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Newsletter #61: June 2005


Secrets of Paris Newsletter #61: June 21, 2005

* From the Editor
* Good News
* The Writer’s Life
* The Best Hotel in the World
* Table Nutella
* An Alternative Cooking School
* Groceries by the Internet
* Healthy Eating Near the Champs-Elysées
* Access Academy Closing, Computers for Sale
* Free WiFi Spots
* Tourism Office Food Recommendations
* Shopping for Boots?
* Escape the City
* Irish Crystal in Paris
* Doggie Services
* Chez Haynes Soul Food
* Heather’s Tours

* From the Editor *
The past few days have been so hot and humid that everyone ran out and bought fans. I ended up watching Batman Begins at the Grand Ecran (Italie 2 shopping center) just to enjoy a few hours of air conditioning. Of course, today a cool breeze has blown in, meaning we can all go out and enjoy the Fête de la Musique without the inconvenience of sweating like cochons (which just isn’t becoming in Paris). So what do the Parisians wear when it’s this hot? Mostly little tank tops and shirts (ladies) and short, lightweight pants (we called ‘em clam-diggers in Arizona) and t-shirts for the guys. Flip-flops are okay; cut-off’s, black socks with sandals, and any shorts that aren’t fitted and short (ie those big, unflattering square things popular in American suburbs) are not. Personally, I think Parisiennes should adopt the custom of carrying around pretty sun parasols like the Japanese tourists. Also doubles as a handy pigeon-poo shield. Enjoy the first official day of summer! -Heather

* Good News *
In case any of you were too busy watching the spectacle of a trial in California to have heard the good news, French journalist Florence Aubenas and her guide Hussein Hanoun al-Saadi were finally freed on June 11 after being held hostage in Iraq for five months. Read the BBC story.

* The Writer’s Life *
The past month has been full of prime goof-off, er, I mean research, opportunities: I spent a day at Roland-Garros watching the third round of the French Open with my friend Brandy visiting from Amsterdam, gave a garden tour of the Marais to a handful of Secrets of Paris readers, bought a (tiny) painting at the Belleville Porte Ouvertes, and tested out a few summer terraces with other freelancing friends (we need to improve our computer screen tans). It’s great to meet other writers, both the ones living here and visiting. I gave a tour of the Loire Valley one beautiful weekend to Karen McCullah Lutz (author of “The Bachelorette Party” and co-writer of the film “Legally Blonde” ) and her mother, visiting from Hollywood and Sedona, AZ. At a Media Bistro cocktail party I finally got to meet Gary Lee Kraut, tour guide and author of one of my favorite travel guides, “Paris Revisited”. Pamela Price, author of “100 Best Spas of the World” was in town recently visiting her son Anthony Grant, who is currently updating “Access Paris” guidebook. Stephen Clarke, author of “Year in the Merde”, wrote an article for the NY Times explaining why the French voted against the European Constitution called “Just Say Non” (“Actually, I thought the title should be “I don’t non” said Stephen – writers don’t get to pick the headlines). Funnily enough, there was no mention of the title of Stephen’s book (just that he had written “a” book) because the paper won’t print the word “Merde”. Even in France it’s not really a bad word. Read his article at (super-long link and sign in): http://www.nytimes.com

* The Best Hotel in the World? *
The Four Seasons George V has been named as #1 in the latest edition of the World’s Best Hotels (published by Institutional Investor since 1980). Not only is it the first time a European hotel has won the honors, but Paris also happens to have more hotels than any other city (eight, including the Plaza Athénée, Le Crillon, Le Meurice, Le Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme, the Ritz, Le Bristol and Hyatt Regency Madeleine). Obviously everyone has their own criteria of what constitutes a great hotel; I’d choose the George V based on their amazing spa and excellent hot chocolate (served in their tearoom) alone! The enormous rooms attract a majority of American guests, with prices averaging about €600/night.

