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Newsletter #111: October 2, 2011

In this Issue
* Immortalize Yourself for Just €10
* A New Place de la République
* Angelina at Versailles
* A Beautifully Quirky Museum
* Italian Cocktails, Chinese and a Wine Bar
* Souvenirs Made in France
* Post-Midnight Pizza Delivery
* Uniqlo Winter Clothes
* French Tax People Are Nice
* e-Petition for the Mairie de Paris
* Dog Insurance in France


* Immortalize yourself for just €10 *

Ever since 1934, the greatest silver screen stars have been immortalized in the legendary Harcourt Photography Studio in Paris, from Audrey Hepburn to Melanie Laurent. If you want one of these iconic black and white portraits of yourself, you’ll need €900-€2000 depending on whether you want a formal shoot or a more spontaneous pose in their hidden studio just off the Champs Elysées. Read more about the experience here. But now anyone with €10 pocket change can get a real Harcourt portrait done in their newly opened photo booth at the MK2 Bibliothèque cinema in the 13th (metro Bibliothèque or Quai de la Gare). It might be the most luxurious photo booth in the world, tested with much success at the Cannes Film Festival. You can choose between one large portrait or four smaller ones.

* A New Place de la République *

The large, noisy, and decidedly uninteresting Place de la République has never been a place to linger. It’s a nightmare for pedestrians, a confusing intersection for drivers, and usually full of protest marchers at the foot of the Statue de la République or drunks passed out on the patches of grass at the center. But you may want to take one last peek (and a “before” photo, like above) before a major facelift project gets underway this winter to modernize this square which hasn’t changed since 1883. Strategically located at the cross roads of the 3rd, 10th, and 11th arrondissements, in January 2012 the square and its surrounding streets will be ripped up and replaced with a pedestrian esplanade of over 2 hectares (about 5 acres), a tree-lined square set up for public events like concerts, and rerouting of the street traffic around one side (instead of all around). This should make the square more welcoming for cyclists, public transportation users, and pedestrians. It will supposedly be done by Spring 2013, and considering what a pain in the butt it will be for traffic in the meantime, hopefully that deadline will be met! http://www.placedelarepublique.paris.fr 

* Angelina Tearoom at Versailles *
One of my tour clients last week wanted to try the “thickest, strongest hot chocolate in Paris”. I’ve never been a fan of Angelina’s because it’s always overrun by tourists, but when I heard there was a new location in the Château de Versailles, I thought it might be a good place to escape the crowds and get off our feet for a few moments during our full-day tour. Read the full review with photos on Sleep & Eat Paris

* A Beautifully Quirky Museum *

Yesterday I finally went to visit the recently renovated Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature, Hôtel de Guénégaud des Brosses, 60 rue des Archives, 3rd; open Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, entry €6). The museum is located within an elegant Marais mansion built by François Mansart in 1655. It houses a collection of nature and hunting-themed artworks and antiques, furnishings, a few stuffed animals and a room of stuffed animal heads and hunting rifles which span several centuries. For those who cringe at the idea of hunting, guns, or stuffed animals, it may not be your cup of tea. But I thought it was beautifully done, with a mix of contemporary artworks and fixtures that really bring out the best of the historic mansion. There’s a very intriguing “curiosity cabinet” style to the way the objects are presented, both for artistic and educational purposes. I thought it was pretty cool that each animal – foxes, wolves, deer, etc. – is presented with its skeleton, molds of its tracks, and even what its droppings look like (I know, I’m a tad weird). There’s even a magical little room dedicated to the myth of the unicorn. When I visited with my friend on Friday morning, we were practically the only ones there aside from a group of art students busily sketching in each room. Check out my photos of the museum here. A unique place to visit in Paris, highly recommended. The current exhibition is by the artist Françoise Pétrovitch, through January 8.

* Italian Cocktails, Chinese and a Wine Bar *

I’ve written about a few of the new places I visited this September, including the Grazie gourmet pizza and cocktail bar, the Shang Palace formal Cantonese restaurant in the Shangri-La hotel, and the Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels wine bar at St-Germain-des-Prés. Visit the Sleep & Eat Paris website to read the full reviews.

