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Newsletter #53: October 2004

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***Secrets of Paris Newsletter #53: October 29, 2004***

The alternative Paris newsletter of restaurant reviews, shopping tips, upcoming events, the latest night spots, and hotel recommendations, by local travel writer, Heather Stimmler-Hall.

* (Rant) From the Editor
* Breaking News: My New Neighbor
* Budget Dining in Paris: Heather’s latest restaurant recommendations
* Free T-Shirts from Expatica
* Free Soirée Invites
* Paris Writers
* Accommodation: Paris Hotels Under €100
* Shopping: Rare Souvenir
* Sightseeing: Palais de Tokyo Hype Gallery
* Practical: WiFi Hotspots
* Practical: Annual Transportation Pass Discounts
* Entertainment: Local Music
* Entertainment: Theatre in English
* News: Smoke-Free Paris?
* News: More Covered Passages to be Renovated
* News: Pink TV
* Free Vacation Planning (not)

* (Rant) From the Editor *
Less than a week until Election Night! And before you start wondering what this has to do with Paris, let me tell you that the excitement and anticipation can be seen all over France: support marches, political debates, endless articles, news shows and radio commentary on what will happen. This is big news in Paris, whether you’re American or not. I’ll be watching the results come in live at the AARO (Association of Americans Residing Overseas) party this Tuesday from midnight until 6am, with both Democrats and Republicans in attendance (call 01 53 83 78 27 ASAP if you’d like to attend; €75 includes buffet). According to the famous Straw Poll at Harry’s Bar (only wrong once in the 70s), Kerry is ahead. Woo hoo! I hope all of you Americans reading this are excited — and participating — too, no matter where you live. I got one email this month from a US reader who thought I was debasing my newsletter by being politically biased. It always makes my day when someone thinks I need to be censored. Particularly when it’s right before one of the most important elections in history. So before I offend anyone else, let me just make a few things clear: I’m an opinionated person, former political science major, and normally happy to share my alternative, insider views of Paris with all of you in this completely 100% free newsletter. For those who don’t like it, I promise not to feel offended if you go elsewhere, but please don’t tell me what I should not write about (suggestions always welcome on what you want to see more of…). If you want whitewashed Paris info, then you can buy my guidebook (Amazon.com), in which all potentially inflammatory or opinionated remarks have been edited out by my publisher. I guess the moral of today’s story is that nothing is ever really free. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Heather

* Breaking News: My New Neighbor *
If you follow international news, you may have heard that Yasser Arafat was flown out of Palestine this morning for urgent medical treatment in France. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw the huge crowd of journalists and police outside the local military hospital on my way to the post office. It’s not often that Clamart (a tiny suburban town southwest of Paris) gets any press, so everyone seems to have walked down there to see the action (or lack thereof). Here’s the latest news in English.

* Budget Dining in Paris: Heather’s latest restaurant recommendations *
I’ve been eating out a lot over the past two months, and have tested out some new places for y’all:

Le Martignac (109 rue de Grenelle, 7th; Metro Varenne or Invalides; tel 01 40 62 98 64) is a tiny little brasserie and bar around the corner from the Musée Rodin and Invalides. I dropped in after a garden tour with four other people and only had to wait five minutes for a booth (no reservations are accepted) at lunch time. There’s no menu, just a choice of three plats du jour written on the chalkboard. The server/owner stopped to show us what each dish looked like, explaining how each one was cooked, in English (there was lamb with mint and chèvre, duck with pears, and a fish dish I can’t recall). We all shared some house red wine and since we couldn’t decide on what to have for dessert, he made a little platter of everything (some amazing tarts and pastries). The walls here are tiled in small canvases painted by a local artist, the atmosphere is very friendly, and the tables very close. And the bill for this excellent food (we all ate until we were bursting), was about €12 each, even with coffee. Hard to beat that.

