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Newsletter #60: May 2005

Paris rooftops

Secrets of Paris Newsletter #60: May 9, 2005


* From the Editor
* Nightlife: Left Bank Student Bars
* Nightlife: Oberkampf Still Busy
* Dining: Ganesha Corner
* Shopping: Bring on the Spring Shoes!
* Tours: Paris Gardens
* Fly to Paris for US$299
* Living in Paris: Apartment Hunting Service
* Culture: The Alesian Literary Salon
* Useless Information: The Voice of the RATP
* Practical(ly Useless) Information: Getting Your French Passport
* Culture/Shopping: Contemporary Art
* Shopping: MAC Makeovers
* Culture: The Best of French Cinema (in English)
* May Events in the Calendar

* From the Editor *
Paris is having a typically schizophrenic spring, with hot and muggy days that feel like summer being immediately followed by cold, wet and windy days that feel like early winter. No one knows what to wear (layers are ideal), whether to carry an umbrella (good idea), or if flip-flops should be worn before June (hell yeah! just get a pedicure first, merci). The city is still in full bloom, although the magnolias have already passed, and the horse chestnut trees (with the white or red cone-shaped flowers) are dropping their tiny blooms so fast it looks like snow piling up in the gutters. So before I get too busy with the May tours or too lazy with afternoon picnics on the quays of the Seine, thought I’d pop out the – drum roll please — 60th Secrets of Paris Newsletter! And I know I’ve been saying it for months, but I really *am* going to finish the new website so it will be a lot easier to search through the back issues by subject or date, and hopefully be a whole lot more exciting looking than it is now (without being confusing, I hope). It’s not always easy doing these newsletters when I’m busy or tired or when it begins to feel like unpaid work (which we freelancers do waaaay too much of), so thanks again for all of your support! It’s been a real pleasure running into so many of you at different events around town (hello to everyone in Janet’s writing group!) and those visitors who have contacted me when in town. Here’s to another 60 newsletters! – Heather

* Nightlife: Left Bank Student Bars *
There are so many hip and stylish bars in Paris these days with their lounge music and design interiors that it’s getting harder and harder to find the “rough” amongst these diamonds And as Robbie Williams once sang, sometimes we all need a bit of rough. So last week I went with my friend Olivier (from Ô-Chateau) to two classic Parisian student dives near the Panthéon: Le Pantalon and Le Piano Vache. Now these aren’t your typical student “theme” bars with quiz nights and bar staff in matching t-shirts (that you can purchase, of course), but the old French ones immersed in a thick haze of Marlboro smoke (only American cigarettes for today’s French teens, thank you). Both bars are scruffy, cheap, and packed full. In Le Pantalon (7 rue Royer Collard, 5th) there’s an over-enthusiastic Boxer who regularly attacks the bathroom door and stares out the front window waiting to scare the lights out his next victim. In the back is what looks like an old theatre set of a retro Paris street scene. At Le Piano Vache ( 8 rue Laplace, 5th) it’s Goth Night, meaning Smiths and New Order on the stereo and more than a few people (not all students) dressed in all black. The back room is much larger, with benches covered in Persian carpets and the walls covered in old concert posters and photographs dating back to the 1960s (I don’t think they’ve painted the place since the, either). Not sure I’d go on my own, but both places are perfect for a bit of late-night letting your hair down.

* Nightlife: Oberkampf Still Busy *
I know it’s cool to say that the nightlife scene on Rue Oberkampf is “passé”, but whether it’s trendy or not, there’s certainly a lot of people and bars, even on a Monday night. I met up with Jeanne, a regular Paris visitor (and flight attendant, which makes it somewhat easier) at the Boteco Bar (131 rue Oberkampf, 11th) for some strong rum cocktails on the tiny terrace. They have €10 lunch menus during the week and Brazilian-style Boteco thong undies, but I didn’t see any servers walking around in them (in case you were getting your hopes up). Every place I passed along the way was packed, icluding the old classic Café Charbon. A tip for those of you wanting to check out the action: don’t get off at Métro Oberkampf unless you know the street number of where you’re going and it’s below #50. Most of the best bars are between Métro Parmentier (line 3) and Métro Ménilmontant (line 2); get off at the latter if you’d rather walk downhill than uphill.

