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Newsletter #147: October 31, 2014

In this issue:

* Toussaint - Day of the Dead
* Three Ways to Get Around
* Vintage Photos and Posters
* Coloring Paris
* Recommended Books
* Museum & Exhibit News
* Pass for Municipal Museums
* France in Videos
* France in the Press: Good, Bad and Ugly
* Secrets of Paris News & Calendar
* Farewell Pedro & Lena




* Toussaint - Day of the Dead *
France celebrates Toussaint on November 1st, or All Saints’ Day, where those who have passed away are remembered. Although it’s a religious holiday, like Christmas, it’s also a national holiday and part of the “Vacances Scolaires” where kids get off school for two weeks (which explains all of the kids in the museums this month). If you visit any of the country’s cemeteries on Toussaint you’ll find the French placing flowers on the graves of their loved ones. There are also special services in the Catholic churches. It’s generally a solemn holiday, even though the lure of the more festive Halloween has been creeping into the French culture the past decade. Somewhere in between is the Jour des Morts (or Dia de los Muertos for those who grew up in Mexico or the Southwestern United States) a colorful, festive celebration of those who have passed, with big parades of skeletons and altars laid with fruit and flower offerings to dead ancestors. If you’re in Paris do stop by the Association pour l’Estampe et l’Art Populaire (49bis rue des Cascades, 20th), a gallery and printmaking atelier in Belleville that hosts a Jour des Morts inspired art exposition (daily 3-8pm through November 11). I picked up the two adorable prints of Paris below by Raúl Villullas, one of the dozen artists showing their works at the gallery.

* Three Ways to Get Around *
I’ve been using the Autolib’ for short trips around Paris, but it’s totally useless for going to the suburbs or further afield (Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte, the airport, etc), and renting a car can be a bit tedious, so I’m happy to see ZipCar has finally arrived in Paris. You can rent cars or vans if you need to move furniture. The cost is €6-€9/hour (depending on your subscription), and there are day rates as well. I’m a big fan of train travel when the trip is more than an hour, and now there’s Capitaine Train, a new bilingual website and app to help you find the cheapest tickets for travel in Europe, payable by credit card or PayPal, with a ton of good travel tips in their help section, too. It’s a great alternative to the sometimes confusing SNCF site, ad-free, and they don’t charge any additional fees. (Use my "friend" code for €5 off your first purchase). For a different way to see Paris, a company called Bustronome is now offering gastronomic lunch and dinner tours of Paris in a double-decker bus with a panoramic glass rooftop so you can enjoy all of the sites without having to strain to see through a window. I guess it’s like a dinner cruise, but you’re cruising around the city in a bus instead of a boat. Prices €65-€125. I have not actually tried this yet, so I’m a bit skeptical about how well one can eat – and properly serve food and drink -- in a moving vehicle in Parisian traffic, but it’s an original idea!

* Vintage Photos and Posters *
The thing I love most about shopping tours is sleuthing out all of the obscure little Parisian boutiques. I’ve had a few requests for real vintage Parisian posters and photographs, and have two favorite addresses in Paris. L’Ile aux Images (51-53 rue St-Louis-en-l’Ile, 4th) is a discreet, pristine gallery on the Ile Saint Louis selling both vintage photographs and posters (matted and sometimes framed). A client purchased a rare advertising poster from the 1890s for €450, and a more “modern” poster from the 1950s for €150. There were some gorgeous black and white photos of Paris, as well. Les Images de Marc (69 blvd Beaumarchais, 3rd) has more of a flea-market atmosphere to it, a large shop near the Bastille overflowing with vintage postcards, papers, posters, illustrated books, prints and memorabilia. Both shops only sell originals, no reproductions. Finally, the Galerie Verdeau (18 rue Paul Bert, Marché St Ouen, Allée VI, stand 97), which moved to the Marché Paul Bert in the Puces from its historic location in the Passage Verdeau, has an impressive collections of rare and vintage photographs of Paris, celebrities, exotic travel destinations, and fashion, some taken by famous photographers, some anonymous. The new location (photo below) is only open when the flea market is open to the public, Saturday through Monday 10am-6pm. 

