The rising sun

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After my adventures at the Bon Marché last week, Japan stayed woven into my week.

Before sending E back to school in the land of polar vortexi, a quick trip to Uniqlo for their winter HeatTech under things was on our “to do” list. As often happens, a “quick trip” turned into an adventure when my stomach started to gurgle. “Would she mind if we stopped for lunch along the way?,” I queried. A starving college student, home for the holidays, you can guess her answer.

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 10.06.57 AMSo we headed to Kunitoraya, the best udon joint in the city. So good that even I don’t mind waiting in line. Not far from Uniqlo, in the 2nd arrondisement, Kunitoraya draw an ecclectic crowd of suits and fashionistas, providing great eye candy as you wait. I saw at least three women I was dying to approach and plead, “dress me… please show me how to dress like that.” As I stood there I noticed the latest fall fashion trend; long pants with flat, strappy sandals. Actually, I am not really sure if its a fashion trend, or a survival technique to deal with the cold, rainy, hot, muggy days we’ve been having. In any case, I liked the look and have made it my own.

We were soon at the counter, facing the street, the steam from our dishes blurring the not so picturesque view of motorcycle parking and a rather disconcerting pile of dog poop. Fortunately, the delicately spiced eggplant pickles and grilled beef distracted me into my bowl of perfectly prepared rice.

Screen shot 2014-09-09 at 9.57.34 AMOn our way to Uniqlo, I stopped mid-stride in front of a small Japanese gift shop, confusing E and perhaps causing a bit of a traffic snarl in my wake. Cool Japan sells Wabofu, an organic cotton cloth that I use for make-up removal. They sell large cloths for bathing, but the things are magic, scrubbing you clean gently, without the need for any product.

At last, to Uniqlo for that “quick” visit. Often a bust shop, the place was hopping. My idol, Ines de la Fressange had designed an entire line for Uniqlo and our timing just happened to coincide with its arrival. Never mind HeatTech, we were facing an entire department of affordable fashion. Our basket filled quickly as we hesitated between simple cotton tunics or elaborate plaid shirts, wool coats, or rain coats.

We left only an hour later, ready for fall with some Parisian chic and a Japanese twist.

Feeling kawai at the Bon Marché

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.14 AMThe entire city is feeling something like Dorothy moments before her house lands on that witch; in a daze, with hearts thumping as we hurtle through space. “C’est la rentrée”, we say, the beginning of The Season. Theaters announce their calendar for the year, museums unveil their latest exhibitions, boutiques put out their new collections. Invitations roll in, galleries competing with shops, museums facing off museums, for a bit of attention from the general public. Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.56 AMThere is the Maison et Objets home design convention with Paris Fashion Week just around the corner, sandwiched between the Nuits Blanches cultural all nighter and the Journée des Patrimoines cultural heritage to weekend.

The Bon Marché hosted the very first event this week, putting on a soirée celebrating all things Japan. Arriving at 8:45 for an 8:30 invitation, I was surprised to see a long line of patient Parisians waiting to enter. Surprised because Parisians rarely wait in line, especially not the privileged fashion crowd with invitations to private cocktails parties at the Bon Marché. But everyone seemed clear that the night would be worth the wait. Or perhaps they knew that trying to cut in this line would be much like trying to swim with sharks in chum filled waters.

After a nearly fatal pile up at the escalator, we found ourselves on the 2nd floor in a mad crush of people, the air growing humid with body heat. Keeping our priorities straight, we hunted down some champagne before checking out the 9 minute film on Benesse Art Site Naoshima, an ambitious art project that covers three islands in Japan.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.44 AM Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.30 AMLarge, red globes evoking Japanese lanterns divided the sales floor in to a collection of pop up boutiques like a series of rising suns, featuring beauty products, gourmet specialty and home decor. At every cash register there was an opportunity to buy a good-luck bracelet, the proceeds going to help earthquake victims.

Guests had gone to great effort getting dressed for the event, brands had invested a great amount of time putting out their most exciting collections, but it was hard to see all the fashion through the crowd, and impossible to photograph it.

