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.

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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:

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The entryway was like this.

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It had beams and stairs like this.

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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 III

Faithful readers will know that I am working on a sure bet best-seller, Aging a la Parisienne.  This up-coming New York Times number- one -on -the -non-fiction list, will pay for all my future winters in Paris, especially once the movie deal is negotiated. It taps into the ever-present fascination we in North America have for the witty, stylish and beautiful Parisienne of a certain age. Last year we explored the secrets of staying slim and analyzed some particular individuals so that we could copy the look. This year I have offered myself up as a cochon d’inde in the war against age. Yes, dear readers there is little I will not do in the service of knowledge.

photo  There is a new beauty shop on rue des Francs Bourgeois, the  Marais main drag which already hosts Mac, Bobby Brown, and Diptyque. Sakare sounds Japanese but is actually from the UK. Our local shop is the first Paris boutique and their sweetly aggressive sales folk actually drag you in off the street for their sales pitch.

photo 6  This is Guido gearing up to make me beautiful. Yes, he’s Italian. He went to the Niccolo Machiavelli School of Beauty.

photo 5 This is me waiting to become a beautiful, radiant Dame d’Un Certain Age.

photo 4 Guido considers his batterie de cuisine.

photo 2 “I cannot work a miracle,” he said. He really did.

photo 3 He gets to work applying fortifying facial serum which will “freshen the most tired-looking complexions” (Sakare website).

photo He demonstrates his masque on my hand. It is a hydrating mineral complex made of …. minerals. This is clearly Guido’s favourite part of the pitch. “How do you remove metal???” he says. “Water?” “NO.” “UHHH, with a magnet?” “Precisely!”

photo 9  Here, he uses a magnet to lift off the metal- “Removing all impurities”, he says excitedly. The almond oil stays put and looks better on my hand than the black stuff.

photo  WOW. Some hand.

By now my face is ready as the serum has soaked in. Get ready to be shocked.

photo  Voila! COMPLETELY transformed. “You were wrong”, I said to Guido. “You have worked a miracle.”

There you have it. Parisiennes spend untold hours with black minerals and expensive oils on their faces because that City of Light radiance does not come without effort.

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Or without expense. Here are just a few of the advanced moisturizing products I will be bringing home. With so many miracles taking place in my morning routine, I expect to be nominated for sainthood . Perhaps Sakare will be willing to work closely with me and sponsor  the book. I see “model/spokesperson” in my future.

Finally, I have an update on how Parisiennes stay slim. Last year, you learned that this can be attributed to the appalling junk food on offer here in Paris. Vending machine waffles? Madeleines instead of Twinkies? This is not how you tempt a person to overeat. Unfortunately for the French, however, since last year the Lays potato chip company has put on a major push in the Paris market. Sure, the same old packages of jujubes are everywhere, but frankly, how many can you eat at one sitting? You don’t get fat on jujubes.

photo French candies.

No, it’s potato chips that pack on the pounds and it’s obvious that Lays has put a lot of research into convincing the French that they cannot eat just one. Their research geniuses have created a line of potato chips that are, well, unique.

photo Aren’t you dying to try  Olive/Tapas potato chips? Yummy.

photo  How about chips that taste like Spaghetti Bolognaise? I would love to meet the marketing guru that pitched that one.

Our next example should only be considered by those without an easy gag reflex. Otherwise, skip to the bottom for a contest update.

photo  That’s right. Roast chicken flavour. That is SO disgusting. Bet I can’t eat even one! And neither could any self-respecting Parisienne. So, once agin, saved from empty calories, the Parisienne can put her energies into resisting baguettes.

Contest update. Entries continue to come in for yesterday’s contest. Scroll down if you missed it. A clarification: the mud soap and shea butter sample is from Sakare so that you, too can have a morning miracle.

 

C’est Logique…. and a Contest

We think of the French as great chefs, glorious vintners and gifted with all things visual – art, architecture, la mode, je ne sais quoi. But when it comes to modern life, technology, engineering, we don’t usually think of the French. We don’t usually think, “Hmm, Blackberry could use some help getting back in the game. Better call some Frenchmen (or women).” But these limiting views of French savour faire deserve a rethink. There’s a lot of cleverness here . photo 2

Here is the apartment washer-dryer. Yep,  washer and dryer in one.

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See? It will dry, it will wash, it will take up very little room and be very, very quiet so that you can have a dinner party and sip champagne just feet from your laundry, something I don’t think you do normally at home.