Le Temp des Cerises (18 rue Butte aux Cailles, 13th, metro Corvisart; tel 01 45 89 69 48) is a co-operative restaurant (the employees all share in the profits) in the Butte-aux-Cailles neighborhood. There are two sections, smoking and non, with long wooden tables that fill up quickly at lunch time, no doubt for the €10 menu which includes a starter, main dish and dessert. The food is traditional (I had veggie soup, Corsican-style spaghetti, and a pear “clafouti” cake), and the service can be slow when it’s packed, but overall a nice place to go, perfect if you like mingling with the locals. Open lunch and dinner except Saturday lunch and Sunday.

Chez Gladines (30 rue des Cinq-Diamants, 13th; metro Corvisart; tel 01 45 80 70 10) is a traditional Basque café right down the road. They’re famous for their giant, hearty salads (big enough for two) and no-frills décor of wooden tables and well-worn checkered tablecloths. It’s a great lace for anyone with a big appetite and small budget (particularly the enormous cassoulet), but be sure to take cash: no credit cards accepted. Open daily from 9am-2am.

Tierra del Fuego (6 rue Ste-Marthe, 10th; metro Colonel Fabien or Belleville; tel 01 42 39 46 21) is a scruffy but friendly little restaurant in the Ste-Marthe neighborhood serving up authentic cuisine from the Andes (Chile and Columbia). I stopped by Monday night with some friends since it was one of the only restaurants open on the street (and we didn’t have a reservation for the Coin de Verre), and had my first real chili con carne. It was delicious! We were the only guests who weren’t part of a large birthday group, but the service seemed friendly enough. Great deal on the €12 menu, but look out for the rather pricey Chilean wines. Open evenings only.

Café Leffe (41 rue de la Bucherie, 5th; metro St-Michel; tel 0143 54 24 52) is one of those places I’d usually avoid if at all possible. It’s in Tourist Central next the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore and across from Notre-Dame. But my reserved lunch at the Balzar Brasserie with a couple visiting from the US for the first time (who wanted French food and a good people-watching terrace) fell through when, on arrival, we found the building directly across the street to be loudly sandblasting its façade. There are few places I’d recommend in the Latin Quarter, and most of them aren’t French. But the sun was shining so we took a chance and grabbed a terrace seat at the Café Leffe with a view of the cathedral (and a mini garden to block the traffic view). Bilingual menus and an overly-friendly server should also be warning signs, but the food turned out to be very nice: starter and main dish plus 250cl of wine for €19. I had grilled salmon and snails in garlic sauce, but they also do pizzas, mussels, steaks and Alsatian choucroute. Open daily 8am-2pm, happy hour (not on the terrace though) weekdays 5-7pm.

* Free T-Shirts from Expatica *
The nice folks at Expatica.com gave me two t-shirts at the Bloom Where You’re Planted seminar, and since I already have a few hundred t-shirts, I thought I’d give them away. They’re white with blue text of the Expatica catch phrase, “I am not a tourist.” I’ve got two mediums, free to the first two Secrets of Paris readers who show up to Ric’s Metropole Paris Club meeting next Thursday (3-5pm, La Corona Brasserie on the Quai du Louvre right behind the museum).

* Free Soirée Invites *
Speaking of free, if anyone wants me to pass along the free nightclub soirée passes that I get, let me know. I’ve got ones for tonight at Nirvana (just off the Champs-Elysées), but I usually delete two or three a week from my inbox (I like to be in bed by 1am, thanks).

