Are you guys still following Monsieur Bigoudis’ photos on flickr? Just because I fancy myself a decent photographer nowadays (snort) doesn’t mean that you still shouldn’t be looking at the real deal on a regular basis. In particular, I’m loving her work from a trip to Japan this past spring:
Sigh. I have such a totally rose-colored romance about Japan, likely the result of watching Sans Soleil a few too many times. It’s totally at the top of my travel wish list, no thanks to M’s gorgeous images of her trip.
My girl also recently clued me in to a little YouTube gem: Wim Wenders’ documentary about the people who make the wax food replicas that decorate many of the entrances of restaurants around Japan (and Japanese restaurants the world over). Too too cool.
Hope you are having a great weekend, sweet reader. Let’s hook up for ramen later, yes?
You arrive at her house for a visit, and a “casual lunch on the patio” consists of red caviar and blinchiki (Russian crêpes), festooned with sour cream and fresh dill. Oh, and a perfect salad of fresh radishes, green onions, and cucumbers. Side effects of caviar-on-landing may include weakness in the knees, but Japanese beer is a good remedy for that.
What’s for dinner when a Soviet loves you? Homemade golubtsy (stuffed cabbage rolls) topped with more sour cream, of course. Sour cream is an important component of Soviet love. Side effects of golubtsy-love may include bloating and boasting.
Have you found the love of a Soviet Jew? Then lunch the following day will probably be shuba, that fuchsia salad of Eastern-European Jewish diaspora, made of salted herring, potatoes, carrots, beets, onion, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and dill. My Soviet is an expert at using the smallest amount of mayonnaise humanly possible, so her shuba never gloppy. Side effects of shuba-love may include eating beets for breakfast and excessive bragging on your blog.
Merci beaucoup, M!
Hello dear reader! I suppose you might be wondering where I’ve been. Well, I returned from the US to Paris, finished out my second-to-last semester of teaching, and went to Portugal with B for a week and a half. I’ve done most of this while nursing one of the ugliest and clingiest colds on either side of the Atlantic. In a dismal coincidence, I started getting pretty sick right before we left on our trip, and managed to make my first-ever visit to Portugal a veritable death march. In the final few days of our trip, I developed some kind of crunchy noise in my right lung, which I’ve been delighted to find out is a mean case of bronchitis. So I know I’ve been a really bad internet boyfriend for the past month or so, but trust me, I’ve been pretty lousy company in real life too.
I’ve got loads to tell you about, including two schmancy meals at La Gazzetta and Spring for my and M’s respective birthdays. As I’m full of phlegm, however, I’m going to leave that for later this weekend and instead give you a little bit of a rundown about our trip.
Honestly, we really didn’t love Portugal. It certainly didn’t help that I was particularly ill most of the time and B got a wicked case of food poisoning in the last leg of our trip. While the weather was sunny and crisp, so I can’t complain about rain, I certainly think that it might be a better summer tourist destination. One of our biggest gripes was with the food. I know these are fighting words to some people, and I want to acknowledge that we don’t speak a lick of Portuguese and were largely beholden to recommendations from our friends and our guidebook (Lonely Planet, though I’m thinking of leaving them for never updating their goddamn listings) and the internets at large. In the past, that kind of research has been more than enough for us to be two happily fed campers, but it felt like we couldn’t score a hit in Portugal, no matter how hard we tried. We tried all the things we were supposed to at places where they were supposed to be good. In Lisbon, we ate bacalhau espiritual (salt-cod soufflé), porco a alentejana (garlicy pork cooked with clams and lots of lard), spit-roasted frango (chicken) with piri-piri on the side, caldeirada rica (spicy fish stew), pastéis de nata (custard tarts), and lulas recheadas (stuffed squid). We sipped ginjinha (sweet cherry liqueur) at the place where it was invented. In Porto, I sampled sardinhas fritas (battered and deep-fried sardines) and arroz de tomate (tomato risotto) while B dug in to a giant bowl of tripas á moda do Porto (Porto-style tripe), a cassolet-type dish of pigs feet, white beans, tripe, chicken, sausages, and vegetables cooked with lots of cumin.
All this is to say, well, we tried. We found the sweets often verged on cloyingly so, and the reliance upon pork fat for everything (including most desserts) made a lot of things heavier than I might have liked. I obviously don’t have the same palate for salt as the Portuguese, and found most of the soups and rice dishes I sampled to be overwhelmingly salty. I don’t say all this to trash an entire national culinary tradition, which I suspect is varied and interesting and flat-out delectable in the right circumstances. But we had pretty bad luck, and it was disheartening at points. By the end it seemed like all we were consuming was sour drip coffee and grilled ham and cheese sandwiches.
Rather than dwell on the negative, however, I want to share with you the best moments of our trip (some food-related!). This won’t be nearly as comprehensive as our last vacation entries (I don’t think anyone could or should plan a trip to Lisbon and Porto from my recommendations). But if you’re going anyway, here’s what we particularly liked.
In Lisbon, our favorite day was spent seeing the major sites. The Sé, Castelo de São Jorge, and museum at Igreja de São Vicente de Fora are the things that every tourist does in Lisbon for a reason – they are truly amazing. The views from the Castelo de São Jorge can’t be beat, but my favorite view was from the very top of Igreja de São Vicente de Fora, where we were miraculously alone at sunset. Despite the occasional miseries we went through on our vacation (just wait until I tell you all the different places B barfed in Porto!), we did see some pretty memorable (and romantic) sunsets in Lisbon. Another great sunset spot (though hardly the “best kept secret” Lonely Planet described it as) is at Noobai Café (Miradouro de Santa Catarina). Get there an hour before sunset like we did to snag a table, then watch the Wayfarer-clad Portuguese hipsters give you the evil eye when they arrive too late in the game for the money shot.
