IT'S THE BREAD, STUPID by Armen Pandola
I love bread. So, my luckiest day was the day I was born in the best bread city in the US - the capital of hoagies, cheesesteaks and bread - Philadelphia. As any native Philadelphian will tell you, the first two are dependent on the third. You cannot have a good hoagie or cheesesteak without good bread.
In Philadelphia, serving good bread is a must - not just to put something inside it, but at restaurants and eateries all over the city. Like most things that are really good in a place, the good get better and the better get to be the best. After eating good bread, you just won't tolerate anything less.
We use to get our bread from Buccelli's Bakery on 21st and Mckean Street (now closed - my father-in-law, Harry Dilks, was a baker there). Buccelli's is credited with making the first and maybe the best bread for a hoagie - the inside was soft but there was a nice crust on the outside. Other bakeries joined in making bread for sandwiches and each had its own unique properties: Amaroso, Cacia's, Faragalli's - too many to list. My favorite is and, since Buccelli's closed, has been Sarcone's. But I am often in places where good bread is a rarity - I don't come to Paris every month! So, I started to make my own bread. I was surprised that it often - not always - was edible.
As I was looking at my Paris schedule, my bread-starved eyes popped when I saw that Le Cordon Bleu, one of the greatest cooking and food management schools in the world, was offering a Bread Workshop - a six hour class with a Master Chef specializing in bread. I didn't hesitate and yesterday, I took the class.
Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) is located on the Left Bank in an area that is full of modern buildings - and LCB is in one of them. A few years ago, they opened their own cafe there - and if you are anywhere in the neighborhood, stop in for one of the best, reasonably priced lunches you will ever enjoy. I had just enough time for a café and a lemon meringue dessert. On the cloudy, rainy day I was there, the lemon tart was like eating sunshine.
The Bread Workshop, taught by Chef Olivier Boudot, is located in a professional kitchen where the usual bread courses are taught to LCB's students. Chef Boudot taught the course in French but the school provided a staff member who spoke excellent English to translate - there was never a problem.
During the course of our six hour workshop, Chef Boudot demonstrated making baguettes, country-style bread with roasted walnuts/figs and fougasse (foccachio). After demonstrating how to make each one, we were then given all the ingredients and had to make our own. It was a challenge. Chef Boudot was very patient and helped all of us, but, of course, what he made look easy, wasn't that easy. It was worth the time and cost (about $200.00) just to see a great chef work - I realized the dexterity needed to be a great chef - he's like an artist sculpting great bread not in stone, but in flour, water and yeast.
We made the baguettes by hand but used a mixer for the other two. Someone asked Chef Boudot if he preferred making bread by hand or machine. He asked back, if you have to go somewhere that's ten miles away, do you prefer to walk or ride? The mixing machine is, of course, absolutely necessary in the actual business of making bread so chefs have to learn how to use it.
Perhaps the most telling part of the workshop was Chef Boudot's constant emphasis on temperature. His constant companion was a thermometer, testing the temperature of the water, the batter - and he even had an Infrared Non-Contact Laser Digital Thermometer that he used to get the batter's temperature while it was in the mixer. He emphasized that you must adapt your recipe to the conditions and that the general formula for bread dough is - well, I'll give you the site that explains it for those interested - look here.
It is a great workshop and well worth the time even if you are in Paris for only a few days. Chef Boudot is very entertaining - he caresses his dough, explaining that you must come to love your dough and treat it like your baby. Someone asked him about gluten-free bread and he responded, "That's not bread." He went on to explain that there are many alternative or non-traditional breads and that each one had its own peculiarities and place in the world of bread.
At the end of the class, we graduated and received our diploma in bread making from Chef Boudot. It was a proud moment for all of us. For one day, we were chefs and shared a kitchen with a true artist.
AMERICA,! TIME TO START MOVING by Armen Pandola
The Paris Metro system is a wonder to behold - and to ride on.
But, Parisians get around on more than the metro - there are cars, bikes, motorbikes, motor cycles, cabs and now electric scooters. And they do it on a maze of streets that go from barely one car wide to boulevards wide enough for a squad of Sherman tanks.
How do they do it?
Let's start with cars. Yes, getting around by car in Paris is not for the faint of heart. The street lights are so small that they seem meant for some toy village and there are very few signs to help. But they do one thing in pedestrian crowded areas - they moved the crosswalks off the intersection and created them about 25 feet down the road. As a result, traffic that wants to make a right-hand turn is not hindered by pedestrians crossing, resulting in massive gridlock. Here, the car makes its right-hand turn then stops, off the intersection for pedestrians who are forced to take the designated walk area because there are metal gates preventing the crossing of the street at the intersection.
Bikes and cars have always been a deadly combo. Anyone who rides a bike in a major city on a regular basis has had at least one accident. In Paris, they have figured out how to make it work with a couple of counter-intuitive measures.
First, bike lanes run in the opposite direction of car travel and, as a result, the biker can see oncoming traffic and vice a versa. But, pedestrians beware! You have to look both ways even crossing one-way streets. Where the road is wide enough - usually on two-way traffic streets - the bike lane is wider too, and for bikes going in both directions.
Next, on very wide boulevards, the two-way bike lanes are on the side-walk. That's right, on the sidewalk. Again, pedestrians beware! But, with these two simple solutions, biking in Paris is far less hazardous than in most major US cities.