* Table Nutella *
Wednesday is the last day for the Table Nutella (46 rue de Sévigné, 4th). If you’re up all night for the Fête de la Musique why not stop in for breakfast in the morning (opens at 7am)? My friend Mat and I managed to get there one morning at 8am (a minor miracle for me!) and had a great time once we were caffeinated. As Mat pointed out, it seemed the majority of clientele were twenty-something females. Go figure! I really, really wanted one of the Nutella branded plates they used, but alas they’re not for sale — I’ll buy lunch for anyone that knows where I can get one!

* An Alternative Cooking School *
I tested out the Atelier des Chefs (10 rue de Penthièvre, 8th) last month, which offers cooking courses for busy Parisians and visitors who don’t mind rapid-fire French. Courses are in a bright, contemporary kitchen under a huge skylight, and run from 30 minutes to 2 hours. It’s laid back and hands-on, and afterwards everyone sits together and eats their creations (wine, coffee and dessert are available for an extra small fee). The half-hour classes only cost €15, which is less than most other restaurants in the area, and you get to learn something. Many of the students are local businessmen and women on their lunch breaks. Sign up early, classes fill quickly!

* Groceries by the Internet *
I decided to test out a service called Houra.fr that delivers groceries that clients choose on their internet site. I have an elevator, but getting more than three bags of groceries to my front door can be a bit daunting sometimes. The selection isn’t bad at all; they had my favorite soy milk, but not the cereal or pasta sauce I like. I managed to order a year (or two’s) supply of paper towel, toilet paper, laundry detergent, pasta and those heavy boxes of soy milk, and was told it would be delivered the next afternoon. When it arrived on time (quel shock), the delivery boy discovered that two of the soy milks had exploded under pressure, ruining about half of the contents. I was reimbursed the difference, but wouldn’t be able to have another delivery unless I re-ordered (annoying when there’s a delivery charge). I might try it again some day when I don’t need anything that could explode. Otherwise, great prices for buying in large quantities (I didn’t try any fresh foods like veggies or fruits, and they don’t deliver frozen foods). If anyone has a better service they’ve tried, le me know.

* Healthy Eating Near the Champs-Elysées *
I was walking on a side street off the Avenue des Champs-Elysées when a woman standing on the sidewalk with a platter of tiny wraps offered me a taste. It was amazing: healthy, fresh, tasty, and fast (for people who never have time to stop and eat). Naked (40 rue du Colisée, 8th) serves organic food sandwiches, wraps, juices, salads, and other healthy take-way foods with fusion flavors from around the world. Everything is made on-site, including the salad dressings. Check it out next time you’re in the ‘hood.

* Access Academy Closing, Computers for Sale *
The Access Academy internet café on 60 Rue St-André-des-Arts (6th) is closing for good on July 31st. For the moment their rates have gone way down (from €7.80 per day, or €12.90 for a 5-Hour card) and their computers are up for sale for €350: Dell OptiPlex Gx260, Pentium 4-1.8Ghz Hrad Disk 20-40Go, 256 Mo DDR pc 2100, 6 USB 2 plugs, network plug Intel pro 1000MT, floppy and CD drives, Windows XP Pro, screen LG 15”. For more info stop in.

* Free WiFi Spots *
There are about a hundred or so cafés and bars where you can use WiFi internet access, but you’ll have to buy a drink or something to eat (obviously). If you’re not hungry/thirsty/willing to pay up, there are also a few public places where you can surf for free: Place du Tertre (18th), Palais Brogniart (Bourse, 2nd), Mairie du 3me (3rd), Chambre de Commerce et de l’Industrie (the Bourse near St-Eustache, 1st), the CIDJ (youth center, Quai Branly, 15th), Paris Expo at Porte de Versailles (15th), and even the Eiffel Tower (try the Champ-de-Mars, 7th). Of course, as many friends have discovered, most apartment blocks in Paris now have little pockets of free WiFi – just try not to let your neighbors see you parked outside their door!

