I’m moving to Massachusetts today. To say that I’m busy and tired does not do my current state justice. Blogging is rather low on my list of priorities. NPR (National Public Radio) to the rescue. Yesterday, they broadcast a piece explaining the French term mise en place (meez ohn plahs), meaning “to put in place.” Click here to listen to it. When I set up my new home, I’ll try to keep the ideas from the interview in mind. Or maybe I’ll just hire a French chef.
One of the best exhibits I saw while I was in Paris, Il était une fois l’Orient Express, is only on until the end of August. The exhibit celebrates the connection between the mythic train, literature and cinema, and the opening of the East to European travelers. From the time I read Agatha Christie’s Murder of the Orient Express, I’ve wanted to take the train from Paris to Istanbul. Parked in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe near the Seine are four authentic wagons from the train. They have created mises en scène (meez ahn sen), or settings, that make it seem as though the people who glided from country to country while ensconced in luxury have just stepped away for a moment to let you have a peek at their life.
After having visited the train cars, the exhibit continues inside the Institut du Monde Arabe with a multimedia presentation of the history of the Orient Express. First rolling in 1883, the legendary train pulled into its final station in 2007. One of the stories that I loved was what happened during the first press junket. Armed bandits in eastern Europe held the reporters on the train hostage until they were ransomed! The beautiful Art Deco detailing in the Lalique glass insets in the wood paneling, the travel posters, and the film footage of the many movies that were set on the Orient Express helped me feel some of the magic of being on board.
If your budget can handle it, you can also dine aboard. Multi-course menus at 120€ and 160€ are inspired by each of the countries in the train’s itinerary. I think that would be a fabulous way to celebrate a special event.
Murder on the Orient Express
While my summer job in Paris was quite different than normal, I did have a few opportunities to get out to see some exhibits and do a little shopping. One of the exhibits that I had wanted to see was Paris 1900 – La Ville Spectacle at the Petit Palais. The exhibit meshed well with my recent trip to Nancy, with a nod to the Art Nouveau movement. I particularly enjoyed the advertising posters for the original Expo in 1900, the Lumière brothers film footage, and the juxtaposition of what life was life for different social classes. It’s on until August 17, 2014, if you’ll be in Paris in the next two weeks.
A great time to visit any museum is during une nocturne (oon noktoorn), the one evening each week that a museum stays open until late, usually 10 PM instead of 6 PM. In Paris, it’s also a time that tends to be less popular with tourists, so the lines to get in are not as long and the rooms are not as crowded once you do get inside.
The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafés, Markets, Bakeries, and More by Patricia Wells
I picked up Ooh La La!: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day, by Jamie Cat Callan, another of the many books out there that promise to unlock the mysteries of Gallic savoir vivre. In her third book in praise of the French way of life, Callan went searching for what she termed “Ooh La La” with the help of a series of French women or women who have lived in France for a long time. While the book was often trite and silly, still there were some ideas worth tucking away.
The one that I liked best was near the end of the book (see, it was worth persisting through all the fluff). Just before she was due to fly home, Callan suffered a truly ugly broken ankle. One of the nurses who cared for her deftly took blood from Callan’s tricky veins. When Callan complimented her saying, “Vous êtes un expert,” the nurse corrected her with, “Non, je suis une artiste” (noh, zjuh sweez oon arteest), “No, I am an artist.”
Here, I thought, Callan had really gotten to the heart of the French mystique. Whether setting a table, tying a scarf, or selecting the perfect peach at the market, the French tend to do even the most mundane or trivial task artfully, thoughtfully, and mindfully. Best of all, no matter what our citizenship, we can too. Now, I shall artfully take the garbage out. I might even wear lipstick.
Last year, I finally persuaded my family to go to Quebec City. (If you want to read about our adventures and recommendations, just type “Quebec” in the “Search” box.) I thought that my parents would love it. They’ve just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and I wanted to take them on a little outing. They did, indeed, love it. Over the next few posts, I’ll share some of our favorite places.
Shamâne (70, boulevard Champlain, Québec) This charming boutique in the Petit Champlain quarter sells cosmetics and soaps enriched with fresh, organic donkey milk that are safe even for sensitive skin. Donkey’s milk contains enzymes that have been valued for millennia. Cleopatra is well known for bathing in the precious fluid. Hippocrates, of the “do no harm” oath, felt that many skin ailments could be treated by donkey milk. Shamâne’s milk comes from the owners’ own farm. Donkeys produce only a small amount of milk each day, keeping most of it for their babies. Many of Shamâne’s products are delicately scented. The lotions feel non-greasy and my hands still felt soft and nourished even after I washed my hands.
Today’s expression, sauter de coq à l’âne (sewtay duh kok ah lan), literally means “to jump from rooster to donkey.” Figuratively, it means “to jump from one thing to another” or “to go off on a tangent.” Once you enjoy the lovely products from Shamâne, however, I think you’ll be sticking with them and not jumping to try anything new.
Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014
I found another really cute boutique in the Marais, but since that branch is about to close, I’ll point you in the direction of their main shop, Les Cakes de Bertrand (7 rue Bourdaloue, in the 9th Arrondissement, near Galeries Lafayette, open Monday to Saturday, 12:30 to 7:30). The great window display caught my eye, with its look of vintage Paris. I bought the little accent lamp with the round shade on the right in the photo, above. I think it’ll look great in the powder room of our new home. I’m planning to go back for a baroque-inspired laptop case, now that I’ve verified that it will fit.
Didier Bertrand and Adolphe Besnard, the two men behind Les Cakes de Bertrand, started off with a market stand selling desserts. They then expanded into a tea room and a full line of bags, candles, lamps, and other accessories inspired by the Jazz Age Paris that existed between the two world wars. Everything is designed in Paris and made in an atelier that employs six people, located right behind the boutique. Those products became such a huge success that the duo decided to forgo the edible goodies and focus on developing their product line. The line is now sold in over 250 boutiques world-wide.
Even though desserts are no longer sold at the boutique, this is a good moment to explain the word cake. Cake, in French, refers to a loaf-style cake, such as pound cake. What we refer to as cake in English is un gâteau in French. This can cause a little menu confusion, but probably less confusion than finding out that there are no desserts to be had at Les Cakes de Bertrand!
I discovered the boutique Les Mille Feuilles several years ago, and I always try to stop in when I am in Paris. Here you can find everything you need to accessorize a room in the perfect French manner. Their website is nice, but it doesn’t express the range of their offerings, nor the artistry of their little vignettes throughout the store.
I’m a huge fan of their lamp shades, or abats jour (ah-bah zhoor), made of reproductions of historical documents. The first time I saw them, I gushed so much that my daughter was mortified. I have a lovely desk lamp that needs a new shade in a hard-to-find size. The owners helped me pick out the right frame and e-mailed me what I’ll need to select the print or prints that I want to use.
They explained that the shades are made right here in Paris by a small family firm of only four people. (The circle shades, above and below, are from a different company, but they’re pretty cute, too.) They are closed for the summer, so there is no point in completing the order today. Once ordered, my new shade will take about six weeks to be delivered to the shop. Then, they will either ship it to me or I can pick it up the next time I am in town. I can’t wait! It’s going to look so amazing.
Even if you don’t need new lamp shades, this is a great place to pick up picture frames, candles, and chic decorative objects for your own home or to give to others. I love the up-cycled metal clock faces,above. The shop is in the heart of the Marais at the intersection where rue Rambuteau turns into rue des Francs Bourgeois as it crosses rue des Archives. They are open seven days a week, but just in the afternoon on Sunday and Monday.
A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood