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Newsletter #134: January 18, 2014

 In this issue: 

* A Big Year for Secrets of Paris!
* A New Private Cocktail Club
* Taxi Wars
* Hilarious French Language Mistakes
* Found Cameras and Memory Cards
* Shoes with a Conscience
* Cool, Collapsible Bike Helmet
* War Touring, Patrimoine & Wine
* Farm Tents and Tree Houses
* French Culture Insights
* Change at French Cash Registers
* Paris Events Calendar 



* A Big Year for Secrets of Paris! *
If you’ve been a longtime subscriber to the Secrets of Paris you may be quite surprised to find this newsletter in your inbox so soon. After all, the January issue just came out two weeks ago. Since 1999 the newsletter has come out every month, and when I was particularly busy, every other month. But this September I’m celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Secrets of Paris, and I’ve got a bee in my bonnet to make some changes. One of them is that the newsletter will come out twice per month this year. Do I have enough secrets to fill that many newsletters? You’ll just have to find out! There are a few other big surprises in the works, which brings me to the tours. As much as I love showing all of you the city I love, I’ve decided to take a break this year so I can concentrate on my writing projects and clean out some of the cobwebs in the Secrets of Paris website, which is practically a dinosaur in internet years! But never fear, my crack team of fellow tour guides is ready to step in and cover my derrière while I’m gone, so none of you will be left stranded in Paris without guidance from the experts. In the meantime, a grand merci to all of you for continuing to read and recommend this newsletter, I never would have made it to the 15th year without your support and encouragement! - Heather

* A New Private Cocktail Club *
Maybe it’s my age, but I’m pretty picky about where I go out drinking these days. It’s hard to find that perfect mix of stylish and comfortable venue, well-made (and decently-priced) drinks, and a cool crowd that doesn’t make me feel like I’m babysitting. I’ve always used Forest Collins’ awesome cocktail bar guide 52 Martinis to help me choose a place, so I immediately signed up when I heard about her new members-only popup cocktail club, The Chamber. The idea is that each month Forest will delve into her little black book of cocktail industry insiders to set up a private cocktail event for members only, limited to 12 people per “seating” (early evening and late evening). There will also be classes, parties and goodie bags from each event’s carefully selected sponsor. Only a limited number of members will be accepted, so sign up now if you’re interested, or try a free trial membership if you’re simply intrigued. Santé!

* Hilarious French Language Mistakes *
Well, hilarious for others, probably embarrassing once you realize (assuming you ever find out) what a huge gaffe you made. Okay, maybe I’m speaking from experience, lol! The illustration below is from Comme Une Française, a very cool language site where the Parisian Géraldine uses humor to help you speak “Just like a French person”. Check out her site to see the video that goes with the illustration. And remember: if you can’t laugh at yourself when trying to speak French, you’re in the wrong country!

* Taxi Wars *
So who *didn’t* see the Paris Taxi strike last week denigrate into fisticuffs with drivers from private car hire companies like Uber? Not so civilized, is it? But then again, neither is only accepting cash, turning up with a stinky, smoky car, or not showing up at all. I think the article written on Rue de Baguette’s website is the most level-headed I’ve read so far on the topic. It’s about time the taxi situation in Paris was addressed, and no matter what happens it can only be an improvement over the status quo. I like the private car services because I like using my credit card to pay, I like being able to call the driver if he’s “lost”, and I like being able to rate the experience. So I’m rooting for them to win the right to compete with the Parisian taxis. But I’m happy to also see news of the Paris taxis getting smart and improving their offering (ie. G7 taxis with 4G antennas, MaxiCabs with free Wifi and electric outlet, apps to reserve regular taxis). In the meantime, if you do end up taking a Paris taxi and get awesome service, be sure to tip well while offering polite encouragement to start accepting credit cards. It’s 2014, after all!

* Found Cameras and Memory Cards *
Have you ever lost your camera or memory card while traveling? Still thinking about those photos you’ll never see again? Well maybe I’m looking at them right now. It’s possible that someone found your camera or memory card and posted the photos on the website CameraFound.com, hoping its owner (or the owner’s friends or family) might recognize them. I meet a lot of tourists, so I regularly scan for Paris pics. Here’s one of two young ladies in front of the Eiffel Tower, from a camera found at Le Marquis in November. You can read more about what to do if you lose (or find) a camera from this 2012 PC World article, “Amazing Story of Lost Photos Returned”.