* Tourism Office Food Recommendations *
There’s a free mini-guide to Paris restaurants produced by the Paris Tourism Office called “Le Carnet Gourmand”. I picked up a copy last week and, seriously, I can’t figure out if restaurants paid to be listed or what, because although there are a few classics listed that I like, there are also a lot of suspicious duds. I’m can see why the Alain Ducasse restaurant at the Plaza Athénée was listed, but Hippopotamus? Could it be because this chain restaurant also purchased a two-page ad spread at the front of the guide? The chain Flam’s is also listed; I’ve taken student tour groups there (not by choice), and am not aware of any Parisian who would admit eating there or recommend someone else to do so. So, caveat emptor; think of it as a yellow pages of restaurants rather than a discerning dining guide.

* Shopping for Boots? *
There’s a new boutique in the 3rd which sells punk style boots in over 200 different styles. New Rock (35 rue de Turbigo, 3rd) sells them direct from the manufacturers in Spain, so the prices are hard to beat. The women’s stiletto boots with metal heels and flame design are pretty darned cool (and when I find €200 on the sidewalk, they’re mine). Check out their styles at http://www.newrockfrance.com

* Escape the City *
Sometimes it’s nice to get out of Paris for the day, whether it’s to go cycling in Fontainebleau, swimming at the beaches in Deauville, or picking fresh strawberries at Gally Farms just outside Versailles. The RER and Transilien trains don’t aways go where you want to go (or have limited schedules), so consider renting a car. Hertz has new special CITYPASS rates for 4-hour (€35), 8-hour (€45) or 14-hour (€55) rentals. Not a bad deal if you’ve got equipment to haul and friends to split the cost!

* Irish Crystal in Paris *
One of my first jobs in Paris was as a bartender at the late Cruiscin Lan Irish pub. My old boss David, from Dublin, has moved on from filling glasses to selling them. His boutique, Greenfields (14-16 rue de Thorigny, 3rd; up the street from the Picasso Museum) opened last month in the Marais, specializing in fine Irish crystal such as Waterford (exclusive in Paris). He’s having a sale next week of Irish pottery, silverware, and décor. Stop in and say hello for me!

* Doggie Services *
Where can you take dogs in Paris? Restaurants, usually. Museums, never (not even closed in a doggie carrier). Post offices, bakeries, boutiques….depends on the dogs and the mood of the people working there. I take my dogs into places that supposedly don’t allow them, like the bakery, because I figure if smokers can pretend they’re blind to signs, then so can I (that and I always clean up after my dogs’ “merde” in public). There are two new places in Paris devoted to doggies. CaniCrèche (32 rue de Turbigo, 3rd) is a doggie daycare open Mon-Sat from 8am-8pm. There’s a huge indoor playground and dog sitters who play with them and make sure they’re all getting along (wel-behaved dogs get to play together). Rates start at €7.17/hour with different services like home pick-up and education training. On the other side of town, the American Harriet Sternstein has opened a dog bakery and boutique called Mon Bon Chien (12 rue Mademoiselle, 15th), open Monday through Saturday from 10.30 – 8PM.

* Chez Haynes Soul Food *
If you’re hankering for a good meal of authentic soul food, head to Chez Haynes (3 rue Clauzel, 9th, tel 01 48 78 40 63), a hang-out for the African-American community in Paris with live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. I was there last week for a lunch honoring the actor/director/choreographer/painter/costume designer/author Geoffrey Holder, who was in town for an annual visit. All of you from my generation will probably remember Geoffrey as Punjab in the film Annie or his fantastic laugh in the 7-Up “Uncola” ads of the 1980s. He was also a baddie in the Bond film Live and Let Die and the director of Broadway musical “The Wiz”. Ricki Stevenson, of Black Paris Tours, was there to have Geoffrey sign her copy of his Caribbean Cookbook. Singing that day was a newcomer to Paris from Canada (via New York), Tanya Michelle; keep a lookout for her around Paris’ clubs!

* Heather’s Tours *
Want to see Paris from a local’s perspective? Ask about my custom and private walking tours of Paris and chauffeured tours of Ile-de-France and nearby sights. I’m already booked through July 4 and will be on vacation July 20 – August 4; start planning now for August and September!

* 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: /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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