Fall has come to Paris

La fontaine Médicis in Jardin du Luxembourg

La fontaine Médicis in Jardin du Luxembourg

Fall has come to Paris. The air is brisk and sweet with the scent of fallen leaves and the city basks in a golden glow. The ice cream flavors at Berthillon taste of autumn and fallen leaves whip poetically around the windows of Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ oldest English bookshop.

The city beckoned, so after devouring my Caramel Beurre Salé ice cream cone and passing an hour carefully pulling new books from the hidden nooks and crannies of Shakespeare and Company, I headed to one of Paris’ most well known parks, Le Jardin de Luxembourg. I strolled past the large Fontaine de l’Observatoire, where children steered their toy sailboats through a floating maze of leaves, and found a chair beneath an orange canopy of fall foliage. I sat and read while watching well-dressed Parisian mothers wheel their babies about in high-tech strollers and Parisian fathers wrangle excited children who were waiting in line for one of the park’s pony rides.

Reading in Jardin de Luxembourg

Reading in Jardin du Luxembourg

After meeting briefly with friends, I headed to Notre Dame Cathedral for an evening mass. Storm clouds had gathered above Paris and despite hundreds of visitors, the cathedral was quiet. The stained glass windows were dark and thunder boomed outside, echoing through the arched dome and mixing with the deep strains of the organ. It had rained, and as I walked to the Metro, the city was clean and refreshed. A brisk breeze swirled through the dark streets and Parisians hurried to the comfort of their warmly lit homes. Yes, fall has come to Paris.

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris at night

Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris at night

From Museums to Markets

Flowers at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

Flowers at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

After a busy week which included an exclusive exhibition visit at the Louvre and a delicious cooking class at L’atelier des Chefs (which paraded as a work event), last weekend passed as any good weekend should, with good friends and food. A friend and I ventured to Le Marais, where we followed a gloriously lengthy brunch with a stroll through Le Marché des Enfants Rouges. Here, locals clustered at small outdoor tables enjoying the market’s varied Mediterranean fare while the indoor stands displayed flaky piles of honey-steeped pastry, overflowing buckets of hydrangeas and roses, and stacks of vintage black and white photos.

Photos at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

Vintage photos at Le Marché des Enfants Rouges

After a gelato stop (rule: there’s never a reason to not stop for gelato) and brief visit to the beautifully restored Paroisse Saint-Paul – Saint-Louis, I walked home along the Seine as dusk began to fall. The trees along the path were lit happily with Christmas lights and the Eiffel Tower burst into its first sparkle of the evening as I passed. I was so distracted by the beauty of the city that it was two hours later when I realized I was far past my turn and halfway to Portugal. I scurried to the nearest metro to make it home in time for the night’s Skype dates.

The Eiffel Tower at Night

A view of the Eiffel Tower from the Right Bank

Afternoon Tea in London

Hot chocolate at Caravan Restaurant in London

Hot chocolate for brunch at London’s Caravan Restaurant & Roastery

I recently hopped on a train to London to spend the weekend with a delightful friend who adores the city as much as I!

  • We picnicked royally in Kensington Gardens
  • Said hello to Prince George through an unnecessarily tall fence
  • Entertained a small child in the striking Sou Fujimoto’s 2013 Serpentine Gallery Pavilion
  • Lounged in Hyde Park’s picturesque green and white striped lawn chairs
  • Sat third row center for a performance of Spamalot
  • Were first in line for a delicious brunch at Caravan Restaurant and Roastery
  • Simultaneously exclaimed: “Look at those giant meringues!” startling several people inside the bakery
  • Consequently split a deliciously giant chocolate meringue
  • Explored the streets of London in the rain
  • Actually bought items at Lillywhites department store
  • Saw the movie, Diana, in an unexpectedly fancy Leicester Square theatre
  • And intently discussed plans to move to London and open a muffin shop.

Now. London is a land of many wonderful things. It is the seat of British royalty. It is the home to millions of people with imitable accents. It is the future location of a fabulous muffin shop. But most importantly, London is the land of scones. Specifically, the scones at the Dorchester Hotel’s Afternoon Tea.

