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Newsletter #38: September 2003


***Secrets of Paris Newsletter #38: September 5, 2003***


* From the Home Office
* September Heritage Days
* Also Going On This Month
* Cooking with a Real Parisienne
* Pastry Pavillion
* Not Exactly Apple Cider
* Power Shopping
* More than a New Hairdo
* La Casa del Tango
* Bike Rentals: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
* I’m no longer a virgin!
* Favourite Day Trip
* Two Different Neighbourhoods to Check Out
* A Better Way of Getting to the Marché aux Puces
* Romantic Dining in the 5th
* Fall Museum Exhibitions
* Planning Ahead for October

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* From the Home Office *
I’m so in the doghouse! First off, apologies to the people who asked me, back in the spring, whether it was necessary to get a hotel with air-conditioning in Paris for the summer. I recommended they forget the A/C, and in case of emergency, go and buy a cheap oscillating fan. My punishment came in the form of a power outage in the middle of the night in the middle of a record-breaking heat wave this August. The oscillating fan keeping me alive in our tiny rental flat suddenly turned off at 2am. A few moments later, the alarm on the shop below up went off. And continued wailing for three more hours. Luckily, all the buildings in our neighborhood that lost power during that night were hooked up to generators by the next evening (and my ice cream in the freezer survived). As an Arizonan, you’d think I’d be used to heat. But the French are of the opinion that air-conditioning spreads colds, and their old buildings just have no room for them, so the only relief in sight was the frozen food section of the local supermarket. If you’ve been watching the news, you may have heard that over 10,000 elderly and chronically-ill people in France died in those ten days of 100° F temperatures. In Paris, people were sleeping on their balconies or in the parks, just for a bit of air flow. And as the morgues filled up, more bad news came from the South, where forest fires were out of control in multiple regions, including Corsica and our own neck of the wood on the Riviera. Finally, France lost much of its summer festivals due to strikes by the seasonal workers who usually handle the logistics of big events such as the Avignon Theatre Festival and the Paris Open-Air Cinema Festival. As if the drop in American tourists to France wasn’t bad enough. It was a difficult summer, to say the least. Not, of course, that these events should affect the Secrets of Paris newsletter. Nope. The reason there was no July nor August issue was simply that I was too busy researching the Paris Adventure Guide that I never found the time to sit down at the internet café and write it up. But I’ve got so many new things to share now! I hope this issue can make up for lost time, so it will be a bit longer than usual. Thanks for hanging in there! -H

* September Heritage Days *

The weekend of September 20-21 is the 20th annual Journées du Patrimoine, when all of the (normally closed) State-owned buildings are open to the public for free visits. There are always lines outside the president’s Palais Elysée, so try one of the many embassies, town halls, churches, historic hotels and restaurants, theatres, private mansions and museums. For a complete list and times of opening go to www.jp.culture.fr/jp/programme/index.html and click on “Recherche Cartographique” to find the list for Paris.

* Also Going On This Month *

Sept 13: La Kitchen at La Gaîté Lyrique: The multi-media experimental arts cooperative, La Kitchen, present an “audio-visual odyssey” at the Gaîté Lyrique, a former Belle-Epoch theatre (and then failed funhouse) taken over by the experimental artistic community. From 5pm-2am, free entry, reservation a must: visite@la-gaite-de-paris.info

Sept 13: Techno Parade (30 floats blasting out the latest house, techno, trance, jungle, and hardcore electronic music from the Place Denfert Rochereau to the Place de la Bastille. From 1-8pm, www.technopol.net

Sept 12: Santana at the POPB (Palais Omnisport Paris-Bercy).

Sept 20: Bizet’s Carmen at the Stade de France.

* Cooking with a Real Parisienne *

I’ve taken a lot of cooking classes this summer to research my guide, and one of my favorites is definitely Paule Caillat´s Promenades Gourmandes. Typically Parisian Paule takes her guest students to the nearby market before class to purchase the fresh ingredients, describing how to buy similar products in the US (she also teaches in California, so she knows how hard it is to find the right ingredients). Then it’s back to her cozy kitchen for hands-on lessons following a detailed three-course menu printed out for each guest in a convivial atmosphere that’s not at all intimidating, even for people who have no idea how to cook. Finally, there’s an afternoon culinary tour to walk off the lunch, with historical anecdotes on Paris and shopping stops in the best cooking ingredient and kitchen gadget stores in town. Check out Paule’s website www.promenadesgourmandes.com, and tell her I said hello!