* Souvenirs Made in France *

A lot of people ask my advice on what would make a great Paris souvenir or gift. Scarves and perfume are a bit obvious (and unless you get an Hermès, you can’t always be sure the latter are French), and wine and macarons don’t always travel well. So what can you get that’s small, light, and made in France? I recommend anything from the perfume makers Fragonard. They have a few boutiques in Paris, including one in the Carrousel du Louvre open daily 10am-8pm and in their gorgeous perfume museum at 9 rue Scribe (behind the Opéra Garnier) from 9am-6pm (until 5pm on Sundays). Aside from perfumes, there are small porcelain dishes, tote bags with a Paris theme, jewelry, candles, table linens, and other home décor items that all evoke France at affordable prices.

I also like Laguiole, a famous French knife maker with the emblematic bee (pronounced “lay-ole”). They also make lovely corkscrew wine bottle openers and Swiss-Army-style pocket knives with matching leather cases (best to pack this in your checked bags). There are traditional wooden handles or more contemporary styles. You find these in all fine gift shops, but their main store is La Forge de Lagiole (29 rue Boissy d'Anglas, 8th).

Fountain pens make a great gift, and are easy to find all over Paris in any price range, but I usually shop for mine at BHV, which has a particularly nice selection. You can also get them at specialist stationary shops like Le Carré d’Encre (13bis rue des Mathurins, 9th), which also specialize in another great souvenir: collectible French stamps. Yesterday the first “ecologically correct” stamp, the very pretty Marianne Lettre Verte was issued in four units (20, 50, 100 and 250 grams). They have the latest collections, Eiffel Tower stamps, limited edition stamps, and a machine that lets you create your own personalized message stamps.

Finally, my favorite French gift of all are the mini-spices, gourmet salts, and aluminum tubes of flavored mustards from the company Sur les Quais. Their boutique is at the Marché Beauvau on the Place d’Aligre (12th). For those who don’t have to travel, they also have acorn-fed Iberian hams (sold by the slice) and big vats of olive oils from all over the Mediterranean; just bring your own container (or buy one of theirs) and fill it up with the oil you like best. Honey, spray bottle of balsamic vinegar, artisan ice creams…it’s hard to leave empty handed!

* Post-Midnight Pizza Delivery *
There are few things open in the wee hours in Paris, and even fewer of those deliver. Take pizza, for example. Most places close at 11pm, very inconvenient when you have a pizza craving at 2am. But now you can call Pizza de Nuit, a pizza delivery company that delivers within Paris and the immediate suburbs daily from 11pm-5am. The prices reflect the convenience, from €14-€18 for a pizza, and €9 for a half liters of Häagen Dazs ice cream. Order online, call 01 48 81 00 00, or download their iPhone app.

* Uniqlo Winter Clothes *
Okay, so Uniqlo is not French, it’s Japanese. But there are no locations in North America outside NYC (where three shops will be open by the end of the month), and this is a seriously great place to stock up on winter staples such as merino wool and cashmere sweaters  in all colors (€15-€80), denim leggings (€25), high-performance heat-tech underware (from €10) and feather-light down jackets (from €69) that are so compact you can roll one up and stuff it into your purse or backpack. I find their quality and cuts to be far superior to Zara, H&M and even Benetton around the corner. Through October 8 they’re celebrating their one-year anniversary with huge sales at the Paris Opéra boutique (17 rue Scribe, 9th, open Mon-Sat 10am-8pm, Thurs until 9pm). And the best part is that they can hem your pants in under an hour, even on Saturday.

