December 24, 2013

December 23, 2013

Last run of 2013

I just couldn't resist posting more photos of my morning jog through the Bois de Boulogne. The Weather Gods have been accompanying us throughout this month in Paris. I can stand the cold, I can resist the rain but I cannot go without sunshine. We have been blessed with lots of bright sun this winter and there is no better way to take advantage than being outside in the nature.

Now, as to my New Year's resolutions... run more in able to eat more chocolate!!! As someone once said: “Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

A picture-perfect scene

A romantic Paris

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. 
It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. 
It knows that it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve.
It doesn't matter whether you're a lion or a gazelle 
when the sun comes up you'd better be running."

First frost

Uhh, I can spot the Saveurs Pompiers under the hut

Worshipping the sun

December 16, 2013

Christmas spirit at the Bon Marché

The Bon Marché is the epitomy of French shopping. You will find no tourists. As a matter of fact, you'll find hardly any people unless you happen to go on a Saturday. This is rather unfortunate because it is a very posh department store full of creativity and style along resolutely contemporary lines.

They sell the most prestigious brands from the world of luxury goods, unique and innovative furniture, original and exclusive kitchenware, unsusal books, delicious gourmet delicacies, the best brands of lingerie. You name it, they'll have it.

The other day I took myself off to admire the Christmas decorations under the unusual setting of the renovated glass ceiling on the 2nd floor. I indulged into to some Christmas nostalgia. I miss the anglosaxon Christmas overindulgence during December. The purple spiral lights down the Champs Elysées just don't do the job for me. I DO like the fuchisa fake Christmas trees some of the florists are selling. They seem to have sold out within a week! Long live kitch!

One of four Christmas trees

Classic deco

Deco for the kids

A natural touch

Bright creche figurines

Red, Gold & Green

A distinct Parisian ambiance

A chic Parisian Gingerbread man

Le Bon Marché's Christmas window display

December 11, 2013

La Grande Epicerie and the Cuban defilé

Supposedly the Cubans carry arrangements of fruit on their head? Well, tonight the French went overboard with their love for food.

I am talking about the reopening of the newly-fitted mecca of gourmet food: La Grande Epicerie, a Parisian institution which occupies an area just short of 3,000m2. This food hall belongs to the Le Bon Marché, a department store which oozes French style and attitude. In 1852, Aristide Boucicaut invented modern shopping as we know it by creating the world's first department store, Le Bon Marché. Effectively it is the French that shop there, the tourists are lured to the Galleries Lafayette, buy the bus loads.

First, my hubby and I descended into the remarkable wine department on the lower ground and then browsed around the main floor. All those aisles of gourmet products (30'000) and everybody is busy mingling, not one pick pocketer in sight! I wonder how much budget the management calculated for stolen goods tonight? It would also help if the management weren't chewing gum.

The most surprising fact this evening was not the store itself - which was fine the way it was - but the clientèle that showed up, everybody from classic middle-aged to the young & hip. Bourgeoisie was their common denominator. This proves Le Bon Marché has hit their target spot-on and know their shoppers.

Anyways, the defilé that followed was surprising. The staff received a round of well-deserved applause and cheers as they marched through the shop in one line - some even playing well-aged instruments. However, the headgear of the ladies and gentlemen was mind-boggling. Cheese plates, Seefood platers, Fruit baskets, Patisserie peaks, spoon mountains were worn on heads and shoulders depending on the department they worked at.

I have come to the conclusion I have yet to understand the food psychology of the French. In the meantime, upon our departure we were kitted out with a shopping bag which we could fill with goodies for the next morning. What a charming idea? My kids will love their breakfast tomorrow and wonder what they did to deserve this treat!

Merci. C'était un vrai plaisir!

December 6, 2013

Baking Gingerbread Men for charity

Expat girl and I share a passion: baking! When she was a toddler we used to make Swiss Christmas biscuits. Of course, I always ended up cutting and baking the last couple of batches because the icing part was so much more fun. For the past two years, we stepped it up a little by making a gingerbread house from scratch which she would share with her class mates.

This year my little girl asked me if we could make something to raise money for the charity stall at the school's holiday bazaar. She wanted support a project that provides clean, safe water to communities by drilling wells in African villages. Since neither of us are very artistic and do not have the patience for manual crafts, we decided on something we both enjoy: baking.

We produced an army of Gingerbread men and X-mas trees. Needless to say the icing part is still the most fun. 

Seeing the little kids' faces as they reached for the festive-wrapped gingerbread cookies was worth the trek across Paris to find the gingerbread man cutter and the cellophane bags the day before.

