Netsuke, anyone?

Do you know what a netsuke is? According to Google, it’s: “a carved button-like ornament, especially of ivory or wood, formerly worn in Japan to suspend articles from the sash of a kimono.”

I got interested in them because I’m reading “The Hare with Amber Eyes” by Edmund de Waal whose family, the Ephrussi family, were an extremely wealthy and influential family in the 1800’s and 1900’s. The family owned a collection of 264 netsuke which Edmund inherited from his great uncle, and it led him on a journey of discovery of his family’s history and its connection to this amazing collection.

Edmund’s ancestor, Viktor Ephrussi, was born in Odessa, but moved to Vienna, where he made his fortune in wheat exports from his native Russia. This led to the formation of the Ephrussi Bank which had branches in London and Paris as well as Vienna. The family had enormous residences in Vienna and Paris, and Charles Ephrussi, who lived in Paris, supported several of the Impressionist painters of that time. The late 1800’s was a time when Japan was just opening its borders to foreigners, and Japan and Europe were each strongly affected by the exposure to the other’s culture. (See an earlier blog post in January of 2013 of an exhibit we visited in Paris comparing Van Gogh’s work with Hiroshige’s block prints.)

By pure chance, there is currently an exhibition that talks about that same period of time at the Musée Guimet (Museum for Asian Art) called: Meiji, Splendeurs du Japon impérial (1868-1912) that runs from October 17th to January 14th of 2019.

 http://www.guimet.fr/event/meiji-1868-1912/

 It is a gorgeous building that originally opened in 1889 funded by an industrialist of the time, Emile Etienne Guimet. The paintings in the exhibit offer a fascinating glimpse of Tokyo at that time:  

The museum is also filled with beautiful art from China, India, and Korea, as well as work from Nepal and Afghanistan. It’s well worth a visit!

Finally, another bit of pure chance is that TODAY, on Amazon.com, the Kindle version of the Edmund De Waal book is just $2.99. Absolutely worth reading, in my opinion!

No, You Can’t Get Everything on the Internet

In today’s world, it feels like you can literally buy anything you want with a quick click of your mouse. When I was a kid, I remember how special it was when one of my parents’ friends would come back from a trip to Europe and bring milk chocolate that tasted better than anything we could buy here in the U.S.

But now you can just go online and click, and it’s delivered in a day or two. Right?

Not necessarily.

I’ve discovered a couple of things in my recent trips to Paris that, unfortunately, I can’t get here, which means I either need to buy in bulk next time, or get back to France soon!
1) Ricore au Lait

Ricore is an instant coffee drink that you mix with milk or water. It is a blend of 40% coffee, 60% chicory. It is smooth and creamy tasting, and has almost no caffeine, so I find it to be a perfect hot beverage at 4:00 in the afternoon. I’ve been a fan for a long time, but only recently discovered the variation pictured here: that is, Ricore with the milk already mixed in, so all you need is boiling water. This makes it possible to have almost anywhere without the hassle of having fresh milk on hand.

So when I ran out, I of course just went online to buy more, but it’s not available– at least not in this version. All I could find was regular Ricore (which is better than nothing, for sure, but I’ve now been spoiled).

2) Ariake Bouillon

If you’ve never had Ariake Bouillion, (bullion in English) you do not know what you are missing. There are several varieties and I can tell you, they are delicious. The chicken bullion actually tastes like chicken stock from a roasted bird, not something that tastes vaguely of poultry. The vegetable bullion actually tastes like the vegetables it contains (carrots, celery). I’ve used up all of my chicken and vegetable versions, so now I have this one– shellfish, to try (not as many recipes come to mind as for the other ones, but I’ll figure it out). So I went on the trusty Internet to buy more and it turns out it’s not available in the US. I even tried fooling it and went to Amazon.fr, and it was available there, but it said it was “not deliverable to the US.”

3) Aesop Hand Soap- Good news! You CAN get this one!

My girlfriends and I were at a restaurant in Paris, and the restroom had this hand soap in it, which smells heavenly, and also includes finely milled Pumice which exfoliates while you are cleaning your hands, leaving your hands smooth as silk. As I was fretting about how I was going to bring this home, I found out that it is available on line and also, luckily for me, there is a physical store close by in Georgetown. So here is a product you CAN get in the US! The one negative is that if you do not happen to live near a physical store, you won’t be able to smell the products (amazing), try them out, or ask one of their very helpful salespeople which product is best for your skin. They are expensive, but I think they are worth the splurge.

Anybody going to Paris soon with extra room in their bag?

Le Bon Marché, c’est extraordinaire!!!

