In 2011, books with a French twist top my list of holiday gifts, something for every Francophile whether they’ve been naughty or nice. When possible, please support your local bookstore, but for your convenience, I’ve also added an Amazon link. Below are Frenchophile’s favorites:
History 1830-1900: David McCullough’s The Greater Journey
McCullough explores American history in Paris between 1830 and 1900 when hundreds of notable Americans like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe–migrated to Paris.
Memoir: John Baxter’s The Most Beautiful Walk in the World
Baxter writers a beautiful memoir about walking in Paris. The best way to see Paris is on foot, and Baxter makes the walk even more delightful with his insights into the stroll.
Humor: Stuff Parisian’s Like: Discovering the Quoi in the Je Ne Sais Quoi by Olivier Magny
Written by the proprietor of O Chateau, a popular wine bar in Paris, Magny’s book is a humorous look into the Parisian mind. This nonfiction book was written in French and translated into English.
Travel: Paris, Paris: Journey Into the City of Light by David Downie
Travel writer David Downie writes thirty-one short prose sketches of people, places and daily life in Paris, and includes photographs by Alison Harris
Fiction: Paris Wife by Paula McLain
A novel that captures Paris in the 1920s, where Hemingway and his wife Hadley live amidst the “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Food: The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious – and Perplexing – City David Lebovitz
Lebovitz brings us along as he falls in love with the magical, and maddening, city of Paris.
Frenchophile is happy to welcome Lela Lake, who is guest posting for us today. Lela is a life-long lover of Parisian culture who writes for AnyTrip.com, the budget travel specialists. Bienvenue, Lela!
Entertaining yourself in Paris on a budget is a snap if you possess a sense of adventure and an eye for the delights that wait just off the beaten path. Take a different perspective of Paris hunting for gargoyles or sample the eye-popping graffiti and street art that equals – or beats – the glitzy art show venues that cost a pretty penny.
Churches like Notre Dame are bristling with ever watchful gargoyles (photo by Laura K. Gibb)
High above the bustling streets of Paris sit thousands of patient gargoyles, silently watching the endless spectacle below. Spotting them from the ground is just the beginning of the fun, figuring out how to get the best angle for a picture to add to your collection presents interesting challenges as well. Note that where gargoyles are present you will usually find a statue of an angel. Local legend claims that the angels took pity on the gargoyles when they fell out of favor with humanity and came to keep them company while they remain in carven captivity.
Create your own digital fine arts collection (photo credit: piC1966)
Cataloging your daily adventures in Paris can turn into an adventure all its own with just a little creativity and panache. Write out a daily summary of your unique perspective of Paris for your personal blog or use your digital camera as an excuse to engage people you encounter, snap candid shots of daily life or capture obscure and overlooked beauty. Check around the outside art museums like Le Petit Palais on the Champs-Elysées for available light situations to snap photos of statues since flashes inside are discouraged. Add your digital photos to your online stories or download your favorites onto internet albums like Flickr to share daily pictures of your journey with folks back home or edit them into a video of your most excellent Paris adventure.
Huge shopping venues like Galeries Lafayette require no admission but the competition among stores is brisk, so you will find they offer more than mere window shopping to casual passers-by. Simply exhibit the right degree tactful interest and you’ll be inundated with offers to sample products, nibble delicacies, watch fashion shows while sipping champagne or even have experts help you browse their selections to find what type of look works best for you. The chic part is realizing that you can have all that pampering without actually opening your pocketbook.
Street Art Walk
(photo credit: a-m-a-n-d-a)
Some argue that the best contemporary art in Paris is not in the galleries but painted on the walls throughout the city. To see the biggest conglomeration of graffiti art, head to the Belleville – Menilmontant section during the day to get an eyeful of the vibrant colors and themes that have made this an art form a reluctantly respected genre.
Sunset Picnic at the Cemetery
Spooky even in the daytime, the great mausoleums within the Père Lachaise Cemetery become positively eerie as the sun slowly sets over the Seine and city lights begin to fill the night. Just bring along your blanket, a basket of nibbles and maybe a nice bottle of wine and prepare to sit quietly. Resist the urge to chatter or fuss with your phone to experience the full chilling effect of the shadows lengthening behind the tombs and sunset painting the marble headstones in exquisite colors as the shadows deepen.
