Monday, December 31, 2012

Champagne- The Wine of Kings

The "Wine of Kings" has come to  epitomize French sophistication throughout the world. There are other sparkling wines but the only true Champagne is grown and made in the Champagne region of France located 90 minutes northeast of Paris.  Rolling vineyards surround the main Champagne towns-- Reims and Epernay in the Marne department and Troyes in the Aube district,  Champagne is grown in rich limestone soil and comes surprisingly from red grapes-- two thirds Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with the remainder from white Chardonnay grape. 

On a visit of the Champagne region you will most likely tour cellars instead of the vineyards. Champagne houses' cellars are dug deep underground carved into chalk quarries. The wine bottles are kept in kilometers long cool and dark galleries.  Whether visiting the cellars of Mumm, Taittinger, Pommery or Veuve Cliquot in Reims or Moet and Chandon and Mercier in Epernay you will learn about the "Method Champenoise" of producing bubbles which consists of first fermentation, blending with other wines, adding liqueur of triage (sugar, wine and yeast) followed with second fermentation, daily remuage for a year and finally disgorgement. Did you know there are 56 million bubbles in a bottle of champagne!! Finally at the end of the tour you are rewarded with tasting of a cuvee.  Sante!!

tags: champagne, Reims , Epernay

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Victor Hugo - A Giant Pillar of French Literature

Victor Hugo represents one of the giant pillars of French literature and an influential 19th century political figure.  Born in 1802 in Besancon, Hugo had a long and prolific literary career that included poetry, novels, theatre dramas and political essays.    Here are ten facts about this ever more popular author.

  • Poet- From an early age, Hugo displayed talent for poetry and very much admired romantic poet Chateaubriand (1768-1848).  At 20, Hugo published his first collection of poetry " Odes et Poesies Diverses" that earned him a royal pension from King Louis XVIII.    His most famous poetry works throughout his career include: 'Odes and Ballades"(1826), "Les Orientales" (1829) , "Les Feuilles d'Automne" (1831), "Les Chants du Crepuscule" (1835), "Les Voix Interieures"(1837)  and the epic "Legende des Siecles"(1883).

  • Playwright- Victor Hugo is the author of "Hernani", "Marion Delorme" and "Ruy Blas".  All three plays  are classics of the French repertoire and often staged at the Comedie Francaise, the national theatre.  

  •  Novelist- Hugo's world reputation rests on his two epic novels - "Notre Dame de Paris"(1831) ("Hunchback of Notre Dame") and "Les Miserables" (1862). These two novels have been popularized numerous times on the silver screen and on the  stage  - the musical adaptation of Les Miserables "Les Miz"  has been the longest running musical in London's West End.

  • Preservationist- The enormously popular novel "Notre Dame de Paris" (1831), led to the raising of public funds for the restoration of the much neglected Parisian cathedral.  Initiated in 1845, the works of restoration were led by architect renovator Viollet -le -Duc and took 25 years; in the process the cathedral acquired a spire.

  • Politician- Hugo had monarchist tendencies as a young man but his political affinities shifted to ardent Republicanism.  Supporting the July monarchy, Victor Hugo was elected Pair de France by King Louis Philippe, a seat he held from 1845-1848.   Following the 1848 Revolution and the formation of the Second Republic he was elected to the Constitutional Assembly (1848) and the National Assembly (1849-51).

  • Activist- Hugo fought for social justice and was an opponent of the death penalty.  He wrote and debated in favor of its abolition. He convinced the government of Queen Victoria of England to spare the lives of six Irish people convicted of terrorist activities.

  • Political Exiled- After the forced government take over by Louis Napoleon (Napoleon III) in 1851 that established the Second Empire, Victor Hugo declared him traitor to the nation and went into exile  to the Channel islands- first in Jersey then in Guernsey where he lived for 17 years to return to France in 1870 when Napoleon III's empire collapsed.  After the Franco-Prussian war, he was elected to the National Assembly in 1871 but resigned the post after a month.  He was then elected to the Senate in 1876  and kept the seat till his death in 1885.