* Dining: Ganesha Corner *
I can already hear my friends moaning, “How could you tell people about our place!” But Mat and Carolyn are freelance writers, too, so they know better than to take me anywhere or say anything without it being automatically up for possible inclusion into the newsletter. Besides, this little Indian restaurant and take-away isn’t exactly in the most accessible part of town, so if any of you actually make the trek out to Ganesha Corner (16 rue Perdonnet, 10th, Métro La Chapelle or Gare du Nord), I’ll be very impressed. My friends had eaten there enough already to be recognized by the polite wait staff, and I let them order for me since they seemed to know what was good. A warning: if you say you want it spicy, you’ll get it spicy! Don’t miss the great Chaï tea afterwards. We stuffed ourselves full (and each paid under €10), and waddled outside. If it wasn’t for that “privée” sign on the door of the Hell’s Angels Clubhouse across the street (I swear it’s true) we might’ve stopped in for a post-lunch digestif. Tant pis!

* Shopping: Bring on the Spring Shoes! *
Despite appearances to the contrary, we freelancers rarely get enough free time for window shopping, but it was a fine spring afternoon and Carolyn and I were feeling the affects of ‘le Pont’, or the Friday holiday bridge that all of the Parisians took off after the Thursday Ascension holiday. We were feeling the need for new, yet cheap, shoes. Ten years ago I found a street near République that was known for its wholesale and retail shoe shops, so off we went to Rue Meslay (3rd), and into shoe-shopping bliss. There’s no other street in Paris that I know of where there are so many inexpensive shoe shops in one place, from cheap (we saw some for €5) to designer cheap (Lagerfeld boots for €300) in every spring shade of pastel pink, green, orange, blue….lots of rhinestones and bows, too! I bought two pairs of €15 sandals and Caroline scored on a pair of €50 stiletto boots, a pair of polka dot sandals for €30, and a pair of red patent platform slip-ons (by then I was too dizzy to pay attention to the price). We celebrated with Happy Hour Champagne cocktails (€4.30 each) at a nearby Belgian bar. Amen! Now back to work…

* Tours: Paris Gardens *
Last fall I started giving tours for Robin Watson’s Paris Gardens company, offering two-hour tours of Paris gardens in English. Robin won’t be back in Paris until late summer, but I’m going to do a few garden tours for those of you who expressed interest – can’t miss these gorgeous spring blooms!

May 12th (Thursday)
Morning tour of the Jardin des Plantes (5th), 10am-noon, meet at the gate at Place Valhubert (the main entrance facing the Seine, closest to M° Gare d’Austerlitz).

May 19th (Thursday)
Morning tour of the Hidden Gardens of the Marais (4th), 10am-noon, meet in front of the Eglise Sainte-Marie (17 rue St-Antoine, 4th, M° St-Paul or Bastille).

The cost is 20 euros per person and per tour (limited to ten people). RSVP by email at: heather@secretsofparis.com

* Fly to Paris for US$299 *
Air France is celebrating its one year anniversary of being listed on the NY Stock Exchange by offering airline tickets to Paris from $299. Sounds excellent, right? Well, there are a few catches.

– You need to purchase the tickets by May 15th
– They’re good for travel only between November 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006
– It’s only $299 from New York (JFK and Newark), Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. It’s $399 for flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, and Miami; and $499 for flights from Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco.
– These prices do NOT include “government-imposed fees & taxes between approximately $87 and $122”.
– These tickets are non-refundable.
– There are only limited seats on each flight for these promotional fares.

Sooo…check it out, but keep your heads screwed on. As far as I recall, it’s not that hard to find flights to Paris for under US$400 between November and March. For more details visit www.airfrance.com or the Maison de la France site.

* Living in Paris: Apartment Hunting Service *
Looking for property to buy in Paris can be daunting. Agents work for themselves, and often don’t return calls nor show you properties that come anywhere close to what you’re looking for. The French company Flat Hunter has been getting a lot of press for providing a property-search service dedicated to the buyer. There’s a small fee to sign up and then they only charge you if you actually make a purchase through them. Unlike most of the search services out there, Flat Hunter is not an English language catered service (many whom take advantage of the fact that potential buyers can’t even read the French classifieds), but a service developed by and for the French market. They’re strength is in their substantial connections and insider contacts. They’re perfect if you’re only in town for a short time and want to see only properties that fit exactly what you’re looking for. Check out their detailed bilingual website, which has a property-search questionnaire you can fill out to get started.

