Things to do in Paris

IMG_1547I just finished listening to the re-play of the 2000 This American Life episode “An American in Paris” which features David Sedaris and others stories about living here.  I particularly related to David Sedaris’ thought that many of the people in line for the Louvre are there because people back home told them they should visit it, not because they have a particular interest in art.  I only recently visited the Louvre about 6 months ago. I do enjoy museums but I consider myself a “museum person.”  So it’s got me thinking about what to tell people when they ask me what they should do in Paris as many friends and friends of the family email me for suggestions.  I wonder if any one takes my suggestions as they don’t include the Louvre, the Père Lachaise Cemetery or the Catacombs.  Alternatively, I’m not as fringe as David Sedaris suggesting a taxidermy store.

I list out some smaller museums, a few streets to meander along or an arrondissement to explore.

Museums
Musee Marmottan Monet
Musee Jacquemart-Andre
Foundation Henri Cartier-Bresson 
Musee Nissim de Camondo 

Movies and Vide Greniers
You might shutter at the thought of going to an American movie while in Paris, but I’d ask that you reconsider.  You don’t have to see THE HUNGER GAMES as there are a handful of theatres that show original 35mm prints of classics!  I’ve seen TO CATCH A THIEF and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF in a little theatre buried in the 5eme.  What these adventures give you is a chance to go to side streets and find other hidden gems.  My favourite theatre is Grand Action 5 rue Ecoles, 75005 Paris (Metro: Cardinal Lemoine). The current list of movies playing: GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDS, 39 STEPS, PHANTOM OF THE PARIDISE and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH.

Another of my favourite activities in Paris is to go the vide greniers and brocantes around the city.  These are structured garage sales.  I’ve found tons of almost brand new and new Petit Bateau baby clothes to a Nespresso machine.  Going to these instead of another museum that you feel you have to visit or people at work will chastise you when your return, is an easy exploration of different arrondissements.  There is a fantastic site that with a little filtering, you can find vide-greniers and brocantes based on days of the week. Fridays are great days to go as if it starts on a Friday, it usually is a three-day event and all the good stuff will be there first thing! http://vide-greniers.org.

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Neighbourhoods
13eme Arrondissement: Butte aux Callies.  This is a great area that no one ever goes to. There aren’t any “landmarks” but cute resto and cafes. http://goparis.about.com/od/parisneighborhoods/p/Butte_Cailles.htm

2eme Arrondissement Covered passages. They are written about in books but are really worth the trip. There is lovely one called Galleries Vivienne and Colbert accessible from rue des Petits-Champs, rue Vivienne or rue de la Banque. They are really magical. http://www.betterparisphotos.com/paris-blog/places/80-covered-passages-of-paris

18eme Arrondissement Abbess Metro.  This up near Sacré-Cœur church but it’s the post card Paris and taking the stairs is a must. Lovely but very touristic.

7eme Arrondissement near the Eiffel Tower, there is a street Rue Cler. It is written about by Rick Steves but for a reason.
http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/destinations/france/ruecler0208.htm

Paris PratiqueTransportation and Getting Around
Everyone must buy a Paris Partique. These can be found at any PRESSE (newsstand) for between 7-10€.  Everyone loves their iPhone in Paris, but this is old school and costs a lot less to replace if it gets stolen. Many theives will grab the phone right out of your hand as you are positioning yourself out of the metro. Be sure they take the bus too. I love the 39 line as it wanders through narrow streets and right in front of the Louvre right to where you can go to the Galleries Vivienne and Colbert.  Also on the 39 line you will go down Rue St. Anne which is where all the Japanese restaurants are located. You might not want to come to Paris to eat noodles, but trust me, there are some gems on this street.

Visit Pass or Tickets? Depending on how much walking you may do, I suggest the Paris Visit metro pass. It’s good for 3 or 5 consecutive days and can be used on bus, metro and tram then you can supplement with metro tickets.