The rooms were hot, the crowd dense, but I was thrilled to be part of the history first created by Aristide Boucicault in the 19th century. He was the founder of the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché, and the one to dream up these extravagant cultural events celebrating the world to bring shoppers in, and stir them into a shopping frenzy. I felt like I was in Zola’s novel, Ladies Paradise, watching people gather around for a free taste of sake, an introduction to Japanese whiskey, a sample of sparkling tea.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.04 AMAs we left, a group of women were playing taiko drums in the fragrance department, their beats vibrating through my core, sending the blood rushing to my head, dizzy with excitement and I could feel the spirit of Boucicault nodding in appreciation.

Taking le cake

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.21.09 PMMr French decided that his birth day would begin the moment his mother stepped off a train from Germany. He was her first child and she was alone, obviously, she’d known he’d be becoming, but his due date wasn’t for another 10 days, so while it was a very welcome arrival, his timing was slightly inconvenient. Nothing has changed. His birthday is at the very end of August, when galleries are closed, artisans have fled the region and restaurants go under renovation. Not the easiest time of year to plan a birthday celebration. No matter how prepared I think I am, things invariably go awry. Every year. This year, Mr French’s favorite bakery was closed on his birthday.

Fortunately, France’s fetish for baked goods makes finding a cake very much like spotting puddles on a rainy day; hard to avoid. Even harder, on the rue du Bac, where several renowned pastry chefs have decided to open shop in the last several months.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.21.56 PMI started my quest for le cake at the Bon Marché’s Grand Epicerie de Paris. It may be a grocery store, but they have a talented pastry chef who turns out playful, modern desserts in the kitchen downstairs. His pieces often come with a tasty surprise that recreates the feeling of being a kid in a candy shop. But Mr French already knows the cake the hides under a chocolate box, so I decided it was too common for this special birthday.

The next pastries were at an outpost of historic Angelina’s. They are famous for their Mont Blanc, a chestnut cream concoction that Mr French has never ordered, so I suspect it’s not his thing. The other desserts were dressed in delicate puff pastries, enrobed in pastel icing. Their cakes looked pretty, but a bit too girlie.

Next, I headed to Le Bac à Glace. If Mr French had his way, he’d have ice cream everyday, and they make their own ice creams on site, with a reputation for the best chocolate sorbet in Paris. I was hoping they made ice cream cakes. Perhaps they do, I never found out, as they were still closed for the holidays.

Screen shot 2014-09-02 at 5.09.40 PMNot being a stickler for tradition, I headed up to Chapon, thinking a flight of shot glasses filled with a selection of their single estate chocolate mousses would be a fun, original alternative. It was August, they were mousse-less.

The favorite chocolatier of most chefs, Jacques Genin, also does wonders with pastry, making a remarkable lemon tart and an extraordinary napoleon. But again, I struck out, his shop opening has been post-poned to late fall.

Almost next door is Des Gateaux et Du Pain, the newest addition to the sweets of the street. I already knew Mr French adores their truly exceptional ice creams, but had never paid attention to the cakes. I eyed the pastry counter, full of sleek looking desserts featuring fresh fruits and unique flavors. Tempting, but I wasn’t sure which Mr French would love. I looked at the bread wall to think about it and there, I found what I’d been looking for! A peach tart, with juicy, large, peach halves with a verbena glaze. Feeling like Goldilocks, I ordered large cups of Sicilian pistachio and salted caramel ice cream to serve the dessert à la mode, savouring the Goldilock’s moment of having found something that I knew would be just right.

ps There is one more pastry shop on the rue du Bac, La Patisserie des Rêves. They’re famous for their Paris Brest dessert and breakfast pastries that tempt even the most disciplined Parisiennes.

Ladies with an attitude


Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.30.40 PMThere is often a bevy of handsome young men standing outside the building next door. Occasionally, I will find myself alone in the evening, dressed up after a dinner out and winding my way along the narrow, romantic street I call home. As I pass, the neighboring door, the picturesque little clique stands up taller, straightening their ties, brushing back their carefully gelled hair, preening like peacocks.

Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.14.32 PMIt would be flattering to think such good looking men were truly interested in me, but I suspect that they are much more interested in gaining access to the libertine club (high-end swingers club) that is just 10 meters away from the entrance they block. The kind of place where single men are not welcome and a last minute date most welcome, good chemistry not required. I have never been a customer and the only kind of swinging that tempts me is from jungle vines in African forests, but it does make me incredibly curious, wishing I could be the proverbial fly on the wall, safely out of range of any S&M whips that may swash through the air.

Which is why I was thrilled when I met Heather Stimmler-Hall the author of Naughty Paris, a ladies guide to the sexy city. Heather has just come out with the second edition of her book, updating addresses and adding internet solutions, so it will stay pertinent. What I loved about meeting Heather was seeing that an eloquent, elegant lady has her wild side and isn’t afraid to share it, giving confidence to more timid creatures. And while I’ll probably never sprout the wings required to fly into one of those clubs, I heartily approve of her choice of hotels, restaurants and shopping, while savouring a voyeuristic satisfaction of seeing a discrete insider photo, or two, of the clubs to feed my imagination.

The guide is not just for wild romantics, it is written for solo women looking for love (she mentions Screen shot 2014-06-13 at 3.30.58, the site where I found Mr French!) and gaggles of girls who just wanna have fun! Pole dancing classes, make-up tips, CFM shoes, NP steals a glimpse of it all.

As a loyalty card carrying member of a local “sexy costume” boutique where I shop for our weekend get aways, and a die hard fan of French stockings (modern silicon keeps them up at the thighs, no more slipping down, and they are SO sexy!), I can’t wait to visit one of the corset makers Heather recommends. I was thinking midnight blue silk with rolled satin trim, no lace. And her pages pushed me to finally reserve a romantic dinner at 1728.

Heather’s 2nd edition will only be available in the US in December, but you can get your own, personal sneak preview by contributing to the Kickstarter Campaign Heather is running so she can do an environmentally friendly print run of the books. Keep in mind, this is not a donation, you are getting what you would be buying normally, only a few months before anyone else AND her campaign has a bunch of special offers for some incredibly romantic moment in the sexy city. Keep in mind, Kickstarter campaigns only run 30 days, so its now, or never. And if NaughytParis doesn’t raise the entire 20,000 CDN dollars they are looking for, then you are not charged a cent, but you don’t get the book, either. Its daddy takes all folks, so step into the club for a fun, flirty visit to Paris. THE GOOD STUFF IS HERE

ps – all images stolen directly from Naught Paris. I figure they won’t mind a threesome for the cause!!!

Hanukkah: the 8th night

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Nothing is better over the holidays than a great story:

Once upon a time, in Paris there were two Parisiennes who were not quite like other Parisiennes. They did things like dye their hair blue and were perhaps called eccentric by their neighbors. The girls did not know that there was someone else out there very much like them in the world. And then one of the girl’s brothers met the other girl and knew right way that he had found one of his sister’s kindred spirits. He insisted they meet.

Over time, they began to see that he had a point, and they started collaborating together until one day, they designed a vase, the April Vase and they liked it very much. They liked it so much, they decided to make more and try and sell them. Some people loved them, too. Others were less enthusiastic, but the girls kept making their vases.

Screen shot 2013-12-06 at 6.02.27 PMThen, one day, a man with a gallery decided he really liked those vases, too and he was going to feature them in his design shop. They were a smashing success, taking the city by storm. The girls were able to start designing other vases, and design objects, and after 20 years of collaboration, they finally opened a store together. And they did it all while traveling the world and keeping their hair blue!

Tsé&Tsé vases are a Parisian classic. They dress up wild flowers, dress down exotic blooms. You can pull out a tube, to have only a few, or line ’em up for an impressive display. And they give your partner, or yourself, the perfect inspiration to fill the house with blooms, making it a gift that keeps on giving through out the year.

