Under the Louvre

Two Sundays ago I attended an event that gathered 250 artisans under the Louvre. Called Le Carrousel des Métiers d’Art et de Création, five huge showrooms offered stand after stand of jewelry, hats, clothes, bags, home décor, and art. There were also works by art schools on display: avant garde dresses on mannequins and students, imaginative jewelry, stained glass, and hand bound books. Often, students were present to work on their craft: young shoemakers, embroiderers, and frame makers bent over the tools of their trade.

Most objects were for sale and were tied to boutiques from the Paris region and beyond. Everything had more of a creative streak and a freedom than what you see at regular markets. Even the people walking around tended to possess a style outside of the box. It made me think, why don’t we push our everyday fashion a little farther? It’s fun.

A visual feast of aesthetic creations, it was probably the best event I’ve been to all year. It was free too.

It’s funny to think that above the salon rested time-tested paintings and sculptures like the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. That spirit of experimentation and inspiration that lived in those artists was evident in the artisans’ work down below.

What about a headpiece made of origami? 100.artisanslouvre.201aI thought there was something timeless about this silver necklace against the brick and velvet black background. 100.artisanslouvre.201bVive la créativité.

Turkey Dinner, Turkey Dinner

Thanksgiving abroad is a moveable feast. Because it is not a day off in France, most expats opt to celebrate it the weekend before or after, when they will have time to prepare the meal and guests will be available to linger.

As I’m without family here and was not hosting Thanksgiving, I hoped that one of my American friends would invite me to theirs. I was fortunate enough to be invited to two Thanksgivings, one the Saturday before and one the Sunday after the actual holiday.

The first was hosted by a woman who really knows how to throw a party. I was looking forward to it, especially since I was away last year and unable to attend. I ascended the candlelit stairs leading up to her apartment and though late, was the first to arrive. Three French servers bustled around in preparation for the dozens of guests to come. Once people trickled in, one serveur poured wine and another circulated with hors d’oeurves, of which my favorite was an escargot in a puff pastry. It took pig in a blanket to a whole new level.

For the main meal, we served ourselves and sat around the small tables and couches in the salon. It was the type of party where you mingle and meet new people. At one point, I wandered into the kitchen and chatted with the housekeeper, a Peruvian woman whom I already knew and love. I was there for a while until the wait staff kicked me out to clear up the passage.

There were TWO turkeys, though we never got to see them in their full form as they were carved before leaving the kitchen.

My second Thanksgiving was an intimate affair of five people hosted by a Texan friend. The day before, I texted him asking what I could bring, and he responded saying actually, could I come a few hours early to help him cook? The day of, I had just left my apartment when he texted me, “Emergency! I need butter!” I picked up some butter and arrived at his place to a warm kitchen of sweet potatoes and Christmas carols. Truth be told, he did the majority of the work, but I kept him company and sang along to Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. I also drew a pair of hand turkeys to decorate his coffee table. If you’re American, you know what I’m talking about.

Unable to procure a turkey at his butcher, he cooked gigot d’agneau (a leg of lamb) with garlic. To accompany the meat, he made stuffing, a sweet potato casserole with pecans and marshmallows, and asparagus. I am not a fan of marshmallows, but I have to say the sweet potato casserole was incredibly delicious, and I definitely had second helpings. To top it off, he served a pumpkin pie and a pecan pie he had made. In total between dinner and dessert he used 750 GRAMS OF BUTTER. Oh, Southerners. No wonder it was all so good.

I headed home around 9pm to meet my friend who was coming from New York and staying with me. As she had not eaten dinner yet, we went to a restaurant we like, where I actually considered having an appetizer or dessert before deciding that that was a crazy idea. I tried ordering tea but was told there was none. Juice? Nope, aside from wine they only served coffee. Okay then, a decaf. Non, only regular coffee. This place also doesn’t accept credit cards and has a Turkish toilet, but I was still surprised. At least they didn’t have a problem with me just watching my friend consume her meal.

Since moving to France, I’ve become accustomed to telling the Thanksgiving story to Frenchies. “In 1621…” I remember that my first Thanksgiving here, I felt a bit sad the day of while walking around outside as if it were a normal morning and realizing that no one around me knew that it was one of the biggest holidays in my country. This year, I talked about it to colleagues and people around me, and the act of acknowledging it made me happy.

The day after Thanksgiving, which is always on a Thursday, is Black Friday, when most people in the United States don’t work and stores have huge sales that many people wake up early for. Ridiculously enough, this year I heard that big stores in the U.S. opened one day early, aka on Thanksgiving. Moreover, in England and France apparently some stores observed Black Friday. These are countries that do not celebrate Thanksgiving, and yet non-American brands participated in the price-slashing frenzy. I am all for creating new traditions, but this is not one I can get behind.

