The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

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That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

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Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

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Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

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Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

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This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
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Luscious French Drawings Wednesday, Aug 6 2014 

When visiting to museums in France and other parts over the world over the years, I’ve noticed that paintings are usually the main attraction. Museum-goers seem to prefer the often vibrant colors and textures of paintings over other more ‘austere’ forms of art such as drawings or prints. In addition, paintings typically are set off by beautiful frames, a phenomenon which directly or indirectly communicates “Look at me! I’m an important work of art.”

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Gorgeously framed Impressionist works from the Musée d’Orsay and the accompanying crowds of visitors

Fortunately for museum-goers in the U.S., the Dallas Museum of Art is offering an exciting opportunity to contemplate fascinating drawings and other works on paper now through October 26, 2014. The DMA’s new exhibition entitled “Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne” showcases a variety of works on paper including drawings, watercolors and pastels by famous and lesser-known European artists. Notable about this show is the special spotlight on the artistic process and creative imagination of the artists as well as the fact that many of the works on paper are shown in magnificent frames.

At the “Mind’s Eye” press preview in late June, DMA Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and former curator at the Louvre in Paris Olivier Meslay introduced the exhibition to the large group. He noted that the 120 works on view come from the DMA’s own collection and also significant loans from private collections in North Texas. The perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these privately-owned works adds a special dimension to show, he confirmed. (You may remember the Marmottan Museum in Paris had a great show this past spring on Impressionist paintings from private collections all over the world – it was a big sellout of course!)

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Meslay also described the show’s departure from traditional methods of displaying works on paper. Typically, museums mount these types of works in very neutral, almost-disappearing thin frames. Here, the DMA has chosen to display the works on paper in lovely, often ornate frames, some of which come from the DMA’s own Reves Collection and some from the private collectors themselves. To my mind, the frames add a wonderful dimension to the enlightening presentation of the exhibition’s works.

Following his introduction, he and co-curator Bill Jordan, former director of the Meadows Museum and Deputy Director of the Kimbell Art Museum, led our group on a tour through the exhibition galleries. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the arresting drawings, sketches and watercolors focus on European art from the French Revolution in the late 18th century to the birth of modernism in the early 20th century. The works by Delacroix, David, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Schiele, Mondrian, Picasso, and other artists span almost 150 years of creativity. The show’s curators pointed out the many ways the artistic creations reveal the working methods of the artists. You can literally see and almost feel the energy and vitality of the artists’ minds seeking to express their visions on paper.

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According to the exhibition’s curators and DMA Director Maxwell Anderson, a sub-theme of “Mind’s Eye” is the encouragement to collect art, i.e. that art collecting is not something reserved for a privileged few. “One of the goals of the Dallas Museum of Art is to encourage collecting within the community. There is no better example of how to do this than to highlight the Museum’s graphic holdings together with those that have been assembled in private homes throughout the area,” said Anderson. In essence, drawings are more available – and affordable – for those who have an interest in collecting art.

“Mind’s Eye” also includes ancillary displays such as how to care for and conserve works on paper as well as the various materials artists over the centuries have used to create paper-based works of art. In my opinion, seeing the actual samples of ink, pencil, charcoal, pastels, watercolors and other media is a wonderfully educational complement to the exhibition, particularly for those who have never taken a studio art class.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 240-page full-color catalogue, edited by Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan, with contributions by Esther Bell, Richard R. Brettell, Alessandra Comini, Dakin Hart, William B. Jordan, Felix Krämer, Laurence Lhinares, Heather MacDonald, Olivier Meslay, Jed Morse, Steven Nash, Sylvie Patry, Louis-Antoine Prat, Richard Rand, George T. M. Shackelford, Richard Shiff, Kevin W. Tucker and Charles Wylie. The publication is distributed by Yale University Press.

To sum up, this exhibition is a must-see for art lovers of any stripe. And the preponderance of French artists makes it a must for Francophiles as well. A few thoughts for enjoying “Mind’s Eye” to the fullest: Allow enough time to really look closely at the drawings and absorb what the artists were trying to accomplish. Notice the ways the artists use the white of the paper to create forms and images. Take in the frames and how they set off these works on paper. Bring the kids – drawing and coloring are a time-honored childhood pastime. Finally, once you have nearly reached the show’s exit, turn around and go back through the galleries in the opposite direction from which you came (assuming gallery traffic allows). It’s amazing how many new things are visible by trying this technique. Bonne visite!

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The Harvest, 1895, by Camille Pissarro. Pen, ink, and lead white gouache on paper. Dallas Museum of Art.

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 Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard, 1900–06, Paul Cézanne. Watercolor. Dallas Museum of Art.

Dallas Museum of Art
1717 North Harwood
Dallas, Texas 75201

Museum Hours: Tuesdays through Sundays 11am to 5pm, Thursdays until 9pm. Closed Mondays.
Special Exhibition Tickets: $8 per person. Click here for further DMA visitors’ information.

Photos of Olivier Meslay and the Pissaro / Cézanne images courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

In addition to the “Mind’s Eye” exhibition in Dallas, there are a host of other French-related art shows on view across the country. Check out these various offerings happening from coast to coast:

San Antonio:  Matisse: Life in Color. Also on view: The Art Books of Henri Matisse. San Antonio Museum of Art. Through September 7.

Houston:  Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris. Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Through September 14.

Los Angeles:  Rococo to Revolution: 18th-century French Drawings from Los Angeles Collections. J. Paul Getty Museum. Through September 21. Also in LA: Expressionism in France and Germany: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Through September 14.

Oklahoma City:  Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Through September 14.

New York City:  Miracles in Miniature: The Art of the Master of Claude de France. Morgan Library & Museum. Through September 14.

Washington, DC:  Degas / Cassatt. National Gallery of Art. Through October 5.

Boston:  Daguerre’s American Legacy: Photographic Portraits (1840-1900) . MIT Museum, Cambridge. Through January 4, 2015.

Coming This Fall:

Dallas:  Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse. Dallas Museum of Art. From October 26, 2014 to February 8, 2015. Also on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (March 22, 2015–June 21, 2015) and the Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (July 19, 2015–October 11, 2015). Images courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

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Ft. Worth:  Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from the Musée d’Orsay. Kimbell Art Museum. From October 19, 2014 to January 25, 2015.