Victor  Hugo-Gavroche

  • Artist- Victor Hugo showed talent for drawings and produced more than 4000 sketches. He kept his drawings from the public sharing them with friends and family.  The painter Delacroix expressed the opinion that if Hugo had decided to become a painter instead of a writer, he would have outshone the artists of their century.

  • Musically Inspiring -- Victor Hugo lacked musical talent but his works inspired many artists among them composers such as Berlioz, Bizet, Faure, Lizst, Saint Saens, and even Verdi whose opera Rigoletto was inspired from the play "le Roi s'amuse".  

  • Spiritualist-Victor Hugo explored Spiritualism and participated in occult seances during his self-imposed exile in Jersey and Guernsey.   He claimed to have communicated with famous departed such as -Shakespeare, Plato, Rousseau, Galileo and Jesus.

Pantheon -OT Paris Tourisme-

Victor Hugo died in Paris in 1885 at the age of 83.  As a venerated national hero, his funeral procession gathered over 2 million people. After laying in state under the Arc de Triomphe, he was enterred in the Pantheon among the nation's Greats.  When in Paris you can visit the Victor Hugo Museum located 6, 
Place des Vosges.  The second floor apartment  displays mementos and drawings of the author.  


Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Mystery of van Gogh's Ear

Van Gogh-Self-Portrait with Pipe

On this day December 23, 1888 Vincent van Gogh mutilated his ear. This event occurred after an argument he had with his friend and fellow painter Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh came to settle in Arles in the south of France earlier in the year; there he spent time painting feverishly the landscape and colors of Provence. His dream  was to establish an artist colony and he invited his friend Gauguin who came from Pont Aven, Brittany, another artist colony.

Van Gogh-Yellow House, Arles
They lived together in a little yellow house that van Gogh rented in Arles and spent times working and producing canvases such  a series on the Alycamps, the Roman necropolis. At first all was well, then the artists started to argue about artistic conceptions.  Two nights  before Christmas, the two men quarreled rather violently and Gauguin moved out to the nearby hotel.   Van Gogh upset about his friend leaving, took a razor and mutilated his left ear lobe. Even more bizarrely he wrapped up his bloody ear lobe and gave it to a local prostitute named Rachel (apparently the two men patronized her). This is according to the official version based on memoirs reported by Gauguin and van Gogh's letters to his brother Theo.

However, a recent version by two German art historians, Hans Kaufmann and Rita Wildegans, dispute this traditional version. They believe while quarreling, Gaughin might have brandished a sword  to scare off the demented Van Gogh who had thrown a glass of wine to his face and while defending himself he sliced off Van Gogh's ear. In order to protect his friend from police investigation and perhaps in the hope that he will remain in Arles at the artist colony, Van Gogh  pretended he did his own mutilation. This version is disputed by experts from the van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.

 After this incident, Van Gogh was sent to  St. Remy de Provence 's asylum of Saint Paul de Mausole where he spent time recuperating and where he painted many of his masterpieces while Gauguin left for for Paris and subsequently settled in Tahiti. 

Paul Gauguin-Alyscamps

van Gogh- Allee des Alyscamps

Recommended reading: Adam Gopnik's article in the New Yorker- (January 4, 2010).

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chocolate, Anyone?

Christian Constant
Giving a box of chocolate is a popular gift during the holiday season.  Who doesn't like receiving chocolate?  France is passionate about chocolate.   It consumes 400,000 tons a year or about 6.4 kg per capita. Though not the leader in Europe for chocolate consumption (the Swiss, British and Germans consumes more), French prefer their chocolate dark and they like it of high quality 60-70% pure cocoa and rich in cocoa butter (at least 31%) . Over the last 30 years, gourmet chocolate boutiques have proliferated in Paris and all around France. On a  walking stroll around Paris you will be enticed by more than one artistically decorated windows of chocolatiers.

