Paris and the Seine, Part 1 Thursday, Feb 28 2013 

What would Paris be without the Seine? The picturesque waterway has been a great geographic, economic, social and artistic force since the city’s earliest days, long before the Bateaux mouches and Paris Plages showed up. Its peaceful waters reflect some of the most prestigious architecture in Paris, including the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, Institut de France, Grand Palais, Petit Palais and Notre Dame cathedral.

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Paris has 37 bridges that cross la Seine (pronounced “la sehn”), three of which are pedestrian only and two are rail bridges. The oldest bridge is the Pont Neuf which translates ironically as the “New Bridge.” My favorite pont for years has been the pedestrian Pont des Arts. It links the gorgeous Institut de France on the Left Bank with the impressive Palais du Louvre on the Right Bank.

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Speaking of banks, I often get the question about how the Paris banks became designated the ‘Right’ and the ‘Left.’ The answer takes us to the origins of the Seine. The 777 kilometer river extends from the Plateau de Langres in Burgundy all the way to la Manche (the English Channel), passing through Paris and Rouen in Normandy along the way. As the Seine traverses Paris flowing west, you will find the Rive gauche (Left Bank) on the south/left side when you face downstream and the Rive droite (Right Bank) on the north side, i.e. on your right. The late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent immortalized the expression Rive gauche with his brand and fragrances of the same name.

 

Another Seine designation worth mentioning also involves the river’s banks. The two sides of the Seine have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in honor of the spectacular urban evolution visible there. According to UNESCO, the Paris setting of the Seine “constitutes a remarkable example of urban riverside architecture, where the strata of history are harmoniously superposed.”

Today, the Seine’s entertainment factor in Paris is completely assured. You can take your pick from a myriad of activities: browsing the bookstalls of les bouquinistes, taking a boat ride on the Bateaux Mouches, enjoying the sun and sand of the Paris Plages (Paris beaches) in summer, walking with your sweetheart along the water day or night, and biking and rollerblading on the weekends. In fact, the city of Paris has gotten so serious about riverside fun that it regularly closes off some of the roads along the water to cars on Saturdays and Sundays. Check out this cycling group taking advantage of the car-free thoroughfares.

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And for those desiring a floating domicile in the City of Light, a French houseboat or péniche is the way to go. Did you realize there is a whole community of people living on the water in Paris?

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But if we think the Seine is entertainment central now, just wait until the new urban project Les Berges de Seine is finished this year. Efforts have been afoot by the City of Paris to transform the quays and riverside roads into floating gardens, promenades, cultural centers, and leisure spaces. There are creative ideas for art exhibitions on floating péniches and lunchtime activities on Wednesdays and Sundays for young and old alike. A quai-side restaurant is even part of the plan. So the next time you are in Paris, be sure to put exploring the Seine’s new look on your to-do list. It will be a Paris ‘Seine-sation’ beyond your wildest dreams!

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Illustration courtesy of the Mairie de Paris

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For a preview of the new berges de Paris, you can take a tour courtesy of the City of Paris. Click here for illustrations of the various facets of the project.

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Of course as is usually the case in France, the riverfront extravaganza has not been without controversy. Several urban groups opposed the plan since it reduces car access on central Paris roads. And the 40 million euro price tag surely made others pause in these days of cost-cutting and austerity in Europe. Still, beauty often trumps all in France – that’s why many of us like it, after all! – and the project will be completed within the next few months. I can’t wait to enjoy this new ‘park’ in the heart of Paris – and see how it folds in to the interesting daily life of the city.

Paris Cookbook Fair Monday, Feb 18 2013 

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As the world knows, France is an eternal food fest, and there is no more festive place to be this week than at the Paris Cookbook Fair, or Festival du Livre Culinaire. The February 22 to 24 event spotlights the latest in cookbooks, culinary efforts and food trends from across the globe. Edouard Cointreau Sr. of liqueur fame is president of Gourmand International, the host and sponsor of the fair.