It’s difficult to explain the perfection that is the Dorchester’s Afternoon Tea. As you step through the doors, you are greeted by the sweet scent of roses, wafting from elaborate flower arrangements that reach the tiered ceiling. You are ushered through the warmly-lit promenade to your table, where you are seated and politely asked if your back is in need of a cushion. Surrounded by the quiet clinking of fine china and the soft music flowing from the live pianist, your only two decisions for the next three hours are what kind of tea you’d like and how many tea sandwiches can be acceptably eaten by one person. Trays of these delicate sandwiches are carried to your table in an endless stream, followed by neat piles of scones with clotted cream and homemade jam. Your teacup never empties due to the attentive waiters who expertly maneuver the many plates and saucers that lay on the table. Finally, a cart of desserts appears and your plate refills as you rethink the number of tea sandwiches that can be acceptably eaten by one person. Each flavor flows into the next and the quiet warmth of your surroundings transports you to a era of Victorian elegance.

Some may tell you that Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester has made me weep with happiness. I will neither confirm nor deny this allegation and rather offer the pictures from my most recent Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London.

Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London

The tea sandwiches at the Dorchester Hotel’s Afternoon Tea

Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London

The scones!

Afternoon Tea at the Dorchester Hotel in London

Desserts at the Dorchester Hotel’s Afternoon Tea

Mission: One Navigo

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Who needs a visa when you have a Navigo?

Here’s a fun game to play the next time you’re in Paris: find a Parisian and tell them that you’d like to purchase monthly metro pass. A look of distress will shoot across their face and the color will drain from their cheeks. They will throw up their hands and gasp something along the lines of, “Ooh, le Navigo! But you will never return!”

Obtaining a monthly subway pass in New York City is simple. You stroll up to any of the automated ticket machines, select a 30-day pass, and part begrudgingly with your hard-earned $112. So I was perplexed when several even-tempered Parisians nearly fell from their chairs when questioned about the dreaded Navigo Mensuel. I now understand:

  • 15:00. Ticker: 446. I locate the Navigo office easily: it has a line of 30 people stretched out of what appears to be a very complicated door system. I head to the back of the line. I look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 15:15. Ticker: 453. I notice that newbies to the line are pulling numbers from a machine near the doors. I quickly snatch a slip of paper from the dispenser: 508. The ticker inside displays 453. I once again head to the back of the line. I no longer look like I know what I’m doing.
  • 16:00. Ticker: 479. An employee emerges from behind the mysterious sliding doors and begins presorting the line dwellers. In French. I try to decode the numbers she is reading off her list.
  • 16:05. Ticker: 483. The employee approaches and I mutter something that sounds vaguely like, “Navigo Menseul for one, please.” This is not the magic password as I had hoped.
  • 16:10. Ticker: 487. After a lengthy display of my French ineptitude, I am bumped from the line dwellers and emerge from the station. I must obtain a letter from my company stating my employment, address, and honorable intentions.
  • 16:11. Ticker: unknown. I stop mid-step, pondering the probability of my returning to the office, obtaining said letter, and returning to the metro station before the ticker reaches 508. Mission accepted, I take off in a mad dash, searching my pockets for crumpled number 508.
  • 16:20. Ticker unknown. I burst, disheveled, into the HR department, startling several quiet Parisians. I quickly babble, “I tried to get my Navigo…” and was treated to a chorus of French empathy. Frantic work begins on my letter.
  • 16:30. Ticker unknown. I fly across La Défense, scarf whipping in the wind, a still-warm letter clutched in my fist.
  • 16:39. Ticker: 506. I skid to a stop in front of the Navigo office, my letter now rather wrinkled. The ticker displays 506. I squeeze my way through unfamiliar line dwellers and examine the overly complicated door system.
  • 16:40. Ticker: 507. I squeeze through the doors behind Mr. 507 and emerge in a waiting room complete with brochures displaying model families glamorously using their Navigos. I am envious of their perfectly coiffed hair.
  • 16:42. Ticker 508. I move to one of the ticket windows, placing my passport, cash, all-important letter, and dictionary on the counter. The woman laughs at my attempted humor and begins entering my information.
  • 16:50: Ticker 511. The woman suddenly snaps my picture and prints the precious card. I look like a content chipmunk in the photo, happy to have successfully navigated the maze that is Navigo.

You can buy a baguette without being a real Parisian. You can wear a scarf without being a real Parisian. You can even rent a Parisian apartment without being a real Parisian. The mark of a true Parisian? Le Navigo, of which yours truly is now a proud owner: watch out world!

Le Marais and Nuit Blanche

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The Place des Vosges, Le Marais

Yesterday began with a stroll through Le Marais, a historic district of Paris known for its winding and cobblestoned streets. As I emerged from the metro station, my jaw dropped at the elegance of the buildings, the balconies and shuttered windows rising regally into the overcast sky. Despite the grandeur, I quickly regained my senses; I was on a mission to find falafel. Nowadays, Le Marais is cultural hub for Paris’ Jewish community, and is where some of the best falafel in the world resides. Checklist item? You betcha. I ventured to the bright red storefront of Mi-Va-Mi, where a line had stretched around the corner. Soon enough, I had a giant pita of falafel and plopped down in a secluded garden, in order to keep the disaster that is me eating falafel a secret between myself and the garden bench. It was delicious and worth the wait.

As I scrubbed the tahini from my fingers, I turned the tight corners of Le Marais, finding hidden gardens, gated mansions, and chic shops carrying everything from spools of yarn to colorful watches. Weaving my way through the maze of Parisians and tourists alike, I twisted into one of the neighborhood’s most famous attractions; the oldest planned square in Paris, the Place des Vosges. This entirely symmetrical plaza lends itself to beautiful photos with its vivid red brick buildings and neatly trimmed leafy green trees. One corner holds a small playground, where I learned that the art of chasing pigeons is universally enjoyed. French children flew about the tree trunks, flapping their coat sleeves and kicking up clouds of sand-colored dirt, as their mothers scolded from the benches. It was difficult to tell whether the children or the pigeons more thoroughly enjoyed the game.

Next came the wonder that is L’Eclair de génie. These eclairs are not pastries so much as pops of blazing colors attached to brightly enticing flavors. I carefully selected a Pistache Orange and a Caramel Beurre Salé and walked past the Bastille to the lovely Jardin des Plantes, where I located a sunny bench upon which to take the photo below. Some would say the eclairs are too pretty to eat, but not I. I managed to eat both before the day was done and could have eaten two more.

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Eclairs from L’Eclair de génie

My night ended with Nuit Blanche, an annual contemporary art festival held in cities around the world. Museums open to the public and modern art exhibits are set up in the streets for visitors to explore during the night. I headed to the Seine’s Left Bank, where Cai Guo-Qiang, designer of the Beijing Olympics firework display, put on a show for the thousands of people who had gathered to admire his work. This show was not only one of the most spectacular firework displays I have ever seen, but one of the best performances of any kind. The fireworks seemed to play with each other in the night sky, circling and crossing one another, the colors mixing and crackling as a collective shiver ran down the spine of the crowd below. Let’s just say that if I marry a prince, Mr. Cai Guo-Qiang is officially invited to perform at the royal wedding.

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Nuit Blanche 2013, Paris

QWERTY vs. AZERTY

Yesterday was my first day in both my apartment and the office. Oh what a day it was! I awoke early to meet the landlady and real estate agent and the three of us squeezed into the elevator of my new building, keys in hand. As we strolled down the hallway, the two of them discussed logistics in French while I trailed behind, imagining myself sitting at an open window nibbling a croissant while a Parisian breeze gently rustles the curtains behind me. I missed the the trash room instructions in my daydreaming. But then the apartment door swung open to reveal a charming flat, with a large window perfect for croissant nibbling. Outside were layers of Parisian apartments, seemingly stacked and squeezed together, with balconies, chimneys, and window boxes added for effect. The bells of a nearby church began to chime as I looked out at the view – a sign that I was meant to be there!

Then it was on to the office! The most notable difference between a French and American office is not the people. It is not the language. It is not the fancy espresso machines. It is the keyboard. It just so happens that there are some subtle differences between the QWERTY and AZERTY keyboards. To illustrate, this happened:

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I refused to admit to any of my new colleagues that I couldn’t figure out how to type a period, (you can see above that I hadn’t yet mastered this), so Google France and I spent a frustrating 45 minutes together researching this particular skill. I declare that by the end of my four months in Paris, I may not be a bilingual speaker, but I will be a bilingual typist! Take that, AZERTY.

The rest of the day went smoothly. I gave a presentation in which the French audience laughed when I attempted humor, successfully managed to lug both of my suitcases into my apartment (after nearly flattening the taxi driver who tried to lift my bags from his cab), and unpacked all of my things, which magically disappeared into the drawers, cabinets, and shelves of my new Parisian flat! Pictures to come!