Paris in Bloom

Spring has made its way to Paris! And with it comes the charm of discovering cobbled paths that lead to secret gardens, where you can sit for hours and lose yourself with a good book, or better yet, a good friend.

A favorite of these spots can be found in the Marais, of course. Where exactly? 60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois.

The Archives Nationales is the heart of Parisian history since 1808. Within two regal buildings, Hôtel de Soubise and the Hôtel de Rohan, all the pre-French Revolution archives are stored. Upon entering, you discover an enchanting space hidden within a bustling city.

Pass through the small entrance on the north side of the courtyard, and the scenery quickly changes from architectural marvels to verdant landscapes. A maze-like path weaves through fountains and rock formations. The four gardens you encounter were designed by French landscape architect Louis Benech, also known for the Tuileries Gardens. Have a seat on one of the benches surrounded by the scent of roses, and enjoy this clandestine Parisian paradise.

If you’re looking for more ways to the spend the perfect afternoon in Paris, here are a few tips in my recent collaboration with Eurostar. Though I warn you, you may never want to leave!

Paris Picks: Coffee Shops

In the last few years, a new coffee culture has made its way to Paris. Once upon a time you could only order a mediocre café noisette (espresso with hot milk) at a bistro counter, or for a little extra, sit on a terrace nursing a scalding café crème (the French version of a latte). Thankfully for us coffee connoisseurs, things have changed and a good coffee is not so hard to find, due to expat baristas brewing top roasts. But you must know where to look. Here is a list of my favorite coffee shops all over Paris, some of which are conveniently located in my North Marais neighborhood. (Café date, anyone?) In addition to stellar coffee, most offer free WiFi.

Télescope: 5 Rue Villedo, 75001 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5 / Saturday 9:30-6:30 / Sunday Closed

Café Kitsuné:  51 Galerie Montpensier, 75001 / Monday-Friday 10-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6:30

Matamata: 58 Rue d’Argout, 75002 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

Café Loustic: 40 Rue Chapon, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8:30-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

Fragments: 76 Rue des Tournelles, 75003 / Monday-Friday 8-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-6

The Broken Arm: 12 Rue Perrée, 75003 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Boot Café: 19 Rue du Pont aux Choux, 75003 / Monday-Sunday 10-6

La Caféothèque: 52 Rue de l’Hôtel de ville, 75004 / Monday-Friday 8:30-7:30 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7:30

Le Peloton Café: 17 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, 75004 / Monday-Friday 9:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-6:30 / Closed Wednesday

Coutume Café: 47 Rue de Babylone, 75007 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Honor Cafe: 54 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday 10-6 / Sunday Closed

KB Café Shop: 53 Avenue Trudaine, 75009 / Monday-Friday 7:45-6:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6:30

Republique of Coffee: Boulevard Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-7:30 / Saturday 9-7:30 / Sunday 10-7

Blackburn Coffee: 52 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Martin, 75010 / Monday-Friday 9-6 / Saturday-Sunday 10-7

Peonies Café: 81 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, 75010 / Tuesday-Saturday 9-8 / Sunday 10-4 / Monday Closed

Ten Belles: 10 Rue de la Grange aux Belles, 75010 / Monday-Friday 8-5 / Saturday-Sunday 9-6

Folks and Sparrows: 14 Rue Saint-Sébastien, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 10-6 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Café Oberkampf: 3 Rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 / Monday, Thursday-Friday 8:30-4:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday-Wednesday Closed

Passager: 107 Avenue Ledru-Rollin, 75011 / Tuesday-Saturday 8:30-6:30 / Sunday-Monday Closed

Hardware Société: 10 Rue Lamarck, 75018 / Monday, Wednesday-Friday 9-4 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-4:30 / Tuesday Closed

Lomi: 3 ter Rue Marcadet, 75018 / Monday-Sunday 10-7

CREAM: 50 Rue de Belleville, 75020 / Monday-Friday 8:30-5:30 / Saturday-Sunday 9:30-5:30

experiences

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In 2008, living locally while traveling was made possible with the launch of Airbnb. Since then it’s grown to include cities around the world, from Mexico City to Melbourne, with Paris being its largest market. In recent years Airbnb has realized the value of local experiences in its top destinations, and today it launches Airbnb Experiences starting in 12 cities, of which I’m very excited to be a part of! What is this exactly? It’s a way for a traveler to meet locals and get to know their city on a more personal and ‘expert’ level over one or three days.

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In my case, I’m a handbag designer living in the North Marais with a vast knowledge of local fashion and fellow artisans, most of whom like myself, manufacture in Paris. On my fashion tour I will introduce visitors to these fashion, jewelry and shoe designers, and they will learn about local design and French style, while visiting Parisian ateliers. I’ll also be teaching these visitors how to design their own custom tote bag in my bag painting workshop. As a traveler myself, I’m looking forward to meeting others from around the world in the months ahead.

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These are the beautiful bags that were created during our video shoot. You can view the video and my profile online at Airbnb, here. Wishing you all many memorable experiences, in Paris and beyond!

car-free Paris

Imagine a city with no cars or motor vehicles, where cyclists take over the wide lanes, paths are filled with pedestrians, & a public bike system provides the means for transport.

IMG_2309That’s exactly what happened last Sunday when Mayor Anne Hidalgo implemented a car-free day, provoked by a citizen collective called Paris Sans Voiture (Paris Without Cars).

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c’est chouette

One of my favorite French words is chouette which literally means owl, or when used to describe someone or something, means it’s great or cool, as in c’est chouette. A few weeks ago while walking around my neighborhood, I noticed Les Chouettes, what appeared to be a new eatery. Upon entering I was completely taken with the decor and design of this new restaurant which opened on October 4th. Love at first sight! 

IMG_0890The restaurant was in fact named for an antique owl that the French owner found at a flea market. Inspired by art and a New York vision, the owner hired Spanish architect Lázaro Rosa-Violán to design the three level interior, what used to house a jewelry factory.

IMG_9290 As I climbed the spiral staircase to the second floor I discovered a bar serving artisanal beer and ale, as well as a vast selection of liquor. They even make their own juices.

IMG_0431The third floor revealed a cozy library in which to sip your wine while reading Rimbaud.

IMG_9231This is the perfect place to escape to for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or a evening apéro.

IMG_9234And how is the food? I have yet to try it, but with an inventive French chef and seasonal ingredients, and a menu that changes every two weeks, how can you go wrong?

IMG_0426This is certain to become a favorite haunt in Paris. Welcome to the neighborhood!

Les Chouettes : 32 Rue de Picardie, 75003 (01 44 61 73 21)

morning with Picasso

I first visited Picasso in Paris ten years ago, stopping to admire the 17th-century mansion known as the Hôtel Salé, on one of my many walks around the Marais. I remember thinking what a shame that so much of his personal work was in storage, as there was scant wall space to display the artwork. Little did I know I would end up living just a stone’s throw from this artist’s legacy, but with only the garden open for viewing. As anyone who is a fan of Picasso’s work knows, the Musée Picasso has been closed for the last 5 years (3 years longer than expected), undergoing extensive renovations.

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On Friday morning, October 24th, one day shy of Picasso’s birthday and the official opening, I was invited inside the newly renovated museum, now three times the size and much more impressive.

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I walked around the five floors in awe of the renewed space which now boasts over 400 of Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculptures, as well as works from his personal collection.

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Musée Picasso plans to host one major exhibit each year. Next year, in collaboration with New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, it will be a show revolving around Picasso’s sculpture. Until then, I plan to spend many a Paris morning with Picasso.

folks and sparrows

In the last few years, the coffee scene in Paris has really changed, or might I say improved. No longer a need to rely on muddy watered down coffee at corner bistros for that caffeine fix. Trendy little cafes and eateries are opening up all around Paris, serving up some of the best café cremes around. The latest such spot to hit the North Marais is Folks and Sparrows. I was curious to experience this newcomer, along with Mardi, friend and fellow coffee drinker.

FOLKS-BOUTIQUE2I arrived a little early and took interest in the design and details of the space. A carefully curated gourmet épicerie and lunch spot. Curious, I began speaking with the owner, a Brad Pitt look-alike. It turns out Franck lived in Brooklyn for 10 years, well versed in NY’s food culture as a manager at a trendy restaurant. Now it was time to open his own spot, lucky for us, back on his home turf.

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We spoke about New York and Paris (of course), and how the café and restaurant culture in Paris has evolved over the years, due to the French traveling more and returning home with their creative visions. Inspired by the American dream, perhaps? Yes, anything is possible.

Folks2And how was the coffee? Both Mardi and I agreed that it was delicious! Some of the best I’ve had in Paris. And in such a cozy yet uniquely chic space. Well done, Franck! I’ll soon be back for lunch.

Folks and Sparrows: 14 rue Saint Sebastien (open 10-7 daily, closed Mondays)

the happy show

Often I question, what is happiness? Is it something we can control? For me, happiness can be as simple as sitting along the banks of the Seine, watching the sun set behind Notre Dame. Equally, cruising around the spectacular Greek island of Milos on a catamaran beneath a clear blue sky, or floating in a hot air balloon above the natural wonder that is called Cappodocia. Both of these memories elicit great happiness. Come to think of it, almost anything related to travel, beauty, love (or nearly anything sweet), brings me happiness. I recently read an article that shed a little light.

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When I discovered an exhibition based on this very topic, I couldn’t wait to go. Stefan Sagmeister is creator of The Happy Show, a study of happiness, a topic that has long intriqued him and led him on his happiness hunt. This Austrian-born graphic artist, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in New York City, asks “Is happiness a muscle just like any other?”

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The first question, what makes us happy? (Genetics, Activites & Life Conditions)

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IMG_5727How happy are you on a scale of 1-10? Looks like the gumballs are almost gone in #9.

IMG_4812What makes us unhappy? “Trying to look good limits my life”

IMG_5743It has been proven that taking risks increases happiness. I agree!

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My Italian and I attended the opening of the expo and were very happy to speak with Stefan about his studies on happiness and what inspired him to put together the show, as well as the film he’s working on. For those interested, here are 7 rules for making more happiness from Stefan.

The Happy Show is making it’s way around the world, from Philadelphia to Toronto to Los Angeles and now in Paris at La Gaîté Lyrique. Will the exhibition itself make you happy? You can bet on it.

Discover another Paris

Little did I know how much I would grow to love my neighborhood of the North Marais. I’ve witnessed it’s evolution over the last four years, from low-key neighborhood bordering the historic Marais, to trendy hotspot frequented by Parisians and expats alike. When KLM and iFly Magazine approached me to host their segment on Paris, naturally I was honored, and it was the Haute Marais that I was eager to share with their millions of viewers. After all, they were looking for little secrets of Paris, as can only be shared by a local, and the North Marais holds many!

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The crew and I spent two days shooting beneath a mix of clouds and sunshine, and what fun it was!

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By the end of the filming, I felt even more like a Paris local, and proudly so. I introduced viewers to some of my favorite spots in the North Marais, we explored the largest antique market in the world, Marché aux Puces StOuen, stopped to admire the photography of Henri Cartier-Bresson at his Fondation… and of course enjoyed a rendezvous with my Italian. It wouldn’t be Paris without a little romance, would it?

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I’m very excited to share this video with you, dear readers. Et voilà, Discover another Paris! You may also find my Paris tour on your next cross-continental flight with KLM… Or perhaps a travel show?

 

cat café

As much as I would love to adopt a cat, considering how much we travel, I would feel sad leaving the furry feline on it’s own for extended periods. When I discovered a cat café just opened in my Marais neighborhood, I was elated, and needless to say, curious. Are French cats as friendly as those in America? And how exactly does this concept work?

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The first cat café, where you can drink or dine surrounded by friendly felines, started in Taiwan in 1998, and soon after gained popularity in Japan, where there are now over 150. Vienna, Budapest and London have also followed suit. Le Café des Chats is the first such café to open in Paris, and so far it’s creating quite a buzz amidst cat fans. So busy that reservations need to be made, even for tea.

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At the window sits the oldest of the 12 cats, all rescued and chosen for their mellow personalities.

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The cats lay sleeping in the cat beds or upon the lounge chairs, kept company by client filled tables.

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I thought it might be strange to drink or eat in a room filled with cats, but these felines create a natural environment. It feels much like visiting the next door neighbor, the crazy cat lady. I found myself distracted, as all I wanted to do was find the cats and play with them. Let sleeping cats lie?

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I was happy to learn is that all the cats are very well cared for in their new café home. I suspect this will become a regular spot for me and fellow feline loving friends. And they serve brunch!

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Le Café des Chats is located at 16 rue Michel Le Comte, Paris 3eme, open daily from 12-10pm.

la république

One reason I love living in the North Marais is the proximity to Place de la République, bordering the 3rd, 10th and 11th arrondissements. At it’s center proudly stands Marianne, 10 meters high, a monument to the history of the formation of the Republic. Recently the ‘Place’ has been renovated, creating a vast area in which to sit and read, have coffee, play with kids, watch a concert… I attended the opening on a gorgeous sunny day, along with Daisy de Plume and her darling son, and we even made it onto a French website, now I’m truly a local! Here is a look at the new pedestrian space.

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Recently in the new ‘Place’, my Italian and I attended a concert to honor Nelson Mandela on his 95th birthday, how memorable! Looking forward to many more neighborhood memories still to come.

stylish eats

One of the reasons I love living in the North Marais, what I call NoMa, is that it’s constantly evolving. Reminiscent of my life in NY’s Lower East Side, new cafes and bars are appearing almost overnight, mixed in with the various ethnic eats. One such neighborhood locale, discreetly hidden in the 3eme, which has quickly become my favorite, is Loustic, “smart ass” as the Breton’s would say.

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What first caught my eye is the decor, given my affinity towards geometric prints and color. With walls covered in Hermès wallpaper, custom tables and cushioned seating, a stylish addition to the neighborhood. Another of the creative endeavors of interior designer Dorothée Meilichzon.

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It is not simply the interior decor that keeps me returning to this local haven. Nor is it the humour and wit of owner Channa Galhenage, though certainly that helps. The food offerings are both sweet and savory, selectively catered by Emperor Norton, and almost daily Kristen of The Kale Project is in house preparing her kale delicacies. And the coffee, without question one of the best in Paris.

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Stop in and have a bite to eat. But do tell them you are from the neighborhood.

40, rue Chapon 75003

last bistro standing

It seems that every day another hotspot is opening up in the Marais. New bars and restaurants around every corner. What about those that remain? Does anyone frequent the old haunts?

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Le Bougnat is a restaurant I walked by almost every day, and often I wondered what when on in there (and who ate there), discreetly positioned on rue de Saintonge just steps away from trendy rue de Bretagne. One night my Italian and I decided to find out.

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Much to our surprise the place was bustling, it was Friday night after all. There were young and old, mingling at the bar, filling up both small dining rooms… In their jovial manner, I could tell many of them were regulars.

IMG_1362IMG_1357Seated next to an elderly French couple, we quickly found out they were regulars. They advised us on what to order, all of the dishes being traditionally French. Somehow through the dinner our tables were pushed together and the next 3 hours were spent in conversation. If felt much like being in a small village far away from Paris. How friendly and hospitable everyone was!