At home, the vogue in laundry equipment is big, honkin’, brightly coloured front-loaders that are jacked up on platforms, perform tricks like steam clean and are just plain vulgar and unnecessary. In fact, a whole cultural analysis could be undertaken on this topic and it would reveal a lot about us and them. But I will spare you. Next example.

photo 4  Okay, this is not engineering, it is commerce, yet another field I avoided in university but that could have made me a lot richer. That’s another story. Anyway, in France, they post the prices of what is displayed in the store window, in the window. I like this. It confirms for me that even during Les Soldes I cannot afford “Sandro”, something which is nice to know before I set foot inside. Can you afford these things? Zoom to see. Next example.

photo 3   Here we see a converter. Important to come to France with many of these so that you do not spend hours searching for your ONLY ONE, and blaming your husband. Do not cheap out on these. We tried that and our daughter’s blow dryer turned into an instrument of doom with actual flames coming out. That’ll dry your hair quickly.  Have high-end converters  conveniently staged everywhere so that you do not fry your electricals. Why? Because French electricity is like Le Jazz Hot: 220, man. Fast, fast, fast. Boil water in seconds. Why don’t we have this? It’s just better.

As if I haven’t made my case, here is the final example, a favourite, since plumbing is always a potent measure of civilization and the French  learned from the ROMANS.

photo 5 Voila. Le petit et le grand. We know the difference between Number 1 and Number 2 and so does the toilet. These are starting to make their way to North America. About time.

Finally, I know you have been curious about the Contest. In this contest, Alan and I are the winners. Sorry. I do have a consolation prize for the person who makes the most amusing comment on the blog.  The thing is, Alan and I just learned we have won 1000$ for opening a bank account with La Capitale. Perhaps you can too by contacting Robert Nuss and opening your own account (you’re welcome Robert). So the contest has to do with you voting as to what we should do with the bucks. Should we:

1. Have lunch at a Michelin  Three Star Restaurant?

2. Go on a shopping spree in the Marais (Alan too)?

3. Buy art – maybe at the flea market?

4. Save it for our next trip? (Do you really want to be that boring?)

Vote and vote often (using the comment space on wordpress). Alternative suggestions not accepted (unless they are damned good). Family members are not excluded. Most amusing comment wins a mud soap bar and shea butter cream from a high end beauty shop in the Marais – more about that in tomorrow’s post.

Terror in Paris II

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Sunlight and blue skies this early Sunday morning in the Paris apartment. A great morning to head out explore the city. Recent events in the city were still very much on our mind and  were hardly dispelled by the sight of soldiers in their camouflage, carrying machine guns, trigger at the ready. But we have seen that before in Paris.

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As you stroll the city the idea of terror is always there, embedded in the very stones. Soaring above the Seine, on the Right Bank at Chatelet, is the Tour St Jacques. It is all that remains of a Church, torn down stone by stone, by Parisians, during the Revolution. A tremendous fury must have fuelled the destruction of a church that had been erected as an act of faith by their very ancestors.

IMG_3609  And what did I spy at the foot of our very own apartment building: “This was the entrance of the prison of the grand army (1782-1845). At this place 161 detainees, including the Princess de Lamballe, were put to death the 3rd, 4th, and 5th September, 1792”. Of course, I looked the Princess up.

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She was Marie Louise Therese de Savoie, the dear friend of Marie Antoinette. She was caught up in the Terror, or, a moment of terror before Robespierre and friends really got to work at Place de la Concorde, with their “humane” death machine, the guillotine. Beware, oh one percent.

IMG_0175IMG_0174  The most beautiful room of the Musee Cluny houses the decapitated statues of Kings, removed from the facade of Notre Dame during the Terror. Thought lost, they were rediscovered in a rubble pile and take their place together now, a commentary on power, loss, and the passage of time.

 

 

IMG_3604   Elsewhere in our neighbourhood, the Marais, the story of terror is present in more subtle ways. Hoping to confuse the mob, aristocrats at the time of the Terror had their coats of arms removed from the streetscape outside their  mansions. They present a blank face. Aristocrats? Us?

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But, despite this city’s  frequent and potent reminders that human history is a story of violence and terror, there are many moments that point the other way.

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We live four subway stops from Place de la Republique, but the crowds walking home from the “manif”, today’s unity rally that drew two and a half million  Parisians, were huge and continued past  our apartment for hours. Tired, happy, proud. They stood up to terror and said no to fear. They asserted their unity and their humanity.

Everyone who watches the news today will know about the huge success of today’s event. But I would like to share a small moment that I witnessed last year, on World Holocaust Day. Just down the street from our apartment was the Memorial de Shoah, which was behind barricades that day. Pedestrians were allowed to go past, and as you did, you could see a shelter and an event taking place. It was a ceremony, and it took us a moment to understand. “They are saying Kaddish.” Prayers for the dead. It went on all day.

