Sunday, April 28, 2013

Shopping on the Champs-Élysées

What was once a field or champs is now one of the busiest pedestrian streets of Paris, lined with movie theatres, cafes, a club or two, a McDo, a 24h pharmacie, and lots of shops.  It’s become touristy over the years, sure, and the Vuitton store at the corner of Georges V is always bustling.  But what is nice about the strolling the Champs-Élysées is that you can get a good read on trends, fast.   They may not be the most cutting edge, which you will find in smaller shops, but they are indicative.  Check out stores like Naf Naf, and you will instantly spot a few trends in main-stream fashion~


One of my favorite stores is Monoprix; see their website HERE.  This is sort of the Target of France; and you will find lots of great accessories, clothes, gifts and more.  If you forgot anything, stop here, or if you are like me, arrive with an empty suitcase and make a quick trip after landing to stock up on some clothes, cosmetics and toiletries. They also have very stylish baby & kids clothes, lingerie and fashion accessories like scarves at an equally great price.  If you are making a quick stop in Paris and then going on the the South, go to Monoprix for a few soft cotton tshirts or striped tank tops and beach accessories like a pareo and an XL Evian vaporisateur; you can pick up more expensive and better accessories at the beach, but at least you will feel more like a Parisian going to the South than an American; these stores are all over France, but the one on the Champs-Élysées is one of the best~


The sous-sol or basement used to be a grocery, but now it’s given over to housewares and gifts.  Here you can shop, leisurely, for things like Mona Lisa biscuit tins~


and Eiffel Tower cognac and brandy bottles, in all sizes; you may find them cheaper elsewhere, but the selection here is great and the shopping is hassle-free~


They also had some nice Laduree recipe books, pretty but really expensive… pass~


I did buy two polka-dot Eiffel Tower cocktail napkin packs, these will go for the Reve launch party~


And also, a great set of champagne, wine and water glasses in the old shape that I love.  These were about $5 each; crystal; I brought two of these back to Laguna but will go back to buy 30 more of each; this was the best deal I found on stemware (style vs price) anywhere in Paris~


And grey plates, all the rage in France, and here at possibly the best price, $5; above them you will see some great grey placemats rolled up, also for $5 each~


Chocolates, these are super cute, but I bought others in a chocolate shop~


And Himalayan salt is hot in France and in California…..are these cute?


Here on the back wall I found the full display of the Eiffel Tower brandy and cognac bottles…..these were $7-$20 each, and I debated a long time before selecting one~


I bought the medium sized brandy bottle; the brandy was a nice night-cap and I’ll show you soon what it becomes in California.  Behind the bottles you can see all the books, magazines and keychains that are also here.  It’s a great selection of Parisian souvenirs~


There are lots of t-shirts for sale in Paris, but I check Monoprix first; I know a girl named Isabella who wants one of these….I will pick one up for her next time.  The ones at Monoprix are good quality cotton, soft but not too thin.


Depends on whom you ask, but most of the women I talk to say they would love to have a rhinestone Paris tshirt, especially in black; about $13...


And I brought two of these home, Perrier cans….can’t find these in the States and they will be pretty in some display, until I get thirsty for a Perrier~


You just need to look at the window of the store to identify spring trends…..scarves, eyelet, white, grey….


I didn’t get back to buy more of these items, but I picked up a few things and will be back soon…..this very soft cotton tshirt comes in various colors, you can see a hint of the pink version at the bottom of the pic, but I prefer the classic~


There was another large Monoprix near our flat, but it was dedicated to groceries (note this is also a great place to pick up a bottle of wine in Paris), so I bought things like kilos of Brittany sea salt for 1 euro and jams and honey.  Yes, go to the Champs-Élysées store for the clothes~ 


If you get to Paris, this is a good place to check out early in your visit; you can usually go back to pick a few things up before you leave, but it’s nice to see it all in one place and not shop from the street vendors.  You can click on the section at top called Mode en Ligne HERE on the website (HERE) for their current fashions and prices, as well as locate a store near you while you are visiting France.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Las Veegas

