Vicarious Visit: October in Paris


WHAT’S THE NEXT BEST THING to a trip to Paris? A friend’s trip to Paris, when you get to see pictures and hear about meals and fortuitous conversations and the discovery of unusual shops and forgotten streets.

These images came to me in almost real time, through the magic of texting, and some are so evocative I just had to share. (The friend in this case is my wasband, Jeff Greenberg. Commentary in italics is his.)

My sense is that Paris isn’t going the way of New York, at least not as quickly. I know there are chain stores along some of the major boulevards, but it seems that Paris still abounds with one-off shops and cafes. Not to mention perhaps the most stunning urban vistas anywhere.


The beloved Hotel du Quai Voltaire on the Left Bank, above, very close to Musée d’Orsay (we’d stayed there before, in ’98). Small rooms, big view. Note list of famous residents on plaque to right of entry.

Below, at Café La Palette in Saint Germain des Pres:


All around me, it seemed like Jean-Pierre Léaud and Bernadette Lafonte were deep in conversation. Every time I hear French in a setting like this, it sounds like they are discussing the fate of mankind, but they’re probably just talking about their laundry. 

Below, a bridal photo shoot in the rain. Do you prefer color (the original) or black and white (my doctoring)? B&W makes it look magically like Henri Cartier-Bresson.


Wish the one below was a video so we could hear the violin…


Below, a place I’ve never managed to get to, the Jardin des Plantes (botanical garden). Next time!


Nighttime street scenes:


An extraordinarily preserved 1950s neon-lit cafe on Blvd Saint Germain:


Some of the oldest streets in Paris, below, are in the 4th arrondissement on the Right Bank. The Tudor style half-timbered house, listing a bit, is one of the only remaining medieval houses, from the 1500s.


A random act of art:


Below, Picasso’s first atélier, in Montmarte.


Why does such an essentially simple scene, above, so clearly say Paris, and nowhere else?


Place des Vosges in the Marais, above, with and without people. The architecture is flawless, completely self-contained. A beautiful day with low sun casting those Last Year at Marienbad shadows. (Another film reference!)


Below, covetable items from the Marché aux Puces (flea market). Vintage posters priced around $300, which seems quite reasonable.


Mustn’t forget the food… a historic patisserie, below, and sesame-encrusted fish at Au 35 on Rue Jacob.


Dinner last night, plus parsnip soup, creme brulée and a perfect Sancerre. Lesson:  Let them pick the wine.

Yes, Paris is still there in all its Parisian-ness, and I find that very reassuring.

For more Paris, my own posts from my last visit there in 2012 can be found here.

Post-Charlie Paris, Travel Plans for March


PARIS IS STILL PARIS, as these atmospheric photos, taken last weekend by my cousin Susan, show. She reported the streets were ‘normale,’ with plenty of shoppers (the semi-annual sales are on) and heavier police presence in the Marais.

My month-long, late-winter European sojourn is on, and I’m in trip-planning mode once again. I’m flying into Madrid, heading south from there to visit friends who live in the mountains near Malaga, then riding the rails toward the South of France and eventually into Italy, ending up in Naples and the Amalfi Coast. (Paris is not part of this trip, by the way; I’m hoping for warmth and sunshine.)

When I got realistic and started thinking about timing, I cut out ‘detours’ like San Sebastian, Lyon and Switzerland, and will more or less hug the Mediterranean coast, so I can spend more time in fewer places. Still, it will be a whirlwind. I’m aiming for at least two nights (Cordoba), sometimes three (Arles, Nice) or four (Milan, with side trips), at each stop. I’m making a few key reservations, mostly at modest but hopefully charming hotels, hostels and B&Bs. My budget for accommodations is $100/night, but I’m finding there’s plenty available and in many cases, I won’t even have to spend that much.

Working on the logistics, consulting schedules, figuring out how to hop from one place to another in half-day, three- or four-hour train increments. Overnight trains are out. I have enough trouble sleeping well in a bed, and I want to see the scenery I’m passing through — at close to 200mph, I’m afraid. The European rail system is largely high-speed trains now, though I’ll take local trains when possible.

Your encouraging input on my previous post and suggestions for places to go and see are much appreciated. So let us continue. I’ve been to Barcelona and Valencia; this trip will mostly be about seeing places I have NOT been. I’m considering spending time in Zaragoza and/or Giona. Anyone been to either of those?

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Photos: Susan Rosenthal

Paris Plus: Les Jardins

SOMEWHERE I READ that Paris is the 2nd greenest city in the world in terms of parks and gardens. I believe it. Beyond the well-known ones (Tuileries, Bois de Bologne, etc.) are innumerable ‘hidden’ gardens — down a few steps, behind a gate, inside a courtyard — and vest-pocket parks at many corners and intersections. I’m sure I only scratched the surface on last month’s visit.

<- In the Jardins de Luxembourg

Best parts of French landscape art: topiaries, roses, other flowers, statuary, fountains, pools, allees, planted containers, lawns. In other words, everything.

Above: The gardens of the Rodin Museum, often overlooked. Parts are formal, while other areas are shady and wooded, with deck chairs for visitors. Admission to the gardens alone is 1 little euro.

Inside the enclosed courtyard of Louis XIV’s Palais Royal, a peaceful haven in the busy 2nd arr. on the Right Bank. Again, a place even frequent visitors to Paris may not realize exists.

A flower border and urns with geraniums at the Luxembourg Gardens, a huge, well-utilized park on the Left Bank that is all things to all people.

Wattle-edged herb beds and classical knot gardens inside the courtyards of the fascinating Musee Carnavalet, history museum of the City of Paris.

Above, the sort of thing one stumbles upon while ambling through the Marais: the tiny but exquisite Square Georges Cain. Was there ever a pleasanter place to read the newspaper…er, iPhone?

