A May 2002 trip
to Paris by Truly Malin
Quote: Back when I was young and broke, I spent seven months living in Paris. Now I was going back for a long weekend with friends. How could I possibly top the experience of living like a "real" Parisian? (The answer: Move to a better neighborhood!)
A week later, I caught Philippe trying to acquire another American souvenir at a nightclub bar. The romance was over. Paris was real, not some fairytale setting for an adolescent adventure, and it was time to embrace my unglamorous student existence there.
Last summer, I returned with dear friends, women with their own Paris stories –- first time abroad, first job, first suede miniskirt. Together we shared memories and passions, from the boulangerie that makes the city’s best Galette des Roi to the storied stone alcove where philandering Philippe’s kiss is still perversely lodged in my memory, like a splinter from the long-ago past.
Do: Learn a few words of French – they go a long way. Say ‘Bonjour’ when you enter a store or start up a conversation; better yet, 'Bonjour Madame' or 'Bonjour Monsieur'. If you want to get a waiter's attention, say "S'il vous plait?", not "Garcon!". If you can manage it, try to substitute ‘Bonsoir’ for ‘Bonjour’ at night.
Don't: assume the waiter forgot your coffee - it is customarily served AFTER the dessert.
Do: Kiss hello when introduced to a Parisian. Both cheeks, air kiss, same applies when saying goodbye. At parties, each departing guest must be individually kissed goodbye. Be prepared for a second or even third round of kisses – new acquaintances sometimes get these if introduced by a close friend.
Don't: bring wine if invited to dinner - your hosts will feel obliged to serve it. Instead bring flowers or a present. Once I even brought a few pints of Haagen-Daaz.
Don't: put your hands in your lap during a meal; keep them on the table where people can see them. The French assume you are shifty if they can’t see what you’re doing!
Getting ThereAir France was a pleasure to fly. Those big 777s are packed with creature comforts, including a self-serve beverage bar. Coach seats had personal TV sets and built in head support wings so you don’t need a neck pillow. We got goody bags containing a sleep mask, earplugs, hand wipes, gum, and a set of souvenir headphones. Wine (French of course) was free, and like the wine, the food is French – so you can start eating Camembert before you even get to France.
Getting AroundThere are countless ways to save money on bus and Metro tickets. Why buy individual tickets at 1,30 euros when you can get a book of 10 for 9,30 euros? Or, spend 26,68 for a five-day Paris Visite card and get unlimited rides – plus discounts at 30 museums. I admit to a bias here: back when I was an au pair in Paris, the woman I worked for came up with the concept of the Paris Visite and convinced her employer, the Louvre museum, to sponsor its creation. Both the metro tickets and Paris Visite card can also be used on buses and the RER. Go here to learn more . . .
Restaurant | "Eating out in Le Marais"
Crépes Suzette isn’t a particularly creative name, but there is nothing run-of-the mill about this cozy, smoky creperie on rue des Francs Bourgeois, which we visited on a miserable, rainy afternoon. Inside, a primarily local clientele was lingering in snug nooks over oversized mugs of tea (outrageously priced at 4 euros, I’ll have you know!) We soon felt like part of the family, or at least the family sitting next to us, due to the small room, tight quarters, and 4 year old boy who insisted on visiting with us.
Select from their recommended combinations or design your own crepe: I chose a combination of raclette, potatoes, and creme fraiche drizzled with pesto, which was so delicious, I would happily eat one every day for the rest of my life!
28 rue Vielle du Temple126.96.36.199
See and be seen for dinner or a post-prandial coffee or cocktail (until 2am) on the corner of busy rue Vielle du Temple. The location and hours draw a mixed crowd of tourists and Parisians. Indoors is crowded and busy, while outdoors, all chairs are turned toward the street for optimal people watching. Heaters keep diners warm on chilly nights.
The simple bistro fare begins with excellent bread served with a tiny porcelain bowl of eye-wateringly spicy Dijon mustard. Salade Mixte was surprisingly robust and filling, and the assiette de fromages easily fed three hungry Americans. We also sampled a tarte tatin aux tomates. Barbara and I thought it was a clever idea and quite tasty, but Jeanne described it as "congealed tomato sauce".