In somewhat ancient history, my boyfriend J-F came back from Paris with me and spent a month with my family in Laguna.  On the top of his list of places to see was Las Vegas.  Never mind San Francisco and Santa Barbara, he wanted to go to Las Veegas and Death Valley, and he wanted the two of us to drive there in my Grandmother’s generously proportioned gold Caddy-ac, which had pristine whitewall tires, air-con, a big mushy ride and was arguably perfect for cruising the Vegas Strip. Now for me, unless I’m sitting in a poolside cabana with a big floppy hat and a frozen drink at my elbow, and I have a massage booked later in the afternoon, I’m indifferent about Vegas.

In the early 70’s, once a year my parents packed us five kids into the station wagon and we vacationed at the Vegas Hilton, which had a fantastic “kids hotel” at the time.  How we loved making woven key chains and other crafts there!   In any case, my Dad absolutely loves Vegas, to gamble a little, have a bourbon and water, see a show…he’s sort of a Sinatra kind of a guy.  When I was planning my last trip to Paris, Dad and I also discussed Vegas.  It was a quid pro quo: I go to Paris, we go to Vegas.  And so this past weekend, Mom, Dad and I drove off for a medical education conference.  

This was not a poolside event, non, I packed the bags, did the driving, got the food and drink and ran interference throughout the weekend.  I got a wheelchair for Dad as the distance within the hotel was miles.  And last time, as Paris Las Vegas was a hole in the ground, this time, it was first on my list~


In Vegas, you are not in France, even with an echo of an accordion~


Forget Pigalle, here there are wannabe showgirls on the Strip charging $1 for a photo.  I was really disappointed in these girls, they were rather young and average looking and yet blocked the shot from the front.  For $1, really?  Never mind honey, I’ll get a pic from behind.  Shameless…..


There are superheroes and all kinds of characters out on the Strip.  Also for money for a photo.  Seems money makes the city run.


Woody was on for a photo, with a little shout out and for free~


It’s true, Vegas has become a mix of Times Square and Disneyland.  Themes, high-res billboards, perfectly clean streets and manicured hotels.   Contrasted with the old gritty version of the Strip.    Though even the McDonalds sign in Vegas seems to be a little more blingy than elsewhere, though the sign is missing a few teeth.IMG_9999

And also on the Strip, the counterpoint of a Christian activist; somehow their message was right on against the excess of the Strip, though out of place against the Eiffel Tower replica~


J-F and I stayed at the MGM Grand, which was themed at the time for the Wizard of Oz.  “You know,” I  told J-
F, “it’s like an American fairy tale.” “Oh yes,” he responded, “the only fairy-tale the Americans did not steal from the French…you know, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauty, they are all French.”  This was unfortunately my great revelation…..if you can’t be happy and at least find a little beauty in my country, I can’t live forever in yours.  The US may not be ideal for all, but like my Italian friends, you can at least find some goodness in it, and not be completely critical.

My Dad had a very excellent weekend, no matter that his daughter drove him around part of the time in a wheelchair.  He had bragging rights with his friends, and he went to Vegas, and he had fun.  It was a matter of dignity, and hope, and he is now planning “our next trip”….good for him, I say.  I will be back to France before then, but I gave him a dream weekend, and so that’s what counts.  I want to show you a little of Paris-Vegas though before I finish with this trip. So that’s next…

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Trend: Sous Verre

There is one trend which is not new but which continues to be popular in France and especially in Paris, and that is the display of objects sous verre, under a glass bell.  What is it about putting something under glass?  The object is right there for you to view, but it is protected; as if guaranteeing that the untouchable object is rare or inherently precious. Glass domes in various sizes are still found at brocantes and flea markets all over France, sometimes with their original contents.  The problem of course, unless you are local, is the transport, which is why I think I don’t have any in my collection.  Here is one from the Paris flea~


