Still out…

After running a way to shoot some graffiti, it was hard to imagine heading home. Paris has been grey out lately. Oppressively grey, with lots of rain, so I am in desperately need of a holiday. Which I don’t deserve, because I don’t have a real job. So I stay in Paris and pretend.

The girls and I headed south from rue Denoyez , which took us straight  the Belleville Market. Talk about culture shock, instead of stinky Paris metro, the air was heavy with fresh mint and coriander. traces of exotic spices wafted pass was we got caught up in a press of humanity.

Once we were finally out of the market, a gentleman pushed a political tract into my hand. I thanked him, explaining that I had already decided.

“Non, this is for Algeria.” he informed me.

I looked him square in the eyes, he looked me straight in the eyes. I could see the gears in his brain registering  that I am not Algerian and probably not even French. We laughed and my friend piped up, “Votay…. Obama.” as we walked away with a wave.

Down the street, and down some more. Before I knew it, things were starting to look familiar. Wait a minute… I knew where we were. This was the über trendy, almost has-been Oberkampf area. Wahoo. It is pathetic how rarely I get out to really explore the city now that I live here. I hadn’t been in this part of town, in ages, and I had never been with a local, so I didn’t know the hotspot to choose for lunch.

Avoiding the question altogether, I headed up a private road into a private housing area where lilac bushes and wisteria were in full bloom. Workers ateliers had clearly been transformed into private homes, artist studios and the offices for OXFAM. I spent ages in there, taking photos and trying hard not to be too much of a voyeur.

Back on Oberkampf,  we headed to Café Charbon. The place is a cliché for the neighborhood; very ‘arty’ Parisienne moms head to this address for a morning coffee after dropping their kids off at la créche and they return later that evening for a cocktail with Monsieur. The food was seriously good for café fare, with a courgette (zucchini or marrow, depending on where you’re from) flan that was particularly noteworthy and a cheap menu that include a café gourmand.

After lunch I discovered the Made by MOI boutique with their Nan and Nin handbags. I love these bags. They are designed by two sisters with a Maman and a Papa in the leather business, making them born professionals. Their bags feature original, very stylish designs that are easy to wear and do not cost an average man’s monthly salary. Minutes later I was swept away by the fragrance coming from the utterly charming florist next door, L’Arrosoir. My adventure ended as it had begun, on a very fragrant note.

Nan and Nin

Rooms with a view

This is the view that greets me as I open my eyes each morning. My very own guardian angel. She is here because I live in an 18th century convent. A modern Jewish girl living out of wedlock in an 18th century convent. Irony…

The Bug no longer notices our angels, but our view has captured her attention recently. Wednesday, April 4, she was at home studying for her mid-term exams when she heard a rather loud clanging bell. Peeking her head into my studio she asked what was going on. I followed the sound back to her window and looking out, I saw that it was the rémouleur. I had forgotten that this neighborhood had its very own knife sharpener. He passes by the first Wednesday of every month, ringing a large brass bell in his left hand to tell us that it is time to affûte our blades.

photo courtesy of the Rémouleur blog

The profession has existed since the middle ages and they still have a guild mentality, with a French blog of their very own, featuring images of rémouleurs, past and present, from across the globe. The French singer, André Claveau even wrote a whimsical song about these men and their work in 1952.

I thought this was incredibly charming when I first moved to France. Admittedly, it took me several first Wednesdays of the month and a keen sense of voyeurism before I understood what all the commotion was about. But once I go it, I was IN, running downstairs with a handful of kitchen knives at the first clang that signaled his arrival. We agreed upon a price, then he set down his cart, and started pedaling, putting the whetstone into motion. 15 minutes and 20 euros later he had basically destroyed my entire collection of high-tech cooking knives. It took several years with a proper rémouleur at the Sunday Richard Lenoir market to set things straight. Despite my disappointment, it still thrills me that this man passes by my street each month, as another man once did when my home was first built, and as men have done for the past 300 years.

Marché Richard Lenoir


Flower power

Fresh-cut garden flowers are a Parisian institution. Odd in a city with very few private gardens, but congruent with all the farmers’ markets throughout the town. I love watching the pages of the calendar turn as each month brings its very own blooms. This month is April which means overwhelmingly fragrant blossoms of French Lilac perfume the streets and my home.

