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:  

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Liza: Contemporary Lebanese Cuisine

Now that I have dragged you to the 2nd arrondisement by sending you to the Salon du Dessin in yesterday's post, I feel it is my duty to direct you to a fabulous meal while you happen to be in that area.  This part of town isn't overly touristy so you'd really need some advice on where to dine if you have never been. That's why I'm here.  

Liza is a wonderful Lebanese inspired restaurant serving up delicious Middle Eastern cuisine.  Really think 'haute cuisine' as she takes all the dishes that we know and love from that part of the world and elevates mezzé you might find at street carts to gourmet status.  While all the traditional ingredients are there--chickpeas, eggplant, lamb--they have been given a contemporary twist with a nod to their French environ.  My lunch was a sampling platter at 18 euro served in a beautiful silver tray making the whole experience feel as though I was really no longer in Paris.  

For those of you wanting something lighter or possibly to take along with you, there is 'L de Liza' right next door--a bakery that serves sandwiches, soups and salads alongside breads and sweets that have to be tried.  

So there is a perfect little way to spend an afternoon in Paris--art outside the walls of a museum and food that will take you outside the French bistro.  Enjoy. 

Additional information:
14, rue de la Banque  75002
Métro:  Bourse

Photos:  Liza 

Salon du Dessin

As a lover of art, one of the most interesting events I took part in while living in Paris was the Salon du Dessin;  a treasure trove of old master drawings that were available for sale.  Imagine walking away with a (tiny) Fragonard or Watteau sketch that were the beginnings of one of their famous paintings now hanging in a museum somewhere.  Or perhaps a coffee/wine stained work with little notes in the margins for a piece of sculpture that might be considered for the tympanum of a cathedral entrance.  The idle thought process behind these sketches is what appeals to me the most.  

Held in the old Paris Bourse building (stock exchange), the organizers do a wonderful job breaking the space down into intimate galleries showcasing the specific types of work each participant represents.  It doesn't take long to get through all the exhibits so it won't take up a significant part of your day.  My daughter and I went through separately, chose our personal favorites throughout, joined up at the end and compared notes--that took about an hour and a half.  If you do go (and you so should if you are in town this weekend), be sure to buy the guide as it features many of the pieces being sold and a brief description.  For some reason, I found it to be a really pleasurable thing to go back to.  

An odd trickle down effect in this genre of art takes place in Paris during this particular week. While the show is on, dealers and clients who have gathered in the city to take advantage of selling and buying also have the opportunity to purchase additional works as Sotheby's puts their two cents in with an auction on Wednesday, March 25th.  More amazing goodies to hang in your powder room when you get back from your trip.  

Additional information:
Wednesday to Monday, March 25th to March 30th
Palais de la Bourse  75002
Metro:  Line 3 Bourse, Line 8 & 9, Grands Boulevards
Entry fee:  12 euros

Galerie Charpentier
76 rue du Faubourg Saint Honore 75008
Metro:  Line 1, 8, 12 Concorde

Photos:  Salon du Dessin, Sotheby's

Friday, March 20, 2009

Paris From Hawaii

I found this shot of the Eiffel Tower on Paris Live while I was in Hawaii.  As there is an 11 hour time difference between the two locations, it was later in my day that allowed me to see tomorrow starting in Paris today.  That whole concept escapes me.  Just can't wrap my head around time zones.    But I love this shot.  

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's Hard Going On Vacation

So, followed cute boy's advice to hit happy hour and showed no sense of self-restraint whatsoever, spent all of yesterday in hangover mode, sucking back gallons of water that kept dribbling down my chin as I managed to get sun poisoning in my bottom lip that is now much bigger than Angelina Jolie's on her biggest lip day ever.  The good news, the sun was out, I remembered sunblock and lazed about on my chaise lounge.  Dillon, pool guy/waiter, tempted me all day with pina coladas or mojitos but I held back.  Even my daughters advice was to just keep drinking--when you fall off a horse you're supposed to get right back on, right? 

Ah well, catching my last few hours of sun before heading back to Chicago.  I hear it is rather pleasant at home actually.  It can't possibly beat the paradise I have found myself in these last few days but it is home and that can be paradise too. 