* French Tax People are Actually Nice *
One of my friends who recently moved to France had to go to his local tax office last week to pay his property tax. He knew it was due, but had never received the bill, so rather than risk being charged late fees, he decided to just go to directly to the office. It was not something he was looking forward to, because even though he speaks French, like most people he dreads French bureaucracy. He imagined long lines and indifferent or even cruel civil servants who would tell him he was missing some important document. So he waited until the last possible moment before going. When he arrived at the office, there was no one else there. The three ladies at the welcome desk asked him to take a number anyway. He took one and immediately was called to one of the four windows that were open. He was shocked at how nice everyone was and how efficient they handled his situation. They confirmed his bill was sent to his overseas address (where he lives half the year) and just printed out another one for him. It didn’t hurt that the amount he saw on the bill was far less than he’d expected (he wasn’t silly enough to say that out loud, though, you never know). He filled out the check and a few minutes later was out the door. All of that dread for nothing. I have to say that I’ve had similar experiences every single time I’ve been to my local tax offices (I have one for personal taxes and one for business taxes), with the longest wait approximately ten minutes on a Friday afternoon. Same each time I go to my local town hall offices. I’m not saying bureaucratic nightmares don’t happen in France, but I think it’s important to remind everyone – newcomers and long-time residents alike – not to stress out about French bureaucracy until you have a good reason to be stressed. In most cases they’re there to help you, not thwart your every move!

* e-Petition for the Mairie de Paris *
Perhaps the reason I keep running into so many nice bureaucrats (my local post office workers are almost suspiciously friendly) is because their jobs are made a lot easier with the many services now available online. Taxes can be filed and paid online. If you’re eligible to vote, you can now register online. You can also now file a petition to the Mairie de Paris online, and the requirement to have your motion addressed by the Conseil de Paris has been reduced from 3% of the city’s population to just 1% (or 18,190 “signatures”).  Once accepted, it goes on the list of municipal petitions (see or sign the current ones here). The e-Petition can be signed by any resident of Paris 18 or older, regardless of nationality. The names themselves do not appear on the public register, just the number who have signed. Once verified by the municipal authorities, the motion is then given a date within two months where it will be discussed by the Commission Parisienne du Débat Public. There’s even one on there now for a dedicated dog park in Paris. A great idea!

* Dog Insurance in France *
Speaking of dogs, did you know that if you’re a pet owner in France you can get pet medical insurance? Just like human insurance, it covers major medical bills for your pets. My two min pins, Pedro and Lena, just turned 11 this summer, and they’ve had dog insurance since they were a year old. It costs me about €450/year to insure two of them, but I’m very glad I had it when they were diagnosed with heart conditions a few years ago that require them to take several medications daily for the rest of their lives. They’ve also had eye surgeries, countless blood tests, thyroid tests, and way too many bizarre boo boos and x-rays over the years that could have added up to some serious cash. I use Groupama, which covers about 70% of the medical bills (vaccinations and any non-essential treatments like teeth cleaning aren’t covered, but each company and each plan is different). I highly recommend it for any new pet owners, just search for “assurance animal” or, better yet, ask your vet what they recommend.

* Recent Articles and Posts *

In case you haven't visited the Secrets of Paris website lately, here are a few posts you may have missed:

- The N'Importe Quoi Photo of the Week
- The Saint-Pourçain en Seine Festival
- My Interview for Franco File Friday on the Lost in Cheeseland blog
- Photos from Cupcake Camp 2012

* Secrets of Paris Calendar & Tweet *
Don’t forget to have a peek at the Secrets of Paris calendar for upcoming events this weekend and in the coming months, including a burlesque festival, a retrospective of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, gardening exchange days at Bercy Park, SOS Help Volunteer drive, an alternative arts exhibit at the Halle St Pierre and the latest Rendez-Vous des Créateurs sale. As always, follow me on Twitter to find out about last-minute events and news in Paris. You can also follow the Secrets of Paris on Facebook

* Are you on the list? *
Want the Secrets of Paris Newsletter sent directly to your email inbox? It’s free, and all you have to do is enter your e-mail address in the box at: http://www.secretsofparis.com/subscribe.htm. Thanks! –Heather 


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Reader Comments (1)

Casino also sells CAT INSURANCE for only 50 euros a year. You can buy it when you check out- as a little card- like the SFR cards.
October 3, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVictoria

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