Paris for Romantics – How to Love Autrement

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If rose petals and 7 course dinners aren’t your idea of Paris romance, there are plenty of alternatives. So many, in fact, that I’m devoting 2 blog posts to the subject.

My first post about celebrating love autrement leads you to new corners of Paris by walking in the footsteps of 3 famous French couples.

Abélard and Héloïse. Perhaps the city’s oldest love story is the tale of Peter Abélard, a celebrated 12th century theologian and teacher, and Héloïse d’Argenteuil, his gifted, and much younger, student. The Catholic church, a secret wedding,  a horrible act of vengeance, years of separation, and love that survived despite of it all are parts of their myth.

In their footsteps: Visit Cimétière Père Lachaise, where the couple is buried near the main entrance. (They were the cemetery’s first residents.) Wander along tiny Rue Chanoinesse, just north of Notre Dame, where they’re said to have met, studied, and became lovers.

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais. These two French artists were arguably the first modern gay couple. Marais, an actor, was the Surrealist director’s muse and lover in the 30s and 40s. Cocteau and Marais lived together openly under the Nazi occupation; post-war, they worked, traveled, and vacationed together like a married couple. They made remarkable films, including Beauty and the Beast (1946), Les Parents Terribles (1948), and Orpheus (1949).

In their footsteps: Montmartre was the couple’s stomping grounds. Cocteau helped develop Cinema Studio 28, on rue Tholozé, into an important center for independent and avant garde film. The theater is still a neighborhood gem, and contains eccentric lamps that Cocteau designed. Nearby, Marais, who worked as a sculptor later in life, created “Le Passe Muraille” (The Walker Through Walls), just off of Rue Norvins. The statue commemorates a French fictional character who could walk through walls (until his wife, learning he was cheating on her, arrested his power mid-stride.)

• Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin. The 13-year affair between French singer, songwriter, and musician Serge Gainsbourg and British actress Jane Birkin was a grand, passionate amour. Their 1969 hit song, “Je T’Aime…Moi Non Plus,” an explicit duet written by Gainsbourg, was banned by the BBC and the Pope—assuring it would become one of the greatest love songs of all time.

In their footsteps: Make a pilgrimage to 5 bis rue de Verneuil, in the 7th. The couple moved into this small house in 1970, and lived here until the early 80s. Devotees have painted the front with colorful graffiti. Afterward, indulge your passion for music at L’International Records (12 rue Moret, 11th), an independent record store that offers a well curated selection of new and used vinyl and CDs.

Who is your favorite Paris couple?

Restaurant Les Tantes Jeanne in the 18th

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I have a new favorite restaurant in Montmartre: Les Tantes Jeanne. With elegant mismatched furniture, pots of tarragon, bay and rosemary flanking the doors, a genuinely warm welcome, and a superb location (a block from the popular market street rue des Abbesses), my first impressions were excellent.

Then came the menu. Though the friend who recommended Les Tantes hadn’t told me, the restaurant specializes in beef. The menu has lots of possibilities and provenances, among them hamburger from Limousine, entrecôte from Argentina, Spain, and Japan, and côtes de boeuf for 2.

I chose from the 2 course 20€ formule, which included a glass of wine, starter and main. First a roquefort salad with peppery greens, walnut halves, creamy, salty blue cheese that melted in my mouth, and a light, mustardy vinaigrette.

Then the daily burger special. While I don’t eat beef often, when I do it’s organic, raised a mile from my house, and I have a hand in raising it. My favorite cut is burger, grilled.

This burger met my expectations in every way. It arrived rare, as I had ordered, topped with caramelized shallots, slices of fresh red onion, ruffles of radichio, and a delicious tomato sauce (if this is the French version of ketchup, I want stock in the company).

It was tender, rich—and, accompanied by the Côtes du Rhône that my server suggested—luscious.

Not a beef eater? No worries. The menu has fish options; vegetarian possibilities include a vegetable platter and a truffle salad.

Another nice surprise: Les Tantes is open daily for lunch and dinner.

 

Do you have a favorite resto in Montmartre? I’d love to hear about it.

Now Playing at Studio 28

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Look up from the bottom of rue Tholozé, in Montmartre, and you’ll see the Moulin de la Galette, one of 2 remaining windmills in the 18th. Renoir’s painting of the same name hangs in the Musée D’Orsay.

At nº10, rue Tholozé, is Studio 28—another delightful, if less well known, surprise. The movie theater is named for the year it opened as an experimental theater. Truffaut and Cocteau presented work here, and Cocteau designed the lamps inside.

All films are played in VO, Version Originale, i.e. their original language. Non-French films are never dubbed; all other language films are subtitled in French.

Don’t speak French? English language films offer a great opportunity to experience the theater (and, if you want, to improve your French by reading the subtitles.) Playing this week, in English, is Lincoln; coming soon are Hitchcock, Les Miserables, and The Life of Pi.

Check the schedule, and if you can’t make a film, their lovely cafe/bar opens in the afternoon.

Paris on a Budget – Ermitage Hôtel Sacré-Coeur

Ermitage Hôtel Sacré-Coeur has no TV, elevator or A/C. On the other hand, its rooms are spacious, views from the hotel are spectacular, and breakfast is delivered to your door.

And with rates from 85 euros (breakfast included), the Ermitage is an excellent value.

Twelve rooms on three floors are furnished with family heirlooms and floral tapestries. Each room is different; they range from romantic to quirky.

The setting is Montmartre, a village within the city, the highest point in Paris, and the home of Amélie, from the film of the same name. Nearby are Sacré-Coeur, the artists at Place du Tertre, the café rich Place des Abbesses, and plenty of restaurants, boutiques and cobbled ruelles.

Reservations are taken by phone only, and the no credit card policy keeps prices down. There is something to be said for simplicity.

Sleep in Style with Bed and Style

French boutique hotel firm Bed and Style has teamed up with a trio of designers, including French fashion designer Stella Cadente. The result is the Aparthotel, combining the space and privacy of an apartment, with designer furnishings and hotel services.

The firm’s 6 stunning apartments are scattered around the city – 2 in the 5th, 3 in the 17th, 1 in Montmartre. Their names – La Bohème, L’Empire, La Bibliothèque – inspire fantasy.

Prices are surprisingly low, given the sometimes playful and always thoughtful decor. Even the 2 studios are outfitted with luxury bedding, plasma TV and wifi. Others boast gleaming stainless steel kitchens, period furniture, and fireplaces.

Services, such as dry cleaning, cooking classes, wine tastings, and restaurant bookings add to the appeal of the apartment hotel.

And design-o-philes who prefer small town French living to the hustle and bustle of the city can even rent Stella Cadente’s home in Provins.

Moulin Rouge Celebrates its 120th Anniversary

moulin_rougeThe famed Moulin Rouge puts on 2 shows a night, 365 days per year – during which 600,000 spectators enjoy 240,000 bottles of champagne.

Now lovers of nightlife have even more reason to celebrate:  the world-famous cabaret just marked its 120th anniversary.

The Moulin Rouge, with the famous red windmill on its roof, was opened in Paris on October 6, 1889, by Catalan-born showman Joseph Oller. The cabaret has become known as the birthplace of the French cancan, which is still performed there.

Stage productions are lavish, with extravagant costumes, dramatic lighting, and moveable stages.

The cabaret’s current revue, Feerie, has been performed on the Moulin Rouge stage for 10 years.  The show includes dancers, acrobats, magicians and clowns.  While some 150 performers audition at a time, only 3-5 are chosen.

A new revue is expected to be staged by 2012.

2 boulevard de Clichy, 75018 M: Blanche