Je suis une artiste

ooh-la-la-jamie-cat-callan-e1369950847355I 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.

Ooh-La-La-1024x768The 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.”

Author_Photo_for_Jamie_Callan_FINAL_VERSION!!!_(2)-1Here, 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.

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Sauter de coq à l’âne

DSCN0296Last 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.

DSCN0297Shamâne (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.

DSCN0299Today’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.

51YLcuFtT8L__SL75_Fodor’s Montreal and Quebec City 2014

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Un Cake

imageI 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.

imageDidier 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.

imageEven 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!

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Un abat jour

imageI 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.

imageI’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.

imageThey 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.

imageEven 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.

51X2F55K1ML__SL75_A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood

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imageAt 42 rue Bonaparte, the same street as Buly 1803, is another store that I try to visit when I’m in Paris – especially during the sales – Jules Pansu.  This is where you can find beautiful tapestry cushions, purses, wall hangings and other textiles, all proudly made in France since 1878. I always get compliments on my red Jules Pansu purse and I’m looking forward to seeing my new tapestry cushion on my favorite chair when I get home – that is, if the cat will let me sit there.

imageThe first Jules Pansu established a jacquard weaving facility in Halluin, in the Flanders region of France, with a sales office in Paris. Four generations later, the Pansu family is still balancing innovative designs with traditional weaving techniques. They have been awarded the prestigious designation Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen in France) not once, but twice. Not only can you find their products in their own boutique, but also in many museum and château gift shops for whom they make exclusive designs. In 2012, they were named an Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant for excellence in craftsmanship.

imageThe name of the shop does, however, always make me smile. Pansu (pahn-sue) means “paunchy.” I always imagine a predecessor of Jules who had a rather big belly and the moniker stuck. I’m glad none of my ancestors caused me to suffer the same fate!


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imageMy job in Paris has permitted me to have less time-off than in previous years, so I’ve been impatient to get out and see the long list of places I’d planned on visiting this summer. One of those spots was Buly (6 rue Bonaparte) a new/old perfumerie and beauty store that feels like you’ve stepped back in time the minute you cross the threshold. The official name of the shop is L’Officine universelle Buly. The word officine (o-fee-seen) means “dispensary.” Buly 1803 represents a return to the origins of beauty products when they were made in small batches by your local pharmacist instead of by international conglomerates.

bulyIn 1803, Jean-Vincent Bully, a perfumer and cosmetician, opened his boutique in Paris. His most famous product was a perfume unappealingly known as vinaigre de Bully. Bully’s business was destroyed in the political uprising of 1830, but others continued to produce vinaigre de Bully into the 20th century.

buly2Early this year, a new boutique Buly 1803 opened its doors after three years of work to create an environment that appears to have been here for 200 years. (The owners, husband and wife team Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami dropped one “l” from the original name to avoid confusion with the English word “bully.”) A few years ago, the couple found a Bully catalogue at an auction. Enchanted with the detailed illustrations, they decided to re-launch the brand.

imageShopping here is a delight for your senses. First, there is the sense that you are stepping into an apothecary shop with beautiful paneling. terra cotta tiled floors, marble counters and labeled jars, second, there is the lovely mixed aroma of the Buly products, and finally, the classical music in the background completes the mood.

imageThe salewomen know their products – mainly perfumes, skin care, and candles – but they aren’t at all pushy. The products are attractively labeled and displayed in artistic vignettes. The perfumes are water-based, so they won’t stain your clothing or react with sunlight, nor do you need to wait for the alcohol to burn off to get the true fragrance. The skin care products are free of artificial ingredients, but they aren’t particularly revolutionary – variations on toners and moisturizers do abound in the world, after all. I bought the Lait Nettoyant (facial cleanser) and  the rose-scented Eau Superfine (toner), seen the the photo above. Both products have a lovely fragrance and are gentle on my skin. Still, I predict that due to the pleasure of shopping there, Buly 1803 will be around for a while – maybe even 200 more years.


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À vélo

loire-a-veloI love to ride my bike, but I don’t love to slave over strenuous terrain. In New Jersey where I live, there are terrific, flat bike trails along former train lines and canal networks. It’s delightful. The French equivalent is cycling along the Loire, among all of the magnificent châteaux.

loire a veloWhen you explore à vélo (ah vaylow), or “by bike,” the discovery of the treasures of the Loire happens in total serenity. Cycling and hiking paths cross 500 miles of the Loire Valley, which is classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO, and it’s easy to cycle dozens of miles a day. Eight hundred thousand cyclists a year whir along the river.

loire a velo2If you prefer wine to châteaux, you can chat with vineyard owners whose properties abut the pathway. The French have a reverence for terroir, that je ne sais quoi that is incorporated into a natural product by the soil where it grows. The land along the Loire has been adding that little something extra for four hundred years.

loire-a-velo-vue-sur-toursSince multi-day trips along the Loire are so easy, you’ll want to make arrangements to stay overnight. You’ll have lots of choice – hotels in any of the towns you pass, gîtes in the more remote areas, or camping grounds for those who wish to truly rusticate (not me, by the way).

val-de-loireTo plan your trip, you’ll want to consult the web site Loire à vélo. You’ll find everything you need to rent a bike, to have your luggage moved from one location to the next, to find places to eat, sights to see, and things to do along all 500 spectacular miles.

51G5Dd294UL__SL75_How to set up a Cycling Tour of the Loire Valley of France

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