On a Binge in Paris

You know what happens. After the first one, you’re feeling good. Loose, stimulated, happy.     But then you want another. Finding one is no problem, so you go ahead and indulge. The pleasure is intense. You can’t stop talking and thinking, your mind is darting everywhere, from what you know to what you wish you did. You tell yourself, no harm done.  Next thing you know you’re doing two a day. Exhaustion sets in but something is driving you. You just…have to…. keep going… to museums.

It’s true, we did two yesterday and one today. It’s too much but we can’t help it. It’s our last weekend in Paris and, il faut profiter. Yesterday we woke up to a morning that looked like this:

photo 4  Yes, that is greenery. Sunshine. Perfect day to journey across Paris and see this:

photo 14Eiffel Tower – seen from Trocadero (a plaza across the river)

At Trocadero, is another museum that we have not seen before: the Palais de Chaillot, a museum of architecture  and “patrimoine”. Like so much we have been to, it was blessedly empty (take a note, last two weeks of January are prime time for museum-going in Paris).

photo 11photo 5

photo 7  Impressive, no? Especially for fans of medieval art. I kept saying to Alan, “Why couldn’t these churches be saved?

photo 6 Dummy. These are moldings taken of the original works. I cannot imagine what it must be like to put the whole east facade Rheims cathedral in a mold. But these French are awfully clever.

photo 13  Isn’t he lovely?

And this?     photo


An enjoyable aspect of all this is that these architectural elements are often high up in gloomy cathedrals and here you could really see the beautiful carvings of so many anonymous master sculptors.photo 10

I got into depictions of Eve (I”m always into that).

photo 9photo 8photo 3 Upstairs at the Palais Chaillot an enormous room full of architectural models.

photo 27photo 20 But having traversed hundreds of meters of culture, Eve was ready to bite the apple. We went in search of food and found it down the hill at…. The Musee d’Art Moderne. After quiche and a salad…. are you thinking what I’m thinking?

photo 24photo 22

That’s Sonia Delauney on the left (the painting, I mean) and a gorgeous Dufy on the right. I won’t tire you with more, but it was lovely and not too much. Not really.

Today…. hmm what shall we do?

photo 17  If the army of the French Republic is going to spend so much time and money guarding the Jewish Museum, the least we can do is go, right? We waved to the two machine-gun -toting soldiers, cleared the airport-level security check, and entered this:

photo 29  Yes, a seventeenth century hotel particular, where else but in the Marais.

photo 21photo 26

photo 19photo 23

photo 18 Just a taste of what we saw. Speaking of tasting, this museum-going is hungry work. What would be the right meal after getting in touch with our Jewish heritage?

photo 25photo 15

Fallafel! Another heritage item guarded by machine gun. I kid you not.

And what are we reading?

photo 28






A Visit to my Aunt

How I love discovering something new, and today’s discovery particularly gratifies me because it fits so well into our current themes of the seventeenth century and the Marais. While doing a small, self-guided tour of historic buildings in the Marais -which is pretty much every building – I stood shivering and reading from the guidebook about hotels particuliers on rue Francs-Bourgeois. I spied a building flying the tri-color and took a closer look.

Unknown Hmm. Looks like a bank or insurance company. I went to see what was posted up outside. What’s this? “Visite”? “Encheres”? An auction house of some kind? I’m in.


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Entering a lovely courtyard with fountain, I had a number of doors to chose from. The one marked “ventes” made sense, so I plunged right in.

photophoto 6

photo 2 Once inside, I found a bustling auction in progress. “Madame, vous etes en retard,” the auctioneer joked. I smiled and waved.

Wow. Was this ever better than the auction house, Drouot. COMFORTABLE SEATS.


It was a jewellery auction and the auctioneers were flying through the lots. Many of the lots were gold items, sold in bulk.Unknown-1

Let’s back up for a minute, history buffs. What was going on here and what exactly is the  Credit Municipal de Paris? Known locally as “Ma Tante”, and originally as the Mont de Pitie, it is where you can go for a loan when you are particularly hard up. A money-lender. A massive pawn shop. You hand over your valuables, a value is assigned, and you can borrow up to 50% of the value.

Ma Tante will take just about anything of value. It turns out that she even has a wine cellar.

louis-xiii-1 _var_www_creditmunicipal_upload_1_105x152_f_722  Louis and Richelieu

Established  by Louis XIII,  and, later, supported  by Cardinal Richelieu,  the idea was to offer a fair deal to those in need.   With a few time-outs for Revolution and such, the Credit has been in business  from its seventeenth century origins to this day.  In fact we saw a number of people going in the other door off the courtyard and thinking about it later, I realized that these people were going to drop stuff off and get their “pret sur gage”.  They didn’t seem so pitiable. No Cossettes,  nor little match girls. No wailing or shifting about shamefacedly.

photo 4

A poster outside the auction hall. Victor Hugo doesn’t think we should be ashamed to go to ma tante, either. Apparently 91% of those who take a loan pay it off. If, after a year, they fail to do so, their goods are sold at auction and the money is used to fill the cash coffers for more loans.

Back to the auction.  Jewellery was flying out the door and the prices were fou. Examples.

70369 Platinum ring with a half carat diamond. Went for 200 euros. Seriously.

Another one, also .50 carats  :70316   Went for 500 Euros. Still an amazing price. Here’s another objet d’interet:

70438 Cartier Tank watch (les Must de Cartier) went for 210 Euros.

I didn’t bid but wish I had on this last item. Never fear, there is one auction left in January, and guess who will be there?

The Perfect Paris Apartment II

Yesterday we discussed the difficulties of finding the perfect Paris apartment to rent. Whether unrenovated, too renovated, badly located or too expensive, it is a challenge to find just the right place. Let me share a fantasy with you. How about the idea of buying a place and fixing it up just exactly to please oneself? And were we to do so, it wouldn’t be just any old ho-hum apartment. It would have to be…  atypique. I have found just the place, let’s take a look (photos from the real estate agency “Espaces Atypique”).

I think we have agreed that the fourth arrondissement, and maybe the third, is interesting, fun and central. It has a concentration of hotels particuliers, the aristocratic town mansions of the 17th century, and earlier. How about if we could get hold of a hotel particulier in the Marais, one that is for sale and in need of work? How about this one?



For sale is the ground floor, terrace and sous sol.

atelier_avec_cour_privative_hotel_particulier_paris_4e_08-1024x682 So far, so good, no?


This is killer. Okay, it needs work, but how high is that ceiling? Looks fourteen feet. Look at the light. Imagine a beautifully landscaped courtyard and fountain. Plus, it already has curtains. What more do you want?

atelier_avec_cour_privative_hotel_particulier_paris_4e_04-1024x682  Looking the other way, someone has begun to build a mezzanine: exactly what I would do. On the mezzanine would be a bedroom and bath. This large room is 550 square feet, enough so that the front part of the room, nearest the windows, could be left to soar up to its full height.

atelier_avec_cour_privative_hotel_particulier_paris_4e_05-1024x682 Beautiful beams. Kitchenette at the back indicates that plumbing rough-in is in place.

Just to give you the vision, here are three finished apartments, all with mezzanines.

loft_urbain_paris_19e_03-1024x682 Looking down on a large living

room from the mezzanine.

M234EP_atelier_avec_jardin_dans_ancienne_laiterie_ivry_02-1024x682 Under this mezzanine, an inviting couch area.

M305EP_dernier_etage_en_duplex_pantin_01-1024x682 Spiral stairs up to a very open mezzanine space.

But the apartment in question is much more than a big, unfinished space.

atelier_avec_cour_privative_hotel_particulier_paris_4e_07-1024x682  You enter through this charming gate…

atelier_avec_cour_privative_hotel_particulier_paris_4e_02-1024x682  …and find this large terrace. Perfect for little doggies. A fountain. Statuary. Comfortable furnishings. It is also about 550 square feet.

And at the end of the terrace is a space they are calling ‘the Atelier’.Let’s get a grainy closeup.


That’s the atelier, at the end, with the pretty blue french doors. It is 200 square feet, just right for a studio apartment. See where I’m heading? You have two potential rental apartments, either of which you can live in when you want to be in Paris. Oh! La-la! But that’s not all. Check out this floor plan.



Grainy. Sorry. But that blue part is the sous sol, and it’s vast, 850 square feet. Here is how it looks now.





I know, I know, looks like the Count of Monte Christo was imprisoned here. But this is how it could look.

M321EP_atypisue_sur_cour_beaubourg_paris_4e_05-1024x682 Quiet, dark, great sleeping in here.

Ventes532817f21a0cc or how about a cool dining area? It’s all about lighting.

Well, that’s enough fantasy for one day. Let me know if you want to go in on this with me. It’s only 1.1 million Euros (as is). Bargain, right?

The Perfect Paris Apartment

We are often asked if we take the same Paris apartment every time we are here. The answer is no. We never take the same apartment because we have  yet to find the perfect one. Our first apartment here was a splurge and  we found it, ironically enough, through the American agency Paris Perfect.


It looked a bit like this one although it was smaller. It had pull-out couches for the girls and two quite excellent bathrooms. The kitchen was tiny but had great appliances (it convinced us to buy a Miele dishwasher). It offered a view of the Eiffel Tower and was in the tony, residential 7th arrondissement. We wanted to be there because Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker  lived in the 7th and we had been reading his Paris column for years. It is a great spot to raise kids and to live for a few years, but is not actually that central. The perfect Paris apartment should be an easy walk (i.e. less than a half hour) from the Louvre.

Our next place, in the 13th Arrondissement, was our home for six months. We had a challenging wish list: four bedrooms  ( a rare thing here) to house us, our two daughters, and the lengthy list of guests who wanted to come. We also needed a terrace for our two doggies. We ended up with something fantastic: a four bedroom, three bathroom, three storey house which united a cool loft-style industrial space for the kitchen/living/dining to a renovated 19th century worker house for the bedrooms. The terrace looked much like this one:



The entryway was like this.



It had beams and stairs like this.


The living area had much of this vibe , a spacious area mixing  the modern and ancient.

The place in the 13th was really cool, but I don’t imagine I will ever need something so big again. Important travel tip: if you rent it, they will come. We began to feel that we were running a bed and breakfast in the 13th and we still didn’t manage to accommodate everyone who wanted to visit. SOOO, having extra space can be something of a liability in your Paris apartment.  And was this place expensive. We rented  out both our Montreal duplex and our country house and managed to cover HALF the rent of this cool house. Also, the 13th is about a 40 minute walk to the Louvre.

Last year, we found a charming place in the Marais, just the perfect location for us. With its 17th century buildings, chic boutiques, incredible food shops, youthful artiness and central location, we feel the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) is us. You may have seen these photos:

photo 4 From the dining area to the living room.

photo Three nice chimneypieces.

IMG_0144  Two French windows in the bedroom and living room.

photo 3  Nice views.

By now you are wondering, what’s wrong with this place? Looks… perfect.

photo 5  Here’s what’s wrong. World’s tiniest kitchen. Broken/inferior appliances. No counterspace.  AND,  I can’t even show you the shower area, too embarrassing that I lived with that for three months. The whole space was charming but shabby. One day, it will make a great apartment, after the renovation.

This year, we went for what seemed a slickly renovated place, again in the Marais. Check it out.

photo 8 The entryway. You see the master bedroom on the left.

photo 14 Outside the master, nice details.

photo 7 The hallway leads into the dining and living area.

photo 15 The selling point: amazing, wrap around views.

photo 10 This is the Eglise St. Paul, our view from all the rooms. It looks especially lovely at sunset.

photo 1 There are two bathrooms. I like the tile work in this one .photo 12 Heated towel bar. LOVE IT.              photo 17  Walk in shower.photo 11I like the way the striped tiles wrap up onto the wall.

photo 15 It’s about the view, really. The balcony wraps around the entire apartment.

photo 4 There are custom-made curtains on every window. Do you think the fabric is a bit much? photo 5 Enough already. We know we are in Paris.

photo 13 More fabric details. Throw pillows abound.

photo 6 The leather couch turns into a double bed. There is also a tiny second bedroom with another convertible couch.

photo 16 Here is the kitchen/ dining end  of the living area. Cool chandelier. Tulip table. Plastic chairs, as seen in design magazines,  are surprisingly comfortable. AND counterspace is totally inadequate. I have, I think, twelve inches of prep space. The whole thing looks nice, though.

Is this THE ONE, then? The perfect Paris apartment? Perfect, no. All that glitz, it’s just not for me. Which of these apartments would suit you best?


Dames d’un Certain Age

We are fascinated with French women, and especially la Parisienne. Writing a book about them in which you guarantee your readers that they will learn the 7 essential secrets of being a woman in the French style is a fast track to the best-seller list. This idealization of the Frenchwoman includes the notion that she is slim, ageless, witty, sophisticated and very seductive. She is also a great chef (knows how to cook mackerel, for example) and juggles work and family without strain. Judging by the behaviour of the French heads of state, it seems that these stellar qualities are lost on the men of France. But certainly not on the women of North America. That is why I am writing a book called, Aging a la  Francaise, because unlike all those other writers, I actually have figured out a number of things about Frenchwomen such as how and why Parisennes keep their figures. It’s their junk food. Pathetic. Check this out.

01f98e2da9def24bc74fc2d42df24d6bf51dc9a704_00001This is a Paris vending machine. What are they selling? Waffles. I kid you not. Who the heck would want to eat a waffle from a vending machine? And where’s the fat and the salt that make a junk food addictive? No self-respecting person would turn to these as a “treat”, and certainly not a Parisienne. No human has ever said, “I got fat because of those vending machine waffles”. That was Exhibit A. On to B.

01ca873974d24f5eca4a1f377aeb47abd0b9998488 So, here  is the side of a vending machine. There is the waffle, some cookies, a package of jujubes. And, what I don’t get is the name of the product: Bon Plans. Do you get that? What does that mean in the context of furtively scarfing your junk food on the subway platform? Obviously, it’s not a bon plan. And why are we throwing in English words gratuitously anyway?  Most puzzling. But not as strange as Exhibit C.

016e97ede98774d3cf8649ce195914acf91d4341deWow. Proust would be so gratified. Madeleines in the vending machine. This is not how you get fat. These vending machines represent a mentality. And if you want to know more you will have to reserve an advance copy of my book.

In order to research this book, I have had to seek out the most chic and compelling dames d’un certain age in Paris. They are to be found here.

0194d0bbb8765893c9e8ba0d482bf2fe0d18056f13 In the north-east corner of the Marais, Merci is the height of cool. So cool that it, too, is something I don’t understand. It is a non-profit store. Proceeds to charity. Nice idea. My gallery, too is non-profit as it turns out, but not intentionally. The French don’t like the idea of profit I guess and that is part of what makes Merci very cool. I do get how beautiful the interior space is. Huge, industrial loft style, great clothes, fantastic furnishings, linens and a big draw for Parisiennes of the sort we want to research.


0119c319df3a3e36bff137f7b8b8a62c5e0eba1d07 Voila. There she is. Great coat.  Well-tailored pants.

0161aa1c6f5fbcb465d5d88c2fde57d2a3e61f282aI admire this. Tidy. Elegant. Serious. Looks like she reads Foucault.

01a099f8c0a13080f7b792fd2215617425abbee468 Another thing to notice. Not trying to look young. Doesn’t have to try hard in any way. Just is. Here’s the coup de grace.

0156ddf48e6bad16033c32abf359575d80819146cf These are her shoes. Match the scarf. She is having fun and not asking anyone’s permission. She is showing that while she looks serious and adult there is a playful side you would probably like to get to know. 01c8c7dcef260165e7d6fa6b2cd0bef1397cc40c27 So much to notice here.  Great jacket with its velvet collar. Blouse, simple and perfect. Probably cost 500 euros. Don’t ignore the finer points. Those little hairclips. This is attention to detail that requires study.

01bf3bda0f7c55ca285436e037d51b5699ef5d95b3This one is a movie star. I’m pretty sure. Let me know if you recognize her.

01829125d9962cd4797ada26e5669c55b0e5767186 Finally, I leave you with this example, from the Jardin des Plantes (a great place for stalking chic grannies). Notice how her foulard matches the orchids.



Good People and Bad

Looking out my window recently, I saw two young boys of perhaps seven or  eight years whizzing around the corner on their scooters. I was glad to see that young kids are allowed out to play in our part of town, unsupervised. You just don’t see overweight children here.  Just seconds before one of the boys entered his code outside his door and leapt inside, it struck me that he was wearing a yarmulke. He pulled his friend after him and disappeared…This glimpse  was one of those  small moments that mean a lot to me. I get a feeling of triumph every time I see visible the survival of the French Jews.  011ffcb62e1b6f039f64ff66852d885c2167884659

These plaques are everywhere in Paris. They attest to the number of dead children, given up by the French and seized from their schools and homes by the Nazis, then deported and murdered because they were Jewish. I admire the French willingness to own up to this shame. These constant reminders distress me, but we owe those children our distress even so many years later.  Five years ago, sending my own half-Jewish child to attend a French school, she went past one such plaque and the big blue doors of the ecole shut behind her. I gulped hard, imagining her fate had we lived here at the wrong time.