Take a look at who provided security for this event, creating a sense of safety for the Jewish relatives of the dead.

IMG_1726_2  Yes, policemen. Of African origin. French citizens  aiding French citizens in the act of remembering and repudiating terror.

 

Terror in Paris

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By now most of my friends know that during the Charlie Hebdo shootings I was inside the Picasso museum which,  next to the Elysee Palace, must be  one of the most secure spots in the city. The lineups to get into the newly- renovated  museum had been fou through Christmas and New Year’s so we purchased our tickets on-line and hoped that by this week the crowds would have  gone back to their classrooms and offices. There were still substantial lineups, and in some of the galleries, overcrowding, but by the time we came out – no one. Hmm, we thought, should have come later. Would have had Picasso to ourselves. At the same time, my friend Genevieve was out for the first day of les soldes, the Paris Winter sales. Wandering the world’s most wonderful department store, the BHV, she was astonished at its emptiness  since on this day of the calendar, hepped-up Parisiennes vie for the orange-ticket items and run to the cash with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. Interestingly, Genevieve and I both learned of the grim truth from our far-flung children, texting us to reassure themselves about their mothers’ safety.

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At dinner that night chez Genevieve, surrounded by her friends, fear, angst, and anger flowed along with the champagne. “I’m terrified,” said Francoise -the -beautiful -dentist. “These young men , many of them are French, Catholics even.” She envisaged an unstoppable fifth column of citizen terrorists destroying the French way of life. The other Francoise, a gravel-voiced banker’s wife, was imagining how the families of the dead were feeling, their friends too. “Just because they stand up to these….. Islamists!” She spat the word and looked around uneasily. I thought it unlikely that any of these extremely tasteful and  soignee bourgeoises had been faithful Charlie Hebdo readers. But that night in Paris we were all Charlie.

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Freedom of expression, of self determination, of religious affiliation (or none) are hard-won French values we Canadians inherit and hold dear. For us,  adoption of these ideals has been comparatively easy. But for the French, centuries of turmoil were needed to effect their ascendance. And now the French are coping with a post-colonial legacy they cannot control and that threatens the humanist freedoms their ancestors died to establish. This legacy takes the shape of disaffected, potentially violent  urban youth, often born in France, but with parents from former colonies, who are picked up by extreme movements offering them that sense of belonging the Fifth Republic cannot or does not provide. I mumbled something to my dinner companions  about trying to identify the lonely, the misfits, trying to lend support to those working with youth in the banlieues. I was thinking of my daughter Charlotte’s experience in a Paris high school. She was stunned that Ismail, 18 years of age in a grade where everyone else was 14, a giant lad with the ebony skin and pleasing manners of the Senegalese, was simply waiting out the year in order to drop out and go on the dole.

“Well, what does he do every day?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she said. “He just sits at the back of the class.”

“Don’t the teachers yell at him?”  It was  a bit of a joke. The teachers were always yelling in a way we found shocking, until it became funny.

“No. They leave him alone.”

I was mystified. Perhaps you don’t yell at a young man who could so easily punch your lights out. Or maybe you don’t yell at him because you have no hope for him, less even than he has for himself. Maybe such a young man goes on to become the ideal target of “recruiters”; I cannot believe that it has to be so.

Gripped

THE BAD NEWS: I have had the worst flu ever, something I imported to France, however unwittingly. This flu is truly the worst. Many of my Canadian friends have come down with it, and some have had it twice, which seems particularly unfair. My friend’s brother-in-law spent his Christmas holidays lying on the living room floor groaning. No one wanted to move him.

This flu feels like death. Everything hurts. Your eyeballs hurt. You are exhausted and while at night you cannot sleep, in the day you can do little else. You are wracked with a tight cough that hurts and fever that goes on for days. You have a sour stomach and no appetite. You are in Paris and you have no appetite. This is a new category of hell. Oh did I say that that is the good news? I AM IN PARIS AGAIN, FRIENDS, and I have spent the first precious two weeks with the flu.

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This is me, languishing on the couch. Alan, reflected, is taking the picture from our balcony.

“Admit it,” my friend Alison said on the phone. “There’s something exotic and interesting about being sick over there.” Sort of. At first I tried ignoring it. No, that’s not the flu, that’s jet lag. Better to just power through. So I tried just getting up and going out until I experienced a kind of cerveau fouetter (whipped brain) – like someone had gone after my brain with a mixmaster causing me to briefly black out and trip on the cobblestones. This is not chic behaviour anywhere but particularly not out in the ultra-cool Marais. I went home and decided that I would spend all day in bed. This has been fail-safe in the past. One day in bed has always fixed me right up. But this evil Canadian flu just laughs at such feeble strategies. “Vraiment?”, it says (for some reason it has a French accent). “Want some more Cerveau fouetter?”