Thanksgiving well-celebrated gives me a warm feeling in my heart and belly. Whether or not you had a Thanksgiving meal this year, I hope that you have a reason to be grateful too.99.thanksgiving.2014

The Lights Are Going Up

I saw the first strings of street lights on October 30th.

I like how they stay up late in Paris, well into mid-January, but I’m not in a rush for Christmas decorations in the fall. Unlike Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March and many other people, I love November and prefer to enjoy this season from beginning to end before putting my antlers on.

I was quite enchanted by seeing the magic happen one recent night on rue Mouffetard, though.

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Gros Bijoux

This past weekend my friend invited me to a jewelry exhibit recommended by one of his clients, who is a jewelry designer. I met him in front of Eglise St-Germain-des-Près, which at ten centuries old, is the oldest church in Paris. After a walk around inside, we crossed the street to the Hôtel de l’Industrie for the première edition du salon Mes Créateurs Joailliers, a two-floor event consisting of fourteen jewelry companies presenting their jewels.

We admired the artistically presented jewelry and pointed out our favorite necklaces, earrings, and rings. A variety of stones, colors, and cuts were on display. All were for sale. Many were pièces uniques, or one-of-a-kind. Representatives encouraged us to let them know if we wanted to try anything on (well, I suppose their offer was directed to me since the only men’s jewelry available was cufflinks).

At the stand for Bermudes, a Parisian jeweler, the representative chose two rings for me to try on. He then pulled out from under the glass what appeared to be a wavy gold stone-studded earring. He asked me to push back my hair to libérer my ear. I made a motion to remove my left earring, but to my surprise he reached over and in one motion clipped it on the upper part of my ear. He held up a hand mirror to show me. I loved it.

After some internet research, I learned that it was an ear cuff, or une manchette d’oreille. I am now on a mission to find the perfect one to buy. I like that it adds a bit of edge, especially being asymmetrical—only being worn on one ear—without requiring a second pair of piercings.

Following the jewelry salon my friend suggested having hot chocolate at Les Deux Magots, the famous café next door known as the gathering place of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso, and James Joyce. Considering its reputation and history, it was less uppity than I had thought. Cozy and bustling with staff than included a waiter with sideburns, it was a nice spot out of the rain to pour thick hot chocolate from a milky white pitcher into two matching round cups on saucers.

Sometimes I am amazed by how smart and interesting my friends are. We discussed the death penalty, prison rehabilitation in France versus the United States, what we were like in high school, where and with whom we would be for Christmas. Perhaps, almost a hundred years later, I had my little Simone de Beauvoir moment. An indulgent thought, as I adore her. I, however, do not search for a Sartre, as I can sing along with but not abide by Taylor Swift’s lyrics, “I love the players, and you love the game.” No tortured love for me, please.

Geometrical Art

On the first Sunday of every month, museums in Paris are free. Usually the lines to enter are long, so I was surprised when there was no wait to enter the Pompidou the first Sunday evening of November.

My friend and I scooted in ticket-free and took the escalator upstairs to wander around the contemporary collection.

I thought it was really cool to be able to inspect this panel of the Institut du Monde Arabe up close. The façade of the Arab World Institute in Paris is composed of squares with apertures that open and close according to the amount of sunlight that hits them.  100_7260These fun warm spheres hung from the ceiling of the main hallway.100_7261Unfortunately we only got to glimpse the Picassos in the modern art collection before the museum closed at 9, but I know where I’ll be on the first Sunday of December.

We headed out into the cool night air and looked for a café or bar to stop in. We passed two cafés and a restaurant that we had been to before. We even remembered the conversations we had had at the time. At my prompting we chose a bubble tea place. As we approached a table, the guy at the adjacent table turned and stared at me. It was a former colleague. He said he had recognized my voice.

With familiar places floating with memories and familiar faces en face de moi, Paris felt a little smaller that night. I like that.

Journées du Patrimoine

This year was the first time that I was available and aware of Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days, in France. For one weekend, historic cultural and political institutions are open to the public. Some, like cultural centers or national museums, are usually open to visitors but offer extra hours, free admission, or special exhibits. Others, like government offices or not easily accessible historical sites, are only open for Journées du Patrimoine. I picked up a program listing all of the places participating, and it made me wish that this event lasted a whole month. There are so many things to see that a couple of days are hardly enough.92.journeespatrimoine.2014aAt some sites like the Elysée, where the president lives, you should be prepared to wait for hours. While I would be interested in seeing the presidential residence, I didn’t want to spend my whole day there, so my first stop was a quiet location with more staff representatives milling around than visitors. The Ministère de l’Enseignement supérieur et de la recherche houses the national office of high education and research. I know a number of people who are pursuing their Masters in Paris, so it was interesting to think that this is where decisions are made regarding their education and those of students all over the country. 92.journeespatrimoine.2014bThe building used to be the Ecole polytechnique, a school of science and engineering that is now at another site. I was standing in front of this memorial to students who died in the First World War when a security guard told me that I could take a picture. So I did. How often are we encouraged to take pictures?92.journeespatrimoine.2014cInside the building I was delighted to see this work by the artist Ben. I discovered Ben a couple of years ago when I bought a series of postage stamps with his playful expressions on them. His art is words and his words are art. This piece was a very American phrase in French.92.journeespatrimoine.2014dThe line to enter the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Site Richelieu was longer than the nonexistent wait at the Ministère, but it fed my love of beautiful libraries.92.journeespatrimoine.2014gInside I also browsed the Musée des monnaies, médailles et antiques and the temporary exhibit of Greek vases.

