Celebrating Christmas 2011 in Paris

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:46 am -

Paris in December 2011

Paris glows during the holiday season

Why is it that each year Paris appears more festive and electric between the end of November to after New Year’s Day? Even the rain doesn’t dampen its holiday spirit and Paris glows during the holiday season.

Is it because the city is doing a better job decorating to the nines, while other places seem to have cut back on the glitter and the glamour? Whatever the reason, Paris radiates a magical glow; plus, there’s so much to see and to do and you don’t have to spend a fortune unless you want to, and then, the sky is the limit.

The city is decked out like few others. It’s not because the French view Christmas as a religious holiday. Rather, it’s good for marketing, attracting tourists plus Parisians have a certain savoir-faire when it comes to design and presentation. It’s not for nothing that Paris is known as one of the world’s leading fashion capitals.

Champs-Elysées lit up for holidays in December 2011

Champs-Élysées December 2011

Holiday lights on the Champs-Élysées

Start by walking up or down the Champs-Élysées. This year’s theme is glowing neon tubes that adorn trees lining the street from the Arc de Triomphe at the top to the nearly 200-foot-tall Ferris wheel (La Grande Roue) at the base of the street on the northern edge of the Tuileries Garden and the rue de Rivoli.

Although it was constructed specifically for Millennium festivities held on the Place de la Concorde and was slated to be torn down after a year, it was returned years ago and is now a landmark in the same way as the Eiffel Tower.

La Grande Roue December 2011

La Grande Roue 2011

The Tuileries Ferris wheel for a panoramic view

Ride the Ferris wheel for a perfect overview of the city and a view of Gustave Eiffel’s Tinker Toy construction. If you time your ride so you’re up high during the first five minutes of each after-dark hour, you’ll see the tower at its sparkling grandeur. If not, you’ll have to be content with seeing the tower outlined in light.

Le Bon Marché lit for December holidays 2011

Le Bon Marché on the Left Bank

Window shopping at Paris department stores

Paris department stores go out of their way to be festive. Don’t miss the windows with animated displays at the grand department stores. If you think store windows are designed exclusively for children, think again. They’re definitely major attractions for adults who are out strolling at night. In Paris the Christmas season starts in November and French stores spend a great deal of money for these extended displays.

For a preview before you go, see our stories and videos for Galeries Lafayette “Rock ‘N Mode” and the Printemps tribute to Chanel designer Karl Lagerfeld. On the Left Bank, Le Bon Marché.

2011 Paris Champs-Elysées Christmas Village

Champs-Élysées Christmas Village 2011

Paris Christmas markets

Paris has Christmas markets [video and list from the Paris Mayor's office] throughout the city. Some are definitely better than others and to be honest, you should head to Strasbourg to experience a market where the majority of the items aren’t manufactured in China. Still, they’re fun and worth exploring. Don’t miss Santa’s Village of Saint-Germain-des-Prés by the St-Germain-des-Prés Church – not because it’s wonderful but it’s an ideal place to start touring the Left Bank neighborhood between the church and the Seine. The merchants create a Wonderland with decorated lampposts and store windows.

Skating rink before Hôtel de Ville December 2011

Skating rink at Hôtel de Ville December 2011

Ice skating

If you like to skate and are either graceful or don’t mind falling on the ice, Paris fabricates its own “holiday on ice” arenas. Head to the Hôtel de Ville or the Eiffel Tower ice rink. The Paris Mayor’s office has more ideas for ice and snow activities. Do dress appropriately; being cold isn’t fun.

Jeff Leatham Christmas 2011 display at George V Paris Four Seasons. Photo: ©Jeff Leatham

Jeff Leatham Christmas 2011 display at George V Paris Four Seasons. Photo: ©Jeff Leatham

Hotels and bar hopping

Some of the most striking holiday decorations are found in Paris’s palace hotels. They import teams of decorators to deck the halls and wrap fireplace mantles with garlands and ribbons. Drinks aren’t cheap in the bars, but all you need to do is order a glass of wine or even a café. There’s something so glamorous about sitting in the Le George V Paris Four Seasons, Le Meurice, the Shangri-La Hotel Paris, the new Mandarin Oriental, or Le Bristol Paris, to name a just a few of Paris’s most deluxe hotels. Get dressed up and make an appearance. Even if you’re not dripping in money, sometimes it’s nice to see how the 10% live.

Le Meurice decorated for Christmas. Publicity photo.

See Paris holiday lights in a Mercedes limo

If you’re feeling like spoiling yourself, your family, a lover or giving a gift that people will remember, contact Lisa Buros-Hutchins at Your Paris Experience and she’ll book a Mercedes limo complete with chauffeur. Tour Paris for four hours, stop where you want and even take a bottle of Champagne to help you make merry. If you want to stop at the Madeleine, Fauchon or Hédiard, it’s up to you. The price ranges from €204—€336 for a Mercedes depending on the car’s size and its class.

As much as walking Paris is the way to go, I’d love to see the City of Light in luxury. Not many people wouldn’t.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Why I Miss Paris

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:45 am -

The adage that absence makes the heart grow fonder is absolutely true when it comes to Paris.  How do I love Paris.  Let me count the ways.

First, the quality of daily life

This is not something you can reduce to numerical values or grade like a test or a corporate bond. Attempts in the States to identify the best places to live inevitably give prizes to places with low taxes, bad food, and no culture; Paris would flunk. What I mean by the quality of life are the small things that make simply being alive and going about your business better and more often than not a pleasure.

The pace of life is also part of what I mean. A baguette or a croissant still warm from the oven is an understandably universal delight of living in Paris. The French seem to learn from the time they are old enough to be perched in a high chair that sitting down for a meal is only partly about food. It’s also about taking time to enjoy the food and the wine, to enjoy the company, whether the topic is gossip or something more serious.

Parisians spend a lot of time over food and they take breaking bread with someone seriously. The French compagnon and the English companion derive from eating bread together, the height of human friendship. Parisians like to make the pleasure last as long as possible.

How they find the time for a real lunch and still manage to get some work done is sometimes questioned. Ironically, the French are much more productive than people from most other countries. The stereotype of a French person who needs a day off to recover from a day off is a bad rap.

Cafe solo.

It’s also okay to sit alone over a meal in a café or bistro. People take time with themselves, usually with a book or newspaper, though you will also see people writing and drawing. Though Paris has lost many of its cafés in the last couple of generations, thousands still exist because they improve the quality of life for people living in small apartments, as most Parisians do. Considering apartment prices, a two-bedroom apartment of 60 meters2 borders on the luxurious, though that’s still less than 650 square feet of living space. The café down the street becomes part of an expanded home.

This may be compensation, but how we compensate for the lesser things in our life is part of maintaining its quality. Lingering in a café is not escaping from home, but broadening it, and it’s obvious how many regulars make themselves at home and are made to feel at home by the staff.

Free spirit.

Second, the architecture and the rhythms of the streets

All major cities have monumental buildings that amaze visitors as symbols of the power and glory of the city. Notre Dame, le Grand Palais, Les Invalides, and le Palais Bourbon, among many others, are splendid and do exactly what they were intended to do as they make the French proud of being French and the Parisians proud that the greatest buildings in France are in Paris.