Happy Holidays one and all.

Hanukkah: the 7th night

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I recently went to a nutritionist who heard 15 minutes of my lifestyle (the 20km de Paris, my Californian love for eating anything green), saw that I was 30% fat and declared, “Madame, you are seriously dehydrated.” He ordered me to drink 2 litres of water a day et voilà I was cured. It feels like magic.

Drinking water is important for everyone, but buying it in those plastic bottles is pretty hard on the environment and the jury is starting to debate if it’s so great for our health, so I’ve taken to drinking Eau de Seine!!!

The Mairie de Paris feels the same way about the importance of staying hydrated and keeping it local, so they have deigned these fun carafés so that visitors can feel like they’re getting a bit of Paris in their daily intake. And just last week, they made it even easier by opening their own eBoutique so that tourists who are no longer touring can still purchase some très Parisian holiday gifts for the Paris-ophiles in their life. The gifts range from Art books featuring recent exhibitions to Mariages Frères teas and include the Senat chairs from the Luxembourg gardens available in every color EXCEPT Luxembourg green. I’m guessing that’s for security reasons! And naturally, the Eau de Paris water carafés. So cheers, bottoms up and santé for a healthy, happy holiday season!



Hanukkah: the 6th night

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Talking about all those films yesterday had me humming to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the radiant smile of Catherine Deneuve like a benign Cheshire Cat in my mind. La grande dame was in another film recently, the light comedy, Les Potiches, which has he becoming the CEO of an umbrella factory. It’s a French thing, this obsession with umbrellas, probably directly related to the copious amounts of rain that fall from the heavens every year. Or perhaps its because in this style obsessed country, its just one more accessory to get excited over. One of the rare ones that men can enjoy as much as their Parisiennes.

For the ultimate in Haute Couture umbrellas, Heurault is the place to go. Each piece made with exotic handles and hand selected fabrics by artisans right here in their Paris atelier. The umbrellas are exquisite. They are also very expensive. Well beyond my mortal means, especially when the people I gift have a tendency to loose things. It would be a tragedy to loose one of these umbrellas, and nobody in my life needs that kind of stress right now.

Screen shot 2013-12-04 at 9.23.06 AMIts hard to follow in those footsteps, but for a practical, everyday option, the folks at the Piganiol umbrella factory have been protecting the French from the rain since 1884, making solid, quality products that they stand behind. When the leash on my foldable Piganiol came undone, they told me to send it in and they’d fix it for free, which the did in a matter of weeks, sending it back to me by La Poste at their expense. Even more unbelievable… they offered to repair my umbrella when the pole was bent in the closed doors of a moving bus headed for the Ecole Militaire. 100% my fault, or rather Em’s, but certainly not theirs.

The short, wide form of the foldable version fits easily into most handbags, yet opens wide enough to cover a couple walking arm and arm along the streets, admiring the holidays lights in Paris, London, or your home town.

Hanukkah: the 5th night

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Make ’em laugh with a brilliant French comedy. Mon Onlce de Jaques Tati is so good its still on the shelves of the dvd department at the FNAC, while Tatie Danielle had me rolling in off the living room couch, tears rolling down me cheeks. I know that there is an amazing joke in this recommendation, what with Tati versus Tatie (granny) versus Oncle, but my mind is too dulled from the laughter to figure it out just now.

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 6.32.42 PMOther great French comedies include Rabbi Jacob, Bienvenue Chez le Chtis, and The Closet. I once had the honor of living a real life version of a French comedy, The Diner des Cons in which a group of sophisticated Parisians holds a monthly contest to see who can invite the biggest looser to dinner. And no, I was not the sophisticated Parisian doing the inviting. I was the invitee and I guess our hostess thought I was some kind of uneducated mouton from a distant back water that it would entertaining to have me around. I sat at the over stuffed, formal dinner table that evening, looking at the dozens of 19th century oil paintings of curvy nudes feeling like my spaceship had taken a wrong turn some time after Saturn. I was definitely on the wrong planet! I walked home that night, laughing at French humor, a great feeling and even better when you can share it someone for the holidays.