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The Pharmacy
Exploring the pharmacies of Paris is one of my favourites things to do.  I’ve come to discover that not all pharmacies are priced the same but I think for visitors, it’s not worth making a special trip to one of my hidden gems but I will list them just in case.  I now have a good variety of products from asking sales people with my broken French to trial and error.  Here are a few brands and products I like.
Avène (Lotion Douceur/Gentle Toner, Lait Démaquillant Douceur/Gentle Milk Cleanser, Crème Nutritive Riche/Extremely Rich Cream)
Phyto (Cuir Chevelu à Tendance Grasse/Daily Balancing Shampoo, Cheveux Colorès, Méché/Color-Treated, Highlighted Hair — Any of the products are great.)
Uriage (Bariéderm Lèvres – Baume Isolant Réparateur Apaisant/Soothing Repair Barrier Lip Balm)
Rene Furterer (Naturia-Shampooing Sec/Dry Shampoo, Any of the shampoos/conditioners as the products are frequently on special.)
Klorane (Gel Douche Nourrissant Velvet/Nourishing Shower Gel Soap Free).  I buy this brand as it’s frequently on special and it’s a nice texture.  There are Gel Douche with almost every brand of product so it’s up to you which you want to try.

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Shops
It can overwhelming to shop in Paris especially if you are on any sort of budget.  There are few things Paris is know for: scarves, the little black dress, coats and black heels.  Remember that the French clothes run small especially across the back and as I have noted in previous post, some stores don’t go above a size 40 (8/10 US).  But there are some places that you can still find real sizes.  I would plan on budgeting 30-75€ for a scarf, 125-300€ for a dress, 250-500€ for a coat and 100-250€ for heels.  These prices might seem high especially if you convert to US$ but trust me, the style and quality you get for those Euros surpasses anything you’ll find at JCrew, Nordstrom or Club Monaco.  If you decide to go to a department store: BHV, Galleries Lafayette, Primtemps or The Bon Marche, note that you will have to wait at each mini-store front for the sales person to get your size. It’s not like in the US where you can grab from brand to brand and go in for one big try on session.  So plan on being there for awhile.  There are also shopping streets where many of the good brands line the streets.  Here are my suggestions for brands/shops (many are already in the US) but nevertheless, for your reference.  If you are very adventurous, check out the link to the list of the STOCK store (last seasons clothes that are “discounted”. It’s the closest thing you’ll get to a sale rack! http://www.mylittleparis.com/cartes/carte-stocks-marques-secrets-paris.html

Sandro
Maje
Claudie Pierlot
Gerard Darel (sizes up to 46)
Les Petits
Caroll (sizes up to 46 and similar to Ann Taylor)
Comptoir des Cotonniers (sizes up to 44)

A few items from Gerard Darel and Maje

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Three Months of Bed Rest

Years ago I said to myself “If I’m ever on bed rest I’ll learn calligraphy.” Random thought on a lot of levels but on March 5th I found myself faced with indefinite bed rest. Just two weeks before I found out I was pregnant but then the joy and excitement quickly faded when I was informed of complications that had no treatment except rest. What was I to do now?  The time was broken into three sections.

ARRET-DE-TRAVAILBefore I get to the story of what I did next, a little French healthcare background.  There is this magic piece of paper you can get when you have a CDI (full-time work contract) called Arret de Travail issued by your doctor which is the best sick note one can have. It legally allows you to stay home from work and receive full pay for the designated time on the document.  You send one copy to the Security Sociale office, one to your employer.  Any like magic, your financial situation does not skip a beat.  I would like to mention that some people who do not have my type of work contract (CDI) still can received some benefits, but that is a complicated paper-work menagerie that I am lucky to not have to navigate.

Phase 1: Three-Week Arret de Travail.  During this time I still thought I could carry on with my regular work and was allowed short walks around the neighborhood not longer than 10-15 minutes, no stairs and no heavy lifting.  It was well within my rights to send in the Arret de Travail, put on my out of office message, and close shop.  But that is not how I operate.  Since I was at home and couldn’t really do anything, why not work?  As it made the day go by more quickly.   Also, I didn’t want to be seen as the weak pregnant woman who was now going to let this get in the way of her job.  I also thought this couldn’t last more than 3 weeks, I am way too healthy to be on bed rest at 3 weeks pregnant.  To my shock, the Friday before I was to return to work, my condition not only had not improved, it had worsened.