* Paris Writers *
You’d be amazed at how many books on France aren’t even written by people who live here. Not the case with two authors I met this month: Stephen Clarke, author of the hilarious novel on expat life, “A Year in the Merde: The antidote to a year in Provence” (Bantam, 2004), and Annabel Simms, who has an excellent guidebook “An Hour from Paris” (Pallas Athene Publishers, 2002) that tells you how to explore Ile-de-France by public transportation. I also managed to sneak away from the computer to attend David Lebovitz’s talk and tasting at WH Smiths bookshop on Tuesday night for his latest book, "The Great Book of Chocolate" (recipes and addresses for the best chocolates in Paris and other cities). I ate so many of his chocolate cookies that I floated home on a sugar high (and David is amazingly thin for a guy who eats chocolates all day).
I also met the Canadian poet Douglas Burnet Smith a few weeks ago at the Canadian Club’s Poetry Contest (he was one of the judges), reading from his book “The Killed” (recently translated into French with the title “Les Sacrifiés”). It’s always nice to meet other writers in Paris. I met Suzy Gershman (author of the Born to Shop Paris and France series) a few years ago, and just noticed that she has a book out about her own experiences as a window living in Paris called “C’est La Vie”. And I’m in it! Well…there’s a chapter where she mentions having her birthday party at Galeries Lafayette and a bunch of journalists are there. That was me when I used to be the travel editor for ELLE.com. She baked a sheet cake, which the French didn’t quite understand. A great read for women who dream of restarting their lives in Paris. My mom is getting this book for Christmas. ๐Ÿ˜‰

* Accommodation: Hotels Under €100 *
I just completed an article that will appear in this weekend’s London Times travel section highlighting ten Paris hotels for €100 or less. Now there are plenty of cheap hotels (in the €35/night range), but this is mainly nice, comfortable hotels in central locations. The price is for a double room with private bathroom. Most have elevators, TV, private phone line, and soundproofing. Some even have minibar or WiFi Internet access. If you don’t have access to the Times print edition, try clicking here for a direct link.

Parisian Florist Shop Window, December 2004* Shopping: Rare Souvenir *
Looking for something to buy in Paris that you can’t get back home? If you can’t afford Serge Lutens’ perfumes (at the Shiseido Gallery, Palais Royal), then why not stop into any supermarket and get a limited edition can of Coke Light (Diet Coke), decorated by four different up-and-coming French designers with the label “Génération Coke Light”.

* Sightseeing: Palais de Tokyo Hype Gallery *
If you still haven’t made it over to the Palais de Tokyo’s “Contemporary Creation Space”, November is a good time to check it out. Entrance is free from November 3 – December 3 for the latest event called the Hype Gallery Project. The concept is a bit odd, but pretty cool: artists from anywhere in the world can participate by sending a digital representation of their work or film to the official website. They will be printed out on giant format HP printers and displayed in the gallery and films will be screened on HP projectors (guess who the sponsor is?) until the gallery is full, then the artwork that was displayed first will be taken down and replaced with the most recent submissions. Sort of a constant rotation of art. So you wanted to send in your masterpiece? Only two rules: it has to be a graphical representation based on a word or sentence including the letters “H” and “P”, and the title must include those two letters in that order. French or English are accepted. It also must be within the acceptable laws of decency (this is France, remember). If you just want to have a look, the Palais de Tokyo is open Tue-Sun noon-midnight.

* Practical: WiFi Hotspots *
Still trying to find one of the 730 WiFi Internet hotspots near you? Try downloading the free software Net Stumbler, which helps pinpoint the right places: For PC go to www.netstumbler.com and for Mac go to www.macstumbler.com.

* Practical: Annual Transportation Pass Discounts *
If you purchase a Navigo “Intégrale” annual RATP pass before November 30, you get €10 off. So not only are you saving even more than usual (the Navigo is the same price as 10.2 months of Carte Orange), it also means you get to go through the “ticket-free” turnstiles in every station (making a ‘bip’ as you wave your pass over the scanner), and you can get a free replacement if your pass is lost or stolen. For more info go to any RATP station office (I got mine at Montparnasse…) and be sure to ask about the promotion. www.ratp.fr

* Entertainment: Local Music *
On Wednesday I went to see the recording of a radio show called “Pont des Artistes” at the Maison Radio France (State-sponsored radio). That night’s show featured the French singer Enzo Enzo (that’s not a typo), the Hatian blues singer Beethova Obas, and Piers Faccini. Piers is an Anglo-Italian living in France (singing in English), and has just released an album with his current band of Vincent Taurelle and Ludo Bruni (from Regina Vox) and the New Orleans drummer Jeff Boudreau, who I got to hear play with Rick Margitza Monday night at La Fontaine (excellent little venue). You can hear the program this Saturday night (tomorrow) at 8:10pm-9:30pm on France Inter (87.8FM in Paris, or online (“ecouter en direct”)….how odd…the commercial for it is on the radio RIGHT NOW, as I type this. Spooky. Anyhoo, if you’re interested in attending one of these free concerts (limited space, first come first served, etc.), the recordings take place every Wednesday through December 1 at the Maison Radio France (in the16th, the huge building off the Pont de Grenelle), Charles Trenet Studio, at 7pm. They start giving tickets out from 5:30pm, so it helps to be early.

