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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Iknowalittleplace, Iphone Application demo


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Marche´Biologique: The Best Organic Street Market in Paris

It’s Sunday, and whether you are planning a picnic or stocking up for the week, one of Parisian life’s great pleasures is a trip to the Marché Biologique Raspail in the 6th arrondissement.  Some of the city’s best celebrity spotting is found here; keep an eye out for the Barefoot Contessa Ina Garten, who has an apartment near by, or film icon Catherine Deneuvre, incarnation of Marianne, the symbol of the French republic. Although a traditional market on Tuesday and Friday, Sunday is devoted to all  things organic from produce, dairy products, nuts and spices, to wine.  The stalls line the middle of the street just down from the Luticia hotel, from rue Cherche Midi, to rue de Renne.  Posted hours are from 9-1:30 but savvy shoppers get their early to beat the crowd coming after church. The closest Metro station is Rennes.

Here are some favorites:
Entering at the Cherch Midi end of the market, the first stall on your right is “Les Gestalins” dishing up delicious potato-onion-gruyère cheese galettes as you watch.  The line is long, the following faithful, so you may have to exert some patience – but it’s worth it.
Farther down on the left at “Natural Vitis is Bruno, selling organic wine.  He’ll offer you generous samples.

The produce vendors are artists at arranging their wares to look like Old Master paintings and they vie at having the most tempting displays.  Grab one of the baskets stacked for customer use, gather your choices and hand the basket over to the seller to be weighed.

Exotic jams and honeys are in abundance and the selections of cheeses cannot be outdone.  The stall “La bio Fermière” is especially helpful in assisting with information and sample tastings.

A cautionary note:  The popularity of the market coupled with a narrow aisle means you’ll have to dodge jostling crowds with their “chariots”  rolling shopping carts).

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The Scent of French Women

French women didn’t have to wait to learn from scientists that our sense of smell is by far the most powerful of the five senses. Estimates are that 75% of all our emotions are generated by what we smell. Since the time of the Bourbon courts, scented fans, gloves, and rooms have been used to beguile and bewitch, equipping today’s French woman with several centuries of perfume lore at her disposal. Some of the most scent savvy woman stick to signature fragrances. As French Vogue editor, Carine Roitfeld advocates “Scents remind you of people and you should be faithful to them.” Other women collect perfumes throughout their lives (perhaps none so adventurous as Louis XIV who reportedly ordered his courtiers to use a different fragrance every day or Louis XV who requested a difference fragrance for his rooms daily.)

Knowing the fragrance someone chooses makes us feel we know them in a more intimate way than just their biographical information. Below are scents favored by some of France’s most famous women and it should come as no surprise that French fragrances predominate. Artists, entertainers, writers, business women, designers, royalty, and courtesans, all are represented in the list below. Some are French by birth, others adopted France as their home. All are endlessly intriguing and lend their own special “je ne sais quoi” to whatever scent they wear.

Catherine Deneuve: Chanel No. 22, Chanel No 5, L’heure bleue, Chamade, Chanel No. 19, Un Lys

Andree Putman: Nombre Noir

Annick Goutal: Passion (which she created for herself), Folavirl

Brigitte Bardot: Jicky, Vent Vert

Carla Bruni: Vol de Nuit

Chantall Thomass: uses her own fragrance, and also loves Serges Lutens

Carine Roitfeld: Opium for Men

Coco Chanel: Chanel 19 (created as her personal fragrance)

Colette: Jicky

Edith Piaf: Bandit, Le Cinq de Molyneux

Empress Josephine: was so fond of musk that even permeated her rooms decades after her death

Empress Eugene: Eau de Cologne Imperiale, Jasmine Imperatrice Eugenie

Fanny Ardant: Jicky

Gertrude Stein: Jolie Madame

Ines De La Fressagne: Apres l’ondee, Ines

Isabelle Adjani: En Avion, Fantasia de Fleurs, Apres l’ondee, Eau de Camille, Eau du Fier, Heure Exquise, Passion, Ce Soir Ou Jamais,

Isabelle Huppert: L’heure bleue, Folavril

Jacqueline Bisset: Arpege,

Jeanne Moreau: Eau de Charlotte, Folavril, Aubepine Acacia

Josephine Baker: Joy, Sous le vent was created for her

Juliette Binoche: Cristolle

Madame Dubarry: Houbignant cologne

Marie Antoinette: Houbigant, Sillage de la Reine (recreated by perfumer Francis Kurkdjian who based his interpretation on Elizabeth Feydeau’s book, A Scented Palace: The Secret History of Marie-Antoinette’s Perfume)

Marlene Dietric: Angelique Encens (made for her) Bandit, Fracas, Tabac blond, Indiscent, Vol de Nuit

Miou Miou: Zeste Mandarin Pamplemousse

There are also some “make your own” mixtures worth noting:

Madame de Pampadour to seduce Louis XV concocted a love potion of 5 drops rose otto, 7 jasmine, 10 orange and 10 mandarin

Madame de Montespan to seduce Louis XIV: 8 drops ylang-ylang, 7 patchouli, 4 cinnamon and 4 clove

Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor: layered L’heure bleue and Mitsouko

In addition to various publications, sites, special thanks for the information above go to http://perfumeshrine.blogspot.com/, a fabulous resource for anyone interested in all things related to fragrance.


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Travel Alert-What You Really Shouldn’t Leave Home Without

Travel is for fun, carefree, away from the real world experiences, right? That’s true until you wind up in a hospital and the doctors trying to take care of you need vital information you don’t have. This nightmare became a reality some years ago when my husband developed what we thought could be a blood clot after a long flight. We raced to a French hospital and struggled with trying to supply doctors with useful information about his medical history. After exhaustive tests our fear turned out, mercifully, not to be the case, but it scared us into constructing portable medical files containing every scrap of information we thought we might need to provide should another emergency arise in the future. This has worked fine – and “yes” it’s been helpful on a number of occasions — although adding unwanted bulk to our paired down baggage.

This time, for our upcoming trip to Paris, I’ve gotten smart. Each of us will carry our own USB Flash Drive containing all of our medical information including: emergency contacts for doctors and family, most recent medical reports, lists of medications and procedures (down to vitamins and supplements), insurance information and even our health care directives. Digitized records are not universal, so we asked our physicians for Xeroxed copies of the information they judge to be most important, scanned them into our computer and then transferred them to the Flash Drive. All this slips on a key ring and will be easily available at all times. Current prescriptions are kept in a small folding wallet that can be taken to be filled wherever we may be. If only we’d thought of this when we lost that pair of glasses in an Amsterdam café in the pre-medical file days and groped our way through the rest of the trip. (Caution: Not all medications are available outside the US, so be sure in cases where you cannot do without that you have an ample supply.)

Having your emergency and medical information available for any doctors who may be called upon to treat you is not a precaution just for people who have complicated health situations, it’s for EVERYONE. It could save your life – don’t leave home without it.

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What Can We Learn from the French?

The French have given the world haute cuisine and haute couture but perhaps their greatest untapped gift is “haute civility.” Haute civility is not the gallant hand kissing the rest of us cannot quite get the hang of or that seductive accent that makes whatever they say sound great, it’s the way they treat each other – and us — in public places. That old stereotype that the French are rude and unfriendly is kept alive by people who simply haven’t spent time among the French. Take shopping for instance, French shoppers enter a boutique with a polite “Bonjour” to the proprietor and they leave with an appreciative “Merci” (which is reciprocated) whether they have made a purchase or not. A “bonjour” is routinely offered to fellow passengers when entering an elevator – no staring at the ceiling pretending you are alone, and other patients waiting in doctors offices are greeted the same way. Civility even extends to public transportation. In the Paris metro, elders can be assured they will be offered a seat no matter how crowded; and travelers routinely hold swinging doors open for the person behind them. Imagine that on a subway elsewhere. Recently, an American friend living in Paris told of riding a Paris bus and seeing an elderly woman defy the posted and commonly observed direction that passengers should enter through the front door and exist from the rear. Instead, this woman was making her way from her seat in the back against the stream of on-coming passengers. Not only were there no shouts of recrimination, the bus driver and some passing pedestrians stopped to help her make a safe exit. Hurray for the French fine art of social civility – we can all learn from it.

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How better to say "Je t’adore" on Valentines than with Parisian lingerie?

The old warning about “wear nice underwear in case you have to go to the hospital” is something Parisian women never have to worry about; they see having beautiful – and matching — lingerie as one of life’s necessities. It’s a private pleasure and one we all deserve. And what better time that Valentine’s Day to update your lingerie wardrobe – or, better yet, have someone special do it for you. Here are some top picks from our insiders’ little black books.

Since 1889, the bra was invented here by Herminie Cadolle, this legendary custom and ready to wear boutique has never been without its loyal devotees.
4 rue Cambon, 1
Métro: Concorde

Chantal Thomass
Saucy and seductive Chantal Thomass makes naughty very nice — always in luxurious fabrics.
211 rue Saint-Honoré, 1
Métro: Tuileries

Les Folies d’Elodie
The sweetest of sweet-nothings that turn every woman into a coquette.
56 ave Paul Doumer, 16
Métro: Trocadéro

Sabbia Rosa
Supernova of lingerie with clients such as Madonna, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell and Catherine Deneuve.
73 rue des Saints-Pères, 6
Métro: Saint-Germain-des-Prés


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