Monday, May 31, 2010


Last weekend (and by that I mean not yesterday but the weekend before that), the Champs-Élysées was transformed into a vast sea of green, a giant garden occupying the avenue from the Arc de Triomphe all the way to the Rond Point. We attempted a visit on Sunday afternoon; I say attempted because there were so many people and so little room to move on a day when the heat was as close to suffocating as it gets in Paris, that, after snapping the obligatory picture, we bailed. Others were more positive in their assessment of Nature Capitale, as the event was called, and you can see some amazing photos here and here. My photo was less successful.

Say what you will, there's no denying that it was an impressive feat and still one week afterwards, they're still not done with the cleanup. Oh sure, the avenue re-opened last Tuesday morning. But these plants, by the side of Avenue Foch, are still waiting their return to greener pastures.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

And Speaking of Pigeons

I took another field trip out of town yesterday, to yet another privately owned chateau in the hinterlands of Paris, just past the industrial zone but not yet quite into the real countryside. And after visits to Fontainebleau on Monday, the newly renovated Hotel Talleyrand on Tuesday, and the American ambassador's residence on Thursday, I think I hit the interior decoration wall, pretty much going into a deep coma while the lady of the house described the furniture and the pedigrees of the ancestors whose portraits adorned the walls.

And then she took us out back to visit the pigeonnier and that's when my mind snapped back to consciousness. A pigeonnier, also known as a columbier, is basically a gigantic bird house but when I say gigantic, I mean, really really really big. It's got niches for 4,500 birds. Take a look.

Back in the day, you had to get the king's permission to have one of these and it was really indispensable, both in providing food for the domaine (in the form of both meat and eggs) and fertilizer for the vegetable gardens. So important was the latter (known as colombine) that it actually got mentioned in dowries.

Here's a look from the outside. The tower at the top was just for aeration. The pigeons themselves flew in and out of the tiny window (and one opposite). The lip below the window is designed to keep any rats, who might try scurrying up the side in search of dinner, from reaching their quarry. And just for good measure, that black strip below the lip is made of slate, making it extra slippery for those rats who are successful in scaling the wall.

Beyond the pigeonnier, the chateau de Saint-Jean de Beauregard also has a spectacular garden where the peonies and irises are currently magnifique and the roses are just getting started. A arts festival is on tap for the weekend of the 12th and 13th of June, so if you have a car and the weather is fine, you might consider making the trip.

Saint-Jean de Beauregard
28 km south of Paris in the Essone

Friday, May 28, 2010

Securite Spatiale

There must be something in the water. Or maybe I've just got my wacky motorcycle antennae up. This lovingly decorated, certifiably crazy moto was parked in front of the Eiffel Tower over the weekend. I only wish I could have gotten a look at its owner!

Thursday, May 27, 2010


If someone asked you to define "American sauce," what would you say? According to Heinz, it has tomatoes, shallots and parsley but is an odd shade of orange. And no, it's not ketchup because that is labeled "ketchup." And even with the strengthened value of the dollar (which yesterday afternoon was clocking in at $1.22 to the euro), I was not willing to drop 2.19 euros to find out.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


About a year ago, I shared with you a picture of a scooter chained to a bike rack. Well then yesterday, en route between errands in the 6th arrondissement, I came across this:

Not surprisingly, the enterprise they were parked in front of was a school. Three cheers for the kids getting to school on their own power. And hooray for chaining them up so the moms don't have to carry those scooters to and fro.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Nice lettering, beautifully designed niche but a little lacking in the functionality department.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Men in Capri Pants

Men should also plan to dress in slacks as shorts are frowned upon in the streets and stores.

Parisians rarely wear shorts in the city, so if blending in, even a little, is something you'd like to do, then you should be aware that Parisians themselves don't generally wear shorts to the Louvre.

Parisians do not wear shorts. It’s simply not part of Paris fashion or Parisian style. At the very least, it is rare.

