May 5, 2010

Ile Saint Louis' Own Gem: Bakhtar

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the shop that really lures me back to Ile Saint Louis every time. Bakhtar is a shop that has never had the pleasure of zip zipping my credit card, but one day, yes one day, it will know that pleasure. This is the type of place where I could really treat myself to some nice things, never mind the fact that I’ve only entered the shop once. I usually stop at the windows and drool like a little girl eyeing a doll she can’t live without. Why enter, anyway? They put their best stuff in the vitrines. I have seen something I wanted there every time I’ve peered in those windows since I very first pressed my nose against the glass four years ago.

Though they have more than jewelry that’s all I see as my eyes fixate on the many beautiful earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. As you can see from the photos, these are stunning finely crafted pieces, many with Eastern or Asian looks to them.

The one time I did step foot inside I saw equally beautiful scarves as well as some decorative home items. The staff is very friendly and very accustomed to passers-by enjoying the view (and probably equally used to them moving right on). The jewelry seems to be more or less accurately priced – earrings with semi-precious stones around 80€ and up and necklaces with lots of stones seem to be between 200€ and 300€.

75004 Paris
T.: +33.(0)

75006 Paris
T.: +33.(0)

April 28, 2010

My Favorite Paris Boutique: 78 rue Saint Louis en l’Ile

If you’ve ever walked along rue St. Louis en l’Ile, you’ll know that it’s filled with many wonderful shops. Call me a tourist, but I LOVE this street. Heck, I love the whole island. I love that every apartment on it has a view of something really interesting. I love its rich history. I love that it’s one of Paris’ best-kept secrets. I love the uniqueness of the shops, the friendly grocer who always recognized me in my big green coat, the florist with her flowers spilling out onto the trottoir… I could go on and on!

I guess it was when I lived on Ile Saint Louis (ah, I still relish in my ability to make such a claim) that I came upon 78. 78 is a charming little boutique with clothes, scarves, jewelry, and bags that fit any budget. It’s the kind of place that gives you a little tingle inside when you find something cute because you know they could be selling it for a lot more. But they’re not, and you’ve just made away with a super cute find.

They change their inventory quite frequently at 78, so there’s always something new to find there. They have everything from t-shirts to jackets to dresses and blouses, and almost nothing is over 100 . It’s a scaled-down version of all those Marais boutiques that we love but can’t quite afford to shop at. Enjoy!

75004 Paris

April 16, 2010

In Love With the Eiffel Tower? It’s Okay, I Might Be, Too.

I once saw a piece on 60 Minutes or some show like that about a woman who was in love with the Eiffel Tower.  Not the kind of “Ahh, I love the Eiffel Tower!” stuff people throw around freely just because they think it’s pretty. No, the kind of love that would have gotten you teased on the playground at school. You know, the old “if you love it so much, why don’t you marry it?” This woman was bona fide in lovewith a 1,063-foot metal structure. Loony, right? Craaaaazy. But to be honest, watching her I really didn’t think she was that weird. I mean, as I figured in my head that everyone else in the room had to be thinking what a nut job she was, I was actually thinking to myself, ‘thank goodness I’m not that bad.’ But I am that bad. Well, almost.
You see, I’ve also seen those same TV spots about the human brain’s reaction when a person sees the person he or she is in love with. There’s actual readable and measurable change in the brain activity that is not present when one is visualizing other people for whom they have no feelings. I’m not going to lie; I think I have that physical reaction when I see the Eiffel Tower. In fact, why stop there? I know I have a physical reaction to the Eiffel Tower, and I also have a change in brain activity – albeit lesser – when I see other sights in Paris. Just the act alone of seeing it does it for me, but it’s always augmented when there’s some element of surprise involved. Seeing the tip of it over a building as I’m walking through the city is fail-proof. Seeing its revolving light take its path atop those famous Parisian roofs always brings that tinge of excitement to my gut.  And of course there’s that moment when I come up from the Trocadéro station and walk past the Palais de Chaillot only to have that spectacular view on it and feel, well, love inside me.

Unfortunately, it seems very few people have ever experienced this love for something else – that is, something other than a human being. As tempted as I am to get all philosophical on you here, I will restrain myself and just offer that, contrary to what some of my closest friends and family believe, I do not love that massive collection of metal and bolts more than I do them. Rather it’s more likely that it serves as a concrete representation of me following my dreams. And I sincerely hope the day never comes that that feeling or reminder does not give me a positive physical reaction.

March 25, 2010

Look Up or You'll Miss Half the City's Delights

On my late evening walk tonight, I went down some streets that I don’t usually frequent. Upon lifting my head, I was welcomed into a world that is largely unknown to visitors to this city: the Parisian’s apartment. (I single out Parisians because they are still somewhat of an anomaly to me. The way they dress, the way they live, the way they manage to have any money to spend… I digress. That’s a topic for another day.) Now, I have always appreciated this about nights in Paris –walking around when it’s dark out means you can peer into the lighted apartments and see things that aren’t at all visible during the day. Tonight I wandered farther and farther into unfamiliar territory and eventually happened upon a house.

In just the last day I have come to learn that houses, real houses, exist in the Paris city limits. Huh? Maybe I’ve been living in a box the last few years – oh no, that’s just my studio! – but I never thought this was even possible to have a bona fide house in Paris.  Dreaming of bringing together two things that I feel I can’t live without – Paris and space - my mind immediately goes to a conversation that might take place in one of these houses… “No, Sweetie, it’s upstairs in the salon.” Upstairs? Downstairs? Ha! I’m only used to the limited options of “it’s in that corner” or “it’s on that shelf.” Not that easy to lose stuff when you live in a shoebox!