019Phase 2: One-Month Arret de Travail.  During Phase 2, the walks were cut and I went from the bed to the couch, depending on if I was reading, listening to a pod cast or watching TV. These were the worst weeks of them all especially after I read how some women spend their entire pregnancy on bed rest.  At the start, friends tried to tell me to look at this as an opportunity.  To do what?  I’d ask. I couldn’t organize the basement or go to a matinee, it was one resting non-active activity to the next.  The first book I bought was about fitness and pregnancy, not bed rest and pregnancy.  What I’ve realized is inactivity breeds inactivity.  I didn’t even have the energy to knit and that requires almost no physical activity.  It was depressing that this little thing could already be up heaving my life.  I thought I’d have 9 months to get ready, but no, I had to stop my entire life without any notice.  To keep some normalcy, I’d wake each morning at 6:30 and prepare breakfast for Maxime and me.  It was then next 11 hours that were a challenge.  I can now report that cats do sleep most of the day.  I would pester my poor husband with pictures of Chaussette throughout the day napping on my lap, napping on the rug, napping by the window, investigating a box or looking out the window.  040She became my example of how to accept a life of lounging and relaxation.  Some days were more productive than others.  I read 2 – 600 page books “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” (he was a total bastard) and “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” (a book for dog people, not cat people).  Then there were the days that I would watch hours of TV series (True Detective, Scandal (so bad), Modern Family, Orange is the New Black, Breaking Bad (so good), Downton Abby) or listen to hours of pod casts Roderick on the Line (love it) and Fresh Air.  I held hope to the Wednesday before I was to return to work for the green light.  But again, I was side-lined with another month.  At this point, I had a back-up in place at work and people were used to my absence and Maxime was in the groove of doing it all.

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Phase 3: One-Month Arret de Travail.  During Phase 3, I started having a Kinésithérapie (physical therapist) come to the apartment for a 30 minute light massage which was a life-saver.  I also was allowed to leave the apartment again for short neighbourhood walks.  But no public transportation until the last week.  The first day I went on a 20 minute walk and the next day my legs were sore. That is an indication of how my muscles became total mush.  This last month went more quickly as I knew that the doctors saw it as a safety month since I had been home already for 7 weeks, what’s another 4.  So I settled into a nice routine with walks and had a more positive attitude.  The light at the end was that when I did go back to work, I would be through my 4th month and out of the first danger phase, though as I come to learn, there is never a time when pregnant that you really are out of danger.  113 The week before I went back to work there was a vide grenier (a very organised side-walk sale) at our Mairie 15eme (our neighbourhood city hall) that was all baby and kids stuff.  We took the bus and had such a fun time finally feeling that we could start enjoying being pregnant and that the almost 3 months of home confinement was worth it.  The only person who is upset that it’s over is our first little baby, Chaussette.

 

 

 

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Sylvain

I have been looking for a new place to get my haircut. It’s always been advised that is you see someone with hair you like to ask where they go. There is a woman in the office who is beyond chic and I love her hair, so I got the name of her stylist and this is what transpired.

IMG_1068I first called for an appointment for a cut and color and spoke directly to Sylvain, the owner, and he said “For a transformation?” and I said “No, I want a cut and colour.” His English seemed good enough and figured it was clear what I wanted so I made my appointment.

When I showed up at the salon a very stylish young lady named Cindie greeted me and when I told her my name she said “Une rendez-vous pour une transformation?” I panicked and said “Non, pour coupe et baliage. Ou est Sylvain?” (No, for a cut and colour.  Where is Sylvian?)  A few minutes later, Sylvain strutted in with his fur coat and little dog and took one look at me and said “I know what to do.” I want to point out that I made a special effort for my hair to make sure it looked its best.  He said, “I need to cut, cut, cut to here (basically to my throat). You look tired and weighed down.” OUCH.  Then he asked, “What do you do, and how old are you?”  I told him I work in an office and my age. He replied “Your hair looks like a college student and not your age and your cut is terrible.” So much for me trying to look good. Then in my head I started questioning my outfit and my entire wardrobe!!!  But I made a new appointment but was worried he was forcing a short cut as hairdressers love to do. He was nice, but definitely annoyed.  When I left he handed me his card and said “Here, look at my website and see what I do.”  Upon returning the office, I shared my experience with my friend.  She understood my concern and I asked her to go with me to the appointment or at least pin a note on my jacket so there would be no confusion.