Expat girl will go down in Primary School history as the Gingerbread Girl.

December 5, 2013

Hunting for the Gingerbread Man

What started as a cultural morning at the Musée de l'Orangerie turned out to be a fast-track Paris gourmet tour for my dear Spanish friend who just moved to the city of art, fashion and gastronomy.

Having booked the tickets a month in advance, we were on the fast-track to beat the tourists into Frida Kahlo's exhibit at the Orangerie. The five-minute wait in the sunshine was actually quite invigorating. I have learnt to appreciate every minute of sunshine in this city, however brief it might be!

Needless to say the works of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo turned out all I expected them to be: emotional, fervent, passionate and inspiring.

The plan thereafter was to head towards Mora, Paris' reference when it comes to kitchen apparel. However, we did get slightly sidetracked on the way there. This is what happens when you decide to cross Paris by foot rather than go underground!

We picked up a few books at WH Smith (the largest English bookshop in France since 1903), then had a second breakfast at Angelina's, Paris it-place for hot chocolate and Mont Blanc patisserie. Full of strength, we hit the posh concept store Colette. I was told about the "water bar" serving more than 100 brands of bottled water. Very inspiring but also very expensive, we swiftly carried on past Claus, another hip place for brunch. We passed Eric Kayser - contemplating whether to buy his world-best croissants - but carried on along Rue Saint-Honoré. We discovered the neoclassical passage Gallerie Vérot-Dodat home to not one but TWO Christian Louboutin stores!

We whizzed by the Cathedral Saint Eustache, checked out the market stalls in it's shadow and heading down Rue Montmartre could not resist entering Relief Deco, universe of professional bakery, pastery and chocolate material. We finally reached our destination Mora, which offers the best selection of chocolate molds in Paris.

But oh my, in their selection of over 5000 products they did NOT stock what I was searching for: a gingerbread-man cookie cutter! Now how would you say Gingerbread Man in French???

Not to worry, another quick trot across the road to La Bovida. The first floor is like Ali Baba's cavern and boasts over 10'000 references, everything from food wrappers to delicatessen pepper and salts... as well as Gingerbread Man cookie cutters. Hurray!!

At this point, I could not resist to point out Paris' specialty food stores G.Detou to my well-natured following friend. Perfect for stocking up on holiday goods. Chocolate, mustard, honey, olive oil, fois gras, pistachio paste, you name it.

Time to head home to, run, run, he's the Gingerbread Man, we have found him with our brilliant master plan!

December 4, 2013

When contemporary meets Marie Antoinette

For two years I have been wondering how to get into the Conciergerie - a former royal palace converted into a prison during the French Revolution - without having to queue for hours! Those destined for the guillotine would languish here, as Marie Antoinette did. Today was my chance to step back in history. An invitation to a private guided visit through Pinault's contemporary art collection was plain simply irresistible. Especially when offered after hours which means no people. This is a luxury in overcrowed touristy Paris.

Mr Pinault had the Ile Segur in mind to create a home for his immense collection but had made his plans without the French bureaucracy. Ironically, we had just been to Ile Segur on Sunday night which now houses the impressive Cirque du Soleil. Small world!

The exhibition, "À Triple Tour" (Triple Locked), brought together some 50 paintings, photographs, and installations pertaining to captivity, whether criminal, political, mental, or emotional. I had never heard of the 22 artists, mostly being exhibited for the first time, but you learn every day. I had booked the ticket as a treat for my hubby who loves contemporary art. Needless to say he was away on a buisness trip therefore a keen girlfriend jumped in and joined me on my adventure.

The Hall of the Guards, one of the largest surviving medieval parts of the Conciergerie presented a fascinating Gothic backdrop for the ecclectic mix of modern vs antique.

I wonder what Marie Antoinette would have made of it?

Pistoletto's La Gabbia

Chernobyl's new inhabitants

Boris Mikhailov's unhappy girl

Mona Hatoum's bunker

Julie Mehretu's Chimera

Unsettling work of two Chinese artists Yuan & Yu

Halloween in Iraq???

The most disturbing piece of art by Australian Kristian Burford: "Last night you brought a man up to your room after having a late drink at the hotel room. Knowing that you are HIV positive you had sex which caused him to bleed. After a day of meetings you now return to your room."

Damien Hirst's pharmacy. Just hope the cleaning lady doesn't take to the cabinets.