But today, bright and sunny and perfect these thoughts were not on my mind. We were off to visit the Maison Victor Hugo, one of Paris’ many small museums. We went through the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Sully and into the gorgeous Place des Vosges. Children were playing, their mothers’ laughter ringing out.

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And unbidden, as these things often are, I noticed a green door in the arcade of the Place des Vosges. Peering more closely I realized with a start, it’s a synagogue.



Wow. A congregation of Jews, thriving in the heart of the former Jewish district (as the Marais was) and in a highly significant Marais location, too. This miracle survival, despite the very best efforts of some very bad people was heartening.  Bravo.

On to Victor Hugo, what a delight. 01ba425b0db70b5beb6b5c59579c8eb030b7b0bb15


I am a big fan of nineteenth century novels and admire  French ones  as much as English and  Russian. In the museum, I learned about Hugo’s life and experienced his surroundings,  the apartment he lived in through some of his most successful years. No starving artist, Hugo gave his  apartment on the Place des Vosges a sumptuous appeal.0153605ba96b3955ed9e14aaf255f88c414dc52095_0000101080d9175dbafd5f9f4cb54f764d816b64455599b_00001015ed5aaa9c45277b8fd24cbe1d53be737068119c5_0000101f724aee7b156a4d59446e46a61323404fa7fe1db_00001

Bright rooms, en enfilade, are filled with the paintings and furnishings selected by Hugo, who clearly enjoyed decor and was a fan of Chinoiserie. As with his prose style, in Hugo’s view, more is more.

Despite his evident success, Hugo’s interesting life had many difficult moments. His beautiful daughter Leopoldine drowned together with her husband, at the age of 19, shortly after her marriage. Hugo could not recover.


This is Leopoldine.

As well, Hugo’s outspoken support of Republican causes put his life in danger when Napoleon III seized power. He fled and remained in exile for 15 years, unable and unwilling to return to a homeland that was not free.

014ffee776852f81b3904044b7e8b6de25f98c669dHow many successful artists today would risk it all for a principle? Hugo could have returned in a general amnesty to join the cultural life of his homeland, but he refused. He must have been tempted to see family and friends, talk to his publishers, get theatre projects going, be in his beloved Paris, but he chose to use his fame to promote freedom.  Despite all the disturbing plaques, the reminders throughout Paris of horror and terror, of human criminality, Hugo’s life shows us how a good man can behave and what it is to be moral.

Letter from Paris

Medication for jetlag

Medication for jetlag.


Yes, we are here in Paris and settling into our Marais apartment which is well-located, petite, and full of a kind of shabby charm. Translation:it could do with redecorating, but nothing has been spoiled or jars. I love the four tall French windows framed by white cotton curtains and glowing in the south-facing sun. I love the black marble fireplaces, which a dinner companion this week tells me indicates the place is 18th century,  and many little touches such as the ornate brass clock on the mantel (doesn’t work) and the pair of brass candelabra that are reflected in tall old mirrors. The floors are mellow waxed oak – wide plank rather than parquet – and the tiles are earthenware octagons. We look due south to the Seine and while you can’t see the water, you can see the dome of the Pantheon in the quartier Latin. Out on the street everything we need and love is there with many wineshops, a street market, and a nearby Monoprix (heaven).

View from dining room through to living roomHere is the view from the dining room through to the living room. On our first day, we stopped for flowers – an inexpensive Paris necessity – and the little pyramid you see on the dining table contains a couple of chocolate pastries from the corner boulangerie. This how they package them!

noView at dusk from our window, the cobbled, narrow streets of the Marais. You can see my reflection in the window.

hotelOur area, the Marais, is one of the oldest in central Paris. It has dozens of these  beautiful buildings, which one views through grand doorways off the sidewalk. Known as hotels particuliers, they were the in-town chateaux of the aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many have been turned into museums or government buildings .This is the Jewish Museum.

doorCloseup  of the grand, carved doors of the Marais.

fleurWhat does it feel like to be back in Paris? Like meeting again with an old friend, whose many ways you treasure, especially the ones you had forgotten.





hrough to living room