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Newsletter #123: January 4, 2013

vintage Paris photo

Inside this Issue:
French Price Hikes for 2013
* A Taste of French Spirits
* World Class Organ Recitals
* Paris Dining Recommendations
* The Real Faces of Paris
* Escape Paris on a Budget by Train + Bus
* Buy/Sell Concert, Sports and Train Tickets
* Music at the French Cinema
* Green Paris Shopping & Recycling
* Getting in Shape for 2013
* Latest Museum Exhibitions
* Top January Events
* Subscribe to the Free Newsletter HERE

French Price Changes for 2013

Don’t rely on your guidebooks (print or online) unless they were updated since January 1st, when new prices went into effect in France for everything from stamps and metro tickets to electricity and beer. Priority mail stamps are now €0.63, Lettre Vert stamps are €0.58, a carnet of ten Metro tickets costs €13.30 (old T-tickets are still valid), monthly NAVIGO passes are €65, beer prices have gone up approximately €1.10/liter, the TV tax went up to €131 (if you have a TV), EDF/GDF (gas/electricity) raised prices by 2.5%, and incandescent light bulbs are no longer available in stores. On a positive note, the SMIC minimum wage also crept up 0.3% to €9.43/hour, the limit for tax-free interest on the Livret A savings account went up to €22,950, and the 75% tax on residents making over €1million/year was rejected by the French Conseil Constitutionnel (I was soooo worried about that one, of course).

A Taste of French Spirits

Many come to Paris to enjoy the wine and Champagne, but there are many other fine French spirits to discover. One of the best places to enjoy a free dégustation (which means “tasting”, not “disgusting”) is LMDW Fine Spirits (6 Carrefour de l’Odéon, 6th). They specialize in Whiskeys from around the world, but you’ll also find Cognac, Absinthe, Armagnac, Calvados, Marc, and Eau-de-Vie. Tastings are every Saturday, noon-8pm. The next two are January 19th (Artisan Saké) and January 26 (Cognac Leyrat). Another great shop nearby is the century-old family-owned business Ryst-Dupeyron (79 Rue du Bac, 7th), who have been making their own Armagnac for five generations. You can get a wax-sealed bottle from almost any year back to 1868, in different sizes; for gifts they’ll even customize the labels. Stop by anytime they’re open and the friendly staff will let you taste a few different years to help you choose the one you like best. They also have port, whiskey, Champagne and high-end French wines (particularly from Bordeaux) at competitive prices.

World Class Organ Recitals

Most of the churches in Paris have organs, but a few also have extraordinary organists. Jean Guillou, the organist of the Eglise St-Eustache (Les Halles, 1st), is considered one of the greatest organists of all time. He’s internationally recognized as a master organist, pianist, composer and improviser for over half a century. And you can hear him play – for free – at St-Eustach’s Sunday recitals. The organ itself is new (1989), housed within the 19th-century carved-wood casing designed by Baltard. It’s unique in that it was designed with the console at ground level beneath the nave so that the audience can see the organist playing up close. The next recital dates with Jean Guillou are January 6th, 20th and 27th, 5:30pm-6pm (followed by mass with organ accompaniment; stay seated for the entire mass or leave before it starts, no photos).