Motorbikes and cycles are much more prevalent on Paris streets because they are so much more convenient than a car with the added attraction that you can park almost anywhere. While some are very loud, not so many are as in US cities - bikers here just want to get around, not noticed for their big exhaust, Why US major cities have not banned loud motorcycles is a mystery - the noise pollution they cause is horrendous. Does anyone really want loud motorcycles other than the obviously attention-starved men - yes, you know it's 99% male - who have them?
And now for the pièce de résistance - the Paris Metro. Built in the late 19th century, it spans the entire city with 16 different lines, 300 stations and 133 miles of track. While NYC's subway is much larger with 27 lines, 472 stations and 670 miles of track, its ridership is only about 20% higher than Paris' but Paris still serves about 1.5 billion riders a year.. That's because it works.
Safety first. The metro has installed glass panels at most of its stations which will slide open in conjunction with the door openings on the subway. This way, no one can accidentally be pushed off the platform. At every station, a sign tells you when the next train will arrive. Each line is designated by the name of its first and last stations. The stations are clean and well lit. Because of the several lines that intersect at major stations, a rider can go anywhere in Paris from almost each of its stations. For example, last night I went to the Seine Musicale which is located near Pont de Sèvres, the last stop on line 9. To get there, I walked 5 minutes to the metro station nearest my place which is on line 1 and went into its Hôtel de Ville station. Line 9 intersects with line 1 at station Franklin D. Roosevelt (yes, there are many streets and places named for Americans) so I got off at that stop, followed the directions (good signage in the metro) to line 9, got on it and took it to Pont de Sèvres. The trip took about 35 minutes during the evening rush hour.
The trains are all automated. The name of the upcoming station has been pre-recorded, so you have a clear, well-enunciating speaker, that automatically announces the next stop as you leave the prior station and, again, as you pull into the next station. Since the doors are controlled automatically, they won't stop closing when you touch them - so no great French Connection scene between Popeye Doyle and Frog 1. This can be hazardous if you are trying to squeeze onto a car at the last minute and most Parisians avoid trying it.
There are a few drawbacks. One is due to its success - the metro is always crowded and at peak times, the trains become packed with people. Often, riders cannot get onto a train because it is so crowded. Also, it is pickpocket heaven. Finally, due to the number of intersecting stations, you have to walk sometimes as much as 5-10 minutes to go from one line to another within the station, often up one staircase and down another.
Cost? If you buy a carnet like I did, you get 10 tickets for 14.90€ ($16.40) or you can buy passes for 3-5 days.
And finally there are the famous Parisien cabs. No, there are no more horns a la Gershwin's American in Paris. This is the most expensive way to get around. For example, the ride to or from Charles de Gaulle airport is a flat 50.00€. The cost of the train is 10.30€. But if you have any sizeable luggage, the cab is a must. Uber estimates a 39-53€ fare, but as you know, heavy traffic can multiply that quickly. Also, taxis can use the bus lanes in Paris, but Uber cannot. On my way in from CDG, I took a cab and it took over an hour even with my driver zipping by congested traffic in the bus lane.
So, Paris has learned how to get a lot of people to different places at a fairly reasonable cost. Having built its metro system over a century ago, it can now reap the rewards - while in America we are still reaping the whirlwind of our poor public transit systems in most major cities outside of NYC. It is time to bite the bullet and just do it - a major investment in high-speed trains. In our cities, let's adopt some of Paris' ideas and get people moving. It will take patience and a lot of hard work and money. But we built the national highway system, went to the moon, developed the internet, put powerful and world-reaching computers in our pockets and conquered diseases that massacred millions in our lifetime. It can be done.
But - in the current political atmosphere of 'what have you done for me today,' it's a real long shot - but we've seen long shots win, right?
WOMEN AND PARIS
By Armen Pandola
As you walk around Paris, you notice that every street, alley, square, park and place has a name - and it isn't 22nd Street. Paris has more street names than you can shake a stick at if that is your idea of fun. It has 100 streets named after famous mathematicians - can you name one? No? Not even Descartes? Look here. How about women? Just one - come on, you know Edith Piaf has to be one. Well, she didn't rate a whole street, just a"'place" - sort of a pedestrian zone.
There are only 300 streets named for women out of more than 6,000. But Paris and its first female mayor, Anne Hidalgo, want to change that. Last year, Paris named its first street for a fashion designer - alle Sonya Rykiel. Yes, it's only an alley - but one where Madame Rykiel shopped for fruits and vegetables.
There are several great tours you can take run by The Women of Paris that will tell you about the women who have played a defining role in different areas of the city’s history. I took the Sugar and Spice Tour - it combined some much-needed history about women in Paris with everybody's second favorite activity - eating chocolate.
Founder and tour guide Heidi Evans, a Paris-based Brit took our group from the square in front of Saint-Germain-des-Prés church on the Left Bank to several of the best chocolate shops in Paris, and, along the way, introducing us to various places made famous by French women.
Did you know that a woman first published James Joyce's Ulysses, named by most authorities and the best novel of the 20th century? Yes, when publishers refused to have anything to do with a 730 page book about the wanderings of a Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, ending with a 30+ page sexual reverie by his wife, American-born but life-long Parisian Sylvia Beach risked her own money to publish it. It ruined her financially and when the Germans occupied Paris (1941-44) she closed her bookstore, Shakespeare & Company (there is a bookstore with that name in Paris today but it was opened in tribute to Beach's original).