Thanks for these great ideas, Lela! Check out AnyTrip’s competition to win a trip to Paris (ends September 30, 2011) or browse their selection of cheap hotels in Paris.
I don’t recall when I first dreamed of visiting Giverny—maybe as a college student looking at art books? Could the inspiration of Monet’s Water Lilies (Nympheas) be as beautiful or the colors as vibrant as the paintings? I wanted to experience it firsthand: the dappled light of the forest, clouds reflected in the pond, the lush green lily pads.
Photo by Kenneth Cohen
On previous visits to Paris, regrettably, I didn’t make it to Giverny. But I did visit the Musee de L’Orangerie in the Tuileries, to see Monet’s Water Lilies up close. Built in 1852 as a hothouse for the King’s potted orange trees in winter, the Orangerie was Monet’s choice as a home for his masterpiece. The architect Camille Lefèvre was commissioned to renovate the building to accommodate the massive canvasses—1,950 feet of canvas—that Monet painted at his home in Giverny in a special studio with skylights and wheeled easels to accommodate the canvases. The water lilies in all their magnificence surround the oval shaped room just as they might have done around the pond.
During this visit to Paris, though, Giverny was at the top of my “bucket list.” Only 45-minutes to Vernon on the speed train and then a bus ride from Vernon to Giverny will deliver you to the garden gates. Despite warnings about the long lines, we arrived in Giverny and there only five people in front of us at the ticket counter. Within minutes we were touring Monet’s maison— standing in his lovely living room on the groundfloor, examining his cozy kitchen and looking out the window from his upstairs bedroom onto the gardens below. Did he actually stand here where I’m standing I wondered. Below, lilies, roses, poppies, daisies in red, purple, orange, and fuschia flourished in the garden near the house. Then by walking across the road we reached the lily pond.
Although we were surrounded by busloads of tourists and a group of rowdy preschoolers at the pond—there was a calm there, it felt so quiet and peaceful. I could have spent hours there. But the shuttle awaited us, and we didn’t want to miss the train back to Paris, so off we went feeling refreshed after a day in Monet’s garden.
Photo by Kenneth Cohen
After Ken and I finally stumbled upon the “G.H. Martel Champagne” sign, we entered a charming office that looked like someone’s living room to wait for the tour. In Reims we had eaten lunch at a brasserie and noticed two young women sitting next to us eating what appeared to be a delicious lunch. They walked into the room a few minutes later to join the tour. Fancy meeting you here we joked. They were from Sydney and one of them is in Paris studying and her friend from Sydney is visiting her. A couple from Sweden joined the group and our tour guide, Sophie, lead us to the entry way to the cave.
A Merry Group
We walked down steep stairs to a basement like room that had been dug out of solid chalk. We walked down steep stairs to the cave made out of chalk and learned that hundreds of years ago the chalk caves in Reims were used to store foods—for refrigeration—because they maintain a constant temperature. The fact that Reims is built on chalk is one of the reasons it became the champagne capital—winemakers discovered they could store the bottles here in a perfect constant temperature.
We saw the antique equipment that has been used in the process when it was all done by human labor before it became modernized at their operation in Epernay, another Champagne center. Women were not allowed to be involved in the process except for one job: attaching the labels.
The champagne process takes so much work and it amazes me that someone figured it out. First they make the wine, then add the sugar and yeast, then turn the bottles, then disgorge the sediment, then add a little more wine, then put a cork on it. Voila! Who figured out that you could get rid of the yeast sediment by freezing it in the neck and then opening the bottle?
During WWII 120 hid in G.H. Martel’s Champagne Cave. People have also come here alone to have a toast before their wedding for good luck. Our guide Sophie told us that “champagne cellars are a cathedral underground.” This cellar, although dark and damp, did possess the calm that one finds sitting in a church.
This year is an exciting year in Champagne making because it may produce a “vintage year.” The last vintage year was 2004—this is when the conditions are so perfect that 100 percent of a grape is used in the champagne—there’s no mixing of different grapes. Because April and May were unseasonable warm this year, followed by a very cool, rainy June, champagne makers are hoping that this will be a very good year for the grapes.