Delphiniums bursting through a fence in Montmartre.

Above, in the Latin Quarter. I’m not sure what the park is called or if it’s even on a map.Maybe it’s historic and well-known, or maybe it’s just taken for granted.

Paris Plus: Le Shopping

MOST OF MY SHOPPING in Paris last month was of the window variety. It was very satisfying. There, window display is an art, often indistinguishable from merchandising. The small streets of St Germain des Pres are filled with tempting goods, as delightful to look at as to buy.

I didn’t find the prices outrageous. After all, I live in New York City and East Hampton, and my last vacation was in Maui, so no price tag can shock me anymore. And the euro is in trouble against the dollar, with an exchange rate that dipped from $1.35 to $1.25 in the week we were there (we benefited when we went to pay our hotel bill at the end).

But beyond that, the offerings seem such good value for their uniqueness, quality, and beauty. Here’s a sampling of what we drooled over.

Above: Jules Pansu, 42 Rue Bonaparte, a boutique selling woven textiles and pillow covers made from them. We kept going back until my cousin Susan finally bought one (for about $70). Below, a woman’s head after a Picasso painting.

Fabulous clip-on drop earring we both coveted in a costume jewelry boutique in St Germain des Pres, left. Roughly $300 (hence not purchased).

Chocolate, macaroons, tea… artfully packaged and presented to make easy take-home gifts.

Not your old loafers, above.

Sealing wax, parasols, hammered silver…such things I can ogle with pleasure and feel absolutely no urge to buy.

Indian textiles in profusion at a shop on the corner of Rue Bonaparte and Rue Jacob.

Art supplies, stationery, housewares… it goes on and on.

To see all my Paris posts, click right here.

Paris Plus: Les Cafes

WHO CAN EVER GET ENOUGH of Paris? I can’t, and even though I landed with a thud back on U.S. soil two weeks ago, I’m grateful for the 600+ photos I took as reference and remembrance. In fact, I have so many leftovers, even after my exhaustive blogging, and I know there are so many Paris-o-philes out there, that I’ve decided to compile some of the extra images into a series of themed posts under the rubric Paris Plus — and that’s pronounced Paree Ploo, no ‘S’ sounds whatsoever.

Les Cafes will be followed by Le Shopping, Les Jardins, Les Maisons Vielles, and whatever else I can come up with.

The cafes of Paris are open all day and maybe into the evening (they have a full bar), but they seem to empty out past 5PM or so. Cafes serve things like salads, sandwiches, and omelettes, which won’t do for dinner in France. Dinner calls for an actual restaurant, which start serving at 8PM, and then you can’t get a salad or omelette to save your life.

This post documents most of the cafes where my cousin Suan and I sought sustenance in midday. The weather, happily, was good enough for us to be able to eat outside in true Parisian fashion. All the cafes below are highly recommended, more for ambience than startling food, though the food is more than fine. Reservations not required. Next trip, maybe I’ll figure out the difference between a cafe and a brasserie.

Above and top, La Palette, 43 Rue de Seine, 6th arr., so named for its interior, decorated with vintage artists’ palettes. It’s on a relatively quiet back-street in St. Germain-des-Pres. We saw it on Day 1 and it was so floriferous, and the patrons looked like they were having such a good time, that we resolved to get back there, and just made it in the last hour before having to leave for the airport on Day 7. The salad was unremarkable, the bread phenomenal.

One morning, we went to Le Rouquet, 188 Blvd St Germain, 7th arr. Go not for the food (the croissants were better elsewhere), but for the astonishing intact ’50s decor and lighting.

I pray this place is landmarked or otherwise protected. Note the original coat rack, left, and rounded telephone booth (I looked inside; it’s become a broom closet).

Surely some movie with Jean-Paul Belmondo was shot here.

This is Au Reve, 89 Rue Caulaincourt, 18th arr. in Montmarte, where we enjoyed cafe au laits for the equivalent of $5 each, later realizing we made the clueless American mistake of sitting at a table. Had we sat at the bar instead, we would have paid less. But from here we could fully appreciate the way the red napkins were placed in a diamond pattern on the black tabletops, one fork neatly centered on each.

In case y’all were wondering where we found lunch in Giverny, the petite Normandy village where Monet’s home and garden are located, the answer is at La Musadiere, billed as a creperie and saladerie (doesn’t New York need a place called Saladerie?) The outdoor terrace overlooking rural hills could not have been pleasanter.

A few more shots of La Coupole, 102 Boulevard Montparnasse, 14th arr., actually a brasserie, with an elaborate menu, including triple-decker raw seafood towers, of note for its original Art Deco interior. Some modern-day Chagall has painted the interior domes, which seems inappropriate from a historic POV, but our friend Pascal, a French architect, seemed to like the fact that the place wasn’t entirely stuck in period. Full of high-spirited Parisians enjoying a long, lingering lunch.

Cafe de Flore, 172 Boulevard Saint-Germain, 6th arr., is an institution with a literary pedigree, and I don’t suppose there’s a guidebook that doesn’t mention it or a tourist who doesn’t know about it. Nevertheless, plenty of locals seemed to be there, meeting, greeting, boozing, and shmoozing. It was a very wet day, so much of the action was inside, though it’s the sidewalk life of Paris cafes that most distinguishes them from the relatively anemic sidewalk cafes here in New York City. The difference seems to be size. Here, cafes are allowed perhaps 10-15′ of sidewalk space, whereas in Paris they may occupy an entire sidewalk, 30′ or 40′ wide on a major boulevard, with pedestrians granted a small corridor to walk through. Somehow it works. All of Paris somehow seems to work. Works for me, anyway.

Next year in Paris!

To see all my Paris posts, click here.