Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Chateau de Fontainebleau

This week I went to Fontainebleau, another chateau about 45 minutes outside of Paris. It is over the top. The coffered, vaulted ceilings, the crystal chandeliers, the inlaid wooden floors, each room more ornate than the next: it is easy to imagine an extravagant life here. The Chateau has existed since at least the 12th century, but it wasn't until the 16th century that François I began the first of a series of renovations and additions which continued throughout the centuries (and inhabitants).
The fireplace in the ballroom.The Chandelier in the Throne Room, renovated by Napoleon in 1808. The central part of the ceiling is from the 17th century, while the portraits and furniture in this room (formerly the king's bedroom) are from the 19th century. All of the ceilings at Fontainebleau are this ornate, but each room is unique, with wooden ceilings in the Gallery and coffered ones in the Ballroom. Amazing (dare I say gaudy?).
Diana's Gallery, originally built by Henri IV in the 16th century, was converted into a library in 1858 by Napoleon III. It is immense - 80 meters long.
A view of the side of the chateau and the Carp Pond, from the English Garden.
There are actually enormous carps in the pond - they look like monster, mutant kois, but not as colorful as the ones you see at Japanese restaurants back home. There were also mallards and this adorable swan family and nest...awwww.

Fontainebleau is a great way to spend your afternoon outside of Paris. The chateau is gorgeous and very wellkept, but easily digestible - you won't get overwhelmed, and it only took about an hour to see the state apartments. The gardens are right across the street from one of the main squares in the town, so you will have your choice of terraces for a lunch or late afternoon drink, or of course the gardens themselves (no entrance fee) for a picnic.
Chateau de Fontainebleau
77300 Fontainebleau
01 60 71 50 70

Closed Tuesdays; Open from 9h30 - 18h in the summer.
Entrance fee varies from 3€ to 5€ depending upon what sections of the Chateau you want to see.
Take the TER from Gare de Lyon to Fontainebleau Avon (~40 minutes, 7.50€ one-way, check the schedule here).
From the train station you can either walk to the Chateau (30 min) or take one of the buses (Connex Ligne A, ~15 minutes, 1.40€ one-way).


Monday, June 26, 2006

Le Cambodge

Le Cambodge is the first good, cheap Asian restaurant I've been to in Paris. I know you're thinking "Oh, what about Chinatown?" Well, apart from the soup places, I haven't been crazy about any of the other restaurants - I always feel like I'm paying too much for what I get. I'm not a big fan of sushi, either, so all the Japanese establishments near Opéra on Rue Saint-Anne don't really do the trick. And the best Thai restaurant I've been to (Mme Shawn's, also by the Canal) is pretty expensive, not like my fallback Thai places back home where I can pop in for a Panang Tofu for only $8.

Le Cambodge's website has the entire menu online, featuring their favorite orders from customers. One of the traditions Au Cambodge is that you, the customer, write your own order. As soon as you are seated the waiter hands you the menu, a pad and a pen, and you have as much time as you want to think it over and specify everything exactly as you like it. I'll have to remember to be creative next time I go, to see if I get into the order hall of fame.

So. Le Cambodge is delicious and cheap! I had the Bobun Soy Special (8€), which was a bowl filled to the brim with a hot-cold mix of salad, mint, soy sprouts, rice noodles, onions, and 2 sliced spring rolls. I thought the soy on the menu meant tofu, but it was actually just a bunch of soy sprouts, so I think next time I go I'd get either the beef or shrimp Bobun instead. R. ordered the Phnom-Penh soup (8€) and the Ban Hoy (9.50€), but due to a mix-up in the kitchen he actually started with the Ban Hoy, which was like a larger, spread-out of the Bobun: all of the ingredients were seperated on the serving platter, and it was up to R. to mix them as he liked. The soup was huge, enough to be a main dish for me, with noodles, pork, shrimp, and veggies.