The tour ended back in the living room where we sampled three generous glasses of champagne: Coeur de Cuvee made from chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot menier; Grand Cru made from pinot noir (90 percent) and chardonnay (10 percent) and the Bouzy Rouge made from pinot noir grapes.
We said goodbye to our new friends and boarded the high speed train back to Paris–it was a perfect day trip to Reims.
There are two types of people in the world: those who love looking at ancient cathedrals and those who would much rather tour a champagne cave. But I learned, surprisingly, that I like both! Today we took the high speed train from Paris to Reims, one of the two main champagne regions of France, with the intent of touring the G.H. Martel Champagne Cave. But we arrived at 10:30 a.m.with time to explore the town of Reims (pronounced “rance” which rhymes with France, go figure) before sampling the bubbly.
Reims is a spectacular town where 26 kings were crowned, where champagne was invented, and where the Germans officially surrendered in WWII. It’s known for the spectacular cathedral in the city center where Clovis, the first King of the Franks, was baptized at a church on this site in 496.
Notre Dame de Reims
Ken and I wondered through town, unable to locate the proper bus stop to the cathedral. We meandered from block to block and finally asked a bus driver. “Ou est l’autobus pour Cathedral.”
“Cathedral?” he asked, then pointed “A gauche.” (to the left.) We had to laugh, we were a block away from the cathedral—no need to take a bus.
Please let me in
The cathedral is impossible to miss–it is the heart of the city. Construction on Cathedral Notre Dame de Reims began in 1211 and it’s mind boggling to imagine the workers who built this masterpiece. Many of the stained glass windows were destroyed in WWI and have been replaced by local Champagne makers—the windows show scenes portraying the tending of the vines, the harvest, and the fermentation process.
Next, we look for a bus to the Martel Champagne Cave. In Paris, everyone speaks some English and I’ve never had a problem communicating. Outside of Paris, however, not everyone speaks English, especially not bus drivers. When we asked our bus driver “Ou est la Martel Champagne Cave?” He gave me a blank look and then I pointed at the name in the guide book. He said his bus didn’t’ stop there but he would show us. We drove through town and at a top of a hill he stopped and set the brake, with a full bus no less, got out of the bus and walked down the block with us to show us the correct bus stop. But as we waited for the bus, we looked up and saw a sign down the street G.H. Martel Champagne Caves. We had arrived and didn’t realize it.
The Caves were closed for lunch so we explored the neighborhood and discovered another spectacular Cathedral, the Saint Remi Basillica. We walked around the grounds and took photos—it was a quiet, lovely place with an ancient forrest of moss covered trees beside it.
Finally at 2 PM we arrived at the Champagne caves for our tour. Stay tuned for Part II of the Champagne Cave Tour in a future post.
Enough talk about the rain in Paris, suddenly there’s a heat wave coming to town with the hottest day of the summer predicted for tomorrow (100 degrees Fahrenheit.)
Anna returned to the U.S. yesterday so on this Sunday morning, Ken and I awoke with a sunny day in front of us and decided to rent bikes on Velib and ride to the street market on Rue Cler. Sundays are my favorite days to rent bikes in Paris because there’s less traffic, and the road along the Seine is closed to cars and open strictly for pedestrians and bikes.
Velib can be tricky the first time you use it but with patience it is a very easy way to rent bikes. Be sure to check out the condition of the bike before you take off with it. The first bike Ken had was stuck in first gear and the seat was broken so we had to return it and get a new one. The first half-hour is free so it wasn’t a problem to exchange.
We rode past the houseboats on the Seine, some of them are private residences and some are commercial ventures offering dinner and some providing guided tours. Near the Eiffel Tower we merged back onto street traffic before turning onto a tree-lined path at the Champs de Mars. It was a typical Parisian Sunday with families were picnicking, mothers pushing babies in strollers, children riding bicycles. Nearby we turned onto Rue Cler for the outdoor market. It was nearly 1:00 p.m., late for the market as stalls were being packed up. So we locked our bikes to a post and took a seat in the shade at the Market Café. Our lunch was superbe: Ken’s organic eggs benedict with lean bacon strips had the best hollandaise sauce I’ve ever tasted. My caprese salad was prepared perfectly with the tomatoes arriving whole, seeded and peeled atop a chunk of mozzarella with basil aioli drizzled over them.
