Discover the Historic Covered Passages of Paris

Duck into any of Paris’s 25 covered passageways, and you’ll find history hidden in plain sight. Les passages, covered shopping arcades, are beloved 19th century landmarks.

Glass roofs were erected over narrow shopping streets in Paris as early as 1776; the oldest existing passage, Passage du Caire, in the 2nd arrondissement, dates to 1799. Most were created between 1820 and 1840.

Light and airy with glass roofs, neoclassical reliefs, and mosaic floors, the passages provided not only elegant surroundings, but shelter from weather, traffic, and dirt. Lit from within by gas lights, they became gathering places of the affluent.

The expansive nature of the second half of the 1800s did them in. Large department stores provided more merchandise in equally fancy surroundings (La Samaritaine and Le Bon Marché are good examples). And many passages were destroyed when Haussmann’s new city plan demolished neighborhoods to create broad avenues.

Pictured above is perhaps one of the most sumptuous of the remaining arcades: Passage Vivienne, behind the Palais Royal gardens. Cool in summer, warm in winter, and removed from both cars and tourist traffic, it provides visitors a chance to discover up-and-coming artisans, used bookstores, galleries, cafés, and restaurants.

As well as a chance to walk back into the past.

Un grand merci to Wikipedia for this a full list of Paris passages.

Paris via the Alps: La Bouitte

If Paris, abundant in history, rich in architecture, and bedecked with natural beauty, is the embodiment of urban luxury, I’ve found its rural equivalent: La Bouitte, a lovingly constructed hotel, restaurant, and spa in the hamlet of Saint Marcel (pop. 350), at the eastern reaches of the French Alps.

At the center of this family-owned, mountainside retreat is a gastronomic gem: a Michelin 3 star restaurant run by father and son, Maxime and René Meilleur. Their vision embraces the region’s humble Savoyard past—small alpine farms, noble cheeses, locally grown herbs and meat—while celebrating modern methods.

I tasted pear and hazelnut tea cake maison that was impeccably moist and wonderfully crumbly, and confiture de mirabelle that transported me to a fragrant plum orchard on a sunny day. I found these familiar fruit flavors exotic—delicate and concentrated, refined in ways I’d never experienced.

While the restaurant causes much of the buzz at La Bouitte, the recently expanded hotel is also a treat. Spacious, light-filled rooms feature stone fireplaces, lush fabrics based on traditional designs, beautifully restored antiques, hand-carved wooden headboards and doors, and deep porcelain bathtubs with breathtaking mountain views.

The town is a skier’s paradise in winter, and a hiker’s heaven in the other seasons. But the serenity and comfort of the hotel’s 15 rooms makes cocooning another wonderful option.

Like the rest of the property, the spa at La Bouitte looks to nature for inspiration. Treatments are made from alpine wildflowers, one of the saunas is outfitted like a marmot’s den, and the outdoor jacuzzi pays homage to a big sky.

After 3 days of hiking nearby valleys and passes, I indulged one of the spa’s signature treatments: Le Bain de Marie, a luxurious, deep tub soak infused with milk and honey. Soothing aromas filled the air as water pulsed through a dozen jets, relaxing my knotted muscles, and refreshing my skin.

As restorative as it is sophisticated, and just 5 hours from Paris by train, La Bouitte took my breath away—and then restored it.

Sunday in Paris

It’s another lovely Sunday in Paris, and visitors to the city are trying to stop time: preserving the moment with selfies near the Eiffel Tower; posing with the Mona Lisa in the Louvre; imagining life under the Louie’s as they gaze at centuries-old buildings from tour boats in the Seine.

Locals are thinking about their future. Today is the presidential election, and conversations about the merits of two relative outsiders, Marine le Pen and Emanuel Macron, emanate from park benches, neighborhood brunch spots, and spontaneous responses to posters in the streets.

It’s a crazy, delicate moment.

Early projections favor Macron, who is young and inexperienced, embraces market-driven solutions, continued support of social safety networks, and globalism.

Le Pen wants to isolate France from Europe and the rest of the world.

While none of us can predict the future, we must hope for the best — thriving economies, friendly relations between countries, safe, educational travel.

