***Secrets of Paris Newsletter #54: November 30, 2004***

The alternative Paris newsletter of restaurant reviews, shopping tips, upcoming events, the latest night spots, and hotel recommendations, by local travel writer, Heather Stimmler-Hall.

IN THIS ISSUE:

* From the Editor
* Wine Tasting: Ô Chateau
* Two Excellent French Music Groups
* Accommodation: Paris Hotel Deals
* Paris on Ice
* Claire’s Night Tours
* Context Paris Tours
* Thanks from Sylvie and Christine (and me)!
* Dining Out: The Bad, the Good, the Excellent
* Ecole du Louvre Fashion Lectures
* History and Current Affairs Debates
* Weapons of Mass Deception: Exposing the Media

* From the Editor
Time is still flying, and by the time those of you in the US get this, it will already be December in Paris. And it sure does feel like it! Scraping ice off the windscreen, catching a cold, and buying a new pair of Isotoner’s have been some of my less interesting activities this month. On the plus side, I’ve met some fantastic people on my private tours, and have been getting a lot of great feedback on the guidebook. There’s a lot going on in Paris, and I’ve been trying to get the Calendar updated as quickly as possible, but sometimes I do admit I put events up there the day before they take place. C’est la vie. For December I’m hip-deep in hotel visits for the next Fodor’s edition, and have included a few noteworthy ones below. Holiday lights, Christmas trees and the smell of roasting chestnuts are popping up all over the city. Hope you all have a stress-free holiday season! -Heather

* Wine Tasting: Ô Chateau
Wine tasting can be very boring if you get stuck with the wrong instructor. After all, most of us are ready to get down to the tasting bit right away, and don’t want to spend the first hour studying a smell chart and diagrams of the inside of the mouth. Olivier at Ô Château understands this, and has made his English-language wine tasting sessions informative while still being fun. There are several options, including a “French Wine Discovery” of five wines for €39 per person (every weekday morning at 11am), and the more advanced “Plaisirs du Vin” with seven wines for €49 per person, every Monday-Saturday afternoon at 4pm. For more info or to book your tasting, see the website or call Olivier at + 33 6 24 31 20 18.

* Two Excellent French Music Groups
After spending Saturday stuck in bed with the flu, I felt good enough Sunday night to drive into Paris in the rain (and “home from grandma’s” traffic jam) to see a group at La Cigale called Les Yeux Noirs. All I knew about the group is that they had a sort of Yiddish Gypsy Kings style. I met up with my friend Brenna there, who had heard of the group from her roommate. Needless to say, our expectations were low (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). The opening group was called La Crevette d’Acier, which, if you know French, is already funny (The Steel Shrimp). But we were not at all prepared for what turned out to be hilarious theatrical singing vignettes, complete with props, well-coordinated dance moves, and lyrics that made me laugh so hard my beer was going up my nose. And I probably only caught 75% of the jokes. So don’t miss these four young, good-looking French musicians -- Chloé, Vincent, Mathias and Damien – who write their own songs, compose the music, sing, and play their own instruments, to boot! The CD would be a great way to practice your French, but you have to see them to appreciate what they call “chansons à voir”. Their next Paris concerts are at the Café de la Danse (5, passage Louis-Philippe, 11th), December 16-18, tickets €16.50 at FNAC. They’ll also be at Clamart on January 14 (Espace St-Joseph).

La CigaleWhen they went off stage, I thought Les Yeux Noirs had a tough act to follow. But they’ve been around for twelve years and it shows. The group has a ton of energy, and it was hard to believe they could play for so long without intermission. I was half expecting the two young dueling violinists to play “When the Devil Came Down to Georgia”. The style is eclectic: some Jacques Brel-style French songs and a mystical song that sounded like it belonged on a Lord of the Rings soundtrack, but most of their music is a mix of Eastern European gypsy, Yiddish, and rock. And funnily enough, it works. It probably doesn’t hurt that these guys are young and fit. Maybe biceps can do for World Music what cleavage has done for classical music. At the front are Olivier and Eric Slabiak, the singing violin virtuosos, Pascal Rondeau who sings and plays electric guitar, Franck Anastasio on electric bass, Francois Perchat on violoncello, Aidje Tafial on drums, and Marian Miu, a big guy who looks like he might be the grandpa of someone in the group, but who kicks serious butt on the cymbalum with the biggest grin on his face you’ll ever see! There’s also an accordionist, Constantin Bitica, absent Sunday night. It’s too late to see them in Paris, but they’ll be playing some venues in the ‘burbs in January (Etamps and Vélizy), and will touring in the US in February, so do check the website for details (warning, a bit slow, be patient).

* Accommodation: Holiday Hotel Deals
I’ve been to quite a few hotels this month for Expedia and Fodor’s, and have found a few nice hotels with special winter promotional rates, in case you’re planning a trip to the city for the holidays:

The Amarante Beau Manoir is a unique Parisian hotel just off the Place de la Madeleine (think luxury shopping, gourmet food boutiques, and walking distance to major sights). From the outside it looks like a typical 19th-century Parisian building, but the interior looks like an old French chateau, with stone flooring, wood paneled walls, tapestries and oil paintings, and antique furnishings. The rooms are spacious for Paris, with exposed wooden beams and high ceilings, but don’t expect a pampering luxury hotel (the bath tub has a handheld shower head). There is an elevator, fitness room and nice breakfast room. Perfect for Paris history lovers who hate the cramped quarters usually found in Left Bank hotels. Check out Expedia.com for promotional rates, and spring for the Deluxe/Superior room.

Les Jardins du Marais hotel is on a great little street in the 11th, right on the edge of the Marais and the Place des Vosges (five minutes on foot). Recently renovated and updated with an Art Deco theme, the hotel looks small when you first enter the lobby, then you see the amazing courtyard garden through the restaurant’s glass conservatory windows. The hotel is made up of all of the buildings surrounding the courtyard, including the historically listed workshop of Gustave Eiffel, so most rooms have a view of the greenery and statues. The business center and fitness center are opening in late December, early January, so enjoy the promotional rates while you can! Either call the hotel direct to ask about the prices (specials aren’t listed on the website), or check out Expedia.com (rates for December from $149 for a standard room, $182 for a deluxe).

On the Left Bank at Montparnasse, a cheerful and spanking new budget hotel has opened on the Place de Catalogne (right next to the elevated Jardin Atlantique). The Bleu Marine opened in April 2004 in a contemporary circular building that used to be a Postal sorting center (thus the office building look from the outside). There’s a large restaurant and bar in bright prune and orange contemporary colors, a very nice garden (tables are outside when the weather is nice), parking garage, spa and fitness center, and 354 soundproofed rooms with duvet comforters, welcome trays for making hot drinks, trouser presses, and high-speed Internet access. The location is great for getting around by metro (4 lines intersect at Montparnasse) or bus, or if you’re into the 14th arrondissement (which is a great area far from the tourist traps once you start exploring a bit). Rates from €100 for their standard rooms. A bit more if you want a triple with Eiffel Tower view from the bed, yee ha!

Finally, for those of you who need very inexpensive lodgings for short or long term, try the Pension Ladagnous, in a Parisian townhouse overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg (6th). It’s bed and breakfast in clean but basic rooms from €45 per night (this is the regular rate, not a promotional rate). A pension is a bit like a boarding house. This one is in the same building as the Pension Marronniers, but is larger (24 rooms on three floors) and is run by a very nice woman. Dinner is also available for €12, and rooms each have a private shower. Quads are €104, making it a good alternative to the boisterous youth hostels for those who’d rather get a good night’s sleep.

* Ice Skating Rinks
The ice rinks around town are almost ready to go. Today I saw the one at Montparnasse being “flocked”. This year’s skate rental and warm-up shacks are built to look like giant igloos. It’s not every day you see an igloo in front of the Hôtel de Ville! And in case you didn’t see the Calendar of Events, the big news this season is an ice rink on the first level of the Eiffel Tower. As usual, free entrance (to the rink; you'll still need to pay to get up the Eiffel Tower), skate rental for adults €5, free for kids (double blade).

* Claire’s Night Tours
Anyone who’s ever been to Paris knows that you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to nightlife options. So many music venues, bars, clubs, lounges, theatres, and pubs…it’s hard to know where to start when you’re a newcomer. But for some reason the only guided night tours available head to the Vegas-style cabarets and boat cruises, where you get to sit next to all of the other tourists. Forget that. Now you’ve got a new option. I finally convinced my good friend Claire (half-French, half-New Zealander), to do private tours of Parisian nightlife, custom-designed according to each client’s tastes and budget. Claire knows all of the best night spots in town, from the latest trendy clubs to the more casual pubs, as well as good-value restaurants. She’s also an expert on cross-cultural business etiquette, New Zealand wine and spirits, and, I’ll probably get in trouble for writing thins, shopping. Soooooo…if you’re looking for a day guide, you’ve still got me, and for after dark, now you’ve got Claire! For more info, contact her at clairew@noos.fr

* Context Paris
Would you believe I have another friend in the Paris tour business? Californian native Brenna Flanner has just opened Context Paris, a private tour company that focuses on specialized, in-depth tours of the city’s art and architecture. She just moved to the city permanently this fall after managing the Context Rome office for two years, and has been busy getting together a crack team of docents, many who have PhDs in their field, all who know and love Paris and want to share it with all of you. Check out their website, and tell Brenna I said hi!

* Thanks from Sylvie and Christine (and me)!
I went to get my hair cut this week at La Nouvelle Athènes and thought I’d ask Sylvie if she actually spoke any English. She says yes, and I tell her it’s because I mentioned her unique salon “in an English newsletter”. Then, in one of those rare moments that makes me glad I keep doing thing this after all these years, she asks, “Are you Heather?!” (I always reserve under my married name). Apparently quite a few of you have been to see Sylvie and Christine over the past few months, and they thought you were all “très, très sympa!” Thanks for mentioning the Secrets of Paris! If any of you are in town in December, La Nouvelle Athènes (1 Rue Liège, 9th, tel 01 48 74 86 89) is hosting a hand-made jewelry exposition by the designer Géraldine Valluet, Dec 1 – Jan 15, open Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am-6pm.

* Dining Out: The Bad, the Good, the Excellent
Oh, what I do for you guys. I had heard, or maybe read, somewhere, some time ago, that a certain La Commerce brasserie at Les Halles was worth checking out. Something along the lines of “this is where the locals eat”. So I dragged my husband/guinea pig over there for dinner last week. And it was awful. And we didn’t even finish. And we even mentioned this to the manager when he looked at our full plates – minus the fries, which I did eat out of starvation. The veggies were overcooked and soggy, the duck too fatty to cut even with steak knife, pasta that tasted like it had come out of a can. He took it away and sent the waitress over with the dessert menu. We politely declined. We’re not really into making a bad situation worse by getting sh*tty. So we paid and left. And the next night went to Carpé Diem Café, on Rue des Halles, and had an excellent meal with a lovely wine. Their service isn’t the fastest, so it’s best to go when you have time to hang out and enjoy the lounge music and low-lit atmosphere. We were on our way to a jazz concert across the street, otherwise I would have gone for that dessert menu.

On Thursday I was visiting a few hotels, and had lunch with one manager who wanted to introduce me to a typically French bistro called Le Bistrot Papillon (6 rue Papillon, 9th, tel 01 47 70 90 03). The 9th arrondissement isn’t the trendiest place to eat, but this isn’t a trendy place, more of an old-fashioned French restaurant -- white tablecloths, turn-of-the-last-century décor, and excellent service – which was packed with locals. I had the ostrich fillet with cranberries, and was thinking that it would be a good alternative to turkey and cranberry sauce, when I realized it was, in fact, Thanksgiving. I have to admit I felt much less bloated after this meal than I usually do (probably because there was no pumpkin pie, and I didn’t have time to test the home-made foie gras). Highly recommended, be sure to reserve. Open weekdays for lunch, Monday to Saturday for dinner, menus are €27, or €30 à la carte.

* Ecole du Louvre
If you’re interested in the history of French fashion and can understand French academics, then don’t miss the free lectures at the Ecole du Louvre (in the Carrousel du Louvre’s Amphithéâtre Rohan, 99 rue de Rivoli, 1st), every Friday from 6:30pm-7:30pm. Topics range from historic fashion trends to the evolution of accessories such as shoes or bags. See the schedule at their website, and be sure to get there 15 minutes early if you want a good seat!

* History and Current Affairs Debates
if your French is reeeeeeeally good, and you’re up for some good verbal sparring, then you may be interested in the latest café debating society, Thucydide, which have been organizing Cafés Histore-Actualité since October. The next discussion/debate is January 12 at Café Leonard I the 3rd, and the topic is “Terrorisme: histoire, formes, médiatisation”, after the book by Gérard Chaliand and Arnaud Blin, "Histoire du terrorisme de l'Antiquité à Al-Qaida". Mr. Blin will be the moderator…see the website for more info.

* Weapons of Mass Deception: Exposing the Media
Last week I got to see a special screening in Paris’s Elysée Biarritz Theatre of the documentary “Weapons of Mass Deception”, a critique of the way the US media covered the build-up to the war in Iraq (and continue to cover it). I’m afraid the journalistic profession doesn’t come out of it well. It’s written by Danny Schechter, a media insider who worked at ABC and produced 20/20, and includes interviews with leading broadcasters and footage donated by the networks themselves. It’s a bit heavy, but we were all cheered up by a surprise concert by the Broadway singer Tsidi La Loka who sang Imagine and a traditional Zulu song with a French choir (this is why I love Paris; you never know what’s going to happen). The film is coming to the US on December 3, with limited distribution so far (you can even volunteer to organize a screening in your own community, church, school, etc). I think it’s worth a look, no matter what your politics may be, because this is a bipartisan issue (ie both the Democrats and the Republicans feel let down by the media). For more information, reviews, screening dates and locations, see the website or email Danny at dissector@mediachannel.org.

 

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