* Coloring Paris *
If you have kids (or artistic streak), check out the giant coloring posters of Paris in different sizes up to 1m80 wide, and dining place mats of Paris (and other cities). There’s even a poster with a P’tit Vélib’ theme for little cyclists. They’re all designed and made with eco-friendly materials in France by OMY (27 rue Milton, 9th), but you can also find them in stores throughout the city such as Merci (111 blvd Beaumarchais, 3rd).

* Recommended Books *
I’ve been getting a bit of a travel bug for France, lately. As much as I’ve traveled throughout the country, there are still many towns and regions I haven’t visited. So I’m very much looking forward to reading Marcia DeSanctis’s new book “100 Places in France Every Woman Should Go”, not least of all because we spoke several times when she was creating her list and traveling the country, so I know how much work went into it, and how hard it was to leave places out (after reading her blog post “On Writing a Book About France”, I’m ready to check out La Rochelle!). If Halloween is your favorite holiday or you generally enjoy the creepy underbelly of Paris, you’ll like “Mysteries of Paris: Darkside of the City of Lights” by Father Sebastiaan, creator of the Paris Ghost & Vampire Tours. You can order it at Lulu.com or come to the book release party in Paris on November 13 (I’ll be there!) at Set in Paris Movie Tours (3 rue Maître Albert, 5th). If you’re looking for a good healthy eating cookbook in French (it certainly helps when you’re shopping for the ingredients in France!) check out Rebecca Leffler’s beautiful “Green, Glam & Gourmande” (also coming soon in English). I particularly like how the recipes are arranged by season (each one with its own playlist, yoga stretches and healthy living tips). You can find it at most bookshops in Paris, online, and at Merci (which also sells the excellent Vitamix blender, an essential I use every day for perfect smoothies).

* Museum & Exhibit News *
The latest museum news seems to have Paris in a frenzy. Or maybe it’s just the press. After all, it took five years to renovate the Picasso Museum, and there were so many delays that until it actually opened last weekend, I refused to “announce” it. I also refuse to go until the crowds thin out a bit! Happy to check out the fall color in the Bois de Boulogne, I’ll be going to see the new Fondation Louis Vuitton contemporary art gallery designed by Frank Gehry (the current exposition is about his work, in tandem with the one at the Centre Pompidou), which is open Fridays until 11pm. It’s a pretty long walk from the metro, so opt for the €1 shuttle bus from the Place Charles de Gaulle - Etoile (Arc de Triomphe) at the corner of Avenue Friedland, every 15 minutes. Entrance fee includes access to the Jardin d’Acclimatation. One of the big “scandals” of the season is the Paul McCarthy exhibition “Chocolate Factory” at the Monnaie de Paris (with chocolate “trees” that don’t look like trees to anyone but children, except that the expo is “not suitable for children”). He briefly had a big inflated green tree at the Place Vendôme which I saw with clients during a tour (knowing Christmas decorations don’t go up until December in this country, I figured it was “art”), but it was vandalized and removed shortly after. You can buy the chocolate version through January 4th in the gift shop of the Monnaie de Paris, the former Paris mint which also happens to be newly reopened after two years of renovations and transformation into an art, culture and gastronomy center (Guy Savoy is opening a restaurant there soon). We’ve been spoiled with lovely fall weather this week, so I got to enjoy the “Renoir Gardens” of the recently renovated Musée de Montmartre. Set within the oldest house on the hilltop, the 17th-century Maison du Bel Air, the museum used to be a dusty old place, but now it’s a spacious, welcoming place to learn about the colorful history of the Butte Montmartre, the artists who lived there, the cabarets including the Chat Noir and Moulin Rouge, and the Commune of 1871. It’s quite amazing to see photos from a century ago when the hill was still surrounded by farmlands, windmills and vineyards. From the vast gardens you can actually get a great view of the only vineyard left in Montmartre, just behind the museum (the garden café is open Wednesday-Sunday, 11:30am-5:30pm).

Lines at the Picasso Museum (from their FB page)

Fondation Louis Vuitton (from their website)

Paul McCarthy's chocolate "Santa" and "Tree"

Musée du Montmartre with its own real Chat Noir in the gardens.

