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Newsletter #63: August 2005

vintage Paris photo

Secrets of Paris Newsletter #63: August 16, 2005

* From the Editor
* Only Five Days Left of Paris Plage!
* Hiking High-Jinks
* As Exciting as it Gets (in the 13th Arrondissement)
* Lunch at Bar de L’Entracte
* La Samaritaine is Closed
* Teachers: Don’t Forget Your ID
* Think Paris is a Great City?
* Upcoming Events
* A Paris Poem

* From the Editor
And now for something completely different! Breaking with the traditional format, this month’s special edition of the Secrets of Paris Newsletter features photos, including photojournalistic coverage of the thrilling 2nd Annual Palais Royal Midnight Regatta. Thought Paris was dead in August? Ha! Get with the 21st-century. And don’t forget your sun block! -H

* Only Five Days Left of Paris Plage
Have you made it to Paris Plage, yet? Waiting for your own personal invitiation? Sure, endlessly circling for an open chaise lounger is like looking for parking place at the mall on Christmas Eve, but it’s free! Even the half-hour massages are free, and you can make new friends while waiting two hours in line. If you’ve been burnt to a painful shade of lobster on the New England shore like yours truly, then wait for the sun to go down and catch one of the excellent free concerts. Last weekend I got to see Piers Faccini sing an acoustic set ( seems Jeff the drummer was on tour elsewhere), and this past weekend the talented Crevette d’Acier performed their hilarious musical sketches for a packed crowd. Luckily for the tourists, you don’t need to even understand French to enjoy the show. I tested some of the Paris Plage concessions with the Frères Stahl from Washington, DC (hot dogs, €2.50; fries, €2.50; chicken wings and fries, €4.80), but would like to point out that nothing prevents revelers from bringing their own picnic supplies. The crowd-phobic will find plenty of space to spread out across the river on the on the quais of the Ile-St-Louis. Don’t forget the corkscrew. Did I mention this is free?!

* Hiking High-Jinks
Last Sunday I managed to peel myself out of bed early enough to go on the monthly Canadian Club Hike. Unfortunately our guide, who wandered off to get himself a quick shot of espresso, got trapped in the turnstile at Gare de l’Est just as the 30-second departure bell started ringing. The hikers valiantly tried to hold open the doors, but this isn’t the Métro, and we found ourselves on our way to La Ferte Milon not only without our guide (who will remain anonymous), but without a map. Fortunately this month’s hike was fairly straightforward – we were following the bucolic Canal de L’Ourcq and catching the train home at one of the next villages. The weather was gorgeous, warm in the sun with a cool breeze blowing white puffy clouds around the sky. We merrily made our way along the canal and pondered our guide’s fate (there are very few trains to Les Provinces on Sunday). Later in the afternoon we arrived at our station a bit early, and on the way into the village to find an open bar — quelle surprise — we found our guide, walking staff in hand. He had taken a different train to a neighboring town, hopped on a bus, hitch-hiked, and used his map to cut through several towns to find us. Who knew a Sunday afternoon hike could be so exciting! Check the Secrets of Paris Calendar in the coming weeks for info on the next hike, September 11.

* As Exciting as it Gets (in the 13th Arrondissement)

Even though most Parisians think the 13th arrondissement is boring and tourists hardly know it exists, I love my neighborhood.

An interesting little theatre of disaster has developed right beneath my window. Just last month the city created a new bus lane on my street, separating it from the regular lane of traffic with a concrete divider. Since one lane of traffic suddenly splits into two, cars going too fast (and they always are in Paris) have very little time to swerve to the left of the divider. On any given day I’ll hear a loud crunch as another car loses a hubcap, fender, or headlight to the divider. On Wednesday there were two casualties, a white Mercedes that crushed its front right wheel on the base of the divider, and a large grey NRJ truck that caused a huge traffic jam when it knocked the concrete divider right into the middle of the street. I went down to have a laugh, er, I mean look, and join in the discussion with locals gathered on the sidewalk about what would need to be done to stop the nearly-daily accidents. Some thought a large blinking arrow should be installed. Others felt it would be better to remove it completely. I thought it was a fairly effective speed trap, but I didn’t say that out loud. Stay tuned…

In other local news, I’m thrilled to report that although most Parisian establishments participate in the Great August Shutdown, many of the bars and restaurants in the 13th are still open. Even the cafés and bistros on the Butte-aux-Cailles are open, and it’s not because this area gets any tourists – unless you count the tourists from the 16th arrondissement. And something extraordinary happened yesterday. It’s typical to hear Parisians say that “Everything is closed Monday/in August/on holidays” so imagine my shock when, on this Ascension Monday in August, I saw people walking down my street carrying baguettes! There are three places I usually find bread in my area. One was closed in August, the other is closed Mondays, and the Franprix supermarket (as a last resort only) was closed for the holiday. But every second person on the sidewalk had a baguette, so I followed their trail about three blocks down the Avenue des Gobelins and there it was — the one open boulangerie in my neighborhood (and probably all of Paris). Remember this next time you dis’ my ‘hood, suckers!