6, rue des Ecouffes188.8.131.52
When I first ate here in 1988, the Marais was more of a slum than a hotspot, but now the neighborhood has caught up with hauntingly romantic Piccolo Teatro. On this trip, Jen and I huddled under our umbrella outside in the rain, gazing enviously at the warm, welcoming interior that was, unfortunately for us, full. This is easily the most creative vegetarian restaurant in Paris and well worth a visit.
2 rue des Hospitaliéres-St. Gervais184.108.40.206
Chez Marianne is the undisputed queen of the many Middle Eastern restaurants dotting the streets of the Marais. The owners make no secret of their political leanings, which are painted on just about every window. Day or night, people buzz like bees around their takeout window, foil-wrapped falafel sandwiches in hand. Without a reservation, you’ll likely wait 10mn or so for dinner. We were offered a free glass of rose to drink while we waited. Dinner was a smorgasbord of Lebanese treats, including delicious, tiny felafel balls, although we found it a bit tacky to charge for side orders of pita bread. I mean, who eats hummus with their fingers?!
(Métro stop is St. Paul for all but Les Philosophes, which is near Hotel de Ville)
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 25, 2003
Le Marais Dining
3rd / 4th Arrondissements
Restaurant | "Tea for Two at Mariage Freres"
Jen and I were three steps in the door when we knew we had stumbled upon something so impossibly precious that we simply didn’t own the appropriate outfits to do it justice. Directly inside the entranceway was the shop, walls stacked to the ceilings with tins of tea in wooden cubbies. Beyond the shop was the timeless (actually circa 1854) salon du the, gloriously bright and welcoming on a rainy day. Everything was light: light wood, light white walls, light food, airy palms in intimate corners, and waiters in immaculate whites carrying trays of gleaming pastries and steaming teapots.
On a white-clothed table, the tea menu was waiting. The menu – and this is just tea, mind you, had 400 selections, requiring a separate book to explain its intricacies. We summoned the tea sommelier for a lengthy consultation, after which Jen selected an Earl Grey and I an Assam from Rungagora (to my delight, the sommelier couldn’t pronounce that either!). These arrived in individual white porcelain pots while we pondered the lunch menu with its spa-like, vegetable-intensive creations, each in a sauce flavored with tea. Jen chose the daurade royale and I went with a melée de légumes with tofu. Tofu, can you imagine? In a French tearoom?
With lunch on its way and hot cups of tea in hand, we surveyed the room and our fellow diners. There was a healthy smattering of fabulously dressed rich Parisiennes, but we also saw a solitary male diner who immediately brought to mind words like "fop" not normally heard outside of a Victorian-era English novel. This guy could have walked onto the set of Interview with the Vampire and bagged a role as an extra – without changing clothes. I couldn’t see his feet, but wouldn’t have been surprised to see satin slippers on them. On his table, resting next to the lace dripping from his tailored cuff, was what appeared to be a dead bird.
The bird didn’t prevent us from enjoying our entrees, or from indulging in selections from the "Patisserie Chariot Colonial" (that’s French for dessert cart!) Naming a child would have been easier than choosing a patisserie. We ended up with chocolate cake topped with fresh berries, and a chocolate apricot tarte - both were delicious, and so rich we couldn’t finish them.
At about 30 euros each for an entrée, tea, and dessert, this wasn’t a cheap lunch, but the rarefied atmosphere more than justified the splurge. Our waiter confided that "Louis the Vampire" was a regular, and his "dead bird" was actually a fan made of feathers. Mariage Freres has branches in the 6th and 8th arrondissements, and outposts in the major department stores, but only the Marais location has its own resident dandy!