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This year’s festival is being held in the heart of Paris at the Carrousel du Louvre, the shopping mall and conference space located underneath the Louvre Museum. The Carrousel du Louvre’s main entrance is at 99, rue de Rivoli right near the entrance to Paris’s Decorative Arts Museum. When you go down the escalator towards the inverted pyramid by I.M. Pei, you’ll find the underground entrance to the Louvre Museum on the left and Paris Cookbook Fair on the right, just after the La Maison du Chocolat boutique.

Open to professionals and the public alike, the Paris Cookbook Fair will feature exhibitions by more than 200 cookbook publishers, talks and lectures by leading figures in the industry, chef demonstrations, food and wine tastings, author signings, culinary art and photography, professional meetings, and more. The festival’s splash event is the the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards held in the Carrousel du Louvre’s 1400-seat amphitheatre.

More than 171 countries are entered in this year’s Gourmand Cookbook Awards competition highlighting the fact that food is THE hot thing in every corner of the globe. And each year, one cookbook is given the Hall of Fame award which honors a work having a major impact on the cookbook industry. Last year, Anne Willan, one of the world’s foremost authorities on French cuisine, and her husband Mark Cherniavsky received the 2012 award for their groundbreaking book The Cookbook Library: Four Centuries of the Cooks, Writers, and Recipes that Made the Modern Cookbook. This year, they are the U.S. guests of honor at the festival.

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I have been perusing the festival’s program and have found lots of great sessions to attend. Friday at 10am is the Welcome speech by Edouard Cointreau followed by an hour-long talk by Anne Willan at 11am. Later that day, Guy Savoy, the famous French restauranteur and Michelin-starred chef, will be speaking and all manner of chef’s demos and tastings will be taking place. On Saturday, I think I’d pass on the cupcake demo by American chef Alisa Morov – cupcakes are now everywhere! – in favor of sessions on global cookbook trends, a new book on French wine-making, and a chef’s demo by the Paris Ritz chef Michel Roth. Sunday features more cuisine, wine and cookbook industry sessions again with food personalities from France, Europe, Asia, Latin America and more.

Tickets to the event are 35 euros for one day and a three-day pass costs 60 euros. For additional information on the festival, please click here. And if you are a cookbook lover and are in Paris this week, you won’t want to miss this extravaganza of the latest in cookbooks, chefs and cuisines from around the globe. Bon appétit!

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

This year’s French Affaires’ French Cookbook Club hosts its own ‘cookbook fair’ of sorts as we celebrate British-American food writer and cooking instructor Anne Willan. Anne is one of the world’s foremost authorities on French cooking and has written more than 30 books and cookbooks. She founded La Varenne Cooking School in Paris in 1975, one of the first professional cooking schools in France to offer simultaneous instruction in French and English and accredited, professional culinary degrees. After several years, she moved La Varenne to her 17th century château in Burgundy where it continued to offer high-caliber French culinary instruction until 2007. Today, Anne and her husband live in California where she writes books and hosts culinary events.

 

Our 2013 French Cookbook Club gatherings in Dallas will start with Anne’s earlier cookbooks and culminate in her masterpiece The Country Cooking of France along her new memoir One Soufflé at a Time to be published later this year. And we are thrilled to announce that Anne will attend our final French Cookbook Club gathering of the year – it will be a fabulous evening of delicious French food and conversation with this lovely grande dame of French cuisine!

For more details on this ‘year of Anne Willan,’ please click here. You can also click here for a recent French Affaires’ interview with Anne.

The Language of French Gardens Sunday, Feb 3 2013 

French gardens have a spirit and a presence all their own. I have walked and wandered in dozens of French jardins over the years – in the ‘biggies’ such as Versailles, Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chantilly, St. Germain-en-Laye, Sceaux, St. Cloud, and the Tuileries, and in smaller ones cradling manor houses and petits châteaux in various corners of France. And the regal yet neighborhoody jardins du Luxembourg in Paris is still my favorite for a daily jog in Paris.

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The magnificent gardens of Versailles

To this day, entering a French garden takes my breath away. It is a visceral as well as an emotional experience. There is a moment of awe and surprise – surprise at the arresting beauty…and also surprise that human beings have mastered a natural space so eloquently – followed by a deep sense of plaisir (pleasure), paix (peace) and bien-être (well-being).