But it’s the ordinary buildings on ordinary streets that keep me thinking about and missing Paris. The height of the buildings helps.  On the edges of the city, there are high-rises, which are awful without exception. But in central Paris, and by that I mean in all twenty arrondissements, the scale of the buildings at eight or nine stories at most is built to a human measure. You don’t feel dwarfed walking down the street nor do you experience the canyon effect of New York and other American cities where the streets get barely any sun and the wind is funneled into gales that can knock you down.

Paris has also not segregated its commerce from its dormitories. Few streets in Paris are endless rows of apartments with no stores or restaurants on the ground floor. Rue Montorgueil may be cheesy because it caters to tourists with cash in their pockets. But look at rue d’Alésia in the Paris 14th, rue de la Folie-Méricourt in the Paris 11th, rue Saint-Dominique in the Paris 7th, or rue Delambre in the Paris 14th with their wall-to-wall, street-level commerce. The businesses depend on local residents who live upstairs.

In the States, this is called “mixed use” and requires some serious urban planning. In Paris, it’s always been organic: the way things were and are and, I hope, will be. It makes life better because the things you want are near where you live. I doubt it’s possible to live in Paris and be more than ten minutes away from a café, a bakery, a pharmacy, a podiatrist (it’s the shoes the women wear), a bus stop, une alimentation, or a Franprix, and other conveniences of life.

The only American equivalent I can think of would be Manhattan, where the density of tall apartment houses is more than enough to support a Korean greengrocer on every block, restaurants, bars, shoe repair shops, drugstores, and on and on.

Metro musician.

Third, transportation

Residents who live and work in central Paris don’t need cars because it’s a walking city. Even better, it’s pleasure to walk in Paris, and the métro and bus systems are very good. Traffic is terrible, so let the bus driver worry about it; parking is worse. You’re not a hostage of the auto industry if you need groceries, flowers or other essentials of living and life. If you crave something unavailable in your neighborhood, for example, food from an ethnic grocery store, it’s only a quick métro ride away. Buying Asian food at specialty shops or restaurants can be done well and inexpensively in Chinatown in the Paris 13th, in the small China blocks in the Paris 4th and 2nd or in Belleville across town on the edge of the Paris 20th, and you can be there in twenty minutes or so. Ditto for Indian food, clothes and more. Paris’s multiethnic mix is another reason for it’s an extraordinarily vibrant city.

Av Wilson marché

Fourth, stocking the kitchen and the closet

Walking down the street and seeing neighborhood boutiques is a pleasure. Stores are convenient and window-shopping is free. If you’re a regular in a clothing store, which you can soon be, the sales people may very possibly have suggestions about what you’d like. Sure, some are changing hands and even going out of business in the name of progress and consolidation, which is a shame. But the future looks secure for boutiques and favored vendors at open-air markets who sell everything from vegetables, fish, eggs, and cheese to hats, tablecloths, and lamps because so many Parisians insist on shopping there. The French (especially those of a certain age) steer away from fast food and actually care what they consume. They have the idea that a tomato should taste like a tomato and not cotton. In a city where eating is part of the art of living, people are willing to pay extra for produce and meats that were raised on nearby farms rather than shipped by the container-load from the lowest-wage country of the moment.

Open space at Luxembourg Garden

Finally, open space

Paris has 118 hectares of parks and gardens used by everyone, no matter their age or socioeconomic status. Talk about the best of both worlds and certainly in my world: it’s such a gift to live a block away from the Luxembourg Garden where gardeners give their all to maximize the jardin’s beauty. My weeding is now confined to the flowerpots on my balcony for two that overlooks the rooftops of Paris.

They say for every wise saying there is a counter-expression.  Thus, for “absence makes the heart grow fonder” there is “out of sight, out of mind.” What they say doesn’t cut it with me. My heart just grows fonder; and when Paris is out of my sight, it’s always on my mind.

Photo credits: Café solo ©tijo; Free spirit ©freespiritjulie; Métro musician ©frecklep; Av Wilson marché ©paspog; and Open space ©punkrocker*

(c) Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Strategically Shopping Paris Winter Sales

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:44 am -

Dedicated France shoppers know the French government dictates when the biannual sales are held. The winter sales generally begin on the second Wednesday of January; summer sales are slated to start on the third Wednesday of June. Each sale period lasts five weeks and there are two flash one-week sales between these times.

If you’re craving a specific item, buy it as soon as you can when the sale begins, or most likely, it won’t be there when you mosey into the store two weeks later. You can be more casual if it isn’t a must-have item and you’re not playing Russian roulette.

What many people don’t know is it’s illegal for stores to have sales or promotions two weeks prior to the official start date and clothes legally must be in the store’s stock for a minimum of a month before shoppers line up to make a killing. This allows people to pre-select what purchases they want to make. If you’re a loyal client or even especially nice, the sales person might put the items away for you, but don’t tell.

Tips to get the most for your euros during the sales

Make a list of what you need and zero in on them. Don’t get distracted or they may be gone.

If you have a foreign credit card, alert the issuing bank that you plan to embark on a shopping spree and in which locations. There’s nothing more frustrating than arriving at the cash register and having cards declined, which is happening more frequently these days as credit card companies are instituting enhanced fraud protection. That’s all well and good until it dashes your hopes of leaving with the goods. Anyone who has tried reaching a bank’s fraud department from an overseas store…well, unless it’s Hermès or Cartier, forget it.

Paris store window photo by Reel Aesthete.

Don’t forget to file for the détaxe (tax refund) if you’re a non-EU resident and leaving France. A 19.6% VAT (Value Added Tax) is levied and to qualify for net refund of approximately 14%, you must spend a minimum of €175 in one store in the same day. If you need to buy a little of this and a little of that, do your shopping at one of the large Paris department stores and chances are good you’ll spend at least that amount by consolidating your purchases in one store. If you’re considering buying a specific fragrance or cosmetics at an airport Duty Free store, buy it now. Paris department stores have a greater selection of items and Duty Free stores aren’t profit-free. If you haven’t met the minimum, one or two items should do it.

Before you leave the store, go to the store’s Détaxe Office (or counter) and complete the paperwork there. Yes, you can do it from overseas but you’ll wish you hadn’t since it’s a pain in the derrière. Complete the required forms, be sure to have your passport (or a photocopy of the key pages) and you’ll be given two copies of the paperwork with a stamped envelope that you’ll need to deposit in the mailbox typically located where you’ll file the paperwork.

Some Paris department stores give tourists a 10% discount. You’ll find department store discount coupons printed on Paris maps typically available at hotels, in some city guides and tourist-oriented magazines plus the official Paris Tourist Offices operated by the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ask and you shall find. Think savings: you’ll be buying at the sale price and will be entitled to approximately an additional 24% discount. Pas mal.

At the airport: Pack the items you’ve purchased in a suitcase or a box that can be shown to the customs officer. Even though it happens relatively infrequently, you may be asked to show your bargains. If you can’t produce them at that time, forget collecting the détaxe. Request that the refund be credited to your credit card rather than by check because who needs a euro-denominated check if you’ll be in a non-EU country.

Look for the “soldes” banners and signs. Photo by Laurent73.

If you walk by Hermès or Louis Vuitton on the Champs-Elysées—well, you’d think there were fire sales based on the number of people waiting outside to snag these designers’ wares.

If you like shopping in boutiques, the longer the sale has gone on, the more chance there is you’ll be able to score a small additional discount. Ask to speak to the owner or the senior manager, make the request nicely and you may luck out—especially if what you’re buying is expensive. Ditto for quantity.

