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Monday
Feb092015

A Room With A View

 

Most everyone dreams of an apartment in Paris with a view of the Eiffel Tower or perhaps the river Seine.  But alas it’s only the “lucky few,” as they say, who get to live the dream.  Ironically, my first apartment in Paris did have a view of the Eiffel Tower from my bedroom.  Back then I took it a bit in stride, after all I was only supposed to be here for a couple of months and I was making the most of my experience living in Paris.

 Well, now nearly ten years later, I am still making the most of living in Paris, but I have long ago left that apartment in the far corner of the 16th.  Along the way, I lived on rue Montorgueil, a bustling market street near Les Halles with a view of the steeple of St Eustache.  Just after, I lived in Place Dauphine, a charming little square hidden on the tip of the île St Louis.  This apartment looked over the small tree-lined park and down to the grand entrance of the Palais de Justice.  A beautiful view for sure, but what I didn’t have was many neighbors. 

Not surprisingly, the apartments in the Place Dauphine were most likely owned by foreigners who rarely came to Paris.  Mine was owned by a Belgian Count who insisted I include his title on the monthly rent check.  Only about 10% of the apartments in Place Dauphine ever had the lights on in the evening.  A pity really, I learned from one of my neighbors in the building.  This woman had lived there for more than fifty years.  She told me of the lively weekly market and all of the small bakeries, cheese and butcher shops that were there when she moved in.  It was really a village square back in the 1950’s, catering to the growing families that lived there.  It has also been the lovely Paris setting for many movies, and it was quite a treat to see my front door on “Sex and the City” when Carrie and “The Russian” walked by.

Now I live in a larger apartment, away from the river, across the street from a historic covered market.  Unfortunately, its 19th Century iron and glass roof was removed and the market is now covered with an unattractive modern apartment building.  At least there are trees along the street.  In short, after all these years in Paris, I live like a typical Parisian.  Since of course, the average Parisian doesn’t have a view of the Eiffel Tower, the river or even a small square with trees.  It’s also rare that people here will get to know the neighbors living in their building.  If you own your apartment, you certainly meet them at the co-op meetings, or worse when a leak in your kitchen floods their apartment in the middle of the night. (as happened to me a few months ago)  But realistically, aside from a simple bonjour or bonsoir as you pass in the courtyard, there isn’t much interaction with the people in your building.  Life at home is a pretty isolated existence which has no doubt spurred on the tradition of hanging out in cafés.

However, the neighbors in the surrounding buildings are a completely different story.  Here is where the real-life tapestry of Paris sights unfolds before you and reveals one of the unspoken secrets of Paris – most Parisians, for lack of a better term, are voyeurs.    

I was struck by this recently when one Sunday afternoon a few people came over to my place for tea and Galette de Rois, an Epiphany tradition in France.  One of them had never been to my apartment, and while standing at the window asked, “Alors, les voisins, ils sont comment?” (So, how about the neighbors?)

She wanted to know about the neighbors and more specifically if anyone was interesting.  I insinctively said no, but then with some thought, I then realized I could offer a quick rundown of the people whose apartments faced mine. My neighbors include a young family, an older couple with numerous grandchildren, a couple of university students and a plump middle-aged woman whose small studio apartment is decorated like a rose garden.  She watches television from the moment she comes home from work and seems to spend every sunny day on her tiny terrace tending her plants wearing just her bra and enormous white underpants.  Unknowingly, I had become a Parisian voyeur. 

This lead to a conversation amongst my guests about their neighbors; as everyone it seems, shares this inevitable pastime.  Many of the guests had a pretty good idea of who lived facing them, their general habits, who had gotten a new sofa or had a baby and a few mentioned how often they saw them in some state of undress.  Of course, like with my neighbors, rarely are these people anyone wants to see in such a state.

There were stories of daily routines which stayed unchanged for years, television preferences, major arguments, and even a proposition.  One told the story of daring young friend who was coming up the stairs of his building late one night and saw a beautiful woman gazing out the window of one of the apartments that faced his stairwell windows.  A bit tipsy, he cheekily took a few moments to enjoy the view.  The woman in the window noticed him and beckoned the handsome friend to join her for a drink, which he did!  I guess sometimes people do meet the neighbors in their own buildings.

Someone else recalled a night when the people living across the courtyard from his bedroom window where having a big party.  From the bedroom window, he had a view of their kitchen and bathroom, neither of which had much for curtains.  The music was blasting out the open kitchen window, keeping him awake.  When he finally looked though his curtains to see what was up, there was a couple (not the residents whom I suppose he would have recognized) but two party guests perched on the bathroom sink, in what could only be described as a compromising position.