Rethinking Modern Paris Wednesday, Jul 30 2014 

Bonjour! After a brief working sabbatical to gather new ideas for forthcoming French newsletters, programs and trips, I am sending out this latest French Affaires Weekly article on the development of modern Paris. More interesting topics are to come including “The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade,” “Luscious French Drawings” and more. Bonne lecture (happy reading) and as always, please send us your comments and thoughts on anything French!  Elizabeth New Seitz, French Affaires 

Rethinking Modern Paris

As visitors to the French capital know, Paris today is an amazing combination of beauty and charm, history and modernity, creativity and tradition all in one place. The city never ceases to attract huge crowds wanting to sample its many pleasures and sights. Such is the draw of Paris that it is tempting to take its legendary tourist status for granted.

But historical records tell us this wasn’t always so.

When then did modern, iconic, visitable Paris come into being?

Conventional accounts credit Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the mid-1800’s with the development of the modern French capital that we know today – the grand boulevards, the public works, the parks and gardens, the 19th century apartment buildings. In reality, the development of modern Paris goes back much further. Professor Joan DeJean’s wonderful new book How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City recounts how Paris became a model of urban development back in the 1600’s and in so doing, it revolutionized the way people thought about and engaged with cities moving forward. This very readable volume highlights not only Paris’s road to physical modernity but also the evolution of its reputation into the mythical city it is today.

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This summer, I had the chance to sit down with Dr. DeJean (pronounced DAY-Jahn) in Paris and interview her about her new book. We met at one of her favorite hangouts, La Tartine, in the Marais where she lives when she is not teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

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ENS: How did you get the idea for your latest book?

JDJ: “How Paris Became Paris” started as a French history and culture course for my students at UPenn. I called it “The Invention of Paris.” I got tired of hearing that Baron Haussmann had invented modern Paris. He didn’t all of a sudden make Paris modern in the 1850’s and 60’s. He didn’t invent the big boulevards as so many claim. He was an agent employed by Napoleon III to update Paris, not an original urban thinker. The real boulevard got its start in 1676 under King Louis XIV and was actually called a “street” at first. It was 120 feet wide which is quite something when you think about that time period. It then morphed into an “avenue” or “boulevard,” two terms often used synonymously today.

ENS: Were other world capitals undergoing modernization in the 17th century as well?

JDJ: London probably could have gotten there but then the Great Fire of 1666 and also the plague decimated things for some time. These two events were greatly responsible for holding London back. London only becomes more populous than Paris after 1750. Likewise, Amsterdam’s population doesn’t keep growing so the city doesn’t move forward like Paris does. For the French capital, it was a fortuitous combination of timing, luck, money, a willing population, and a king – Louis XIV – who lived a long time.

ENS: What most interested you in all your research for the class and ultimately the book?

JDJ: I was fascinated by the notion of the boulevard and what it meant for Parisians’ physical and social space. I spent a lot of time doing research in libraries, archives and museums in Paris. The trend of painting cities started in the 17th century. For example, visitors to Paris would buy souvenir paintings to show their families back home what this splendid place called Paris looked like. So I pored over paintings of Paris showing boulevards and other urban projects.

The other thing I loved delving into was how happy the people of Paris were at these urban developments. Parisians were thrilled by the opportunity to socialize in public spaces, especially after long years of civil wars that kept them mostly indoors. They liked walking and strolling along the boulevards and on bridges. The new bridges were a huge commercial success – they cut down travel time across the capital – and they also provided a focal point for various social activities, including strolling, enjoying views of the river, theatrical performances, vendors, etc. It’s amazing to think that a bridge could so change a city as was the case with the Pont Neuf.

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ENS: Can you say more about what the Pont Neuf (‘New Bridge’) meant for Paris at the time?

JDJ: Instituted by King Henri IV in the early 1600’s, this new, wide bridge of stone replaced wooden bridges that were narrow and didn’t last. Now, two wagons or carts could cross at the same time without causing a traffic jam which was a major practical advance. This also meant that the speed of urban life just took a big leap forward. In addition, the planners wanted to make sure that pedestrians had a dedicated space to walk across so they made raised sidewalks. As such, carts and horses stayed on the road and didn’t crowd those on foot. And wonderfully enough, this bridge included small balconies spaced along the entire width of the bridge so people could pause and look out over the river. Prior to this time, the river wasn’t seen as something to view or enjoy; it was a conduit for commercial activities. You can see that the bridge revolutionized how people interacted with the city. Taking pleasure in the view became an attraction in and of itself which was quite a novel idea at the time. These dynamics just snowballed with multiple projects all around the city, so much so that Paris developed a reputation greater than the sum of its parts.

ENS: Do you see the same spirit of modernity and development in Paris today?

JDJ: Yes, there are always interesting projects going on in Paris. The recent opening of ‘Les Berges de la Seine” shows great creative thinking in how to use the spaces along the edge of the Seine river for public enjoyment and interaction. This sort of idea goes back to the 1600’s when sidewalks were developed and the Seine’s riverbanks were paved and shored up. One 17th century painting even shows a sort of ‘beach’ on the banks of the Seine where people could go swim.

ENS: An early version of today’s ‘Les Plages de Paris’!

ENS: How did you make France and French your career?

JDJ: I grew up in Louisiana so French was all around me. It seemed like a natural fit. And too, I love to teach and bring France to life for my students. This past spring, I taught a course on the French Enlightenment. And this fall, I will be teaching a course entitled “Marriage and the Novel” which is a fascinating topic.

In my opinion, How Paris Became Paris” is an engaging read and one of the best new books out on things French. In addition to the chapters on Parisian boulevards and bridges, Dr. DeJean describes many other modern advances in Paris that date back four centuries, including town squares, parks, street lighting, bus service, fashion, pocket guides to the city, and more. Reproductions of 17th century paintings, drawings and maps of Paris help illustrate her points. Reading her book puts the French capital in a whole new light – you’ll never think about Paris the same way again!