If you've read one travel article, you've read it a thousand times. The no shorts rule is right up there with no white tennis shoes as the top fashion tip for would-be tourists. And while mercifully, there do not seem to be many men walking the streets of Paris in short shorts, there does seem to be an overabundance of men in capri pants.

Exhibit 1:

Exhibit 2:

Exhibit 3:

I'll just stop there with the pictures. But let me tell you, on a warm sunny Sunday, when temperatures were close to 80 and the sun intense, the streets of Paris were so thick with men thusly attired, that I had to stop snapping. It was literally too tiring.

So why are capris okay for men but shorts are a no-no? I know there are no hard and fast rules in the world of fashion but honestly, I think these guys look like dorks. Give me a pair of bermuda shorts over the manpris any day.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

For the Birds

This three sided sign about the pigeons of Paris appeared somewhat inexplicably on the side of a busy Paris street recently, an area that doesn't appear to be particularly troubled by or lacking in pigeons. When I went hunting on-line to find out what the city of Paris might be up to, I did learn that campaign of pigeon contraception is being used citywide to keep the numbers down to a reasonable level which, at the moment, is about 80,000. The sign notes that pigeons are the rare sign of animal life in Paris; guess no one down at the Hôtel de Ville has ever seen a rat, well except maybe on the big screen.

If you want to read the sign, click on the picture to enlarge it.

Friday, May 21, 2010


After a two week disappearing act, the sun is finally out with perfect temps for a spin on this moto. Lucky tourists who came this week instead of last; lucky me for getting to spend a good chunk of time strolling in the Tuileries and on the Champs de Mars. My shoes are dusty but my spirits are high.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Adorable: Same Definition in French and English

How time flies. It's been nearly two years since I wrote this post about my children's love for the Jardin d'Acclimatation, the old fashioned amusement park in the Bois de Boulogne. And although they are growing up fast and shedding little kid past times as fast as they grow into new jeans and tennis shoes, there's still something about that place that tugs at them.

Last weekend was my younger child's birthday and I found myself there again, this time with four somewhat more gangly kids than on my last visit. And while I'm not one of those parents who secretly yearns for another baby, I could not keep my eyes off this little miss in the sand pit. So French in her tights and Mary Janes, so sweet in that adorable little cardigan and the wonderful fabrics of her dress and bonnet.

And really, the only thing cuter than her right side up was her upside down.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Allez Les Bleus

If you root for the underdog, then here's a deal for you. If you buy a big screen TV at Carrefour between now and May 29, and the French win the World Cup, then it's yours for free. Yes, you read that right. The catch is that Les Bleus are not expected to do well at all and the controversy surrounding their win over Ireland in the qualifying match has definitely cast a particularly dark shadow over them. The members of the team were announced last week and that has generated even more grumbling. But then what's a sporting event without a bit of armchair quarterbacking?

Special thanks to my husband for tipping me off to the Carrefour offer.

Monday, May 17, 2010

An Afternoon at the Races

It was a beautiful afternoon at the Hippodrome de Longchamp yesterday, first time I had ever been to the races. (The closest I'd ever been before was getting stuck in traffic before the Preakness parade in Baltimore.) And how lucky we were to go with a group guided by Gina Rarick, a former writer for the International Herald Tribune, turned horse trainer. She explained it all to us, shedding light on everything from how to read the program to making sure we knew which older man in the group of owners was the Aga Khan. I had no idea the track was so big (despite having been by there many times before -- on foot, on a bike, and in a car), that the saddles were so diminuitive, that the jockeys sometimes don't have any experience with a horse before race day, or any of the differences between the sport in France and in the U.S. We watched four races and got a peek behind the scenes at the jockeys weighing out after the race, the horses being led around the presentation ring before, and even a look at the stables and training area.

The minimum bet at Longchamp is 2 euros and with my ignorance, I wasn't even willing to risk that. But there are races there again next Sunday (the 23rd) for those who are more game. And visit Gina's Web site at if you want to learn more.