If you are a shopper, especially if you are a shopper for all things food related, you NEED to visit this store. It’s located on the Left Bank, in the 7th arrondisement at the intersection of the Rue de Sèvres and Rue du Bac. The original store was founded in 1838 to sell lace, ribbons, buttons, and various other small sundries, and had twelve employees. By 1879, it had just under 1,800 employees in its first building, which was constructed from 1869 to 1872. The building was enlarged several times (one of the architects/engineers was Gustave Eiffel’s engineering firm) and in 1911-1913, a second building was constructed, in the Art Deco style. This second building was requisitioned in World War I as a military hospital, was later destroyed by fire (1915), but then rebuilt in 1924. Both buildings were completely renovated in 2012 by the current owners.

An interesting societal aspect of the creation of this “grand magasin” (literally “large store) is that it marked the appearance of the “middle class” who would then become its primary clientele. Le Bon Marché was very innovative for its time, its owner using various new and different marketing ploys, including: a reading room for husbands while their wives shopped; entertainment for children; and sending catalogs to its customers.

Also interesting was the fact that by 1880, over half of its employees were women, and those that were unmarried were allowed to live in dormitories on the upper floors.[2]

The store has not only a huge variety of prepackaged options (mustards, teas, oils, spices):

but also large selections of fresh produce, fresh seafood, and even small eating areas with small menus of available prepared items.

I have always assumed that most of its business came from tourists, but I was there on Sunday and there were lots of Parisians doing their shopping as well. It is a business model that is greatly benefiting from today’s renewed love and interest in food and cooking in general.

https://www.24sevres.com/en-fr/

Enjoy!

Parc Rives De Seine- the newest park in Paris

Paris has, in recent years, been trying to reduce private car traffic in the city and thereby reduce pollution. Two specific transportation decisions have been 1) creating special bus/taxi lanes (to encourage usage of public transportation), and 2) the establishment of Velib (shared bicycles) stands throughout Paris. In addition, Paris has made the decision to physically close some streets entirely and repurpose them. Three years ago, Paris converted the road that ran along the Seine along the Left Bank into a park and it has been highly successful. It is estimated that there have been over four million visitors to that park.

On April 2, 2017, Paris opened the Right Bank equivalent park.

As you can see, it’s a wide open area for people  to stroll, sit, and relax. I didn’t even know it existed, but instead discovered it looking down off of one of the bridges.

There are sets of swings for kids, and also this clever area for small children to run around:

There are pop-up restaurants for light fare and drinks (look how clever they were using old crates):

With the sun shining and 80 degrees, it’s the perfect place to be lazy on a Sunday!

For more information, here’s a helpful website: https://en.parisinfo.com/discovering-paris/sustainable-tourism-in-paris/the-new-parc-rives-de-seine

Enjoy!

Frederic Bazille– have you heard of him?

Frederic Bazille was from an upper middle class family and was pursuing medical studies. His “hobby” was painting, and he went, in 1862, to Paris to the studio of a painter, Charles Gleyre, where he met Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir and Alfred Sisley. With them (and others like Edouard Manet), he created paintings that were inspired by daily life, but challenged the artistic method “norms” of the day. The work they did was the start of the Impressionist movement.

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I was fortunate to have found, and attend, an exhibit at the Musee D’Orsay in February on his work, and now it is in Washington, DC at the National Gallery of Art.  https://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/exhibitions/2017/frederic-bazille-and-the-birth-of-impressionism.html.

One fun aspect of this exhibit is that it has several still life paintings that are hung side by side by different artists. This proximity offers us a chance to compare the artists’ differing techniques and each’s vision of the objects themselves.

If you are wondering  why you have not seen his paintings in previous Impressionist exhibits, I think it’s because there are not very many paintings by him. Unfortunately, just prior to his 29th birthday, Bazille was killed in the Franco-Prussian War. Who knows what additional treasures he would have produced?

 

 

 

Fondation Louis Vuitton– the Tchoukine Exhibit was a MARVEL

There was an incredible exhibit at the Fondation Louis Vuitton that ran from October of 2016 to March of 2017. It was a collection of 130 Impressionist paintings that had belonged toTchoukine, an amazing patron of the arts in his day. This was the first time that these paintings had been out of Russia and shown in Paris and it offered a chance to see paintings by known artists, but pieces not seen since their creation.

IMG_6744 Do you recognize this artist? It’s Van Gogh, but a painting you’ve never seen.

The exhibit was fascinating, but the museum is equally interesting. It’s located in the Bois de Boulougne and opened in October of 2014. It was designed by Frank Gehry, which means its design is the embodiment of whimsy. I will admit that I am not always a fan of Frank Gehry’s architecture, but this building is fantastic.

