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Saturday
Nov302013

Newsletter #132: November 2013

In this issue:

* December in Paris
* Shipping & Storing Luggage
* Museum News
* Sponsor an Animal at the Zoo de Vincennes
* Smartphone & Tablet SOS!
* Holiday Gift Ideas
* Recommended Paris Reading
* Hipsters Are Destroying Paris?
* Compost in Paris

 

 

 

* December in Paris *

Despite the chilly and damp weather that has settled in Paris for the winter, it’s always so much fun to see the city’s festive transformation for the holidays with Christmas markets, the big Ferris Wheel, and all of the main streets and shops decorated with glittering lights and decorations. Check out the Secrets of Paris Calendar for the list of holiday events, markets, ice skating rinks, Champagne tasting, special exhibits and other fun happenings around town. It’s a work-in-progress; I’ll keep adding events as I hear about them, so check back in when you’re looking for something fun to do or unique shopping ideas.

* Shipping & Storing Luggage *
Why, in the 21st century, is luggage still such a huge hassle when traveling? Packing it, hauling it, checking it, waiting for it, losing it... If you’ve got the funds and the wherewithal to pack a few days in advance, you can avoid all of these issues by using a luggage shipping company. One of my frequent traveler friends swears by Luggage Free, who ship domestically and internationally by weight. Try their online calculator to see what it would cost you to have your bags picked up at your home and dropped off at your destination/hotel. They track your bags and guarantee delivery times, perfect for stress-free travel.

Another big problem for many is where to store bags if you’re arriving before your rental flat check-in or if you’re just passing through for the day and need a place to store your bags. There are three options: One is Bagages du Monde at Roissy-CDG Airport, Terminal 2 in front of the Sheraton Hotel, starting at €6/bag for 6 hours. Another is the “Consigne” at the train stations (the ones participating are Gare d’Austerlitz, Gare de Lyon, Gare Montparnasse, Gare du Nord/Eurostar, and the Marne La Vallée/Chessy station at Disneyland), which are usually open 7am-11pm, and cost about €7 for the day (have coins ready).  Finally, a third option is City Locker, a luggage storage center with locations near Gare du Nord, in the Marais, and the Latin Quarter. The price is from €10 per locker per day, and you reserve and pay in advance online. For obvious reasons, don’t leave valuables or important documents like your passport and tickets in the lockers, just in case.

* Museum News *
If you happen to be at the Louvre, Orsay, Rodin, Pompidou, Versailles Château, Quai Branly, Guimet Asian Museum, Palais de Tokyo or the Orangerie on December 1st, don’t forget that they are free the first Sunday of the month, so expect extra crowds. But you’ll also see volunteers from the Croix Rouge (Red Cross) collecting change for urgent disaster relief efforts in the Philippines, so please do pitch in and lighted your wallets and pockets of those heavy euro coins.

If you’re visiting the Louvre, I’ve got good news and bad news. You can’t see the Winged Victory because it’s on vacation (actually, it’s under cover getting a facelift) through summer 2014. But you don’t have to worry about lines anymore because you can order your advance tickets online, even from the US/Canada. The Louvre also published its own free self-guided theme tours (online and in print brochures at the museum) to discover more corners of the museum than the average visitor. I like “Living in the Louvre” because it reminds us that this was once a palace where the kings and queens of France lived (also may interest anyone who has overdosed on art and wants to learn more about the place itself).

The Picasso Museum is still closed. Everyone got all excited by announcing its reopening this past summer, but until the doors are actually open, don’t plan on it. Current estimated opening is “End of spring 2014”.

For natural history geeks out there, the historic Galerie de Botanique at the Jardin des Plantes (part of the National Museum of Natural History) is finally open after four years of renovations. It houses the world’s largest collections of herbiers, or pressed, dried plant specimens, dating back to the 17th century. The ground floor exhibition is open to the public every day but Tuesday. 

Three smaller museums/exhibitions I recommend visiting this month are: Yousuf Karsh: Icons of the Twentieth Century, with stunning black and white photos of movie stars, artists, writers, and world leaders over the past 60 years, at the Mona Bismarck American Center (a gorgeous Parisian mansion near Palais de Tokyo worth the visit alone), through January 26; Bourdelle Intime at the Musée Bourdelle (photo below) is an fascinating exhibit of vintage photos taken of the everyday life in the atelier at the turn of the 20th century, through February 23rd; Verdi at the beautiful Eléphant Paname culture and dance center is a special exhibition on the life and work of opera composer Giuseppe Verdi for the 200th anniversary of his birth, through January 5th. The restaurant Goust, on the 1st floor, is also highly recommended for an elegant meal.