Do you have a favorite French comedy I have forgotten from the list? I’m looking for suggestions to get me through the holidays with a smile!!!

Hanukkah: the 4th night

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I have no idea how it is in the rest of the world, but growing up in California involves a great deal of time spent in one’s bare feet. In my world slippers were for pipe smoking Dads on the television. Guys with names like Ward or Darren. So it came something as a total shock to me when I moved to Montréal and discovered the sensation of cold feet. It was a traumatising thing for me, that bone chilling cold and it took me ages to discover that bare feet were no longer a option. I’d have to cover my rather sensitive, allergic to anything but Birkenstocks feet, or turn blue. It was a tough call. Eventually, I caved and started wearing socks around the house.

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It was the perfect solution for a foot loose career girl who rarely spent more than an hour or two a day in her own home. That was 20 years ago. I now find myself spending entire days without being properly shod and after last winter spent eating holes into one pair of socks after the other, I realized it was time to go retro and get some proper slippers.

Cruising the web, I ran into this fun pair from Le Slip Français. “Slip” is French for underwear, and this place has lots of cute cotton stuff in the traditional French sailor stripes. At some point they started selling espadrilles, which must have led to these slippers, or perhaps the slippers came first. Who knows? What I do know is that the style is fresh, and fun and easy to wear and I can’t wait until my slippers show up at my door next week. Hopefully delivered by the extremely attractive model showing off the underwear on the home page. Its all reasonably priced and Made In France, well, except for the model. I have no idea where he was made.

Hanukkah: the 3rd night

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 10.34.19 AMWell, it’s really the 6th night tonight, but in the virtual world we can stop time like that. For the 3rd Perfectly Parisian Present, I’ve recently fallen under the spell of the shop selling figurines are the Palais Royale. Mr French and I have strolled by there a 100 times, on our way to the Comédie Française or for a stroll in the gardens of for little lèche vitrine activity at Didier Ludot’s Little Black Dress shop. When we’d pass by Les Drapeaux de France boutique and Mr French would slow down to look at all the figurines as I’d rush him along muttering “dust collectors” and “tourist trap” with him replying, “You’re a woman, you wouldn’t understand.”

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 10.49.22 AMThe last time we walked past it was bitterly cold outside and I could tell there would be no hurrying Mr French, so I popped inside for some warmth. As I opened the glass door a man rushed out of a side door, nearly knocking me over. He immediately struck me as the Absent Minded Professor type. A man so passionate about what he does, he sometimes forgets about the rest of the world. The warm wooden floor was worn from decades of people lingering to admire the cluttered glass cases filled with familiar comic book characters, Christmas scenes, African safari animals and tin soldiers representing the armys of Europe. The boutique went from Tourist Trap to Sanctuary in my imagination and I started thinking in hushed tones.

Screen shot 2013-12-02 at 10.42.08 AMAnd then I saw her. Alice, dueling it out with the Jabberwocky. And yelling at the Queen. There was the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, and a whole host of other characters from Wonderland, each one so beautifully painted I wanted to reach out and touch them. Mme Absent Minded was standing just behind me in the narrow space. I turned and started to ask about these flat tin (plat d’etain) objects in my best art gallery voice.

Mme turned to me brusquely, replying in a loud, exuberant voice that brought me back to reality reminding me that these are toys, meant to bring joy to children of all ages. I learned that most of what they have is made in Europe and almost all of it painted in France by a handful of artists, each with their own specialty. There is a Christmas lady, and several who only work on the soldiers. The shop also carries some more mass market products, but they are slowly phasing out their commercial “made in China” stock. Mme is just as passionate as Monsieur, who had met Mr French and the two of them were in a corner going into ecstasies over a series of trees.

I left with a small package in my hand, a new appreciation for tin soldiers and a bit of childish delight in my heart. I can’t imagine a better holiday gift than a bit of the youthful joy that surges up when looking at one of their unique miniatures.

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