Then one of the couples at my party said they live facing a Fire Station; a “détail croustillant” (In French, titillating details are crunchy not juicy) that produced some anticipatory excitement from the group.  You see, firemen tend to be quite good looking in Paris and they have something of a reputation for availability – if you know what I mean.  So you can understand the collective pique in level of interest when my friends mentioned the Fire Station.  Well, true to form, it seems that despite being surrounded by apartment buildings, the large window in the showers of this fire station don’t have curtains or even mottled glass.  You can imagine the rest.

Lastly, one woman had a story from the other side of the street, as it were.  She told us about a time, one Sunday afternoon when she and her boyfriend were getting amorous on the sofa.  As things were heating up, clothes began to fly.  Then when they were well into the spirit of the moment, she glanced over the to realize that the curtains were open.  As she looked out the window she saw her elderly neighbor across the street; sitting on a stool in the window of her kitchen, cup of tea and saucer in hand with a smile on her face, enjoying the show.  Needless to say it was “curtains” on future performances.

These stories made me wonder about the cultural differences that exist in France.  Were there any rules about this equally exhibitionist and voyeuristic behavior?  Things became clearer toward the end of the discussion when a young French woman mentioned that she lives in a long narrow apartment where all the rooms connect along the front façade lined with windows.  So even in her hallway she is in front of a window.  She said she couldn’t be bothered to close the curtains. “Frankly,” she said, “If my neighbors don’t want to see me getting dressed, THEY, can close their curtains!”  I wonder if they do…

 

Photo Credits:

Hotel Plaza Athenée

“Rear Window”  ©Paramount Pictures

Wednesday
Mar022011

Vintage Shopping in Paris

 

Guest Post by Morgane Duquesnoy with Christopher Back

You know the kind of days, when you just want to say "who cares?" to your mirror.  Well, I first met Eva Samama on just one of those days and I thought she might be an alien.   I was feeling less than myself and she flew in like a blur, much like the butterfly on her ring.  She was so bubbly and smiling!  But alas, this exquisite brunette is not an alien, she is the owner of one my favorite vintage shops.

Just as Eva’s flashy red lips contrast with her romantic lace dresses, the dark exterior of her small boutique contrasts with the warm lights and the scent of candles inside.  Equally warm and open, she really wants to get to know you.  What’s more, she loves the vintage pieces she sells so much that you can be assured that she won't let it go if it doesn't fit you perfectly!

Today, she opens her heart and closet for us at her boutique «Le dressing d’Eva».

Have you always wanted to work in fashion?
Well... I have always been very attracted to beauty.   To be honest, I was not really good at school. I did not want to study so much. But I have been very lucky to have met some extremely kind people who helped shape my path.  I began as a receptionist, and thanks to someone I met, I worked in software. It was very interesting but too far from what I really am. There was such a lack of fantasy! So I decided to return to university to study Art History.  During my studies, I met an expert on historical lace who encouraged me to leverage my unique sense of style to become a personal shopper, my first foray into the business of Fashion.
 
When did you stop being a personal shopper?
(Laughs) When I was pregnant with twins! My husband thought I should slow down my hectic pace and he gave me the boutique.  A former cabinetmaker’s workshop; which is fitting as this is also my husband’s profession.  The retiring cabinet maker liked the idea of a vintage boutique and we shared a common bond.  We both appreciate quality.

What is this book on your desk?

Gosh, I love it! It is a book on Maripol, a French-born stylist who helped create Madonna and Grace Jone’s signature looks in the early 1980’s.  Her looks inspired a generation of young girls to wear crucifixes and dress, well – Like a Virgin…  I love her work and highly recommend the book!


What is the meaning of vintage for you?

Most importantly, it is timeless. The idea is not to follow current fashion but to select only the best quality pieces that will never be out-of-date.   Fashion is forever looking back to find inspiration in the past and it is fascinating to see how designers are inspired by pieces from the 20’s or even the 80’s.   Secondly, when you buy a vintage dress, you get a glimpse into the History of fashion and many pieces have a personal story.    It’s also a very eco-friendly practice, so important nowadays and this is such a pleasant way to do it!

What kind of clients come to you?

I am very lucky; I have always had extremely interesting clients.  I say interesting because they are a bit off-beat and free thinking yet always very human, very sensitive. They are not here just to buy, but we share a passion for beauty and often become friendly.  That is how I became the stylist for Nancy, the gorgeous singer of the French rock group 19&4. I always knew they were going to be famous, because they are really talented!  Plus, I have always been a big fan of rock and roll!
 
What leads people to buy vintage over new?
Well, quality is a nice argument! The cuts are so much better than with basic brands.  And for the same price, you can wear Yves Saint Laurent! I don't think many brands are of the quality of Yves Saint Laurent. He was a genius who understood how to make women look and feel beautiful.
Another important aspect is ecology. Vintage has an aspect of recycling which is indispensable for the environment.  We also stock clothes made by contemporary designers who use organic, natural materials and everything is made in France!

What advice would you give someone who wants to start buying vintage?
Don't be lazy! Don't hesitate to go to flea markets and expect to spend some time looking.  It can be a bit of a treasure hunt to find quality.   Also, don't make a total look ever!  It would be a catastrophe; (laughs) a small touch is so much better! Try a little summer dress to look like a 50's pin-up girl or if you’re not so daring, you can begin with accessories, a pretty bag or nice shoes...  
 
I see that you sell fur coats, what is your opinion about it?
Yes, I stock them but I would never buy new fur because I don’t want to encourage the industry.  Somehow it seems different if it has been already worn.  However, I do respect people who would never wear it, and I also have several imitation fur pieces, like this kitsch leopard print jacket!

What is the one special piece you dream of finding?
There are so many!  Right now, I am thinking of a wonderful 7O's Pucci dress, an Yves Saint Laurent tuxedo and a crocodile Birkin bag.

 

Have you sold any pieces that you wish you'd kept for yourself?
All of them! (Laughs)  This is the main difference between collecting and selling. What's more, my taste is more refined now and I realize that when I was getting started, I sold some pieces that were truly "collector" pieces I should have kept. That's why now there are some I just keep for me, like my Pierre Cardin belt!

What can a busy Mom like yourself do to look chic every day?
Gosh that's so important! For me being chic every day is a question of respect to myself, to my husband, to my children, to everyone. It is like basic hygiene and it makes your day so much nicer! That is why when I am tired, I make a greater effort! Then when people tell me "I like your dress" or "what a nice lipstick" and I just forget I was tired!

So, what piece of advice should I give…   Well, it’s very important to feel at ease in your clothes. I also think a nice lipstick is a great way to wake your complexion up. But my favorite time saver is the speed dry nail-polish, just 30 seconds and you’re ready!  I can’t imagine getting a one hour manicure   I already only take about 15 minutes every morning to get ready. Of course that’s easier if you think about the clothes you are going to wear before you go to sleep.


Le Dressing d’Eva
18 rue Jules Vallès  Paris 75011 – 01.44.93.70.81
Opening Hours : 2-7pm Tuesday - Saturday and by appointment.

 

Morgane Duquesnoy - When not writing about lifestyle and fashion for numerous publications or having fun modeling for Pierre Cardin, Morgane leads shopping walks to discover her favorite boutiques and help you discover your own Style - à la Parisienne! More...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credits:
50's Inspiration:      www.mylusciouslife.com
Jane Birkin:              lua jewelry{the blog}
Morgane(Orange):   Pierre Cardin

 

Tuesday
Feb222011

How to get a taxi in Paris

Hailing a taxi in most big cities around the world is a pretty straight forward affair.  Especially in cities where there is a taxi meter.  Paris is a big city; the drivers respect the meter and the rules, even if they don’t necessarily have much respect for their passengers.  So what, you ask, could be so complicated?

Well, we're in France so things are not as they may seem.  First of all it’s not always easy to hail a taxi on the street.  It can happen occasionally, but don't count on it.  While researching this post I found a helpful article on the City of Paris website entitled “Why taxis don’t stop in Paris when hailed.”  So clearly this is a widespread frustration. 

What I learned from the City of Paris is that a taxi driver is not allowed to stop if he/she is 50m or less from a Taxi Stand; if you are standing on the sidewalk where the driver would have to stop in a bus lane to collect you; or if the taxi is already reserved and on its way to pick up a fare. (In this case the light on top is not illuminated at all)

So the best place to catch a taxi is at an official taxi stand.  Therefore you should have a sense of where these are located before leaving your hotel.  Be aware that many of the smaller stands in remote parts of town are less frequented by drivers, so it’s advisable to stick with the larger “Grandes Stations” marked on the map with a blue dot. 

For visitors, the most central taxi stand is near the Louvre at the Place Andre Malraux.  This is near the intersection of rue de Rivoli and Avenue de l’Opera.  This is marked with a blue dot and the number 2 on the map.  Another place is to the left of the big square in front of Notre Dame.  This is not an offical stand, but with the numerous taxis arriving to Notre Dame and the Hospital just in front it's a pretty safe bet you'll have a short wait.