Where was I, though? Had I wandered into Neuilly? I know they have houses there. I thought that had to be a bit farther than I had traveled. In the end, turns out I was still in the 17th and had strolled along Boulevard Pereire. I praised the darkness for allowing me this glimpse of molded ceilings, impeccable décor, and impressive art work that seemed to be hanging in each and every lighted apartment. My dream of having one of my own was again in the forefront of my mind.

March 19, 2010

Line 5: Look Quickly or You'll Miss All Those Landmarks

Back on the metro topic, I have to share what I think is one of the best metro routes in the city. This isn't that hard to accomplish because most are of course underground, leaving one to find entertainment in all those fellow voyageurs whose most exciting activity the entire ride might be nothing more than a glance up from their iPods.

See, I used to have a metro route that initially I didn’t care for but eventually came to be one of my favorites. I regularly needed to take Line 5 from almost the top of the line all the way down to its termination of Place d’Italie. It requires passing through three not-so-pleasant gares, but what is sandwiched in the middle of this line makes it all worth it.

For those who don’t know the line well, it comes above ground between Bastille and Quai de la Rapée to cross the Seine, which in and of itself is a truly glorious moment. Any relief from the darkness of the tunnels is welcomed, especially if its accompanied by a slew of Paris' claims to fame. As I took the line more and more, I kept spotting more famous buildings, monuments, and bridges. It became a game to see what else I could spot in those short seconds of exposure, a game of speed and positioning.

For optimal viewing, the key is to position yourself in a seat on the right side (again, we're going south here). I probably haven’t noticed them all but what I can confirm is in view, if even for a second, includes: Bastille tower, Centre Pompidou, the Louvre, Hôtel de Ville, Tour Montparnasse, the Panthéon, the Eiffel Tower, and many of Paris’ beautiful ponts, or bridges. I welcome you to challenge yourself to this little game that, by the way, only takes place between Bastille and just after Gare d'Austerlitz. It's a great little tease to get your bum out from underground and go enjoy the city.

March 17, 2010

The Paris Métro

For me, one of the most necessary experiences to have in Paris is not necessarily the obvious towers, etc. Rather, when people visit Paris I tell them they must ride the metro. As much as possible.

I am a fan of the metro for several reasons: efficiency, convenience (don’t they say you’re never more than 750 m from a station? Well, I’ve been every bit of that 750 m distance in the pouring rain!), the “green factor”, but most of all, the experience of it. It’s like Forrest with his box of chocolates… you never know what you’re going to get.

At times it’s peaceful. Others, you’re forced to listen to the pounding bass of someone’s house music being blasted. Sometimes you have a car to yourself. Others you’re packed in like sardines. I’ve witnessed acts of violence and acts of extreme kindness. I’ve heard music – some good, some bad. I’ve smelled the stench of someone who hasn’t bathed in weeks contrasted by another’s sweet French perfume. I’ve seen vomit. I’ve seen dogs, mosquitoes, and mice. I’ve seen homeless people and exploited children. I’ve heard more languages than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve even heard of love beginning in the Metro.

It’s the best and the worst of the world. It is a microcosm of a place called Paris.

March 13, 2010

L’Oisive Thé: A Delightful Little Parisian Tea Room

The first time I moved to Paris, I had someone, a Parisienne, tell me that I must go to La Butte aux Cailles, a street in the 13th that she described as quaint and pleasant. Her enthusiasm for this street was enough to ensure it made it to the “must-do before I leave in three months” list without me ever questioning it. I suppose I must have finally gone there on a Sunday because I found very little on that street. I checked and re-checked the map- was I in the right place? Had I taken le mauvais chemin? Nope, this was it – a non-descript dead couple of blocks with nothing happening. Needless to say, I was very disappointed.

Then I met Chloé. Chloé is French, lives in the 13th, and finds interesting blogs – often about Paris – like it’s her job. She eventually became my afternoon tea buddy, and it was with her that I found myself truly discovering La Butte aux Cailles. She had come across a blog of an American who had opened a salon de thé on the very street I had failed to find excitement on, so we made a date to try it out.

L’OisiveThé was indeed a charming little spot that in the end made up for what I still found its neighbors to be lacking. The corner location gives the space a lovely brightness, and the cozy room was bustling on that Saturday afternoon. The mismatched tables and chairs is a design practice that I love, so I felt good about the spot before we were even seated.

As I recall, the tea choices were slimmer than other tea rooms we had frequented together, but the gateaux and patisseries were definitely on the mark and very fresh. There’s a delightful mix of the pastries people travel hundreds of miles to savor in France with those we love in the United States. I am reminded of the traditional American coffee cake, which we allow ourselves to enjoy at any hour of the day, as long as it’s accompanied by a good coffee or tea. An American who embraces the two cultures, the owner of L’OisiveThé has outdone her neighbors and created a lovely escape from the busyness that in Paris.

Update: Since our visit, L’OisiveThé has started to sell yarn and offer knitting “parties” on a regular basis. It sounds like it’s quite the success.

at rue de la Butte aux Cailles and rue Jean-Marie Jégo
Tél : +33 (0)1 53 80 31 33
Métro: Corvisart ou Place d’Italie
Open Tuesday to Thursday 12h to 19h and Friday to Sunday from 12h to 20h. Closed Mondays.