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City (March, 2014) – Available through major booksellers and amazon.com.

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

ISBN-10: 1608195910

ISBN-13: 978-1608195916

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For an even more in-depth experience on the development of modern Paris, I’ll be teaching a new class “How Paris Became Paris: The Development of the Modern City We Know Today” for the SMU Continuing Studies program in Dallas this fall. Below is the course description – registration opens on August 5, 2014 at http://www.smu.edu/CAPE. Make plans now to join us for the two-session series!

Paris continues to be the most visited city in the world. This iconic metropolis fascinates everyone from first-time visitors to regulars and begs the question – how did Paris become Paris? While some people are familiar with the modernization of the city that took place during the 19th century, many are unaware that Paris’s modern urban development actually began two centuries earlier with the efforts of such kings as Henri IV and Louis XIV. Join France expert Dr. Elizabeth Seitz for this captivating course which will explore the various facets of Paris’s 17th century remaking through illustrated lecture and lively discussion. The new book “How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City” by French scholar Joan DeJean and other sources will accompany our class sessions. You’ll walk away with a whole new understanding of Paris – and plenty of travel ideas for your next trip to the French capital!

Date: Two Mondays – November 3 & 10, 2014
Time: 7 to 9pm
Cost: $99 per person early registration. Advance sign-up through SMU Continuing Studies program – please click here to register.
Location: SMU main campus – Dallas, TX 75205. Classroom & parking information provided by SMU upon registration.

French Market Fresh ~ Asparagus Season Wednesday, Jun 4 2014 

On the seasonal food calendar here in France, May and early June are un régal (delight) of fresh goodies. In Aix-en-Provence, I have been wandering the outdoor markets and come upon bunches of ciboulette (chives) with purple flowers intact, hefty bulbs of ail nouveau (new garlic), plump fèves (fava beans) direct from the vendor’s garden, bright green petits pois (spring peas), and the most tender fragrant fraises (strawberries) on the planet. It’s tempting to become a vegetarian with all this gorgeous produce.

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But a real star has been all the asparagus. Cultivated in French potagers (vegetable gardens) since the 15th century, les asperges are so plentiful this time of year that they seem to nearly overtake everything else. Green asparagus, white asparagus, thin stalks, thick stalks. There are mounds of them for sale everywhere. And no matter which type you buy, they’re all very flavorful and tender as vendors make sure to tell you.

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You can imagine that these unruly green stalks have just been plucked from the garden. It’s like the wild, wild west of asparagus. Speaking of wild, I have friends in Provence who love to find wild asparagus growing near where they live. They pick it and then sauté it quickly with a little butter or olive oil for a truly rare, seasonal treat.

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In Europe, white asparagus gets just as much attention as the green variety. You’ll see it on restaurant menus steamed and served with hollandaise sauce or roasted in the oven with a nice sauce béchamel. Here is a French market shopper carefully choosing her own white asperges.

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Les asperges vertes also show up on many restaurant menus this time of year. Lately, I’ve seen green asparagus with parma ham and parmesan offered as a starter. Or asparagus with a poached egg – even poached quail eggs! – and parmesan. There’s also the classic asparagus with vinaigrette for a lighter option. And many main dishes have been featuring asparagus somewhere on the plate, including a lovely asparagus risotto. But my favorite asparagus taste this season has been the fabulous asparagus pâté I stumbled upon the other day at the best boucherie (butcher shop) in Aix.

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It’s not every day that you see this variety of charcuterie due to the short asparagus growing season. Sure enough, the saleslady at La Boucherie du Palais said that once asparagus was over, their pâté aux asperges was done for another year. Immediately, I asked for a nice tranche (slice) which she promptly cut and wrapped in the traditional waxed paper. Later, I spread some on a fluffy fresh baguette. Franchement (frankly), it was one of the best pâtés I’ve ever had. And unless I figure out how to make the pâté myself, I’ll be lining up at their door same time next year for more of this wonderful delicacy.

All that to say, if you’re into fresh, you’ll want to check out the seasonal market offerings while traveling in France. Make a mental note of the top things growing at that moment. Then, try restaurant dishes featuring these items. Also, if you’re not a cook and/or you don’t have a kitchen while visiting, keep your eyes open for somebody close by – such as the Aix butcher shop – who is making something take-out with the latest and greatest in French market fresh. You never know what specialty you’ll find!

 

NB: The French Agricultural Ministry publishes a fantastic monthly guide to what’s fresh in French markets. You can click here to see the seasonal offerings listed for May 2014 (June is not posted yet). Note that it is in French.

 

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A Short Guide to French Aperitifs Friday, May 2 2014 

Now that spring is officially here and summer is on its way, it is once again possible to enjoy apéritifs outdoors at a French café or on a terrace at someone’s country home. Designating both the beverage and the social moment before lunch or dinner, the apéritif is a time-honored French ritual that encompasses people from all ages and all walks of life, from young to old, from blue-collar workers to aristocrats.

Whether it’s followed by a meal or is just drinks alone, the apéritif moment in France is the chance to slow down, imbibe alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages with a salty snack and engage in leisurely conversation with friends or colleagues. This apéritif menu from a popular Left Bank café in Paris captures perfectly the French dedication to this social custom: “L’apéritif, c’est la prière du soir des Français.” Translated into English, “The aperitif is the evening prayer of the French.”

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Not to be confused with the Anglo-Saxon ‘Happy Hour’ where bars try to attract customers to a late afternoon or pre-dinner drink through elaborate cocktails or 2-for-1 specials, the French apéritif time seems to be built into France’s social DNA. In other words, no encouragement is needed to get the French to stop for a convivial drink with friends, colleagues or family. Nonetheless, some Paris cafés are currently capitalizing on the French mania for anything American or British and are trying to tempt customers with happy hour drink deals…

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Translation: “Happy Hour 4 to 9pm: All cocktails (with or without alcohol) and draft pints 5 euros.”