* Sponsor an Animal at the Zoo de Vincennes *
The Parc Zoologique de Paris at the Bois de Vincennes is scheduled (ha!) to open in April 2014 after a complete overhaul and reconfiguration since its closure in 2009. The zoo will have about 2000 animals in five “biozones”: Europe, Madagascar, Guyana, Patagonia and the Sahel/Sudan. On November 15th the zoo published a list of animals that the public can “adopt” as sponsors. Oddly, today the website is showing an error, but have a peek at the Facebook page in the meantime. For as little as €15 you can adopt a lion, a black leopard, a wolf, a giraffe, a funny looking frog, and many other adorable or weird animals. You can also visit the Rénovation website for the progress of the construction and the photos of what it will look like when finished, or read an interview in English with the zoo’s director Sophie Ferreira le Morvan.

* Smartphone & Tablet SOS! *
Did you just drop your iPad and crack the screen? Is the “home” button stuck on your smartphone? Battery no longer charging? If you need a quick repair, and you need it now, pop into Save My Smartphone!, a new shop specializing in quick repairs of most  brands of touch-screen device right in front of you (average time for a typical repair 20 minutes), with a one year guarantee on the work. You can bring it in, mail it, or have them come to you (costs a bit more). The website (in French) details the prices for specific repairs for each kind of device. For example, to fix a broken screen on an iPhone5 is €299. On a Sony XperiaS it’s €99.

* Holiday Gift Ideas *
I encourage everyone to shop at the many Christmas markets around town (listed on the calendar) where you’ll find planet of hand-made crafts and unique gifts made in France. If you don’t find your bliss there (too much vin chaud usually does me in), there are also some great finds in the city’s smaller boutiques:

I’ve mentioned TAJ Paris before, a boutique specializing in high-quality items made in France and sold at a fair price. But for the winter they now have authentic French berets by Laulhère. Unlike those horrible cheap ones sold in tourist shops, these are 100% wool and lined on the inside for added warmth (and to keep the frizz down). They’re €39 and come in several colors. I’ve had my beret since 1995 (see the Ode to Heather’s Beret), they’re a great investment for the chilly Parisian winters!

La Clarière in the Butte aux Cailles is the atelier and boutique where American expat Sharon MacDonald’s sells her hand-made items made from vintage linen and fine fabrics, included table settings, pillow covers, bed linens, baby clothing, sachets, tote bags and other home décor items. The linen night gowns are gorgeous.

Over the summer I finally visited the Legion of Honor Museum, which is a free museum right next to the Musée d’Orsay. You’ll see enough medals to last a lifetime, but don’t skip the gift shop, where you’ll find some very interesting gifts created by the Société L.R. Paris, a family-owned company founded in 1959 by Jean Lemaire, a former cavalry officer. They create gorgeous silk scarves that match Hermès in quality (and price), with themes such as the D-Day Landings, Joan of Arc, St-James of Compostella, and the Pompiers de Paris.  They also have Napoléon’s Eau de Cologne that he had made for himself (smells like insect repellant, but he was often in military encampments, so perhaps that was the point).

Lovers of fine teas will adore the organic, fair-trade teas from Les Jardins de Gaïa, a family-owned company founded in Alsace in 1994. They are completely engaged in creating the best teas while supporting local, small farmers, with total transparency on the origin of their products. I got the Thé de l’Avent (Merry, Merry Tea in English), part of the holiday line, with a mix of green and black tea flavored with caramel and cocoa, and Rêve Eveillé de Gaïa, a white tea with vanilla and ginger from their Thés Militants! line of teas supporting good causes (this one supports Kokopelli, an organic seed distributor that has been fighting for freedom from the Big Ag seed companies in France for 20 years). You can find the teas online and in organic food shops in Paris like Bio Coop and Naturalia.