Thanks to Mark for organizing.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

To Tweet or Not to Tweet

Two blogs, one Facebook fan page, and the rest of my life to take care of and now apparently I need to be on Twitter. I can barely text on my phone so the thought of Twittering, something that I'm sure must be attended to multiple times a day, is more than I can bear. Has it really come to this? Are we nothing unless the rest of the world knows what we are doing, thinking, eating, breathing at every moment of every day?

I refuse to believe it. Instead I leave you with these pictures, something more enduring than a tweet, status update, or blog post. And you'll just have to ignore the irony that this is posted on-line.

"Dawn" amid late summer roses in Square Georges Cain in the Marais.

The Arc de Triomphe on a midwinter morning.

Notre Dame reigns graciously over Ile de la Cite.

Chestnut trees in bloom.

Everyone's favorite Parisian park, just below the Pont Neuf.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Future Shock

To be completely honest, I've never seen one of these electric cars on the streets of Paris but every now and then, I wander by this showroom and gawk. It's called a Smera and while frankly I think the name leaves a little to be desired, the idea that you'd only pay 70 euros in maintenance for every 10,000 kilometers traveled is appealing. Plus I'd bet you could practically park it in a bicycle rack although you probably couldn't get away with driving it down the sidewalk like so many motorcyclists (illegally) do now.

The company Web site is somewhat cagey about the price but says that models are for sale in Paris and soon in a European capital near you. If you're curious, go to (in both English and French.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


If you deconstruct the compound word autrefois, you get "other" and "time." Close enough. It's used primarily to mean "in the olden days." So for today, two reminders in modern Paris of life in another epoch.

First, Place de la Concorde. Site of a thousand touristy photos of Paris. Statues and fountains galore, obelisk, grand buildings on the north and south, the entrance to the Jardin de Tuileries on the east and to the Champs Elysees on the west. It was where the guillotine was set up during the French Revolution and was, at that time, called Place de la Revolution. But its origins date back to the time of Louis XV who most humbly named it after himself, as this plaque reminds us.

Next, we head to the 16th arrondissement, a long skinny slice of land which caresses the city's western edge, south of Avenue de la Grande Armee. Back in the 18th century, Auteuil and Passy were but country villages, outposts between Versailles and the city. In 1860, they became part of the city itself but long before that, this marker was set in place on what is now the incredibly charming rue Berton to mark the boundary between them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Les Saints de Glace

Despite the French insistence that they live in a lay society, the remnants of Catholicism are everywhere from the multiple holidays that will be celebrated nationally this month (the Ascension and Pentecost) to the summaries of the life of each day's special saint that appear in the newspaper right next to the horoscope, TV schedule, and crossword puzzle.

In olden times, May 11, 12, and 13 were dedicated to Saints Mamert, Pancrasse, and Servais; today, they have been replaced by Saints Estelle, Achille, and Rolande. Yet the old names still have resonance for gardeners for whom they are the "saints de glace." Their days mark the time when it is safe to plant, when all threat of frost is over. And the statistics kept by modern day meterologists confirm the tradition. No frost in the forecast for Paris this week although it is damp and chilly enough to seem like winter has returned after the glorious days of late April.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Obamania Continues

Despite President Obama's struggles with Congress, the media, and the American public, he continues to score high marks here in France. Two recent sightings:

The week before last during our vacation in the South, we spotted the President's face on these plaques on sale in a souvenir shop.

And then there's this poster for the recently released movie, Camping 2, the sort of slapsticky mess I hate in any language but that is apparently box office magic on both sides of the Atlantic. No clue why the character is sporting an Obama t-shirt or whether it figures into the dialogue.

Curiously, when I went on-line to search for a better image than the one above which I shot in an RER station, I could only find the official poster (below) in which Obama is conspicuously absent.

Monday, May 10, 2010

All Hail Parmentier

If you like your pommes frites, pommes Anna, pommes Dauphinoise, aligot, even the humble puree, you really must thank Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, public health guru, nutritionist, and pharmacist, who finally, in 1772, convinced the French that potatoes were suitable for humans, not just hogs. And look at the results. In fact, what would French cuisine be without the potato? The last time I ate out, there were potatoes in my main course and even in my salad. And of course, his name is permanently associated with the French version of shepherd's pie known as hachis Parmentier.