So what do the French have as apéritifs? Here’s a short description of some typical French beverage offerings of the non-hard alcohol variety:

WINES: Still and sparkling wines are always good options. One can have un vin blanc or un vin rouge – a glass of white or red wine. With so many wine-producing regions in France, the possibilities are endless. Or a sparkling wine from Champagne, Burgundy or the Loire Valley is nice too. Ordering a glass of champagne is done with the expression une coupe de champagne. (You can click here for a previous article on French champagne and a great champagne bar in Paris!) But nothing says French apéritifs more to me than sitting at a cafe in southern France with a glass of wonderful rosé wine. There are terrific rosés found all over Provence but I particularly like those from Bandol, Tavel and around Aix-en-Provence.

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KIR: Originally from Burgundy, a classic kir is a wine cocktail of inexpensive dry white wine and crème de cassis (black currant liqueur). Another variation is to substitute red wine for the white to make a cardinal, so named for its very red color. One can take the regular kir up a notch by adding champagne instead of white wine for a kir royal. I have tried the kir royal with other liqueurs such as crème de pêches (peach), de fraises (strawberry), or de mûres (blackberry). My favorite is a liqueur I buy in Paris at a charming wine shop* specializing in Armagnac, an earthy cousin of Cognac. Their crème de mûres à l’Armagnac (blackberry liqueur with Armagnac) is heavenly when paired with champagne. * The wine shop in Paris is Ryst-Dupeyron, located at 79, rue du Bac in the 7th arrondissement.

FORTIFIED WINES: Then there is the whole other category of fortified wines, or vins de liqueur. Some French prefer a glass of dry sherry or port as an apéritif. Or they might have some Pineau de Charentes from the Cognac region of France, a lesser known wine blend apéritif that includes cognac brandy. On occasion, I’ll be in the mood for a lightly fortified wine such as a Muscat or Sauternes. Known in the States as ‘dessert wines,’ these are white, slightly sweet and made in many regions of France. Some popular ones include the Muscat des Beaumes de Venise  from Provence and the Muscat du Cap-Corse from Corsica. Or there are some interesting ones from the Dordogne region in southwest France such as Rosette and Montbazillac. I was introduced to Rosette a couple of years ago by some British friends. Roger and Sue invited my husband and me over for apéritifs at their home outside Bergerac and served the local white dessert wine. The Rosette came well chilled and was a delightful surprise with its fruity aromas of apricot and peach. Later, as we took a walk in the countryside near their home, we came upon the hamlet and vineyards of Sainte Foy des Vignes where Rosette is made.

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LILLET: Last but not least in the fortified wines category is the legendary Lillet. Dating from 1872, Lillet is a secret blend of Bordeaux wines, fruit liqueurs and quinine from the village of Podensac in southwest France. Lillet is served very cold –  as the bottle says, “Servir très frais” - and can come straight in a wine glass or served over ice with a twist of orange. Today, there are several versions of Lillet. The mainstays are classic white, red and rosé Lillet, though the rosé version is a new addition to the Lillet stable having just come out in 2012. And there are some new reserve versions that are exceptionally good including Réserve Jean de Lillet Blanc, Réserve Jean de Lillet Rouge and the Magnum Réserve Jean de Lillet Blanc Cuvée 1996. Lillet is proud of its heritage – go to lillet.com and then select “Lillet Visuals” for a great collection of Lillet advertising posters from the late 19th century to the present!

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PASTIS: This French apéritif  tastes of licorice and herbs and is for me an acquired taste. Still, you could say it has a cult following, especially in the south of France. In fact, pastis is often called the “national drink of Provence.” Transplanted Brit Peter Mayle, Mr. Provence himself, even wrote a novel entitled Hotel Pastis. To be sure, the intense libation is not limited to southern France. In the rest of the country, however, you’re more likely to hear it by the brand names of Ricard or Pernod. Now I wouldn’t put the taste of licorice on my top ten list… EVER…but there IS something about sitting at a café in the shady square of a Provençal village on a really hot day with a shot of pastis in the bottom of a tall glass, a carafe of water and a couple of ice cubes. Here’s how it works: You pour as much or as little water as you wish into the glass of pastis, watch as the clear golden liquid turns milky white, and add the ice cubes. Voilà, you have a drink so thirst-quenching and perfect for the setting that it just might turn into a favorite apéritif.

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A pastis afternoon at Les Deux Garçons in Aix-en-Provence

FRUIT DRINKS: Fruit-based options in France are popular too and may or may not contain alcohol. One can order un jus d’orange (orange juice) or un citron pressé (fresh squeezed lemon juice to which you add water and sugar). There are also a variety of flavored syrups diluted by water. You’ll often see French kids with un menthe à l’eau, or mint syrup with water, hard to miss with its super bright green color. Also popular is the French drink known as un diabolo menthe – mint syrup with limonade (lemon-flavored soda similar to Sprite). On a cultural note, “Diabolo Menthe” also refers to a 70’s French movie of the same name directed by Diane Kurys. This autobiographical film tells the story of two Jewish sisters in a Parisian high school in 1963 against the backdrop of the Algerian war.

To be sure, there are plenty of other drinks out there suitable for the French apéritif moment – including Dubonnet, Campari, vermouth, etc – but this list covers the main characters and will certainly get you started at any café or soirée in France. Cheers!

A NOTE ABOUT APERITIF SNACKS: When having apéritifs, the French don’t overdo in the snack department. Since the point of the ritual is to enjoy conversation and to whet the appetite a bit for the meal to come, something salty but light is often served. Snacks might include some olives, peanuts, crackers or even potato chips. It always surprises me to go to the home of French friends and see a small bowl of potato chips sitting there. However, in recent years, the French have tended to serve more substantial snacks with their cocktails and even turned the moment into what they call a “cocktail dinatoire” where the heavy hors-d’oeuvres are the meal itself.

A GUIDE TO FRENCH CAFES: For a previous article on navigating the French café experience, please click here. 

The French Remember ~ Commemorating WWI and II in 2014 Friday, Apr 25 2014 

Historically speaking, 2014 is a big year in France. June 6th marks the 70th – hard to believe – anniversary of D-Day and the beginning of the liberation of Europe by the Allies in World War II. And this year also observes the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. A propos, the French are making a point to remember both the events and those who lost their lives in these conflicts with a host of special activities and commemorations.

