Saturday, August 26, 2006

Japanese Weddings in Paris

The Japanese in Paris

Many people in the world hold a special fascination of Paris and none more so than the Japanese. Anytime of the year there are Japanese tourists visiting the grand monuments and more touristic areas of Paris. It is amusing to see how they pose and take photos of each other. They are much more skilled and posing than the Americans who seem to stand with stone-like grins.

Japanese Restaurants

Japanese restaurants are replacing Chinese restaurants as Parisian favorites. Last year I witnessed the transformation of a Chinese restaurant along the Boulevard du Montparnasse into a sleek modern sushi restaurant. The old stone Chinese dragons remained on the sidewalk for two months before disappearing. A French friend swears that to stay competitive, the Chinese owners learn Japanese cuisine and re-make their restaurant into Japanese, the Chinese serving Japanese, but I have not seen this. The Japanese restaurants are really Japanese.

The Parisian Wedding

The highest form of Japanese love of Paris is the Parisian wedding. As I understand, the formal Japanese wedding is held in Japan and then the entire wedding party is transported to Paris for another celebration and especially for photographs. It is common to see the wedding party in Parisian parks and near Parisian monuments.

Here is a wedding photograph (perhaps not Japonese this time ?) in front of the barracades of the Louvre.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

En Cherchant du Pain, Finding a Parisian Bakery in August

La Boulangerie Littré

When I arrived to live in Paris in November 2004, it was a few weeks before I found a good bakery, or boulangerie. At the Boulangerie Littré, t
he two older women were always together and greeted customers very politely, cheerfully and they were accepting of my developing but heavily American-accented French. They were open all week including Sunday mornings. The baguettes were excellent, crusty and fresh; the croissants were flakey and tasted of butter.
- Bonjour Monsieur, que desirez-vous ?
- Bonjour Madame. une baguette s'il vous plait.
- Oui, Monsieur. Voilà, Monsieur. Avec ceci ?
- C'est tout, merci madame.
- Quatre vingt centimes, s'il vous plait.
- Voilà, Madame.
- Merci Monsieur. Bonne journée.
- Merci Madame. Bonne après-midi.

I had little need to go elsewhere for my bread and it was great practice for French being so simple and polite.

Open in August ?

The first summer I was in Paris, La Boulangerie Littré announced on a black-board placard in front of their door, written in chalk, that it was proudly open for the entire month of August. Never mind that they were closed for three weeks in July.

Change of Ownership

La Boulangerie Littré re-opened in August 2005 with new management and I no longer saw the two women. The first several days presented very poor baguettes and the new young woman at the counter was curt and obviously not interested in her customers. I soon stopped visiting the bakery.

I then noticed they were closed (again for 3 weeks !) for installation of new ovens during December 2005. I tried the new baguettes shortly after the reopening and found them almost as delicious as the originals made by the two women. I returned to buying my baguettes and croisants there. That is to say, when the bakery was open.

I have the impression that the baker at La Boulangerie Littré has this little shop as a hobby. The hours are a fraction of what they were; they are no longer open on Sundays nor in August and they are frequently closed for long weekends.

Les Boulangeries en Août

Last weekend being mid/end of August, finding a good bakery was difficult.

Closed were:
  • La Boulangerie Littré, 13 rue Littré 75006,
  • La Boulangeris Robin Pascal, 19 Rue Odessa, 75014, in my opinion, the very best boulangerie in Montparnasse,
  • The boulangerie on rue de Montparnasse that I do not know the name but serves OK baguettes, 75014.
  • The boulangerie at the Metro Duroc, 75007.
  • The boulangerie at rue de Sévres and rue Mayel, 75007
Hmm. All closed.

A baguette at the national chain Pomme de Pain is baked elsewhere in some huge factory, it tastes "industrial" and is a poor substitue for a real baguette. In the end, it had to suffice that Sunday morning.

Boulangerie Closure Protocol

There is a protocol for boulangerie closures in August. The boulangeries post signs on the closed doors noting the dates of closing and return, plus alternative open boulangeries in the same neighborhood. The notices are much like pharmacies that note the contact information of a pharmacist and addresses of alternate pharmacies when the neighborhood pharmacy is closed.
Les Boulongeries are that important !

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

3 jours, 3 euros

3 jours, 3 euros

Today, Sunday, was the first day of 3 jours, 3 euros (3 days, 3 euros). All seats in all cinemas are three euros per person for August 20, 21 and 22, no matter what the film, no matter which cinema. Just during the most quiet period of mid-August when Parisiens are vacationing, this little Film Festival brings some excitement and indeed revenues to somewhat empty Parisian cinemas. There was no better film to see than Paris je t'aime, a film first shown at the Festival du Film à Cannes. This film was a mélange of 18 directors with just five minutes each to tell a story of Paris. There were many different styles and some I found much better than others but what I really enjoyed was viewing the Parisian neighborhoods I know from a film director's lens.

Special Paris Events

3 jours, 3 euros is one of the special things that the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë has done to raise the spirit of the city. Another event, Paris Plage, ended today after one month. I must admit that I did not get down to the Seine enough this year. I was away for two long weekends and frankly, the month of August has been quite chilly. Parking in Paris is free in August to encourage people to visit. Sure there are plenty of tourists but the city lacks the French. I will miss them until they really come back in September.

Paris Cinema

The French love films and eventhough the entry price is more than 9 euros ($11), the lines are normally long and it is necessary to arrive early. The quartier Montparnasse where I live is famous for it's cinemas, theatres and restaurants. At the cinamas there are special subscription prices for a booklet of tickets or special reductions through the place of work. For those who are in Paris in August and the weather is not ideal, 3 jours, 3 euros is a special little event that makes living in Paris a pleasure.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Alpine Flowers in the Snow

In August when the South of France and indeed the Western United States where I grew up, bake under a hot sun and all vegetation turns yellow and brown, the high mountain valleys of Switzerland become bright green colored with wildflowers.

During the first few days of vacation in Switzerland, when the skies were cloudy and it often rained and snowed, I kept my camera lens to the ground on the delightful floral subjects.

Among the alpine flowers was Edelweiss, a flower I had never seen before. My specimens were not ideal but pushing out of the ice and snow next to wild bluebells, they evoked a certain beauty that I found exceptional.

Many other wild flowers were at their prime and the same or similar to those with which I am familiar from the Rocky Mountains and in particular, the wildflowers of central Idaho.

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Riederalp, Switzerland

Riederalp, Switzerland is a small village relatively untouched by the huge tourism of the more famous ski and vacation spots in Switzerland and thus the few hotels are not large and there are still many small chalets. The village is reached only by cable-car from the valley of the Rhône River far below. No cars are allowed in the village; one walks the relatively short distance among hotels, restaurants and businesses. Several electrical carts or small electrical service vehicles traverse the paths.

Most tourists visit in winter when the alpine ski trails are open and the ski lifts take skiers to the top of the ridge giving a wide range of of ski choices.

My visit was in August, and the objective was to see the glacier Aletsch. The glacier Aletsch covers more than 120 square kilometers (more than 45 square miles) in southern Switzerland. It has a maximum depth of about 3000 feet and descends from the south of the mountain Jungfrau into the valley of the Upper Rhône. Webcams seem to be popular in Switzerland and the view of the glacier Aletsch is no exception and show a view of the glacier.

The ride to the top of the ridge over Riederalp by cable car was simple and once at the top, it was obvious how high we were. Fog, clouds, snow and sleet made the force of nature obvious. Walking along the glacier-side of the ridge, the sight of the glacier was impressive, that is when the clouds briefly lifted.


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cuisine of the Alps

When one thinks of the Alps, the thought of cold winter weather, mountain chalets and hot nourishing food come together. Certainly that is the case of the Alps of Switzerland and France. Geography plays a big part in the cuisine of the Alps. Pastureland is plentiful and there are many cattle. Cheese is dominant. Meat and potatoes are almost always present in a dish. Zürigschnätzlets (pork or veal scallops) and Rosti (like American 'hashbrowns') are classics of Swiss cuisine. Vegetables as known in the US are rare.


When one mentions Swiss cuisine, everyone in the US knows fondue, the pot of melted cheese over a small flame in which to dip bread. Fondues are found on menus as the classic Cheese, 'Oriental' (beef and vegetables to be dipped in a broth) and 'Bourgogne' (a deep fat fondue with beef to be dipped and cooked). During my vacation in Switzerland, we ordered cheese fondue with tomato, a perfect dinner in a small Swiss chalet high in the mountains. The plates and wine were placed and the fondue arrived. The pot was full of a bubbling orange-red thick liquid accompanied with a small ladle of about 1/4 US cup. There was a large basket of boiled small potatoes. Voilà. Hmmm. I thought bread should be a part of the diner and something else. Well, it was a very simple offering. Soon the hostess asked if everything was alright and as an afterthought she offered bread cubes. I do not know if bread is part of the traditional dish or if she wanted to please the American at her table. At any rate, the tomato fondue was indeed delicious and hearty for the chilly and raining, mid-summer evening.


Along the same theme of melted cheese, is the Raclette, another hearty dish of the Alps. Cheese is served as a half large round of cheese of about 6 kg (13.2 lb), five inches thick and perhaps 12 inches in diameter, cut into a semicircle. The half round is for two persons. There is a large table-top electrical heating element over the open part of the half cheese. A metal cradle holds the cheese under the heating element. The cheese is heated until the surface starts to melt and then the cheese round can be moved out from under the element so the cheese is open and easy to scrape the top layer of melted cheese with a special spatula onto a plate below. Racler means to scrape. The melted cheese is served with cured ham, boiled potatoes, gherkins and bread. One melts a small amount of cheese at a time from the Raclette to serve hot in small portions. For two people the large half round cheese is of course impossible to finish. I am sure that the remains find there way into tomorrow night's fondue !


To conclude a meal, often an herb-based alcoholic digestive, Génépi is served. The flavor is less sweet than many digestive and somewhat of an acquired taste. There are commercial products available but the homemade 'rule of thumb' is 40 flowers, 40 grams of sugar, 40 degrees of alcohol. For dessert one evening after a supurb Raclette, I enjoyed an ice cream flavored with Génépi and decorated with a sprig of mint.

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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

August Vacations

Vacation Time !

August is vacation time and about half the Parisians leave the city for two weeks at a time. That is to say, the other half of the Parisians leave for two weeks the opposite half of August ! The first, middle and last weekends of August (coinciding with two weeks of vacation) are mass exodus and mass entry times in France. The highways are blocked for dozens of miles in all directions starting at 6am on the Saturday mornings for those leaving and all day Sunday for those returning. Special traffic reports are issued for these three weekends.

In the city of Paris in August, traffic is light, many restaurants, bakeries and small shops are closed. Even the justifiably famous little original ice cream shop Berthillon on Isle Saint Louis, first opened in 1954, closes for half of July and all of August (go figure, peak ice cream season). Thankfully, their ice cream and sorbet are sold at a few other select cafés and restaurants in the city and one can enjoy those intensely flavored tiny scoops all summer.

La Cage

Around the touristique city center and the famous monuments (Notre Dame de Paris, La Musée du Louvre, Eiffel Tower) there are plenty of vacationers. Indeed, Paris is the most visited city in the world. But I happen to like Paris in August just because, there are fewer Parisians. Well, I like the Parisians but in the less touristique neighborhoods where I live, there are fewer people. I like August, even if it means I have to plan shopping and restaurant dining more carefully. One of the French told me, La cage est plus belle sans les oiseaux (the cage is more beautiful without the birds). I totally agree.

August Excitement

August is certainly not without excitement. Of course, you have heard about the controversy of Floyd Landis and the Tour de France doping tests. Just this week Pat McQuid, the head of the Union Cycliste Internationale, decided to accelerate the testing of Landis' famous B sample. To resolve the issue quickly ? Well, perhaps but you can guess the real reason. Yes, the French national anti-doping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry, will be closed starting this Friday, for two weeks vacation. The laboratory agreed to start the testing even if it means that they have to work on Saturday to finish the detailed tests before their vacation.

To all,

Bonnes vacances !

... but I will be in Paris in August to enjoy la cage sans oiseaux.