* Pass for Municipal Museums *
There are often excellent expositions at the 14 municipal museums of the Ville de Paris (including Petit Palais, Musée de la Vie Romantique, Musée Carnavalet Histoire de Paris, Museum of Modern Art, Maison Victor Hugo and the Maison Balzac). While the permanent collections are free at all but three of the museums (Catacombes, Galliera, and Crypte Notre Dame), the exhibitions are always an extra fee unless you have La Carte Paris Musées. For €40 (€20 for students, €60 for a “Duo” card), you get an annual card that allows you skip-the-line entry at the expositions. Current favorites include the Baccarat Crystal retrospective at Petit Palais and the Paris Libéré photo exposition of the Liberation of Paris in WWII at the Carnavalet.

* France in Videos *
During WWI, the Château de Versailles was not just sealed up and left empty like many of the museums in France. While most of the artworks were shipped to safer locations or hidden in storage cellars, the palace and its vast grounds were an important military site used throughout the war for housing soldiers, growing crops to feed the town, and finally as the place where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end the war. To commemorate the centennial of the start of WWI, the French National Library and the Château de Versailles have put together film and photographic archives to create four short films The Palace of Versailles During the Great War (subtitles in English) spanning the history of the palace from 1914 through 1919. It’s a fascinating glimpse into how the war affected France’s greatest monuments. There is no end to the comparisons between Paris and New York City, but one of my favorites is the video created by British Airways’ Open Skies (to promote flights between the two cities). It’s a day of city scenes from sunrise to nightfall, with Paris on the left, NYC on the right. It’s quite cleverly done…but the music could be better! If you’re curious about people around the world, 365 Docobites is a video series of mini-documentaries, or interviews with “strangers”, one shot each day for a year spanning five continents. I met the creators Epiphany and Carl in Paris on a sunny afternoon earlier this month in the Square René LeGall, and became “Docobite #203”. They somehow got a confession out of me without even one glass of wine involved! Finally, if you want a good laugh, check out the video French Fiction, which is a clever splicing of clips showing how France is portrayed in films to the English-speaking world (Joey from Friends is classic!)

* France in the Press: Good, Bad and Ugly *
There are a LOT of articles about Paris and France in the Anglophone press. It seems a bit excessive, even for someone whose job it is to write about Paris. Unfortunately most of them aren’t worth reading past the headlines (as you’ll see below), but every once in awhile there are some excellent articles that make me proud to be a journalist (and a Parisian).

The Good
This week there was an article in the International New York Times (previously IHT) “Life and Design, Grounded in Pigalle”, an in-depth article about a local clothing designer/entrepreneur who grew up in Pigalle and now has two extremely trendy shops there. I like his rebuttal to the other NYT opinion piece “How Hipsters Ruined Paris,” (with gourmet cupcake shops and bars selling Brooklyn Lager replacing the seedy old Pigalle redlight district): “To be nostalgic for what — to see a hooker, or someone beat up?” he said. “That’s fake. I prefer now, 10 times.” Last month in the INYT there was an op-ed piece by columnist and former NYT Foreign Editor Roger Cohen, “Truths of a French Village”, where a French real estate agent tries to convince him not to sell his cottage, to keep it for his children: “This was, shall we say, a cultural moment, one of those times when a door opens and you gaze, if not into the soul of a country, at least into territory that is distinct and deep and almost certainly has greater meaning than the headlines and statistics that are supposed to capture the state of a nation, in this case one called France, whose malaise has become an object of fascination.” I’m not at all on top of the latest “foodie news” in Paris, I get most of it from Paris by Mouth, which is where I’m sure I first found the link to Omid Tavallai, a Paris-based chef with strong opinions and stronger language. I loved his article “F*** Yo’ Truck, Paris” from his website earlier this month, which explains why he won’t open a food truck (and links to an earlier screed “Ceci n’est pas de Street Food” explaining exactly what street food really is) and why the ones in Paris are a total joke (so I’m not crazy after all for not wanting to stand in line one hour for a burger, ha!). Of course it should come to no surprise that an article written about an industry from the inside is actually good, because even when it’s critical it can back it up with actual knowledge and first-hand experience.