* Culture: The Alesian Literary Salon *
Read anything more challenging than Harry Potter or Dan Brown lately? Stretch your brains at the Alesian Literary Salon, a Paris-based group led by Toby Brothers that works to better understand and analyze complex literary works. Sign up ASAP to join the discussions of Middlemarch by George Eliot and Midnights’ Children by Salman Rushdie, beginning May 16th. For more info email Toby at: literarysalon@wanadoo.fr

* Useless Information: The Voice of the RATP *
You know those recorded messages played over the Métro intercom? Yeah, I can’t understand a word, either (usually they’re telling you to watch for pickpockets; other times they’re telling you that your line is no longer operating due to drivers going on strike for more wages and less hours – who can blame them?). But at least now I know who it is that I can’t quite understand on the vintage speakers: Simone Hérault is her name, and she’s the official “voix”. So next time you hear a garbled message and half the people on the platform walk off (the half that obviously have the ear for it), you can ask, “Qu’est-ce qu’elle a dit, Simone?” to the nearest bystander.

* Practical(ly Useless) Information: Getting Your French Passport *
Getting a French passport just got a little harder. Before, the exam only consisted of passing a language test (en français, bien sûr). But recently the Ministre Déléguée à l’Intégration, à l’Egalité des Chances et la Lutte Contre l’Exclusion Nelly Ollin (I swear that’s her title) announced that from now on all would-be nationals would also have to take a civic responsibility exam. “Anyone who doesn’t understand equality of the sexes, who doesn’t understand the laws against polygamy or female circumcision, or who is ignorant of their work and tax obligations shouldn’t be able to become a citizen,” she said in the Journal du Dimanche (en français, bien sûr). But don’t worry; if you fail you can retake the test. Just like for the driving license. Currently there’s an average of 90,000 people awarded French citizenship each year.

* Culture/Shopping: Contemporary Art *
I’m not a huge contemporary art fan, but I like wandering the streets around the Pompidou Centre because there are so many galleries in one place, it makes it easy to peek in and see if there’s anything interesting. We’ll just ignore the sad fact that a huge Starbucks has replaced one of the more prominent galleries on the corner of Rue Quincampoix and Rue Aubrey-le-Boucher! Last December a new gallery/store called Artwist (32 rue Michel le Comte, 3rd) opened nearby with a concept a bit like Toast Gallery (in the 5th): original works of art by up-and-coming contemporary artists for sale from €50 to €1500 for larger pieces. It’s a great place to go browse without the stuffiness found in some galleries. Another great address is the Agnès B. Galerie du Jour (44 rue Quincampoix, 4th), which is hosting a show of 40 contemporary “street” artists (comics, grafitti, etc.) until May 21st. There’s even a compilation of the exhibition’s soundtrack for sale. And that, I might actually be interesting in buying. 😉

* Shopping: MAC Makeovers *
Ever want to get all dolled up for a party but ended up looking like a clown, scrubbing it all off, and going in your usual ho-hum neutral look? Next time book an appointment at MAC Cosmetics boutique (324 rue St-Honoré, 1st – next to Colette – tel 01 42 44 28 91) and they’ll help you get that diva look for just €39 (don’t worry, you get to choose how daring you want to be). If you’d like a private lessons on how to do it yourself (with 20% off any purchases), sign up for the 90-minute class for €86. And if you’re feeling a tad guilty for having all this fun, don’t forget that 100% of the selling from their Viva Glam lipstick goes to the MAC AIDS Fund to help men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS.

* Culture: The Best of French Cinema (in English) *
In my pre-Paris French class days back in university I took a French cinema class and got to see some of the classics, from black and white Renoir flicks (where there always seems to be a rabbit hunting scene) to Diva, Indochine and Delicatessen. I had no idea, back then, that much like in the US, the majority of French films were pretty crap. So how to pick one out when you’re faced with such a huge selection? The Sunday Times of London has come out with a special edition (that you can read online) French Cinema Season, highlighting the best of French cinema, both historic and contemporary films. A great primer for those looking to watch the classics.

* May Events in the Calendar *
Don’t miss all of the cool events listed in my Calendar of Events – all the stuff I’d do if I could be in ten places at once (and still sleep in)! I try and update it at least twice a month, if not more often, so check in regularly!

* Are you on the list? *
If you’ve been getting this newsletter forwarded from a friend, please consider subscribing yourself. It’s free, and all you have to do is enter your e-mail address in the box at: http://www.secretsofparis.com/subscribe.htm. The benefit? You’ll get your own copy sent directly to your inbox every month, and I’ll have a better idea of how many of you are actually reading. Thanks! –Heather

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