Stay focused: Keep in mind that most French people make the majority of their purchases during the sales periods. You’re going to have serious competition.

Think ahead: If you have children or grandchildren, buy for the future. Even if you’re buying something that will be last year’s model, who cares? And besides, if it’s from a good store in Paris, chances are it will be ahead of the style period.

Paris Grands Magasins (major department stores):

Galeries Lafayette

Printemps

Le Bon Marché

BHV

Photo credits: Paris store window photo ©Reel Aesthete. BHV soldes banners photo ©Laurent73.


Posted in Paris |

Paris Right Bank Jazz Clubs: New Morning, Sunside-Sunset, Duc des Lombards and Etoile Jazz

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:43 am -

NEW MORNING, PARIS 10TH

If you’re looking for elegant décor and a place to wear your finest, New Morning isn’t the club for you. Designer Philippe Starck hasn’t been near the establishment. Were he to perform renovation, it wouldn’t be the same. It’s the quintessential jazz club where people are more intent about listening and feeling the music than sitting in über-chic surroundings.

Located in the slightly edgy 10th arrondissement, people crowd into the large room and hover around small tables and café chairs that don’t scream comfort. The club recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Since opening, it’s been reputed to be one of Paris’s most reliable jazz (and more) emporiums. French and foreign performers gravitate here.

Besides headliners like Roy Hargrove (below), Marlena Shaw, Esperanza Spalding, The Yellow Jackets, Ron Carlton, Kurt EllingLarry Coryell, et al., you never know who you’ll find jamming here because even pop music stars like Jimmy Buffett drop by for impromptu sets after performing across town. Buffett has stopped by after his annual September gigs for several years. Equally good are back-up musicians from arena shows who stop by very late, with or without the headliners.

Roy Hargrove at New Morning. Publicity photo, New Morning.

New Morning is a jazz club of world repute, but jazz is no longer the only type of music performed. Check the program before heading out or making a reservation because if you’re not a salsa lover or aren’t into funk and groove, you may be disappointed. Tickets can be purchased via the club’s website where you’ll be redirected to the FNAC Ticket Office booking site. New Morning opens at 8pm and although performances don’t begin until 9pm, arrive early. Up to 600 patrons can be accommodated here, which in Paris terms is enormous. Even though it’s large, you’ll be amazed by how polite people are when it comes to not making noise. They leave it to the musicians.

7-9, rue des Petites Écuries, Paris 10th

SUNSIDE-SUNSET JAZZ CLUB, PARIS 1ST

Head toward Châtelet to the rue des Lombards in the 1st arrondissement and at #60 you’ll find Sunside-Sunset Jazz Club. This was the first music venue to open on the rue des Lombards and started out as a restaurant with jazz performances in its vaulted-ceiling cave in the basement. When it opened in 1983, it showcased fusion music. At the end of 1984, the club became more structured when Dany Michel became an official programmer, adding more jazz to the performance schedule.

Ben Sidran (keys), Leo Sidran (drums) & Billy Peterson (bass) at Sunside-Sunset

By the late ’80s, the Sunside-Sunset was on the must-perform list for American jazz artists touring Europe, especially after Jean-Marie Durand (AKA Balzano) switched from bartender to the club’s artistic director. His wife, American jazz great Dee Dee Bridgewater, recorded one of her best albums, Live in Paris, at New Morning in 1986. Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock frequented the club and it was the hot and happening place to go.

These days, don’t miss “Dr. Jazz” Ben Sidran (photo above) when he returns for shows here or at New Morning. He’s often backed by son Leo on drums, and one of the world’s best jazz bass players, Billy Peterson. Multiple Grammy-winning artist “Billy P” has backed up recording artists in all musical genres, from Bob Dylan to Prince, Steve Miller, Oleta Adams, John Patitucci, David Sanborn, Kenny Loggins and more. He’s a rare “musician’s musician” from a talented musical family that performs around the world.

60, rue des Lombards, Paris 1st

Info Line: 01 4026 4660

DUC DES LOMBARDS, PARIS 1ST

Duc des Lombards, another happening place, is the second jazz club on the street. It’s more intimate and even though it’s attracted many greats in the jazz world, it’s not unusual for local artists to meet to jam together. Because the two clubs are so closely situated, aficionados tend to patronize both depending on who is playing what and on which day.

Regina Carter in her November 2011 show at Duc des Lombards. Photo by Ph Marchin

The club features a mix of all forms of jazz, and recent international headliners include Ramsey Lewis, Terence Blanchard Quintet, Regina Carter, John Scofield, Gerald Clayton Trio and Scott Hamilton (the three latter performed on Diana Krall’s epic Live at the Olympic disc) and up-and-comers like The Kyle Eastwood Band (check out Clint’s son on video). There’s a reason why Paris is known for its light and its jazz.

Catch many fine performances on the Duc des Lombards’ video channel on YouTube

42, rue des Lombards, Paris 1st

Étoile Jazz Club AKA Lionel Hamptonat Le Méridien Étoile, Paris 17th

If you’re staying closer to the Étoile, a perfect last stop for the evening is the Le Méridien Étoile’s Jazz Club, also known as the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club. Its décor is more elegant than some of Paris’s down, out and under destinations with a beat. It feels more like a cocktail lounge, but don’t fear: it attracts some very good talent. If you’re hungry, you can take a brief mental exodus to Japan and order some sushi.

Etoile Jazz Club publicity photo

People from the world over follow the music. However, because of Le Méridien’s location on the edge of the 17th across the street from one of the main Paris conference centers at Porte Maillot, only three métro stops from La Défense, where many multinational headquarters are based, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Club is a hangout for many who come to Paris on business. After all, everyone needs a respite after dark.

81, boulevard Gouvion Saint-Cyr, Paris 17th

PHOTO CREDITS: Roy Hargrove at New Morning publicity photo; Duc des Lombards publicity photo by ©Ph Marchin; Ben Sidran and band at SUNSIDE-SUNSET ©LR; Regina Carter at Duc des Lombards publicity photo by ©Ph Marchin; and Étoile Jazz Club publicity photo.


Posted in Paris |

France Train Travel Tips for Beginners

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:42 am -

Sometimes I forget how confusing train travel can be in France, or for that matter, in any country where you don’t speak the language and haven’t mapped out how to get from here to there.

It hit home the other day when returning to Paris from Lyon on the SNCF French national rail network. We had trouble finding our assigned voiture N° 1 (car #1) because it was located in the middle of the train instead of at an end. We weren’t alone; other people were racing from one end of the platform to the other, hoping the train wouldn’t pull out of the station without them. It’s conducive to that good old adrenalin rush, but who needs it.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll assume you’ve already purchased your tickets and we’ll start with arriving at typical French gare (rail station).

French rail tip #1: arrive 30+ minutes before your scheduled departure

The name of your station is printed on your ticket; show that to your driver so there’s no confusion about which station you need to get to. Plan to arrive at the train station 30 minutes or more before your scheduled departure time—SNCF advises that the larger the station, the earlier you should arrive. Be aware that the French trains usually depart on time and they will not wait for you.

Definitely allow extra time for departures from Gare de Lyon in Paris, which can be especially confusing because it has different levels with tracks that are identified by both numbers and letters. Trains going to Provence are supposed to leave from tracks identified by letters . . . but you may head to one part of the station only to find your train is leaving from the other section. Even though it can’t be true, this station always feels as if it’s under construction. If you allow even more extra time, head up the stairs to the bar at Le Train Bleu. You can have a tea or drink and a snack in the Belle Époque bar that will cost you, but it’s surely one of the world’s most opulent train station restaurants.

Gare du Nord Departure Board. Photo: L. Willms, Wikipedia

#2: check the departure board for your departure platform

Check the board to confirm your assigned platform and then allow a few minutes more reach the quai (platform) from which your train departs. Navigating your way through the crowds on busy days can be problematic in some large stations, especially if you haven’t allowed enough time and are toting baggage. Make certain you’re on the correct side of the platform to head in your desired direction.

#3: validate your ticket before boarding, just to be safeSNCF ticket validator. Photo: SNCF

You will be expected to composter (validate) your own ticket with a time-stamp punch at a self-service ticket validation machine usually located in several places, such as at the start of the quai, on the platform, in the waiting area. Look for the yellow validator that reads: “‘Compostez votre billet” or “Compostage de billet.”  Modern ticket validators are usually yellow, or in some cases orange. Sometimes—but not always—a directional sign (often small) is posted up high on a pole above the machine. Punch your ticket at the first one you see.

Certain tickets purchased directly from the SNCF site can be printed at home. If you have one of those, you won’t need to validate it in the machine—just be prepared to show your ID to the contrôleur (control agent) along with your printed ticket.

Sample SNCF ticket.

#4: find your numbered 1st or 2nd class car, then your numbered seats

Look here to see the class and car number.

Your ticket notes your departure number, assigned car and seat. The ticket above is a 1st class ticket for Car 3, Seat 101.

Look at the outside of the car for a number 1 or 2, then look for your specific car, then enter to find your seat.

If the car has a large #2 painted on its side, that’s probably because it’s second-class. Be certain to look at the little glass panel next to the door to identify the number of the car.

All TGV passengers purchase assigned seats. Don’t be surprised if you arrive to find someone in it. It’s no sin to try to find more space, and when the train isn’t full, some people move into what they hope will be an unsold seat. Don’t hesitate to ask the person seated in your seat to move, but smile when you do because they know they’re in the wrong.

#5. be prepared to show your ticket to the contrôleur (conductor)

During your trip, a contrôleur walks car-to-car during service to confirm all riders have tickets. If you forgot or didn’t have time to validate your ticket before boarding, find the contrôleur before s/he finds you. More than likely, you won’t be fined if you explain you didn’t see the machine that time-stamps the ticket. Believe it or not, some people have been known to use the ticket a second time if they can get away with it. No one I know, but it happens.

There are other perils to contend with if your travel requires you to continue on to your destination by the métro or the RER, the commuter trains.

For example, during my recent trip, a very savvy New Yorker, who is just fine on his home turf, might have become unraveled had he been alone. Joe was headed to a friend’s Paris home with instructions to call her portable (cell phone) when he arrived in Paris. That’s easier said than done. Try locating a telephone in a station when it’s overflowing with people running for trains. It’s possible but not simple.

After he called his friend on my cell phone and wrote down the directions to reach his friend in St Germain-en-Laye, it was only polite to help him find the RER—which required that he exit first at La Défense. Because he was traveling an extra zone, it wasn’t a question of handing him a métro ticket and sending him on his way. No, he’d have to buy another ticket, which was also easier said than done.

The machine didn’t accept coins nor did it accept a credit card without a smart chip. I was able to bail him out of his dilemma—but wondered whether or not he actually was able to team up with his friend. Did he take the correct exit and what if she weren’t there to greet him? To be sure, he’d find someone else to call her. The French are amazingly nice to people in distress.

My mind kept churning about what he should have done and what tourists can do if there’re in any country where they don’t speak the language, much less know the customs. It can be overwhelming if you aren’t prepared.

Thanks to the Internet, people can familiarize themselves with almost everything and certainly information about a country’s transport system before leaving home. Joe could have asked his hostess for more details in advance—or she could have anticipated his challenges and offered more information about their meeting place. Both could have accessed the Paris RATP site to do advance planning. Buying a ticket would require standing in line but is totally doable.

Another thought—tourists should travel with a cell phone in case of emergencies . . . but that’s another story for another time.

Photo credits: Gare du Nord Departure Board. Photo: L. Willms, Wikipedia; SNCF control agents. Photo: Orayan; and other images from SNCF.

© Paris New Media, LLC


Posted in Paris |

Gourmet Food Gifts from La Grande Epicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marche

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:40 am -

Gourmet Food Gifts from La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché

When you’re looking for a special gift from Paris, you can go to always go to Baccarat and leave the boutique with a comme il faut cadeau. It’s hard to find much wrong in the world of crystal. On the other hand, leaded and hand-blown glass doesn’t come cheap and you may blow your entire budget with one small item.

If you’re not out to break the bank and simply want a small something that says “I care” or “thank you,” or a tiny remembrance of your Paris trip, one of many places you can visit is the the grandest gourmet grocery in Paris, La Grande Épicerie de Paris at Le Bon Marché on the Left Bank. It’s a short walk from St. Sulpice, the Luxembourg Garden and St. Germain-des-Prés.

One of the things that makes the Bon Marché special is you can go around the world without leaving the store. People who set foot inside it for the first time invariably have this amazed and dazed look as if they’ve entered the temple of haute cuisine delicacies.

The entire ground floor of the large store is stocked with packaged and fresh food items. Most are upscale, gourmet products, but there are also seasonal and trendy novelty items. When I visited, the store was promoting its “So London” section of foods from the UK, like Marmite and teas. Unless you’re in Paris for an extended stay, run—don’t just walk—past the UK and American foods sections, where homesick travelers can buy marshmallow fluff and strange brands of peanut butter at inflated prices.

You can easily spend hundreds (or thousands) of your hard-earned euros here, but my mission was to find small, easily toted items priced under 35 euros that make nice souvenirs or gifts for those who did not journey with you.

Before you buy, check this list of foods you may import into the US for personal consumption. Commercially packaged and sealed candies, condiments, spices, coffee and teas are generally ok. Bulk teas and spices, etc., are subject to inspection and if they are found to have insects, they may be seized and destroyed, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection folks who greet you on home soil.

Kariari caviar to go at La Epicerie.

Caviar and Foie Gras

Starting with the best, depending on your tastes and budget, head for the decadent and perhaps not so politically correct counter where the caviar is housed as if it were gold. There were stacked tins of the very best, but the colorful portable tins of Kaviari caviar-to-go were certainly unique novelties. Slide back the lid and find a tiny caviar spoon with 15 grams of top quality caviar. Ingenious and comparatively affordable at 35 euros. Or try a small pot of Kaspia sturgeon caviar for 10 euros—yes, 140 grams is one of those small pleasures meant to be savored, not inhaled.

Then there’s the foie gras, presented in various sizes and forms that allow you to prepare it in your favorite way.

Baker’s decorations for cakes, cupcakes, cookies and more

Cupcakes are still a craze in Paris (though the fad may be fading) and your friends who enjoy baking will love receiving jars of sprinkles, candied violets and toppings that will make any dessert look more festive. People have been known to sprinkle them over ice cream that’s been drizzled with a tiny bit of liqueur.

Pair of Grande Epicerie mugs under 20 euros.Spray olive oil by Château d'Estoublon of Provence.

For tea and coffee drinkers

Tea—glorious tea. The afternoon ritual of sipping tea is so civilized that even your friends who aren’t necessarily Francophiles will appreciate a lovely tin of loose tea. Add a tea strainer if you like, and if you’re putting on the Ritz, two teacups and some scones or macarons will make them feel as if they’ve gone English. Skip the scones if you’re buying Chinese tea. Five tins of Kusmi Tea in five flavors costs less than 20 euros. And for the  coffee drinkers? A box of milk chocolate spoons by Daniel Mercier that add chocolatey goodness to coffee (under 10 euros) and a pair of Grande Épicerie mugs adorned with their whimsical brand characters (under 20 euros).

Fancy oils and flavored vinegar

Vinegar is available in so many flavors that it make us wonder how we ever lived without raspberry vinegar and other distinct flavors of vinegar. Ditto for olive oils. Dedicated cooks know that there are olive oils and then there are olive oils—those that are substantially more pure, lighter and, sometimes, fruitier than others. And did you know olive oils come in different grades? No self-respecting Italian at a street market would buy a liter of olive oil without sampling it first. Here you’ll find high-quality nut oils, truffle oil and oils that are better than the kind you throw on a salad before calling it a day, including the spray-on Provençal olive oil by Château d’Estoublon priced at 15 euros.

Mustards, sauces and jellies

Think a wee bit out of the box when buying gifts. For example, most people have a jar or two of mustard. Add to their pantry by giving them some out-of-the-ordinary ones. There’s an incredible selection that might inspire you to get a different flavor for every day of the week. The jar of Maison de la Truffe mustard with truffle flavoring, orange sauce by Tour d’Argent and Cassis Violette confiture by Carla are all priced below 10 euros.

Sugar, spice and flavorings

You’ll find aisles of spices, salts and sugars in every conceivable flavor and color. There was an entire section devoted to salt: red or black from Hawaii, grey from Guérande and some with truffle flavoring. Many people swear that truffle salt can make or break a beef dish. Some bottles start at just 6 euros and go up from there.

The French have perfected packaging and a couple of bottles or tins really make a favorable impression. And on that note . . ..

For the foodie with everything

These days salt is collected like gold. For your foodie friend (or perhaps it’s you?) with everything, how about a Himalayan diamond of salt with its own grater? For a price of under 10 euros, it’s a memorable and uncommon gift.

Chocolates and fancy candies

To end on a sweet note, La Grande Épicerie has a selection of chocolates and candies that can give you a sugar high just by glancing at them. We’re not talking just chocolate in every form but cocoa, spreads, drinks, crystallized gingers and so much more. If you’re a chocolate addict and can’t make it to France, you can order handmade, small batch French chocolates from our very favorite chocolate supplier, zChocolat.

Sweets for the sweet, as they say.

One of the nice things about buying French food gifts is that they’re always appreciated, always attractive and now you know where to go to find the very best without spending a small fortune.

If you’ve spent any time in France, you’re fully aware that packaging can make or break a gift and help it look more important.  Even if you’re not in France and aren’t buying items pour offrir, add some ribbons and panache to your presents. It takes so little time and makes a difference.

La Grande Épicerie de Paris

in Le Bon Marché

Tél: 01 4439 8100

38, rue de Sèvres, Paris 7th

Open: 8:30am-9pm Monday through Saturday

Métro: Sèvres-Babylone

© Paris New Media, LLC

Photo credits: Saif al-Islam


Posted in Paris |

Paris Left Bank Live Music Clubs: Closerie des Lilas, Swan Bar, Caveau Huchette and More

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:38 am -

Are you in the mood for a musical evening that doesn’t mean the classics?

Cozy up at some of my favorite Left Bank live music clubs. There’s something for everyone and you’ll see a different side of Paris than if you never left the Louvre.

Before you go, check event calendars for schedules, hours and cover charges because all change, as live entertainment venues tend to do.

La Closerie des Lilas, Paris 6th

You may know La Closerie des Lilas as one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite haunts, where the literati of the Golden Age of Paris (à la Midnight in Paris) gathered. What you may not know is that it’s not only a restaurant, but has a hot and hopping piano bar that features a mix of every music genre, including jazz standards and ballads late at night. It’s open seven days a week.

Drinks aren’t cheap, but you’re paying for the ambiance and a place to see and be seen. This isn’t a kid’s scene: the people who frequent La Closerie (many of them are regulars) tend to be older. Women alone don’t stay alone for very long unless they want to and that’s fine.

La Closerie des Lilas. Photo: Les Depots Rive Gauche

La Closerie des Lilas

Tél: 01 4051 3450

171, blvd Montparnasse, Paris 6th

Métro: Vavin

RER: Port-Royal

Brasserie: open 12pm-1am daily

Bar: 11pm-1:30am daily

Swan Bar, American Jazz Bar, Paris 6th

If you’re into jazz and blues, walk a few doors down to the Swan Bar, an excellent venue for New York-style jazz featuring a varied selection of performing artists. Owner Lionel Bloom is a New Yorker, so if you feel nervous about speaking French, there’s zero need to feel intimidated here. Tuesday and Wednesday nights are open stage nights and there’s a whole lot of participation. Don’t tell, but there’s a downstairs room where smoking is allowed. Be ready to be transported back to the ’30s because that’s ever so much in vogue now.

The Swan BarThe Swan Bar. Publicity photo.

Tél.: 1 4427 0584

165, boulevard du Montparnasse, Paris 6th

Métro: Raspail, Vavin

RER: Port Royal

2 nightly sets: 7:30pm and 9:30pm Tuesdays through Saturdays

“Round Midnight” set  Midnight-2am Fridays and Saturdays

Open stage 9:30pm Wednesdays

Caveau de la Huchette, Paris 5th

Hunker on down and go to Caveau de la Huchette, a jazz and swing institution for over 60 years. Located in a cellar in the Paris 5th, this building is filled with history that includes 18th-century executions. There are few jazz greats who haven’t passed through its doors and it’s been compared to the Cotton Club. People who like to dance can dance the night away in tight underground quarters. Even though music aficionados have been known to be smokers, it’s probably better that smoking isn’t allowed because if nothing else, you couldn’t emerge without smelling like a cigarette.

VIDEO: vocalist Marc Thomas and band

Caveau de la Huchette. Photo: nicholasduportal

Caveau de la Huchette

Tél: 01 4326 6505

5, rue de la Huchette, Paris 5th

Métro: Saint-Michel; Pont Neuf

Open nightly at 9:30pm

Le Petit Journal Montparnasse, Paris 14th

Another Left Bank jazz and dinner club for jazz lovers is Le Petit Journal Montparnasse, located only a couple of blocks from the Gare de Montparnasse. It’s larger (and less elegant) than some Paris jazz clubs, but the club hosts performances by international jazz stars that draw audience from France and beyond. Le Petit Journal Montparnasse swings with some fabulous performances and French connoisseurs say they’ve heard some music greats perform here before they’ve reached stardom. During the summer, people gravitate there for apéritifs and piano music that takes place on the restaurant’s terrace.

Le Petit Journal Montparnasse. Publicity photo.Be sure to check program listings at the website because the club presents an incredible variety of performances and some will appeal more to you than others.

Le Petit Journal Montparnasse

Tél: 01 4321 5889

13, rue du Commandant Mouchotte, Paris 14th

Métro: Gaîté

Open: officially 8pm-2am but hours vary; concerts usually start at 8pm with 2 sets some nights

Café Laurent piano bar, Paris 6th

If you prefer to begin or end an evening with considerably quieter music, Café Laurent might be more to your liking.  Located in the heart of the Saint-Germain-des-Prés at Hôtel d’Aubusson, this is a lounge where people go to listen to music and have quiet conversations. Don’t stare, but chances are you’ll even spot some elegantly dressed lovers holding hands before going upstairs or simply saying bonne nuit.

VIDEO: six-minute clip captures the scene

Café Laurent

Tél: 01 4329 0333

33, rue Dauphine, Paris 6th

at Hôtel d’Aubusson

Métro: Odéon or Pont Neuf

Piano jazz soloist 6:30-8pm nightly

Jazz concerts 9pm-midnight

These are just five Left Bank live music clubs. There are many others, some of which come and go with lightning speed. Some people consider Paris a city of monuments while others come here to feel the beat.

PHOTO CREDITS: La Closerie des Lilas, ©Les Depots Rive Gauche; The Swan Bar publicity photo; Caveau de la Huchette, ©nicholasduportal; Le Petit Journal publicity photo.


Posted in Paris |

Paris Thanksgiving Events for Americans

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:36 am -

Vintage Thanksgiving postcard. Public domain image.In the USA, most Americans are preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday, a time to give thanks and catch up with relatives over a traditional turkey dinner with all the fixings. Under the best of circumstances, Americans travel from different parts of the country for multigenerational gatherings because the days of the nuclear family are pretty much a thing of the past.

No matter what’s happening in these uncertain economic times, many Americans consider Thanksgiving a time to reflect and give thanks. Invariably, less fortunate families are remembered by those who can donate cash, food and/or service at shelters and soup kitchens. Perhaps, because Thanksgiving is a holiday with a muted religious significance, it isn’t loaded with do’s and don’ts. And it is a day to pay homage to Native Americans who taught the pilgrims and new settlers how to survive.

Thanksgiving in Paris

Expats may leave their home countries, but they take their traditions with them, which often become more meaningful when living abroad. Groups such as the American Club, the American Church in Paris and other expat groups sponsor holiday events for the local expat community.

For Americans living abroad, Thanksgiving may still be “your” holiday, but it’s not recognized in France. On the other hand, you will get time off for French holidays, such as religious holiday La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) where people honor the dead. It’s not just an excuse for a Halloween party and trick-or-treating. Some children who attend American schools abroad will be on school vacation, but their parents probably won’t be. Some expat families band together and celebrate the holiday in traditional American style because, if they plan to return home, it’s usually during the Christmas break when everyone is on vacation.

Traveling Americans in the mood to mingle with expats over an American-style Thanksgiving dinner may wish to contact those entities or check the many hotels that cater to Americans who walk in without reservations. If you look in the English-language newspaper (or call the American Church), you’ll find numerous choices. But don’t wait for your invite from the American ambassador to France—the Rivkin family is undoubtedly busy.

Preparing your own Thanksgiving meal in France

Travelers and expats in France can prepare a traditional turkey dinner with the help of American specialty groceries like The Real McCoy (no website) and Thanksgiving. Some larger Monoprix stores have a small selection of imported foods. You can find canned cranberry sauce or jelly, Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix, and marshmallows to bake on top on the sweet potatoes. They can even buy cans of puréed pumpkin so they can whip up pies in ready-made pie crusts. Don’t tell your French friends.

Stop by your local butcher ASAP to see if you can order a Thanksgiving turkey, which will be small, very fresh and very expensive compared to U.S. standards. Larger French groceries sell larger turkeys, but they’re frozen and, again, expensive.

Thanksgiving has always been meaningful to me. I’ll never forget when my mother came to visit the first year I lived in Paris (we’re talking 20-some years ago). Her luggage included cans of Ocean Spray’s finest tucked into shoes, and unpacking her suitcases was a treasure hunt. That was before the French discovered and started marketing turkey as the “white meat.” The largest turkey anyone could buy was a bird only marginally larger than a chicken. A few butchers in the 6ème7ème, and 16ème arrondissements (where most Americans tended to live) were willing to order large turkeys for their clients. But everything had its time… and that time was Christmas.

Being resourceful and unaware of French agricultural regulations, my mother imported a real honest-to-goodness Butterball in a Styrofoam container. Gee, it had to defrost anyway, and what was wrong with doing it in transit across the Atlantic? When the customs inspectors asked what the trunk contained, my mother, who spoke little French but had a dazzling smile, explained it was for her daughter and Thanksgiving dinner. The turkey and she were waved through security and, yes, it was a memorable dinner.

We invited all of our American friends, who were amazed by the Butterball caper. We also included French friends and professional colleagues who weren’t overwhelmingly impressed by the caliber of the food. Who could blame them? Thanksgiving meals simply aren’t haute cuisine. It goes without saying they were incredibly polite and saved the evening by bringing chilled champagne. We were all feeling less pain by the time dinner was on the table.

I’ve come to relish Thanksgiving dinner with family, American and French friends. The evening usually doesn’t begin until 8:00 pm, and we have a wonderful times bonding over food and American traditions. And lots of wine. Isn’t that what life is about? And something to be thankful for?

Thanksgiving celebrations in Paris:

Check business-hotel chains that cater to North Americans, such as the le Meridien and Westin hotels in the Starwood Resorts group, Marriott, larger Holiday Inns, and Pullman hotels.

American Church in Paris

  • Thursday, Nov. 24 12:15pm service
  • Saturday, Nov. 26 7:30pm Thanksgiving dinner

Breakfast in America

  • their Thanksgiving dinners are fully booked, but you can always try in case of no-shows…

Joe Allen’s

  • Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov. 24

Le Ralph’s (Ralph Lauren’s Paris restaurant)

  • Thanksgiving dinner, Thursday, Nov. 24  2 seatings: 6:30 and 9:30pm (reserve now)

Le Saint-Martin Bistrot

  • Thanksgiving dinner for dine-in or take-away, Thursday, Nov. 24 through Saturday, Nov. 26 (Premium Subscribers, see Margaret Kemp’s BUZZ article for full details.)

The Real McCoy and McCoy Café (no website)

  • 2 small grocery shops, Paris 7th: The Real McCoy at 49, avenue Bosquet and McCoy Café at 194, rue de Grenelle

Thanksgiving, the store, Paris 4th

  • grocery specializes in American packaged foods & special-order turkeys

PHOTO CREDIT: Thanksgiving postcard, circa 1900. Public domain image.


Posted in Paris |

France Flu Season and Medical Help for Sick Travelers

Written by admin on January 28, 2012 – 11:35 am -

Dial 15 for SAMU in Paris. Photo: collardgreensI live here and Paris is Paris and it’s my city. But, when I’m sick, my mindset becomes more akin to that of a visiting tourist with only a finite period of time and the desire to do and see everything rather than being sequestered in a hotel room or a vacation rental apartment.

At first I wasn’t concerned with what started as a cold because I had received a flu shot when in the U.S. But the French flu could be a different strain that knocked me down and out for nearly ten days (I lost precise count). Some days were totally lost and there was no way to do more than than sleep, drink LOTS of water and take care of bare necessities between alternating bouts of chills and sweats.

I trudged up to the local pharmacie and described my symptoms, coughing discreetly while covering my mouth. M. Littre listened and headed to the shelves for over-the-counter medications to relieve my aches, pains and runny nose. To be on the safe side, I bought a box of Oscillococcinum homeopathic flu treatment which so many people swear by, figuring it couldn’t hurt and might even help.

My doctor would have seen me but by then I didn’t want to infect waiting room patients. Besides, after a spiking fever set in, physically getting there felt like too much.

After the initial crise passes, flu patients tend to think they’ve recovered and I tried to keep certain appointments. More than once I got up, dressed and found the effort so exhausting that I undressed and returned to bed with a heating pad or a cold pack for my forehead. Boxes of tissues were used with such rapidity that a neighbor brought me six more.

It took time and urging by concerned friends to prompt my call to SOS Médecins, a group of licensed physicians who treat patients in their homes rather than in offices or hospitals. In Paris, they number 185 and work different times of the day and the week. One of the doctors who came to treat me said that he preferred to work hours that met his needs and those of his children. He said being an SOS doctor was more interesting to him than working in a more traditional doctor’s office.

He explained some neighborhoods were safer than others, but there is no discrimination according to arrondissement or building appearance. To protect the physicians (who carry drugs), SOS Médecins dispatchers try to discern which calls are genuine and which could be potential set-ups. If there is any suspicion, a police officer is called to stand by or escort the doctor to the patient’s residence. There are some in France who use the service for their primary care. That’s not the intent of the program, but it’s been known to happen. For people who have trouble leaving the office, it can be an economic savings.

Pack your medical history

No matter where you travel, carrying a brief summary of your medical history makes sense. If it’s a life or death situation (and clearly the flu rarely is), your treating doctor or nurse will need to know your blood type, pre-existing conditions, allergies and medications you’re taking. Ask your doctor at home to give you prescriptions for the pills you’re taking in the event you run out or they’re lost in transit. Every traveler should tuck a laminated card with the name and telephone number of your primary emergency contact into your shoe, which is where emergency responders will look if your wallet or handbag is gone and you’re unconscious in an emergency. If you are traveling with a companion, put their name on the card and include your Paris address, whether hotel or apartment. It would be smart to include your landlord’s contact information, too. Yes, it can all fit on a business-size laminated card.

Advice for foreign travelers sick in France: start at the pharmacy

If your situation is an emergency, dial 15 for SAMU (ambulance) or 18 for the fire paramedics trained to manage emergencies.

If you’re staying in a hotel, the front desk clerk or concierge is sure to have a list of doctors in the notebook that contains names of restaurants and deep, dark secrets, including how to call a cab. Get directions to the nearest pharmacy that’s open when you need it, no matter the time of day.

Paris has several pharmacies required to be on-call or open very late or even 24 hours a day. Here’s a list of Pharmacies de Garde in France.

If you’re staying in an apartment, see if the landlord’s renter’s guide notes the nearest pharmacy and/or an emergency contact number you can call for guidance.

Pharmacists in France have more leeway to dispense medical advice and opinions than their U.S. counterparts, where medical personnel tend to be lawsuit phobic. If you’re visiting Paris and don’t have local connections, start with a visit to the pharmacist at your local pharmacy. They can recommend a nearby doctor, whom they may call to discuss your condition.

Paris pharmacie. Photo: Nick_FisherDon’t worry if you don’t speak French, but it helps to know the name of drugs you’re allergic to or those that you’ve used with success in the past if this is a recurring problem. If you travel with a smartphone, download a French-English medical translator or travel with an English-French Medical Dictionary and Phrase Book. If you feel up to it and your hotel or apartment has Wi-Fi, do a quick search to pick up the words you need to describe your ailment.

If you have a chronic medical condition, have your records translated into French—it’s prudent, saves time and minimizes confusion when minutes matter.

Summon medical help

In Paris (for that matter, in all of France) there are on-call emergency medical services of all types available each and every day. You’ll pay a premium, but who cares when there’s a crisis. Roving doctors arrive generally within an hour and are truly dedicated. SOS Médecins operates throughout the country. After two visits from SOS Médecins physicians, I was on the mend and I once again blessed the French health care system.

Insurance for travelers

SOS Medecins vehicle.

People covered by French insurance find the majority of the cost (or all) is covered. Travelers who need a doctor should dial 3624. You’ll be asked to provide your name, address, and phone number plus a description of your symptoms. If the person who answers the phone doesn’t speak English, ask to speak to someone who does. You can request a doctor who speaks English; the majority of them do.

The severity of your illness will dictate which doctor arrives and with what equipment. It’s no problem if you need a shot because traveling doctors are equipped and able to perform an EKG, blood tests, administer oxygen and more. The doctor may say you should be hospitalized, in which case they’ll complete a dossier to facilitate admission.

Before leaving on your trip, check with your medical insurance company to see if your existing insurance plan covers you when traveling abroad. If not, consider investing in travel insurance. Short-term policies start under $100, which is cheap compared to racking up hospital fees.

Many companies take out policies on their employees who travel for business. If you don’t have it, you can buy travel insurance with your ticket (read the small print please) or through Travel Guard.

If you’re American, please invest in a policy from MedjetAssist. As a member of MedjetAssist, if you become hospitalized as an inpatient more than 150 miles from home, you will be transported at your discretion to the hospital of your choice from virtually anywhere in the world at no additional cost. Having had personal experience with this company, it has my seal of approval.

Paying for medical treatment

If you’re uninsured in France, the price of a house call starts at 70 euros and increases depending upon what’s needed, the day and time. The visit costs more at night and during weekends.

If you’re traveling here and have a medical condition, the French flu or some other urgent medical issue, it’s good to know there’s medical backup if you become ill.

No one wants to be sick when they’re traveling or even at home. But if it happens, it’s so much better to be prepared. If you’re France bound, it’s a relief to know you’re going to receive some of the best medical care in the world. Curl up with your Kindle or a good book, keep the water and tissues near, and make the best of it; after all, you’ll be in Paris.

© Paris New Media, LLC

PHOTO CREDIT: Paris pharmacie ©Nick_Fisher; SAMU ©CollardGreens; Pompiers van ©PrimeJunta


Posted in Paris |

Interview with Karen Fawcett, founder of Bonjour Paris

Written by admin on October 24, 2011 – 1:13 pm -

Journalist, editor, blogger, publisher, businesswoman, talent scout, Parisian and world traveler, Karen Fawcett is the president and founder of Bonjourparis.com The Definitive Guide to Paris. I first had the pleasure of meeting Karen nearly 25 years ago, in one of her previous incarnations (and mine).

Attention writers: the lady knows her business.

Karen Fawcett

Laurel Zuckerman : How did you get into journalism?

Karen Fawcett : I fell into it though the back door. When I was an interior designer in Washington, DC, the editor of the Sunday magazine Home-Life of the Washington Star asked me to do some scouting. Fast forward: I became an ongoing features/cover story contributor who produced stories and entire editions for over three years.

The articles focused on profiles of people in their homes, and designers and architects who realized their clients’ dreams. I loved it. When the Washington Star folded in August 1981, I’d made more money as an ongoing contributor that year than I’ve seen since in all of my years of being a journalist.

After moving to France in 1988, I didn’t have working papers, so I wrote for numerous print publications. My favorite was the (now defunct) “Expat Abroad” column for the international edition of USA Today. While my husband was sitting in meetings in different parts of the world, I was out meeting and doing and asking so many “none of my business” questions. The articles were 600-2000 words in length. My (now deceased) husband earned considerably more money, but I had a far better time.

LZ : What writers have influenced/inspired you the most?

KF : I could say Paul Theroux and so many other great writers. The reality is the writers who’ve influenced me most were journalists who took an interest in my writing and who became mentors. Garry and George Clifford were friends and journalists who encouraged me when I was learning the craft. Bud Korengold was another generous mentor who opened doors in Paris and beyond in his role as the head of information for the US Embassy in Paris. Charlie Leocha, publisher of Consumer Traveler and director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, has taught me to be a more linear writer. Odile Hellier of the Village Voice bookstore in Paris has had a strong influence on my reading selections for the past 23 years, and reading a wide range of style and authors I hope has made me a better writer. I’ve also been inspired by attending many authors’ readings.

LZ : How do you apply your journalism skills to publishing BonjourParis?

KF : Today BonjourParis has an executive editor who oversees publication. She manages editors and writers who provide content that meets professional journalistic standards. I continue to write my column, news from France and occasional articles. I’m focused on the bigger picture these days, such as expanding our readership, business and of course maintaining my professional network built over “a few decades.”

LZ : How have you built a subscriber base?

KF : Our subscriber base has gown over the years and is constantly expanding. Clearly, people come and go based on their interest in or travel to France. New website readers are asked to subscribe to the free newsletter, which is a double opt-in process. Others receive BonjourParis stories as they are posted at the site via RRS feed or via our FACEBOOK page.

LZ: What is your business model?

BonjourParis has always been part of what’s new, which has required that we be very proactive and flexible to new developments in technology. In the beginning BonjourParis was part of the Internet from the day when AOL first allowed everyday users, not just techhies using code, to communicate. There were no templates for content management, which required us to hire professional code programmers. A paid staff provided content.

BonjourParis had very little online competition. AOL was the leader, the French were not at all engaged in the Internet (other than Minitel) and anyone who searched AOL Travel for information about France found BonjourParis at AOL keyword: Bonjour on the Travel channel of AOL and Compuserve. We were heavily promoted by both.

I hold journalist credentials issued by the French Government Ministry of Foreign Affairs and am a foreign press member. Not only did the French ignore the Internet in those early days, they did not recognize online news providers and sites that provided original content as legitimate news sources. I fought for BonjourParis to be recognized as a serious news organization, and subsequently BonjourParis was the first Internet site officially recognized by the French government.

Changes over the last five years alone have taught us to adapt quickly to change and be proactive when possible. For example, when organizations we work with—such as google—change rules and policies we must respond in kind. When technological advances such as apps, Smartphones and digital readers became increasingly popular in the past 5 years or so, we were forced to look at functionality as well as site design because such innovations affect how readers view our content.

Every business has what they define as limited resources and BP isn’t Fodor’s nor is it a blog. When family emergencies forced me to take a break several years ago, I was unable to make BonjourParis my top priority. I returned to find competition in blogs, true, but also a huge community of people so passionate about writing about France that they “published” their blogs even when their audience was a handful. And, surprisingly, many of our print “competitors”—some very fine publications—had folded because they didn’t keep up with the times.

We have some advertising and are grateful for it; we like providing info (even in advertising) that helps our readers find the best answers to their specific wants and needs. Our premium members pay $34.95 a year for their subscriptions and some perks. BonjourParis has affiliate relations that generate a modicum of income. Google ads (pitiful but something is better than nothing) and unless you’re a sex site, forget about making real money.

LZ : How do you recruit and keep talent?

KF : Our writers come and go; and over the years, over than 14 contributors have ended up publishing books because they were “discovered” on BonjourParis. Because BonjourParis is a well-known content site, many published authors and up-and-coming writers have asked to be showcased on it. We’ve found some very good writers in the blogosphere and twitterverse. But, we’re always happy to be approached by more.

LZ : What do you look for in a writer?

KF :  Writers really need to know their subject, their readers’ needs and interests and have an original voice. The best travel writers possess curiosity, intelligence and the ability to anticipate what a reader wants to know before they even know they need to know it. Each and every writer needs an editor and they must accept that our editors will change a story to enhance Search Engine Optimization (SEO) that increases the likelihood a story will draw readers—vitally important for both the writer and BonjourParis. At times our editor invests significant time in coaching writers on Internet writing techniques, which are different than writing for static print. It’s a definite art that involves strategic placement of optimized keywords and the like. We consider all of this in choosing writers and proposed story topics.

LZ : Can a writer learn style?

KF : A writer can learn style and technique but it isn’t accomplished in a day.  They must be willing to work on their writing as a craft and it’s not easy.

LZ : You are a political person, very abreast of current affairs, and yet you keep politics out of BonjourParis. Why?

KF : I am giggling here. You’re right, I am extremely political but I learned (the hard way) not to express my personal beliefs. When the US invaded Iraq, I expressed my opinion and we lost half of our subscribers in one fell swoop.

Today we focus more on presenting the news from France without editorializing. And these stories get picked up and repeated, according to our site analytical reports.

LZ : What changes do you see in the business? Advice for writers starting out today?

KF : Enormous changes are unfolding now.  As we go to the digital age, there will be fewer books printed. On the positive side, writers who might not have been published before will have a chance to have their work read because it can be downloaded on demand.

Writers (and most especially freelancers) will earn substantially less than they would have earned 20 years ago.

If you want to be a writer and have to live on what you earn, don’t give up your day job until you are certain you can generate sufficient income.

LZ : You were a member of the Editorial Committee for the Paris Short Story Contest.  What did you learn from the experience? Advice for future contributors?

KF : Laurel, being on the editorial committee taught me a lot. First, people would not have submitted entries had they not perceived themselves as writers, so it was a self-selecting group. A few stories were immediate toss-outs. But, others had a lot of merit and could have been excellent with editing. Advice for writers: Say what is essential, do not use complex words when simple ones will convey the point and don’t stray from your subject. Put the story away and return later to tighten what you’ve written.

LZ : How important is it to you to follow your own instincts?

KF : I’ve been doing it for a lot of years, which is one of the reasons BonjourParis has a real sense of community. But, no one’s instincts are infallible and it’s essential to listen to others— most especially as the industry is changing with such incredible rapidity.

LZ : Do you have a special work regimen? (Special schedule, special foods…)

KF : No, I wish I did.  ;-)

LZ : What do you hope to achieve as a writer and a publisher?

KF : My hope is that BonjourParis will be recognized as the foremost online magazine about France. I am increasingly proud of each and every article published, but this wasn’t always so. We are in the process of deleting those that don’t make the grade and rewriting many that need improvement.

LZ : Of all your achievements, of what are you most proud?

KF : That’s a hard question. I am proud of so many. When it comes to BonjourParis however, it gives me great satisfaction that I still feel so passionate about living in and writing about France. And after all of these years, BonjourParis remains a site that continues to provide information to our many longtime readers with the help of many others.

Karen Fawcett is accredited by the French Ministry of the Interior as a member of the Foreign Press, a member of the Public Relations Society of America, The European- American Press Club, The French Press Club, The National Press Club in Washington, DC and was a founding member of the American Institute of Wine and Food’s Paris Chapter.  She has been president and owner of Bonjour Paris since the site launched on the Internet more than 14 years ago.


Posted in Paris |