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These are various photos from inside the museum. The roof and ceiling are enormous “wings” of color that overlap to create a kaleidoscope of color. The water feature at the entrance is mesmerizing, with the constant, gentle flow of water over its many layers. It gave me the same hypnotic feeling I get when watching waves crashing at the beach. Everything about the building is designed to be an expression of art and creativity.

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You can get there on the metro using the Number 1 line, and getting off at Les Sablons. There is a one kilometer walk from there (about 7/10 of a mile) within the Bois de Boulogne, a beautiful park. GO!

Clean clothes anyone? A Practical Tip for Life in Paris

Okay, let me give fair warning right here that this is not a post about a new museum or a new restaurant. It’s about something more practical. Laundry. Yes, if you stay in Paris for a long enough stretch, you will need to clean some clothes, right?

In my case, I was having a minor dryer crisis, so I needed to learn how to use the local “Laverie Libre Service.”  Turns out there is one close by. The sign on the outside says it’s open 7 days a week, from 7:30 to 22:00 (10:00 PM). I found a big, old IKEA plastic bag, filled it with sheets, towels and clothes, and headed out.

It was a Sunday, and there were a variety of people already inside, who nodded politely as I entered. I realized that many people probably don’t have a washer/dryer in their apartments and this is therefore a standard part of their weekend itinerary.

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Okay, so I approached the machines, trying to look confident. I could figure this out, right?

The sign above the machines pretty much spelled out the process, but I was still thankful that the woman filling the machine next to mine walked me through the steps. First, put clothes into the washing machine. Makes sense. Next, add detergent. Luckily, I had thought to bring my own soap from home (a little tablet). This is where the assistance helped, to make sure I put the soap in the appropriate little drawer on the top of the machine. Okay, now you select which cleaning cycle you want (basically from very hot (80 degrees celsius and 50 minutes) for whites, to cool (30 degrees and 30 minutes for wool). The next step is the part that was different from my past experiences in the US, though I will admit it’s been years since I used a public laundromat. Actually, the last time was in college. At that time, you had to be sure you had a roll of quarters and dimes to insert into the machine.

Here, there was nowhere to put money in the machine itself. Instead, you make note of the number on your machine and then go to the payment station (third picture above). You input the number of your machine, then pay the amount it requests. I can’t remember the exact amount but I think it was 2-3 euros for one load. Then you can go run other errands while the machine does its thing, because, as my new “friend” pointed out, the washing machines are locked shut (to prevent stupid people from opening them and flooding the space I’m sure) so no one could come and steal your laundry (though, honestly, would someone do that anyway?).

Then, once that finishes, you move your clothes and towels and sheets to one of the dryers and again, you input the number of the machine and your money into the payment station. Here is where I learned a good tip. My “friend” told me that the drying cycle is not really long enough to thoroughly dry the items, so you can immediately re-enter the machine number and pay a 2nd time to lengthen the cycle. The dryers don’t lock, like the washing machines, so you need to bring your book to occupy you while you stand around for the 30-40 minutes waiting for your items to dry.

Voila! I felt like such a local! Laundry all washed and dried and back into the giant IKEA bag.

Now comes the best part of the whole day/experience. On my way back to the apartment,  I passed, two doors down, “Le Petit Falafel.” The space inside appeared to be only as wide as the sign above the door announcing the name. There was a tiny copy of the menu hanging on the door, and after a quick glance (it was noon and I was starving), I had the brilliance to open the door, allowing a waft of pure yumminess to emerge. The two tiny tables were already occupied, so I got a falafel sandwich “a emporter” (to go). There was a tiny counter and glass case, where you could see all of the very fresh-looking ingredients, two very nice gentlemen, and a fryer. Ten minutes later, I was leaving with what turned out to be a DELICIOUS sandwich for 6 euros. A DEAL for sure.

A successful day all the way around.

 

Burial Place for the Kings of France– Bet you haven’t visited it!

Have you heard of the Basilica of Saint Denis? I recently had the enormous pleasure of discovering this incredible building, thanks to my friend Rachel, who had seen a description of it on a British show “The Art of France” on BBC 4. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08cgq7f

It is located in the northern suburb of Saint Denis, perhaps better known today for the Stade de France soccer stadium. It is an easy metro ride, with a direct stop on the Line 13, and the cost to get there by metro is the standard 1.90 Euro ticket for anywhere within Paris itself.