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After dinner we had a digestif with our new friends. Learning that this brasserie had been in Paris for many decades and was quite a hotspot (and still is) to those who knew the Marais before the term bobo was even invented. May it remain there for decades to come!

Le Bougnat is located at 28 rue de Saintonge and is open only on Friday and Saturday.

look. read. shop.

One of my favorite shops, which also happens to be in the Northern Marais where I call home, is Ofr., a boutique, bookstore and gallery. Genius! While you are perusing the impressive collection of art and design books, you can stumble into the back gallery and live an art experience. If you are new to Paris, owner Alexandre Thumerelle will guide you, literally, with his very own Guide Paris.

Here too, amidst the fine art photography filled walls,  you can find my hand-printed rive gauche and rive droite bags. A perfect setting for wearable art! And perfect bags to fill with books!

During my last visit I entered the creative vision of artist Jeremy Everett. What exactly did I find?

The American Heritage Dictionary. Unlike I have ever seen it.

Stay tuned for the 15 year Ofr. party on May 20th! And check here for more art events.

the art of the sale

The sales are on in Paris! (Unless you’ve been home in bed with the flu anyone living in Paris is very much aware of this). With the sales comes temptation. Especially considering I live within meters of some of the most fashionable boutiques in Paris. I am basically cornered on all sides. Even below me is a shop which I occasionally mistake for my closet (wishful thinking?). Is it really possible to walk by these windows screaming ‘SOLDES’ and not enter? Not really. And so yesterday I tried my hand at shopping at the height of the sales, which I normally never do, alongside women who are not simply determined but on a mission to buy that one item they simply must possess. The result? I spent about 2 minutes in each shop, namely IroVanessa Bruno, & sita murt/, feeling sudden hot flashes and running out, completely overwhelmed with the limitless selection and almost affordable prices. (I come from NYC, the land of the eternal sale, after all). I tend to favor the sales in weeks 3 and 4 (the sales last FIVE weeks), believing that with fewer options and lower prices (they continue to plummet weekly), I will find that one special item that was hidden in the back, and leave feeling lucky.

That being said, today I went to one of my favorite shops bimba & lola and accidentally bought the last pair or shoes that 3 other women (also with a 39.5 size foot) looked ready to pummel me for. Perhaps better not to wait until week 3, and instead follow temptation and not ignore the big red signs. Or, time to go into hiding. I will make another appearance in the shopping circuit sometime in early February.

If you choose to brave the sales, here are a few January Must Haves from Girls Guide to Paris. And a top 10 list of never-ending Parisian trends from HiP Paris.

And if you choose to hide, or don’t live in Paris, perhaps online shopping will satisfy your craving. One place to begin is the stylish site Je Ne Sais Quoi. (Even the French internet is on sale!)

haute snow

Is there anything more enchanting than a snowfall in Paris? Perhaps the hidden civilization of Machu Picchu, the rock formations of Cappadocia or the emerald waters of Halong Bay… and let’s not forget about India… but still, having seen so much of the world, the beauty of Paris is unique. As though the city were not solemnly spectacular enough clad in it’s usual hues of gray blanketed by a sky of blue and pink. A coat of white creates an even greater feeling of serenity. Mostly due to the fact that the city almost literally shuts down. All sense of order is lost and even the trusted boulangerie might be taking a snow day. All adding to the appeal of a city that sleeps. Especially in the winter.

Before the snow turned to hail and inevitably ice, I captured a little beauty of my Haute Marais, at that perfect moment when the light was falling as I so eloquently tried not to.

The Picasso Museum looking very dignified in it’s coat of winter white.

Is this not one of the most magical streets in the world?

fashionably speaking

Paris is the world’s fashion capital. And nowhere else is this more evident than on the streets of this fashionistas gone wild city. I’m lucky to be living in what I consider one of the most fashionable neighborhoods, the Marais. The streets keep me informed of the latest styles and colors, keeping me inspired in my own world of creation and design. I’m not one to follow too many trends, in my personal style nor in my designing, but do appreciate what’s ‘in vogue’ and enjoy this ever evolving creative medium called dress. I shared a few thoughts upon arrival one year ago during my first Fashion Week in Paris. And again in ‘the look of a Parisian’, as another Fashion week approached. 

The streets of Paris will remain my all-time favorite perpetual fashion show. Here are a few recent ‘street looks a la Parisienne’. This year however, at the invitation of Melissa, a fellow expat and blogger, I finally had a chance to see what goes on behind closed doors. Specifically, the doors of Galerie de Minéralogie. Where else but in Paris do you attend a fashion show in a history museum?

Spanish designer Amaya Arzuaga proved to have chosen the perfect venue to reveal her geometric designs evoking caterpillars, butterflies and other fauna. More on Melissa’s blog: Pret Moi Paris.



Ready to fly yet?

a world of artists

I love living in the Marais. Not simply because of the designer boutiques and trendy bistros on every cobbled corner, or the multitude of galleries exhibiting art from around the world. The ambiance of the Marais is unique. It’s one of the most historic neighborhoods of Paris, encompassing the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of the right bank. I can easily spend many a late afternoon carousing the streets, joining the masses at a random art opening and ending the evening with a glass of red wine upon a cafe terrasse. 

Most of all I love the many hidden courtyards of the Marais, revealing enchanting worlds, such as Village Saint Paul. Today I discovered another one, one which spoke of art. Our afternoon was spent in search of artists part of Nomades 2010, a parcours culturel et artistique du 3eme, taking place all weekend in the MaraisWe followed our feelings, with an event map in hand, and there it was, a hideaway of artists and ateliers, la Cité Dupetit Thouars. I was in heaven!

How had I not found this bohemian paradise amidst the land of the bobo’s sooner? We walked in and out of ateliers, meeting artists, learning of their trade, feeling inspired by the these talented few who followed their dreams and ended up sharing them with those who took the time to find them.

What a privileged insight into the lives of artists! We first met a carpenter who designs furniture from all types of wood, creating what I tend to call ‘functional art’. Patricia was hidden behind a mountain of tools and wood, barely could we find her. I’m certain I will return one day to commission a coffee table. 

The next character we met was Yves Prince, a true artist in the traditional sense. He has had many a woman pose in his studio, as is evident by the wall of nudes hanging in his atelier. In his warm and welcoming manner he was proud too, to show us the many film posters he has designed, impressive! 

Fashion is often considered art. Here we found one such fashion artist, Gwen van den Eijnde, sharing his unique and magical world of fabric and form. 

One of the most inspiring artists we met was Michele Adrien, a framer. Not at all the typical framer you would find to simply beautify your artwork, her frames exhibit a work of art in themselves. She uses the endless resources of her conceptual and creative mind (plus, she was once a mathematician so her measurements are exact), to complement the art in question, using materials such as lead, glass, foam, wood, copper, even a milk carton. My engineer is now convinced that he too will become an artist. 

Never again will I pass this little street in the Marais, la Cité Dupetit Thouars, without smiling at the unique world of artists existing behind each unassuming door. 

For the creative souls living in Paris, there are several morning and evening courses in painting/design/sculpture offered within one of these hidden ateliers: www.terre-et-feu.com

a hidden paradise

Before moving to Paris I could not get enough of the Parisian bistros found on nearly every corner. To sit and imagine my life as a French girl. These days, I no longer need to imagine as I sink further into my mostly blissful reality as an expat in France. I still revel in the cafe culture and often find myself sitting at a cozy cafe with every intention of studying French but much too preoccupied with studying faces and street style of the passersby.

Recently, on my way to such a cafe I discovered a doorway leading into a hidden paradise. A place to hide from the world and that could quite honestly be anywhere in the world (apart from the fact that there are floor to ceiling shelves of used French books lining the walls, a minor detail). This is my new haven. A place of tranquility and refuge in my beloved neighborhood of the Marais. A place to study, meet a friend or make a new one, peruse a French comic book (that’s about my level these days), splurge on coffee and cake, or simply dream. And should you need a new designer shirt, a Liberty mug, a dining table to put it on, or a lightbulb, voila! To the creators of this conceptual one-stop wonderland all I can say is Merci!

Passing the Fiat Cinquecento and stepping into the 3-story loft space that creates Merci, you feel like you are entering someone’s dream, if not your own. In fact, Merci is the realized dream of Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the founders of the famous children’s clothing line Bonpoint. What makes this store so unique and even more highly venerated is that that all of it’s proceeds are donated to a co-op for young women in Madagascar. Thus, it’s impossible to feel any guilt while shopping! Not to mention that much of the unique, fashion-forward men’s, women’s and children’s clothing has been designed exclusively for this space and cause.


I’m wondering if they would mind if I moved in…

Merci, 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris 75003 http://www.merci-merci.com

the look of a Parisian

French women always look stylish, even more so in the midst of fashion week. In an attempt to discover their secrets (as surely they would never divulge such privileged information), I decided to consult the mannequins, leading me to carouse almost every boutique in the Marais. This was not an exercise in shopping (though each week the prices are falling and temptation is rising), but more of a research project, in which I would occasionally purchase a select piece that will remain in my (French) closet for years to come. This is no easy task. The art of looking ‘Parisian’. Upon leaving NYC my dear stylist friend Evelyn, to whom I am forever grateful, assisted me in project ‘Pack for Paris’. I only allowed myself two (very large) suitcases, did I really need more than that? (I traveled around the world for 13 months with only one bag, after all). Together we strategically selected what I would be wearing in this fashion capital, on those occasional evenings to the Opera, frequent dinners at trendy bistros, imagined strolls along the boulevards, but most importantly what I would need to feel stylishly comfortable in my new life. With expert cajoling, I bid adieu to half of my wardrobe, unworn tunics from India, my favorite faded shorts custom tailored in Hoi An, vintage coats from Portobello Market. I dressed as many friends as I could and donated the rest. In the end, this proved a great lesson in detachment and the art of minimalism.