Chinese art meets French gothic

Justin Matherly lost in time and space

Friedrich Kunath's "Past is a foreign country"

A stunning collection with a magnificent backdrop

December 2, 2013

An unexpected morning treat

Today I needed a break from the world. Yes, it even happens to me. After a weekend that did not go exactly as planned (yes, I am a control freak) and a dinner meal that didn't digest the way it should have, I was thrilled to see the sun shining this morning.

A quick check on my weather app revealed 7°C. "It's warm outside" I told my puzzled-looking husband. Amazing how your perspectives can change. After last year's freezing winter, a mere 7°C seem like a treat. And off I went for my morning run.

Even though we are beginning December, we are blessed with the colours of an Indian summer thanks to a mild autumn. This morning's jog through the Bois de Boulogne was a real delight.

November 30, 2013

Life is like riding a bike

Life is like riding a bicycle, we have to keep moving to stay in balance

November 29, 2013

A simple French medical exam

One morning I open my mail to find an invitation for a complete medical examination by the French health insurance. This did not come as a complete surprise since France has a strong socialist tradition which sticks to its system, although not always when you need it to.

Don't get me started on how I struggled to receive my Carte Vital, a green card that contains all of my health insurance information. In France, everyone is entitled to health insurance to cover the cost of medical care. I therefore took them up on this kind invitation, registered online and was given a meeting in two weeks time.

Having skipped breakfast today, I arrived at noon - starving - to start my medical gymkhana.

I diligently filled in three questionaires and then waited... and waited. Half an hour later I was taken off for blood tests and a urintest. For the first time in my life I submitted to an electrocardiogramme and an audiotest. I was told that my heart rate was very low and that I was far from needing a hearing aid. The dentist was pleased with my teeth. Thank you Mum & Dad for all those braces so many years ago. The vision test on the other hand was a disaster. I do own a pair of glasses which I never wear and therefore did not even think of taking along to the check-up. The very humourous but strict ophthalmologist said he would not sit in a car with me if I drove! Ooooops! Is it really that bad?

My two hour visit was wrapped up by an interview with a very young lady doctor who - with a strong Balkan accent - informed me that all my values were normal (Wow, that was fast! In Switzerland I usually wait a week before I get lab results) and that I was perfectly healthy.

All in all, I must admit that this medical was rather impressive. French are scientifics at heart and this morning's check-up was pretty comprehensive and methodical. The French are not great at bureaucracy but they sure know how to work the system. I just wish all this efficiency would proove itself worthy under stressful emergency situations instead of during a simple, relaxed, preventive routine examination.

When ONLY two hours later - heading home with my results feeling chuffed - I heard a man in the lift complaining it had taken four hours for the whole spiel, all of a sudden, I just considered myself plain lucky!

November 28, 2013

My Parisian essentials

After having lived in Paris for over two years now, I can honestly say, I have the city pretty sussed. These are the things I have learnt and cannot do without:

1. Navigo
2. I-phone
3. Google Maps App
4. Digital camera
5. Scarf
6. Lipstick
7. Flat ballerinas or boots (black)
8. Designer handbag (black)
9. Sunglasses
10. My CB for impulse shopping
11. Proof of identity/current living address
12. Loose change for a clochard or a metro musician
13. Bottled water
14. Umbrella
15. Audiobook
16. Earphones
17. Fooding App
18. Tissues
19. Attitude (always)
20. Anything black 

Walk fast and with a purpose even if you have all the time in the world and have no clue where you are headed. This is why you need good walking shoes and a Google Maps app which includes the Metro stops. The monthly Navigo abonnement will get you around town in an instant especially if you download the Metro app. When looking into black space while riding the tube, pull out your earphones and listen to your favourite audiobook of the month. Having conquered a seat in the crowded underground, you might want to pull out a tissue of your designer handbag while your hands are free. Don't forget to just your lipstick in the window reflection.

Pull your scarf tighter when you run up the stairs and into the cold wind howling through the metro entrance. Pop on your sunglasses even though the sky is a grey drizzle. Remember you live in the capital of fashion. Pull out your umbrella to avoid your hair going frizzy. No matter the season, in Paris the threat of rain should not be taken lightly. Smile at the hobo and give him your change. He needs it more than you do!

Take a sip of your water while deciding which trendy lunch spot you'll discover thanks to Paris' fantastic fooding app. Your girlfriends will be mighty impressed with your insider knowledge. Flick out your CB credit card for an item you absolutely cannot live without and make sure you do it with an attitude.

Whatever you decide to wear make sure it is black and take lots of pictures of the city of lights!

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