If all you plan on sending home is a postcard, at least put a decent stamp on it. Ask for the Versailles Collector stamps at any Parisian post office (or order online), which are valid for international mail (there is no postcard rate in France). They also have Eiffel Tower Collector stamps (they cost the same as non-collector stamps, but come in a pretty folder). If you want to get super fancy, pop the cards into the mail box on the first floor of the Eiffel Tower or inside the Carrousel du Louvre where they’ll be rubber stamped with those locations.

* Recommended Paris Reading *
I wish I had time to read all of the books that get sent to me. Alas, if I can finish one each month I’m happy. This month, being slow for tours, I was able to finish two and start a third.

Into Wine, the latest book from O-Château founder Olivier Magny, follows his own journey into becoming a wine lover without the snobbery and stuffiness hat usually accompanies the industry. It was particularly fun for me to read about the birth of his now very successful company, because I remember sitting in on one of his earliest classes above a restaurant in the Marais back in 2004. He’s come a long way, and this book will hopefully help bring anyone a new appreciation of the greatness of wine. As an aside, the French version is recommended if you’re up to speed, because it’s just so beautifully written.

The Man Who Outshone the Sun King: A Life of Gleaming Opulence and Wretched Reversal in the Reign of Louis XIV is the true story of the dramatic rise and fall of Louis XIV’s first minister Nicolas Fouquet in 1664, original owner of the famous Château Vaux-le-Vicomte who died in prison after being framed for embezzlement. I picked this up in the gift shop of the château and couldn’t put it down. Truth is so much more dramatic than fiction!

Finally, a book I just picked up because I’m always intrigued by the particular way Parisians talk is Je Parle le Parisien, a Franco-Parisian dictionary and guide to the local sayings, idioms, phrases, slang and double-entendres of Parisians. It also explains how to have a discussion with a Parisian, and even provides pronunciations. I also like the little illustrations, very amusing. It’s in French, bien sûr. If you’re not quite fluent try and find a sympathetic non-Parisian French friend to explain the finer details. ;-) 

 * Hipsters Are Destroying Paris? *
Yet another article about Paris in the US press by a “local” who’s been here two years, this one claiming that hipsters have ruined the city. As evidence, he points to the fact that all of the sex bars in Pigalle are being replaced by fun cocktail bars and organic food shops. Not that I’m one to embrace trends for the sake of being trendy (I wish), if that’s destruction, I say bring it on! And riding in on the wave of healthy gentrification is Le Louve (not to be confused with the museum with the “r” in it), a new organic cooperative supermarket based on the Park Slope Coop in Brooklyn. By requiring all members to work at least three hours each month, the coop is able to bring prices of local organic food down below even what is charged in mainstream supermarkets for non-organic food. So it’s not just for rich bobos. They’re in the final days of their Kiss Kiss Bank Bank campaign and have already reached their funding goals. Now if only they’d open a store on the Left Bank…

* Compost in Paris *
Earlier this month I attended the Salon Marjolaine, the largest organic fair and trade show in Paris, and found a whole bunch of great stuff. In particular were the Bokashi kitchen composters. Have you ever noticed how much of your trash is taken up by food scraps from the kitchen? I don’t have a garden, or even a balcony, so I’ve never considered composting my kitchen waste, but these hermetically-sealed boxes would tuck right under my table. They work with Active EMs (Effective Microorganisms), not worms, so you can put meat and bone scraps in there, too. And what to do once you’ve got compost? There are many community gardens who take it, as well as the farmers at any local La Ruche Qui Dit Oui (mine will even just take the kitchen scraps if I bring them in a bag). You can get your box at the Consom’Acteurs Boutique in the 14th for €47.

If you own an apartment in Paris, you can also lobby your syndic to approve a free composting bin from the Mairie de Paris. You just need 8 participants in the building and the city sets up the composters next to your trash and recycle bins (if there’s space), instructs residents how to use it, and then takes care of the “stirring” and emptying on a regular basis. You can learn more about it on the French site Compost à Paris, which also provides a list of the many buildings in Paris already participating in the program.

Another great resource is the new French magazine Kaizen, dedicated to ecological and humane living. It’s interesting because it’s a very practical resource that focuses on what is already being done (bst practices from around the world) and what can realistically be done to promote healthy living for people and the planet, with a focus on communities working together to improve quality of life that everyone can afford. It’s also beautifully designed, and has gorgeous photography, something often lacking in magazines of this genre. It’s published every two months and can be found at regular press kiosks. You can read excerpts of the current issue on their website.

 

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