* Pastry Pavillion *

If you’re more interested in discovering the secrets of Lenôtre’s famous French pastries, check out their pastry classes at the newly opened school on the Champs Elysées. The Pavillon Elysée is a lovely historical pavilion which now houses the Lenôtre Ecole de Cuisine, a gourmet food and kitchen gadget shop, and a restaurant with one of the best winter garden terraces in town. Pavillon Elysée, 10 ave des Champs-Elysées, 8th M° Champs-Elysées-Clémenceau Tel: 01 42 65 97 68 www.lenotre.fr

* Not Exactly Apple Cider *

I like wine, and anyone who likes wine eventually ends up at the legendary Legrand Filles & Fils wine bar and boutique in the Galerie Vivienne. I like their gourmet boutique, which, strangely enough has French’s mustard next to Russian teas and hand-made French candies. They sell their own brand Champagne for a good price. The wine bar is always packed at lunch with locals and nearby office workers from the Bourse (French stock exchange) for its wine degustations with sliced meats and cheeses. Go in the afternoon for a more peaceful atmosphere, and to celebrate autumn try the family’s own bottled cider. If the only cider you’ve ever tried was in an English pub, then you don’t know what you’re missing! Galerie Vivienne or 1 Rue de la Banque, 2nd tel: 01 42 60 07 12.

* Power Shopping *

If you’re the kind of person who can’t resist an eBay auction, then perhaps you should try the real thing at the oldest auction house in Paris, Drouot. Moved to a modern building in the 1970s, there’s not much in the way of fancy architecture, but the stars at Drouot are on the block. Auctions take place Tues-Fri at 2pm. To get a preview of the items in the 16 different rooms, get there at 11am for an hour of browsing, touching and asking questions. This is important since the actual auctions go very quickly, especially for the lower-priced items. You can find anything from old silverware and clothing to antique furniture and paintings. There’s no entry fee, so what do you have to lose? To place a bet, you’ll need cash or French cheque (there’s a conveniently-placed cash machine just outside). To find out about the scheduled sales ahead of time check the Drouot Gazette. If you read French then ask for the auction guide free at the information desk. Hotel Drouot: 9, rue Drouot, 9th M°Richelieu-Drouot Tel 01 48 00 20 00.

* More than a New Hairdo *

If you’ve ever dreamed of getting a professional make-over but never found the opportunity, then on your next trip to Paris book an appointment with Image Consultant Josy Mermet at the Printemps department store. For just €120 (not including the hair stylist fees, which vary depending on what you do), Josy designs your new look based on your personality, career, skin and hair, and bone structure, to bring out the “inner you”. Unlike typical make-overs, Josy’s Chromopsychology technique brings about a transformation while completely respecting the individual’s tastes. A unique Parisian souvenir. www.josymermet.com At the 4th floor of the "Printemps de la Mode" Boulevard Haussman, Paris 9th Tel: 01 42 82 64 23.

* La Casa del Tango *

This Argentinean “House of Tango” is more of an tango cultural centre than a dance school, a cosy and welcoming place just next to the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Initiation courses from €10 per session or €50 for six sessions. In addition to classes are regular tango balls and brunches. Check the website for the latest schedule and open house days. 11 allée Darius-Milhaud, 19th M° Ourcq Tel: 01 40 40 73 60 www.lacasadeltango.net

* Bike Rentals: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly *

I tested out a whole bunch of bike rental companies around Paris this summer, with varied results. The Maison Roue Libre at Les Halles, run by the RATP (metro and bus company) had run out of locks the day I wanted to rent a bike, which are necessary even if you just need to lock up to go to the bathroom (although for weekday rentals, they’re the cheapest). I tried Roulez Champion and found their dingy bikes not only had no chain guards (who wants bike grease on their pants?), but they wanted to charge extra for huge locks that are more appropriate for locking up motorcycles (and it weighed as much as the bike). The owner got cranky with me when I decided to pass on his expensive day rates (the most expensive I found) and I high-tailed it a block over to Mike’s Bikes. Even though they were busy mopping up their shop (a water heater in the flat above burst a pipe the night before), they still let me pick a bike (and a lock) for a day of exploring the Bois de Boulogne (€2/hour, with discounts for 24-hour rentals). I also like Cyclo Pouce (38, Quai Marne 19th M° Ourcq), a non-profit organization that fixes up abandoned bikes and rents them out at decent rates. They’re in the perfect location to explore the Parc de la Villette, and if you’re into industrial sightseeing (ugly train tracks), you can follow a bike path along the Canal Ourcq until you reach (after an hour or so) the scenic parts of the waterway.