Métro Hotel de Ville
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 25, 2003
30 r du Bourg-Tibourg, 4eme
01 42 72 28 11
This little brother of the more elegant Yvan, next door, hasn’t decided what he wants to be when he grows up: restaurant or nightclub. Somehow he manages to be both, like the waiters, who double as DJs. They crank out a mix of upbeat French standards, world music sounds, and the occasional American ‘80s chestnut while the raucous clientele eats, talks, and occasionally dances in the aisles. The party, like the music, gets louder as the evening progresses.
What you won’t find in this three-story madhouse is tourists; that is, unless you were there the night Anne-Sophie took us out with her French girlfriends. We 12 took up about half of the downstairs floor. Yvan isn’t "petit" in name only!
Mojitos for everyone guaranteed a rowdy start to the evening. Our waiter was as over-the-top gorgeous as he was flirtatious, turning down the music long enough to shout out "Enfin seul!"("Finally, we’re alone!") across the crowded room at all 12 of us girls!
While the food isn’t the main draw, it isn’t bad. The prix fixe menu at 27 euros seemed extensive, but most entrees were sold out, excepting a "Panaché de Poisson", (assorted fish plate). Barbara grumbled that this was a conspiracy to hide the fact that they were serving cut-up pieces of yesterday’s leftovers. Those of us who ordered à la carte did better. The escalope de veau was a big hit at 15 euros, and a mouth-watering artichoke heart and goat cheese appetizer was the star of the table.
Disregarding the conventional wisdom about not mixing alcohols, we ordered two excellent, inexpensive (22E) bottles of red wine, a Chateau d'Arsac and a ’96 St. Nicolas de Bourgeuil. Plus an overpriced bottle of Veuve Cliquot Brut, and finally a new discovery, Liqueur Pomme Verte, an after-dinner drink that tastes just like a green apple. All that booze might explain why, when a distinctly Middle Eastern sounding ballad came on the stereo, the entire French half of our table (as well as the table next to us) burst into song along with the female vocalist. The French have impressively global taste in music. And I’m pretty sure they have a special affinity for eating and singing at the same time. The last time I was in Paris, Anne-Sophie took me and 10 of her closest friends to "Les Copains d’Abord", where a singer with an accordion cranked out traditional tunes à la Jacques Brel which the entire restaurant sang along to.
Note: You probably know that everyone smokes in Paris, but I should warn you – the smoke at Le Petit Yvan was amongst the thickest and most oppressive I have ever encountered. So go at your own risk!
Le Petit Yvan
1 bis, rue Jean Mermoz
01 42 89 49 65
1. Because it’s gorgeous.
2. Because it’s chic.
404 was easier to find back when its namesake, a Peugeot 404 Familiale (an extended station wagon built in the ‘60s and ‘70s) was parked outside. Nowadays you’ll have to look harder to find the unobtrusive entrance to this former hotel particulier. Celebrities from Catherine Deneuve and Jean-Paul Gaulthier to Steven Spielberg have been spotted enjoying the spicy aromas and cozy ambiance. But the great thing about Restaurant 404 is that they will treat you just as well as they did David Bowie.
3. Because it’s delicious.
There are two specialties here: couscous and tagines. You can get couscous anywhere, so go with the complex, intricately spiced Moroccan tagines (stews) cooked on an open flame in earthenware pots and served scaldingly hot. Look down from the balcony and see what’s on the stove. We particularly enjoyed the poulet citron with olives and the tagine sept legumes (guess who ordered that one!) If you’re ordering appetizers for the table, try the potato pastries, or the cucumber in yogurt sauce. Fruit salad in rose water was a light, refreshing dessert after the enormous servings of tagine.
4. Because it’s fun.
The house drink, a "404 cocktail", is not unlike a Mojito. It’s crammed full of fresh mint, and packs a powerful wallop. This may explain why we became close friends with a succession of couples who occupied the table next to us. The first let us use their condiments and share their breadbasket when ours ran out. The next set insisted we sample their wine, as both tables had ordered different but excellent Algerian reds. Ours, the ’98 Chateau Mansourah Coteaux de Tlemcen, had a faint brandy taste and a smoky bite. Theirs, a ’98 Chateau Tellagh, was spicier and lighter.