Now, five months into my life in Paris, I am attempting to understand the French fashion culture. Faced with the blank stares of stylish mannequins luring me into their windows I ask myself, where is Evelyn when I need her? Admittedly, I buy much less and appreciate each addition to my wardrobe much more. I am no doubt a classicist, revering the creations of Givenchy, Chanel, YSL, Pucci, to name a few. If only this were the Paris of the 1960’s, fashionably speaking! Alas, in this fashion forward era, I continue to admire elegance and simplicity with a personal twist. The ever changing fashion trends intrigue, but seldom appeal. There exists much more inspiration in the unique living and breathing ‘models’ walking the streets of Paris, than behind the store windows.  My ‘chic et branché’ look now consists of Petit Bateau T-shirts mixed with classic couture. And black will always be the new black. (I am a New Yorker after all!) In conclusion, what I have learned through this exercise in observation is the following: simplicity paired with very carefully selected accessories makes the greatest statement, and ALWAYS wear a scarf!

how to dream in French

The days are growing longer. On rare occasion a hint of spring passes through the still frigid air. I remain warm within my expansive thoughts. I am in the midst of redefining myself in the context of a French life. Did I think it would be this difficult to leave behind the comforts and familiarities of a city which had become my home for over a decade? To bid farewell to my old self who knew so much and so many and made such an intimidating city feel so intimate? I recall so well the first few years of NYC, the growing pains involved in assembling the many pieces that create a life. And here in Paris, the puzzle appears much more difficult to piece together. Mostly due to the fact that the instructions are illegible. I remain perplexed as to how exactly things and people function here. The extreme formality and sense of order do not always appeal to me. Even the vagabonds seem well-mannered. Perhaps I am accustomed to a greater diversity that cannot be defined. A place where possibilities are endless and nothing is impossible. Once upon a time I was taught to dream. And now? As I attempt to redefine myself, an American girl raised with European sensibilities, I feel more American than I ever did in the USA, and even more so a dreamer. Simply, I must now learn to dream in French.

SOLDES!

The word on the streets is SOLDES. All of Paris is on sale. Apparently this is quite an event, happening only twice a year, as regulated by the government. The sales continue for five weeks, a Winter cleansing of sorts, in preparation for the new Spring styles. Finally I can shop in this fashion capital! Prior to these seemingly never-ending sales, I merely stared glossy-eyed into the windows of the many boutiques lining the streets of the Marais and Saint-Germain. The price tags in the windows often prevented me from entering, considering the less than ideal exchange rate. Why tease myself? I would look, but dared not to touch. And now, prices are almost equivalent to those in my favorite Nolita or Soho boutiques in NYC. Somehow the ‘Made in France’ label makes shopping in Paris more of a cultural experience. Might I even consider the additions to my wardrobe an investment?

a blanket of white

This morning I awoke to discover my first Parisian snowfall. As if Paris needed any additional beauty, the city is enchanting beneath it’s blanket of white. The streets are empty aside from vagrant shoppers and children ducking behind cars with snowballs in hand. A perfect afternoon to find refuge behind the large picture windows of cafe Les Philosophes, indulge in a chocolat chaud and collect my thoughts, as varied as the snowflakes.

Sunday stillness

I have quickly come to cherish Sundays in Paris. For one simple reason, love. Sundays in NYC, following the sacred ritual of brunching with friends, were most often spent solo amidst the masses, shopping in Soho or sitting in Central Park reading or dreaming. I think too, of the countless Sundays during my travels. Regardless of the continent I inhabited, endless hours were spent in observation (often considered sight-seeing) as the world became suddenly still. Sundays, as I well recall in my childhood, are a day to spend with family (or friends who in the case of my previous life in NYC had become family). Now here in Paris, I feel the warmth of family. It is only he and I, but that is enough to provide the feeling of home.

Today, in our sacred Sunday tradition we woke up to the late morning sun, radiating light from an inviting sky. Most often clear and bright in it’s winter chill. A savory brunch in the Marais, which has become quite a trend in Paris. A late edition of the ‘International Herald Tribune’, much more manageable a read than my esteemed ‘Sunday NY Times’ (though indeed I do miss the Travel and Styles sections to name a few). Upon walking to the Seine to admire the serenity and the awe-inspiring views, we stopped for a moment of reflection at Church Saint Gervais. As though invited through divine intervention, we entered the setting of a performance combining poetry, painting and music. Within this scene illuminated only by candles, I could understand words not phrases, emotions not meanings. Yet, in all it’s abstract obscurity, the experience was deeply enchanting. The flutist sounding the melodies of birds as images of clouds and sea projected above the altar. It is upon such an impromptu path that life most naturally reveals itself.