* I’m no longer a virgin! *

I finally got off my bum and did a Hash. No, not “did hash”. The Hash House Harriers is a British expat institution around the world which describes itself as “A drinking club with a running problem”. I definitely felt the effects of the alcohol and snacks the next morning more than the exertion of actually running (well, okay I walked, having two dogs and a husband with me, and not quite knowing which way to go). There are four different groups in the Ile-de-France region. I hashed with the Paris group, which met up in the forest just on the end of the RER line. Check the website for the scheduled RDV. It’s a good laugh and you’ll meet some very interesting people…

* Favourite Day Trip *

If you haven’t been to Chantilly yet, then you’re really missing out on a wonderful place just 25-minutes by train from Paris. Forget about the whipped cream (called “chantilly” by the French because it was invented here) for a moment. Tucked into the forest, Chantilly has escaped the rampant urbanisation of most towns, retaining much of its historic character. The famous Hippodrome de Chantilly, built in 1834, still hosts the annual French Derby at the foot of the Granded Ecuries, the stunning 18th-century stables built by the Price of Condé, who believed he’d be reincarnated as a horse someday, and wanted to build an appropriate home – these stables are larger than most castles! Today the stables have been turned into the Musée Vivant du Cheval (Living horse Museum), run by a French family who put on magnificent shows and educational demonstrations throughout the day. Next door is the Château du Chantilly, aka Musée Condé, with one of the most prestigious collection of paintings in the world. It was opened as a museum on the condition that none of the works ever be moved, therefore none of the paintings can ever be displayed in exhibitions outside Chantilly. In the Le Nôtre gardens of the château is the Hameau (hamlet) that inspired Marie-Antoinette to build her own version at Versailles. When in town, be sure to stop by Le Goutillon Wine Bar (61 rue du Connétable) for lunch, and the English Shop & Tearoom (96 rue du Connétable) for real scones and a hot cup of English tea. For more info: www.chantilly-tourisme.com

* Two Different Neighbourhoods to Check Out *

I’ve added two new neighbourhood articles to the Suite101.com series on Paris neighbourhoods (originally printed in the Connexion Magazine). The first is on the Jules-Joffrin neighbourhood north of Montmartre in the 18th. I rented an apartment here for two months, and was surprised at how nice it was for such an unknown area of town. The second article is on the Butte-aux-Cailles neighbourhood, a charming little area tucked between the nasty skyscrapers of the 13th, with lots of great little places to eat and have a drink in a village atmosphere. Neither of these places have any tour busses dropping off groups of camera-toting tourists wearing matching t-shirts. Yet.

* A Better Way of Getting to the Marché aux Puces *

As I could walk from my rental flat to the Marché aux Puces at St-Ouen, I did so quite a few times until I found a better way to get there. Most people take the Line 4 metro to Porte de Clingnancourt and then have to walk through the icky temporary section of the market where thugs on the sidewalks try to sell you Rolex’s and Nike’s (real ones, of course). Some people don’t even get past this section of t-shirt and incense vendors, wondering what the big deal is about this flea market. The real Puces are actually further along the road, past the elevated periphérique highway. If you want to get there without going through the ugly zone, take bus 85 (from Luxembourg Gardens, stops include Châtelet, Louvre-Rivoli, Bourse and the Mairie du 18ème at metro Jules-Joffrin) which stops inside the Marché aux Puces. Get off at “Marché Paul-Bert” if you want to stop by the little tourist information office (they have detailed maps of the flea market).

* Romantic Dining in the 5th *

Mr. Heather and I had a lovely romantic dinner at Le Petit Prince on the tiny Rue Lanneau in the 5th. They’re only open for dinner, and have menus of €19 and €24. The décor is a mix of old Paris and Tuscany, with candle lighting and terra-cotta walls. The food, the wine, all very good (and very rich), topped off with an exceptionally friendly staff that actually seem happy to be working. Save room for the desserts! Reservations recommended: 01 43 54 77 26.

* Fall Museum Exhibitions *

After an August lull, the latest heavy-hitting museum expositions open at the Centre Pompidou, Grand Palais and the Louvre. Check out Paris Muse for information on these and other currently running expositions, or subscribe to their newsletter “Quoi de Neuf?” to get the latest information sent directly to you by e-mail.

* Planning Ahead for October *
October 4: Montmartre Grape Harvest Festival.
October 4-5 Nuite Blanche (White Night): Paris museums, monuments, parks, libraries, gardens and theatres stay open all night long for Mayor Delanoë’s 2nd annual cultural festival.
October 6: Lucien Barrière Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe: One of the most prestigious horse races of the season, at the Hippodrome de Longchamp. www.france-galop.com
October 9: Stereophonics in concert at the Olympia.
October 12: The Pretenders in concert at the Bataclan.

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