The lives of many more French women who helped shape Paris and france are told with surprising details - you want to guess who, after Victor Hugo, is France's second best-selling author? Read on.
In between stops, Heidi takes us on a tour of the best chocolatiers in Paris, many of them unknown or little known in America. Like Henri La Roux. He became famous, first, for his buttery caramels which he makes in many flavors, each of them your favorite after one taste.
Chocolate in Paris is very serious business - the stores are like mini-chapels, quiet, somber, peaceful. At each stop, the tour came with a sample - oolala, my mouth waters just think of them. Pierre Marcolini makes 'tea hearts' that have to be tasted to be believed. Georges Lanicol makes pastry-candies like his Kouignettes, small pastry made from puff pastry dough with pure churned butter and caramel. Popelini makes little cakes that taste like nothing you have ever tasted. Finally, the famous French macaron by one of the best, Un Dimanche å Paris. I am not a big fan of macarons, until I had a real one like these. The flavors explode in your mouth like a gustatory version of the end of Tchaïkovsky's 1812 Overture.
So open your mind and your mouth for this tasty, enlightening tour of Paris.
Oh, and that author who is second only to Hugo in France - George Sand, born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, changed her name to a man's so she would be given a chance to make it as an author in a 19th century dominated by men. She wrote dozens of best-selling novels and plays but remains famous today, mostly, for her long relationship with composer-pianist Frédéric Chopin. Plus les choses changent plus elles restent les mêmes.
ETERNAL PARIS IS ALWAYS CHANGING
by Armen Pandola
During World War II, the Nazis occupied Paris. It was declared an 'open city' and so was not bombed. At the end of the war, Hitler ordered the German commandant of Paris, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to destroy all the bridges over the Seine River and dynamite all the major monuments, including the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Les Invalide and even Notre Dame. Choltitz disobeyed the order. Later, a book and movie was based on this event, Is Paris Burning?
How Paris would have survived such a catastrophe is unknown, but the City of Lights has always found a way to rekindle itself. Today, we'll explore a few examples that have become part of 'eternal Paris' - that 'moveable feast' that is best summarized by a line from a movie we all love - as Rick says to Ilsa, 'we'll always have Paris.'
Les Halles was Paris' wholesale fresh food center for centuries. The problem was that it was much too close to the center of Paris - it was like having such a market in Times Square. So, in 1971, Paris bit the bullet and moved it to a local suburb, but it didn't just give away the remaining empty land, it developed it into one of the major rail/train and shopping malls in the world. How do you do that and not destroy the center of Paris with an unsightly modern mall? You put it all underground.
Les Halles caters to over 150,000 shoppers daily. The train center connected to it sees 750,000 commuters a day. And this is where you want to shop because this is where Parisians shop. Dozens of stores, mostly non-premier names like H&M or retailers like Sephora. You can buy everything here - and eat too, all kinds of food from all over the world. There is a large movie complex and, also, Bibliothèque du cinéma François Truffaut, a media lending and research library with over 20,000 movie titles. Then, in 2010, Paris decided that the mall needed to be updated to its present open configuration. The best part is that way back in the late 1970s Paris took all the above-ground land that was now empty and made it into a park and a pedestrian way. The move proved so popular that many of the streets in the area were converted to pedestrian ways. Now, mostly cafés line the car-free streets of the area. The bonus is that the major metro and rail center makes carless access easy so there is no need for the large parking lots that are required by American malls.
That's what Paris did for shopping. For art, it had even bigger ambitions.
The Gare d'Orsay railroad station was built in 1900 and meant to accommodate coal locomotives. Over the next several decades, the station became less and less functional since its platforms were too short to accommodate modern electric trains. By 1971, it was on the list to be demolished. Then, a couple of government ministers intervened and obtained the support of President Pompidou. It was decided that the useless train station would be converted into an Art Museum and would bridge the gap between the mostly pre-19th century art in the Louvre and late 20th century art in it Modern Art Museum. In 1986, the new Musée d'Orsay opened its door and was a resounding success from the start - how could it fail with one of the world's largest collections of Impressionist art with works by all the masters.
Yesterday, I went to see it again. Here are a couple of practical tips - buy your tickets online. It's easy. I suggest you get the deal of buying a double ticket that will get you into MUSÉE DE L'ORANGERIE (just across the river) too. Oh, you say, you left your printer home. Oh no! Don't panic - you can get an e-ticket.Download it to your phone, then take a screenshot of it so it will be in your photos collection for easy retrieval. Then, have brunch the day you go and get there between 12:30 and 2, lunch time. Using this method, I waited - 0 minutes. That's right, I walked right in on a Friday afternoon.
If you are in Paris between now and January 19, 2020, go directly to the "Degas at the Opera" exhibit. It's an amazing collection of Degas paintings of ballerinas. Don't miss it if you can. As for the rest, the most crowded area is the 5th floor where the Impressionists are located, but don't miss a lot of collections on the ground floor, especially on the right side as you enter the Museum - there are many Impressionists in the collections donated by individuals and located here.