World War I: If you’re in Paris between now and August 4th, you’ll want to check out the moving photo exhibition commemorating the ‘Grande Guerre’ at the Luxembourg Gardens on the Left Bank. British photo-journalist Michael St Maur Sheil spent six years capturing the battlefields of the Great War from the North Sea all the way to Gallipoli. His efforts have culminated in an open-air gallery show entitled “Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ which is being shown on the fences on the eastern side of the Luxembourg Gardens.

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Exhibition poster courtesy of the French Senate

The large-scale photos poignantly capture the haunting remains of the devastation and violence that occurred along the front lines as well as the interminable rows of tombs of those who fell during the war. These landscapes also reveal the healing powers of time and nature as the trees, woods, mountains and rivers resumed their peaceful existence in the aftermath of World War I.

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© 2014 westernfrontphotography.com / Mary Evans Collection

Also included in the exhibition is a massive memorial map created by the top cartographers at Michelin. Laid out on the east side of the Luxembourg Palace – home of the French Senate who sponsored the exhibition, the  giant map recalls the battlefields and front lines of France, Europe and the world, highlighting the global scale of the conflict. Included are the 50 most important battlefields, nearly 700 kilometres of front lines during the four years of war, and 80 commemorative sites that can be visited today as well as the frontier demarcated by the Armistice signed on November 11, 1918 at 11am.

And when it comes to commemorations, no detail is too small for the French. The wooden railings installed around the giant map are made of 100 year old beechwood from the forests around Epinal. The French National Forest Service helped log the wood and a local workshop created them specifically for the exhibition. It turns out that these forests supplied the wood used to build the infamous trenches of the war. Be sure to click here for a short French video (with English-subtitles) of the installation of the exhibition map and photographs at the Luxembourg Gardens.

After its run in Paris, “Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ will travel to London where it will be shown in St. James’s park. The exhibition will then move to Nottingham as part of the city’s ‘Trent to Trenches’ commemorative program. The tour will continue, visiting major cities and towns throughout the UK, until its conclusion on Armistice Day on November 11, 2018.

“Fields of Battle – Terres de Paix 14 – 18″ will be on view in Paris until August, 4, 2014. Admission is free. The Luxembourg Garden fences have been used to host a wide variety of photography exhibitions in recent years, reaching a large urgan audience that might not otherwise visit a museum or gallery. To locate the Luxembourg Gardens outdoor photo exhibition, please see the map below:

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A large number of WWI commemorative events are being held all over northern France this year. Please see the Chemins de Mémoire 14 – 18 website for activities in the Nord-Pas de Calais region. Also of note is the Musée de la Grande Guerre located in Meaux in the Ile de France. Opening there on June 28 and running through December 29, 2014 is the temporary exhibition: “Join Now! L’entrée en guerre de l’Empire britannique” (’Join now! The Entry into the War by the British Empire’). And the war memorial and museum at Belleau Wood is always worth a visit.

World War II: The inhabitants of Normandy, France are pulling out all the stops this year to observe the 70th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day. From June 5th to August 21st, 2014, re-enactments, memorial ceremonies, exhibitions and more will be taking place in observance of June 6th, 1944. Adding to the emotion is the fact that this will be the last decennial D-Day celebration in which actors and witnesses to the actual D-Day event will be able to take part given their age.

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Event poster courtesy of the Comité Régional de Tourisme de Normandie

A comprehensive calendar in either French or English can be found on the event’s site. If you are traveling to Normandy soon, please click here to see what’s in store. A couple of things that caught my eye were the concert for peace in the town of Sainte Mère Eglise  on June 6th in the evening and also the grand picnic on Omaha Beach the following day to honor all those who fell there. What a place to be on June 7th, 2014!

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If your WWII D-Day history is a little rusty, you can see a terrific recap of the key military events of the Normandy landings on the 70th anniversary website by clicking here. And if you’ve never seen the American film “The Longest Day,” I recommend rushing out to rent or buy a copy. Also not to be missed is the recent documentary by film maker Doug Stebleton on the “Mother of Normandy.” Stebleton stumbled across this riveting untold story while making another documentary in France. He dropped everything and then spent three years in both Normandy and the U.S. tracking down the impact Simone Renaud made on France, American and the world.

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 Book cover courtesy of Doug Stebleton

Simone Renaud, the wife of the mayor of the Norman town of Sainte Mère Eglise, was there the night that American paratroopers landed as part of the Allied offensive in June, 1944. She, her husband and three sons witnessed the violent battle between the occupying Germans and American soldiers and the deaths of some 60 of their fellow townspeople. In the weeks that followed, makeshift cementeries around the town filled up with graves of the fallen GIs. Rain or shine, Simone Renaud took it upon herself to tend to the graves. When American families heard where their sons, husbands and fathers had died, they sent letters addressed simply to the “Maire” (mayor) of Sainte Mère Eglise to inquire about their graves. Alexandre Renaud passed the letters on to his wife who began to answer them individually, often including a photo of the graveside cross, a bit of dirt or even a pressed flower from the burial service.

After a photograph of Simone Renaud laying flowers on Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr.’s grave was published in Life magazine in August, 1944, even more letters came. From then on until her death in 1988 at the age of 89, Simone Renaud made it her mission to care for these soldiers who had died fighting for liberty and who were buried far from home. She wrote hundreds and hundreds of letters to American families and hosted some of them when they came to visit their loved one’s grave. As part of her efforts to make sure these heros were never forgotten and to express gratitude for the freedom they brought, she began to organize yearly D-Day memorial celebrations and re-enactments. Long story short, her immense legacy earned her the title “Mother of Normandy” and Stebleton’s compelling documentary ensures that her memory will never be forgotten.

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 Simone Renaud tending to GI graves – photo courtesy of Doug Stebleton

The “Mother of Normandy” is a must for those who love France and French history as well as WWII history buffs. To purchase the DVD version of the documentary, you can order it directly through the producer. The DVDs are $20 each, plus $4.00 for shipping, or $24.00 per DVD. Checks can be made out to Doug Stebleton and sent to:

Doug Stebleton
5506 Aurelia St
Simi Valley, CA 93063

Upon receipt of the check, the DVD(s) will be sent to the address provided. To order the accompanying book, please click here for more info.