One can create dozens of vignettes under glass; here is just one idea, precious and perfect~


Several years ago the trend was vintage-looking green-glass bells with a knob on top and a very wide base, they  seemed more suited for the garden.  Those you see all now are almost all the Victorian yet modern glass bells in clear glass without the poignee or knob; here is one exception, with the knob.  Around Paris, you will find all sorts of things on display under glass….here jewelry….it definitely makes for a nice display, much more interesting than just a hand displaying jewelry in the window; note the mirror beneath~


How about a brioche?  This is a French-Japanese bakery on Rue de Bac.  Everything is under glass, with a single light above…very French and original~


I bought one sweet, XXL brioche for Julia and for our Sunday dinner we all split a small Saint Honore cake, which I am disappointed to say was the only one I found in all of Paris.  Do you like it under the dome?  Otherwise it would be behind a glass counter, so in a way I prefer this personal display.  It puts the value on the individual piece; like a jewel.  The fabrication of the cake was a little unusual, but this was really delicious~


Back to reality, in California, I was surprised to find some great French-style cloches at a “reasonable” price at Rogers Gardens.  I was surprised that they sold the asymmetrical as well as the round cloches, without the handle, and with a base, just as you see in France, though the bases at Rogers are some kind of composite not wood. 

That’s ok if you want to have one display at home.  But this Saturday I am styling a few elements for the Laguna Beach Earth Day event.  I wanted not one, but a handful of cloches, for effect.  I’m adding in a few glass hurricane shades and probably an upturned glass or two with some micro-items, but how could I get a nice glass bell on the cheap?  My idea was to use XL clear glass bottles so I went to the 99Cent store first, in hopes of finding something great (jug wine, for example) for 99 cents, but alas, there were none.  Smart & Final to the rescue, I went home with $20 worth of wine and tea in various bottles.

This is a mini-tutorial for glass bells, and NOT a project for kids.  You can find videos for how to remove the bottoms off wine bottles on YouTube.  I used litre bottles of wine and tea, you will also need cotton twine, scissors, a lighted taper candle and a bottle of acetone nail polish remover. 

Remove the labels from your bottles (by soaking in hot soapy water) and clean the residual glue.  Fill your kitchen sink with cold water and light the candle next to the sink.  Start with a few smaller bottles just to get the hang of the technique.


Wrap the twine about 3 or 4 times around the bottom of the bottle at the place you want to remove the bottom of the bottle; for a tall bell, place the twine at the bottom of the bottle as in the photos here.  tighten the twine; you’ll see more than three wraps here, but I found I got a cleaner line with 3 wraps.  You can remove and soak the twine in the acetone, but I just poured it on the twine on the bottle, catching the residual over a cup. 


Hold the bottle by the neck, and then hold the bottle end over the candle flame; the acetone will light.  Move the bottle over the sink, and tilt the bottle neck down and end up and turn the bottle slowly to heat the twine and build hot gas in the bottle bottom.  As the flame of the twine ends, wait about five seconds then touch the bottle into the cold water in the sink.  POP, the bottle bottom will pop off, as below right~


I saved the big wine jugs for last; they were slightly more difficult (and more expensive) as they were thicker glass, so I was glad I had practiced on the smaller, easier bottles.  Caution, though, the bottom of the first jug flew off and exploded into the sink before it even touched the water; I think the key may be in the hot gas that builds in the bottles.  There is science involved here!  All I know is that I ended up with some great clear glass bells for $20.  Here they are, ready to have some fragrant roses, orange blossoms, bird’s nests and gigantic blue goose eggs placed beneath them. 


The two wine jugs without bottoms are particularly nice.  I couldn’t help think of Jean-Luc in Beaune, who always says, “don’t throw anything away.”  I debated asking a bar or recycling center for a few bottles, but I didn’t have time.  I also couldn’t bear to send the jug wine I bought down the drain; so I bottled it and my sister will take it.  The nice thing about the open tops is that whatever I place beneath the bells will be concentrated into the nose at the top. 