Paris Dining Recommendations

I’ve had good luck at my recent dining excursions around Paris, falling in love with all four of the new (to me) addresses. Friends of mine who were visiting Paris (and, seemingly, as many restaurants as possible) fell in love with Philippe Excoffier (formerly known as L’Auberge du Champ de Mars) in the 7th, the most formal of the four as a self-declared “chic Parisian bistro”. It’s a small but cozy hole in the wall near the Eiffel Tower, where you can see the chef at work through a round window in the back. My Ris de Veau (often called “Sweetbreads” in English, or a meat pie) was so good I almost licked my plate. The dining room at Le Terroir Parisien at Maubert Mutualité (5th) was much more spacious, with a mix of contemporary and Art Deco style, high ceilings, and another window into the kitchen to watch the chefs. It features a menu of all local Ile-de-France (the region that includes Paris) specialties at more-than-reasonable prices. I had the best boudin noir of my life here (blood sausage, in a bed of puréed potatoes; no, I’m not a vegetarian anymore). David Lebovitz introduced me to Pizza di Loretta (Loretta being the owner’s mother), a casual eat-in or take-out pizza joint in a trendy corner of the 9th. They have pizza by the slice, baked in square pans that give it an amazing thick yet crispy crust that I haven’t had since my last trip to Italy – divine! Finally, we end the best way: with a bar called Glass in Pigalle (9th). It’s one of the many ex-Gentleman’s Bars converted into a speakeasy-like hangout for Parisian hipster/Bobo’s. Nice cocktails, friendly staff, artisan beers (and Anchor Steam!) and I swear I’m not exaggerating when I say they have the best hot dogs I’ve ever tasted (I wasn’t even drunk yet). They don’t really taste like hot dogs at all, just warm yumminess. I think they put crack in the buns. Go there. Order at least two. Or three.

The Real Faces of Paris

Do you ever get sick of hearing how fashionable, stylish, and perfectly elegant Parisians are? You should, because that’s usually all you’re presented, in both mainstream and alternative fashion magazines, expat blogs, Hollywood movies, music videos, et al. I posted a photo of an Eiffel Tower tattoo (created in a Parisian tattoo parlor) on my site because I’ve often jokingly tried to convince my tour clients to get one. And someone left a comment that “tattoos are so not French”. Well, historically speaking I suppose they’re tribal, not French. But despite this woman’s fantasy, there are actually a lot of French people with tattoos. Likewise, Parisians don’t all look like the people you see walking around St-Germain-des-Prés, Faubourg St-Honoré or Passy. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out photographer Hughes Lawson-Body’s book, Jeunes Parisiens, featuring young Parisians photographed on the streets of the city where they hang out, taken over a period of three years. Enjoy the city’s true diversity, and be prepared to put all of the clichés and stereotypes aside. Parisians do have a certain style. But it can’t be defined by “fashionistas”. (More photos here.)

Escape Paris on a Budget by Train + Bus

A weekend in London? Ski holiday in the French Alps? Shopping in Milan? I’ve written about SNCF’s new luxury bus service iDBus in previous newsletters, and now in addition to London, Lille, Lyon, Bruxelles, and Amsterdam, there are now also bus routes to Turin and Milan. Some routes are as low as €35 one way in January, which is quite handy if you can’t afford last-minute plane or Eurostar tickets (or a company like Euro Railways screws up your reservation and leaves you hanging, which happened to my friend and her daughter this Christmas). If you plan on going skiing and don’t want to deal with driving through the snow, SNCF’s iDTGV service now offers Train+Bus tickets to the French ski resorts Chamrousse, Alpe d’Huez, Les Deux Alpes, La Grave, Serre-Chevalier and Briançon (all via Grenoble TGV station).

Buy/Sell Concert, Sports and Train Tickets

If you’re trying to sell or buy face-value train tickets, sold out concert tickets, or sporting event tickets, have a peek at ZePass.com, a secure online market for sold out tickets (also includes theatre, museum expos, and theme parks). You’ll need passable French (or helpful friends) to navigate the site, and if what you’re looking for isn’t there you can sign up for an email alert in case something comes up. There are no commissions, and the site enforces the “tickets at face value only” law so you don’t have to pay black market prices. I see Bruce Springsteen tickets on there…

Music at the French Cinema

Some movie theatres have great acoustics, so a handful of indie Parisian cinemas have started bringing live music performances to their audiences. Le Balzac (just off the Champs Elysées) invites young musicians from the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris to play in the Grande Salle every Saturday night for 20 minutes before the film begins. Jazz, piano, Classical quintets and vocalists are on the schedule for the first quarter of 2013. Tickets are sold at regular prices (€10; free with UGC or Gaumont Passes). Le Balzac also shows monthly silent films with live musical accompaniment (next one January 29th), “Pochette Surprise” screenings for kids of historic cartoons like Felix the Cat (next one January 13), and re-transmissions of live opera performances from around the world, glass of Champagne included (the next one is Don Giovanni on January 22nd).