Now to the serious downsides: loooong waits with no reservations, and they're understaffed by about 3 in the dining room. "If so many people are willing to wait it must be good", we told ourselves when the host gave us the paper slip with our number and told us to come back in 45 minutes. At least there are tons of bars nearby to wait it out, and they take your phone number down and will call you if the table becomes available before you return. I'm not sure what the best strategy would be: to call ahead for take out and have a picnic by the Canal, or to show up 1 hour or so before you know you want to eat. For the service, it's not that the staff wasn't nice. They were efficient, but very busy, and if there was more than one waitress for the entire restaurant perhaps I wouldn't have gotten my food one hour after having been seated. I'm all for slow dining experiences, but there is a proper time and place for everything and this was not it. Add this to the initial 45-minute wait for a table and R.'s out of order meal...well, let's just say that the budget prices, and not the service, are their strong point.

Le Cambodge
10, avenue Richerand
75010 Paris
01 44 84 37 70
M: Jacques Bonsergent or Goncourt

Monday - Saturday: 12 - 14h30, 20 - 23h30
No reservations!!!


Friday, June 23, 2006

The Maillemobile

Driving in Paris is rough. Even pickle jars can get caught in rush hour traffic jams!The Maillemobile was probably circling around and around the Place de la Madeleine all afternoon to advertise for the official Maille store nearby. I don't know if you can tell from the photos, but this vehicle (I can't really call it a pick-up, compared to the Fords and Rams back home ;) ) is tiny even by French standards, with the obvious exception of the towering pickle jar on the flatbed. Que Maille qui m'aille!


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

La Strasbourgeoise

Unlike most US cities, where you'll find only one main train station (if any, and often on the outskirts), Paris has multiple train stations, each serving a different section of France. The trains from Strasbourg, and the rest of Alsace-Lorraine, arrive in the Gare de l'Est, which is why you'll notice so many restaurants and traiteurs specializing in Alsacian cuisine all around the train station. This also explains the abundance of creperies around Montparnasse, which is the arrival point for Brittany. While I've mentioned one alsacian speciality, tartes flambées, here, a few weeks ago R had a hankering for another Alsacian dish - choucroute - and so off to the Gare de l'Est we went.

Choucroute garnie involves enormous quantities of steaming sauerkraut, served under piles of ham, sausages, Canadian bacon, and various joints of meat. At La Strasbourgeoise, a large brasserie just across the street from the train station, they have different varieties of it, even offering a fish version (!), all for very reasonable prices considering the feast you are served (15 - 20€). If you're not a choucroute person - I'm definitely not - they have other choices. I went with one of their fish specials, not knowing what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised. This was a small casserole of assorted seafood - scallops, cod, pollock and more - served in a delicious mushroom sauce and with a small plate of spätzle, another regional specialty - tiny dumplings which can be tossed in butter or pan-fried.

A friend had recommended La Strasbourgeoise to us, and otherwise I would have never tried it. Not only because I would not have been able to pick it out from any of the other lookalike restaurants in the area, but also because I would not have expected to find such a great place - in terms of service, food and prices - right in front of the Gare de l'Est. If you're in the mood for choucroute, or even if you've got a train to catch, this is a place to keep in mind.

The menu if you want to think it over:
La Strasbourgeoise
5, rue du 8 mai 1945
75010 Paris
01 42 05 20 02
M: Gare de l'Est


Monday, June 19, 2006

Larger than Life

The headquarters of Suez, a sponser of the French national team, recently got a facelift. The glassy front of this modern office building in the 8th is now covered with the players, my favorite being (obviously!) Thierry Henry:
He's gorgeous, even as a decal on a window. swoon.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Roseraie du Val-de-Marne

I recently read an article in Figaroscope about the rose garden at Val-du-Marne, and the photos looked so beautiful I had to visit it myself. Founded in 1894 by Jules Gravereaux (who helped start up the Bon Marché), this roseraie was the first garden dedicated entirely to roses, and is organized into 13 different collections which feature 3,300 different species and 16,000 individual rose bushes. I have never seen anything like this, and it is breathtaking. The roseraie itself is actually a part of a larger park with lots of open green spaces and other flowers and trees. As soon as I entered this park I could smell the roses: there are so many of them, and they are so fragrant! I made my way past a few beds of roses, like those pictured in the left corner, and a few minutes later I had arrived at the true rose garden, which you must pay to enter: Gorgeous. A detail of the rotunda: The funniest things about all the roses were their names. There was the Catherine Deneuve rose, the Christian Dior, the Le Cid, countless royalty and poets and playwrights and scientists (Marie Curie), and surprisingly even some companies had their own roses, like Lancôme and France Info.

There were endless trellis-lined paths, each brighter and fuller than the next:
Hidden statues:Sorry for the picture overload, but they'll probably better convey the beauty than anything I could say. Given the incredible scenery, quite a few visitors came with wedding portraits on their minds, and on this day I saw no less than three different bridal parties! At about 45 minutes outside of Paris, this is off the beaten path yet not too far away; the ideal place for a picnic, or just a lazy afternoon reading in the sun. Every Sunday in June they also have free concerts. This year's theme is sub-saharan Africa, with the activities starting at 16h and the concerts at 17h.

Roseraie du Val-de-Marne
Rue Albert Watel
94240 L'Haÿ-les-Roses
01 47 40 04 04
Open daily from Mid-May - Mid-September, 10 - 20h.
3€/1.50€ entrance fee; 0.75€ for a guided tour.

From RER B station Bourg-la-Reine, take the bus 192 or 172 (check schedules here)
From Metro Porte d'Italie (°7), take the 184, 186, or 286


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Construction Aux Halles

In Paris, it seems like there is always construction going on. Even on my small block it is non-stop: as soon as one building has been repainted, another one is draped in tarp, prepared for pressure washing. When there are restorations on the inside, however, it becomes a bit more complicated, as the green aluminum siding just wouldn't do. At Les Halles, an indoor mall in the middle of Paris, you'll see creative solutions masking the current construction work. One wing has panels of mirrors, with an image of spectators in a theatre (there is a movie theater just beyond).
This continues as a lighted panel, which changes colors:
You can almost forget that it's just a temporary way of hiding construction, instead of an exhibition or permanent display.

And now for my gross-out moment of the week:
It is very hard to tell in this photo, but in an effort to combat the heat, there were people swimming in the Canal. Not only swimming, jumping off of the pedestrian bridges. The water is green, people! (Here's a previous post with a better photo of that disgusting, polluted water.) It reminded me of that Seinfeld episode where Kramer goes swimming in the East River. And of the famous promise Chirac made, that he would clean up the Seine and go swimming in it to prove it (never happened). Still, with the abundance of public pools, there is no reason to resort to the Canal to cool off.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I have never been so happy

to see gray, cloudy skies. It was just too. damn. hot. And this is coming from a Southerner, who knows her sweltering summers and 80% humidity levels. While Paris has a lower humidity than where I come from, making the heat a *bit* less intense, it makes up for it tenfold with the lack of air conditioning. At home, at work, in the metro...everything becomes more disgusting with the heat. I lose my appetite on the metro when the overwhelming body odor and stinkiness make me want to hurl; the crammed garbage cans in the street, seemingly steaming as in cartoons (you know, how they draw odors), have the same effect. So hooray for rain, to cool the city off for a bit.

And now for some links...

Kerstin and Hervé have a great photoblog of Paris. I really like this shot, but it would be hard to pick a favorite.

Polémix et La Voix off (FR) takes audio clips from French politicians, splicing them and remixing them to a beat. Funny stuff, there's a new one every few days or so, usually focusing on the latest scandal or faux pas.

The New York Times recently published an article comparing the cosmetic habits of French and American women. While you have to pay to read the article, one forum posted the entire text here. What I find most refreshing about this natural emphasis is the overall lack of plastic surgery seen with French celebrities - they don't seem so fake. While there are obvious exceptions (Johnny Halliday, and apparently Catherine Deneuve), it's nothing compared to the perfectionist American celebrities. Anyone who's ever doubted the natural beauty of actresses and models needs to read this blog.

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Château de Chantilly

There are quite a few good daytrips to be made from Paris. While everyone does Versailles, and many do Chartres, don't forget about Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Giverny, or the Château de Chantilly. I've been wanting to go to Chantilly for a few months now, but everyone kept telling me to wait until the weather got warmer, to truly be able to appreciate the gardens. While you might first think of the thick whipped cream (crème de Chantilly), Chantilly is known for the chateau, its art collection, the gardens, and of course the beautiful stables and jockey club. In fact, the horses were the first thing that greeted us on our way from the train station to the chateau:Like a scene out of Arabian Nights, this long procession of turbaned men, followed by veiled women, was making its way to the Hippodrome. Tunisia was the guest of honor this weekend, and we just happened to arrive as they were making their formal parade through town.

It's a nice 30-minute walk through town to the chateau. Since it was a beautiful sunny day, many of the cafés had the terraces in full effect. There was also a large market on the main square, and tons of boutiques - children's clothing, kitchen stuff, shoe stores, a doggy shop (Pluto Chic - heehee get it), bookstores, and even a Longchamps outlet! This might very well extend the walk as it did in my case. Going through town also lets you visit the other sights on the way, such as the Notre-Dame church, which is connected to the Horse Museum and the stables.

The chateau is impressive when viewed from a distance, surrounded by a moat, with the gardens behind. The inside of the chateau itself is gorgeous. We spent most of our time viewing the sizable collection of art, with highlights including Ingrès, Raphaël, and Delacroix, as well as the Duc d'Aumale's library, the collections of lace and porcelein, and the stained glass hallways. We also took a tour of the private apartments (in French, and my goodness the guide was completely hammered!), and visited the chapel. After all my waiting in order to really visit the gardens, however, I didn't do more than take a glance around the pond in the French garden. I know, I know, I'm horrible. But it was too hot...that kind of sticky hot where you don't want to move, or eat, or do anything but stay in the shade. Also there was a lot of work going on, so even the French garden wasn't that nice - scaffoldings and barriers were scattered around the grass, and there were no flowers. Looking over the brochure I now regret missing out on the Kangaroo park, the Temple of Venus, the waterfall, and seeing the various "cottages" - oh well, there's always next time.

Château de Chantilly
The park is open every day from 10 - 18h, the Chateau has the same hours but is closed on Tuesdays.
4€ to visit the gardens, 8€ to visit the gardens and the château.
From Gare du Nord (check the train schedules here):
RER D1 Direction Creil to Chantilly Gouvieu, ~45 minutes, 7.70€ one-way
TER train to Chantilly Gouvieu, ~25 minutes, 6.80/5.10/3.40€ one-way depending on what tarif applies.
There is a free shuttle to the chateau that leaves within a few minutes of each TER train's arrival from Paris; otherwise it is a lovely 30-minute walk to the chateau, either through a shaded path, or through the town itself which has really cute boutiques and cafés.


Friday, June 09, 2006

A la Biche au Bois

A block or so away from the Gare de Lyon you will find A la Biche au Bois, blending in with the surrounding cafés and brasseries. If I had been left to my own devices I certainly would not have picked this restaurant out of all the ones that line the block; the brown vinyl benches, wood paneling, and mounted antlers were not exactly beckoning to me. But I am faithful to my red guide and the "bib gourmand" signification was reason enough to come here, and once again, I was not disappointed.
They offer a 4-course menu for only 23.20€! (Click to enlarge and check out the choices for yourself):
In stark contrast to a restaurant that I just posted about, Les Allobroges, which was vegetarian-friendly with an all vegetable menu, A la Biche au Bois is not even pescetarian friendly! Here you will only find meat, meat, and more meat, hence the name, which indicates its emphasis on game (though they do have a token salmon dish). We both went for the set menu, R. starting with the Salade Périgourdine, and me with the Salade Biche. My salad was a house salad, which included Champignons à la Grecque (basically pizza-flavored mushrooms - don't ask), Céleri Rémoulade (mayonnaise coated grated celery root - kind of like a French version of cole slaw, without the color or the sugar), green salad, and a slice of homemade terrine (yum). R.'s salad was green salad and green beans with a slice of foie gras.

For his main dish, R. ordered the daily special, a steak (entrecôte) that came with a huge platter of fresh, crunchy homemade french fries that I kept stealing every time he wasn't looking. I had the coq au vin, which was served in an enormous steaming casserole, the chicken swimming in that delicious brown wine sauce, surrounded by potatoes, mushrooms, and gigantic chunks of bacon. So good, this is the kind of dish you imagine French grandmothers making in their country kitchens with copper pots.

Next came the cheese course - your pick of the platter. R. chose the cantal and I tried two of their chèvres, one that was coated in pepper, which was surprisingly powerful, and another classic creamy chèvre. And finally, the dessert course! Even though I just had île flottantes a few weeks ago at Chez Léon, I couldn't resist since they're not *that* commonplace, and this might've been my last chance to have them - a good memory indeed. R. went the alcoholic route, first asking if he could have raspberry sorbet doused in armagnac (on the menu it says you can have them with the liqueur of your choice), but then conceded to the waiter's reasonable suggestion to replace the armagnac with strawberry liqueur.

When the desserts were finished we were both offered a small bit of cognac, and then came the bill...let's see, two apéritifs, two 4-course menus, one supplement to the menu, one 3/4 pitcher and one half-bottle of wine (a St-Joseph and a St-Emilion, for those of you keeping track), a bottle of sparkling much should that set you back...80€ for two. Not too shabby at all. We also had personable service the entire evening: the young hostess was charming, the older woman friendly and vigilant, and our waiter was a trip, if he was American he would be a chilled out reefer-lovin' surfer. The couple next to us kept asking him all sorts of questions, some of which you would expect him to be able to answer.
The last name of the chef? Umm, I don't know...chef? I just call him chef.
Where does the cheese come from (what maison)? Hmmm, that's a good clue...I bet they get it from that big market...what's it called? Rungis? Yeah, that's it.
And so on.
Perhaps not the best informed, but friendly enough, he took care of us while keeping the mood light.

Copious quantities, a warm and friendly atmosphere, and the inherent bargain in a 4-course menu for 23€ make A la Biche au Bois a great find. I'll definitely be going back.

A la Biche au Bois
45, Avenue Ledru-Rollin
75012 Paris
01 43 43 34 38
M: Gare de Lyon
Closed Saturday & Sunday
Reservations recommended


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

La Grande Epicerie

I've already mentioned La Grande Epicerie in this post, and this week I was in the neighborhood so I decided to drop by. La Grande Epicerie is more than just a grocery store: it is an experience. You will be amazed by the smells, the sights, the selection, and of course, the prices. I could easily lose myself in there for the afternoon. This time, in addition to the usual samples and delicacies, we were treated to stunning displays.

Hideous English hats, worthy of Camilla, floating in their boxes? Nope, just the orchids.

Pastries and cakes, much like those featured in Marie-Antoinette, waiting to be gobbled up?Actually, I don't know what these were - made of cloth, they looked like elegant pincushions. Each platter had a card with a sketch of a character from Alice in Wonderland in it. Does anyone know who did these displays?

Though I was tempted by their beignet samples and their upright granola-looking millefeuille, once again I caved for their rillettes d'oie. At 27€/kg these are more than double the normal price at Auchan, but well worth it in terms of quality - I'll have to try to smuggle some back with me, they are just too good. R. splurged on their coffee - they have a limited selection of beans which they will grind for you. Most of these range from 17 - 25€/kg, although they did have one blend at a whopping 120€/kg. I asked the guy if it was a typo, since it was at least 4x the price of all the other blends, and not behind a display case or anything, but he just shook his head and laughed. Silly American.

There was also a surreal moment at the Pommery tasting station, where a reeking homeless man wandered up, hair askew, bags in tow. The Pommery employee didn't bat an eye and immediately served him a glass of champagne, and the homeless man played the part of the discerning wine connaisseur surprisingly well. At least you know they have good customer service.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris
38, rue de Sèvres
75007 Paris
Monday - Saturday: 8h30 - 21h
01 44 39 81 00
m: Sèvres-Babylone

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Les Allobroges

Vegetarians, come here. Despondent because you've been missing out on all the great restaurants in Paris? Because the only suitable dishes you can find are the entrée salads, and even then you must make a special request to leave out the lardons, or the gésiers, or any other animal products those French try to sneak by? Despair no longer. Les Allobroges offers a 4-course all vegetable set menu for 28€. And if you're going with carnivores, they also offer a 4-course menu with the plate of the day (when I went it was canette - a type of duck) for only 20€, or a similar 4-course menu with more elaborate choices for 33€ (click to enlarge):The 20€ plate of the day menu is a steal, but I wanted to see what the tout légume menu was like. We all started with a tiny cup of creamy pea soup as an amuse-bouche: this was bright green and delicious. I had a stack of vegetables to begin with, served with an olive tapenade on the side. "Stack of vegetables" doesn't really do justice, but I can't remember what they called it: an elegantly arranged round of fresh vegetables (carrots, snow peas, broccoli, eggplant, bell pepper), topped with a thin slice of beet. The tapenade was excellent, especially with their homemade mini-baguettes. R. & M. both got the foie gras, prepared with thyme, and they loved it. It was unique because of the way it had been prepared: the foies are placed in a casserole and marinated & cooked in liqueur and herbs, so that the distinct outlines of each foie are visible in the slices and it is more compact (and flavorful, thanks to the cognac) than typical foie gras.

For our main dishes R. had the rabbit, served on a bed of ratatouille and topped with a slice of bacon, M. had the monkfish served over a dried cepe mushroom risotto, and I had the same cepe risotto served with a side of a broccoli & mashed potato purée. The risotto was creamy and rich, and the cepes were wonderful. As you know I love mashed potatoes, and even with broccoli these were great.

Afterwards came the cheese course for R. & M. - a slice of brie and a slice of brebis - and then came the desserts. R. had the fromage blanc mousse served with raspberry & strawberry sauces and M. had the rhubarb tarte, which was beautifully presented: a rectangle of the pastry, a dollop of the rhubarb-sauce, another rectangle of pastry at an angle, another dollop of rhubarb, and a light lavender sauce that decorated the plate. Very creative, this should have been called the leaning tower of rhubarb. The all-vegetable menu has two! dessert courses, so I started with a simple cold strawberry soup - no sugar or additions, just plain ol strawberry perfection. My second dessert was a bowl of lavender and fromage blanc sorbet. I have had lavender crème brûlée before and I didn't like it then, and I didn't like the lavender sorbet this time. Lavender is too associated with soap in my mind, and I feel like I'm eating laundry detergent (bringing back bad memories of when I misbehaved as a child and my grandmother would actually make me "clean my mouth out" with bar soap - bleh). The fromage blanc one was a bit strange but I liked it better than the lavender. Fromage blanc is like a thick plain yogurt that you can mix with fruit or honey or sugar, or all of the above, for dessert, but as a sorbet it lost its natural creaminess and sweetness and seemed almost tart & sour.

Everything was beautifully presented, the service was invisible - neither friendly nor rude in terms of personality, but impeccable where it really matters - and the dining rooms were spacious and warmly decorated, so I can see why this restaurant has been awarded both the bib gourmand and two utensils in the Michelin guide. This would be a great place to try if you are vegetarian, and even in warm weather the light vegetable menu is the perfect way to sample inventive French cuisine without feeling like you're going to burst on your way out. The 20€ menu is the bargain of bargains to be had in Paris, and if I ever go back I will definitely try it. A small note about the 33€ menu: the main dishes were mostly fish, with a small selection of game and poultry. Perhaps this reflects the season, but it might be something to take into consideration if you are a meat & potatoes person. The wines run between 20 - 40€/bottle, and they also have selections by the glass or half-bottle. It's in the 20th, quite far from the tourist circuit, and there were no foreigners in sight apart from me, so if you're looking to avoid the hordes invading Paris at this time of the year, this might be one option to consider. Reservations recommended.

Les Allobroges
71, rue des grands champs
75020 Paris
01 43 73 40 00
M: Maraîchers
Closed Sunday & Monday

I just wanted to post two good blog posts that have more lists of veggie restaurants in Paris:
Richard Gillman's list
Tanya's list


Sunday, June 04, 2006

The break-up

I've had it with my boulangerie! I swear I'm never going back. I don't know why, but all of the bakeries in my neighborhood suck balls. There are 4 in a 2-block radius, and a few more that are further away. Let me explain the shortcomings of these immediate 4:

The corner bakery
This lady is the fattest person I've ever seen in France, but that's not the reason I don't like going here. They are rude, it is really dirty inside, and their products aren't that great. I only go here when nothing else is open.

The red bakery
This family is probably the nicest, and it's kinda cute when the mom lets the little kid run the cash register. Their baguettes are OK and their galettes de roi were great, but unfortch for me, the pain au chocolat is a daily necessity, and their pain au chocolats are like bricks. I went almost everyday in January (the season of Epiphany), and I'll go when I need a baguette, but I have given up on their pastries.

The Replacement
This might be where I start going. Their baguettes aren't great and their pastries are lacking, but at least they are very nice and friendly. A bonus is that their baguette sandwiches start at 2.85€ and are fresh made to order, so that they aren't soggy from lying around in the display case all day.

The Ex
This is the one I used to go to most of the time. Their pastries are divine, their cakes are gorgeous, and their breads sufficient. Last year it was a man and a woman, the man being very nice and the woman being normal; this year the man only works in the back and they have hired an old beeotch who I cannot stand. I'm not demanding or slow, and it's not just me; she is mean to everyone. She'll mess up an order and blame the customer; she'll mess up the change and blame the customer; she'll complain about the order that you say things (ie you must start with the cakes and end with the bread, otherwise she'll be even more rude, if possible): in a word, OBNOXIOUS. I know that the French have a reputation for being rude, but even the snottiest waiter will have southern hospitality compared to this wench. I got really annoyed last week because she screwed up what I wanted, but I didn't realize it until I got home, and so I had to go all the way back to get the missing items that I had already paid for. I got even more annoyed with her reaction, one of defiance and distrust. I politely explained the situation and asked for the missing items, showing deference and not being accusatory or demanding in the least. She immediately started defending herself and saying it wasn't her fault, suspiciously eyeing me and begrudgingly wrapping up the items in question. Why would I want to nickel and dime a place where I've been a regular customer for the past two years? I went back a few days later and this time double checked everything on my way out. As I was doing so she grabbed the bag out of my hands and retwisted it shut. O-kay. I get it. Don't worry, I'm OUT.

The other ones
The Middle Eastern one
The thing is, it's not a Middle Eastern bakery being a Middle Eastern bakery, like the Jewish one nearby; it's a Middle Eastern bakery trying to be a French bakery and it just doesn't work. The only advantage is that they are open til 9 pm.
The Expensive one
I love this bakery, even if it is more expensive (baguettes @ 1€; pain au chocolates @ 1.10€). It has a beautiful façade, awesome creations of the week, delicious melt-in-your-mouth brioche, and crunchy sourdough baguettes. And the people who work there are friendly! I wouldn't mind the prices but it is a 5-minute walk, with my dog a 10-minute+ walk (one-way - you know, smelling the roses and such), and just not doable on a daily basis.
The good baguette one
This place has the best baguette traditions, their pain au chocolats are good, and the girls who work there have always been chatty. The perfect solution, you say? But it is even farther than the expensive one, and totally out of the way - I don't pass it on the way to work or to the metro. Boo hoo.
The bakery near work
As you may infer from the title, this bakery is near where I work, and thus I only pop in now and again. They are beyond friendly and I wish it was in my neighborhood.