The other way to get a taxi is to book in advance.  I consider the most professional company to be Taxis G7.  They have the largest fleet, a 24 hour booking number and also take bookings online.  But don’t worry, they have operators on duty who speak English; just ask to be transferred to someone that speaks English. 

One thing to be aware of is that in Paris, there is an unusual rule about how fares are charged when you book a taxi in advance.  The driver is allowed to turn on the meter when he/she leaves to meet you, so expect a few extra Euros on the meter when the taxi arrives.  This is most shocking when you book a taxi early in the morning for a short trip within Paris from your hotel to one of the train stations.  In this case, the driver trips the meter leaving home in the suburbs and I have seen as much 20€ or more already on the meter when I get into the car.  This can be a substantial sum when the fare is about 10€ to the station, but if your hotel or apartment isn’t close to a stand that is busy early in the morning there’s not much other choice unless you book a fixed rate taxi through our concierge service. 

Another “hidden” charge which is legal, but perhaps confusing for visitors is that the driver charges One Euro for each bag that is put into the trunk.  So expect to have that added to the fare shown on the meter.

If you do try to hail a taxi or happen to see one near a museum or other monument you are visiting, confirm first if the taxi is available or already taken.  Throughout 2011, the 16,623 taxis registered in Paris will be changing the lights on top of the car that indicate if they already have a fare or not.  It’s now simple; Green is go -- the taxi is available and Red, the taxi is "not available."  And as I mentioned before, lights completely off means it's already reserved or not in service.

One last thought, of particular interest to American visitors, is about tipping Taxi drivers in Paris.  How much to tip in Paris is a common concern.  Well, like restaurants, the taxi driver is not working for tips so it's not expected.  It's one of the few countries I've visited where the driver takes the time to count out change down to the last centime.  Nevertheless, rounding up the fare by Euro or two is not uncommon and, of course, larger tips are always appreciated if you feel that you had a helpful and/or courteous driver.

 

Click here to download a PDF of the Taxi Stand Map from www.paris.fr

 

http://www.taxisg7.com/taxis/commande-taxis

 

 

Image Credits:

Danny De Vito   Copyright: ExaggerArt.com

Taxi Photo         www.Paris.fr

Tuesday
Jan252011

A Puppy in Paris…

 Our Concierge recently had an unusual request for travel planning assistance.  To help a woman from California transport a rare breed of puppy from Toulouse to her home in San Francisco.

A reasonable request, but not so straightforward as first expected.  Turns out there is a temporary embargo on shipments of unaccompanied animals from France to the USA.  So David from our staff accompanied the dog from Paris to SFO.  

In itself, this is not such an interesting story.  However, once the dog had arrived in California, the family wanted some advice on naming their puppy.  After all, a dog from France should have a French name – mais oui, bien sûr! (but, of course)

So like many of the articles here, it illustrates the remarkable idea that in France, a country with countless social rules and customs, there are actually rules about how to name your dog.

The custom, dating back to 1885, refers to the fact that for purebred dogs to be included in the official listing recording births (called the L.O.F. – Livres des Origines Francaises) they must be have a name that corresponds to the letter of the year they were born.   The current sequence started in 1973 with the letter “I” and exludes the letters  "K", "Q", "W", "X", "Y" and “Z” which are considered too difficult.  So, every twenty years one returns to the same letter.

Apparently, this custom exists in many countries, including the US and Canada, where it is controlled by the AKC and CKC.  However, the sequence of letters differs in each country.  For example in Belgium, 2011 is a “K” year.  Despite the prevalence of the idea, in France people seem to be much more aware and I noticed long ago that when someone mentions a new puppy, this invariably leads to a discussion where people try to figure out what letter it is this year.  In fact, this very thing happened in the office when we were asked to help with a French name.

For example, the puppy we helped “emigrate” to the US was born in 2010, a year corresponding to the letter “F.”  So his birth name was Fakir.  You can understand why the family wanted to change his name.

If you have a new puppy and are looking for a French name, there are countless sites where you can get suggestions for male and female puppy names starting with the right letter.

Names starting with G for 2011:

Another site with more than 6,000 choices starting with all letters.

If you are visiting Paris, don’t be surprised to see a dog under the table at a restaurant or café.  There doesn’t seem to be any rules against it and even if there were, most rules in France were made to be broken.  I have even seen dogs snoozing under chairs on stools in three-star Michelin restaurants.  They are nearly always extremely well-behaved and only once did a small dog leave the comfort of his carry-bag to come over and beg for a treat from my plate.

One other canine anectdote is inspired by my friend J.  A dog lover with a keen interest in the differences between French and English language he has long searched for an equivalent word in French for the game “Fetch.”  The exhausting pastime for dog owners that never ceases to amuse the dogs themselves.  In French, it turns out, there is no word for this game.  It’s simply called “Throwing the ball for the dog.” 