Notes from Paris 2 Wednesday, Mar 19 2014 

Today’s post is a follow-on to the previous “Notes from Paris” describing current events and activities all over the city. You’ll have to agree, there’s always something happening in Paris!

TRANSPORT NOTE: Even in Paris, good things can have a down side. The sunny, warm and windless weather that recently brought everyone out of doors and into the parks, sidewalks and cafés has also delivered high pollution levels in Paris and northern France. The City has taken drastic measures over the past several days to help decrease particulate matter in the air. Wood-burning fires have been banned, covoiturage (ride-sharing) has been encouraged, car speeds have been reduced by 20 km per hour (about 12 mph), and public transport including the Métro and buses has been free for many days running. To top it off, government officials declared a partial driving ban this past Monday – only cars with odd-numbered license plates were permitted on the roads (electric and hybrid cars and vehicles containing three or more people were exempted). As you might imagine, all this has caused both hurrahs and headaches. Thankfully the wind has picked up and the pollution has abated – but everyone has to pay for public transport again.

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I love the Paris buses that run under the south wing of the Louvre Museum.

BIKE NOTE: On the subject of transportation, bikes are gaining ground as the vehicle of choice in Paris. Loads of my Parisian friends use their bikes to get around the city. And Paris is creating more and more bike lanes – taking parts of regular roads to do so – much to the chagrin of taxi drivers and regular drivers. However, in case bike riders think traffic rules don’t apply to them, there are regulations, marked lanes and even dedicated stoplights to remind riders to stay in line. Bonne route (happy riding)! 

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EVENT NOTE: You’ve gotta love this cool event that popped up in Paris week before last…hopscotch, or la marelle in French, for everyone. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Argentine writer Julio Cortazar who wrote a novel set in Paris called “La Marelle,” Argentine performance artist Marta Minujin created a Paris hopscotch zone in the Place du Palais Royal. The hopscotch fest lasted three days and drew the participation of kids and adults alike. 

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FOOD NOTE: Just recently, our antiques trip group was treated to a private tour of the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and got to see up close some of the most beautiful French furniture and objets d’art from the 17th and 18th centuries. Following our visit to the “Arts Déco,” we went to the nearby Le Soufflé for lunch. (Click here for a previous post on this classic Paris restaurant.) For dessert, I decided to branch out from the decadent soufflé au chocolat and try the soufflé aux fruits rouges – red berry soufflé. It was divine, tasting like the most sweet and fragrant raspberry you can imagine. But I was more struck by how the big pink soufflé looked like a giant cupcake!

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MUSIC NOTE: There are always fabulous classical music concerts happening in Paris. If you’ve never taken in a musical performance at the Salle Pleyel or the Palais Garnier or one of Paris’s many churches, I would highly recommend putting this on your Paris to-do list. To find a performance, you can look up the venues online ahead of time or when you are there, look for the posters publicizing these great offerings. Tomorrow night and Tuesday night at the stained-glass heaven of La Sainte Chapelle for example, the Orchestre des soloistes français is performing works of Bach, Albinoni and Mozart.

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BOOK NOTE: Walking down the Left Bank’s Rue Jacob the other day, I was stopped in my tracks by all the women pausing in front of a window display. Intrigued, I went closer to see what they were looking at. It turns out the new Dictionnaire universel des créatrices was just published in France, and the Espace des femmes at 33-35 rue Jacob was sponsoring a photo exhibition to celebrate the event.

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Upon entering the gallery, I found out this new comprehensive dictionary of creative women – “creative” in every sense – includes more than 10,000 articles on well-known and lesser-known women and their contributions over the centuries. French feminist Antoinette Fouque was one of the driving forces behind the work. According to a recent interview in Le Figaro, she noted that while women make up half the population on the planet, only 5 to 10% of entries in dictionaries of proper names included women. So the idea for “Universal Dictionary of Creative Women” was born.

I spoke with a nice young woman there at the Espace des femmes. She mentioned that for printing reasons, the dictionary does not contain photographs of the women listed. So the gallery was exhibiting photos of many of them along with illustrations by French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel, some of which do appear in the publication. The woman also mentioned that an English translation of the dictionary is in the works and should come out later this year. Click here for more information on the Espace des femmes and this great contribution to the world of dictionaries.

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Notes from Paris – March, 2014 Tuesday, Mar 4 2014 

What a difference a year makes. Just after I arrived in Paris last March for the annual French Affaires’ antiques trip, the French capital was blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Verrrry chilly temperatures accompanied us for days as we zipped around to the various Paris antiques fairs and flea markets. This year, the wintry weather is back in the U.S., and Paris is set to be sunny and almost balmy this week. To capture the ambiance of Paris at the moment, today’s post includes notes and impressions from the past few days here. Enjoy!

FASHION NOTE: It’s fashion week in Paris and Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel has just made headlines with his “Chanel Supermarket” at le Grand Palais. Under the sparkling glass dome, Lagerfeld accomplished another fashion first as he showed off his fall-winter collection on models roaming grocery store aisles lined with Chanel ‘food products’ and other goodies.  What a spectacle! Click here for a photo series of Chanel’s new supermarket chic.

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FOOD NOTE: Speaking of supermarkets and chic, my favorite neighborhood cheese shop was closed Monday so I went to La Grande Epicerie, the gourmet food halls of the Le Bon Marché department store for some good fromage (cheese). After extensive renovations, La Grande Epicerie is more gourmet than ever. They have a fantastic selection of everything food related from France and around the world and it’s all gorgeously presented. However, the store is now so beautiful and mod that it almost feels like a museum. I half expect to see signs – Merci de ne pas toucher (don’t touch). And the prices are not for the faint of heart. Still, the quality is outstanding so I knew I’d get some great cheese.

As I waited in line at the cheese counter, an older French gentleman was putting in his order for camembert. So typically French, he began a long discours (speech) about how exactly he liked this Normandy cheeseun demi camembert au lait cru…crémeux mais pas trop fort…et pas de blanc (half of a raw milk camembert, creamy but not too ripe, and no white chalky layer in the middle). The saleswoman opened several of the round boxes to find the right one for monsieur and finally wrapped up one to his liking. Fortunately for me, this is exactly how I prefer my camembert so I then stepped up to buy the other half. Perfect!