This building was originally built in the 5th century, and then in the 12th century, became a masterpiece of Gothic art. Suger, the Abbot of Saint Denis at the time, rebuilt it using new architectural techniques, including the rose window and cross-ribbed vaulted ceiling.

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This building contains more than 70 headstones, including Catherine de Medici and Lous XVI. There is no charge to enter the main Basilica, but there is a charge of 9 euros to go back to look at the headstones. Believe me when I tell you that it is well worth both the time and the money to see them. The carvings are incredibly detailed:

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There was more work done on the building in the 13th century under “Saint Louis” (Louis XIV), then the Abbey fell into decline under the Revolution (1789-1799). It was then restored in the 19th century by Viollet-le-Duc.

You can buy tickets using this link or simply go to the Basilica and buy them there.

http://en.parisinfo.com/paris-museum-monument/71479/Basilique-cathedrale-de-Saint-Denis

Enjoy!

Not your usual afternoon activity in Paris

Okay, you’ve been to the Eiffel Tower, you’ve been to Notre Dame, you’ve been to the Louvre. It’s raining and gray outside, and your hotel room is the size of a postage stamp. You need to escape, but to somewhere not overrun with tourists just like you. Why not see a movie?

I’m not talking about seeing whatever’s playing at the theaters at home. I’m talking about going back in time. How about going to see “Anatomy of a Murder,” with Jimmy Stewart, from 1959? Or “Ace in the Hole,” with Kirk Douglas, from 1951?

Anatomy of a Murderace-in-the-hole-movie-poster-1951

My husband and I have found that one of our favorite pastimes on those gray, rainy days, is to pick up the latest copy of “L’officiel des spectacles” at any newspaper kiosk for the cost of one euro, and peruse the listings to see what’s on tap that week. It comes out once a week, on Wednesdays, and has all the current listings for theater, movies, museums expositions, and concerts in and around Paris.

officiel des spectacles

Maybe you’re a Hitchcock fan? Or Billy Wilder? Or? Paris still has some tiny theaters that show these old classics in “vo”, or version originale, with subtitles. That means that you can enjoy it, even though your French language abilities are not up to snuff.

The theaters are mostly on the Left Bank, in the 5th and 6th arrondisements, which is the Latin Quarter. When you pick up your guide, look under “Cinema.” It first lists the new movies, then has listings by arrondisement, which are the “neighborhoods” that Paris is divided into. Look under the 5th and 6th.

Now comes the tricky part. The titles are not always what they seem. Sometimes, they just use the American title, but sometimes they have translated it. “Sueurs Froides” is one that is showing this week, for instance. I have NO idea what that is in English, so I open my “cheat sheet” which is a French film site like IMDB, called AlloCine,  http://www.allocine.fr/film/. When you type in the French name, it shows you that its American name is “Vertigo,” by Hitchcock. Another one showing this week is  “Sur les quais” which is “On the Waterfront.”

One of our favorites that we saw a couple of years ago was “From Here to Eternity” with Burt Lancaster. We had seen the “beach” scene, like anyone who is a movie buff, but never the whole movie and it was really good.

Don’t expect HDMI or screens that are 20 feet across. It’s more like 30 seats and a screen that is a little bigger than some of the mega screens available for home use today, but it’s a great experience!

Oh, and did I mention? Sorry, no popcorn. You’ll just have to go find a cafe afterward and have a coffee, while watching the world go by.

There are worse fates.

 

 

One of the Best Views of Paris that you didn’t know existed

One of my missions in Paris is to find incredible views of the city in unusual places. This last trip I visited somewhere I had never been before and what a pleasant surprise. The rooftop at the Galleries Lafayette store. Have you ever been there?

I’m sure many of you have been to the store itself, which is well worth a visit for the architecture, even if you don’t care about buying anything.

IMG_5144This building was built in 1912 on Boulevard Haussmann by Theophile BADER and his cousin, Alhonse KAHN, who opened a store at the corner of Rue LaFayette and Chausée D’Antin in 1895, and then purchased the building it was in, as well as those around it, to build this beautiful Art Nouveau structure.

Okay, so it’s a cool building and as a department store, it’s incredible as well, with an amazing variety of products and clothing. Just looking at the building itself and the variety of merchandise could fill several hours.

BUT… Don’t stop there. When you’ve had your fill of shopping, take the series of escalators up to the roof.

216 215 IMG_5148 My friend, Sarah, and I visited in February so it was a little grey and a little chilly, but judging by the furniture up there, this looks like a place that would be a great place to re-visit in warm weather. I don’t know if they serve food or drinks up there, but I think I need to go back and find out! It would be a very pleasant place to take a break from a busy day of touristing and/or shopping!