Huh, here is yet another sign that the English language actually has a larger vocabulary than French.  I’ve heard there is a difference of as much as 250,000 words in French to 400,000 in English.  Of course, no self-respecting Frenchman (or woman) would ever agree to such a dramatic difference. 

So perhaps “Those French don’t actually have a different word for everything.”

If you would like help from the Paris Private Guides Concierge, click here.

Opening Photo: Princess Lee Radziwill with Thomas, her pug, by Henry Clarke, August 1960

 

Our Concierge recently had an unusual request for travel planning assistance.  To help a woman from California transport a rare breed of puppy from Toulouse to her home in San Francisco.

We were able to accomplish this with little trouble, but it was no simple feat.  Initially the idea was to send the dog unaccompanied on Air France, but there happens to be an embargo on such shipments from France to the USA.  So someone from our staff accompanied the dog from Paris to San Francisco. 

In itself, this is not such an interesting story.  However, once the dog had arrived in California, the family wanted some advice on naming their puppy.  After all, a dog from France should have a French name – mais oui, bien sûr! (but, of course)

So like many of the articles here, it illustrates the remarkable idea that in France, a country with countless social rules and customs, there are actually rules about how to name your dog.

The custom, dating back to 1885, refers to the fact that for purebred dogs to be included in the official listing recording births (called the L.O.F. – Livres des Origines Francaises) they must be have a name that corresponds to the letter of the year they were born.   The current sequence started in 1973 with the letter “I” and exludes the letters  "K", "Q", "W", "X", "Y" and “Z” which are considered to difficult.  So, every twenty years one returns to the same letter. 

Apparently, this custom exists in many countries, including the US and Canada, where it is controlled by the AKC and CKC.  However, the sequence of letters differs in each country.  For example in Belgium, 2011 is a “K” year.  Despite the prevalence of the idea, in France people seem to be much more aware and I noticed long ago that when someone mentions a new puppy, this invariably leads to a discussion where people try to figure out what letter it is this year.  In fact, this very thing happened in the office when we were asked to help with a French name. 

For example, the puppy we helped “emigrate” to the US was born in 2010, a year corresponding to the letter “F.”  So his birth name was Fakir.  You can understand why the family wanted to change his name.

If you have a new puppy and are looking for a French name, there are countless sites where you can get suggestions for male and female puppy names starting with the right letter.

2011: http://ecoledeschiens.com/prenoms-chiens-2011.html

Another site with more than 6,000 choices: http://www.noms-de-chiens.com/

One last dog anecdote is inspired by my friend J.  A dog lover with a keen interest in the differences between French and English language he has long searched for an equivalent word for the game “Fetch.”  The exhausting pastime for dog owners that never ceases to amuse the dogs themselves.

In French, there is no word for this game.  It’s simply called “Throwing the ball for the dog.”  Huh, yet another sign that the English language has a larger vocabulary.  I’ve heard there is a difference of as much as 250,000 words in French to 400,000 in English.  Of course, no self-respecting Frenchman (or woman) would ever agree to such a dramatic difference.  Perhaps “Those French don’t have a different word for everything.”

Wednesday
Jan052011

Top Five Posts from 2010

At the start of a new year, it's always good to reflect on the past year.

 So here is a recap of the top five articles that I wrote in 2010:

1. TALK LIKE A PARISIAN

Of course, it’s unlikely that anyone can actually “learn to speak French” in the course of planning a holiday vacation to France.  However, you can use a few commonly known words to your advantage.  You just have to use precisely the right word at just the right moment. read more...

2. HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN PARIS

In France, things aren’t often easy.  As my good friend J always says “Those French, they’ve got a different word for everything” and this is certainly true for coffee.  So here’s a quick primer on how to get a satisfying cup of Joe just like you enjoy on your way to work back home.  read more...

3. SERVICE AND TIPPING IN PARIS RESTAURANTS

In a Paris café or most average restaurants, fast, efficient service is not a highly-prized part of the experience. So expect to have to wait more than you’re used too.  Why would that be, aren't servers supposed to well, "serve?"  read more...

4. CHICKEN OR BEEF?

It's an age old question, but perhaps you never thought it was an important link to French culture.  It was one of the first lessons I learned about the cultural differences between Americans and the French when I moved here in 2001.  read more...

5. WHO CUT THE CHEESE?

France's food culture is one of the most celebrated in the world, but the rules that surround it are not always easy to comprehend.  As an expat living in Paris I've learned the hard way that there are a myriad of French customs related to food that can surprise you when you least expect it.  read more...