Place des Vosges

Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 062The weather here is gorgeous: cold and crisp under a clear, cobalt-blue sky.  And it’s forecast to stay that way all week.  Youpi !  (that’s Yippee in French.)

Yesterday I had the day off work.  I met my friend, Monique, for lunch.  She’s off to New York for Christmas, I’m off to Antwerp.  Here’s what we ate – a rather uninspiring mound of mashed potatoes with a chicken breast and gravy on the side. 18 euros.Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 012Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 013After lunch we walked in the sunshine and made our way to the Place des Vosges.Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 049Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 040Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 045The Place des Vosges is the oldest planned square in Paris. Located in the Marais district, it straddles the dividing-line between the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris. The Place des Vosges was built by Henri IV from 1605 to 1612. A true square (140 m × 140 m), it embodied the first European program of royal city planning.Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 051Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 054Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 065Later on, Monique went home to pack her bags and I did what I like best:  wandered the back streets.  I came across this tiny shoe boutique at number 19 rue du Parc-Royal. (the boutique is tiny, not the shoes.)  I’ll return in January when the big sales are on.Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 071Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 070Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 072A few doors down is the divine Maison Meert. The original Meert was founded in Lille in 1761. You must try their small and delicate waffles filled with vanilla from Madagascar.Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 073Paris Marais Dec 9, 2013 075

I then left the Marais and took the metro to the 8th arrondissement.  My final destination was the flagship NESPRESSO store on the Champs Elysées.  As one of their valued customers, I had a voucher offering a 50 euro discount which is nothing to sneeze at.  I purchased a new Nespresso machine at half the price and lugged it home on the metro. All in all, it was a pretty good day.

the joys of winter: hot chocolate, etc.

What is one thing in particular that I like about winter?  Hot chocolate! This year I plan to test different cocoa beverages around the city.  In February I investigated two places. The first was an Italian gelateria called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile near the St Paul metro station.  It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm.  I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 081Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 083Feb 2013 photo exhibit and Marais 084

This is what I had been missing all these years…this was the real deal:  Italian cioccolata calda.  Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous.  I sat there savouring each mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction and then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop.  I swear, if the woman hadn’t been looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido”, I said to the woman who was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will return to that place. Not only for the chocolate, but because it’s a friendly, down to earth kind of place. Sometimes you get tired of pretentious places and prices. Back outside I discovered an adorable Portuguese pastry shop next door called Comme A Lisbonne.  Tiny and immaculate, it serves only espresso and perfect, freshly-made custard tarts called pasteis de nata.  I had one.

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The second place I went to (not on the same day!) is at the top end of the Marais. Called Jacques Genin, chocolatier, it can be found at number 133 rue de Turenne. The hot chocolate came to me on a tray in a white porcelain pitcher.  Accompanying the pitcher was a large, white porcelain cup and saucer, glass of water and sugar bowl.  I’d say this was hot chocolate for grown-ups. The space itself, like the hot chocolate, is minimalistic. I wouldn’t bring kids here.  And a good thing, too, because when I filled the cup only halfway and then drank, I immediately burned my tongue and the inside of my mouth. It was scalding hot. It lacked the unctuosity that I like, but was not overly sweet which is a good thing. If you desire a sweeter taste, just plop in a sugar cube or two.  I paid 7 euros for the burnt tongue.

Another great day in the Marais: photo exhibition, Italian hot chocolate, Portuguese pasteis de nata…

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It was only an afternoon but a full one.  And very enjoyable.  It’s still cold and gray here in Paris on Friday February the 8th.  There’s a photography exhibition currently showing at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, so I jumped on the metro and got off at Saint Paul.

Here’s what’s great about France: the majority of museums and art galleries offer two admission fees – regular and reduced. The regular fee at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie is 8 euros and the reduced fee is 4 euros. The French government believes that while you’re unemployed, you might as well get out and look at art. Reduced admission fees also apply to those over 60, students, large families, teachers, artists and welfare recipients. Free admission is offered to children under 8, journalists, civil servants and PWDs (Persons With Disabilities.)

There are also free days. The first Sunday of every month, for example, entry to all national museums is free. This is to encourage people to enjoy art and to cultivate their minds. The same policy applies in Great Britain. This is a marvellous example of what’s called the “democratization of culture” – to make it populist and not elitist.  But who pays in the end?  We do. Those who live, work and pay taxes in France. We all contribute to the financing of French museums (among other things) through taxes.

Joel Meyerowitz – A Retrospective 

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I love street photography. Especially from the 1960s and 70s, my two most favourite decades. I really enjoyed looking at these captivating, nostalgic images. Frozen in time. I look at the people in the photos and wonder “Where are they now?”

Here’s a brief bio of the artist: Born in 1938 in the Bronx, Joel Meyerowitz is the archetypal New Yorker, embracing the 21st-century with curiosity and empathy. It was in 1962, following his first meeting with Robert Frank, that he began to roam the streets of New York with his 35 mm camera and black and white film. A long trip to Europe marked a turning point in his career. Meyerowitz permanently adopted color in 1972. He also switched to large format photography, often using an 8×10 camera to produce photographs of places and people. This retrospective exhibition presents, for the first time, his earliest black and white photographs alongside a larger body of work in color.

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If you find yourself in this part of the Marais (the lower part), here are a few places that I can recommend, all near the Maison Européenne de la Photographie and Saint Paul metro station.  La Perla is a good Mexican restaurant located on the rue du Pont Louis Philippe in the 4th arrondissement. A tad expensive, it offers a good selection of Mexican beers and a relaxed ambiance. (You’ll never get the quality and range of Mexican dishes in Europe that you do in the States.) This whole road is lined on either side with small, interesting boutiques.  It leads down to the Seine River and the bridges that cross over to the Left Bank.

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At the end of the rue du Pont Louis Philippe is this picturesque bistro called Chez Julien.  I cannot recommend it, though, because I’ve never eaten there.

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Once I got to the end of the road, I retraced my steps and headed back up to the rue de Rivoli.  It was bitterly cold and I was in need of hot chocolate.  I had heard about a place called Pozzetto located at 39 rue du Roi de Sicile that serves divine gelato and hot chocolate. I found it and went inside. It’s a cute, homey place; welcoming and warm.  I sat at a little round table and the woman who works there brought me this:

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Oh, sweet mother of the roasted cacao bean; this is what I had been missing all these years … this was the real deal: Italian cioccolata calda. Glossy, unctuous, not sweet and deeply joyous. I sat there savouring each mouthful while uttering murmurs of satisfaction and then I scraped the bottom of the cup with the spoon to get every last drop. I swear, if the woman hadn’t been looking I would’ve shamelessly licked the cup clean with my tongue.

“Splendido”, I said to the woman who was from Rome.  “Grazie”, she replied.

I will definitely return to that place. Not just for the chocolate, but because it’s unpretentious. Sometimes you get tired of chichi places and prices. Back outside I discovered an adorable vintage clothing shop two doors up from Pozzetto.  And beside the clothing shop, at n° 37, is an equally adorable Portuguese pastry shop called Comme A Lisbonne. It’s tiny, immaculate and serves excellent espresso and freshly-made pasteis de nata, those irresistible custard tarts made with a crispy, flaky pastry.  I had one.

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