Marché des Enfants Rouges


France is famous for it’s myriad of markets. I am privileged to live around the corner from the oldest covered food market of Paris. The Marché des Enfants Rouges was created in 1615 by King Henri IV to feed the Marais district, at the time, Paris’ newest district. The name ‘Red Children’ was given to the market by the neighborhood in remembrance of children from the nearby orphanage, clad in red uniform to symbolize charity. I often venture into this market for lunch to indulge in the assortment of cuisines ranging from Japanese fusion to spicy African. This self-contained universe of international tastes is also an ideal place to buy organic fruits and vegetables, an array of cheeses, breads, fresh fish, local wines…even a fresh bouquet of flowers. A little pricey as it’s in the heart of ‘boboville’, but well worth the experience.

organic afternoon

On Sunday we braved the rain and sudden wind and found our way to our much revered pocket of heaven called Village Saint Paul. There we were serendipitously welcomed by a farmers market, making the experience feel much like a journey into the provinces. So many aged and fresh goat cheeses to taste, homemade confitures to savour, mulled local wine to inhale…and the countless varieties of honey! Immediately I became transformed into an excited child with large curious eyes possessing the refined palate of a well-practiced foodie. Surely I needed to try everything. We returned home to continue the feast, bellies and bags filled with organic produce.


medically speaking

Today I met a key figure in my life as a Parisian. My doctor. I chose her based on the fact that she practices homeopathy in addition to general medicine, her English is very good, and lastly, her office is minutes away from my apartment. She is part of my arrondissement.

The relationship between doctor and patient is an important one and I dearly miss my doctor from NYC. In addition to solving any ailments, physical and even at moments emotional, I considered him a paramount, even paternal presence in my life. Have I now met his maternal equivalent? Perhaps. I immediately felt at ease in the presence of this elegant French Madame, who possesses the nurturing eyes of a mother. The visit was reassuringly personal. We spoke about my decision to move to Paris, the benefits of yoga versus tai chi (the latter of which she practices with great passion). She even advised on where to buy the most healthy breads amidst our local boulangeries. (Ah, the French diet of cheese, wine and bread!)

I feel much more at ease. Knowing should I need medical counsel, or a soothing voice, it’s only steps away. What’s more, an office visit costs a mere $50, without insurance. And this nominal fee is fully reimbursed with the proper documents. Not to mention medicine costs less than a café au lait. Surely it would not be difficult or costly to become a hypochondriac within this socialized system?

after the rain

I love the Parisian rain. It falls only long enough to collect the most inspired thoughts under the roofed terrasse of a local cafe, or slide into the surreal world of a nearby gallery. There exists something deeply romantic about the sudden gray skies and calm upon the streets. Many wintry afternoons are spent with umbrella in hand, searching for a distant rainbow. The return of the sun signifies rebirth. The artists soul is awoken in such moments. I can well understand how writers and philosophers found inspiration within such luminous stillness.

yoga high

It is via the spiritual path of yoga that I arrived to Paris, albeit indirectly. Hence, it will continue to be an integral part of my journey. But in French? Surely yoga needs no translation. This worried me, as my French was not yet as advanced to include body parts and movements. With much research and a fair amount of good fortune, I discovered a suitable yoga studio several cobbled streets away, the Centre de Yoga du Marais. As though sent by the yoga gods, my teacher is American, from NYC no less. Her energy is warm and welcoming. Immediately I feel well. For ninety minutes I am at home. The clatter of a foreign world ceases to exist. I am momentarily living and very deeply breathing, familiarity.

Upon leaving this sanctuary, I am filled with vigor and an enlightened perspective. The challenges ahead seem much more attainable. I float homewards and smile at the life that has been granted me.

swimming in a sea of French…

Some days I experience what I call a ‘French block’. My mind cannot, or more accurately, does not want to think, speak nor understand anything French. It feels too much like starting over, like so many years ago when I moved to NYC and knew but one soul amidst a sea of strangers. I was young and impressionable then, and now? Still rather young and slightly less impressionable, but filled with the same eagerness to know and see and learn and meet. But here in Paris it’s much different. Most of all due to my poor comprehension of the French language and certain cultural aspects I have not yet decided whether suit me (as if I had a choice). Within this particular sea, the faces don’t smile as easily when you glance in their direction, and when looking lost or desperate, rarely will a local offer a gesture of compassion. It is those who have shared this experience, those with empathy (most often possessing a foreign passport), that help me to understand that it is in fact time and a rather liberal amount of humility that will ease this transition and allow the culture to envelop me.

I might add that a good glass of Saint Emilion in the late afternoon sun at the local bistro, can surely serve as a lifeboat.

all hallows eve

Perhaps I was spoiled in NYC with the extravagance of Halloween. A parade followed by days and nights of costumed celebrations in every corner of the city. There is no such display in Paris. Several bars took pride in the festivities, mainly those trusted Irish ex-pat locales, and a random bar or two in the Marais. Though I’m not certain the clientele was dressed in costume or preparing for a regular night of revelry. Needless to say I was not inspired to wear anything other than the garb of a Parisian girl, for me, a costume in itself.

Sunday stroll…

Sundays in the Marais are enchanting. While the rest of Paris sleeps, the Marais is filled with the flow of life. Following an impromptu path led only by the sun, we float like a pair of doves amidst the harmonious mélange of voyagers and inhabitants. No sounds of engines are heard as the streets are entitled only to pedestrians. Time ceases to exist. We find our way into a world of secret gardens and not-so-secret cafés. Our most favored treasure is the Village Saint Paul. This clandestine paradise is accessible only via arched passageways, to those who are lucky enough to find it. Within these walls lies a self-contained world of antique shops and one particular café which has captured our hearts, or more fittingly, our appetites. Seldom does a Sunday pass without a taste of the homemade quiche or creative confections.