Why are the only nice bakeries far away? Why is my quartier haunted by grumpy bakers? Woe is me! (Don't worry, I've already called the Waaaa-mbulance. I know I shouldn't be complaining, Paris is great and I would kill for even the meanest baker where I'll be next year.)

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Castelbajac SmartCar

Yet another reason I love Paris is because of all the fun vehicles I see here. A dune buggy parked outside the post office, a Porsche and an Aston Martin racing on Rue Réamur, the Ferrari trying to parallel park on Boulevard St-Michel, and of course all of the crazy SmartCars. I spotted this funky one in the 7th:On the driver's door you can read "Urban Car Concept" and "Pop Unit"; a quick Google search revealed that these SmartCars were specially designed by Jean-Charles de Castelbajac. It seems like something you would find in Antoine & Lili!


Friday, June 02, 2006

Dans La Peau de Jacques Chirac

I am not a fan of Karl Zéro, the director of Dans La Peau de Jacques Chirac. I never really liked Le Vrai Journal, his show on Canal+, and I can't stand his orange & black uniform, but what really did it in for me was his "interview" of Zacharias Moussaoui's mom, where he let all her crazy rantings & ravings go unchecked. However, this film is a gem. It was surprisingly very accessible: it's not only for the intellos and those interested in politics. While thankfully I had my boyfriend to tell me about the less familiar characters, even if you don't know much about the ins and outs of French politics (me!), you'll still find it funny. There was constant, albeit cynical, laughter the entire time we watched the film. Chirac is such a clown, such a showman, and that shit-eating grin never leaves his face no matter what questions are asked or what happens. While the trailers do capture some of the highlights of the film (this youtube has 3 of them),

there are some other great moments. Bernadette & Chirac boarding a plane: Bernadette trips, Jacques grabs her elbow, and she pushes him away (cassé!).

Chirac and Mitterand during the presidential debate of 1988, where this famous dialogue follows:
Chirac, "Permettez-moi juste de vous dire que, ce soir, je ne suis pas le Premier ministre et vous n'êtes pas le Président de la République, nous sommes deux candidats à égalité, qui se soumettent au jugement des Français, le seul qui compte, vous me permettez donc de vous appeler Monsieur Mitterrand."
(Allow me just to say that, tonight, I am not the Prime Minister and you are not the President; we are two equal candidates, subject to the judgement of the French people, the only judgment that matters, and thus you would allow me to address you as Mr. Mitterand [instead of Mr. President].)
To which Mitterand replies, "Mais vous avez tout à fait raison, monsieur le Premier Ministre."
(You're completely right, Mr. Prime Minister.)***

Another shocker was when Chirac was hammered at a banquet in 1991 and complains about immigrant workers (particularly Muslims & Africans) taking advantage of the welfare system:

I read the reviews in Figaroscope and Le Monde today and they seemed to be expecting a documentary; it is certainly far from this, and if you are looking for some hard journalism than you will definitely be disappointed. I, however, enjoyed this film, simply because it made me laugh, it was only an hour and a half, and I felt like I knew a little bit more about France when I left the movie theater. If you're even just a teensy weensy intrigued by these clips (or at least raise your eyebrows or giggle at them), you should go see the film. The official site is great, with even more clips and a Chirac soundboard, and that catchy Chirac anthem that I can't get out of my head "Votons Jacques Chirac, en avant toute la nation, pour tous, Jacques Chirac, maintenent Président, ensemble maintenent, Jacques Chirac, Président..."

Votez Jacques Chirac, 1981 : le tube officiel de la campagne présidentielle
(durée : 3 m 39 s, mp3 ici)

(Lifted from Aeiou, le blog de flu)

***The entire text of the debate can be found here in PDF format

UPDATE: I have downloaded the song, cropped the chorus, changed the file format, uploaded it onto my phone, and made this one of my ringtones! Mwah hah hah.

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