Reflecting on Paris

I’ve come to the realization that a trip to Paris is better than a jaunt to the world’s premier wellness retreat. All that is good for the soul—exercise, food, and conversation—came organically there. My apartment was on the 5th floor, what Americans would call the 6th. The lift would often get stuck; it made no difference whether a resident was inside. Taking the stairs was the safer option. In the beginning, I had to pause several times during the ascent, but eventually, I became accustomed to the climb and could make it to my door without stopping. This achievement gave me a sense of accomplishment. As did climbing the steps in the Paris Métro without becoming winded.

While conquering various Stairmasters gave me a sense of pride, I probably got most of my exercise through the French art of flâneur, which means to wander aimlessly. When leaving the apartment, I permitted myself to make detours en route to and returning from my destination. I discovered a few shops in and adjacent to my arrondissement this way. One of them being my local Pierre Hermé. For the record, Ladurée is the better of the two, but I wouldn’t have discovered this if I hadn’t stumbled upon 89 Bd Malesherbes after dinner one night.

My knowledge of French enabled me to engage with Francophones. These interactions mainly took place while ordering food and buying tickets for museums and other sites of note. My husband went to Paris with me, and speaking French for two people was a heavy lift. Successful, but heavy. The the first time we went to La Ripaille (69 Rue des Dames), we didn’t have a reservation. I knew this would make the conversation with the front-of-house staff more complicated. I prepared for the exchange by practicing “Est-ce que vous avez une table pour deux personnes?” and “Nous n’avons pas de réservation.” We were met by Philippe, the proprietor, who explained that his place was full but that a table may become available later in the evening. I said that we’d return another time, and two nights later we did.

The next day, we entered the restaurant, and Philippe greeted us warmly. After bonsoirs, I told him that we had a reservation and the time that it was made for. We were shown to a cozy table for two. The dishes were written in chalk on blackboards hung high on the opposite wall. Philippe informed me of the changes that had been made to the menu. I relayed all the information to my husband in English. If you book a table for dinner at a restaurant in France, it’s yours for the night. We witnessed the departure of other parties one by one and eventually settled into a long conversation with Philippe. I thanked him for the delicious and nourishing food. (Lunch and dinner in France are eaten in courses; you must do the same when there.) I told him how the food in America makes us ill and how living in France would be ideal for health reasons. We discussed other American peculiarities and laughed about how vieil, vieille, le veau, je vois, and la voix could be confusing for language learners. He complimented me on my French. I told him that I was fearless and that I had put in a lot of work. Our party was one of the last to leave. Besides the conversations I had with my Chanel fashion advisors, this was the longest time I’d spent speaking continuously in French during the trip.

The food in France is generally fresh, free of preservatives, and not overly sweet. I dined often and freely from the menus of the restaurants in and near my arrondissement. I even consumed dessert and bread without falling ill. Le Tourbillon, whose address in Paris recently closed, was one of our favorite places for dinner and mille-feuille. According to the website, diners will be able to find them at the restaurant L’abri Norrmand (47 rue de General De Gaulle, Gaillon) in September. It looks like a pilgrimage to Normandie is in order. Although, I don’t know if they’ll have mille-feuille.

Works Sighted: Palais Garnier // Saint James Galathee II // J.Crew Martie pant // Monoprix trench // Superga 2750 Cotu Classic Navy // Longchamp Le Pliage (small handbag)

French Revolution Paris Historic Walk: An Airbnb Experience

I first met Thierry Collegia in 2020. I’d embarked on an online tour of Paris and decided to attend the virtual Airbnb experience French Revolution Interactive Journey. A lovely married couple joined the host and me. They’d been to Paris somewhat recently and shared their vivid memories. I hadn’t been there since 2014 and couldn’t recall rich details like they could. I knew I would visit the Revolution-related sites Thierry transported us to via Zoom; I just didn’t know when.

Two years and a few months later, I attended French Revolution Paris Historic Walk. I joined the group in front of a bookshop in the Ier arrondissement. Thierry was outfitted with a microphone, small speaker, iPad, and trusty backpack. We greeted each other like old friends. The other attendees were surprised that we’d already met. I like when things come full circle. Judging by the Airbnb reviews, it is common for tourists to take multiple Parisology tours.

Although the experiences are geared toward tourists interested in history, others will find them beneficial. Any excuse to go for a walk in Paris is a good one. I saw the arcades of the Palais-Royal and the black and white colonnes de Buren for the first time. Le café Corazza, a former Jacobins meeting place, was a Manolo Blahnik. Inside, a slender customer modeled sparkly shoes. The group—there were about 11 of us—took a walk on Rue Saint-Honoré passed a handful of noteworthy brands: Castañer (#264), Maison Goyard (#233), Christian Louboutin (#400), and Longchamp (#404). The townhouse, turned hotel, that was once owned by the family of Adrienne de La Fayette stands at #211. Maximilien Robespierre’s former residence is located at #398.

In the middle of his story, Thierry assessed our tolerance for gore. I was reminded that the tour was about war and not window shopping. I told him that I was all in, and the others seemed ok with the decision I made for the group. We advanced to Place de la Concorde where Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and Robespierre were executed. I was immediately taken by the shiny golden plaque at the foot of the obelisk that pays homage to the king and queen.

Our two hours together came to an end. After a few photographs with the storyteller, the attendees said their goodbyes and left one family at a time until Thierry and I remained. We took some selfies in front of the obelisk to commemorate our first in-person meeting. Thierry departed to meet his next tour. I went to buy a new Longchamp. I knew we’d meet again; I just didn’t know when.

A Day in Champagne With My Vintage Tour Company

I didn’t know my dream was to be driven around Champagne, but it has come true at last. My husband and I ventured out of Paris by train to Reims. We met our guides, Maëva and Léa of My Vintage Tour Company, a short distance from the cathedral that has seen the crowning of countless French kings. After introductions, the four of us piled into Jeannette, a sky-blue, vintage Renault 4L. The pearly gates of Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, and other famous houses dotted the route to the highway ramp. Within 20 minutes, we were among the vine-covered plots of la campagne.

Jeannette creaked as she rounded corners and switched gears. We stopped on top of a hill in Sacy to observe the vines up close and the Château de Sacy in the distance. Maëva, who established the tour company with her brother Romain in 2018, shared her extensive knowledge of the tedious Champagne-making process. Even vine growing is regimented.

At our next stop, an open field in Chamery, Maëva taught my husband how to open a bottle of Champagne with a saber, which he executed like a somm. Steps for sabrage success: (1) Remove the foil and turn the bottle so that the vertical seam is facing upward at a 45-degree angle; (2) Place the saber on the shoulder of the bottle; (3) Swipe the saber upward so that it comes into contact with the base of the rim (at the top of the neck). This motion requires swiftness and commitment, not a sharp blade. In this case, the saber was of the Laguiole variety, and the Champagne was Jean-Jacques Hyest Réserve Brut, which paired perfectly with Fossier rose biscuits.

Then, on to Rilly-la-Montagne to visit Champagne Michel Fagot, where we had the opportunity to see rows and rows of bottles in riddling racks, bottles piled high on palettes, outdated production equipment, a giant grape press, and Olivier Fagot, head of the estate. It was here, in the tasting room of chez Fagot, that we discovered our favorite Champagne to date, the 1999 vintage. If it’s in stock on a future visit, we’ll interpret that as a sign and purchase a bottle then.

After spending four hours with Maëva, Léa, and trusty Jeannette, the time came for us to part ways where we’d been retrieved in beautiful Reims. I would have welcomed more time in Champagne with our guides, but Paris called us home. Our introductory visit to Champagne exceeded expectations. My Vintage Tour Company offers a harvest tour and another that’s tailor-made. I see them in our future.

Mingle at the Market—Taste Paris: An Airbnb Experience

My tour of le marché d’Aligre and le marché couvert Beauvau with Natasha B. began with the humble chouquette. The attendees, all American, gathered in a circle on the pavement and selected a choux pastry from a white paper bag. If you see someone eating whilst standing, they aren’t French. This didn’t seem to bother anyone even after they had been informed.

As we walked towards the markets, Natasha gave us a brief introduction to French food and culture, which are one and the same. The window of Au Fin Gourmet served as a teaching aid. We stared at award-winning terrines and rillettes made of various meats, cuts of pork, and wheels of cheese through the window. The French believe in quality, a foreign concept for les Américains.

On our walk through the outdoor marché d’Aligre, Natasha pointed out serval gems from around the country. Ail rose de Lautrec from Occitanie, oignon de Roscoff from Bretagne, lemon from Nice, leeks, and asparagus. We tasted wild garlic from a market stall, fruits de mer from la poissonnerie Paris Pêche, and charcuterie from a pig who had a girlfriend and liked listening to Elvis.

Then we made ourselves comfortable in a narrow space between two vendors in le marché couvert Beauvau. Butter, cheese, bread, charcuterie, jambon beurre, and wine started coming. Seconds and thirds were had by all, standing up, eating French food in the most un-French way possible.

On to Aux Merveilleux de Fred for my first meringue. I never liked the way meringues looked; they reminded me of marshmallows. But it is necessary to try toutes les choses when on a food tour in France. Needless to say, I now like meringues, or at least ones from Fred. I left the shop with a perfectly-pronounced bonne soirée instead of the more-appropriate bonne journée. I didn’t have a care in the world by this point.

We arrive at Le Baron Rouge, one of Natasha’s favorite places in Paris. Reasonably-priced wine in barrels. Handwritten menus on chalkboards over a long bar. We squeezed our chairs around a round table. Our gracious host retrieves glasses and wine to fill them. Pastries—they could have been eclairs—are circulated. Natasha opens the white box she acquired from an undisclosed vendor to reveal a photogenic raspberry tart. The conversation sets in, mainly about higher education. The youngest attendee is shopping for colleges stateside. I hope she studies abroad in France.

Explore, speakeasy and hidden bars with fun entrances: An Airbnb Experience

When I have an opportunity to go out on the town, I take it because they are few and far between. I blame age and the adult responsibility of sticking to a schedule. “Early to bed and early to rise makes a [wo]man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” (Benjamin Franklin). I’d intended to schedule all of my solo activities during the day so that I’d make it home by nightfall. But when I saw a Parisian speakeasy tour on Airbnb, I couldn’t resist. It began at 7:30 PM and lasted at least till 10:00, way past what my bedtime is supposed to be.

“Explore, speakeasy and hidden bars with fun entrances,” recently renamed “Explore greatest bars – speakeasy & hidden gems edition,” was an experience to remember. I didn’t mind that all of the guests hailed from my home country. The concept of a speakeasy is challenging for non-Americans to comprehend, but because everyone was familiar with the prohibition period of U.S. history, we dispensed with the lesson. After the introductions, we got right to it. A mother-father-daughter trio from Florida, a grandmom-grandson duo from California, our host Ines, and moi.

Mobster Bar was our first stop. Entrance to the establishment was granted after answering a question via the telephone outside. I got a good look at the art deco interior as we were led to a room in the back. I raised a pressing question before ordering. Would we be permitted to pay for our drinks individually? The bartender was happy to bill us for our own alcohol consumption on the way out the door. I don’t remember exactly what I ordered, but I kept all my drinks that night mainly in the lime/mezcal/mojito family—a green Caribbean oasis comes to mind.

The second stop of the night was La Mezcaleria, aka the Oaxaca of Paris (my own coining). Accessed through the kitchen of a restaurant in the boutique hotel 1K, the interior was colorful. The wall-to-wall streamers, tapestries, and prints of the pillows on the low-profile lounge seating gave the space a warm tone. I imagined how the cocktail bar would have looked during the daytime with natural light streaming through the windows in the ceiling.

In contrast, our third stop, Candelaria, was reminiscent of a wine cellar. Accessed through a discreet door at the back of a taqueria, the pulse of the bar was the most vibrant of all three. For this reason, it may have been my favorite. Our host left us here. The trio from Florida had departed after we left La Mezcaleria, so it was up to O., his grandmom, and I to rally to the end, which we did. Our conversation clicked, and we could have talked even longer had it not been for the time. They walked me to République. O. claimed the role of navigator; thank goodness! Line 3 was a straight shot, and I felt safe in transit. As comrades do, we made sure that both parties were home before going to bed. The night was most memorable, and I wish I could repeat it.

Ohlala Crêpes in Paris!: An Airbnb Experience

In 2020, I made my first chouquettes in an Airbnb Online Experience called “Bake French Pastries in Paris.” The class was hosted by Carlos Molina Borregales, cofounder of the cooking school Aten-Te Aute. I’d planned to attend an in-person class at Aten-Te Aute on my next visit to Paris. Seizing my opportunity, I recently signed up for “Ohlala Crêpes in Paris!” which was held in an artistically-decorated cooking studio in the 12th arrondissement.

Laura, our host, was patient and encouraging. This wasn’t my first time making crêpes, but it was my first attempt at galettes, which are a bit more complicated. Laura reminded the group that having fun was the primary goal of the activity. Some of us, myself not excluded, wanted our creations to come out looking photogenic. In the end, all participants enjoyed a crêpe and galette of their own making accompanied by the most delicious cider. No one went without food or photographs.