Friday, February 24, 2012

Parisian Perspectives #4

This American adventure is winding down, and I have to say that I'm ready to get home to Paris.  I'm hoping by getting back into a routine I will be able to escape the pit of total sloth-fulness into which I have fallen.  It will also be nice not to pack, unpack, and repack a suitcase every 5-7 days - remind me not to plan a trip that involves one plane ride every week for four weeks straight, with multiple destinations after each plane ride.  I was glad that we were still at home yesterday, however, when too much travel + a cold caught with me, and I actually fainted in the kitchen. Get me some baguette, stat!

For the final Parisian Perspectives - at least this round - I'm featuring an American mom of two who lives in the 17th with her American husband.  They both independently moved to France, simply wanting to live in Paris, met, married, and have no plans to move away.

Grand Magasin of choice? Bon Marche
Favorite French luxury brand? Chanel
Favorite perfume? Happy by Clinique
Best baguette in Paris? Depends on the kind of baguette you want.  I can't say as I really have a favorite boulangerie/baguette, though I do frequent several in my neighborhood for different reasons.  Most of the time though, I buy baguettes from Picard, turn on my oven, pop one in, and 20 minutes later (including oven-heating-up-time) I have hot fresh bread (and my house smells delicious too).  My favorite is the "demi baguette aux céréales".  One thing I think every Parisian agrees on is the fact that hot bread is the best--can't get much hotter than your own oven! 
Favorite place to buy souvenirs for non-Paris peeps? Souvenirs de Paris, 4 rue Tilsett 75008
Favorite place to visit in Europe, outside of France? This is a hard one!  I love to travel and have been to many European countries.  I'd probably say Italy because I love their food and wine and, an added bonus now that I travel with kids, Italians love children!  So it's no problem to go out to a restaurant with kids in Italy (vs the frowny look that many French give us when we bring our kids to restaurants).  Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany--I've been everywhere and can highly recommend them all!

Favorite place to visit in France, outside of Paris? Champagne--we're planning to buy a country house near Epernay in the next few years.  Easily accessible by train, or rental car if you prefer, the Champagne region is definitely the countryside, without all of the traffic/tourists (like Normandy--though everyone should go to Normandy at least once), though there is plenty to do (and drink!) when you are a tourist.  The tours at the big Champagne houses are really informative (Moet & Chandon is the best tour, Mercier--and its train--is pretty cool too), but the best thing is to drive around to all of the smaller Champagne producers, sample their wares (bring/hire a designated driver), and you will discover that it's true that the best champagne never actually leaves France!
Favorite dinner spot in Paris? Fajitas (we miss Mexican/Tex-Mex!): 15 Rue Dauphine 75006
Fajitas is run by a Mexican/American couple (Miguel & Amy--she's from Vermont). The margaritas (a tad on the expensive side, at 30€ per liter) are as yummy as the food! 
Favorite pastry? Tarte aux frais avec chantilly
Favorite French cheese? Brie (actually my favorite is something that was only made once--I've actually talked to the guy who made it--so I can't recommend it...brie is my favorite otherwise)

Favorite museum in Paris? Musee Marmottan
Parisian guilty pleasure? Shopping during the soldes - I don't shop otherwise, except for food of course!
3 words that describe Paris? Parks, horns, buses.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Parisian Perspectives #3

Baby Oil and I are still thriving in America, eating as many bagels as possible and speaking English with everyone we see. And I mean everyone.  Yesterday I got a Thai massage (so, it's possible that I made a massage appointment based on a magazine recommendation and didn't bother to read enough to realize that it would be a Thai massage) and today I am sore.  Very sore.  Wan, my Thai masseuse, assured me that after today I would feel much better.  Hopefully I'll get some more mall-walking in so I can continue to (over)eat delicious American food.  

The third Parisian Perspective is an American expat mom of one.  She's married to a Frenchman and has been here almost four years.  They live in the 9th arrondissement.

Favorite dinner spot? A gaggle of restaus by Bastille
Favorite Sunday afternoon activity in Paris? Walking by the Seine/exploring a new neighborhood/walking through Montmartre - only if we're not having a 6 hour lunch with my in-laws
Favorite French luxury brand? Chanel
Favorite place to visit in France, outside of Paris? Aix-en-Provence

Favorite place to visit in Europe, outside of France? London, Spain, Italy
Grand magasin of choice? Bon Marche
Favorite perfume? Fresh
Favorite place to buy gifts for folks who don't live in France? Cheese shops.

Best baguette in Paris? We get ours at the corner bakery...can't be troubled to go too far out of the way for a daily necessity.
Favorite French dessert? Currently the Merveilleux

Favorite French cheese? All.
Favorite museum in Paris? Aside from the one where I am about to start working, and the one that almost hired me and then didn't, and the Louvre, and the Pompidou... I love the Musee de la Vie Romantique for its tea garden. Also the Rodin museum for photo opps. And the Musee de la Chasse. For the taxidermy...
Musee de la Vie Romantique

3 words that describe Paris? Have you seen those t-shirts that say "I heart rien"? That's pretty good.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Parisian Perspectives #2

Baby Oil and I are safely ensconced in the land of bagels, minivans, and Target.  I spent quite a bit of time on the flight trying to teach Baby Oil the word "non-stop" - as in, "Mommy should have booked a non-stop flight instead of adding an extra 4 hours to the trip with a layover to save money."  Baby Oil continued his streak as best baby traveler ever, but I thought I was solely losing my mind on the 8 and a half hour flight from Paris to Charlotte.  It went a little like this.