When I am very lucky, one of les filles, back in the city after a weekend at the family’s country home, will call from her apartment which is overflowing with flowers that grandmère insisted she cart home. Would I be a chérie and take some of the buds off her hands? They are gorgeous, but the perfume is a bit too much. Being a generous, accommodating gal, I am happy to help out.

If no there are no Parisiennes needing to pawn off their unwanted blooms, I head to the local market, where people from nearby suburbs, looking to get rich off of us city saps, harvest buckets full of these precious purple flowers and hawk them from the street corners. 5€ for a generous handful that keeps my home smelling like a day in the country. Really, who needs Calgon?

The tax write off

The French love round table style sets...

I answer my ringing cellphone…
“Oui, âllo?”
“Bonjour, Madame S?”
“This is M xx, your accountant.”
“Oh, yes,” I reply, looking for a bush to hide under or a passing bus that could hit me and relieve me of my terror of all things tax.
“I’ve been reviewing your receipts and, well, do you really think a television is a legitimate business expense?”
“Oh, well, THAT. Its just that I’ve never had a TV and now that I’m writing international ad campaigns for the mass market, I need one for work. Its just for the ads, I promise.”

I gave up on television a very long time ago. We had screens for watching movies, and  there were moments when I relied on the babysitter-in-a-box via DVDs, like any modern parent, but for the most part, it was not my thing.

Three years ago I started writing ads for companies that buy ad space on TV and the “idiot box” moved in. So did Mr French, and we started watching rugby games. Then he added some business news and before I knew it, I was watching la télévision.

I’ve started turning on and tuning in all by myself now, becoming a fan of Le Grand Journal, which is news in an entertaining format. Think the French version of Good Morning America, but at night and with puppets and a weather girl who is an affront to modern feminism. I like this show because it gives me a really good idea of what is going on from a fairly irreverent, uniquely French perspective.  It makes me laugh.

The cast of Marsupilami

Serious guests like Martine Aubry, president of the French socialist party, are questioned by a round table of journalists, which sometimes includes the American singer, China Moses. China is so fluent in French that Gad Elmaleh, a French comedian didn’t even suspect that she was from the land of burgers and shakes. There are Les Guignols (marionettes) that conduct in-depth interviews with other puppets representing politicians and business men and the Boite à questions, a brightly lit white box in which stars are asked thought-provoking questions. Last night, they asked the cast of the new film Marsipalami,“What sentence is most likely to kill the mood in the bedroom?” French star Alain Chabat replied with disconcertingly suspicious speed, “Oh that? Its just a bit of herpes.”

SAV by Fred and Omar Sy is a nightly improv routine about customer service reps and the calls they receive.The actors have so much fun that it is often a challenge for them to keep a straight face. Look out for Sy, who is bound to hit the big screen in America with the ironically touching film “Les Intouchables”, a true story based on the relationship between a obscenely wealthy paraplegic and his male nurse from the projects.

The most recent hit from Le Grand Journal is the short film series, Bref… 2 minutes tales of a single man in Paris. Francophones can watch it here. And if it doesn’t work from a US ip, well I guess you’ll just have to come to Paris!


Hiquily puzzle

Finding Art

I simply love exploring all the short cuts and secret passages in Paris. At times, I have been known to mortify my entire family by pushing the brass button on a security pad at a random building, hoping to enter an unknown courtyard, totally uninvited. It is beyond my will power to resist the large, wide-open porte cochères. Which is how I happened upon a woman piecing together Hiquily sculptures in a courtyard on the rue des Beaux Arts. While I only recognized the work, Mr French already knew the artist’s name and his background and quickly filled me in.

Hiquily at St Germain

Lady of the ???

Phillipe Hiquily is a 87 year old French artist, famous for his metal, mobile, semi-erotic sculptures that can be found at museums like the Pompidou, MOMA, Guggenheim and Smithsonian. The LOFT gallery has just published a catalogue raisonné, a comprehensive catalogue of an artist’s work, on Hiquily. It exceeds 700 pages. In celebration, Hiquily statues have been installed on the Places St Sulpice and St Germain, with free exhibits open to the public in the Mairie of the 6th arrondissement, and another at the Hotel Lutetia, all running until April 28.

