NOTES FROM ABROAD: PARIS EX-PAT
GOOD ONLINE READS
Regardless of Omicron and lockdowns, masks, physical distancing, and the like, my best guess is that U.S. citizens will still be able to visit Europe in the spring. Obviously, things can change, but I’ll place my bet on travel and I continue to believe that, because of the uncertainties, the spring/summer of 2022 will be a very good time to enjoy uncrowded vistas and city delights. So, in case that outlook turns out to be correct, here’s that Paris website update I’ve been promising:
The Paris Insider
Terrance Gelenter was born in Monongahela, Pennsylvania, but – as he recounts in his autobiographical memoir “From Bagels to Brioches; Paris par hasard” [“by chance”] – he was conceived in Casablanca where his 17-year-old mother met and married an American G.I. during World War II. He speaks pretty good French and apparently some German too, but sounds like a wayward New Yorker. There is no reason to delve into his history here, but you should know that he became an ex-pat eleven years ago, His accent is more Brooklyn than Manhattan, as are his mannerisms. He isn’t just a writer-editor-publisher-tour guide-gourmand. He is also a non-stop talker, a paid singer (his latest gig is at the Madison Hotel at 143 St.-German de Pres), and he favors songs from the Great American Songbook; as a performer, he is often accompanied by pianist Sheldon Forrest.
Terrance produces an online newsletter mostly about Paris called The Paris Insider (email@example.com), but he often travels further afield, taking small groups of Brits or Americans to various vintners or truffle farms, bistros, restaurants, chateaux, art exhibits, and other such venues outside the City of Light.
Mr. Gelenter’s newsletter is a must if you’re intending to spend any time in the French capital and have already been to all the best-known attractions. For example, a pre-Thanksgiving issue featured a recipe for Crispy Duck Legs from Melissa Clarks’ “Dinner in French,” along with a podcast interview with New York Times’ food and wine critic Eric Asimov, a nephew of sci-fi’s Isaac Asimov. A recent issue even featured a treatise on how to become a bouquiniste: a vendor with a collection who could display used books, postcards, and memorabilia out of one of those small kiosks along the left bank of the Seine. You don’t need to be French but you do need to be an official French resident and in the government-run health-and-social-security system. Speaking French would be helpful, but again, not absolutely required (an official committee will decide if you qualify). You’ve got to hurry though, applications will be accepted by the City of Paris until 4 pm February 22, 2022. A second career perhaps? There’s always something useful in every issue.
Terrance not only introduced me to La Coupole, Les Deux Magots, and his ex-pat salon friends, but he also turned me on to a newsletter written by erstwhile Parisian compadre, Beverly Held, called Musée Musings (museemusings.com). Dr. B, as she is known, is a San Francisco-area art critic (and frequent visitor to Paris) with a PhD in art history who writes amusingly and knowledgeably about art, artists, art exhibits, and other art world arcana. Her latest: “Botticelli: Artist and Designer,” a review of a current exhibit that she cheekily labels “Botticelli Babes”. If you’re in Paris on January 25, Dr. B and Julia Frey (author of “Venus Betrayed”) are scheduled to have a one-hour public conversation discussing “The Private World of Edouard Vuillard” at the American Library. (americanlibraryinparis.org)
TIME OUT Paris
The Time Out French language version (newsletters.timeout.com) for Paris is perhaps the most timely guide to the city for those who can negotiate reasonably well in French. If you expect to spend any time in Paris, you should be reading this e-magazine regularly.
Time Out has the most extensive collection of reviews and recommendations I’ve found. It critiques and lists lot of events for the LGBTQ crowd, and everything from an Annie Libowitz exhibit on the left bank to au courant bar and restaurant reviews. (timeoutparis.fr)
It’s a little late now, but Frenchly (frenchly.us) featured fifteen different Advent Calendars one could buy for Christmas; some of its more recent articles include “7 Netflix Releases to Watch this December; “Love in France: The Peach Pie,” “7 French Markets to Visit this Holiday Season,” “10 French Holiday Songs,” along with a review of Léa Seydoux’s new film “France,” “Top mistakes people make when learning French (and how to fix them”); an inside review of “Titane,” France’s latest bizarre/erotic export; Dorie Greenspan’s new French cookbook; a rundown of some new French language podcasts in just the latest issue. Good stuff, and all in English.
I found the Hip Paris newsletter (hipparis.com) most helpful when researching some of the more popular tourist attractions. If you go to Pigalle’s Moulin Rouge, for example, it’s good to know that just behind the famously topless venue, there are intimate bars, restaurants, even a couple nightclubs to visit while in this otherwise downscale neighborhood. Thanks to HipParis blogger Alessia Armanese, for example, I now know to ask for a café serré double when I want a real espresso in Paris. A café noir or even a regular espresso doesn’t cut it; both brews are inevitably too weak to really enjoy, as both contain double the water of an Italian espresso.
These folks (exploreparis.fr) go where most tourists never go. For example, I took a three-hour boat ride up the Seine to visit the designated location for Paris’s upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics, where construction has just begun on the only two additional buildings Paris intends to build for the Olympics. Explore Paris specializes in such tours and, while its boats are not particularly elegant, they do the job and prices are very reasonable. And, you’ll mostly be with French people, as the guide speaks only French on most outings. Still it’s worth going on their site to find unusual and out-of-the-way locations, such as a private look at the basilica of Saint-Denis, a piano concert in the grand salon at Chateau de Grosbois, or a historical stroll on the streets of Montmartre featured in the Commune uprising and used as a location in Victor Hugo’s masterful four-volume best-seller, “Les Miserables.”
Nessy (messynessychic.com) travels the world searching to fill her always intriguing “Cabinet of Chic Curiosities,” offering tidbits of advice and information; she is stationed in Paris and her “Insider’s Guide to the Paris Flea Markets” is one of those discoveries that could come in quite handy whether you are a first-timer or a regular visitor to Paris. The rest of her quirky observations might include a visit to Wes Anderson’s latest film set in Angouleme to interview the sign makers who turned a little corner of this city into a 19th century Paris; a pictorial on a 150-year-old mansion outside Hudson, New York that’s been sitting on the market for some time. It’s a 12-acre fixer-upper but it does have lots of charm and history; there’s also a story of a Mexican “tribe” that inspired Frida Kalho. Messy Nessy is always intriguing and always has something about Paris and/or France that you absolutely must read and didn’t know.
I’ve been a subscriber to France Today magazine for more than twenty years but have only just become a subscriber to its online cousin, “Bonjour Paris, The Insider’s Guide.” I’m forced to admit it’s the best, most up-to-date compendium of all things Parisian, and surprisingly, it’s all in English (as is the magazine).
London in Bits
I’ve only just come across this, but it (londoninbits.substack.com) too is excellent if you’re on your way to London despite the ongoing and tortuous cross-Channel Covid-oriented spats between the two capitals. The newsletter is fact- and opinion-filled with short, pithy (and often unashamedly biased) quips and comments about everything Londonesque, including restaurants, shows, movies, pubs, art exhibits, even politics. Easy and fun to read.
Forget Me Not
Remember to pass along this website: jimb.substack.com, where all previous columns are available. And where you can/should/must subscribe to this free site!