Happy Saint Patrick's Day everyone.  

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Le Weekend

Cute boy calling one and all with his conch shell 

to follow him and the eternal island flames

to cocktails and nibbles.  And I obey.  

Friday, March 13, 2009


These are my feet that are attached to my legs that are attached to my big old butt that is parked in a lounge chair.  Out there is clear, blue water, the Pacific actually. Sitting on Maui right now and could not be happier.  Slightly overstimulated from all the lush tropical vegetation all around.  And the whales dancing about on the surface of the water a few minutes ago.  Too beautiful. I will post when I can.  Drinking pina coladas for all of you!  

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Point Zero in Paris

Point Zero or Kilometer Zero in some countries, is that location chosen in a village, town, city that all distances are measured from.  For example, in the U.S., there is a Point Zero or Zero Milestone that is located near the White House.  Originally, it was built to have all distances in the country in accord with this particular spot.  Today, it is used mainly as the reference point for distances in the Washington, D.C. area.  Here in Chicago, our Point Zero is our city hall building.  City or town halls has become the traditional method of measuring miles between towns in our world.  

In Paris, their Point Zero is located in the square facing Notre Dame.  It is considered the center of the city and kilometers throughout France are measured accordingly from this point. Another interesting little fact for those of you who are familiar with that area (and now for those of you who are not) Kilometer Zero is the name of a literary journal that's published by Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookshop located right next to the square.  If you purchase a book there, they will stamp it with a commemorative symbol of being at Point Zero in Paris.  We have been sucked into that deal numerous times now and have practically a whole shelf of books purchased and symbolically stamped.  You'd think we would have learned the first time, wouldn't you?

Photo credit: wikipedia

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Spring: Good Eats in Paris

Spring, yes, the season we are all waiting anxiously for in order to feel alive again after months of darkness and subzero temps.  Spring, the season, in Paris isn't always as beautiful as the song April in Paris alludes to.  Early flowers abound which lighten spirits but are found underneath heavy grey clouds.  It IS Paris so there is that consolation.  

There is another Spring in Paris that can lift your spirits anytime of the year if you can get a reservation that is.  The tiny (16 seat) restaurant owned by American, specifically Chicagoan, Daniel Rose has won over the city and is sold out for months in advance.  Renovations are underway in a larger space that apparently will open this year.  His menus change daily, you get what he has decided to serve  based on what he finds appealing at market and the French critics like him.  That is huge.  

Found this short video that gives you a look into what you might expect should you be one of the lucky few who gets a table here.  

Additional information:
28 rue de la Tour d'Auvergne 75009
Telephone:  01 45 96 05 72
Metro:  Cadet (Line 7)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Going Postal T-Shirts: Wear France Proudly

As I was going through the Internet looking for images for yesterday's post, I came across Paris' coat of arms printed on a t-shirt and of course had to explore further.  Today, I am sending you to Going Postal T-Shirts.

Here is a website devoted to screen printing the most amazing stamps commemorating events around the world-not just limited to France, as well as, great ephemera graphics of all sorts of things--travel postcards, vintage airplanes, coffee....seriously you need to spend some time here.  This is one of those places you can go to find something for the person who is so hard to shop for or has a passion for something specific and you can come up with a unique gift right here.  Not only are the t-shirts impressive, but the site also gives a tiny history of each stamp/graphic. I have picked a few to share, possibly tweaking your interest to head over yourself and see what you find.  

If you notice on the right hand side of my blog I have used this graphic to direct you to Snooth, a wine website that is so worth visiting.  Not knowing the history, Going Postal explained what this post World War II poster was all about.  I learned a little something. 

My love/hate relationship with haute couture is heightened in these lean times we find ourselves in but this image I could not help fall in love with. 

This stamp commemorates the 800th anniversary of Notre Dame de Paris.  Seriously, how many things can claim that!  

I purposely kept my selections to a minimum so you would be tempted to take a gander.  They really have some great things--check out Oddities, Valentines, Greek....they're all good.  