Me:  Okay, check the time. Five hours and fourteen minutes to go.
Read a book to Baby Oil, walk around the airplane. Let Baby Oil smash Cheerios into the carpet.
Me: Okay, it's been a while. Let's check the time again. Five hours and six minutes to go.  OMG.
Give Baby Oil some baguette. Read him a book. Walk around the airplane. Walk around the airplane again. Change Baby Oil's diaper. Try to get Baby Oil to watch a movie with no sound. Consider other options - there are none.
Me: Okay, that was good. Definitely longer. Check the time again. Four hours and fifty-five minutes to go. OMG *$#%!*@%*!!!!

Meanwhile, Baby Oil seems to believe that people in America get up at 4am.  I don't agree, of course, but it seems I'm really not in charge here. 

For the second installment in the Parisian Perspectives series (otherwise known as "I'm on vacation"), we meet an American girl who lives in the 11th.  She's married, no kids, and has been here less than three years.

Grand magasin of choice? Bon Marche
Inside the Bon Marche
French luxury brand of choice? Hermes
Favorite perfume? Creed Fleurissimo
Favorite place to visit in France, outside of Paris? Loire Valley
Villandry, in the Loire
Favorite place to visit in Europe, outside of France? Germany and Turkey
Favorite Paris museum? Musee de l'Orangerie. I don't get overwhelmed and Monet's paintings never get old.
Favorite Sunday afternoon activity in Paris? Brunch and a walk. Unfortunately this rarely happens, but when it does we love going to Sur un Petit Velo (82 Avenue Parmentier  75011 Paris) and then taking a stroll around the neighborhood.
Favorite places to buy gifts for folks who don't live in France? Les Paris Gourmands (15 rue Archives) for treats both sweet and savory. E. Dehillerin for fun, quality cookware.
E. Dehillerin
Favorite dinner spot? My favorite dinner spot for a true French meal is Restaurant Astier. For just a regular ol' dinner out I love Le Pearl, which happens to be right next to Astier.
Where do you get the best baguette in Paris? Comptoir Gana on rue Oberkampf (they are also incredibly friendly!)
Favorite French dessert? Mont Blanc
This is a Mont Blanc.
Favorite French cheese? Cantal
Three words that describe Paris? Moody. Monotone. Mouthwatering.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Parisian Perspectives

I'm about to head back to the US for a few weeks, spending time both in Virginia/DC and sunny Florida.  But I didn't want to neglect the blog while away,  so I'm launching a new feature called Parisian Perspectives.  I've always loved the back page of Vanity Fair magazine, where they interview someone notable with a series of questions resulting in short answers.  On this blog, I keep everything anonymous (yeah, I know, its a little unclear why, but roll with it).  So I sent a survey to some friends and acquaintances so that while I'm out of Paris, I can share a little window into the lives of fellow expats living the Parisian life.

Our first Parisian Perspective is a British mum of two living in the 17th arrondissement. Yes, I intentionally wrote "mum".  Because that's what she is.

Grand Magasin of choice? Printemps
French luxury brand of choice? Dior
Favorite Sunday afternoon activity in Paris? Jardin du Luxembourg OR Jardin d'Acclimitation OR Jardin des Plantes OR eating falafel on Rue des Rosiers
Jardin du Luxembourg
Favorite dinner spot in Paris? La Fille du Boucher
What color represents Paris to you? I want to say gray...but that's not fair...
Where do you get the best baguette in Paris? A boulangerie on Boulevard des Batignolles...don't know the name
What's your favorite perfume? Issey Miyake or Jo Malone

Jo Malone fragrances
Favorite place to visit in France, outside of Paris? Dionay - rolling hills - my sister's in-laws live there and my sister is building a house over the hill from them.  Also, Gedre - stunning mountain area on the border with Spain.  Went there last summer, going again this year.
Favorite place to visit in Europe, outside of France? Home = London;  Lake District - northeast England - very beautiful, good for hiking. Italy has some great fact everywhere does really...
Favorite French cheese? Brie
Favorite Paris museum? Musee D'Orsay or Rodin. They're both comfortable, easy to look at things, sit down and relax on the way round. Rodin is a quick fix.
Favorite indoor activity with kids? Cite des Enfants, or a musee in the Petit Palais, a sort of natural history museum...
Favorite French pastry? Croissant au beurre, plain and simple

Three words that describe Paris? Rushed. Outnumbered. Culture.

A little taste of Paris from someone other than me.  I am happy to report that I'm leaving Paris on a high note - today we hosted a brunch for a few friends, including an American friend and her French husband.  This was really our first time entertaining an actual French person (yes, a real live French person! In France! Imagine that!) and the best possible thing happened - he took a bite of the fresh baguette from our favorite boulangerie and said, "This is excellent bread!"  This felt like a blue ribbon, or a gold star, or a French high five. Go us.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Glamor Lives On

Sometimes I think to myself, "What am I doing in France? What have I been doing lately?"  The weeks seem to pass quickly in a mostly pleasant routine, focused largely on anticipating every weekend when Mr. Oil is around to co-parent during the day.  I mean, and do cool stuff around Paris.  The glamor lives on, I tell you.

This week, I didn't have much in the way of work but I still had my nanny, so I took advantage of rare guilt-free free time to indulge in a few new Parisian hobbies of mine.   The first is my continuing, yet still surprising to me, obsession with perfume.  I have smelled a lot of really excellent perfumes this week.  But the perfume hunt segued into another new hobby, which is going to sound a bit odd but just go with it - watching really rich people shop.

I'm unused to the world of true luxury goods that is in its prime here in Paris.  So I'm also unused to the idea that people actually have so much disposable income that they would drop 10,000 euros on a handbag.  I'm not naive about this stuff - though I did grow up in Portland, Oregon and I'm not sure anyone in Portland has ever owned an Hermes bag - but it is something else to see, day after day, droves of people waiting in line to spend large amounts of money on wallets, purses, scarves, and yes, even perfume. And just to clarify - I'm not envious of these shoppers and their purchases.  Really. It's just a kind of fascination.

Unleashing the hidden stalker in me, I went to the Hermes on Rue Faubourg-St Honore the other day, and learned a few interesting things.  One, Hermes sells furniture. Like a 23,000 Euro writing desk.  Also, they sell what may well be the world's most expensive beach towels.  780 Euros.  And you know what - they are not even that soft.  I think I could do better at Target, and then I can iron-on some letters that say "Hermes."   Second interesting thing - people bring itemized lists. Of things they want.  I saw this both at Hermes and Louis Vuitton.  I'm guessing they may be buying for other people, or for what certainly must be an intense black market of luxury goods in Asia.

Koala towel from Hermes. $800.

Flamingo towel from Target. $14.99

Today I learned that the only thing better than luxury brands recognizable the world over are luxury brands that aren't as well known.  Presumably, the "true" wealthy shop there. Louis Vuitton is so common, you know.  My example here is Loewe on rue Montaigne.  Now, Loewe is not actually a French store.  It's Spanish, with a proud heritage dating back to 1846.  Primarily a leather goods company, they make beautiful, non-flashy purses, bags, wallets, etc.
If you ever want to buy me a 400 euro gift, please buy me a wallet from Loewe. So pretty. And honestly feels like butter.

Naturally, they also make an array of leather clothing, including jackets but also dresses, skirts, and shirts. 
I've been looking everywhere for a leather dress!

I also finally was brave enough to snap a photo of Asian tourists stocking up.  This couple was leafing through the catalog, and waiting for an employee to bring them certain items.  I finally realized they also had printed out photos of particular items.  Plus, they already had their requisite Dior and Louis Vuitton bags.  So you know they mean business.
Seriously, I'm kind of a stalker. Or a luxury voyeur.
It was a day of sunshine here today - bitterly cold, but the sun was shining.  I was really enjoying the reflections of classic Parisian buildings and monuments like Place Vendome in the doors and windows as I walked by, and snapped a few pics.

See? The glamor lives on.

PS.  You can spell glamor with or without a "u".  I'm American. We don't do extra "u"s.   In case you were wondering. Which at least one person was.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Hard Things

We woke up this morning to several emails from friends sharing the sad news that another friend's father passed away suddenly yesterday.  This was a jolt for me - not just that A's father and M's father-in-law is now suddenly gone, which is tremendously sad for all of their family, not just that we are now of an age where we are the parents and our parents are not always around, but that I'm far away.  And I know this tragedy is not about me, and I had my share of feeling selfish and guilty for making this about me at all.  But it did help me reflect on some of the harder parts of the expat life.

It's hard to wake up in the morning to bad news, and know that everyone you'd like to speak with is asleep.  It's hard to feel like the last person to know what's going on.  It's hard to want to be there for your friends and family, and feel largely impotent because of time and distance. It's hard to love your family so much, and realize that the time you have with them is precious, and know that you are really far away. And that you chose to be far away. I allowed myself to do some moping today, staying in my pajamas well into the early afternoon (I let Baby Oil stay in his pajamas too).  And then I decided I needed a pick-me-up, so I set out to make eggplant parmesan for the first time.  Yes, I fried the eggplant.  Because nothing makes you feel better than things that are fried.

After eating the eggplant parm, which turned out pretty good I must say, I have come to the realization that this is life. Sometimes we are close, and sometimes we are far. Sometimes crappy things happen.  What matters is that the people in our life whom we love know that we love them. 

As I write this, my thoughts and prayers are with the Stein family in Cleveland, as they say goodbye to their beloved father, grandfather, and husband. May you know no further loss, and may Paul's memory be for a blessing.   And let me also say - Dad, I love you.