The third and final transformation we will talk about is more like the ones done in American cities - areas of the city that once were dumps are transformed (or gentrified) into modern Meccas. The Canal St. Martin district is located along a canal ordered built by Napoleon - it took 25 years to build and was used mostly for commercial purposes and to bring fresh water into Paris' outer arrondissements. By the 1960s it had fallen into disuse and was about to be filled in or paved over when - that's right, people came forward and the canal was saved. Now, it is the hub of one of Paris' trendiest, most dynamic quartiers in the city, with great restaurants, fun fashion, and bars bursting with local crowds. This is the Paris that you want to go to to find reasonably priced food, coffee and drinks. But, hurry, guys like me are writing about it. In fact, the other night, I was there with a local and - well, more on that in a later column about night life.
And that is how Paris keeps renewing itself. It doesn't demolish and sell off its prime real estate to developers whose only goal is to make as much money - right now - as they possibly can - need I remind you of a famous person who is one of these types? No, it re-imagines the city for the benefit of all. I think they call that democracy.
DON'T JUST BE A TOURIST by Armen Pandola
If you love to shop - and who doesn't - Paris is the place for you. From mortgage-payment cost shoes to fine art, Paris has it. You know all the names that line the Rue Montaigne - here they are with their yearly sales:
Louis Vuitton - $28.6 billion
Chanel - $20 billion
Hermes - $16.4 billion
Gucci - $12.9 billion
Cartier - $7.7 billion
Tiffany - $5.6 billion
Dior - $5.2 billion
Burberry - $5 billion
Prada - $4.8 billion
But in Paris, you can be more that just a shopper - you can be a doer. And at one place, you can be both - Galeries Layfayette. This amazing 'department store' is worth a day in and of itself. All the high-end brand names are there. And you don't have to leave to eat. In the main store is the food court with its magnificent stained glass dome - you have seen nothing like this. Also, in its Maison (home) store across the rue, it has a food emporium with some of the best foods in Paris, sold to take out or eat in - dim sum, pizza, pasta, tacos, hot dogs! It is a great bargain as you can eat food made by some of the best cooks in Paris and still have money to buy that special gift for someone back home or for yourself - yes, just for you.
GL offers tours and classes and I suggest you take one if you are in Paris. This is a way to not just look and see, but get involved and do. Make your vacation an experience, an adventure - a time when you can find parts of yourself you didn't know existed. You can take a walk on the #glasswalk - 9-metre long walkway suspended 16 metres high in mid-air that brings you close to the Dome or learn how to shop like a Parisean or take a class in macaron-making.
I took the wine-tasting class taught by master sommelier, Armando - yes, that is his name. This was a fun-filled two hours as we Armando took us on a virtual tour of all of the great wine regions in France, starting with Champagne. My fellow students were a mother and daughter from New Orleans, a young woman from China and a fellow Philadelphian - actually from Washington DC and only recently moved to Philly! As the wine was pouring, we all loosened up and had a great time learning what wines to pair with what foods and how to properly smell, look at and then taste wine.
After the course, a couple of us went out to dinner at a locally recommended place - Macéo. A couple of the secondary benefits of these classes/tours is that you get to speak with a real local and find the places that tourists don't get to see - and you meet fellow tourists from all over.
Macéo was a great find. We had the menu du soir - or that night's special menu where we had three courses for about $45 - the poélée de champignons (a variety of mushrooms cooked up in a simple sauce), dorade (sea bream) and a dessert that had was a delicious combination of simple cake with fruit sauce.
Next time, more on some other classes and tours I took and a look at the biggest hidden shopping center in Paris.
A WEEKEND IN PARIS - PART II by Armen Pandola
When last we met, I was at Nuit Blanche, touring the City of Lights with a huge (really) crowd.
But I couldn't stay up all night (Nuit Blanche is a French idiom for a sleepless night) because I was headed to the races on Sunday, specifically the 98th running of the Qatar Prix De L'Arc De Triomphe held at Longchamp horse racing course in the Bois de Boulogne.
The metro took me to Porte Maillot which sits at the top of the Champs Elysee/Blvd. Charles DeGaulle, a ten minute ride. From there I hopped onto a shuttle bus provided by France Galop, France's racing bureau. The park is huge (really :)) and the ride through it was very enjoyable. At the end of the day, a shuttle bus and metro ride had me back in my apartment in 30 minutes. The US could learn a lot about how to run a large event like this from the French.
The first thing you notice is the people - almost all are dressed to the nines. Gowns, party dresses, suits and ties were the staples - take a look at the collage to see some of the finest, including the women's hats, many of which were as lovely as they were unique. Since an Englsih horse, Enable, was going for its record third win of the main event, the Prix De L'Arc Triomphe, the Englsih were a strong second nationality in attendance with Asians coming in a distinct third and I did not see another American although I am sure there must have been many there.
French horse race betting is different than in the US. There are all kinds of combinations and 'special' bets and some very unusual rules, for example, there are horse from all over the world in the races so if you pick a horse from one country, you automatically are given a bet on any other horse in the race form that country. So, you could lose - but win!
There were eight races that day but, unlike in the US, the main event was not the last race of the day, but rather the 4th. I do not know if this was unusual but it did serve a great purpose - lots of people were there for this race, only, so placing it in the middle of the day meant that the crowd had thinned out considerably by the end of the day. The shuttle buses ran from after the 4th race on so when I caught one, there was no crush of people.
Betting was made as easy as possible: bet-takers roamed the crowd and were stationed everywhere to supplement the betting machines and usual methods. Many of the bet-takers spoke English and this helped me a great deal since, as I said, French betting is very different than our system. Result - they made it a lot easier for me to lose my money.