Green Paris Shopping & Tree Recycling

It’s becoming easier to find health food shops in Paris with a few token home products, but ConsomActeurs (41 rue du Couédic, 14th) focuses only on “Eco-Products” including cleaning, gardening, office, and cooking supplies, beauty, hygiene and well-being products, energy-efficient bubs and rechargeable batteries, etc. “Green-washing” hasn’t invaded the shelves here, where products are sourced for their ecological as well as ethical properties, pricey at the outset but designed to save you money in the long run. You can also order their products online for home delivery. If you’re ready to take down your Christmas decorations, don’t forget that you can recycle your natural, un-flocked trees at 100 Parisian parks, where they’ll be transformed into mulch, through January 27th (there’s even an iPhone app for it, of course).

Getting in Shape for 2013

Whether you’re running the Paris Marathon in 2013 or simply want to increase your pastry intake without having to buy a new wardrobe, it’s always easier with a little outside help. As Parisians keep getting sportier every year (breaking yet another stereotype that the French don’t exercise), there are more options to fit all interests and budgets. I ran the Medoc Marathon in September, and will be running the Disney World Marathon in a week, but apparently being able to run long distances doesn’t mean I have any core body strength. I discovered this the hard way when I started taking Dailey Method classes, groaning in agony (but smiling!) like a big baby in the back of the room. But the combination of mat and barre work really works on flexibility and strengthening muscles you never even thought you had! If the damp Parisian winters don’t scare you off and you’re looking to push yourself, you can join the Urban Challenge group of open-air sports coaching by highly-trained athletes, firemen and military commandos in the parks of Paris, at very affordable rates. If you do happen to be registered for the Paris Marathon in April (or semi-Marathon in March) you can join their Urban Running group’s targeted training sessions each weekend in the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes with fellow participants. No excuses if you’re strapped for cash after the holidays, there are several expat MeetUp groups offering free group training, including the Paris Runners MeetUp for all levels and the ExpaTRIes Triathlon MeetUp for anyone who would like to train alongside experienced triathletes.

Top January Events

This weekend is the last of the holiday events (Christmas markets, Musée des Arts Foraines), but there are still some open-air winter activities you can enjoy through January such as ice skating at Hôtel de Ville and the Ferris Wheel at the Place de la Concorde. The annual winter Soldes (sales) begin January 9th, although with the relaxed laws on sales most shops have already been discounting their winter collections.

The charming Maison de Balzac in Passy reopened after much-needed renovations with the exposition La Carnaval à Paris. Did you know that in the 19th century the Paris Carnival was much more popular than the one in Venice? Apparently it had quite a reputation as a wild festival, bordering on obscene. Learn all about it at the exposition through February 17th, which even has a free downloadable brochure with English translations. The municipal museums are modernizing! You can also download the English brochure for the permanent collection, which is always free.

Another municipal museum, the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris, is hosting L’Art en Guerre (Art at War), an exposition about the art created in France during WWII and the artists who managed to survive and even thrive during the Nazi Occupation that labeled many of them as “degenerates”. Over 400 works of art by over 100 artists, some anonymous, but also Picasso, Breton, Duchamp, Rousseau, Klee, Ernst, Matisse, Miro, Dubuffet, Braque, Léger and many more. The exposition includes documents and films never before presented in public. Through February 17th.

If you’re looking for a unique live show, Zingaro’s famous equestrian show Calacas has been extended through February and there are still places left for the performances at the Opéra Royal de Versailles (Ravel’s Boléro looks amazing). Kids of all ages will love Disneyland Paris’ 20th Anniversary show, Disney Dreams. Anyone interested in the Paris literary scene won’t want to miss the free Evening with an Author at the American Library on January 30th featuring Lisa Reznik, Director of Left Bank Bookseller, and Cynthia Morris, author of novel Chasing Sylvia Beach, who will discuss their treatment of the literary giant (and Shakespeare & Co founder) Sylvia Beach in their respective media: film and prose.

You can find more interesting January events listed on the Secrets of Paris Calendar, which is updated weekly.

Thanks for reading!

– H

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