We also really dug the Convento do Carmo and the Museu Arqueológico. With a clear blue sky, the skeletal arches of the nave (which was never fully rebuilt after the Lisbon earthquake) is pretty phenomenal.
For the weirdoes like yours truly out there, the museum has without a doubt the most terrifying mummified bodies I’ve ever seen: two 16th century Peruvian children curled up in little balls. They didn’t allow pictures, but I’m still having nightmares.
We took an afternoon and went to the Oceánario, which I’d also really recommend doing. The second-largest aquarium in Europe and a distinctly conservation-oriented space, the Oceánario is really is an amazing facility. They grow their own coral reefs there! I suspect that it will be even more amazing when they finish the ear-shatteringly loud renovations they were working on during our visit. Come to think of it, a lot of the bad taste in my mouth about Lisbon comes from the fact that I swear I could hear jackhammers at every single moment. The price of beauty, I guess.
Anyway, the main draw of the aquarium is the central tank, which is staggeringly large and filled with a remarkable diversity of species (remarkable, I suppose, because I can’t believe that nobody gets eaten). Every exhibit returns the visitor to another view of the central tank to reinforce the idea of one ocean (I think), so you’ll have plenty of time to observe the animals for an extended period of time as they move through this enormous space. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
As for eating, we did enjoy the much-hyped pastéis de belém, served warm from the oven at Antiga Confeitaria de Belém (you’ll find it, don’t worry).
At 80 cents a pop, they are quite a bargain. Well, you also have to factor in a 5 euro tram ride to and from Belém into that bargain, but there are touristy things to do in Belém if you feel well enough to do things other than lie immobile on park benches and cough (I didn’t).
We also had a few totally decent meals during our time in Lisbon. Bonjardim (Travessa de Santa Antão 11, Lisboa), purveyor of succulent and flavorful rotisserie chickens and fries really floated our boat, though the piri-piri hygiene thing there is a bit weird. It was probably only because I was deathly ill that this even occurred to me. We also enjoyed a rather schmancy lunch at New York Times-recommended Aqui Há Peixe (Rua da Trindad 18A, Lisboa), where we were able to sample local oysters, salty-spicy fish stew, and grilled squid and red snapper. Was the food pretty good? Yeah. Would a restaurant serving that food and charging 80 euros for lunch last for one week in Paris? Nope. Maybe the antibiotics are making me more honest than usual.
We particularly enjoyed a dinner at O Barrigas (Travessa da Queimada 31, Lisboa) in the Barrio Alto. Aside from the very Clarence-friendly name of “the bellies,” we especially liked their house specialty, a bacalhau espiritual that combined salted cod, bread, and carrots (and probably a healthy amount of pork fat) into a baked, soufflé-like dish. It was salty and fatty and totally satisfying. Also yummy was a veal stew served with the omnipresent fries of Portugal. We were the only people there the night we ate, which is really too bad, because it is a pretty great little restaurant. So go there, internets, should you find yourself in Portugal.
The biggest plug I want to make is for Pois Café (Rua de São João da Praça 93, Lisboa), quite possibly one of the most darling little joints I’ve been to in a long time. Run by Austrians (all hail the cakes!), this place is somehow everything you really want a great café to be: kitschey, eclectic, and comfy, with great food and coffee. And a liquor license! Seriously, the sandwiches we ate there for lunch might have been the best thing we ate on our trip. No joke.
They have Wifi and encourage people to sit and read. It’s lovely, and I’d be all over it like a fat kid on fried chicken if I lived in Lisbon. Depressingly, I just visited their website, only to discover that it is FOR SALE. The optimist in me hopes that one savvy Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background reader buys the place and keeps it wonderful. The pessimist in me says owner-changes (when the original is a gem) never work out very well, so get there while it’s still hot peeps.
I also loved shopping in Libson. After scouring a dozen or so sapatarias, we scored B some pretty serious Fernando Silva leather shoes at about the third of the cost of what we would have paid in Paris. We loved visiting the 80-year-old Conserveira de Lisboa, a veritable canned-fish lover’s dream with the walls lined with beautifully packaged tins of sardines, salted cod, cockles, tuna, and cephalapods in every possible sauce and preparation. They wrap your purchases in printed brown paper and tie it with a string, and while I know that this kind of thing is really for the tourists nowadays, it still feels pretty old-world and special. It will feel less special, however, when you arrive for your flight leaving Portugal and discover that they will not allow you to carry canned food items on to the plane, meaning that you have to pay an additional 25 euros to check your suitcase, making those six cans of sardines that you purchased the most expensive cans of fish in the history of time. The EasyJet woman smiled and shook her head when I showed her my neat little package. “It’s always the sardines,” she said. It’s always the sardines.
The other place that you should go an do some conspicuous consuming is the gorgeous A Vida Portuguesa stores in both Lisbon and Porto (Rua Anchieta 11 Lisboa). I had read an article in the New York Times The Moment blog about this amazing place, but this store really does take the idea of a well-edited shop to a whole new level. Everything in the store is manufactured in Portugal, often by small companies that have been making beautiful products for generations. They have everything from toothpaste to metal polish to cans of olive oil, all in amazing, vintage-looking packages. They also carry a great selection of children’s’ toys, vintage postcards, and beautiful home textiles. I died over the handmade Emilio Braga notebooks and the Caldas da Rainha and Faianças Artísticas Bordalo Pinheiro ceramics.
While I showed a fair amount of restraint in the Lisbon store, the discovery that our hotel was next door to the Porto store broke my willpower. We ended up carting back a big bag of paper products, pencils, two amazing mugs, and the sugar bowl of my dreams, which looks like an oyster. Depending on how good your Portuguese is (snort), you can shop online for many of their products.