Back in the courtyard we learned from the art assembler that the gallery was presenting a small show of his works available for sale upstairs. I went bounding up. I was charmed by the small 8 inch models of his sculptures (25,000€), but would have really liked one of the three foot tall miniatures (30,000€) for my balcony. If you have a large garden, his monumental pieces are also available, but I didn’t even think to ask the price on those. Its just not practical to have a 5 metre tall work of art in a Paris flat.

A party at the Mairie on the 5th of April kicks off the festivities at 19h. The man himself will be at LOFT on the 19th of April, from 18h to 21h, signing copies of the catalogue (180€ throughout the exhibit, then rising to 220€). Other signings will be held at the Hotel Lutetia on the 18th.

Back in the courtyard I photographed the art dealer, totally amazed at her casual attitude as she dusted off huge chunks of metal that were collectively worth a small fortune. I shared my wonder with Mr French, who replied, “Its not like you’re going to walk off with the piece, its huge.” Which kind of gave me an idea… how much is truck rental in Paris???

Galerie LOFT

Mirror, mirror…

Mr French and I moved in together in December. I’m a photographer and art director, he reads every design magazine on the racks and studies art. We each have our own, extremely diverse opinions. Decorating our joint abode is going to take some time. Years, probably.

One of our key suppliers is turning out to be the Marché aux Puces at St Ouen, aka the Clignancourt flea market, just north of the city. I know the market well because I used to help art and antique collectors from the US purchase their treasures here and ship them home. My clients collected everything from antique books to Louis XVI furniture, oriental carpets to contemporary art. This trip was personal.

Our mission; a mirror for over the sink in our water closet. The space is awkward because the sink is very close to a wall, but the ceilings are high, requiring something very long and narrow. We had in mind something very traditional; an ornate carved wood, gilded frame from the 19th century; accessories with some serious patina, to balance out our mostly modern apartment.

The visit began at the Vernaison market, where we soon came across Stand 29, run by the adorable Marie B, from Brittany, and her SO. On the walls a collection of 1970’s rattan framed mirrors had caught our eyes. On a facing wall were similar mirrors in a stained, darker rattan. The effect was whimsically quirky. I seemed to recall having seem them in one of Mr French’s design mags. Yes, confirmed Monsieur SO, they were in ELLE Deco, but the stylist purchased the entire collection for herself after the photoshoot, so these were others. I smell a rat. Did she buy this for her own flat, for a gift, or as an investment she could then sell on eBay for a considerable profit, “as seen in ELLE”? Knowing  journalist salaries, I’m guessing its door number 3.

We liked the effect a lot, but didn’t think it was exactly what we were looking for. Nobody seemed to have what we were looking for. Across the same allée, two or three stands later we came to another stand with another 70’s display, this time plaster suns, painted in gold. They looked rich and elegant without being extravagant and the price was right. But we’d only just arrived and wanted to see what else was available.

Back on the rue des Rosiers (St Ouen, not the Marais) we visited a truly Louis, gilded boutique with a remarkably extraordinary, ornate porcelain bucket; this bucket was the very bucket used by Marie Antoinette at her Hameau at Versailles. True? I don’t know. The dealer has a shop, and a certificate, and is herself a certified dealer, so I choose to  believing I touched Marie A’s bucket. I love the living museum aspect of Paris flea markets!

There were lots of 19th century mirror vendors along the way. All of them told us that what we were looking for would be very difficult to find.

At the Marché Paul Bert we saw a few more rattan mirrors. They were really beginning to grow on me. Then we came across a stand with some very cool 1960’s Italian designed mirrors. Gorgeous, exaggerated ovals framed in a smooth, refined raised wood frame. The only problem was the rough, unfinished hemp cord that was fixed to each mirror for hanging. I found the style incongruous and removing the cord would damage the frame.

Still no traditional gilded frames. We went back to the beginning and bought our rattan mirrors, heading home, ready for the next challenge. The next weekend I was at the Village St Paul. There was an entire boutique FULL of 19th century gilded frames small enough for our bathroom sink. I can now confirm that I love my somewhat kitsch, very fun rattan mirrors.

ps Found the narrow gilt framed mirrors at the Village St Paul a few weeks later… in case anyone is looking!

Les Puces St Ouen

Marché Vernaison

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