* Shoes with a Conscience *
How many of us sheepishly look the other way when someone mentions where our shoes come from (not to mention what they’re made of and the age and salaries of the people making them)? Tom’s is one of the first companies I learned about which are making shoes you can feel good about, offering a pair for charity with every pair purchased, and making them from organic and recycled materials, available in stores all over Paris. For those of you traveling from North America, you might not have heard of Nao, a French company selling colorful sneakers handmade from recycled materials by disadvantaged people (not children) from the ghettos of Brazil. They are only €49, and can be custom-ordered by color from their website (although I think it’s fun to pop by the boutique each week to see the color combos of the latest deliveries). They are also perfectly flat and can be rolled up and stuffed into a pocket, for those of you who like minimalist footwear. Finally, the French company Soft’In specializes in high-quality slippers and sneakers made in France (using European materials) with the smallest environmental footprint possible. The slippers are cute, but I’m in love with the unisex leather sneakers, in a “brand-free” classic style you can keep for a long time. It appears you can only buy them online at the moment, but they’re still a young company, so stay tunes. You can read about them in English from their crowdfunding article here.

* Cool, Collapsible Bike Helmet *
I’ll admit I never wear my helmet when riding around Paris on Vélib’. Not because it looks stupid (it does), but because it’s inconvenient to carry, and I don’t always know when I’ll be hopping on a bike. But I may be inclined to carry one of the cool, collapsible helmets made by Closca in my tote bag. Made in Spain, they not only compact down into a flat shape easy to slide into a bag, they also have cool covers that you can choose depending on your own style. Which color do you think Bryan will like the most for his birthday helmet? (Here’s where I find out if he’s actually reading! :-)

* War Touring, Patrimoine, & Wine: East Coast USA Talks *
My friend and fellow guidebook author Gary Lee Kraut of France Revisited will be touring the East Coast of the USA over the next six weeks giving talks on a few interesting topics: “War Touring: Exploring Normandy and Other American War Memories in France”, “Understanding Patrimoine: The Key to Extraordinary Travels in France”, as well as a few presentations on wine tourism. If you’re on the East Coast do check the schedule to see if he’s coming to your town.

* Farm Tents and Tree Houses: Extraordinary Accommodations *
Looking to travel beyond the French capital and out into the great French countryside? Hotels and châteaux and B&Bs are fine (yawn), but if you’re not afraid of roughing it a little to get closer to nature, there are two very interesting options: Un Lit au Pré (a bed in the field) offers travelers cozy, tented cabins on a French farms all over France. Each one is slightly different, but all have the basic comforts and contact with a real working farm for those who like their eggs fresh from the chicken. Reservations are open for April, with weekend or weeklong stays. If you prefer panoramic views from the treetops, the website La Cabane en l’Air is a central reservation service for tree house accommodations all over France (as well as a few water cabins on stilts in a lake), from very basic to fancy…for a tree house, anyway (I didn’t see any where you didn’t have to descend back to Earth for les toilettes). Note that both sites are in French only, so caveat emptor for those of you using auto-translators!

* French Culture Insights *
Consuming French things might make you fat and (temporarily) happy, but cultural understanding is what really enriches the travel experience. France Magazine (the one published in the United States, not the UK magazine) is one of my favorite sources of cultural insights. I should admit I contribute to the Bon Voyage section, but when I see the finished magazine I’m always impressed at how much I learn, which is usually not the case with the typical Paris travel articles and blogs. Before subscribing you can read the past issues online. My favorite article from the Spring 2013 issue is Michel Faure’s “Funny Business” (page 68) about the cultural importance of the 1963 comedy Les Tontons Flingueurs. Beautiful, informative, and only $19.97/year for US residents ($29.97 for two years), they make great gifts for all of the Francophiles in your life.

* Change at French Cash Registers *
There are a few new things you might notice on your next trip to France. Many small shops like bakeries have begun using special automated change machines (les monnayeurs, en français) where the client inserts the cash payment and gets change without the staff ever having to touch your money. These were originally adopted to prevent armed robberies (they can’t be opened by the staff, only management), they’re also quite handy because they give correct change, allow food handlers to keep their hands clean, and prevent staff from skimming the till. More recently, certain Franprix supermarkets now participate in L’Arrondi, or “Round Up for Charity”. If you see the little blue sign at the register you can request the Arrondi, where the amount on the register will be rounded up to the next whole euro and the difference given to participating charities (at the moment they include the French Red Cross and Secours Populaire Français). It’s a great way to keep those piles of little centimes from piling up in your pocket!

* Paris Events Calendar *
As usual, don’t miss the Secrets of Paris Calendar for shows, exhibitions and events like the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities (beginning January 27th), or last-minute events like the book drive for MLK Global Day of Service ending this Monday the 20th. I also post news and events and photos from my runs through Paris on Twitter.  

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