* Entertainment: Theatre in English *
Here are some of the local theatre productions in English currently playing:
Travellin’ Light”, a comedy about cycling across France, at the Theatre de Nesle (8 rue de Nesle, 6th, metro Odéon; tel 01 46 34 61 04; tickets €12) October 23 through January 2005.
Bus Stop”, another comedy that got excellent reviews from the NY Times, at the Théâtre Pixel (18, rue Championnet, 18th, metro Simplon; tel 01 42 54 00 92; tickets €14 (€9.50 for advance ticket sales and students) every Friday and Saturday through December 18.
If you’re living in Paris and like to go to the theatre whether it’s in French or English, check out the website www.Visioscene.com, which, for an annual fee, not only gets you preferential rates on tickets, but also has a web video preview (like you see at the movies) of all the latest shows so you can get a better idea of what it’s all about.

* News: Smoke-Free Paris? *
The mayor of Paris presented a new opt-in program for restaurants, hotels and cafés last week where they receive special signs promoting their establishment as 100% smoke-free. Many places have found that they actually increase business this way (duh), so look out for the blue “100% Sans Tabac” signs to pop up around town. You can already see them at La Table d’Hélène (18th) and at Bread & Roses (6th). The Tourism Office will soon post a list of participating venues. And for all of you addicts out there, enjoy turning Paris into your ashtray while you can – all of Europe is set to adopt the smoke-free rule for public spaces by 2009.

* News: More Covered Passages to be Renovated *
Some of Paris’ historic covered passages are quite beautiful (Galerie Vivienne and Passage Colbert, for example), but others have been quietly falling apart. So it’s nice to hear that the mayor (Bert has been busy) has announced that six more are scheduled to be renovated this year, including the Passage Brady (10th), Passage Vendôme (3rd) and the Passage Ponceau (2nd). Go see what they look like now before they get prettied up (and, most likely the prices in the shops will follow).

* News: Pink TV *
France now has its own “gay and gay friendly” TV channel, Pink TV, launched last week with much fanfare. Their programming is a hip and trendy mix of culture and glamour, according to the website (soon available in English), targeted to gay men and women and anyone who wants to watch something different on TV, focused on liberty, tolerance, humor and seduction. Hmmm…check out the commercial (Bande Annonce) and current program on the website. To actually get it on TV you’ll have to subscribe through Noos.fr.

* Free Vacation Planning (not) *
Coming to Paris and want to know where to sleep, eat, go out, shop, etc? Of course you do, or else you wouldn’t be reading this. Of course, for many people, sifting through the archives to find the info they want is too tedious, so I get about 10-20 emails a week asking me to do it for them. Secrets of Paris takes a lot of time to compile, and the rest of my time I’m trying to make a living as a writer. Fortunately, things are going well at the moment so I’m quite busy. But unfortunately, I don’t really have the time to help anyone plan their vacation for free anymore. So if you really just have a quick question (something I can answer in one sentence without having to open up my monster-sized filing cabinet), then feel free to drop me an email. Otherwise, you can hire me as your own personal vacation planner by the hour (rates from €25). Of course you can now get my whole brain in the form of the Adventure Guide to Paris & Ile-de-France for about $15 on Amazon.com, or try your luck with the Paris Tourism Office (they get paid to help you, but they’re unfortunately not very good at it). Of course, I may be willing to trade services, too. Any professional foot masseurs out there? ๐Ÿ˜‰


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