The winner of the day was the great food - they had food of all kinds, from all regions: Middle East, Asian, Mexican, Italian, American, English and, of course, French. You could eat a pizza, have some dim sum, fish and chips, tacos, French pastry - and the drinks were plentiful from beer to champagne. In fact, I have never seen so many bottles of champagne being consumed (Veuve Clicquot at 75 euros a pop - $82.40).
Oh, the horse races - right, the reason why we were all there. Each of the races was exciting since all were close. In the main event, Enable had the lead coming down the stretch but another English horse, Waldgeist (Forest Spirit) overtook him in the final few lengths. In this video you will see another difference between this race and US races - the horse leave the paddock and are galloped around the course to the starting gate. I love this announcer's call, although I didn't understand one word - it just sounded exciting.
So that was my weekend in Paris - hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I did doing it. Bonne journee!
A WEEKEND IN PARIS by Armen Pandola
When I was a little boy, six or seven, I woke up one morning and thought, OK, I have to get up, get dressed, go to school - and then, a warm, cozy feeling came over me and relaxed every muscle in my body - no, I don't have to do that, I don't have to do anything - it's the weekend!
Many years later, weekends are still special. Time to relax, catch up with friends, see a movie, go to a show, have a BBQ.
In Paris, it's the same. The streets are twice as crowded as a weekday, the air itself seems to hum with excitement - especially on this weekend because it is Nuit Blanche! Never heard of Nuit Blanche? Read on.
My weekend started early - on Friday I went to Les Invalide, France's Military Veterans memorial. The huge grounds and buildings contain little of interest unless you are a devoteé of medieval jousting and armour. I went to see The Cathedral of Saint-Louis des Invalides and the Dome des Invalides which contains Napoleon's casket. In France, and Europe in general, Napoleon is Julius Caesar, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant all rolled into one. His victories changed the map of Europe and his defeats, the retreat from Moscow and Waterloo, marked the boundary of what military power could achieve before the advent of nuclear weapons. Hitler went there after defeating the French-British forces in 1940 and stared at the tomb for a long time. Apparently, not long enough as he was to suffer the same fate, albeit in a more Wagnerian manner.
The highlight of the trip was a late lunch at Le Boulanger des Invalides. There I had a kind of grilled cheese sandwich which is nothing like the American version and twice as delicious. The best way to explain it is to share a link with you to their 'specialties' - take a look.
Saturday started with a busted tour. I had booked the 'Paris of Victor Hugo' tour that is run by Paris' history museum, Carnavalet which is currently closed, but which still offers tours. It was a rainy morning and the closing of Notre Dame and its large Parvis or Square in front of it (almost 13,000 sq.ft) left the area in chaos. I was where the tour was supposed to meet, but found no Victor Hugo tour. Of course, if the various tours had signs to hold up indicating what tour they were, it might have helped.
But the morning was not lost. I headed to Shakespeare & Company, the famous english bookstore on the Left Bank across from the now closed Notre Dame. This original of this bookstore was famous as the publisher of the original Ulysses by James Joyce. It closed in 1941 under the German occupation of Paris. In 1951, it was reopened and it continued the original bookstore's promotion of ex-patriot American and British authors.
It's a crowded maze of a space with new books on the first floor and used ones on the second. I have stopped buying 'real' books because of my having to give and actually throw away hundreds of books when I sold my large house with its library/office - it was a sad day. I did keep a few hundred books that mean something to me - I am sure you have those kinds of books, too. So, I bought books for Jude (11y.o) and Dylan (5 y.o.), my grandchildren - an illustrated children's version of Macbeth for Jude and an illustrated book of the adventures of a little girl in Paris for Dylan (she is totally uninterested in any book, movie or TV show that does not have a female in it).
Then I had lunch at a place I found on the fly - Le Reminet, a small restaurant on the Left Bank near the Seine. A delicious salad was followed by a salmon dish with apple liquid (not sauce - it was bubbly - a pic is in the collage) and fennel that had so many flavors it was a thrill to eat each bite.
In the afternoon, I had a cheese and wine pairing class at La Cuisine Paris. They have a lovely space on the Right Bank of the Seine. When I arrived, I was happy to see that one of its staff was calling someone who had booked the class but had not yet arrived - a pleasant change from the morning busted tour where I had hoped I'd get a call when I couldn't find them. Our teacher was the very knowledgeable and well-travelled Clémentine who spoke excellent English. The class was small (just 5 of us so we all got to know each other a little), excellent and the cheeses and wine offered, alone, were worth the price of the class (99 euros). Their website is a wealth of information about Paris where you can find everything from an arrondissement by arrondissement look at restaurants to maps that show you where to get the best coffee, cheese - even craft beer and gluten-free eateries in Paris. I recommend it, highly.
And now we come to the Nuit Blanche! This happens every year on the first Saturday night in October - the 'white night.' Various art and culture installations, exhibitions, concerts, performances, trails, staged scene sets and creations that explore all facets of contemporary art and offer a new view from sundown Saturday to sunrise Sunday - a big parade and hundreds of events in every part of the city. I went to a sound and light show at Saint Eustache (a beautiful cathedral in the heart of Paris - many events were in churches as the French church seems committed to being part of the city's culture as opposed to most American churches where they refuse to enter the 19th, let alone 21st century), a classical music concert, a participatory art exhibit where the viewers became trapped in a maze - everywhere you roamed in Paris there was something happening. One group of runners commits to check in on as many events as possible in one night, running from event to event. It was an amazing night - take a look.