Things were bleak enough by the time we intended to take the train to Porto that we actually shopped for flights directly back to Paris from Lisbon. Note to fellow travellers: traveling on bargain airlines like EasyJet means that when you call to ask if you can change your ticket, they laugh and hang up on you. It had begun to rain in Lisbon and the gods of the weather internets were saying that it was going to be even worse in Porto.
We were surprised, then, to find Porto to be a sunny, lovely town full of bookshops and bobos and picturesque abandoned buildings. Look, I’m not going to lie and say that I wasn’t still sick as a dog and somewhat miserable a lot of the time. I’m also not going to lie and say that the food was any better in Porto (though we had resigned ourselves to eating more toasted ham and cheese sandwiches, which are actually quite good across Portugal). But we liked Porto about a thousand times more than Lisbon. It’s full of young people and quirky shops and lovely parks. While Lisbon felt to us like a place we would only want to visit, Porto felt like a place we could actually live.
The wheels did fall off the bus a bit when after dining at A Tasquinha (Rua do Carmo 23, Porto), B came down with a pretty vicious case of food poisoning. He had ordered the tripe, an act that I joking observed his gastrointestinal system probably regarded as cannibalism.
Inspired perhaps by the walking-death impression I’d be doing the whole trip, B put on a brave face and we went sightseeing. I’m a bit of an architecture junkie (as most dilettantes are), so I wanted to see Rem Koolhaas’ Casa da Música. Pretty underwhelming in person, and it appears that the main function of this 100 million euro project is as a skate park for the local youth. Grumble, grumble, where’s my Metamucil?
We went inside to see the interior, and B promptly announced that he had to find a restroom. We found an empty bar, and B rushed into the restroom while I waited on some strangely discordant looking furniture. An orchestral concert was taking place in the main concert hall and they piped the music through the entire space, so I got to listen to Rossini, as did B while his body attempted to turn itself inside out. He came out after a half hour, glowing and looking like he had seen God.
I suggested that we go back to the hotel room, but he insisted that we continue on our death march to Serralves, a wonderful contemporary arts space housed in a gorgeous park filled with art installations.
It’s very difficult to access via public transportation, however, as Porto’s slick new metro system does not reach to that part of the city. You can now imagine us walking along a peripheral freeway, me hacking out a lung or two, B green with nausea. By the time we arrived at the park, we decided it would be best to sit down. The map directed us to a teahouse in the park, where we discovered that fancy tea in Portugal is Lipton. It mattered little, as we were really there so B could vomit again.
Discovering that the men’s restroom was far too abject to even barf in, B commandeered the ladies’ room for another round of “that offal was really awful.” When the staff discovered him, he pretended to be French. That’s another point of the US of A right there. We then attempted to care about two exhibitions, one of political art and one a retrospective of letterist Gil J Wolman’s art. Well, actually we looked for benches to collapse on and film displays to curl up in the dark. But it’s a really amazing space, and certainly worth a visit should you find yourself healthy and in Porto.
My favorite day of the trip was when we took the train from Porto to Vila do Conde, a swish beach community with a gorgeous stretch of Atlantic coastline. It was obviously too cold to do much at the beach besides wander around and climb on the rocks, but we did this with great zeal.
A strange churro stand at the beach was pumping out old Fado music on a record player, lending a lilting soundtrack to our exploration. Best of all, we were virtually alone on the beach, making this perhaps the most romantic moment of what might very well have been one of the least romantic vacations ever (there’s nothing like handing your lover a snot or puke stained kleenex “to hold” to put a damper on things). Actually, we took pretty good care of each other on the trip, and there is nothing quite like knowing that you still really like somebody even when you both feel like crap. So maybe it was kind of romantic after all.
Did I mention the bookstores in Porto? Check out this beauty:
Meet Livraria Lello, an amazing 1906 Gothic revival bookshop that features this killer staircase. What I didn’t realize at first glance is that most of the “woodwork” is actually trompe l’oeil plaster, and the staircase itself is a solid cement structure (quite an engineering feat in 1906). Even cooler, perhaps, was the fact that many of Porto’s bookshops put of displays of “revolutionary” literature as things began to escalate in Egypt:
It was kind of frustrating being out of touch with English-speaking news while such amazing things were happening, but it was great to see everyone rallying and getting excited. If you are anything like me, dear reader, I suspect you’ve been weeping to images of the crowds rejoicing in the streets the past two days.
Well, at any rate, that’s about all I’ve got to say about our somewhat disappointing Portuguese foray, friends. I’d like to hear all the things you love about Portugal and all the things I failed to eat that would have turned my spirits around. I can’t help but feel like we missed the boat a little bit, which is somewhat inevitable if you travel enough (and you make the budget-driven decision to travel even when you are sick). I’m sorry to have been such a lousy bloguese as of late. I’ve missed you guys and I promise I’ll see you soon.
Hi there! What a slacker I’ve been about updating! I’m currently hanging out in my mountain hometown in Colorado, getting drunk in the middle of the afternoon and seeing movies with my parents like three delinquent teenagers. It’s been delightful. I have so many things to tell you about, dear reader, including a pretty killer birthday dinner I had in Paris with my lovelies and a slew of down-home restaurants in Denver where I’ve been gleefully gorging. Get ready for your cholesterol to hit an all time high when you see the pictures.
But first things first, I want to finish this damn shopping guide. I’ll admit I’m doing this for one person and one person alone, my dear friend S who is currently in Paris. He’s crashing at our apartment and finishing up some dissertation research at the Pompidou during the holidays. If his last week in Paris this past spring was any indication, he is also going to be hitting the pavement and looking for a gift for his oh-so-ravishing girlfriend H. The poor kid probably spent a week walking the streets of Paris searching for a gift for her in the spring and ended up purchasing a candle. Is there anything worse that the massively overdetermined gift? The gift to which you want to attach a map of all of the miles you walked, the stores you scoured, the headaches you incurred, all out of your desire to buy your favorite person something perfect?