IMG_1069Alas, a few weeks later, we headed to the salon and my friend translated with Cindie and we got on the same page.  Two hours later, I left with over 6 inches cut off and feeling like I had a new head of hair.  It’s ironic that I don’t take my own advice when I tell people who are considering a hair change “It’s just hair, it will grow back.” And here I was painfully debating the intention of the stylist and what would be done to my precious locks.  I am a bit of a control freak in certain situations and in general by living in France I have had to accept not fully understanding the process and accepting the outcome.  It’s just hair and it will grow.

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Flossing

A friend told me in high school “don’t floss all your teeth, only the ones you want to keep.”  I have followed that advice over the years.  I think the Americans who are reading this can remember going to the dentist and them asking “Do you floss?” with a tad bit of contempt because I think many exaggerate their dental hygiene routine.  I never had to.  But then at the end of each cleaning, the dentist would finish up with a good old flossing.  Not in France.  My husband flosses a few times a year and will always have bleeding gums after and say “this is why I don’t floss” not realizing that his gums are bleeding because he doesn’t floss.  I have now been to two different dentists in Paris and neither asked if I flossed nor did they finish with a flossing. Though one charged me 121€ for a special fluoride treatment which was not covered by neither my basic nor supplemental insurance.  Still, no flossing. photo

Even finding a selection of floss in Paris is challenging. I think the Americans can visualize the multitude of floss options at the pharmacy.  Waxed, glide, classic, mint, flossing sticks.  But not here in France, I found two.   The last time I was in the U.S. I stocked up on my J&J waxed mint floss in the jumbo container. Visine as well does not exist in France that I can find.  It’s bizarre assimilating into a new culture and learning about what is considered important.  I still floss daily and believe it is making a difference with my health and in the end, that’s what matters.

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The Cat in the Window

Yesterday I went to the American Library monthly book sale.  It sells a paperback for 2€ and a hardback for 3€.  This is my third visit and I am still not disappointed.  The American Library is located in the 7eme, one of the most expensive arrondissements in Paris.  Views of the Eiffel Tower are seen from many angles and the shop windows that line the little streets are what one imagines when thinking of Paris. A lovely street, Rue Cler, is closed to cars and is must see.  A more cynical person might say this street is a cliche, but I love it.

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After exiting the bus yesterday and figuring out which direction to go, I saw out of the corner of my eye, a kitty cat face that stopped me in my tracks.  The little face was enjoying watching the foot traffic meandering in it’s view.  My cat as well spends hours looking out our window surveying the comings and goings of scooters, motorcycles, and garbage trucks.  My friend’s cat, Bruno, has a panoramic view from the top of Montmartre and she claims is far happier here than in Los Angles where he had more square footage.

Discovering the city is still one of my favourite pastimes.  The other week, I went to a lovely little museum, Nissen de Camondo.  It’s a private home that was left to the State in 1935.  Here’s an exert from the museum’s intro page:
“Moïse de Camondo, a reputed Parisian banker during the Belle Epoque, was a passionate collector of French furniture and art objects from the eighteenth century, ans he amassed a collection of unusual quality. In 1911, he hired architect René Sergent to build a private mansion next to Parc Monceau that would be worthy of this collection and suitable for his family. The design was modeled after that of the Petit Trianon in Versailles, but behind the handsome décor of wood-paneled apartments were hidden the accoutrements of modern life, including kitchens, offices and bathrooms. The home, which is fully preserved in its original condition, offers an opportunity to discover the taste of a great collector and to get a glimpse of the everyday life of an aristocratic home.”
IMG_0887It’s a rare opportunity to be able to walk into the original kitchen, bathrooms and china cupboard.  I went during the holidays and I was one of maybe 25 people in the entire place.  It’s proximity to Parc Monceau makes the trip to here an easy decision.  I got lost wandering the parc and had to search for a metro as I exited onto unknown streets.  More often than not, I completely turned around in this city with it’s winding streets thinking I’ve been to this intersection before, with it’s 1902 architecture, tree-line streets and beautiful shop windows, but in reality, it’s just one of hundreds.  I wish that when people visit Paris they take the time to create an adventure that is just not the typical sites, but goes to the smaller and out of the way museums and cultural sites.  This is one of the things that makes all the hard work of living in Paris worthwhile.

