, asking for directions, questions about your hotel room.  
For example:  
  • Je voudrais résever une chambre double pour trois nuits. (I'd like to book a double room for three nights)
  • C'est combien? (How much is it?)
  • Je peux utiliser Internet? (Can I access the Internet?)
  • Je peux vous aider? (Can I help you?)
  • Je regarde seulement, merci. (I'm just looking, thank you.--Merci, big bonus word)
  • Je peux l'essayer? (Can I try it on?)
  • Je peux payer par carte de crédit? (Can I pay with credit card?)
  • Excusé moi, pouvez-vous me dire ou se trouve.......(Excuse me, can you tell me where___is?
These are just a few of the phrases that they provide on the site.  If you happen to be traveling throughout Europe, you are in luck as they offer Spanish and Italian phrases as well.  And if you are really looking to be a student of language, you can sign up and be connected with pen pals or individuals in your city that want to trade language skills. 

An interesting concept--think I might find me a pen pal and confuse them with my present tense nonsense.

Photo credit:  thisnext.com

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Country Pâté a la Mark Bittman

As a blogger, I follow a number of other people's blogs on all manner of subjects; France, wine, the arts, fashion and cooking.  One of my favorite's is Bitten by Mark Bittman of the New York Times.  I have written about him before and find his attitude towards cooking casual, irreverent, welcoming and always appetizing.  Watching his short videos on how to prepare anything makes me what to get up off my rear and start cooking.  

This past week I think he has been in Paris and is writing about all things French.  I found this recipe for Country Pâté which is one of my favorite things to order.  A crusty baguette, some of those tiny cornichons, a little Dijon mustard, a good glass of red wine and well, I do believe you are all set for some fine dining.  Take a trip to his post from yesterday and you'll find his version of this gourmet goody.  

Additional Information:  

Photo credit:  mhaithaca@flickr

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gazette du Bon Ton

For whatever reason, this past week I have found myself introduced to and followed by this vintage fashion publication, Gazette du Bon Ton.  While doing research for something totally unrelated it entered into my awareness and took me on an adventure through the Internet as I put together bits and pieces that I could find about its existence, editor and illustrators. This past Saturday found me at an exhibition at the Chicago History Museum, ChicChicago, featuring vintage gowns designed by Worth, Lavin, Poiret, Chanel and others, accompanying stories about the women of Chicago for whom they were made and the events that they wore them to.  One gown in particular, a beautiful beaded top and long black skirt designed by Paul Poiret was featured in the Gazette du Bon Ton back in its day.  At that point, I had to go home and dig a little deeper.  

This French magazine was a unique fashion journal started by Lucien Vogel in 1912 and ran until 1925.  Its goal was to give readers access to fashion, beauty and lifestyle articles.  In an effort to add the element of art, popular illustrators of the day were asked to show the latest designs as they might appear in a woman's real world--not just as a static piece of clothing on a mannequin.  The magazine certainly was geared towards the upper class as it was sold as subscription only for 100 francs a year.  Printed on fine handmade paper, these illustrations were hand painted in vivid colors and remain today as collector's items.  

This reminds me of something Donna Karen might come up with. It feels so contemporary.

I love how each illustrator brought his own unique view to the fashion and situations a woman might find herself in wearing a particular outfit.  

A young girl's outfit was worked into this illustration.

Love this one--this 'lady' is just a tiny bit put out that it's raining. Alas, she can't take her pretty little self out for a stroll.

A short video from Victoriana Magazine:

Additional information:
To purchase the prints you see here, visit Grey Heron Prints

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Le Weekend

I hope however you are spending the day, whether celebrating Easter or enjoying a springtime Sunday, it is a day filled with joy.

Photo credit:  Tree Peony by Ogawa Kazuma@V&Aprints

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Carla Milesi and Friends

Italian Artist Carla Milesi has created this installation called "Les Promenades des Amoureux" that is currently displayed in the Place du Louvre.  Twenty works, life-size silhouettes of people done in cement, show individuals and couples walking or embracing in the middle of this little city oasis.  You're going to have to head there quickly as these guys are going to be looking for another place to call home later this month when the exhibition is taken down.

Additional information: 

Photo credit:  Carla Milesi

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Galvani House

One of the things I love about Paris is the juxtaposition of old and new in everything--clothing, cultural events, food and in this case architecture.  Not my personal choice of how I would go about reworking a space yet I think it is genius.   When you are revamping historical buildings in Paris as this project was doing, there are some stringent guidelines to be followed.  

Named the Galvani House, this is a reworking of space that has an old building in the background which  was to be included in the design.  The owner and the city requested that the historical building not be obstructed from view of the street, only a street level and one additional floor were allowed and Parisian basin rock had to be the façade.  If you have been in the lower level of the Louvre, having entered through the Tuilleries, you know what I am talking about.  It is a soft beige, somewhat fossilized stone that has a cool (to the touch), smooth surface.   Aside from that, have at it.  

The rear of the addition. 

Same view at night in all it's lit up glory.

I personally can think of nothing better than being able to curl up in that chair, next to that tree with a glass of wine and a good book.

LOVE the stairs although feel they would be a bit problematic after too much wine.  I would easily do harm to myself one way or another on those. 

Source:  archdaily.com 

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Bordeaux: en primeur

As a lover of fine wine, I am constantly reading what's new in the wine world, searching for new ones to try and generally educating myself to become more knowledgeable in this most pleasurable pursuit.  Two years ago, I enrolled in a course here in Chicago that was a quick 4 day introduction to all things wine-y.  Grape growing, harvesting, vinification and tasting all rolled up into a long weekend was great but didn't quite quench my thirst if you will.  With much going on in my personal life, I put any further concrete education on the back burner and decided to just keep quaffing as a form of enhancing my wine skills.  

This past January, I once again decided to take up legitimate guidance in perfecting my wine skills and am two thirds through the WSET Advanced Wine Certificate program which will allow me to pursue work in the wine world.  I figured with the economy sagging and jobs at a premium, this would be the perfect time to fine tune my skills.  This time, the course is 18 weeks long, really delving into varietals, climate, distinct regions and by combining all these elements en masse, be able to identify a type of wine in a blind tasting.  There is a written exam which doesn't frighten me half as much as the tasting does.  Even the experts in my class (all are in the wine industry except moi) are gun shy in declaring a glass of red as a Chilean Zinfandel or Merlot from California.  My approach is to just keep drinking.  I'll get it eventually.  

This past week, the wine world was inundated with events that professionals from around the world were taking part in.  Vinitaly, an international trade show held in Verona, Italy took place this past weekend that had companies of all shapes and sizes offering tastings to visitors while waxing poetic about their latest vintage that for those creating wine is not too unlike giving birth.  The gestation period is about as long and the same devotion a parent would give raising a child are given to developing a great wine (for the most part).  Something to be proud of--or at least you hope!   

The event that I have been following was the Bordeaux en primeur tastings held throughout the week.  Now that I am all wine-y I know (and will be tested on this) that this is like playing the stock market and hedging your bets on the future of a wine.  Limited amounts of the 2008 harvest in Bordeaux are released for tasting while the wine is still in the barrel, offering customers the opportunity to invest in a wine's future.  Aging is far from complete and you are basing purchases on tastings or 'scores' given to the wines and knowledge or understanding that you or an agent buying for you has of what a particular wine is capable of.  These wines still have some barrel as well as bottle aging to go and well, there is the element of risk.  As the production of wine, especially for premier crus, is incredibly expensive, this is a way for winemakers to raise capital in order to defray their costs.  For investors, it is a way to purchase great wines (hopefully) and make considerable profits when the wine has matured and is ready for market.  

I promise I am not getting all wine snobby on you.  This was a way for me to review and pass along some information about our beloved France.  Bordeaux is a magnificent region and should not be missed.  Just trying to widen our horizons and drink some good wine in the process.  

A little video from one of the Premier Crus, Château Haut-Brion  

Additional information:

Photo credit:  Brad Young@flickr

Monday, April 6, 2009

Win A Trip To Paris

Look what I found for all of you:

Go to this link:  cheesesoffrance.com

Answer of few questions (hints are supplied) that have to do with all things cheesy about France, press the submit button and hope for the best.  

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Musée Quai Branley and the Jazz Age

Musée Quai Branley, located on the Left Bank in the 7th, is home to cultural artifacts representing indigenous arts from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas.  Designed by Jean Novel, (be sure to check out his site, it is very cool) this dizzyingly modern museum is worth a visit both for its interior and exterior.  The glass wall above, holding museum goers outside its grounds in long lines that can go forever, leaves one feeling as though they are entering into a large terrarium which we as museum patrons become a part of.  The courtyard is filled with plantings reflecting the regions represented inside, while the facade of the administrative building is a vertical garden completely covered in flora from all parts of the world.  

The razzle dazzle continues on the interior as well, although I couldn't find blog worthy photos that showed how interesting it can be.  The space is cavernous and dark--lighting is a game that is played with uniquely designed windows and colorings that add to the mystery of both the space and the regions it represents.  Perhaps that is where one of the museum's restaurants,  Les Ombres (The Shadows) gets its name.  For those of us not use to fine dining in our city's museums, this one gets consistently high marks and doesn't come cheap.

The museum is fabulously multi-purpose.  There are large spaces for concerts/plays/lectures and an extensive research and teaching department with multi-media displays throughout.  A quiet reading room with over 5000 volumes is devoted to expanding on the museum's collections.