In addition to the street bearing his name, which cuts through a wide swath of the 10th and 11th arrondissement and a stop on Métro line 3, the French also pay hommage to Parmentier by visiting his grave site at Père Lachaise. When I was there last week, there were some fresh tubers placed on his tomb.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Take 23

Things are feeling pretty glam in the 'hood with yet another film crew at work this week, this time on a made for TV film to be called "Un bébé pour mes 40 ans." It's got a made for TV theme too -- a successful career woman starts fainting every time she sees a baby. Eventually the diagnosis becomes clear: she has a repressed desire to have a baby! (Now who would have imagined that!) Hilarity ensues as she seeks to have a baby by the time of her 40th birthday. The star is Belgian actress Natacha Amal whose hair has gone from dark brown in all her publicity photos to the dangerously striped blond here.

Watching the crew at work was pretty much like watching paint dry; the scene being shot involved the leading lady and another character sitting outside in a cafe and there seemed to be more re-applications of lipstick than actually filming. On a day that was probably much colder than suggested by the script (the coats went back on between takes) so the extras planted in tables by the window inside were probably getting the best of it.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Pinching Pennies

One of the reasons my husband and I have gotten along so well lo these many years is that we're both cheap. Well, perhaps thrifty is a better way of putting it. It's not that we won't spend money; it's more that we're careful about how we do it -- no designer bags, business class, fancy hotels, or 16 euro coupes de champagne for us. We have lots of fun for a whole lot less and whatever thread count our 15 year old sheets are, that's good enough for me.

As they say, the apple didn't fall far from the tree. My mother-in-law loves to find a bargain at the Dollar Store in her home town and she can squeeze a nickel like nobody's business. She's not up to traveling these days and I guess it's a good thing because there ain't no such thing as a Dollar Store here. Instead you've got this:

The times (and the exchange rate), they are a changing. Who knows? If the euro continues its slide, two euros might end up being closer in value to a dollar than anyone could ever have imagined.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Searching for Good Grub

Sometimes when you travel, or even when you're just not exactly on your home turf, it's nice to be spontaneous and find a meal on the fly. What a thrill when you find some place truly special. On the other hand, what a drag when you spend money and it's just so-so or worse yet, just plain bad.

What's the best way to find quality in Paris when you are out and about without a specific address in mind? Check out the stickers on the door or in the window. This one's a winner in apparently everyone's book. And I thought the bread was pretty darn good myself.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Listening, Speaking

I've got a couple of stray thoughts knocking around in my head, both on the general theme of the sound of the French language. As in, what is it about the way French ladies speak that makes me think of chirping birds? The other day when I was on the bus, I noticed two women speaking quietly with each other and I knew almost immediately, without even being close enough to eavesdrop, that they were not speaking French.

Why? It's not the words French women use; in fact I wish I could find a sound file, stripped of all meaning but preserving the rise and fall of their voices. Something about it is musical; but it also sometimes strikes me that, at least to my way of thinking, it makes the speakers seem more like little girls than the mature accomplished women they are. Was that "bonjour madame" sincere or not? It can be hard to tell.

And what does my French sound like to native French speakers? I remember my French teacher the first year I was here, getting a big grin every time I struggled with those extra syllables in the future tense. I must have looked frustrated because she said, "Mais Anne, c'est super mignon!" Is it really cute or maybe just plain pathetic? Are they nodding because I'm getting my point across or are they just being polite as I garble tenses and cases and genders?

Am I making any sense at all?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Flower Power

The calendar says spring, the weather says otherwise. Thank goodness I had not completed the multiple runs that are required to drop off the household end of season dry cleaning. And judging from the forecast, I'm going to be wearing that tweedy blazer and the purple and black sweater jacket a lot over the next week.

But one can always dream, right? Particularly if it involves taking a spin on one of these babies. Peace, love, and warm weather. I could dig it.

And how about the groovy tramway in Montpellier? There are only two lines; the other one is royal blue with white birds.
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