I was happy to have a little French inspiration for the Earth Day celebration, and my display will mostly be for the delight of children.  I think what my display will say is that even the smallest things in our world, those natural things like a hummingbird nest, are precious.  Our Earth is fragile, and is to be appreciated.   I’ll show you what I  present, but now you have the story on the cloches~

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Fleurs de Paris

What is it about Parisians and Flowers?  I am trying to wrap my head around that question this morning as I write the copy to go with the photos of some of the most beautiful flowers and the most beautiful shops I have ever seen.  In the finest hotels of Paris you will see some truly amazing arrangements.  At the Paris farmers markets you will also find hydrangeas and roses and tulips that defy a proper description.  And if you purchase a few bunches, they will not be packaged in plastic, but in perfect brown kraft paper with a colored lining, and tied with a suitable yet stylish raffia bow.  You know how much I love my Beaune market, and there is a vendor there selling flowers each Saturday, but there is no market in the world that can compare to the Avenue President Wilson (16eme) market in Paris for cut flowers.  You will indeed find beautiful hydrangeas growing in Brittany and Normandy, and roses and jasmines in the south, but the best of them seem to find their way to Paris.


Each week I bring fresh flowers to a friend.  He’s French, and only wants white flowers, and greenery.  As with perfume or décor or clothing, flowers are a very personal expression for Parisians, and they are a part of daily life.  And not to be redundant, but it’s not just about the French, it’s about Paris and their love affair with flowers.  Everyone is buying flowers around Paris!  In the chicest neighborhoods there is a florist on every block it seems.  And every flower and every arrangement is perfect.  This is a hair salon.  Flowers are front and center in the window. 


It seems that for Paris, flowers are not an option, they are a necessity.  And they must be slightly over the top, with exuberance or perfection of the individual flowers, or preferably, both.  I had just a small dose of Parisian floral perfection this week with some bunches of delphinium which were in deep blue and white, and about 5 feet tall.  By the way, if you want to keep these lovelies from shedding, load them up with a fine hair spray after your arrangement is done.


I am going to show you some amazing flowers and shops in Reve; and I discovered by accident this week that one of my favorites is the shop that Carolyne Roehm went to, to study flowers for a year prior to writing her book on flowers and floral arranging.  Carolyne has fantastic taste; where else would she go, but Paris?  This is not that shop, but a different one; you will see many more large gorgeous photos in the book.  Red silk damask walls in a florist shop?  You know when you see this shop that you can only be in one city in the world.  And that is, of course, Paris~


Friday, April 12, 2013

Les Pick-pockets de Paris

You may have heard that the Louvre was closed on Wednesday due to a strike by the security staff.  The Louvre rarely closes except on Tuesdays, so when there is a fermeture exceptionelle it makes news.  The staff was protesting the increasingly aggressive mobs of pickpockets that are active in Paris, especially in the Louvre, where there are about 25,000 visitors each day and large crowds gather in front of the best-known masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo.  In the Louvre now you will see signs all over that caution you to watch for les pick-pockets. The guards say they are threatened and even spit upon by the pickpockets.  Apparently the thieves also use their young children, who have free access to the Louvre. 

I always like to chat with the French, anywhere in France, to get a sense of what is going on in their world.  This trip I spent a lot of time talking with the man selling housewares and baskets at the Avenue President Wilson market.  Paris continues to change and evolve, I noted, and he agreed.  Safety seems to be on more and more people’s minds.  I told him how I had watched Raquel wander off to one of the side streets at the flea market, and instinctively I sensed the change in who was around her, and went after her and brought her back to the area I consider “safe.”  Absolument, the basket man said.  There have been muggings around Paris, including at the Canal St. Martin, in daylight.  And stay away from certain areas at night; Pigalle used to be ok at night, he said, but not now.  In the last few years iPhones have been the target of theft, from Parisians and tourists alike.  On some of the French blogs, Parisians are embarrassed to admit that they have been the victims of theft in places you normally wouldn’t worry about the security of your wallet or belongings.