The spunky young staff makes your meal as fun as it is delicious. Our waitress sat and chatted with us while we scrutinized the menu, and made a delightful spectacle of the "unveiling" of our tagines, removing their pointed covers with a flourish. Our meal concluded with another waitress serving us strong mint tea with panache, pouring it into our glasses from a height of three feet!
404 Restaurant Familial
tous les jours de 12 h à 15 h et de 19 h à 1 h
Paris, France 75003
01 42 74 57 81
Attraction | "I Love Soca! (Barrio Latino)"
Inside, it was hard not to gawk like a tourist. Le Barrio is dessert for the eyes, a four-layer cake of interior decorating magic. A stunning wrought iron stair railing designed by Gustave Eiffel (yes, THAT Eiffel) draws the eye up through four floors decked out with low sexy leather banquettes, intimate tables, and the sound of clinking glasses. Extravagant fabrics cover classic loveseats and ottomans in bordello reds and burnt oranges. Feeling like actresses on a movie set in ‘40s Rio, we drifted up the stairs, pausing to glance over the balustrades at the seething mass of bodies dancing on the ground floor. The place is packed to bursting on weekends, but on this Tuesday evening there was room on the upper levels to stretch out, play pool, or order a drink without having to scream. Not being nineteen, dressed to the nines, or Latina, we did not get as far as the private elevator to the VIP-only fourth floor, which reportedly requires a key to get in.
Soon enough, the infectious music drew us back to the tightly-packed dance floor. Arms waving, music pounding, we forgot all about our jobs, bills, children. Anne-Sophie’s minivan was a private jet and we were heiresses on holiday in Havana. We were young, we were elegant, we were … rudely interrupted as a muscular dynamo clutching a cordless mike bounded onto the dance floor and the obnoxious strains of "Follow the leader, leader, leader" blasted into the room. The dancers lined up in rows behind their "instructor" and began mimicking his every move. We were trapped in the middle of a Franco-Latino Electric Slide! The crowd went wild – but we jaded Americans edged our way back to the bar and pouted. I mean, we didn’t fly all the way to Paris to take a salsa aerobics class!
Drinks: Expensive (7-8 euros!)
Food: Not worth it!
Cover: None on weeknights
Overall Rating: Go, if only to see Monsieur Eiffel’s beautiful ironwork!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 25, 2003
46-48, Rue Du Faubourg St-Antoine
Paris, France 75011
+33 1 55 78 84 75
A millennium ago, the only living creatures in the Marais were frogs, insects, and the birds that preyed upon them. By the 1200s, the swamp had been drained, and farms built up in its place. Modest homesteads were joined by convents throughout the 12th and 13th centuries. A thriving Jewish community brought culture and greater population to the district.
King Charles V "discovered" this bustling suburb and extended the Paris city wall 1367 to include the Marais. He built the first of what would be many "hotels", or private mansions, there: the Hotel St.-Paul. Subsequent kings preferred the Hotel des Tournelles, including frequent visitor Henri II. In the mid-1500s, Henri built a jousting pavilion in an empty meadow, and the wealthy nobles of his court flocked to the Marais. Henri’s unfortunate death in a jousting accident deflated the real estate bubble that might have been forming as a result of his visits - but two Henris and one century later, Henri IV rediscovered the Marais and constructed a square called the Place Royal, over the former jousting field. Adjoining the square - now the famous Place des Vosges – he built a royal palace.
Once again, the aristocracy followed suit. They built luxurious homes on and around the blush-hued stones of the pavilion. Intellectual luminaries like Voltaire and Moliere frequented the salons of notable residents like Cardinal Richelieu and Madame de Sévigné. The Marais was the trendiest address in le tout Paris. But after Henri IV’s assassination, Versailles became the center of aristocratic life - and then the French Revolution made any sort of aristocratic life whatsoever a dicey proposition. The now unfashionable Hotels were sold to the bourgeoisie. Small businesses and craftsmen quickly filled the gaps. Immigrants moved in, and the Jewish community, ever present, began to flourish again.