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Generalizations

randommacarons Americans have asked me about how the French can stay so thin and still eat bread, butter, cheese and sweets.  It’s assumed it’s because they walk so much and that may be partially true but from my observations is it has more to do with restraint, choices and genetics.  At work events I see when small trays of appetizers are being passed, many of the French woman simply don’t eat them or only eat one.  Any person who has ever done weight watchers knows that passed appetizers are point killers filled with empty and unsatisfying calories.  And the French women seem to inherantly know that they are not worth it.  Also, if the woman indulges in a large lunch or dinner, she typically makes lighter choices for the following meal.  I don’t see any of my colleagues having 3 course lunches day in and day out.  Finally, I think it’s simply genetics and I see this in the French clothing.

Screen Shot 2013-10-31 at 9.02.49 PM There are a handful of clothing stores that the majority of Parisian women between the ages of 30-45 shop: Maje, Sandro, Les Petites, Comptoir des Cotonniers and Claudie Pierlot.  I am generally size 8-10 US/40 EUR.  But in many of these stores I’m at least 40 or 42 and in Maje, Sandro and Claudie Pierlot, their clothes don’t go above a size 40 which I can just fit in to. I do not consider myself a large sized person but over time, it can become discouraging to walk out of a store not being able to buy something because you can’t fit in their largest size (for me it’s usually the blazers and jeans).  The cuts of these clothes which are all French brands represents the general sizing of the country.  My friend who works at a used clothing store told me the most sold size of jeans is a 25.  There are days when all this makes me feel like an outsider but then I remind myself: I am not French and I am an outsider and I’m okay with that.

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Moscow

I had the opportunity last month to go to Moscow, Russia.  As a country, I had never been particularly interested in exploring it but when the trip came my way I jumped at the chance.  In general, if there is an opportunity to experience a new country, I will take it.

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Upon arriving, there was a local woman named Anna to greet me.  She was born and raised in Moscow and had seen Russia through many iterations.  I lack a deep understanding of Russian history but Anna was able to tell the story through the different architecture and monuments.  Of the many things that struck me, the most impactful were the beautiful buildings with molding and facades built during Stalin’s reign (Stalinist Architecture’ is the term typically applied to the years between 1933 and 1955 and the architects had to be a member of the Union of Soviet Architects).  Then, right next to it would be a stark and dilapidated building that was build only a few years later.

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I stayed in the city center so there was a polish to the area that I know is not reflective of the rest of the country.  It’s like going on holiday in Paris and only seeing Saint Germain-des-Pres area.  But I was fortunate to have Anna who took me to a wonderful museum Tretyakov State Gallery, an Orthodox church on a side street and to a local mall.

At the church, Anna asked the church lady if I could take pictures (in Moscow, you have to pay extra at museums to take pictures, if you’re even allowed at all).  She agreed and I made my way through the small church.  I was struck by how dark it was and that there were no benches or chairs.  Apparently, one stands during an Orthodox service.  When I was done, I went to thank the church lady who had some questions for me.

(As translated through Anna)
Church Lady: Have you ever been in an Orthodox Church?
Me: No, it’s my first time.
CL: How did you feel being in here?
Me: Peaceful.  I especially like seeing the workers clean.
CL: That’s good as some people feel very anxious here because it’s so dark.  Are you Catholic?
Me: No.
CL: Are you Protestant?
Me: No.
CL: Do you believe in any God?
Me: Well, I believe in a higher power that looks over me and who I can turn to.
CL (she shakes her head a bit): You need to find a God so you can be saved.
I thanked her and left.

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The shopping mall was quite an experience.  We entered a large rounded structure to a foyer where there were a few aisles to take.  Lining those aisles was every kind of store (most quite small) you would need: grocery store (this was the largest), art supplies, dry cleaning, china, trinkets, cigarettes, car showroom and the ever important fur coats.

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252Putting the mink coats aside, the youth had a very hip style.  Yes, there were very young people driving Maserati’s and dripping with designer hand-bags, but a lot were going about their work-day with a fresh look. One evening I happened upon a great clothing store that had white hanging racks and shelves with beautiful and unique clothes.  Moscow is an extremely expensive city and the independent clothing store is no exception where I saw a simple white blouse for 35,000 RUB / 833 €.  I also could never quite wrap my head around the conversion of dividing 42 into 35,000.

I was given a small look at a country that after it’s long history of Communism, is now not truly free and my interest has been peaked.  And I especially to learn more of the history of people like Anna.

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