Additional information:  Going Postal T-shirts 

Photo credit:  Going Postal T-shirts

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Coat of Arms for Paris

I am not quite sure how the idea of a coat of arms for Paris existing came to me or why I have missed it entirely up to this point. The symbol as I have discovered is everywhere--in places that I found myself all the time. And yet, it's just recently that it has entered into my awareness.  The photos above are two print versions that I was able to uncover, the first feeling somewhat simplistic and cartoonish and the second, not much better but provides additional information.  Here's what I could find:  

The first mention of a coat of arms goes back to Philippe Augustus as he was laying out the foundations of the city in about 1190.  With the French Revolution and the demise of the monarchy, all coats of arms and similar emblems were abolished, not reappearing until the First French Empire with Napoleon granting Paris the right to arms (coats of) in 1811 and finally restored to this traditional form in 1817.  

Fluctuat nec mergitur:  This Latin phrase meaning, 'She is tossed by the waves, but is not sunk', is the motto of Paris written underneath a ship traversing stormy seas.  This symbolism comes from the Seine's boatsmen corporation or trade union that goes back to the Middle Ages.  Even though this organization morphed into the municipal government and no longer exists, it's influence over the city is still felt. 

 The three medals have been added just since the 20th century:  The Legion of Honor in 1900, Croix de Guerre in 1919 and Ordre de la Libération in 1945. 

That's all I was able to uncover about its history or symbolism.  Luckily,  I was able to find photos of it proudly displayed on some very obvious façades throughout Paris. Do not, I repeat, do not wander about with your head in the clouds like I did.   Here's what you might miss!  

On a gate at Musée du Moyan Age (Cluny)

A mosaic in the Hôtel de Ville métro stop 

The façade of Gare d'Austerlitz

Could not pin this one down but love it.

Saved the best for last...looked at this EVERY SINGLE DAY for a year and had no clue what it meant.  Pont Alexandre III

Photo credit:  wikipedia, kinnon@flickr,

Friday, March 6, 2009

Paul Colin, Josephine Baker and Leroy

Yesterday I found myself having lunch with two of my daughters at Ada's Famous Deli on Wabash here in Chicago.  This isn't someplace that I would seek out myself but it's close to one of daughter's office and apparently this isn't just Ada's but Ada's Famous Deli as it states right on the door so we just had to duck inside and see what all the fuss was about.  When a menu is about eight pages long and all day breakfast includes something called fried egg matzo with salami (it was fabulous) you know you're in a good place.  

Staring down at me throughout this yummy lunch was this: 

A tiny bit creepy but so very intriguing.  Certainly worth Googling when I got home and well, here goes.  

This poster is the work of Paul Colin, a French artist born in Nancy in 1892  who eventually become one of France's best poster artists.  The work you see above is rare for him as it is a commercial advertisement done for one of his friends and considered one of his best works. Colin's philosophy was one of succinctness and always working towards being a 'telegram addressed to the awareness'.  I like that thought process.  Really makes you strive to bring things to a minimum.   

His real break came when he was asked to create posters for the Théâtre des Champs Élysée advertising their La Revue Négre, featuring a young new phenom,  Josephine Baker.  Their relationship was both personal and professional as the two became lovers and remained friends throughout their lives.  In addition to creating posters for the shows held at the theater, Colin also worked on costumes and sets.  In 1927, he put together an event without equal, Bal Nègre, attended by 3000 Parisians crazy for the jazz inspired music and dance that Ms Baker was becoming so famous for.  Tout Paris was dancing the Charleston until the wee hours of the morning providing future generations with the all the glitz and glamour referred to as the Jazz Age. 

This poster came later, in the late 40's, advertising Chicago based Katherine Dunham's dance troupe.  Another gifted black dancer, she too took Paris by storm with her Caribbean Rhapsody.  This woman's biography is incredibly impressive and her work went far beyond her stage career.  I'll link you to more about this beautiful and most impressive citizen of the world. 

All told, Mr. Colin produced about 1900 posters and is responsible for a genre of poster art that remains completely contemporary in today's world.  Who knew that a Chicago landmark deli would provide me with so much new knowledge.  Thanks, Ada. 

Additional information:

Photo credit:  art.com