There was so much happening this weekend that I have to write about it in parts - stay tuned for Part II - A Day at the Races!
10 RULES FOR HAVING FUN AT A MUSEUM - NO, REALLY
by Armen Pandola
The Pompidou Center is an amazing place, a huge building with many levels and functions - it's a movie theatre, an art museum, a restaurant, a conference center, a music school, a boutique store and just a cool place.
Named after the French President who inaugurated the project in the late 1960s, the international competition for its design was fierce and the eventual winner, three unknown architects at the time, was as controversial as most cultural questions become in France. Remember, this is the place that rioted when Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring premiered here in 1913.
It was one of the first 'inside/out' or 'bowellism' buildings with all its services such as staircases, lifts, ductwork, electrical power conduits and water pipes on the outside, leaving an uncluttered space inside. All the building's 'bowels' are outside. For this reason, the street to rooftop escalator on the outside of the building in a glass tube is one of Paris' most popular spots to photograph Paris - look at a couple of my photos in the collage.
I was going there for the art - an exhibit of the work of Francis Bacon, the English modernist with a distinctive style. Later, after lunch, I returned to tour the extensive modern art collection of the Pompidou - its collection mirrors that of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
So, how can going to an art museum be fun? Here are my 'rules':
1. Don't try to see everything. There are some smaller museums (the Barnes in Philadelphia comes to mind) at which it is possible to have a good look at everything, but even there, it can be tiring.
2. Ignore Rule #1 if you want - this is your vacation and that means you can do whatever you want. Really. Nobody is watching - well, they probably are, but ignore them.
3. Prepare for 10 minutes before you spend 2 or 3 hours in a place. Before you go, take a look at the museum's website and its collection and see what interests you, then go there from the beginning. At a museum like the Louvre or the Met in NYC, this is a must.
4. Pick a winner. Every museum is broken into rooms or galleries. When you walk into one, go to the center of the room and look around. What 1 or 2 works of art appeal to you. Pick just 1 if you can. Then, ignore the rest and look at that painting or sculpture. Spend some time with it - look at it with your mind and heart.
5. Don't look at the labels. I can tell you that I have visited many museums and those little labels that strain your eyes to read will tell you nothing important or even useful about the painting. If you see a painting with 3 apples in it, I'd bet a few bucks that it is called, Three Apples or Trois Pommes de Terre. Many will end up being called 'Portrait of ___' and it usually is somebody you never heard of.
6. Ignore the painter's name. Most you won't know and those you do will not help you. There are people who know all the names of all the artists and that is all they know. Like that person described by Oscar Wilde who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
7. Appreciate that it can be very difficult to be simple. Some art, especially modern art, can look deceptively simple, prompting many to say - why is that art? I could have painted that. Maybe. Maybe you could have written the Harry Potter series too. Its author J.K. Rowling was a struggling single mother on welfare when she wrote the first one. Why didn't you? Anyway, no matter how simple it looks, do you like it? Why? If not, why are you wasting your time and ignoring Rule #4?
8. Ask yourself who you are. A curious person who wants to know all the ins and outs of a thing or one who takes things as they come? If very curious, maybe the audio guides invariably offered for a few dollars will be your cup of tea. It will give you the information you are curious about - BUT, it won't help you decide the big question - do I like it?
9. Don't take pictures of everything. Many people I see on vacation are not on vacation, their phones are. Be in the moment. When you turn a corner and see that incredible painting that draws you towards it like a magnet and makes you hold your breath like the first time you saw your lover - be in that moment. Most museums end in a shop where you can purchase a copy of most of the art on a postcard or in a book.
10. Cut yourself a break. Maybe two hours, certainly no more than three is all any rational person can take of looking at art, especially if you are following these rules and look intensely at only a few. Hours in the museum should be balanced by hours or days out of the museum while on vacation. Those who sit and stare at the passing crowd are appreciating the best art, the art of having fun.
And those are my rules. The break I took for lunch led me to Benoit, a Michelin starred restaurant (there are very few that earn a star). I had the fixed price lunch - so for about $40 I had pumpkin with chestnuts soup, plaice fish (a kind of flounder) with mushrooms and sauce and then savrin (pound cake) with Armagnac and chantilly. It was very, very simple - and delicious.
PICASSO AND ME by Armen Pandola
Every vacation starts with a travel day. Nobody likes travel days unless you are a fan of the Marquis De Sade. Travel days are more like work than vacation. You have a strict schedule to adhere to and if you are like me and adhere to the strict schedule, then you discover you are a chump because nobody else seems to care. Planes are late, drivers don't show up - look, just read my last column about my arrival day and you'll get what I mean.
So, always, I plan a special second (or the real first) day of vacation. It's a lesson I learned from Louis Armstrong - yeah, Satchmo. A musician who was lucky enough to play with Satch said that when he would arrive at a gig, he would hear Louie in his dressing room playing a tune that he had never heard Louie play. Everyday, it was a different tune - classical, blues, old songs - and Louie would sound, well, like he always did - great. This musician asked Louie if he was practicing for a new album. No, Louie explained, he did that every day before a concert. First thing he'd do when he picked up his horn would be to play something he knew he liked, some music that stuck in his head. That way, he explained, he would start off his musical day on the right foot.