It wasn’t until 1800 that the Place Royale received its modern name of Place des Vosges. Napoleon named it in honor of the province of Vosges, the winner of a contest to see which French province would pay their taxes the fastest!
By the 1960s, the area had slid precipitously into decline. Once grand streets and buildings were in danger of falling to pieces. The government came to the rescue, providing funding for restoration and passing laws prohibiting the demolition of historical buildings. And so began the Marais’ next resurgence.
In 1988, a much younger me stepped into the Place des Vosges for the first time. It was a chilly January afternoon, and I was headed for Number 6, the former home of Victor Hugo, now a museum dedicated to his life and works. I was lucky enough to have secured an internship there, where I spent winter afternoons sorting through Hugo’s letters to his daughter as we prepared the correspondence for publication. It was impossible not to succumb to the feeling of having stepped through a time machine into the 17th century when I walked under the carefully pruned corridor of trees and down the quiet, beautifully preserved arcades.
What the square was like when Hugo lived there from 1832-1848, I wondered? When writer’s block gripped his mind, did he stare out the window, leaning against his tall writing desk (trivia fact: Hugo wrote standing up) and congratulate himself for having managed to squeeze his family of 6 into this small, but peaceful hideaway in the oldest neighborhood in Paris? I was certain that Hugo must have felt the same way about his neighborhood that I did: like living in a Paris that time forgot.
The Marais was grittier back then; ethnically tense and raw around the edges, not pointedly multi-culti and carefully polished, as it often seems today. But many of the same neighborhood institutions that I visited in the ‘80s are still greeting tourists and locals alike today, like the timeless Mariage Frères tea room, and the Musée Picasso, situated in the immaculately preserved Hotel Salé. Built in 1656, it hosts the largest collection of Picasso’s works in the world, because when he died in 1973, Picasso’s heirs donated countless works of art to the state in lieu of payment of millions of dollars in inheritance taxes.
So how did we find this latest iteration of the Marais? More than ever, it is a complex and flavorful stew of tradition and trends, antiquities and "affordable chic." When we wanted to shop, dine, browse, or just hang out, we found a broad range of options.
Living in the Marais, even just for a week, was memorable. Our rented apartment was located on the rue des Rosiers, a narrow medieval street that winds like a ribbon through the center of the Marais. Day and night, people trickle up and down the street. Residents slip through ancient wooden doors, revealing tantalizing glimpses of serene courtyards and hotel particuliers within. Window shoppers block the way, pausing to admire intricate displays. Sloe-eyed slouching teens linger at tiny marble-topped tables under canopies of tree branches, dangling cigarettes and savoring their espressos. Nightclub doors open briefly to spew out stumbling, singing revelers on their way to another underground boite.
Throughout the week we zipped in and out of the apartment, sometimes en masse and often in smaller groups: some headed for the Roland Garros tennis tournament, others to visit friends, or tour a museum. Before long our borrowed apartment felt like home, and our borrowed identities of Parisian ladies of leisure became second nature. At home waited crying children, alarm clocks, unpaid bills. But in our chic little apartment, glasses of red wine in hand, surrounded by friends, we had taken the ultimate vacation: from ourselves.
Things started out well enough. The building, as promised on the "A Parisian Home" website, was appropriately antiquated, dating from the 1800s. Inside the courtyard an inner gate (considerably less charming and made of unexciting contemporary metal) led to a private inner courtyard festooned with plants. Beyond was a wall of glass, revealing a view of the upper floor of the apartment. Had it not rained nearly every morning we were there, we could have had croissants and café au lait in our very own courtyard. Glass tiles in the courtyard floor ensured that light filtered down to the lower level, which contained a second bedroom and bath, with a cozy nook full of bookshelves and pillows to sit in. Upstairs, a modestly sized living room with dining area was open to a small kitchen. Décor was contemporary, with original art lining every wall. Sturdy, brown-painted wooden beams held up the roof and perhaps even the rest of the building. These monoliths were left untouched in a renovation that had brought all the modern amenities to this ancient and venerable building. Off the kitchen were a pantry/laundry room and a second bedroom with two twin beds and a bathroom. Quite adequate for six 30-somethings who don’t mind sharing a bed or a fold-out couch, which luckily is second nature for us!