And one trend you can count on in Paris is that thefts have gotten much more sophisticated.  You used to worry about someone pressing up against you, or a mob of small children surrounding you in Italy, for example.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it, but at the curb in front of the Musee d’Orsay a woman dropped a very large gold ring at Raquel’s feet.  “Is it your ring,” she asked?  Raquel wasn’t sure what to do I think, but I pulled her away and we kept walking.  The women was a gypsy, at the Museum, that was my first clue (and I’m sorry if that sounds like profiling).  And when a situation seems too bizarre, it usually is…..  I have come to find out that this ring story is one of the latest scams, though it’s a way to engage you and then ask for money or for you to buy the ring or any other number of strange requests.


I spent last night writing two very detailed lists for Rêve: general travel tips (such as what to do with your passport, credit cards, and currency exchange) and a second list with detailed ways to avoid being a victim of pickpockets or other theft.  Beyond being aware of your surroundings, there are some things that I strongly suggest you consider if you are traveling to France.


Because let’s face it, who wants to be in Paris and feeling like you are always looking over your shoulder?  Be prepared and be aware and follow a few simple rules and you’ll be fine.  And now I’m curious, have you seen or personally experienced theft in Paris? 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Cecil, Sur Moto

Dogs are are always a favorite photo subject of mine, and in Paris we took photos of dozens of dogs….big dogs, little dogs, shop dogs, café dogs and homeless dogs, dogs that can open doors, or pace anxiously outside of the boulangerie waiting for their owners. French Bulldogs, by the way, seem to be a perennial favorite in terms of breed.  In certain parcs and squares, dogs must be on leash, but often times, especially in the 7th, we saw a lot of dogs running off leash, out for a walk.  With just one word from their master or mistress, Parisian dogs seem to know when to heel, when to cross the street, or when to sit.  Are Parisian dogs smarter?  I don’t know, but they are frequently named for philosophers or other historical figures.  How could a dog named Voltaire or a cat named Richelieu be anything less than brilliant?  And so, you’ll find a full feature on Les Chiens de Paris in Rêve, and you’ll see a few chats in there as well.

We saw one or two dogs in bicycle baskets, but one thing I didn’t see was a dog on the back of a motorcycle.  Here is Cecil, in California yesterday, harnessed into his own little crate that bears his name.  This is a Ninja motorcycle, and it goes fast.  He actually looked very relaxed and happy on the back of the bike, and when they took off, Cecil peered his head around to the side, so he can see ahead.  Hang on, Cecil!


More posts from Paris soon.  Enjoy the rest of your week~

Monday, April 8, 2013

I Love Paris

Paris’ reputation as one of the best cities in the world is absolutely well-deserved. I mentioned at the start of the trip that I have not spent a lot of time here over the last few years, mostly using Paris as my flight base and as a hub to get elsewhere in France.  But as I think back over the last nine days, there are a thousand beautiful images (et plus!) running through my mind like a film reel on fast forward.  Flipping through the photos on my iPad, for every image, I am also thinking of all that I saw but did not photograph. All that we ate, and the confectionary perfection that made us smile, noses pressed to the glass~


The sheer monumentality of many parts of the City, which never fails to impress~


The vistas and the layout of the City encourage relaxation and conversation.  A seat for you and a friend is always waiting in the Tuilleries~


And the museums, some of which I revisited, some which I still want to see again.  You don’t have to think about it too much, when you have an opportunity, just go to Paris~


And the Eiffel Tower….oh I think I shall miss you most of all….


If only we could all click our heels three times and be here….if only….

I’m going to be back soon, and will take a little more time to pause in Paris when I do return to France.  But for now, I’m off to the editing room and to finish writing Rêve.  After I make a quick run to the boulangerie that is….as it’s now going on 7am in Paris and the bakeries will be steamy and warm to encourage the day’s bread to proof, and we need a few snacks for the road.  A bientôt, Paris, je vous aime~