Days like these help me to remember why I am in Paris: love. A ‘raison d’être’ in itself. I temporarily forget that the other key elements composing a life are so far away: family, friends, work, etc. Is it possible to create a life combining all of that which brings one a sense of fulfillment? Or are we meant to perpetually lack in order to feed the mind and body with desire? Perhaps, for the sake of feeling alive. Regardless of the whims and desires that reside in my mind, I feel deeply content.

Paris by bike

My preferred mode of transport amidst these cobbled streets is the Vélib’, a public bicycle system which was successfully launched on July 15th 2007, currently the largest of its kind in the world, consisting of 20,000 bikes. Every 300 meters throughout the city center lies a station, appearing much like an oasis to those weary of walking (no doubt the stiletto laden fashionistas are great fans of the Vélib’). For merely 1 euro I pick up a bike, navigate my way through the maze of the Marais, return the bike to one of the 1,450 stations, and continue my adventures via foot. Countless hours are spent circling Paris in this manner. Perhaps the greatest sensation is flying over one of the enchanting bridges via Vélib’ at sunset, following only the direction of the stars.

in vogue

It’s fashion week in Paris. The surrounding galleries are transformed into showrooms, previewing new collections that hang much like works of art. Occasionally this art will come to life upon the form of a walking and breathing mannequin. This is all very exciting I must admit, finding such an eclectic fashion show outside my doorstep.

Though it appears to me that fashion week is an ongoing event in Paris, the only rule being don’t follow any rules. Is this a trend I am not aware of? The look on the streets belongs to the ‘bourgeois-bohème’, commonly known as the ‘bobos’. These locals of the Marais exhibit a strategic melange of ‘high-end designer meets starving artist’. A look that appears thrown on in an apartment lacking lights or a mirror, yet in reality much time was involved in the final composition. I am constantly inspired as I carouse the streets, my designing mind longing to create, to take apart and put back together in a most casual elegant manner, playing with shapes and forms. Amidst the bobos there exists a freedom to express which suits me.

Whether or not I am accepted as a member of this seeming elite is another matter, not one that I preoccupy myself with.

Shirt: ‘my Italians’ closet; Belt: collection of Kim Cattrall; Bracelet: flea market in Jaffa; Beret: hat shop in Bogota; Leggings: American Apparel; Bag: gift from Evelyn Espinal; French Scarf: missing

voices from afar

Each morning I wake with a smile, eager to explore and engage in this new and privileged life. I feel very much at home, even more so as I can now navigate my way through the tangle of streets, aware of the treasures which lie behind the surrounding corners, in the form of bistros and boutiques, bookstores and boulangeries.

Several friends have joined me in this adventure, appearing for merely a moment, yet providing a lasting comfort that comes only with those we call our long-time confidants. It is my people I miss the most, a select few I have collected through the years, whose faces will always elicit in me the most genuine of smiles. In all of my many travels, and especially now having found a new home in a distant land, I understand well that a city speaks to ones soul through the voices of ones life. The most relevant one being our own. (And of course that of our mother). Forever will my esteemed voices be heard from afar. My current and most favored voice is deep and melodic with the most charming Italian accent.

room with a view

I live in the heart of Paris. There is much to observe from this privileged position. This perch is my window upon a new world, my observatory. There exists just enough stimulation below to keep my curious mind occupied with imagined stories of the many passing lives. Most often I notice tourists with detailed maps of the Marais, engaged in a historic walk or a gallery crawl, completely unaware that they are being observed through eagle eyes. Very often a business man will ride by on his bicycle, or briskly walk the length of the street, eager to arrive home to the squeals of small children and an eagerly anticipatory wife. Occasionally one of the bypassers will glance skywards and find me, looking quite anxious that I may be able not only to see them but in fact read their minds. Can I? No, they are superficially mine only for a moment, the length of the street within my view. Our interaction, if any, is brief. Most of all I search for one particular smiling face.

It is close to 7pm and I can hear the melodies of an ambitious pianist floating through the late summer air. This is my soundtrack, mixed with varied conversations of which I understand very little, an occasional motor bike passing by and the constant beat of a heel belonging to an elegant French woman enroute to a rendezvous. The music intensifies and a door slams in the distance, accompanied by distant laughter. Is this not the setting of a film? The very film of my Parisian life. Hence I am no longer the observer but the star, waiting to enter stage left. The music softens. He has arrived. The performance begins.

eyes wide open

Week one. Every morning I wake in a dream state. Yet this is my life. Paris is my reality. Surrounded by sights and sounds, all engaging and mysterious. My eyes are open wide in observation of this new place, it’s spaces and people. Equally, my mouth is shut, afraid to utter a word to reveal my foreigner status. For the moment I feel like a silent observer, able to see but unable to be seen. Hence I have reverted to the mentality of a small child who looks at the world eagerly yet does not choose to participate. Yet. I take my time to become acquainted with the neighborhood. I often find myself lost amidst the tangled streets of the Marais, searching for a point of reference. None is found. I consult a map and find my way, stopping at a cafe to indulge in the Parisian culture, to continue my observations, to immerse myself further in the dream.