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Hours before the fever, I am sampling a macaron.

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Next day, at the Brancusi Museum, pretending not to be sick, but looking like hell. 

I have never been sick, really sick, while away and it changes everything. Passing cafe windows, I was sickened. “Why do they keep eating and eating?” I wondered. “Eleven in the morning, four in the afternoon, they eat and eat. What for? Go home. It’s enough!”

“What am I doing here, anyway?” I thought. “I’ve seen everything already.  I can’t think of anything I want to do. Why didn’t I realize this before?”

What do the French do when they are sick? Apparently, they take a lot of drugs. “Dolyprene”, a young houseguest assured me. “Avec Advill”. “BOTH?” I said. “Le molecule nest pas le meme” he explained. “Sounds scientific” I said, swallowing down my pills. Half an hour later, I was able to sit up and within an hour, I was out on the cobblestones again. A few days later, quite suddenly, it lifted. I was on my way to the iStore (upcoming post) and I stopped for a cafe creme. A couple of sips in, everything was suddenly normal. I felt, well, perky. The waiter’s jokes seemed kindly. The rain shone on the sidewalks with an Impressionist shimmer. It was going to be okay.

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Ghost Town

“I’m placing an ad,” I told my daughter. “Wanted: Engaging young adults willing to come to our country home and pretend to be our children.”

“Mom, that’s not funny,” she said.

“Compensation includes accomodation in a house filled with antiques and art, access to  mature perennial gardens with swimming pool, excellent meals featuring local farm produce and unlimited wine, civilized conversation, beautiful surroundings.”

“MOM!”

“You do realize that July has come and gone without a single visit from you and your sisters?”

“We’re busy. Everyone’s getting married and there are showers and rehearsals, and Matt’s birthday party, and guests coming from Paris.”

“Successful applicants must say things like, “I have such great memories of this place,’ and ‘Can I help you in the garden?’ (Don’t worry, we won’t take you up on it”)

The truth is, our country house has felt like a ghost town for a few years now. Out in the garden I hear their voices:

“Mom, can we go to Ben and Jerry’s?”

“Look, we’re building a fort”

“Can we sleep out in the fort?”

“Can we come in? It’s too scary in the fort.”

“Can we swim after dinner?”

“Marco. Polo. Marco. Polo.”

Aside from  ghost voices, things are blessedly quiet out in the garden.  I try to emphasize the secondary gains of the situation: I can weed for as long  as  I want. I don’t have to worry about anyone drowning or breaking a leg. I don’t have to fight with anyone to turn off the computer and come outside.  I can READ!

Change is hard. Especially when you have loved things as they were. I think many residents of our little town of Knowlton feel much this way. Outside our gallery I bump into people I know just vaguely and with very little provocation they begin to rant: “This town is dead. DEAD!!!!” Eyes bulge. Veins pop. I glance around for zombies but there’s no one out on those sidewalks, it’s true.

Many things have happened to create this situation – the grocery and liquor stores moved to the outskirts, the ski hill closed down, the population is aging, there is a Walmart now. Still, other towns in the area seem to be jumping.

“Come on. Would you want to be Sutton?” I counter. ” Is there even one store you would want to shop in there? Aside from the bakery?” I quickly add. “And Bromont. Have you driven through lately? So tacky it’s embarrassing. At least our stores are good stores: Jones, Bromewood, Athletica, Woolrich. There’s the theatre, Shakespeare on the beach. Buzz. Florale. We’re classy. We’re interesting. The new antique stores are good. Looks like fewer storefronts are for rent this summer.”

All this falls on deaf ears.  These folks have converted to a mindset and mere facts cannot dissuade them. And it’s true, there are fewer tourists and the ones who come into our gallery are mostly older couples from small-town Quebec. They like to see the art, which is nice, but it doesn’t pay the rent.

I think it very likely that things will change for the better in Knowlton, because the opposite just doesn’t make sense. Any fool can see how gorgeous our town is, with its hill, its pond, its river, its beautiful buildings. Who wouldn’t want to spend time here? There will be a renewal but who will be a part of it? Perhaps our little gallery, amongst others.  In the meantime, there may be secondary gains we can concentrate on, like the possibility that some of our commercial buildings,  converted homes,  will once again become residential. Would that be so bad? Would we love Knowlton less? I don’t think so.

Oh, and by the way, my kids are all coming down this weekend. Hallelujah.

(I hope this post doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. I try to write in a humourous vein and part of humour is exaggeration. Still, my apologies to anyone who feels offended, especially those unfortunates who live in Sutton or Bromont.)