I’ve often asked myself what it is that makes French gardens so captivating. At first glance, one could say it’s quality of the light and climate that makes these green spaces worlds unto their own. But truth be told, the pleasure of French gardens has much to do with their flawless grasp of space, symmetry and harmony. The French perfected these aspects of French garden design in the 17th and 18th centuries when the royals and other nobility laid out spectacular formal gardens around their châteaux. The French use of perspective and order provides a superb foundation for additional decorative elements that, once they’re there, seem to have always been destined for that particular place in nature.

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Many of these principles of French garden design have survived and flourished over time resulting in a ‘language of French gardens’ that is alive and well. Before you next visit a French jardin, you might want to familiarize yourself with these garden terms and then see how they play out in various garden locations in France:

Allée – A straight path, or alley, often lined with trimmed trees for an architectural effect. Allées typically accentuate the lines of perspective radiating from the house or château and leading off into the horizon.  This is one of my most favorite parts of French gardens.

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Our French Affaires’ travel group exploring the Gardens of Villandry last fall

Banc – French gardens provide places to stop and savor the moment. Benches, or bancs, are often the focal point of ‘outdoor garden rooms’ and offer a peaceful resting spot amidst nature.

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Bassin ­– Water is essential in French garden design. A bassin (pond) acts as a mirror to the sky, adding a shimmering effect to surrounding greenery and reflecting the nearby château.

Bosquet – A small ‘wood’ or group of trees usually set some distance from the house or main building.

Broderie ­– Meaning ‘embroidery’ in French, broderie indicates a curlicue pattern within a parterre often created out of boxwood or yew bushes.

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Escalier - Stairs lead from various garden levels to another. Some French garden designers also create ’stairs’ of water out of canals and fountains to add further depth to the garden experience.

Orangerie – Since the time of Louis XIV, French formal gardens have included exotic plants from various locales, in particular orange trees. To help them survive the winter, they were placed in an orangerie, or serre (greenhouse), and kept warm until spring.

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The orangerie at the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris

Parterre – A square or rectangular planting bed containing ornamental designs of flowers, bushes, green lawn, and/or gravel. Elaborate parterres often include scrollwork, various geometric shapes or fanciful designs to enchant the eye.

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A view over the various parterres at the Gardens of Villandry

Pelouse – French gardens include simple manicured green lawns juxtaposed against more decorative elements for a balanced and calming effect. Note that it is often interdit (forbidden) to walk on tender French lawns as it might spoil their beauty – a small sign at ground level indicates this.

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Potager – A French vegetable garden is known as a ‘potager.’ This is different from a jardin, jardin de fleurs or jardin d’agrément (ornamental garden) where flowers, trees and other plants take center stage.

Sculpture – French gardens are adorned with pieces of sculpture, often with roots in mythology, to entertain the eye and/or mark important places or pathways within the garden. This bird is certainly entertained as he sits on the mythological god’s head.

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Terrasse – Terraces are incorporated into classical French gardens as places to take in the beauties of the entire garden, especially the parterres, at one glance. They are also perfect for taking photos…

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Topiaire – The French love to combine their artistic talents with their desire for order by pruning yew trees into fantastic shapes. As a result, their topiary achievements are second to none in the gardening world. All French formal gardens contain topiaries of some sort, inspiring awe and wonder at how these creations come into being – and at how they are maintained!

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

A final French garden expression of note is ‘jardin remarquable,’ or Noteworthy Garden. The French have awarded this distinction to 361 special French gardens located throughout France. They are well worth a visit – our French Affaires’ trip to the "Great Chateaux & Gardens of the Loire Valley & Paris" features several jardins remarquables, including Villandry, Rivau, Valmer, Versailles among others. 

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There are a few spots still open on this remarkable journey – don’t miss this personal and inside view of garden delights, memorable châteaux, gourmet meals with wine and much more. Click here for trip dates, details and photos. Come join us at the height of French garden beauty in June!