And that is why I went to the Picasso Museum. This is a museum devoted to the works of one artist and how it came about is interesting. In 1968, Andre Malroux, one of France's great writers, was its Minister for Culture and he proposed a law whereby artists' estates could pay their estate taxes in works of art instead of money. A few years later, when Picasso died, the French government struck a deal with Picasso's estate to acquire hundreds of Picasso's works (Picasso was the world's greatest collector of his own work, keeping hundreds of works from every period of his long career).
Then, again in typical French fashion, it found an old building, Hotel Salé that nobody knew what to do with and violå! One of the greatest museums in the world is created.
Before we walk into the Musee Picasso, let me give you a good piece of advice - buy your ticket in advance, online. If you can't do it, get a smart nephew to do it for you. You'll thank me.
Picasso is considered to be the greatest artist of the 20th century, but all of that is just talk. What makes Picasso a great artist is his incredible ability to find the soul, the unvarnished reality in everything he painted. When he started to paint in his early teens, he was soon world famous, again, 'considered' the finest classical artist since the Renaissance. Take a look at his early work and you'll see why:
But being Picasso meant that you were not interested in doing art the way you were taught. He wanted to do art like it was never done before - a new way of seeing that would create in his audience a new way of looking.
A writer can describe a character by giving his audience her history, where she was born and raised, how she looked now and as she was growing up, what she thought and what she did. So, why should a painter in doing a portrait be stuck with painting exactly how she looks on on particular day of her life and nothing else. And then, only painting one side of her, front or profile. Why not be able to paint like a writer writes - looking at all sides, all times and most importantly, all feelings she invokes. Do that and you get this - not one way of looking, but many ways of looking at a person.
There is a video of Picasso painting on glass in real time - here is a piece of it - please do yourself a favor and watch this, it's amazing.
Picasso had fun painting his pictures, making his sculptures and creating his art. ZHis many mistresses and children are all in there so read a little about him first. If you want, you can get an audio guide for a few bucks. The one book I recommend on his art is Portrait of Picasso as a Young Man by Norman Mailer. It's out of print but you can a used copy for the price of a latte.
Lunch was next on the agenda. I started to walk toward a restaurant I knew on Place des Vosges when I saw a nice looking place and decided to throw the dice again. Les Minimes is a clean well-lighted place with a welcoming air. I surmised it would have good fish dishes (I don't eat mean, poultry or pork) because it is named after France's largest marina for pleasure boats. I was right - the food was excellent.I had the dorade - a small fish with tender white flesh, shimmering silver skin and, when grilled, a rich, succulent, meaty flavor, similar to that of pompano or red snapper. A carafe of Cotes du Rhone and an excellent marbré deux chocolats - a chocolate torte filled with dark chocolate warm sauce and served with vanilla ice cream.
After lunch, I headed to my original destination, the Place des Vosges. The Victor Hugo house and museum is there and I wanted to pay a visit to my old friend who gave me so many hours of pleasure reading about Jean Valjean and his adopted daughter, Cosette. Alas, it was closed for construction. I wasn't surprised. When I first went to it in the 1980s, it was a little down on its heels, as was the Place des Vosges. Now, the Marais district and especially the Place des Vosges is the ritzy place to be other than the Ritz, itself.
So I headed to a church I hadn't been to in Paris - St. Paul St. Louis, 7 passage Saint-Paul / 99 rue Saint-Antoine 75004. The plan of the church is inspired by the Church of the Gesù in Rome, built by Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola in 1560. The church is very bright and still quite decorated, although much of the furniture disappeared during the revolution. In fact, there is a memorial plaque to the church's abbey who was killed in the revolution. If this church were in any city but Paris, it would be world-famous - its a real beauty.
So ended my day -
PARIS - EYES WIDE SHUT by Armen Pandola
I was in my teens when I read about Ernest and Scott in Paris, in my 20s when I read Gertrude Stein and Henry Miller (now that would have been an interesting conversation to eavesdrop on) and in my 30s when, finally, I went to see for myself. I have been back many times. There is no doubt that my eyes were permanently vie-en-rosed. Yes, I love Paris.
And why not? In one city, there is more to see and do than in any other city in the world. It has the best museums, the best sights to see and the best food. It had these things when I first came here and it has them now, many years later.
But it has been over a decade since I made this pilgrimage. Cities change - as all things do, but a city must cope with changes if it hopes to continue its prominence. Sure, the museums and monuments are still there - except for a BIG one that almost burnt down (I will be going to Notre Dame later in my trip). And the restaurants are still the best, but -
There is an 1960s Italian movie in which a man is caught in bed with another woman. The other woman quickly dresses and leaves and the husband comes out of the bedroom to his wife’s vocal indignation. He denies it all and when his wife insists, ‘but I saw her!’he asks, ‘Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?’
Like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz, I want to believe - I do, I do, I do, but my lyin’ eyes tell me that things have changed.
Maybe a rainy autumn Tuesday isn’t the best time to come to Paris, but I carved out a month in my schedule, closed my eyes and let the dice fly high! I am staying for a month in Paris, made possible by Airbnb - more on that experience later.
Charles De Gaulle Airport is big and busy and not very user friendly, but Hermes, the god of travel, or St. Christopher, the saint who watches over travellers, was there for me - at first. My American Airlines flight - by way of Air Tahiti Nui Airlines - was a problem free 10+ hours and we landed 30 minutes early. I breezed through passport control, went to grab my luggage and bingo! My elegant, large Hartman suitcase was one of the first to roll through the tunnel.
