Who Could Resist a Parisienne Romance with Recipes?

Who Could Resist a Parisienne Romance with Recipes?

When Odile Heiller, owner and founder of the Village Voice, Paris’s English-American bookstore, describes a book as a “must read,” no person in their right mind would pass it up. Not only because Odile and her domain are a center of gravity for the city’s Anglophone artistic and literary community, but because she has perfect pitch for matching readers and books.

Once home with my copy of “Cooking for Me and Sometimes You: A Parisienne Romance with Recipes” by Barbara-jo McIntosh, I read – actually devoured – the book from cover to cover in one evening. Barbara-jo, if you are listening, I felt I was right there with you: tasting and testing our way through some of the city’s best pastry, bread, cheese, wine and specialty food shops, sharing walks through my neighborhood on the Left Bank, savoring the lights on the Seine at evening, and always, enjoying the chic and simple dinners in your apartment. You captured it all in a book that is as much poetry as prose.

Barbara-jo shared so much of herself and her Parisian sojourn, that I wanted to know more about her life as a food professional. Her story can be viewed on her Books to Cooks website, where her Vancouver store features cook books, wine books, international periodicals as well as rare and out of print books. A food-focused reading club, events, and cooking demonstrations go on throughout the year and the store’s blog, invites everyone into the friendly conversation.

Take Odile’s advice – whether you are a cook, a lover of Paris, or just someone who appreciates a charming read, “Cooking for Me and Sometimes You” will leave you with the same warm satisfaction as a good meal with a friend. Who could ask for more?


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When to shop at Paris’s Marché aux Puces?

When to shop at Paris’s Marché aux Puces?

ANYTIME is good shopping time at Paris’s (and maybe the world’s) best flea market. But if you want to avoid the usual crowds aim at a time, like now, when the Spring calendar in France is full of holidays and the tourists are not yet in full force. Yesterday was one of those days; my friend, Connie, and I took Metro line #4 to the Porte de Clignancourt station just north of Paris in St. Ouen . To reach the Marcé aux Puces, with its fabled 2,000 dealers covering 18 acres, we walked about 5 minutes on blvd Ornano toward the Peripherique (the ring road around Paris) turning left onto the rue des Rosiers, the Flea Market’s main street. (check our I Know A Little Place iPhone app for detailed directions).

We were limited to a few hours since Connie was headed for a chateau weekend with friends in Normandy, so we headed straight for two never-fail market stops: Paul Bert and Serpette. The best shopping always seems to come when, rather than a specific item, your mind and eye are unencumbered and you allow yourself open to possibilities.

In Serpette, we lingered and savored the new finds at old favorites: Olwen Forest for vintage costume jewelry coveted by celebrities and Alain Zisul at Le Monde De Voyage, for perhaps the best collection of Vuitton trunks and luxury luggage (see “People You Need to Know”).

Then, it happened; as the French say Connie had a “Cri du Coeur.” There it was – it called to her, it sang to her from the glass display case of a porcelain stand – a 1940s coffee set (complete with 8 cups and saucers) in a vibrant yellow with whimsical dark blue polka dots and stylized flower motif. How could she have lived so long without it? After some bargaining (best accomplished with fewer competitors) it was packed carefully and we were off. I’m thinking about going back soon to follow up on a discontinued Chanel bag I spotted at Alain’s before it’s gone – a common fate for those who hesitate. (Unless you are a dealer, the best hunting hours are from around 10am to 6pm Saturday and Sunday, with some stands closing earlier).

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There’s an empty seat at the Paris Fashion Week couture collections

There’s an empty seat at the Paris Fashion Week couture collections. Dodie Rosekrans, art patron, collector, philanthropist, fashion icon, and international society figure who died in November will be sorely missed for her never-to-be imitated or equaled style.

To be invited to her Tony Duquette homes in Paris and Venice was to be assured of mingling with an eclectic mix of artists, designers, Bohemians, and dignitaries – as long as they were interesting, they were friends of Dodie’s.  To know her was to be astonished, as echoed by John Galliano who remarked, “I was simply bowled over by her sense of style” or fashion illustrator, Glady Perin Palmer, who described Dodie as “By far the most imaginative, original dresser I’ve ever met.”  Let me add a few personal remembrances of my own.

Her husband John told me of a time early in their marriage when they were getting ready for a formal event and he found Dodie at work removing pink bows from a billowing while lace gown.  As they left, John complimented her dress queried why anyone would have covered it with the bows.  Dodie confessed “It was a night gown.”

Dodie’s jewelry could look like found objects and she turned found objects into jewelry.  At a soirée in Paris, Dodie arrived with her throat encased in chunks of green stones that looked like sea glass, but were, in truth, unpolished emeralds. Dodie would have enjoyed them equally and worn with the same flair had been glass. Another time at her home, she draped, and artistically knotted, a length of silk of the most delicate rose color over the front of a tweed suit.  The contrast of the sweet with the tart was captivating and when I asked where she’d found it, she said it had been ribbon that wrapped a gift she’d been given. Artists give us the gift of seeing through their eyes – a fresh vision of the world.  That’s what Dodie did with fashion – she turned it into poetry.

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A Paris Silver Vault

When our tipping silver tea pot crashed to the floor leaving the handle and top as separate pieces, I had doubts of finding a replacement any time soon — or ever.  A tipping pot sits in a stand and rocks forward without having to lift the pot to pour, perhaps a seemingly small advantage until you had one and become used to the luxury.
The best plan seemed to have the pot mended, but it soon became apparent that repair would cost more than the original price of the pot.  An internet search produced one candidate but so small it would hold only a few scant cups.  Reconnaissance trips to silver shops around Paris yielded another possibility but it lacked charm and the cost was astronomical.
What to do?  One phone call solved the whole problem.   When I told Laure at her Stand 29 in the Marché Biron at the Clignancourt Flea Market my plight, she immediately told me she had a number I could choose from.  I was there the next morning and sure enough Laure lined up an array of beauties in all sizes, shapes, and eras.   I would have been delighted with any one of them but we narrowed it down to one that would hold enough tea for a party and I’m already making up the guest list.
Laure’s shop is truly a silver vault of treasures.  The highest quality heirlooms pieces, both of flat and hollowware, make up the collection.  Even the hardest to find items are included.  Have a yen for asparagus serving tongs?  Look no further.  The prices are fair and items inevitably find homes quickly.
Laure is carrying on a family tradition. The business was begun by her grandfather when he came to Paris from the Ukraine in 1921, interrupted during the war, and started up again by Laure’s father.   Now Laure continues their commitment to the high standards that keep international clients loyal over the years and  constantly add new ones.
Unlike the trend of dealers promoting their wares on the internet, Laure prefers that new customers find her by word of mouth or perhaps learn about her from cognoscenti such as David Allan in his book, French Silver Cutlery of he XIXth Century, in which she is the only dealer mentioned and most of the photographs are of her pieces.
For anyone looking for vintage silver in Paris, look no further.  If you are searching in another city -– make the trip.  The savings will help defray the cost of your travel and the satisfaction you’ll have from your purchases will be priceless.

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Paris in August: To Shop or Not to Shop?

I’d intended to warn all you savvy shoppers that August is NOT the month to come to Paris.  It’s the time traditionally when the city shuts down and Parisians head for the country for the entire month.  When we started our Paris life, this was one of the things that took most getting used to.  How could merchants afford to simply close down and post a note on their door that they were on vacation, sometimes with the charming explanation “in honor of August.” In August Paris seems more like a village than a city and for this reason, the intent of this message was going to be “Don’t come to Paris in August if you want to shop.”

However, after thinking more carefully and savoring the pleasures, there are  good reasons to come in August.  The trick is to plan to avoid disappointments and know how to enjoy the advantages.  It’s true that the smaller shops are likely to be shuttered and closed.  The intimate little boutiques are best left for another time.  But, fabulous shopping is still available in the grand magazines and selected shops.  My own favorite, Le Bon Marche, is as chic as ever BUT without the crowds and Reciproque, a destination for vintage clothing and accessories is open for business.  The distinctly Parisian tearooms so beloved by tired shoppers have tables ready with no waiting lines.  That’s the beauty of August shopping, no jostling competition.  You can roam crowd-free and enjoy undivided attention from attendants eager to help you find whatever you are looking for.  There are even some items still held over from the summer sales.  For example, a French friend going off for her mid August Club Med vacation told me she just bought a bathing suit for 7 euros.

Coupled with the freedom of crowd-free shopping, is the added ease of transportation. Public transportation in Paris is always a marvel of convenience, and it’s understandably popular with Parisians, which means metros and buses are usually bustling with travelers.  Not so in August.  Metro seats are aplenty and the roomy comfortable buses are a treat.  I even saw a long line of taxis waiting patiently at our neighborhood taxi stand for customers  — not a sight at any other time of year.

A Caveat:  Although the larger stores remain open as usual, some keep summer hours and because most smaller shops will be closed, it’s best to check to avoid inconvenience.  On our I Know A Little Place app you can dial the store directly from its page and schedule your shopping trip accordingly.  Once you know how to plan, don’t deny yourself Paris at any time.

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Parisians You’ll Want to Know: Alain Zusul

Alain Zisul was a finance controller in a multinational corporation before he and his wife, Helen, a former English teacher, took over, Le Monde Du Voyage, the business his father started 30 years ago, and was the first to sell vintage Hermes.  Today, in addition to Hermes luggage and accessories, Chanel jewelry and handbags, their Stand #15, Allée 3 in Marché Serpette (110 Rue des Rosiers) has perhaps the best collection of Vuitton trunks from the end of the 19th century until now, most from the 1930s.

A personal annual ritual is to add an Hermes vintage scarf from the Zisul’s vast collection (over 200 on site and an equal number in his private collection) to my own. It’s the easiest way to change the look of an outfit while traveling and adds no weight to luggage allotments.  What better souvenir of Paris?

Alain told me a remarkable story that anyone may submit a potential design for an Hermes scarf and, if  judged worthy by a panel of in-house design experts (a daunting feat) it is put into production.  One outsider who made the grade was a postman from Texas, Kermit Oliver, whose American Indian design was not only accepted but became so popular he followed it with a series of western-themed designs for Hermes, signed by him, that are now sought by specialty collectors.

 Keeping to the theme of travel, for those who have a special interest in memorabilia from the great ocean liners of the past,  Zisul has a special display cabinet filled with nautical souvenirs and posters from the age of romantic travel.

Some of the celebrities who have left their names in the Zisul autograph book include:
Lionel Richie, Ben Harper, Donald Sutherland, Alain Ducasse, and Jackie Chan, among many others.


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What is the Magic of Chez Chanel?

Visiting the private apartments of  Coco Chanel above her boutique at 31 rue Cambon is to enter a rarefied atmosphere of perfection.  My friend Carol invited me to join her on a rare tour and for the next hour we were bewitched. The spell begins as you climb the famous mirrored spiral staircase, carpeted, as Mademoiselle directed, in “a color like sand.”  When attendants at the Ritz across the street, where she slept and kept a suite, alerted her staff that Mademoiselle would soon be arriving, they carried out her wish and sprayed this stairway with Chanel #5, her signature fragrance.

Leaving the Chanel store behind at street level, we entered her apartment on the third floor and the magic of Chez Chanel is immediately apparent – everywhere luxury is made remarkably simple.  In the sitting room, ancient wine-colored Chinese coromandal screens,  featuring her Camellia flowers, are cut and fitted as wall coverings, placed next to barely visible simple copper-gold paper. 
 An oversized sofa covered in suede, unheard of in its day, is as inviting now as it must have been to Mademoiselle and it’s easy to imagine her stretched out and reading, or possibly napping, after a tiring day. 
 Rare objects are everywhere, beautiful mirrors, and crystal globes reflect soft light.  Lions, a reminder that she was a Leo, stand along side gilded wood, and statues of various eras and origins.  
Bronze shafts of wheat (and when she was in residence bouquets of fresh wheat) stand as personal symbols of her later prosperity and a childhood when bread was scarce.  Two walls are flanked with simple wooden bookshelves, almost roughly painted, holding a magnificent collection of leather bound volumes.  Overhead is a chandelier of crystal, amethyst, and topaz featuring  interlocking 5’s and double C’s.
The dining room holds a wooden table surrounded by 6 chairs upholstered in a soft muted no-color color.  The table can be extended to hold 8 but Chanel preferred to keep her diners small.  And as she always preferred pairs of objects, side tables have as their base bronze figures depicting seasons.  Above the tables are magnificent mirrors that surely reflected intimate gatherings of the most interesting people of the day.
Chanel lived her until her death in 1971 and everything is exactly as she left it; the desk still holds her eyeglasses, fan, and personal notepaper.
On the floor below Chanel’s apartment are haute couture dressing rooms and some of the most prized exemplars of collections past. Looking at them makes it hard to agree with Mademoiselle’s own assessment that dress design is a craft and not an art.
Back down at street level in the boutique there is a display of Chanel fragrances sold only here in Paris.  Carol and I sprayed delicate whiffs on the provided testing papers and after concentrated comparisons decided that the richly mellow “Coromandel” was our favorite.  I slipped the paper into my purse and the next morning upon opening my bag the captivating scent, like Proust’s  madeleine, whisked me immediately back to those deliciously magical rooms.

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