The majority of articles (especially online) are just link-bait garbage (and no way am I going to link to them here):

- “10 Things You Can Do in Paris, But Not in the US” like drinking legally when you’re a student, wearing Speedos by the pool, or buying books from actual bookstores, which, could apply to almost ANY major city outside the US (from the Thrillist.com, which on the same page links to “99 Problems with Paris”)

- “17 Reasons Paris is so Popular” which includes “fine dining” and “fine wine” (groundbreaking journalism from the UK’s Telegraph)

- “10 Idioms Only the French Understand”. Yeah…because they’re in French. I’m guessing almost every language has its own colorful idioms (and I think Ms. Croissant -- the French author’s actual name – is obsessed with the topic, since she write another article called “8 French Idioms Every Travelers Should Know”).

- “How Studying Abroad in Paris Destroys You for Life” Can you tell this is a Buzzfeed title? It’s simply a tired list of the same hackneyed clichés about Paris (the food, the wine, the Eiffel Tower, etc), which even tourists can experience without needing to “Study Abroad” here.

The Ugly
Sometimes there are articles that would be interesting if the title wasn’t so obviously false, including the New York Times article “The Secret is Out on a Cherished Underground Haven” (even the most clueless tourist has heard of the vast network of underground tunnels in Paris, and National Geographic did an excellent article several years ago on the same topic, “Paris’ Urban Underground”. So the secret has been out for a long time now. The flashy website Medium.com (pretty pics, flimsy writing) published an article called “Take a Tour of The Gigantic, Secretive Market Where France’s Top Chefs Buy Their Food” (the editors also have issues with proper capitalization, ahem), which manages to get two things wrong in one headline: of course Parisians know about Rungis, it’s in the news all of the time, especially at the holidays; second, the top chefs don’t all go to Rungis, they get their food from their own sources, usually direct from the producers. The rest of the article would be interesting just for the description of this food city, except that the author makes it sound like the food comes from the market, as if Rungis is a huge factory farm corporation producing most of the city’s food. But no, it’s just the market where over 1100 wholesalers and producers (including farmers) come to sell their wares. Not so sinister. And anyone can go if you book a tour (usually at 4am, which is why I don’t do them!). Finally, the Bloomberg article “Paris’s ‘Squalor Pit’ Gare du Nord becomes French Decline Symbol”, referring to the snide comments made by a British department store manager after his visit to receive an award (he later said he was “just joking”), has some redeeming value – the journalist actually interviewed people who run and work at the train station – except that the information about how the station is undergoing massive renovations is held until almost the last paragraph (in the section titled, “Pigeon Droppings”). Everyone knows most people don’t read to the end of any article over 400 words. Sensationalism wins out again. (And for the record, I’ve never had any problems at the Gare du Nord). And in case you missed the news, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Patrick Modiano and the Nobel Prize in Economics to Jean Tirole, both French, very good news for the country that needs a bit of a boost in morale. But FranceInLondon.com made the two men sound petty with the headline, “Two French Nobel Prize Winners in 2014 ‘Thumb their nose at French bashing’.” It was the Prime Minister Manual Valls who said the phrase, “pied-de-nez au French bashing”, not the Nobel winners themselves (who I am sure will remain more tactful).

* Secrets of Paris News & Calendar *
Don’t forget to check out the latest events happening around town on the Secrets of Paris Calendar, or follow me on Twitter to get daily updates and blurry Instagram pics of Paris on my morning runs. The next newsletter will be sent in November.

The Secrets of Paris Newsletter has been a monthly newsletter since 1999, but since this year is our 15th anniversary, sometimes I even do two newsletters each month. The newsletter usually includes tips for newcomers and visitors, as well as some that are more useful for Paris residents. If you would like to receive this newsletter directly in your email, just sign up here.

Pedro & Lena: August 1, 2000 – October 9, 2014

This issue is for Pedro and Lena, who joined me 14 years ago just after I created the Secrets of Paris. They were always at my side from the first newsletter through #146. On October 9th, after a long battle with a congenital heart condition, the doggies enjoyed a farewell meal of croissants (Lena) and roast chicken (Pedro). This is a photo of them in their Halloween costumes in 2001 as a Bat (Lena) and a Devil (Pedro). Paris won’t be the same without my little monsters…

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