CDG airport is about 19 miles from the center of Paris and, at first, I was going to take the train - it’s fast and cheap. Then a couple of days ago, I decided to book a van - it was double the cost of the train, but the forecast was rain (it turned out to be accurate) so I booked a spot on a van run by Paris Shuttle for $25. The instructions I printed out with my confirmation said to call them after I picked up my luggage. My cell was almost fully charged because I shut it off during the flight - I recommend doing that until airlines join the 21st century and install outlets. I dialed and dialed and dialed and every time, in French it told me the number was not working. If ever you are stuck and don’t know what to do, you will most likely keep on doing the same thing even though it is not working. Yes, 10+ hours in the air, a day without sleep and an unfamiliar place and language will make you crazy. I imagined all kinds of things, mostly that this Paris Shuttle was a scam, yet it did have a very good-looking website. I read more of the instructions and they said to go to Exit 7 in Terminal 2A to meet the van. I looked. There was no exit 7 - really. There was an exit 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 8, but no 7. So, I asked someone - Pardon, parlez-vous anglais? ‘Une peu’ was the inevitable answer. No one knew anything. One guy who had a jacket that described him as a ‘transporte official’ told me to go to exit 4 and sure enough there were many vans there picking up people - but no Paris Shuttle.
It was then that I remembered the most important instruction for those traveling to a different world - Don’t Panic! I see the signs say there is a tourist office to help those who are far away from home and about to cry in the next terminal. I go there and a nice young woman who speaks English allows me to call the Paris Shuttle on her office’s landline. At first, the same recording which by now I have memorized - I don’t know a lot of French but I will always be able to say, “le numéro ne fonctionne pas et vous devriez essayer plus tard.”
Don’t Panic! I dial again, just to be sure and - viola! Paris Shuttle answers. A nice-sounding young woman asks me to spell my name and then confirms who I am and where I am. She asks if she can put me on hold for a minute and, reluctantly, I say oui. When she returns, her voice has the timbre of an undertaker - there has been a technical difficulty and Paris Shuttle will not be able to take me into Paris. She tries to console me by purring that they are fully refunding my payment. I am abandoned.
This semi-disaster has taught me a lesson - you have to learn how to dial a number in France. It is not as simple as you might think. Look it up.
Now I have to contact my airbnb host and so I decide to write him a message which you can do inside the airbnb app - they tell you to never contact your host any other way. I had done that in the past but my host was not a great communicator and it usually took a day for him to respond. But Hermes must have come back to me out of pity because my host responds in a few minutes and asks when I will get to the apartment. The train will take me an hour, but I am through with problems - I go outside and get a cab from the many that are waiting for just this opportunity. Cabs cost a flat 50 euros to Paris from CDG. They say it should only take 30 minutes. They say that in Los Angeles too. They lie.
On a rainy fall Tuesday morning, after rush hour, with no accidents in site, it took almost 90 minutes to get to my apartment in the 3rd arrondissement - the center of Paris. We used a freeway then entered by one of the northern ‘portes’ or gateways that lead into Paris, the Porte d’Aubervilliers. Right there at the freeway exit was a large tent city - hundreds of small tents with who knows how many homeless people in them. Some had baby carriages outside them. This ‘gateway’ street was filled with mostly young men, knocking on car windows, begging. The 19th and 20th arrondissements are the poorest sections in Paris. Hundreds of homeless people were on the streets. It is estimated that there are 8,000 homeless sleeping in the streets but that is plain wrong. The number is probably closer to 30,000 homeless assuming that those who live in tents are counted. And just like in LA, the politicians here have no clue. For years they claimed that there were fewer than a 1000 homeless in Paris, then they were forced to revise those numbers, but still they have no clue. Last year, they announced that Paris’ local city halls (every one of the 20 arrondissements has one) will supply shelter for homeless women - the largest of them will house 100 women. Yeah, that’s a real problem solver.
Then there was the graffiti. I recall that some well-known artists argued that graffiti is art. All I can see are stylized names or logos spray painted all over the city - on every closed shop’s metal gate, on every construction site, every park. It looked like New York or Philadelphia in the 70s and 80s before there was a concerted effort to stop it. I don’t believe that scribbling, even stylized scribbling, is art. And I know it looks horrible. Time to stop it.
And, finally, it’s dirty. In the 1950s and 60s, Philadelphia use to be called Filthadelphia. Yes, all those ladies in the neighborhoods would come out every day and wash their steps and pavements, but the rest of the city was a mess. Many cities were - and we should remember that it was Lady Bird Johnson, the First Lady, who started a campaign in 1965 to ‘Keep America Beautiful.” It no longer was OK to simply throw on the ground or from your car window whatever you wanted to get rid of. Dog owners had to take responsibility for their pets’ mess. It changed how our cities looked and how we thought of our communal spaces - they were precious and not open garbage cans.
In Paris, the dirt is both surface and deeply embedded. There is actually a hue and cry to try and get men to stop urinating in the street - really, it’s a problem here.
So, my eyes have been opened. Paris needs an intervention. It needs its tourists - 90 million went to France last year with almost half of those arriving in Paris. The money it makes on tourism is almost 10% of its GDP - more than 77 billion euros, providing over 2 million jobs.
It is time for the tourism industry to wake up Paris and get it to smell the mess,