Friday, May 22, 2009

The Sweet Life In Paris -- live it vicariously

When living in Paris is your day-to-day reality, it’s sometimes easy to take the place for granted. The out-and-out physical beauty of the city, the centuries of history and culture, the amazing food, the wonderful quality of life – it can all too easily be forgotten under the pile of gas bills, the fight you had yesterday with the cable guy or the bad taste left in your mouth after yet another old biddy pushed her way in front of you in the supermarket queue.
Because that’s the thing about living in another city for a long period of time. After a while, it stops being so intoxicatingly exotic and teeters dangerously on the brink of becoming pedestrian.
Which is why it is important to be reminded now and again of the good fortune I have to be living it large in the City of Light. And for exactly that reason, I feel compelled to issue un grand merci to my neighbour and fellow Paris-based scribe David Lebovitz for his excellent new book The Sweet Life In Paris.
If you’re a fan of Paris, a fan of witty anecdotes, a fan of good writing and most importantly, a fan of food, you won’t find a more satisfying read this (northern-hemisphere) summer.
Though he’s usually to be found edifying the faithful thousands who read his blog each week ( with tales of gastronomic adventures in the world capital of food, David uses this book to reflect on the journey he has taken since moving to Paris six years ago.
Where other Paris memoirs ricochet from one well-worn cliché to the next, David’s keen eye, sustained presence among the French and determination to get under the skin of the city sets this book apart. We follow him as he volunteers at a local fish shop, works behind the counter of a chocolate boutique and infiltrates Paris’s usualy cloistered culinary community.
It’s a book, moreover, that shows the author’s deep affection for his adopted hometown. Sure, it rails against pushy Parisian grannies, perma-striking workers, awful French coffee and general aversion to customer service, but most of all this book is an ode to a city, a country and a culture that the world – like David - is unusually fascinated with.
It also happens to be one of the most mouth-watering reading experiences I have ever had. Packed with recipes and with entire chapters given over to the sensual description of French foodstuffs, The Sweet Life In Paris makes you hungry just reading it.
In the interests of disclosure, I should probably note that I’ve had the pleasure of breaking bread with David on several occasions. I’ve enjoyed his company at cafes and chocolate shops. I’ve even escorted the man backstage at the Lido and watched as he donned a series of showgirl feathered hats (in which he didn’t look too bad, it has to be said). He’s a lovely guy whose tiny kitchen down the rue from where we live seems to be constantly churning out freshly baked delicacies that he is only too happy to off-load onto the Showgirl and I. And so yes, I am a little bit biased.
But if you’re looking for a great read about this fascinating city we call Pareeee, then look no further. Bravo David!
(now where is that batch of cookies you promised me?)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Paris bars - for the young, and young at heart

Summer must be just around the corner. Do you know how I can tell? Because suddenly I am receiving emails from left, right and centre from friends, acquaintances and people who once sat on a bus next to someone who might have known me, asking for travel tips for their upcoming visit to Paris.

Where's a good place to stay? Any tips for restaurants? How can I get off the well-trodden tourist trail and experience the real Paris?

One email from a friend this week was on behalf of her sixteen year old niece, who will be travelling to Paris in a month's time. She wanted to know the coolest bars and nightclubs in Paris - the places where the cool kids hang.

Now it must be said that given that I am hurtling towards 40 (which I am reliably informed is the new 30), and given that I recently became a daddy and hence my days of staying out until sunrise have been seriously curtailed, I still have a VAGUE idea of what the kids get up to around here.

So I threw together a list for my friend's niece, and figured I would share it with you all.

Now, in the interests of keeping this blog family friendly, I will say that sixteen is kind of young to be going to bars. And in the interests of 'keeping it real' and appearing to be 'down with the kids', I will add that of course we were ALL sneaking off to bars at the age of 16, trying out our fake IDs. Ah, those were the days...

And so, movers and groovers, allow me to present my guide to Paris's grooviest bars and clubs. For the young, and young at heart, amongst you ...

'Experimental Cocktail Club' -- Rue St Saveur, 2nd arr. Groovy cocktail bar with DJ. Small
but but perfectly formed, and always packed with cool kids.

Cafe Etienne Marcel
- crnr Rue Etienne Marcel and Rue Montmartre in the 2nd
- dead groovy bar where the beautiful young Parisians have their apero (aperitif).

La Perle
- crner Rue du Vieille du Temple & Rue de la Perle - in the 3rd. Frequented nightly by a so-hip-it-hurts fashion crowd - lots of young kids with assymetrical hair-dos. You can imagine I blend in, chameleon-like.... La Perle is very down at heel and casual - but in a fiercely fashionable way. On weekends, there's barely elbow room.

Chez Jeannette - crnr Rue Elzivir and Rue Faubourg St Denis in the 10th -
the natural successor to La Perle. As La Perle starts to become yesterday's bar du jour, Chez Jeanette is emerging as the next drinking destination du choix among the Parisian kids. It's a groovier than thou old skool Paris bar
that has mysteriously become the most fashionably drinking hole in Paris for
the 18-25 trendsetter set. The neighbourhood is borderline grotty, and hardly the most salubrious spot after dark - but the drinks are cheap, the fashion is hot and the crowd is ineffably cool. Of course, I always feel like someone's father whenever I go there ... hang on, I am someone's father...


It must be said at this point that the last time I went to a club Depeche Mode were on high rotation (well, not really, but you get my drift ...). That said, I have it on reliable authority that the following clubs are the perfect spots to techno, emo or rock the night away (see that seamless, effortless use of the kiddie lingo?)

- under the bridge at Pont Alexandre III on the Seine (near
Invalides/Grand Palais) - top DJs, great location, open late.

'Social Club' - rue Montmartre, 2nd - THE club for the young 'uns -- techno heaven, emos and goths
and fashion plates all come together in an orgy of post-pubescent hormones.

'Alimentation Generale', rue Jean Pierre Timbaud, near Ave Parmentier, 11th - noisy, rowdy, heaving bar, often with live bands - always packed.

Am I in touch with the kids or what?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Eating and sleeping: French national sports

Stop the presses, hold the front page! The French eat and sleep more than any other nation in the developed world. At least that's the word out of the OECD (Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development) today.
Following a survey of 18 countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas, the OECD discovered that the average French person sleeps 8.8 hours every night - enjoying more time dans leurs lits than Americans and Spaniards.
And - surprise, surprise - the French take much longer lunches than any of their counterparts in other countries, dedicating double the amount of time to le dejeuner than Americans, Britons or Mexicans (a fact that is especially not surprising in the case of the Mexicans - have you ever tried to eat a full meal through an anti-swine flu face mask? It's a bitch).
So what does this OECD survey tell us about the French? That they have a great work-life balance? That insead of scoffing a sandwich at their desk they value the importance of sitting down, making conversation and breaking bread? That they place enormous emphasis on the art of eating, the quality of foodstuffs they ingest and time spent recharging their Gallic batteries? Or does this OECD report simply highglight the fact that the French are a bunch of food-obsessed, narcoleptic work-phobes?
There's no doubt that the quality of life on offer in Paris is especially high. And I'm not talking the types of dwellings or relative incomes. I'm talking about the French art de vivre - their inimitable way of making the otherwise occasionally pedestrian business of existing into a stylish art form. It's in the frenzy they whip themselves into over a cut of meat, or a glass of wine or a slice of foie gras. It's in the care they take with their appearance, the borderline haughtiness with which they carry themselves and the infuriating smugness with which they consider themselves superior to every other country in the world.
With all of that in your corner, you'd sleep well too.