It was two o’clock, getting warmer by the minute when we arrived at Velib to return our bikes but yikes, there were no empty spaces. We had a choice. We could lock them up and pay for additional time while we rested in our air conditioned hotel room or we could keep riding to look for spots to return our bikes. Our air-conditioned hotel room called to us. We would try again later when we would need to go out for our daily ice cream at Berthillon. As the French say, “Cest la Vie.”
We awoke to the rainiest day yet, rain so forceful hard that our umbrellas did little to protect us—it was beautiful. Ken, stubborn husband that he is, didn’t bring an umbrella because he “hates” umbrellas but today he gladly mooches off me. Anna and I name him the umbrella moocher as he tries, to no avail, to stay dry beneath our umbrellas. We decide to make our way to the D’Orsay Museum as an indoor activity along with every other tourist in Paris. The square next to the D’orsay looks like a flower garden with all the umbrellas sprouting up. The line didn’t move an inch while we stood there. We decided to go to the movies instead of waiting in line to see Beginners—afterall the French love the cinema and going to a matinee is as common as café au lait.
Here’s the cool thing about seeing movies in Paris. Most movies made in the U.S. are shown in Paris in their original English with French subtitles. The other thing you should know is that popcorn in France is awful. It’s been popped somewhere else and brought in bags so it’s stale–save the calories for a creme brulee after the movie.
Last night we went to see Tree of Life, winner of the Palme d’Or, top honor at the Cannes Film Festival. We spent 2 ½ hours watching this film unfold and when we left I said, “What the hell?” Sure it was cinematically ambitious with sumptuous scenes from the creation of heaven and earth, vignettes of dinosaurs, tableaux of oceans with tumultuous waves. What did it all mean? Is God listening? One reviewer called this movie a visual poem and maybe that is what it is. I didn’t find any reviews that loved the film, but like the Emporer’s New Clothes, no one said the king is naked. Am I a heathen to say the film didn’t move me. I would retitle it “Brad Pitt’s Ode to Himself.”
On the contrary, Beginners, the film we saw today, made me feel almost too much. The acting was superb with Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer and the French actress Melanie Laurent. It is a partly autobiographical story about Oliver, a young man who has a relationship with Anna, a French actress, shortly after his father’s death. The father, Hal, after 40 years of marriage to Oliver’s mother, had recently come out of the closet. Oliver navigates a choppy sea of emotions—feelings about Hal’s partner Andy, love of Hal’s Jack Russell terrier Arthur, loss of his beloved father Hal, and new emotions/feelings about Anna. I laughed out loud and also had to fight not to sob out loud. When Beginners was over and the credits were rolling Ken said, “Now that’s a film!”
We walked outside after the movie and the sun was shining. I felt that was God’s symbolic way of saying that Beginners is the better movie. Of the two films one won a at Cannes but another won our hearts.
Yesterday, Ken, my husband, arrived in Paris remarkably energetic. He had just endured a 12 hour flight and yet he didn’t appear to be tired. He said he had a client who was French and they told him about the wonders of French maritime pine bark extract, pycnogenol, for jet lag. It’s sold at health food stores and you take it three days before your flight, then take it twice on the day of your flight.
When Anna and I arrived in Paris, I struggled to stay up until 5 P.M. and she lasted until 8 PM. So if Ken could stay awake until 8 p.m. I would have been astounded. He insisted on having lunch and followed by a day of sight seeing. Anna and I obliged but smirked behind his back knowing that he wouldn’t be awake for long. We walked to the Hotel de Ville for the Impressionist Exhibition, free to the public, but two-hour wait forced us to change our plans. Plan B: we took the Metro to the Opera Garnier, the magnificent opera house built during the Paris Reconstruction Project.