But alas, our Marais apartment was too good to be true, and this became increasingly evident as the weekend progressed. The washer broke. The dryer broke. The power went out, forcing those of us bathing downstairs in the dark to guess at where the soap was. But the worst of our problems was the damp. A small wet spot on the lower bedroom’s carpet started to grow, and grow, and grow, until it was too big to jump over and it became necessary to wear shoes to the bathroom for fear of wetting our socks. With it came a smell: a vile, mildew-y aroma that grew to epic levels over the course of four days, until entering the apartment almost knocked us back on our heels.
Would I recommend A Parisian Home to others? Probably not. Dealing with APH after we returned to the States was not pleasant. Our complaints were not exactly ignored, just deflected until the boss returned from some endless French vacation. Fortunately we had booked our apartment through a U.S. based agency. We told them it was time to earn the outrageous fee they had charged us to do absolutely nothing to date. I don’t know how they convinced ‘Madame’ to knock a day off our week’s rent, but they did. And while the refund didn’t begin to cover their fee, it was a great relief to be able to offload this last unpleasantness on someone else! Despite the issues, I thought the price was reasonable given the location and the two bathrooms, both with shower, which is fairly rare in a Parisian apartment of that size.
If you're interested in seeing photos of the apartment, visit A Parisian Home for a description, photos, and availability. I could scarcely believe my eyes, but if you look carefully you can see the water damage on the rug downstairs in one of the photos!
Some of the dairy delights still hardening my arteries today include:
1. A slice of a baguette that you have just carried home from the local bakery, topped with a smear of fresh salted butter. There is simply nothing tastier, particularly if the counterperson wrapped a little twist of packing paper around the baguette (to make it more sanitary to carry home in your hand!) The local bakery in question was the now world-renowned Poujauran, a pink-painted little treasure that has been known to sport lines halfway down the block. I’ve included their address below should you have the good fortune to find yourself in the 7th arrondissement next time you’re in Paris!
2. Pain au chocolat, the chocolate-filled croissant that French schoolkids eat as an afternoon snack, is way too delectable to waste on children. Done right, the two long sticks of chocolate are dark and not too sweet, encased in a flaky, slightly greasy pillow of pastry still warm from the oven. Poujauran is also a great place to sample one.
3. The ubiquitous Crottin de Chevre is a small, egg-shaped lump of goat cheese, occasionally decorated with ground black pepper around its edges and occasionally smashed onto a little round of toast and warmed before serving. It can be found decorating many a French salade, and on occasion when outside of big cities, one gets the impression that the donor goat lives just outside the restaurant. To my infinite amusement, French menus invariably describe their salads as if they were introducing someone: ‘La Salade Epernay avec sa Crottin de Chevre’ which means, translated literally, ‘Epernay Salad with its blob of goat cheese’ as if the salad were a person with a pet dog. French people simply do not understand why I think this is so funny. Funnier still is the literal translation of ‘crottin’. Let’s just say you don’t want to step in a crottin de cheval (horse) on the street!
4. Fromage Frais … While technically the term ‘fromage frais’ simply means ‘fresh cheese’, this definition is an outrage to fromage frais lovers worldwide. No other unripened cheese (think cottage cheese, ricotta, or mozzarella) is even vaguely deserving of the ‘fromage frais’ moniker. Texture-wise, it is a cross between yogurt and sour cream, with a flavor more complex than yogurt and good enough to eat plain, although some like to mix it with fruit. Eating it is like stepping back into a simpler time, when food was made at home and kids didn’t need a Playstation to entertain them. And best of all, it’s fairly low in fat, as it is made primarily from pasteurized milk. Tragically, the very freshness of fromage frais ensures that you will never see French fromage frais outside of Europe, as the lack of ripening gets import/export police all jittery about bacteria. Maybe they should just sit down with a nice salade with its ‘crottin de chevre’ and get over it.