I’ll admit that S has his work cut out for him. I wouldn’t want to buy a gift for H. She’s one of those maddeningly pulled-together gals that manage to always make slightly quirky and off-kilter things look impossibly chic. The kind of woman that makes those of us who wear a veritable uniform of American Apparel and Uniqlo separates feel, well, a bit sheepish. H isn’t alone of course – somehow I manage to attract a lot of überstylish friends, my besties M, MT, and J among them. If I was a rich lady and could buy presents for everyone, I’d probably hit some of the following locations in Paris. I’ll move from the “what a lovely thought” ideas to the “wow you really shouldn’t have!” categories.
Soap! Everybody knows about soap from Marseille! Before I headed back to the States, I went to La Maison du Savon de Marseille (17 rue de la Verrerie, 75004 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville) and seriously stocked up on their beautiful 200 gram bars of scented soap. I especially like that some of their floral and herbal varieties are loaded up with actual dried plants (I find a winning combinations to include fleur de lavande, rose, anise, rosmarin, and herbes de provence). Best yet, at 10 bars for 25€, you can seriously bang out some gifts. Feel free to select the perfumes of your choice and then tell the cashier which ones you want wrapped together – it’s gratis and they do a pretty job with ribbon and such.
Candy! Everyone likes candy! My favorite stop for sweet stuff is the beautiful Les Bonbons au Palais (19 rue Monge, 75005 Paris, Métro Jussieu). Georges the proprietor is a veritable expert on the artisanal sweets of France and he brings together an amazingly curated collection of treats in his gorgeous store, which is lined with memorabilia from his schoolboy days. His fare, which includes a host of bizarre candied fruits, flavored marshmallows, and herbal hard candies, are housed in beautiful glass jars. It’s worth a stop even if you don’t have a sweet tooth. One thing I will mention, however, is that Georges does not want you to touch his candy. Seriously. Don’t even let your finger graze the lid of a jar, or you will receive a sharp rebuke. Instead, indicate to Georges what you are interested in and he will likely give you a sample. He will also create a lovely gift bag of your selected treats, which are sold by weight and are (cough) expensive but worth the bones, as you aren’t going to be seeing many of these candies anywhere else in Paris (and certainly not aux États-Unis).
For intriguing home decor, head to De Bouche à Oreille (26 rue Roi de Sicile, 75004 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville). While the space is filled with everything from ceramic phrenological heads and antique marionettes to a wide-variety of taxidermied animals and insects, there is also a great selection of candles, quirky picture frames, and beautiful glass and hammered tin Christmas ornaments (I stocked up on the latter for my mother this year). They also sell handsome paperweights and vintage letter openers and magnifying glasses, a trio that might make a lovely gift for anyone who spends a lot of time at their desk.
For true paper junkies, a visit to rue Pont Louis Philippe is a must, with the handsome store Mélodies Graphiques (10 rue Pont Louis Philippe, 75004, Métro Pont Marie) at the top of my list. I seriously can’t get B out of this store and avoid this block if we have anywhere we need to be at a particular time. The store has an incredible selection of hand-marbled paper, sold both by the sheet and covering handsome leather-bound journals. There are also amazing handmade cards and stationary sets, fountain pens, and an assortment of seals (maybe a handsome H and some wax, S?). While you are on the block, make sure to spend a moment gawking at the rare musical instruments at Orphée (8 rue Pont Louis Philippe, 75004, Métro Pont Marie). Obviously, not everyone is searching for the perfect baroque bassoon, but this would be the location if you were looking for rare or antique musical instruments. A violinist of sorts myself, I get a tingly feeling in my fingers when I see the collection exquisitely crafted string instruments, many of which are from the 17th and 18th centuries. Swoon.
For the vrai or would-be artist in your life, cross the Seine and visit the venerable Magasin Sennelier (3 Quai Voltaire, 75007 Paris, Métro Palais Royal). Oh man, is this place cool, even to someone like me that couldn’t render a figure to save her life (or a game of Pictionary). Opened in 1887 by Gustave Sennelier, the store is four rickety floors jam-packed with every art supply under the sun, including a legendary selection of oil pastels, which were actually developed as a medium by Henri Sennelier (Gustave’s son) for Pablo Picasso.
I mean, seriously, do you think that you are going to find a better art store in Paris than Cezanne did? I didn’t think so. As a feel-good bonus, the century-old business is still family-run. I’d suggest buying a handsome palate or artist’s smock for the painter in your life. Or, check out their beautiful selection of Japanese watercolors (Neon and metallic watercolors? Be still my heart!) and house-bound artist paper tablets for a variety of media. B, a newly-formed calligraphy junkie, swears by Sennelier-brand inks, which happen to come in beautiful jars that are themselves worth showing off. If you’re curious about the history of the store itself, here is a great piece from NPR’s Morning Edition on Sennelier’s relationship with the world of Parisian art making.
Everyone thinks of perfume when they think of Paris, but it’s trickier than ever to find something special and uniquely Parisian in a world full of Sephoras. Never fear! We here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background would never send you back to your girlfriend with a bottle of perfume she could buy at the local mall! I’d instead recommend a trip to the Annick Goutal counter at Merci (111 boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien-Froissart), a laboratory-style setup where you can pick and choose the perfect scent from an apothecary-worthy selection of glass beakers.
You also couldn’t go wrong with a piece of jewelry from one of Merci’s well-curated cases, or a featherweight scarf by Epice in the ladies’ clothing section to your right when you enter the store (I’m imagining here my little Marxist friend S freezing like a deer in headlights when he enters this “concept store”).
Or, if you want to dig a bit deeper into the history of Parisian perfume making, trek across town to the eighth arrondissement and visit the House of Creed (38 Avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 75008 Paris, Métro Georges V). A family business since 1760, the Creeds have been supplying perfume to the royal houses of Europe (and commoner schlubs like me) for centuries. Using a traditional infusion technique that has been abandoned by most commercial perfume manufacturers because it is so expensive and labor-intensive, Creed produces a wide variety of perfumes that smell like nothing else I’ve ever encountered. I’m a positive slut for their Royal Scottish Lavender (for men, but who really cares about these things) and their unisex Virgin Island Water, which is effectively sex distilled in a bottle. I discovered Creed because MT showed up in Paris wearing Virgin Island Water and I literally couldn’t stop hugging her. It became totally inappropriate, and she told me to leave her alone and get my own damn bottle.
When in doubt, everyone wants (and looks excellent in) a classic striped marin shirt from Saint James (locations all over Paris). I’ll save you the legwork: Saint James is only place in Paris where you can actually find the iconic Picasso shirt (which is solid white at the top and has three-quarter length sleeves, if historical veracity is your bag). Their knits are exquisite, and their wool sweaters (while spendy) are the kind of thing that I can see both men and women wearing for decades.
Finally, for a great selection of oh-so-achingly-hip Parisian clothes, jewelry, and handbags, take the métro to Ledru-Rollin and head to the intersection of avenue Ledru-Rollin and rue de Charonne. From there, you can pop in to Les Fleurs (6 passage Josset, 75011 Paris, Métro Ledru-Rollin), a clusterfuck of all things feminine and twee. If you can avoid the brain-hemorrhage that inevitably results from this much pink in one small space, you will find that their bijoux are well-priced and their selection of Nat et Nin handbags are spot-on, making it a good stop for the younger women in your life. On rue de Charonne, you can hit Sessun (30 rue de Charonne) for Liberty of London print fabric dresses and deceptively nice but surprisingly inexpensive leather bags. I recently got stuck in a dress there and can never return from the sheer shame of this event, but their clothes are always pitch-perfect. Next door is French Trotters (also 30 rue de Charonne), a concept store that hosts an up-to-the minute selection of the coolest French brand of clothing and accessories, including buttery driving gloves and drool-worthy purses in brightly colored hues by Jerome Dreyfuss. French Trotters also have an excellent children’s store down the block, if you are the type of person who doesn’t squirm at spending fifty bucks on a child’s dress.
Finally, Oxyde (28 rue de Charonne) has offbeat modern, but utterly wearable clothes and a yummy selection of Spring Court sneakers (the preferred brand of John Lennon and the comfiest shoes I’ve ever owned). I especially covet the weird and Meret Oppenheim-esque fur-lined ones they have been hawking as of late. Because whose toes don’t deserve rabbit fur?
So that’s it for my Paris shopping guide, dear reader, as this is all the conspicuous consumption I can muster for this month. Ironically, I’ve been doing most of my Christmas shopping at the local Target, where I act like a slack jawed idiot marveling at the vast selection of American consumer goods I can’t get in France. Be prepared, my Paris-denizen loves, everyone is unapologetically getting organic dryer sheets and habenero salsa as gifts this year. As for the blarg, we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled programming (food, kvetching, and more food) now.
To gift-hunting S, courage! Feel free to polish off our bourbon if it will take the edge off of all this shopping.
To catch up those of you just tuning in, this is the second of a multi-part (how many parts? GOD ONLY KNOWS!) series on shopping in Paris. In our first installment, I told you all of the places that I like to spend money on books, information that I’m sure was terribly interesting and extremely useful to those of you reading this from Iowa. Now, I’m handing things over to Clarence so that he can tell you where to buy foodie things to stow away in your suitcase.
A question I’ve been often asked by visiting friends is “What would you stuff your suitcase with on a trip back to the US and where can I buy it?” Now, Clarence makes it virtually impossible for me to carry on my luggage, as it’s usually filled with jars of liquid carefully wrapped in socks. So buyer beware, my suggestions are not particularly TSA-friendly.
Maille (6 place de la Madeleine, 75008 Paris, Métro Madeline), which has been making mustard since before the Revolution, makes some of the yummiest mustards you can imagine. I wouldn’t have really thought of myself as a mustard-nut until Maille entered my life, but now I am a verifiable lunatic. The basic Maille mustards (both classic dijon as well as ‘à la ancienne’ with whole mustard seeds) are available on the cheap at any grocery store in Paris and make a handsome gift, especially if you snag one of the cut-glass jars that doubles as a whiskey glass when you finish the mustard.However, Maille mustard like this (in some form, I’m told) is available in the US at some specialty markets. If you want to get something singular, head over the Maille store and purchase one of their specialty flavored mustards. We love the chablis-morel and the hazelnut-death trumpet versions, but all the different varieties sound like they would take a sandwich (or a mustard cream sauce on pasta) to a whole new level. Maille also makes the best cornichons in the universe. I go through a big jar every week or so. I’m told these might be available in the US, but I would probably stash a few jars in my luggage just in case. I also have the mentality of a hoarder, so take all of this with a grain of salt.
Regular readers know that Pierre Hermé (many locations around Paris) is the winner of the macaron Hungerdome, and therefore wins the dubious honor of being the first and only macaron shop that I take my visitors. But seriously, they do such a lovely job of packaging their singular creations that I can’t imagine why you’d buy a gift of macarons anywhere else. Just remember, they get stale in a heartbeat, so it’s best to buy any macarons for gifts the day you are leaving town. Moreover, no matter how cleverly they are packaged, they are fragile and bound to take some hits during travel. I’d probably instead select one of Pierre Hermé’s beautifully boxed collections of chocolates or tea, which I suspect would fare better than the macarons, which I regard as an “in Paris only” treat. But since some of my readers will likely quibble with me on this, I’ll hold my tongue. Caveat emptor. Stick them in a refrigerator if you can, that will extend their lifetime somewhat.
Many of my guests can’t wait to visit the venerable teahouse of Mariage Frères (look it up yourself, I’m sure not going there with you), which is a regretable stone’s throw from our apartment. Look, go there if you have to, but it’s massively overpriced and will give even the least claustrophobic person a headache. The real tea fiends I know (and I am not counted in this observation, as I am a coffee drinker to the core) seem to prefer Le Palais des Thé (64 Rue Vieille du Temple, 74003 Paris, Métro Hôtel de Ville) which seems to have a similarly large and studied collection of classic black and green teas as Mariage Frères, minus the ludicrously expensive packaging and the hoards of tourists. I recently overheard a young woman blathering outside of Mariage Frères about how this is the “best tea made in France” and I refrained from explaining that no tea is “made in France,” rather all tea bought here is imported and packaged in Europe, holy god don’t they teach you anything about colonialism in school anymore, insert the sound of brain exploding. That aside, I’d also recommend Kusmi Tea (locations around Paris), which has brightly packaged boxes and tins of both bagged and loose tea. I particularly like their Jasmine Green and their Prince Vladimir varieties, and find that the small assortment boxes that are sold at Monoprix make a nice gift for someone who you have no idea what to buy for.
I’ve already waxed poetic about La Grande Epicerie here plenty of times, so I won’t bore you with another sonnet to my favorite Parisian foodie institution. There’s no place better in town for picnic fixings. I’d also recommend you pick up your specialty Maille mustards there and check out their assortment of canned fishes, which includes the largest selection of La Belle-Iloise and Rodel sardines and anchovies I’ve found in Paris. (Yes, I carry cans of fish back to the States. What of it?) That said, many of the other shelf-stable products you will find at La Grande Epicerie you will also find much more cheaply at a larger Monoprix (locations around Paris), including Bonne Maman jams that are not available Stateside (Frenchies don’t know how lucky they are — the yummiest and best ones are sold in thinner, taller jars with purple checkerboard lids and labelled “Fruitée Intense”), various Bonne Maman cookies (we love the tartlettes and the financiers), and Albert Ménés rilettes and pâtes (or my favorite, their lobster butter). Other great (and cheap) gifts for foodies include Speculoos à tartiner (a gingery spread that is the consistency of peanut butter but tastes exactly like the Speculoos cookies that accompany many coffees in Paris) and crème des marrons (a chestnut spread that is often found at crêpe stands but hasn’t seen the global distribution of Nutella). You can also buy shelf-stable foie gras at both La Grande Epicerie and a larger Monoprix, something that your friends in California will be thanking your for effusively in the next few years.
Okay, so let’s pretend that you are a real stick-in-the-mud and refuse to check your luggage to accommodate all of these liquids. Where might one buy some non-perishable gifts for people who spend most of their time in the kitchen? Well, for the friend who can’t cook but likes to entertain in their impeccably curated home, I’d recommend a visit to the homewares section in the basement of the concept store Merci (111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, 75003 Paris, Métro Saint-Sébastien-Froissart), where you can buy all kinds of lovely (if somewhat frivolous) objects, including all the Pantone mugs in every shade your heart could ever conjure up.
Or, brave the jam-packed La Vaissellerie (92 Rue St Antoine, 75004 Paris, Métro Saint-Paul) for everything from clever dish towels to a rainbow of multicolored marmites. I especially like their crushed Solo-cup espresso cups, their wood-handled cheese knives, and their brass Champagne stoppers (a real bargain at 1 euro a piece). For real cooks, head to the cavernous E. Dehillerin (18 Rue Coquillière, 75001 Paris, Métro Châtelet). Once you’ve finished gawking at the copper pots, duck presses, and human-body sized cauldrons in the basement, head upstairs to the small goods area and pick up an oyster-shucking knife and glove or a non-stick rubber Madeline pan for your favorite chef.
Do you really like them? I mean, really really? Then go to Laguiole (35 Rue Deux Ponts, 75004 Paris, Métro Pont Marie) and buy them a set of horn-handled steak knives, a wooden bottle opener, or the perfect set of cheese knives. You’ll see plenty of imitation Laguiole while in Paris (the distinctive honeybee on the handle), but the real deal is the real deal, and would make even the most difficult snob swoon.
First off, I know you won’t listen to me on this, but will you please skip going to Shakespeare and Co.? Pretty please? Talk about a reputation having outlived a function. I’ve never found anything particularly interesting there besides some entitled American backpackers and a surly, unhelpful staff. Yes, they do occasionally have interesting authors speak, but interesting authors speak all over Paris, all the time.
Instead, if you are looking for pleasure reading in English, I would recommend you visit The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore (22 Rue St Paul, 75004 Paris, Métro Saint Paul), a small but jam-packed space in the Marais with an extremely friendly staff and a well-curated selection of serious literature, books about Paris, cookbooks, and a rather extensive children’s section. If you are going to be in town for a while, they will happily order things for you that are not currently in stock. I’ll always have a soft spot for this bookstore, as it was one place that I could always count on having a pleasant chat with another human being after a series of long, lonely days.
For a more extensive selection, but perhaps less charm, I’d suggest you push past the tourist crowds waiting in line for hot chocolate at Angelina (why?!) and visit Librairie Galignani (224 rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, Métro Tuileries), ostensibly the “first English language bookshop established on the Continent.” Whether or not this is true, Galignani has perhaps the largest selection of fiction in Paris, often offering both the American and the British imprint of various books (this can mean a significant difference in price, though English-language books are always expensive here). In particular, Galignani has a peculiarly well-appointed selection of author autobiographies, biographies, and compilations of letters in a side room, so if that’s your jam, head on over.
For art books, slick stationary, cool kid’s books, and one of the most extensive postcard selections in Paris, visit the Librarie Flammarion inside the Centre Pompidou (Place Georges Pompidou 75004 Paris, Métro Rambuteau). We usually make a habit of meeting here before events at the Pompidou, and it is a rare occasion that all three of us can leave without somebody buying something. Many of the artist monographs on sale are in English, and it’s worth inquiring to the staff if something in particular you want is available in English. Most of the Centre Pompidou’s own gorgeous monographs (must. stop. buying. ten. pound. books.) are issued in English as well as French. Flammarion is especially notable for their year-round sales, making many of their expensive books up to fifty percent off. A must, especially if you are already visiting the Pompidou, which is in itself a must. I live only two blocks away, so give me a holler when you’re finished and I’ll meet you for a coffee upstairs and we can examine your booty together.
I could literally write about French bookstores all. day. long. As any nerd will tell you, Paris is a book-lovers dream. I daresay that nowhere else in the world can you find such beautiful, serious, and well-stocked bookstores on nearly every street as you can in Paris.
If you are making like Sartre and de Beauvoir and taking an overpriced coffee at Les Deux Magots, may I suggest that you pop in to La Hune (170 Boulevard St. Germain, 75006 Paris, Métro Saint Germain des Près) and pick up some serious reading. Over sixty years old now, many important writers have browsed this shop and given readings there. And while I don’t think that André Breton is dropping by anytime soon, La Hune still has a pretty knockout list of authors that regularly stop by for book signings.
Another Left Bank favorite and the best recommendation I can make to other literary scholars is Librarie Compagnie (58 rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris, Métro Cluny-Sorbonne). Oh man, can I do some damage here. Obviously, this is one of the main bookshops associated with the Sorbonne, so their selection of literary, theoretical, psychoanalytic, and political texts simply can’t be beat. They often stock both the mass market paperback editions of texts as well as the handsome Gallimard and Éditions de Minuit texts. We’re getting into book snob territory here, so forgive me if this is all Greek to you. Moreover, they host a regular series of lectures by important literary and theoretical authors, many of which transcend the traditional author meet and greet to discuss contemporary politics and culture at large. The staff is extremely sharp, and they often have a good beat on what is going on at the Sorbonne as well – make sure to check out the window displays and the front table, where you will find pamphlets and flyers for upcoming lectures, conferences, and film festivals. One of our favorite ways to spend a winter afternoon is to browse for a while at Compagnie, then head across the street to rue Champollion for a movie at Le Champo or La Filmothèque du Quartier Latin, and finally end up at Le Reflet (22 Rue Champollion, 75005 Paris, Métro Cluny-Sorbonne) for a glass of wine and a chat. Feel free to rip that itinerary off anytime you like. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
Should you find yourself in the opposite side of town in Montmartre, I can’t recommend enough a visit to Librairie des Abbesses (30 rue Yvonne Le Tac, 75018 Paris, Métro Abbesses), a smart and well-stocked store with a drool-worthy selection of novels and poetry from small presses, hip design magazines, and an interesting selection of specialized cookbooks. The proprietress is a particularly sassy Montmartre personality and one of M’s favorite eccentric characters in Paris.
Many of you may know that one of my academic interests is in psychoanalysis. Much to my continuous delight (and my pocketbook’s dismay), many bookshops in Paris are well-stocked with texts on this subject that would be either extremely expensive or virtually unavailable in the United States. I’ve been particularly lucky in my own Marais neighborhood in finding books that are of particular interest to me (and perhaps a handful of my readers). The lovely Les Cahiers de Colette (23/25 rue Rambuteau 75004 Paris, Métro Rambuteau) is well-stocked with both classic psychoanalytic texts as well as the newest releases in the field. They also carry all of the major French psychoanalytic journals and their back issues for at least a year or two.
Another local Marais favorite is Librairie Michèle Ignazi (17 Rue Jouy, 75004 Paris, France), The shop is run by an extremely helpful and knowledegable woman and they stock (among other things) an amazing collection of limited-edition poetry books. Ignazi and all of the other bookshops listed above are a great example of a particularly Parisian seriousness of bookstore employees. There are no blank-faced, doughnut-eyed Barnes and Noble employees at these stores. These are people who take their trade seriously and are eager to talk to you about your purchases and help you find things in their (often stuffed to the brim) stores.
There are two other places that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention, though they certainly veer more towards the American model of book megastore (with its attendant clueless and apathetic employees). The first is the sprawling Gilbert Jeune empire with its eight locations clustered around Saint Michel (just take the metro to Saint Michel and look for the yellow awnings). The go-to source for students in Paris, Gilbert Jeune is arranged according to academic topic, with heaving crowds during the beginning and end of the academic semesters. It’s chaotic, but it’s also one of the best sources of well-organized used books in Paris, and you can often find a bargain. Additionally, their top-floor selection of mass market (livres de poche) paperbacks can’t be beat, especially if you are looking to buy in bulk (guilty as charged). To the Paris newbie, I’ll pass on the following tip: when I first moved to France, I was perplexed by the pricing system of livres de poche. M patiently explained to me that each book is marked on the backside with a category code (usually a letter and a number, like F6) which corresponds to a pricing matrix that is posted on a wall somewhere in the store. I’m sure none of my readers are nearly as daft as I was last September, but just in case, I thought I’d pass that one on.
If all else fails and you can’t seem to find a particular book anywhere, I’d recommend that you steel yourself and visit FNAC (1 Rue Pierre Lescot 75001 Paris, Métro Les Halles). This multi-story French institution sells just about every gadget under the sun and has a stunningly large selection of books at the lowest prices in town. Not for the faint of heart or for anyone who can’t handle crowds, FNAC will certainly have what you are looking for, that is, if what you are looking for is available in France. Their staff is comedically unhelpful and I often find it is best to browse their website before entering the madness. Expect check out to take six lifetimes and to sever the final threads of patience you might still have remaining after battling the escalator crowds. Avoid at all costs in December and January, unless Black Friday-style stampedes are your thing.
Rare and Used Books
For rare and used books, I can’t recommend enough a visit to the Marché du livre ancien et d’occasion, held year-round every Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Parc Georges Brassens, 104 rue Brancion, 75015 Paris, Métro Porte de Vanves). A remarkably large selection of both valuable collectors books as well as bargain paperbacks, a book lover will be able to spend a whole day browsing here and thumbing through their treasures in the lovely Georges Brassens park that surrounds the market. I took B here for his birthday. Another one of our favorite things to do is to browse the bouquinistes that line both sides of the Seine around Notre-Dame. A Paris institution since the 1500s, the bouquinistes have little overhead and often offer books at lower prices than you will see anywhere else in Paris (especially if you are buying the coveted hardbound La Pléiade editions of classic French authors). Many bouquinistes also sell interesting vintage maps, print advertisements, and antique postcards, though at slightly higher prices. They are a great place to find gifts and a lovely place to browse as a tourist. I don’t make a habit of it, but you can bargain at both the Marché du livre ancien and with the bouquinistes.
So that’s my list, friends, but I know that this is the tip of the iceberg as far as this town is concerned. Please tell me about your favorite Parisian bookshops in the comments!
Last week, in a particularly delightful class I teach to a group of bright law students, we somehow began discussing American shopping habits around the holidays. In particular, I described the regrettable phenomenon of Black Friday and its attendant cut-rate bargains, all-night campouts, and homicidal stampedes. In some regards, I felt kind of bad that I described it in such vivid terms – obviously, most Americans I know don’t shop on Black Friday. Moreover, I don’t like to be complicit in the ways that the French feel smug towards Americans (and vice-versa, I won’t pick a fight over much these days, but the Republicans in my family can consider themselves on notice if they want to argue that people die in the streets here as a result of socialized medicine). Anyway, while my little Frogs were indeed surprised to hear that people have actually died in the pursuit of a bargain DVD player in the United States, they corroborated my sentiment that the French are just as bad when it comes to holiday shopping madness as those of us from the other side of the pond. My own neighborhood here in Paris, the Marais, is testament to this very fact. We live just a stone’s throw from BHV, one of the largest department stores in Paris, and our street has become atherosclerosis personified with blank-eyed exhausted shoppers with lugging huge bags of god-knows-what.
My own family has seriously pared down our Christmas gift giving habits in recent years, much to my relief. If I’m being totally honest, I’ll admit that I’m not particularly into Christmas. I find the mandatory gift-giving holidays rather oppressive, and find meal-centric holidays far more to my liking (I’ll take a Thanksgiving dinner or an Easter brunch any day over a Christmas morning). I’ve also always been stuck with the rather lousy situation of having a mid-December birthday, resulting in many childhood years of Happy Birthday/Merry Christmas presents from my more distant relatives. And while my parents always went all out on Christmas when I was growing up (perhaps in compensation for all the double-dipping presents I received for my birthday), we’ve definitely scaled things back to a bare minimum in recent years. I suspect I’ve always been rather difficult to buy presents for. My only recollection of receiving a Christmas present that I genuinely wanted was the year that I asked for a coconut, which my parents obligingly stuffed into the top of my stocking. Enthralled by my good fortune, I ignored the hundreds of dollars spent on toys and spent Christmas morning fondling my coconut. My father is relatively easy to buy for and seems psyched about whatever he receives as a gift. My mother, on the other hand, is a nightmare. I can’t say whether it is because she genuinely doesn’t want anything (a late capitalist anomaly if there ever was one) or if everyone in the world is just consummately terrible at buying gifts for her. Either way, I can’t think of anything that I or anyone else has bought her that she’s ever really loved. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that my immediate family has finally come to grips with the fact that we are relatively lousy at giving one another presents. My father comes over on Christmas Eve for a big dinner and we swap small gifts (in recent years, he purchased me a dearly beloved apparatus that holds books open and a travel mug for coffee). My mother has gone the practical route, carefully wrapping up socks, sweatpants, and printer cartridges that she has purchased at Costco for me and placing them under the tree, much to my pragmatic delight.
The stakes have changed, a bit, with the introduction of B into my life. B loves giving gifts and is quite good at it, much to my dismay. He began planning for Christmas in the beginning of October, prodding his family and friends for ideas and compulsively making lists of possible presents. While it’s nice to be the beneficiary of such carefully plotted giving, I do feel woefully inadequate. Gift giving is not my forte and the gifts I give are always leaden with expectation.
That bit of family and personal history aside, I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a shopping related post for a while. I’ve been reticent to do so, mainly because I am already a bit uncomfortable about the level of consumption already chronicled in this space. It seems that the most popular blogs, or at least those ones written by women my age, are little more than a compendium of spending. Artful spending, sure! Well-styled spending, of course! But it does seem that many popular blogs are entirely devoted to providing an account of the lovely things that the author buys and how she chooses to wear them or display them in her home. Don’t get me wrong – everyone is welcome to do whatever they please in their own corner of the internet, and I’ve spend more than a few hours thumbing through these types of spaces, green with envy that my own object world is not nearly so well-curated. But I didn’t want this to become that, perhaps because I already feel guilty about how much I like many of the things I buy and how much time and energy their acquisition occupies in my consciousness. I can feel smug about the fact that I don’t write about my quest for the perfect handbag, but that quest still exists. I already write far too much about the quest for the perfect slice of truffled foie gras, which I’m sure makes many people think of me as an unethical monster.
But it’s the holidays, and if the holidays do anything they make people act against their better judgment. So, over the next few days I’ll be posting a Paris shopping guide, a list of places I spend my money over the holidays and during the rest of the year. Feel free to skip it, if voluntary simplicity is more your bag. In any case, should you be jumping into the madness this season, may your holiday shopping be joyous and stress-free, dear reader.