The building is eye-candy, so rich and luxurious that it resembles a painting by a master. It inspired the Phantom of the Opera with it’s underground lake and death of a person when the 8 ton chandelier fell from the ceiling in 1896 and killed a person.
“Ready to go back to the room?” I asked Ken after the Opera Garnier.
“No let’s keep going.”
We had tickets to for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons performed at St. Chappelle at 7p.m.. The cathedral La Sainte-Chapelle was largely complete at the time of its consecration on the 26th of April 1248. It’s beautiful stained glass windows are legendary and despite damage to the chapel during the French Revolution, a majority of the original windows survived. In total in the upper chapel, there are 1,113 biblical scenes in 15 stained glass windows
If Vivaldi didn’t put Ken to sleep like a lullabye, nothing would. I looked over at Ken as we listened to the ethereal music and although I saw his eyelids flutter but he was still sitting upright. He enjoyed the concert and emerged ready to go to dinner.
We walked to a local’s favorite not far from Saint Chapelle called the Rose of France. Located on a little side street, the restaurant’s menu appealed to us all. I ordered roast chicken, Ken ordered lambchops and Anna had the good old standby—a hamburger. While we waited for our dinner we watched an art class taking place in the park across the street and the most adorable dog, very french looking, a cross between a dacschund and a terrier, black white and brown frolicked amidst the serious artists. The dog went from person to person and we couldn’t tell who was its master. Finally Ken couldn’t stand it any longer, he had to go play with the dog, and he scratched its neck, and roughhoused with it until the dog chased him and barked at him. It was all very entertaining and then our wonderful meal arrived. We had warm chocolate cake for desert before heading back to the hotel. Now, after a big dinner, Ken would definitely be sleepy, I thought. We prepared to go to bed, snuggled into bed with a book and at 11 p.m, finally, Ken turned out the lights. He slept 8 hours and woke up today feeling terrific. He’s an advertisement for the virtues of French Maritime Pine Bark extract.
The sky was gray when we left Paris for Versailles,we sat side by side and Anna handed me one of her headphones so I could share her iPod on the ride. Air in the train car had a delicious Saturday morning feel as the weekend stretched before us.
Mackelmore rapped on Anna’s iPod, the rhythm in sync with the train on the tracks, an urban soundtrack. Out the window, a gritty view passed by–graffiti-covered walls, Metro stops, laundry hanging from apartment windows. A man behind us talked loudly on his cell phone, oblivious to the dirty looks from passengers. An accordion player jumped into our car and played a song I recognized from the movie “Darjeeling Limited.”—appropriate that it was a train movie.
Just thirty minutes later, we were walking from the train to Versailles with other tourists in a downpour—the wind blowing so hard our umbrella was blown inside out. We squealed, and laughed, and fought the wind to restore our protective umbrella, then huddled underneath it. It was a very good day for the souvenir salesmen crowd the Versailles gates peddling knicknacks—today the tourists couldn’t give them their money fast enough for umbrellas. I liked a pink Marie Antoinette umbrella but we brought our own –we could have brought two umbrellas, but being optimists, we didn’t really think it would rain. Now we both clung to one umbrella. A line snaked around the building, tourists flattened against the wall trying to stay warm.
“Do you want to go back?” I asked. The skies had become charcoal, thunder richocheted off the buildings, rain was pouring down.
“No, we came this far. Let’s go to Marie Antoinette’s house.” Anna said, a fan of the Sophia Coppola movie with Kirsten Dunst.
“That’s the spirit!,” I replied although I wouldn’t have been sad if she said let’s go back We paused at the top of the stairs to survey the kingdom below. “King Louis claimed that he designed every blade of grass,” I said. Anna nodded, or shivered, I wasn’t sure then looking down she began laughing hysterically.
“Look!” she laughed and pointed at my pants. My pant legs were so soaked I could wring them out.
We sloshed down the stairs past the fountains spraying and classical music played from massive Bose speakers. On Saturdays and Sundays Versaille presents the lovely Grandes Eaux Musicales and on a sunny day, it’s wonderful, but today it seems misplaced, we are the only people out here for the moment. “ Let’s pretend we are royalty descending the stairs,” I say and we laughed at the absurd picture of two drowned rats trying to descend the royal stairs to the royal gardens in a regal way.