I bring all of this to your attention because A.) you should visit this place when you are in Paris and B.) currently they have an exposition called:  

The Jazz Age,  showcasing jazz and its evolution through the graphic arts.  A collection of film, literature, comics and advertising explores specifically the development of jazz in Europe and France during the 30's and 40's.  Quite the time for this genre of music in Paris.  I wish I could transport myself back to the days of Josephine Baker and the like, partying till all hours of the night/early morning.  I think at my age, that would be the end of me.  Recovery from not enough sleep is bad enough.  Add some alcohol and I am done!  But I'd certainly make the effort.

Additional information: 

Photo credits:  christina adams@flickr, Purple Cloud@flickr, musée quai branly

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Bon Anniversaire Eiffel

You must get sick of me going on about the Eiffel tower as I do or continually posting photos of it.   Yet its very existence makes it newsworthy and quite frankly, makes both it and the city where it resides magnificent. 

It had a birthday the other day that slipped by me.  This iron beauty turned 120 on Tuesday.  Quite the achievement for a structure that was destined to be demolished after its usefulness once the 1900 World's Fair was complete.  How about thumbing your nose and letting out a great big raspberry to the city planners about that! I would be slightly smug myself and like this awesome creature, do my best to continue strutting my beautiful Eiffel stuff.  She still has it going on.  

As a way to say thank you for all that she does for the city and the nation, the tower is getting a birthday gift of sorts.  Work began on repainting the Eiffel Tower this past Tuesday.  Checking in as the 19th edition of this sizable project, this particular upkeep takes place roughly every seven years. Surprisingly, the color used has changed a few times throughout its history--going from a reddish-brown to yellow ochre (that had to be awful), to chestnut brown (better) and finally bronze which is what it has been during it's contemporary history.  It is shaded off towards the top to make sure it appears consistent throughout as visitors look at it from a distance.  Always thinking those French. 

Picking the color is the easy part.  Making it happen is a logistic nightmare as you can imagine.  Sixty tons of paint, 15oo brushes, 50 kilometers of security cord with monster hooks to keep a team of 25 painters safely fastened to the ironwork are required.  Five acres of protection netting ensures additional security and all of this is going to be around for about a year.  

In an interview with some of the workers on French TV, these crazy brave guys (not too unlike the iron workers who literally perform ballet maneuvers 18 floors up while they create the framework for buildings here in Chicago) love being strung to the tower.  The view is magnificent they say and once up there, they are in a world all their own.  

Kings of the domain.  That would be great work if you can get it. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Poisson d'avril

Happy April Fools Day. 

Oddly, I fell upon the history of this celebration and voila, it had its beginnings in France.  Who knew?  

The story of April Fools can be traced to the 16th century.  Back then New Year's was celebrated on April 1--according to the Julien calender.  Charles IX decreed that it should be celebrated on January 1, following the Gregorian calender.  As the change was announced mid-year, many individuals not wanting to acknowledge this change or not up to speed on the declaration (no Internet back then to disperse news) were referred to as fools and taunted.  In France, school aged children would tape cut out paper fish to friends backs and once discovered call out "poisson d'avril".  

Something poisson-y is going on...

Photo credit:  colombes philatelie

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Haussmann's Paris: Then and Now

The Paris that we know and love today is an urban planning dream come true with it's beginnings under Napoleon III's rule.  The city had remain unchanged since the middle ages and with the Industrial Revolution bringing country dwellers into the city,  housing and ancient infrastructures were unable to sustain healthy living conditions.  A new order was needed to modernize all aspects of the city:  eliminating potential health catastrophes and providing 'contemporary' housing and city planning for the growing population.  Hard to believe that this lap of luxury was a place you would want to avoid in the 1800's.  

One gentleman in particular to thank for bringing a new life into into this growing metropolis was Baron Georges Haussman.  A civic planner, Monsieur Haussman had the good fortune to find himself as an ally and newly appointed Prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III during the Second French Empire.  Understanding that much was needed to be done to bring his beloved city to one of glory, Napoleon III gave Haussmann considerable control regarding the new layout of Paris.  Following not only his own plans, but those of the emperor as well, Haussmann set to dividing the inner city into north/south districts and annexing the suburbs. He created what we now know as the spiral shell shape that encompasses  the city's 21 arrondissements.   Haussmann loved symmetry and further divided Paris into a grid essentially eliminating the haphazard development created during the middle ages.  The streets we love to walk down today, rue du Rivoli or Grands Boulevards are testament to his creative, romantic genius.  

Monsieur Haussman's story is too big for this blog and I will guide you to other sites where you can spend time pouring over his architectural philosophies.  My purpose today is to post photos that I found showcasing the change Paris encountered under his control.   Before and after photos of the city that are fascinating both as evidence of what was and what beauty exists today.   

 Quai des Orfèvres and pont Saint-Michel.  Part of the Palais de justice. 

La rue Censier in the 5th.