Click here to learn more about Poujauran20 r Jean Nicot - 7eme47 05 80 88closed sunday and mondayNote: It is November 2008 and sadly Poujaran is no more. It's been replaced by a new place called Secco which is not quite as good, particularly with the pastries. The bread is still excellent though.
A stroll down the rue Saint-Honore will run the gamut from the fairly priced (because let’s face it, nothing is cheap in Europe these days!) to the ridiculously expensive. The closer you are to the center of town, the more you’ll have to pay for your souvenirs. A few places you might want to browse or to buy:
213, rue St-Honore
You’ll feel trendier just knowing about Colette, a chic department store crammed with fun, funky stuff. One of my favorite discoveries was a book called "60 poisonous plants to give your mother-in-law." You’ll also find up-to-the-minute clothing, outrageous magazines, and super-hip overpriced guidebooks (don’t buy, just skim through them for the scoop on what’s in and what’s out.) The designers featured here have transformed every day desk supplies and bottle openers into works of art. The cafe and restrooms are downstairs. I particularly enjoyed the signs I found on two doors. Instead of "Femmes" or "Ladies", the restroom sign simply reads "C’est la!" (It’s here!), while an adjacent door leading to a storage room reads "C’est pas par la!" (It’s not here!)
215 rue St-Honore
Cecile Jeanne’s jewelry stores are all over Paris. They offer bright, bold jewelry at fair (but not cheap) prices. The draw is the friendly staff who are 'tude free and invite you to touch, to try things on, and to go ahead and open the drawers, which are full of rings, earrings, and necklaces. It’s refreshing to find such an unpretentious shopping experience so close to the snooty part of town.
B. Biberon & Fils (Maroquinerie Saint-Honore)
334, rue St-Honore
Ladies, for a unique souvenir of Paris, pick up a purse at B. Biberon & Fils – I can almost guarantee that outside of Paris, you won’t see another woman carrying the same one. The windows are stuffed with colorful creations. All are French-made "no-name" brands, making them extremely reasonable by rue St-Honore standards. I picked up a black shoulder bag by Frederic T. that converts cleverly into a backpack, for only 85 euros. I get compliments on it all the time – after almost a year of heavy use it still looks almost as good as new. My friend Wendy never travels Paris without stopping here to pick up a new purse and I may just start doing the same!
The Marais district is dependably reliable shopping grounds for everything from vintage dresses to hand-made soaps, but on this visit we found that there is discount shopping waiting just outside its borders. Wandering home from the Hotel de Ville metro one afternoon, we stumbled across shoe fanatics’ Mecca. It’s called Taneo, a discount shoe emporium on the rue de Rivoli (between the Hotel de Ville metro and the rue des Ecouffes). They offer designer knock-off shoes, all priced under 50 euros. Two brands we scored with are Giuseppe Alberto, whose cute black Mary Jane-style leather flats proved irresistible to two of us, and Rosa Lipty, whose black suede pointy heels with white stitching are perfect for a night out on the town.
And finally, a favorite hot spot for bargain hunters is the home furnishings store Bouchara, located at 1 and 3 rue Lafayette, next door to Galeries Lafayette. Their specialty is textiles, particularly sheets, curtains, and fabrics. This is THE place to get that country French look at a fraction of the prices you’ll pay back home. If you’re lucky, you’ll wander in during a sale - which is way more entertaining than the tired old fashion shows next door at Galeries Lafayette. The "Vente Flash!" sale lasts only 15 minutes, causing stampedes toward the cash registers. Jen and I managed to snag some attractive and awfully French looking "torchons", or dishtowels, for as little as 1.2 euros each during a 20% off Vente Flash. Mine are now on duty in the kitchen, but Jen, who selected nicer fabrics at about 5 euros each, uses hers as hand towels in her guest bathroom. Clever girl!
New York, New York