Smaller but quite pretty too was the sunlit library in the Ecole des Mines, a school of earth sciences, engineering, math, and economics.92.journeespatrimoine.2014eThe library contained this ubiquitous rug. One time as my colleague and I were climbing the stairs to our office, she pointed out the rug and said that it’s the tapis you’ll find in every building constructed during a certain time. From then on I noticed it everywhere. I realized that it was the same rug in the building where I live, and the same one at the Ecole des mines.92.journeespatrimoine.2014fIn another area of the building, I walked through room after room of glass cases displaying rocks. Their collection is a feast for a geologist.

In the Journées du Patrimoine program, I read that you could see the Arche enceinte de Philippe Auguste, which is at other times closed to the public. I didn’t know what that was, but it sounded intriguing. The only meaning of enceinte that I knew of was “pregnant.” Philippe’s pregnant arch?

The address of the site had no door, but a locked gate that seemed to lead to a driveway. A young woman stood in the entrance. I tentatively approached, and she asked if I was there for the Journées du Patrimoine. When I answered in the affirmative, she said that a group had just been let in and that it would be twenty minutes before a new group could enter.

No problem. I walked to the nearby Seine River to take a breather. Lo and behold, a little further along the banks, I saw a man drop to one knee to propose to his girlfriend. It warmed my heart.

Back at the mysterious gate to the pregnant arch, a crowd had gathered.92.journeespatrimoine.2014hThe volunteer let us in, and our group of a couple of dozen people descended a dimly lit staircase underground. We seemed to be under a parking garage. We passed through a heavy metal door, and there it was. The arch.92.journeespatrimoine.2014iA volunteer explained the history of the enceinte to us. In the late 12th to early 13th century, King Philippe Auguste had a wall constructed around Paris to protect the city from potential English invaders. The arch we saw is a remnant of that wall. Tucked away, it was restored by volunteers.

Apparently, enceinte can also mean “outer wall.”

No doubt about it, there is a lot of heritage in this city. The great part about Journées du Patrimoine is that not only does it open private spaces to the public, but it also introduces us to places that are always accessible but not necessarily on our radar.

Fête de la Gastronomie at the Cordon Bleu

Last weekend I attended a cooking demo at the Cordon Bleu. I had registered in advance, for free, through my library. An audience of about eighty people watched chef Christian Moine and two culinary students prepare bar de ligne roti aux épices et aux artichauts poivrade (line-caught sea-bass roasted with spices and poivrade artichokes) and fricassee de langoustines aux cèpes, jus à la coriandre (langoustine fricassee with porcini mushrooms, cilantro flavored jus).

We were given a list of the ingredients for the dishes in French and English, which is how a class at the culinary school would operate. With the elements as a reference, students take notes on how to cook the dish. Later in the day, they have the chance to try their hand at it themselves.

At the demo individuals chimed in with questions, from
How long do you put the langoustines in the oven? to
At what point do you add the spices? to
Can you cut the artichoke more slowly so we can see exactly how you do it? Slower! Slower!

In between Moine’s narration, sommelier Arnaud Fatome discussed different kinds of wine. He explained how warmer regions, like Bordeaux, tend to specialize in red wine, while colder ones, like Brittany, are more known for white.

We each had a glass of Saint-Péray and Riesling, both white wines, to accompany our delicious tasting.91.cordonbleu.2014a 91.cordonbleu.2014b 91.cordonbleu.2014c

I commented on how good the food was to the woman sitting next to me, and she asked where I was from. Her enthusiastic reaction to my response surprised and delighted me.

Oh, New Jersey is beautiful! she said. The gardens of houses are all connected. In France there are fences separating the gardens. In New Jersey they’re all connected.

Perhaps it is the Garden State after all.

My day of seafood was not over. From the Cordon Bleu, I took the metro to a suburb of Paris to have moules-frites at a friend’s house. She and her boyfriend and I chatted over mounds of mussels and fries followed by homemade chocolate mousse in tiny glass jars.