* Lunch at Bar de L’Entracte
Every once in awhile it’s a good idea for those of us who work from home to get out and socialize with other humans, so my colleagues and I meet as often as possible for lunch and unrestrained shop talk. This month was a challenge, since we were looking for cheap, central, and, preferably, open. The Bar de l’Entracte fit the bill perfectly. Located on a tiny street just outside the Jardins du Palais Royal (within sight of the Grand Véfour, mind you), the minuscule café with the zinc bar and nicotine-stained walls is open every day in August from noon until midnight. FYI, there are “L’Entracte” cafés all over Paris, even one next door to me. Its name translates as “The Intermission”. We grabbed a table just inside, overlooking the terrace, and ordered Croque Monsieur sandwiches (mine had goat cheese and tomato sauce, although the chicken curry one looked good, too). They come accompanied with a little green salad with a tasty dressing that we forgot to ask about. The owner Philippe is very friendly, but don’t try and eat here if you’re in a hurry. As usual for us, we weren’t. With a bottle of Gamay and espresso between four, the bill came to about €13 each. I should also mention that the Bar de L’Entracte is the official sponsor of the 2nd Annual Palais Royal Midnight Regatta.
47 Rue de Montpensier, 1st; tel 01 42 97 57 76.

While You’re There…
Down the street from L’Entracte is one of the oldest bars in Paris, called Au Caveau Montpensier. Its sunken, cave-like interior has been given a sleek facelift by the new Anglophone owner, while preserving the ancient stone walls and wooden beams. Open evenings from 4pm.
15 Rue de Montpensier, 1st, 01 47 03 33 78.

* La Samaritaine is Closed
And not just for August. The historic department store La Samaritaine was closed without any warning – during Les Soldes! — after a routine fire safety inspection revealed some serious infractions. Renovations to bring the building up to fire and safety codes will take up to six years. Over 1400 employees demonstrated on the streets outside the headquarters of luxury conglomerate LVMH, owners of La Samaritaine. Word on the street is that the building will be turned into a luxury shopping mall for LVMH products. I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear about this Art Deco dinosaur.

* Teachers: Don’t Forget Your ID
Did you know that in France teachers and journalists get free entrance to most museums? All you need is to do is present a photo ID that identifies you as a teacher or journalist, with the current year’s date on it. As usual, kids under 18 also get free access to the permanent collections of the city’s many museums, so don’t forget your student IDs!

* Think Paris is a Great City?
While we’re on the topic, did you know it was Mayor Delanoë who decided that the permanent collections of all municipal museums would be free, and that all national museums would be free to kids 18 and under? He also invented Paris Plage and Nuit Blanche, created more bike and bus lanes, and gave London a good run for its money in the bid for the 2012 Olympics. Show your appreciation by voting for him in the international Mayor of the Year awards! Not sure when the deadline is (if anyone else can find it on the site let me know), but the results will be announced in December. You don’t even have to be a Parisian to vote!

* Upcoming Events
Feel like you’re missing all of the fun? Check out the Secrets of Paris Calendar! Join yours truly at upcoming events including Rock-en-Seine, the “Three Euros, Three Days” Cinema Festival, and the last Canadian Club picnic of the summer.

* A Paris Poem
And to end this month’s newsletter, a poem from one of the talented ladies from this July’s Paris Writer’s Retreat:

The Girls See Paris
By Ginger McIntyre Manning
August, 2005

When I was a girl,
I dreamed of Paris.
I loved to travel,
But loved the hometown boys better.

But when I grew up,
I began to lust after other things.
I wanted to see Paris.

So I bought a suitcase and in it I put
a little black dress, some good walking shoes,
and my travel journal.

And I left South Carolina
And went across the ocean.

This is what I saw:

The cafes in Paris, They are pictures:
Bright red umbrellas. Blackboard menus.

Sparkling, sparkling sidewalk summers
and words and glasses tinkling all around them.

Light like luster in a fairy land
Glitters through kir royals.

There are no cafes like Paris’

The storms in Paris.
They are everything.
They are fast and dark and fierce and violent
And tiny terraces feel even tinier,
Curtained within them.

It feels a little afraid.

Then the skies break open
into blue and white and yellow and pink,
and it is like one great long breath
of sunlight and rain.

There are no storms like Paris’.

The museums in Paris.
Everyone goes.

Rodin knows bodies so well we can feel his hands.
And Mona Lisa is a rock star, concert sold out,
The Old Masters capture life on canvas
And the Impressionists help us to see what we’ve missed.
There are no museums like Paris’.

The lights in Paris.

They are the city.
Millions of lights illuminate the night
And the river running through it.
We saw Paris from the Seine
And fell in love again with “The City of Lights.”

We gasped all over that city.
At arches. At towers. Down the Champs Elysees
Our cab driver loquacious as a tour guide
Driving around and around.

There are no lights like Paris’.

The gardens in Paris.

There are places to write in the gardens, and you are
glad someone who so loves beauty
invites you to share it. The gardens run so far and so wide
that you think if you wander too far, you will get lost.

Its flowers are strange and beautiful, and
Lovers kiss each other as they walk.

The girls and I did silly things we could only do in Paris.
Icecream and absinthe for breakfast
I don’t know why
Because it wasn’t even noon.

Cathy said, “I think I’ll let the girls out.
And we all just “let the girl out” with good reason.

There is no decadence like Paris’.

Shopping in Paris
You walk down wide window-lined avenues
And you think there is no end anywhere,
You stroll past mannequins wearing works of art
And you think: no shopping.

You are in a hurry
But the shop is in front of you
And the “window-licking” you’ve been indulging in
Becomes not quite enough
And you enter
The world of moleskin or earrings or hats or scarves.
The earth has dropped away from you
And you’d better know how to stop.
Cynthia could not stop shopping.
Cynthia is a “moleskin” girl.

And this is how we played.

# # #


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