The rain stopped. We took this opportunity to walk down the statue lined path to a tree covered road that leads to the Grand Trianon and the Petite Trianon where Marie Antoinette hung out.
During previous visits to Versailles, I have seen the palace grounds full of merriment: boaters paddling in the grand canal, bicyclists riding around the Palace Gardens, picnickers by the lake, joggers on the paths, restaurants overflowing, ice cream stands surround by customers. On this day, however, not so much merriment, a different view of Versailles..
We toured the Grand Trianon and made our way to the adorable Petite Trianon where Marie Antoinette enjoyed living in a country house like a peasant and kept chickens and sheep. A black cloud loomed ominously above and Anna said, “I’m okay with going back now”.
A few minutes later, the rain began. By the time we reached the parking lot we would have paid a ransom for a plastic poncho–our umbrella protected us from one out of every ten raindrops. We reached the train station just before the train departed and slid into an empty seat. The umbrella left a puddle on the floor. A young couple sat across from us kissing and eating chips. We were chilled to the bone, happy to be inside the train’s warmth, rocked gently as it moved down the tracks. Anna handed me a headphone.
“That was an adventure, mom,” she said placing her headphone in her ear and snuggling against the window.
“Sure was, I said but she didn’t hear. This time, we listened to Eminem,making our way back to Paris. Just outside Issy-val du Seine, out of nowhere, a wave of melancholy washed over me. In a few years Anna will be in a college dorm somewhere listening to Eminem or Mackelmore. Or maybe sitting on a train next to a boy eating chips. It was yesterday that we listened to the Backstreet Boys together on an airplane to DisneyWorld. How fast time goes like a train to Versailles and how happy I am that I have been on the ride sharing a headset.
Today Anna and I stopped by Angelina, famous for its choc-chaud (hot chocolate) before venturing to the Louvre. We were dying to see what all the fuss was about—hot chocolate is hot chocolate, right? Unless it’s chocolate cake batter. This drink is so thick that Anna vascillated between sipping it and drinking it with a spoon. She drank half a cup, pronounced it delicious, then complained of a stomach ache. Warning: do not go to the Louvre with a stomach ache.
Several years ago, my husband Ken and I toured the Louvre in twenty minutes. We were on our way to see the Mona Lisa, maneuvering our way into the museum’s interior amidst bus tour groups, when Ken started sweating and shaking and said, “I’ve never been claustrophic before but I need to get out of here. Now.” So our total time was twenty minutes from the time we entered to the time we stood outside the Pyramid.
Today, Anna and I made a similar plan. Museum-lovers may want to cover their eyes now because of what I’m going to write. Neither of us wanted to visit the Louvre but we felt we had to. We enjoyed modern art museums, plus we were looking forward to the D’orsay and Orangerie but we didn’t really care about all that madness of the Louvre. However I felt I would be a bad mother if I didn’t at least take Anna to the Louvre-I could imagine her teachers asking her, “Did you visit the Louvre?” and their shocked expression when she said, “Non.” She wanted to see one thing; the Mona Lisa. So we entered the museum with this mission in mind and set the timer.
It was cloudy and overcast today, maybe in the 60s, but inside the Louvre it was a humid hothouse. On a 90 degree day the Louvre would be unbearable. Plus, the crowds! It is impossible to move more than a few feet at a time–there are so many thousands of people crammed into the hallways. To get close enough to see a work of art, one must wait in line for a turn, so it’s possible to spend a lot of time waiting in each hallway.
We followed the signs to the Mona Lisa, we zig-zagged through the crowd, and there she was smiling at us from afar. Voila! Anna was happy to see her and then said, “Let’s get out of here.” We rejoiced when we stepped outside into the fresh air and continued on our way. We walked through the Palais Royale, past the beautiful Place Victoire, Saint Eustache, and Chatelet Halles. We stopped in a store that sells European design magazines and a clothing store that sold adorable eyelet skirts, then continued window shopping along the way back to our hotel. It was a splendid day. No doubt, the Louvre is full of treasures. But so are the streets of Paris.