Had I had a little more time, I would have taken the escalator down to the snazzy wine department on La Grande Epicerie’s lower level. They are always having great tastings of wines and champagnes. I have a good American friend and long-time resident of Paris who heads to La Grande Epicerie for her Vidalia onions – the only place in Paris that sells them – and also for a nice free glass of champagne at the same time. Only in France.

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RESTAURANT NOTE: La Grande Epicerie recently opened a gourmet restaurant called “La Table” on the second floor of the store.

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Sleek escalators whisk you up to the glass atrium accented by four full-size trees. This indoor-outdoor space features numerous tables and a bar where lunch and afternoon tea are served. I met a French friend for a mid-day bite this week and the place was packed.

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We both chose the suggestion du chef (featured dish of the day) which was a delicious beef parmentier – a French specialty of slow cooked beef in a lovely sauce layered with mashed potatoes…and this version was flavored with truffle and served with dressed greens on top. A great choice.

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WINE NOTE: I decided to stop in my neighborhood wine shop for a nice red to go with the camembert, incidentally one of the most difficult cheeses to pair with wine. Still, a full-bodied red sounded good so the monsieur gave me some ideas. As he was wrapping up my purchase, I asked about his training in French wines and vineyards. As I expected and hoped he would do, he launched into his own discours in French about how to appreciate and taste wines. He repeated it was crucial to taste wines “avec humilité.” He said to forget about the pretensions of whether this year or that year meant a great wine. Just taste it and let the wine speak for itself, he insisted. Excellent advice.

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TV NOTE: There’s good news and bad news about French television. On the plus side, I caught a program the other day where a French family decided to bypass their local charcuterie (deli) and make their own pâté, rillettes et saucisson (pâté, pork spread and sausage). It was fascinating to watch the process and see how a father and daughter mastered what has almost become a lost art. On the down side, current commercials on French TV include Old El Paso and Advil brand products. Seriously? And there was a French version of “The Bachelor” on the air. Were it not in the French language, you would have thought you were in America. Thankfully, one can turn the TV completely off, walk outside and enjoy real French life.

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PARIS TRANSPORT NOTE: The Paris Métro and Bus system makes getting around the city pretty easy. I hopped on the 63 bus the other night to meet a friend for dinner in the 5th arrondissement. To my dismay, my bus/métro ticket – they can be used for both – had become démagnétisé. In other words, the magnetic strip on the back allowing it to be validated in the bus ticket machine was no longer working. This phenomenon happens when you put the tickets in close proximity to a cell phone or some other magnetic field. In any case, I needed to make a bus transfer to another line to reach my destination and therefore required a validated ticket to continue. I explained the situation to the bus driver who kindly took the time to mark my ticket with the bus number, date and time. I then was able to change to the 47 bus with no issues at all. The French can be very sympathique (nice)!

What’s Happening in Paris Friday, Feb 21 2014 

As a good friend of mine in Paris put it this past week, “we are in one of those doldrum periods for art exhibitions.” Many of the big fall art shows have just closed, and Paris is pausing to take a breath before a host of new exhibitions open for the spring and summer of 2014. If you’re traveling to the French capital anytime soon, you won’t want to miss these great cultural events. Be sure to click on the museum name for more details on each exhibition.

Current Art Exhibitions

Musée du LouvreRestoration of the iconic Greek statue “The Winged Victory of Samothrace” continues at the Louvre Museum. The 2nd-century B.C. sculpture and its monumental staircase will be re-opening this summer. A must-see. Click here to see a video of the restoration project in progress.

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Image courtesy of the Musée du Louvre

Musée d’Orsay“Vincent Van Gogh / Antonin Artaud, The Man Suicided by Society.” 5, Quai Anatole France, 75007 Paris. Twentieth century writer Antonin Artaud was asked to write a piece on Van Gogh to coincide with a 1947 art exhibition in Paris of his works. Artaud’s provocative thesis delineated how “Van Gogh’s exceptional lucidity made lesser minds uncomfortable.” And according to Artaud, it was these lesser minds that drove Van Gogh to suicide. From March 11 until July 6.

Grand Palais - “I, Augustus, Emperor of Rome.” 3, avenue du Général Eisenhower 75008 Paris. To commemorate the 2000th anniversary of Augustus’ death, the Grand Palais is hosting a fascinating exhibition on his life and Roman times during his reign. A selection of  statues, reliefs, frescoes, furniture, silver as well as the reconstruction of a villa from the slopes of Mount Vesuvius round out this historical exhibition. From March 19 to July 13.

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Poster courtesy of the RMN Grand Palais

Musée Jacquemart-André“Watteau to Fragonard, les Fêtes Galantes.” 158 Boulevard Haussmann, 75008 Paris, France.  The jewel-like Jacquemart-André Museum welcomes a fabulous new exhibition of 18th-century French painting focusing on love scenes in lush pastoral settings. A sumptuous ode to a bygone era. From March 14 to July 21.

Musée Marmottan - “The Impressionists in Private: One Hundred Masterpieces from Private Collections.” 2 Rue Louis Boilly, 75016 Paris. This exquisite exhibition at the Marmottan Museum brings together 100 Impressionist works borrowed from private owners. You’ll want to make a point to see these pieces that have never been on view publicly until now. Until July 6.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée Marmottan

Musée Rodin“Mapplethorpe-Rodin.” 79, rue de Varenne, 75007 Paris. This intriguing exhibition compares and contrasts the sculpture of Auguste Rodin with the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe. Similarities in themes and subjects abound. From April 8 until September 21.

Palais Galliera - “Coming into Fashion, a Century of Photography at Condé Nast.” 10, Avenue Pierre-1er-de-Serbie, 75116 Paris. The fashion museum of Paris is putting on this wonderful exhibition featuring 100 years of fashion photography. From March 1 to May 25. Then beginning in summer, the Palais Galliera is hosting “Fashion in the 50’s,” a superb show noting the ‘New look’ created by Christian Dior in 1947 and the fashion revolution that followed. From July 3 to November 15.