La rue Soufflot in 1877 and today.  That is the Pantheon in the background.  My French lesson took place numerous times at the café with the red awning. 

Le boulevard Arago

L'avenue de l'Opera with Charles Garnier's Opera House featured.

Saint-Sulpice church STILL being worked on at the end of la rue du Vieux-Colombier in the 6th arrondissement.

Additonal information:  

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Future of Fromage Frais

My daughter stumbled on a site the other day that had us in stitches laughing and should you take a moment to visit, it will reveal much about our warped sense of humor.  

Bookseller.com, is a British site about all things bookish.  In an annual nod to the oddest book title published over the past year, they've created the Bookseller/Diagram Prize.  Initially inspired as a way to provide some light hearted entertainment during the Frankfurt Book Fair back in 1978, the judging of titles as odd, quirky or humorous has become a much anticipated event and this year's selections and award winner do not disappoint.  But before we talk about the winner, let's review some of the past recipients of this prestigious award; titles that should not be missed. 
  • Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (first recipient ever)
  • The Joy of Chickens 
  • The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling   
  • How to Avoid Huge Ships 
  • Highlights in the History of Concrete
  • Weeds in a Changing World
  • Living with Crazy Buttocks    **my personal favorite**
  • People Who Don't Know They're Dead:  How they attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
  • The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America
  • Cheese Problems Solved
  • Waterproofing Your Child
And drum roll please for this year's recipient: 
A topical title to be sure for those of us milling about in the cheese aisle at our local grocery store wondering what the heck Fromage Frais is and what, if anything, is it's future.  Especially in 60 milligram containers.  Deep thoughts for these deep times. 
For those of you in the dark and probably not caring one bit, Fromage Frais is a mild French cheese that can range from a yogurt like consistency to something like sour cream and then something even firmer than that--think cream cheese.  It's rather flavorless, in Europe is sold with fruits or herbs and here in the states works well as a dip or spread with other yummy-ier ingredients added to it.   Hardly worth analyzing--in 60 milligram containers or otherwise.  

I think I need to get to Whole Foods  today and bring home some Roquefort--at least several ounces worth to mull over.       

Additional Information:  

Photo credit:  amazon.com , deliaonline.com

Friday, March 27, 2009

Les Grands Concerts de Versailles

Yesterday's post got me to thinking about ormolu and cartouches which immediately got me thinking about Versailles which is the mother of all types of over the top scrolly, fanciful decorations.  The place takes your breath away while it exhausts you from visual over stimulation.  Even the French walk away cross-eyed and this is a monument to their heritage.   Today, I don't want to visit the Palace as much as I want to send you to a specific part of it/event that you may not know is available.  

The Royal Chapel is a testament to Baroque architecture that is beyond comprehension.  When you visit the palace, you aren't able to go inside it but are corded off at the entrance and can peek inside and stick your camera in front of others to get a quick snapshot.  Hardly worth the trouble.  Yet I discovered that it does open its doors to the public in the most beautiful of ways. 

Les Grands Concerts of Versailles is a series of musical experiences that are held, where else, but in the royal chapel.  Orchestral in nature, the current series is a reflection of music written at the time of the court.  Versailles even has its own orchestra to perform the pieces.  I did not know this.  As the weather warms up, the events are taken outside the palace to the incredible surrounding grounds and gardens, culminating in firework displays mixed with dancing fountains set against a night time sky.  Just more visual saturation that the French are so good at.  

If I were to suggest anything to someone taking a trip to Paris, it would be to become aware of all the events similar to this--unusual/unique ways to see monuments that leave you with a deeper experience or sense of place than the usual standing in line with thousands of other tourists or being herded like cattle with a prod on a tour.  Having taken part in Nuit Blanche on the grounds of Versailles, my daughters and I had access for that one evening to parts of both the buildings and grounds that aren't available to the public and it is still one of our most memorable moments.  For those of you who have never been, Versailles is a stone's throw away from Paris.  Train, taxi or private car can get you there in about 20 to 30 minutes. Something like this would be a great addition to what I am sure is already a very full itinerary.  

You won't be sorry....

Additional information:

Photo credit:  Chateau de Versailles, France for Visitors

Thursday, March 26, 2009

18th Century Fabulousness

I consider myself a fairly artsy fartsy kind of girl--studied art and interior design after getting a marketing degree.  I realized in my heart of hearts that I  needed much more creativity in my daily world to feel complete.  While my life path has taken me in and out of artistic endeavors, I always get excited when I come across things as amazing as these works.  Taken from a book of 18th century decorative art design, I found these images on flickr and had to share.  I would have downloaded all of them but I'm fairly certain my computer would have exploded.  If you, like me need this kind of beauty in your day, be sure to check out the link as there are way more where these came from.  View in the large size to be totally wowed.


So much inspiration!

Additional information: