Tag Archives: Paris

Courage, Paris!

The streets of Paris in another time
The streets of Paris in another time

It’s been almost three weeks since Paris was torn apart by the terror attacks in which 127 people were killed and 200 more injured, 99 critically.

The Parisians were quick to rally, refusing to be driven off the streets but returning to them the next day to light candles, lay flowers and keep vigil in the places where their fellows had been mown down, standing in solidarity to sing the Marseillaise and declare “Je suis Paris”.

The images that ran in endless rotation on my TV screen, far away in peaceful mid-Canterbury in Aotearoa New Zealand, over the next week, reminded me of a photo I had once seen. It said the same thing as those people from every walk of life and from the many races that comprise Paris, holding candles, laying flowers and with linked arms, marching singing through the streets. It spoke of resilience, courage and an indomitable spirit. It said “La vie continue!”

It was a photo, taken during World War II. It shows a French matron, impeccably dressed in a coat, hat and gloves with her handbag on her arm. With her head held high, her shoulders back and a look of determination on her face, she makes her way through rubble strewn streets, past a bombed out building.

“Courage, Paris et continue!”

Lost in Translation

It was late one evening, in a certain starless Paris hotel. Danny, aged 11, was studying the nightlife below the window, Kat, 15, was confiding in her diary and I was wrestling with 8 year-old Babe’s wet, tangled hair.

The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero

Suddenly there was a shout from the corridor “Feu! Sortez ! Gardez le sang froid!

“Fire! Go out! Keep the blood cold!” Someone translated helpfully through our keyhole.

“What blood?” asked the baffled kids.

“Later! Quick! Out!” I snapped as a siren began to scream.

Muffled foreign music, snatches of unfamiliar language and occasional wafts of exotic cuisine had so far been the only sign of our fellow guests. But here they were now, surging down the corridor like a tsunami. They closed around the kids and swept them away.

“Gardez le sang froid” I called as I shouldered my way downstream after them.

At the stairwell the crowd slowed, stopped, then swirled impatiently on the spot. A crutch appeared above the sea of heads.

“Prenez l’ascenseur. Take the lift” shouted someone.

“No!” I bellowed ”Dangéreux!”

But my voice was drowned out by the howls of protest that accompanied the crutch towards the lift. There was a clang and a whirr. The crutch vanished and the howls grew distant. People poured down the stairs. I hurried along in their wake.

With a groan like a dying beast, the lift ground to a halt. Now it hung frozen between floors. Within, a stranded soul in striped PJs slumped dejectedly on his crutches.

“Gardez le sang froid” I whispered as his eyes met mine in hopeless silence.

Below, two camps had formed. Outside, on the boulevard, Kat, Danny and the men stood at attention, their arms raised in salute at some presence off stage. The ladies and kids had lined up around the lobby. There, half-hidden under a burkha, her head turbaned in a souvenir tea towel from Antibes, was Babe.

Given that a fireball could roll down the stairs at any time and that someone was trapped in its path, the mood was convivial. People were passing round biscuits and dates. (I couldn’t help but marvel at the sort of sang froid that could consider refreshments at such a time!) But refreshments were soon eclipsed by a burst of applause from the boulevard.

“Napoleon!” yelled a youngster as a figure in a brass-studded tunic and helmet strode into view.

“Attention les pompiers! Attention the firemen”, he commanded.

Twenty pompiers filed by, dragging a fat hose. Up the stairs they marched. The hose snaked along behind. There was a hopeful cry from the elevator but the pompiers were impervious. Onward and upward they pounded. Doors slammed overhead. Suddenly the hose stopped. Time stood still. There was a long silence. Finally, heavy footsteps crossed the ceiling and clumped down the stairs. The pompiers re-appeared. They were a different detachment now. In ragged twos and threes, with their helmets under their arms, they straggled past.

“Alarm False” Napoleon grunted in passing

Out on the boulevard, the pompiers had stopped. Danny was trying on a helmet and Kat was giggling coquettishly.   I dashed to the rescue.

“Gardez le sang froid” called an impertinent pompier as I siezed the kids and marched them away.

Back in the lobby, the hose lay abandoned. The ladies, the refreshments and the Antibes tea towel were gone. Babe stood forlornly by the stairs, her hair had dried into dreadlocks.

There was a whirr and a whoop from on high and the lift sank slowly into sight. The door clanged open and out shot the prisoner. With two swift strokes of his crutches he swung through the doors and disappeared into the darkness.

“What was all that about the blood?” asked Babe as we headed upstairs.

“Gardez le sang froid, says keep the blood cold. It really means don’t panic” I explained at last “The blood gets lost in translation”


French Flair

The French are famous for their flair. They seem to be able to add a touch of artistry to anything, no matter how challenging.


Destruction Des Animaux Nuisibles
Destruction Des Animaux Nuisibles

In the Rue Des Halles in Paris, Julien Aurouze runs a pest extermination business. Wiping out rats, mice, cockroaches and all the other vermin that haunt our houses is a ghastly, gruesome job. These repulsive pests hardly bear thinking about, let alone looking at. Yet, in Julien Aurouze’s shop window rodents and insects are arranged with such artistry and flair that they’re compelling and even in a strange, ghoulish kind of way, pretty.


Julien Aurouze’s Destruction des Animaux Nuisibles in Rue Des Halles are indeed proof that the French can add flair and artistry to anything.

An American Dream in Paris

Paris – the very name is synonymous with fine taste, understated elegance, subtle beauty and  discreet charm.

The American Dream Multiplexe
The American Dream Multiplexe

Paris architecture is uniform, proportioned, restrained and where there are flourishes of extravagance, they serve to highlight and underline the harmony of the whole.

Even nature in Paris is organised and ordered   – straight lines of trees and parterres with patterned plantings fill the parks.

Generally here is nothing jarring or glaring in the Paris landscape.  There is however, the odd aberration. I found the American Dream Multiplexe, in a beautiful little backstreet near the Opera some years ago. It stood among its nineteenth century neighbours, bold and brash, a riot of modern pop symbolism, a loud, unruly blot on the quiet, ordered streetscape – an American Dream in Paris.


La Tour Eiffel, symbol of France

La Tour Eiffel is one of the world’s great towers and certainly the most powerful symbol of France.

The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero
The Eiffel Tower from Trocadero

Although by modern standards, it’s relatively small structure, the Eiffel Tower dominates both the Paris skyline and the Parisian consciousness. A view of the Eiffel tower is one of the most coveted in the city. For the visitor, that first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower says “I’m in Paris, I’ve really arrived”.

Designed by German Gustave Eiffel for L’Exposition Universelle marking the turn of the 20th century, the Eiffel Tower was built as illustration of the endless possibilities of the construction materials and techniques of the new age. It was a tribute to the wonders of steel and the imaginative daring of modern man. Millions of rivets, screws, bolts, struts and braces went into lifting it beyond the bounds of contemporary possibility. The eyes of all Paris were on it as it ascended higher and higher dominating the Champs de Mars and the River Seine, dwarfing the golden tower of Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. “Where would it end?  ”How would end?”

Originally, the Eiffel Tower was intended as a temporary installation, for the duration of the Exhibition only.  When it was announced that the tower would remain, there was vociferous division among the people of Paris. Some deplored it as an eyesore. Others hailed it as a masterpiece. The Eiffel Tower however, remained.

The Eiffel Tower soon became part of the Paris story. It has seen many celebrations; the centenary of the French Revolution, the end of World War I and II, the turn of the 21st century, countless Bastille days and marked innumerable French sporting moments. Whatever the occasion, La Tour Eiffel will be found, dressed to perfection for it!

La Tour Eiffel, dressed for the 2007 Rugby World Cup
La Tour Eiffel, dressed for the 2007 Rugby World Cup

La Tour Eiffel has seen hundreds of stunts; fly-overs, fly unders,  parachute jumps and bungy jumps. It has also seen its share of romantic moments and I imagine that the marriage proposal I witnessed when I was last there was one of many.

Ascending the Eiffel Tower is a tourism imperative, whether in its crowded, creaking lifts, or on its winding stairs. The view from the top is breathtaking!

Undoubtedly the most luxurious way to enjoy the view from the top of the Eiffel Tower is from a window able in the famous Jules Verne Restaurant.

The story of Tour D’Argent

Overlooking the Seine on the Quai de la Tournelle, in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris, is La Tour D’Argent, the city’s, if not the world’s, oldest fine dining restaurant. It opened its doors for the first time in 1582 and, apart from the four years of World War I, has not closed them since.

La Tour D'Argent
La Tour D’Argent’s museum

La Tour D’Argent takes its name (silver tower in English) from the light grey stone of the Champagne in which it is constructed. Little is known of its first decades but by the 1600’s La Tour d’Argent had become the most desirable restaurant in Paris. Duels were fought by patrons desperate to secure tables! The centuries have not diminished its reputation or its popularity and prospective diners will often wait months or even years for place – unless of course they happen to be celebrities!

La Tour d’Argent has always been the haunt of the rich and famous. Henri IV ate in and also out, ordering slices of Heron Paté delivered to his palace. King Louis XIV and his courtiers from the Château de Versailles dined at La Tour D’Argent. Le Duc de Richelieu treated his guests to a whole ox prepared and served in over 30 ways. When theatre suppers were introduced in 1720, Philippe D’Orleans, began to frequent the restaurant always in the company of a different Parisian beauty During the Second Empire Le Duc de Morny entertained here. The Countess Le Hon held assignations at La Tour D’Argent and once had to be disguised as a pastry cook to avoid being discovered by her husband. Since then Statesmen, Royals, Rock stars and Millionaires have graced its tables.

La Tour D’Argent has been the birthplace of many innovations and traditions. The fork came into use here. Much of the table etiquette followed in France today was established at La Tour D’Argent. Coffee was served for the first time in France here. Then of course, there were La Tour D’Argent’s signature plats or dishes. The most famous of these was Canard au Sang, (pressed duck or bloody duck)

Just as famous Canard au sang itself is the ritual now attached to it. It originated in the 19th century when the then owner, Frederic Delair decided that every duck prepared at La Tour D’Argent should be numbered. In 1890 Edward VII Prince of Wales ate number 328 and in 1921 Thomas Rockefeller devoured number 51,327,  number 100,000 was sacrificed on the 6th May 1929 to an anonymous appetite, number. 500,000 was launched from the roof with a tag on its leg that offered the finder dinner for two. Roman Polanski enjoyed number 554, 711  in 1979 and more recently Bill Gates  consumed number 1079006. The millionth duck was eaten in 2003. The count continues!

In 1910 Andre Terrail purchased the Tour d’Argent from Frederic Delair. He modernised the interior and the facade and in 1936 he added a sixth floor to give his patrons an even better view of the Bateaux Mouches and the barges on the Seine. He also added to its menu. Most importantly, he established Tour D’Argent’s legendary collection of fine wines.

During World War I, La Tour D’Argent closed its doors for the first and only time in its long life. Although it remained open during World War II, it cellar was sealed shut to protect the precious wine collection.

In 1947 the restaurant passed to Andre Terrail’s son Claude. Although his dream had been to become an actor he accepted his destiny at La Tour D’Argent “I’ve been chained to this ‘Tower’ since I was born” he claimed. Under Claude Terail the legacy of the Tour d’Argent continued, so did expansion, not just of the restaurant but of the “brand”!

In1953 Le Petit Musée de la Table, a museum of gastronomy and also a pleasant spot for a pre-dinner aperitif, was established on the ground floor of the building. Four grand receptions marked the 400th anniversary of the restaurant in 1982 and in 1984 La Tour D’Argent, Tokyo opened in the New Otani Hotel. In 1985, Les Comptoirs de la Tour d’Argent, a boutique dedicated to the Arts of the Table and Gastronomy, opened across the street from the building on Le Quai de la Tournelle.

When Claude Terrail passed away in June 2006, his son, Andre Terrail, took control of the La Tour D’Argent. While he has upheld all the traditions laid down over its long life, he has also introduced 21st century technology, with cameras and screens monitoring the preparation of the dishes and their progress through the kitchen and up the floors to the dining room.

Even after 431 years the table looks set at La Tour D’Argent for an equally long future in fine cuisine, good wines and numbered ducks.

Tour d’Argent, 15-17 Quai de la Tournelle, 75005 Paris Ile de France France

Shopping in Paris

Style, taste, elegance, chic, glamour, quality, originality, the classic cut, the perfect fit, le look francais, that petit je ne sais quoi – these are the things that bring shoppers from all over the world to Paris.

A shop window in Paris
A shop window in Paris

The exclusive boutiques of Faubourg St Honore and Avenue Montaigne are the province of the mega-rich. Still, there’s great sport here for ordinary folk in “la leche vitrine” – window shopping (literally, licking the windows!) or in watching poodle and parcel-toting chauffeurs trail superstars, princesses and demi-godesses from limousine to boutique and back again.

Better suited to mere mortals, but still elegantly displaying the expensive but attainable treasures we covet, are the boutiques of Rue Etienne Marcel and La Place des Victoires in the Premier Arondissement, or St Germain des Pres in the Cinquieme.

Better still are Les Grands Magasins or department stores. As the name suggests they are grand, in both the English and the French sense of the word. They are also chic, provide a glamorous ambience and offer everything from designer clothing to kitchen wares. On Boulevard Haussman are Printemps, and Galeries Lafayette, with its beautiful glass dome and tiers of shopping galeries which have been the inspiration for some the new world’s great stores.  Bon Marche, over on the left bank is another beautiful, old Grand Magasin, with exquisite wrought iron elevator cages, curving staircases and luxurious powder rooms.

Then again, there’s Les Halles, under the site of the old Paris fruit and vege market of the same name. It is a subterranean maze of hallways, corridors, with a few French designer boutiques but mainly shops crammed with European and global labels, as well as those “throwaways” found the world over. Fast, loud and hectic, this is the place for the dedicated bargain hunter and the shopper with stamina and perseverance.

The real Paris bargains and indeed treasures, lie in the markets. Most quartiers have their weekly market, mainly selling produce but also clothing, shoes, jewellery, leathergoods and even homewares, some very good and all “une vraie affaire”.  The most famous and the best, however of the Paris markets is Le Marche aux Puces, or flea market, at Saint Ouen, which dates back to 1870 and is now classified as a “protected zone of urban, architectural and landscape heritage”.  In its complex of thirteen covered markets, you can find everything from antiques, to bric a brac, to clothes and yes, it’s here that you’ll find that je ne sais quoi, that unexpected treasure meant just for you.


La Place de la Bastille

Paris is renowned for its historic and beautiful, ‘places’ or squares. One of the most historically significant is La Place de La Bastille which is located in the quaint little quartier known as Le Marais.

La Place de la Bastille
La Place de la Bastille

La Place de la Bastille takes its name from the infamous prison that stood there from 1390 to 1790. Built originally as a fort which formed part of the defences of the old city, the building was converted into a prison by Charles VI in the 17th century. Anyone who opposed the Monarchy or the Church was incarcerated there. La Bastille soon became the most feared and loathed institution in the country, a symbol of injustice and oppression.

It was, significantly, against the Bastille that first blow of the French Revolution was struck. On July 14, the Revolutionaries stormed the building, freed its (few, as it happened) remaining prisoners and liberated the large cache of arms stored there.

By July 14 1790, the last stone of the detested prison had been torn down and carted away.  After the Revolution, the area occupied by the prison became a square celebrating liberty. La Colonne de Juillet, a column to commemorate the Revolution was placed at its centre. The outline of the original prison building is marked out in paving stones on the streets.

While 21st century Parisian traffic whirls in a relentless circle around La Place de la Bastille and modern buildings hover at its edges, there is still something about this corner of Paris that inspires a certain feeling awe and even a slight frisson of fear.

L’arc de triomphe, a Paris icon

L’Arc de Triomphe, which stands in the centre of La Place Charles de Gaulle, at the western end of Le Champs Élysée, is one of the great Parisian icons.

L'Arc de Triomphe
L’Arc de Triomphe

Built in 1806 to honour the great victories of Napoleon Bonaparte’s armies, it was inspired by the Roman Arch of Titus.

Over the last two centuries, the arch has become a memorial to all who have fought and died for France; the names of battles and Generals are inscribed on its inner and outer surfaces, beneath its vault lies the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I and at its foot, surrounded always by wreaths and tributes, burns the eternal flame.

Four sculptures decorate the base of L’Arc de Triomphe;  The Triumph of 1810 by Cortot, Resistence and Peace, both by Antoine Étex and the most famous of them all, The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792, also known as La Marseillaise by François Rude.

So massive is L’Arc de Triomphe, that after the victory parade marking the end of World War I, Charles Godefroy flew his Nieuport bi-plane under the arch!

Chez la coiffeuse in Paris

The following story was published in The Australian in July, 2009.

When it comes to the art of coiffure, there’s no place like Paris!

Flowers in Le Jardin des Tuileries
Flowers in Le Jardin des Tuileries

I’ve always had a fear of the unknown hairdresser. It dates back to my teenage years, when a certain Monsieur Moliere (alias Gary Gallagher) of a long-forgotten, and probably long gone, Auckland Salon, high-handedly and before my dismayed eyes, turned the almost shoulder length locks I’d been nurturing for bouffant into a bowl-cut bob just hours before the school ball. Ever since, I’ve avoided the high-handed, the flamboyant and, yes, even those with French names, for the coiffeur who knows that trim means trim. While I haven’t often been surprised beyond my wildest dreams when I’ve faced the mirror at the finish, neither have I been shocked beyond belief.

It was combination of desperation (vanishing colour, barbed-wire halo) and a touch of recklessness (a Parisian coiffure – pourquoi pas?) which took me to Chez Gerard on Rue de Richelieu, that Friday. Then, too there was that name – the name of the patron saint of mothers. Surely I was in good hands?

Seated in one of Monsieur Gerard’s chairs was a giant strawberry bouffant (the kind I’d coveted for that school ball.) It swivelled to face me.

“Oui, Madame?” The voice was deep and slow with a breathy lift at the end.

“Euuuhhh, Monsieur Gerard?” I said with a shrug that I hoped would convey both “Are you Monsieur Gerard and/or where is Monsieur Gerard?”

Monsieur Gerard, explained Madame, had been trapped chez lui by the Metro strike. But Madame was Monsieur Gerard’s colleague, her clients, too, were housebound, so she was free. She unpeeled from the chair and swished towards me on high black boots. Quelle chance! Quel bonheur! Madame would do my coiffure! After all she had time! As I could see, there was nobody there, she had nothing else to do!

“Colour” she plucked at the barbed wire halo “Treatment? Trim? Blow wave?”

Before I could open my mouth, she had wrestled me into a plastic cape, whisked me to the basin, upended me and was plastering my head with a terrifyingly unknown dye. No time to argue, no room for protests, or instructions, Madame was deep into the story of her life and times.

…She had begun work in this salon, at the age of fourteen and had been coiffeuse to all the ladies of the quartier and the Ministries around Palais Royal for forty years…

Back In front of the mirror with the French equivalent of Who in my lap and a clock ticking in the distance, I stole a look at my hair. I  looked  like Krusty the clown’s. But before I could shriek Madame settled beside me and continued her story

…La Greve – the strike – nobody wants to work these days – imagine – these Rail workers want to retire on full pay at fifty-five – they’ll ruin the country …

The alarm rang and it was back to the basin

…It’s just the same with young hairdressers these days – they don’t work like they used to, they want more pay, more holidays …

I was heaved from the basin and propelled back to the mirror where my reflection was obscured by Madame’s black torso. I was distracted from the snip of scissors by her next chapter

… Madame would like to retire after all she has a daughter – grand daughters, a husband, she’s no longer young, but what can she do – nobody wants to work …

The story was lost in a whirlwind of hot air. Then suddenly there was silence.

Madame stepped aside “Voila!”

I looked. I gasped but I wasn’t shocked beyond belief. It wasn’t a bowl cut, nor was it a bouffant  It was chic and très très français. I was surprised and delighted beyond my wildest dreams.