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Poster courtesy of the Palais Galliera

Musée du Luxembourg“Joséphine.” 19, rue de Vaugirard, 75006 Paris. This special exhibition features art and objects relating to the Empress Joséphine, first wife of Napoleon, at the bicentennial of her death. From March 12 until June 29.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée du Luxembourg 

Centre Pompidou“Henri Cartier-Bresson.” 19, rue Beaubourg, 75004 Paris. Lovers of photography will enjoy this retrospective devoted to the superbly talented twentieth-century French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Until June 9.

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Poster courtesy of the Centre Pompidou

Musée d’Histoire Naturelle “Night.” Grande Galerie de l’Évolution, 36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire 75005 Paris. This year, Paris’s Natural History Museum has put together an amazing interdisciplinary exhibit on the nocturnal world. Visitors will be fascinated by informative and interactive displays around four themes: The Night Sky, Night in Nature, Sleep at Night, and Night Myths and Monsters. Until November 3.

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Poster courtesy of the Musée d’Histoire Naturelle

French Champagne for All Occasions Thursday, Feb 13 2014 

If you are ever invited to a dinner party in France, what you won’t get is a tour of the home. Whether your French hosts’ abode is un appartement en ville (an apartment in town), une maison à la campagne (a house in the country), or une villa au bord de la mer (a house by the sea), you are likely to see only the living room and dining room. No gathering in the kitchen as the meal is being prepared, nor any guided visits of the rest of the house as is often de rigueur (the thing to do) in America. In France, ça ne se fait pas (it just isn’t done).

What you are very likely to experience, at the beginning of the most casual of French meals or at a more formal affair, is a glass of Champagne. The French have figured out that you don’t need a wedding or anniversary or boat baptism to drink the most famous wine in the world. Opening a bottle of Champagne creates a special occasion all its own, transforming an ordinary moment into a festive and memorable event.

Of course, a little bubbly goes beyond the dinner party. When I am in Paris, a must on my social calendar is the refined and intimate Champagne bar at the Hôtel Trocadéro Dokhan’s in the 16th arrondissement. Mood is everything in this cozy space entirely paneled in 18th century gilded boiseries (wood paneling). Tall candles illuminate every table. After a full day of work or visiting friends or taking in art shows or seeking out the latest and greatest in la Capitale (Paris), there is nothing I like better than to sink into one of the deep armchairs and contemplate the special Champagne offerings of the week. Or I let myself be tempted by the regular Champagne menu. As the first Champagne bar in Paris and arguably still the best, Le Dokhan’s Bar pours over 70 varieties of fine Champagne at any given time.

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The ambiance doesn’t stop there. The knowledgeable sommeliers can tell you anything and everything about how Champagne is made. They also can share fascinating details about about the various offerings from the small Champagne houses which are rarely seen in the U.S. And after you have chosen your glass or flight of Champagne, the sommelier then emerges from behind the bar with a dazzling tray of crystal glasses–tulips, coupes, flutes, and goblets of various sizes and shapes. You get to choose your bubbly AND the type of glass you will drink it in. Only in France!

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On a recent visit to Le Dokhan’s, I chose the featured millésime (vintage) Champagne in a violet crystal flute. My good friend Laura decided on the brut Champagne in a tulip. We sipped our sparkling apéritifs while enjoying the warm and salty gougères (gourmet cheese puffs) that are a specialty of the house. It was an instant fête (party).

Here are a few more festive photos of past Champagne moments at Le Dokhan’s…

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If you happen to be in Paris for Valentine’s Day tomorrow, you won’t want to miss the special romantic evening at Le Dokhan’s Bar starting at 6:30pm. For the very first time, they will be offering a duo tasting of the incredible Billecart Salmon Rosé and the rare Amour de Deutz Champagnes. And they will be welcoming Cathy Kelly for some live jazz. The Champagne and jazz evening is 53 euros per person. As always, advance reservations are recommended at Le Dokhan’s.

As you might imagine, Champagne is plentiful in Paris, and it’s easy to opt for a Champagne moment at this special bar or at any café or restaurant. But sometimes those Champagne occasions find you.

One chilly January night in Paris, an American friend and I were walking to dinner at a restaurant in the 7th arrondissement. As we approached la Tour Eiffel, it was bathed in a golden glow courtesy of the 335 spotlights that come on each day at sunset. We took a flurry of photos of the Iron Lady at marvelous angles.

 

Then it just so happened that I paused directly under the center of the Eiffel Tower as the clock struck 8pm. And voilà, the Tower exploded in a vertical shower of twinkling white lights…and so much did those little white lights feel like sparkling bubbles, I suddenly had the sensation of standing inside a glass of Champagne. It was a mystical experience worthy of Dom Perignon.

After that night, for me, the Eiffel Tower lost its “been there, done that” overtouristed patina. It has even re-earned a place on my Paris favorites list. Now all I have to do is tote a bottle of bubbly one evening to that cherished spot and raise a real glass when the sparling lights Champagne moment comes around again.

Dl

NB: LE Champagne is the sparkling wine made in LA Champagne, the province northeast of Paris. Any sparkling wine made outside this region, whether in France or elsewhere in the world, cannot technically be called Champagne. Vintners will sometimes put la méthode champenoise (the Champagne method) on their wine labels to indicate that their sparkling wine made in the same fashion as true Champagne.

A version of this article was first published on May 14, 2008

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

You can find a variety of French Champagnes at your local U.S. wine shops and grocery stores. If you want a French bubbly for Valentine’s Day but without the Champagne prices, you might try a nice sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne or Crémant de Loire. Both Burgundy and the Loire valley produce lovely sparkling wines that are often available in the U.S. - at half the price of typical Champagnes.

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Whatever your choice of sparkling wine, be sure and have a nice toast together French style – make eye contact and wish everyone “Santé” (to your health) or “Tchin-Tchin” (pronounced ‘chin-chin,’ it’s an onomatopoeia intended to mimic the clinking sound glasses make when they touch). In other words, “Cheers!”

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