So what to do in Paris on a Sunday afternoon?

Let’s celebrate each other, and the perfection — and imperfections — of the present.

Paris Via Marseilles: Marseilles Trilogy

From regular contributor Betty Guernsey ~

Over the centuries, thousands of writers have written about Paris; very few have written about Marseilles, which is, after all, the second largest city in France. Perhaps the most notable exception is Marcel Pagnol (1895-1974), author of the famous Marseille Trilogy “Marius”, “Fanny”, and “César”.

The second might well be Jean-Claude Izzo (1945-2000), whose own Marseilles Trilogy, comprising three hard-hitting volumes (somewhat surprisingly titled “Total Chaos”, “Chourmo”, and “Solea” and billed as Mediterranean Noir) not only became best-sellers in Europe but inspired a French miniseries starring a mature, salt-and-peppered Alain Delon as Izzo’s hero/protagonist Fabio Montale. (I picture Montale as an Yves Montand of a certain age – after reading the books, take your pick.)

From the point of view of Marseilles itself, the first two books in the series are the most compelling, pulling the reader into the very essence of the city – its sights, its sounds, its tastes, its smells, its unique light, and not least its people, a tangle of ethnicities from all over the Mediterranean and beyond.

Izzo paints the panorama of the port, the coastline, the Estanques, the islands of Frioul; makes your mouth water for fish fresh from the sea, a bowl of homemade bouillabaisse, a sip of crisp white Cassis, and the lingering scents of basil, mint, and anise, passionately blending them all with the political and criminal realities lurking not too far beneath the surface of his beloved birthplace.

Merci infiniment, Betty!

Springtime in Paris

Signs of spring are everywhere on this sunny Sunday in Paris: lilacs are blooming, trench coats and sneakers de rigueur, and family dinners start with sharp-scented radishes, slathered in butter and sprinkled with salt.

Pictured above is a spring tradition with a new twist, served as an amuse-bouche at La Bourse et La Vie: house-marinated heritage radishes, served with tangy sourdough bread and sweet butter.

A glass of cremant from the Jura Mountains made everything sparkle.

Click here for more signs of springtime in Paris.

Paris for Chocolate Lovers

Greetings from Paris on Easter weekend, where chocolate, always a presence in Paris, is everywhere.

The most popular form, naturellement, is the egg. Maître chocolatiers display dark filigreed orbs nearly a meter tall—impossibly delicate, wonderful to look at, and with aromas that make you swoon.

Smaller, but still impressively large and fragile, are smooth oval sillouhettes wrapped in pastel-colored foil. Miniature versions, filled with chopped hazelnuts, nestle in beribboned cellophane bags.

Barnyard scenarios, tout en chocolat, are designed for the younger set: proud mother hens with sculpted breast feathers and scalloped combs; wide-eyed, open-beaked chicks; bushy-tailed squirrels nibbling on chocolate acorns; bunnies with tall, slender ears and faraway looks.

Even a mass market bakery chain has a hand in the celebration: stopping for a croissant at the train station this morning, I saw a brioche in the form of a rabbit, its ears and feet dipped in milk chocolate.

Easter in Paris is a chocolate-lovers’ holiday!

Paris Book Review: Flaneuse: Women Walk the City

 

From regular contributor Betty Guernsey:

The verb “flâner” – a particularly French concept roughly meaning to wander the streets, and its corresponding noun “flâneur” roughly meaning one who peers behind facades, investigates dark corners, and penetrates into secret courtyards – are also both words attaching themselves to the city of Paris.

In her new book “Flâneuse: Women Walk the City in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice, and London”, American-born writer Lauren Elkin explains why “flâneurs” were historically always men, and how as women emancipated, how they too gained the right to walk the streets (and travel) on their own.

As examples she chooses French writer George Sand, French filmmaker Agnès Varda, and French artist Sophie Calle, among others, whose lives and careers were not merely shaped but influenced by this hard-won freedom to be themselves in public places.

I would personally have enjoyed the book more had I not felt too much digression, often at great length, on histories and observations largely unrelated to the subjects at hand. That said, my suspicions are that author Elkin (now a bona fide Parisienne) is herself the ultimate flâneuse, in the punk tutu.

Merci beaucoup, Betty!

Readers — are you a flâneuse (or flâneur)?

Paris via Vermont Part 2: Bohemian Bakery

 

If the secret to French cooking is butter (and I’m pretty sure it is), that explains the succès fou of the croissants at Bohemian Bakery in Montpelier, Vermont.

Add a chic, luminous space with white walls and bentwood chairs, espresso worth standing in line for, and a wooden coffee bar that overlooks a modest side street—and you might think you’ve stumbled into a pâtisserie near the Canal St Martin in Paris.

In the French tradition, Bohemian’s croissants are made with butter. Their motto, “Tout le beurre…tout le temps, All butter…all the time” hangs on a chalkboard just inside the front door.

The alchemy that results from layering sheets of butter with yeast-infused dough and folding the layers over themselves again and again is what sets these croissants apart. The plump, flaky pastries have moist, multi-layered insides and deeply-toasted, crunchy outsides.

While Bohemian’s butter croissant is almost ethereal in its flakiness, their almond croissant is a more solid confection. Nearly twice the size and heft of its cousin, it’s filled with almond paste, studded with slivered almonds, and coated in confectioner’s sugar.

A third variation—and my favorite—is the kouign amann (pictured above, pronounced “queen ahmahn”). This little jewel is both delicate and lavish. Its secret? Le beurre, naturellement, and more of it.

Bohemian’s black-aproned bakers (another French tradition is an on-site bakery) fill the center of a square of croissant dough with additional butter, pinch the corners together to seal in the sweetness, and sprinkle top and bottom with sugar and bit of salt.

The pastry that emerges from the busy oven has an intensely caramelized, almost glassy outside, and an exquisitely tender, sweet, rich inside.

Ahhh, Paris… Bohemian does you proud!

Have you had the croissants at Bohemian? What did you think?

Pissarro at Musee Marmottan

 

Camille Pissarro, the First Impressionist,” at the Musée Marmottan Monet, is the artist’s first retrospective exhibit in Paris in forty years, and a joy to behold. The sixty masterpieces on view come from major museums and private collections around the world.

The show traces Pissarro’s technical evolution, from his early work, depicting the island of his youth in the Danish West Indies (now the US Virgin Islands), to his plein air studies of the French countryside, for which he is best known, and eventually his urban vistas of Rouen, Le Havre and Paris.

As his career progressed, Pissarro’s landscapes shifted from mostly dark tones to the Impressionist palette that he developed with contemporaries Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Renoir, and Degas. These works, prioritizing light over detail, are wondrously fresh and invigorating nearly a century and a half later.

Said one art critic of Pissarro’s revelatory color choices: “Try to make M. Pissarro understand that trees are not violet, that sky is not the color of fresh butter …”

But the show celebrates much more than landscape. Throughout his career, Pissarro took a profound interest in the relationship of people to their environments.

Two Women Chatting by the Sea,” an early work, exemplifies both high technical quality and the depth of the artist’s regard for humanity.

Have you seen this exhibit? What did you think?

 

Paris via New York: Paris Refashioned at FIT

 

Paris Refashioned 1957-1968” at the Museum at FIT (7th Avenue at 27th Street) examines the influence of popular culture on the Paris fashion industry during those pivotal years – 1957 being the year Christian Dior passed away and was succeeded by Yves St-Laurent, and “soixante-huit” the year that ushered in a period of social and political ferment not merely in Paris, but everywhere.

Those heady in-between years marked the shift from the haute couture house to the ready-to-wear boutique, spurred on by couturiers St-Laurent, Givenchy, and Cardin, and giving rise to exciting new designers such as Courrèges, Ungaro, and Emanuelle Khanh.

“Blast from the past” highlights include Courrèges’ famous white leather boots and white sunglasses, a Mondrian-inspired geometric dress from St-Laurent, and an elegantly pared-down black suit and black quilted bag with gold chain by Chanel.

Show runs from February 10 to April 15, 2017.

Merci beaucoup to frequent contributor Betty Guernsey for this review!