Debauve &Gallais
For the history, chocolate came to Europe via Hernan Cortes and the Conquistadores who were introduced to the cocoa bean and the drink  made with it by the Aztecs of Mexico.  Hernan Cortes returned to Spain with the recipe of a chocolate drink but adapted to the colonists of New Spain.  Chocolate then  traveled to the court of France via the marriage of Anne of Austria (a Spanish Infanta) to Louis XIII.  At the court of Versailles from the 17th century till the Revolution, the chocolate drink became all the rage and it was appreciated for its aphrodisiac and energetic properties.  King Louis XV was a great lover of chocolate beverage and he had his own recipe that he on occasion prepared for himself in the kitchens of his private apartments.  In the 19th century  the process of turning chocolate into chocolate bars or tablets was invented in England and the production of chocolate bars was launched by companies like Cadbury in England, Meunier in France and Nestle and Lindt in Switzerland.

Today, chocolate shops compete for inventive recipes and artistry in the making of chocolate confections.  Here are just a few Parisian addresses of master chocolate artisans:

Jean Paul Hevin- 231 rue Saint Honore - Paris 8 and other stores
Christian Constant- 37 rue D'Assas ( Paris 7)
Patrick Roger -45 avenue Victor Hugo (Paris 16) and other stores
Yves Thuries-17 rue Daunou (Paris 2)
Debauve & Gallais -30 rue Saint des Peres (Paris 6) and other stores
La Maison du Chocolat- 52 rue Francois I (Paris 8) and other stores
A la Mere de Famille - 35 rue du Faubourg Montmartre (Paris 9) and other stores
Chocolat Puyricard-24 rue du Cherche Midi (Paris 6) and other stores

And for the best hot chocolate drink, head to Angelina's, a Parisian institution.
(226 rue de Rivoli- Paris 1)

Also, visit the Musee du Chocolat --23 blvd. Bonne Nouvelle (Paris 10) for an educational and tasty visit of the world's favorite bean.

Did you know that chocolate is good for your health?  As some research suggests daily consumption of dark chocolate has benefits  to reduce high blood pressure, inflammation and blood clotting.

Tag: Paris, chocolate


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Lyon- The Other City of Lights

Lyon Office du Tourisme

This year from December 6-9, Lyon celebrates its Festival des Lumieres (Lights Festival).    During this 4 day annual event everyone light a row of little candles at night on their windowsills or balconies and the facades of buildings , monuments, streets and river banks are artfully illuminated using computer, laser and other hi-tech sound and light technology.  The tradition begun in 1852 when citizens of Lyon lit candles to mark the inauguration of the Virgin Mary statue on top of the Basilica Notre Dame de Fourviere situated on a hill that overlooks the city.  This event is celebrated every year on December 8 and grew to become a 4 day popular festival that attract a large number of visitors. 

Notre Dame de Fourviere Illuminated- Lyon Office du Tourisme

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Louvre Museum Spreads its Wings North

Louvre Museum-Lens

This week the Louvre Museum inaugurates an annex in the northern city of Lens in the region of the Nord Pas de Calais.  In this former coal mining town, the Louvre  built a complex comprised of four rectangular buildings designed by the award winning Japanese architectural firm SANAA .  Made of polished aluminum and glass the light filled space will welcome some 300 of the Louvre’s  masterpieces in a rotating fashion.  Da Vinci’s "Saint Anne", Delacroix’ "Liberty Guiding the People" and Ingres’ portrait of "Louis Francois Bertin" have already made the trek north and will be exhibited there for one year.  There will be also a semi-permanent collection  showcased in the Gallerie des Temps (Time Gallery) in which  artworks from different periods of history going back to prehistory through the 19th century will be exhibited in a chronological fashion and across cultures –Egyptian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Islam, and Western European. Artworks in the Gallerie des Temps will be rotated every 5 years.

Lens is about 2 hours by car and 1h 30 minute by TGV and is close to the Belgium border.  This represents a new opportunity for the region which suffered for decades from economic decline and the ravages of WWI and WWII.  The Louvre expects a half million visitors a year. This will hopefully lead visitors to explore this region of northern France.  Other highlights of the Nord Pas de Calais include the art cities of Lille and Arras and the pretty beach resort Le Touquet.      

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Tis the Seasons Cheers from Paris

Throughout December Paris becomes especially festive for the end of year holidays as streets, monuments and window shops are alighted for the pleasure of shoppers and leisurely strollers.  Here is what you can enjoy this holiday season while visiting Paris. 
Champs Elysees

The famous avenue of the Champs Elysees intensely sparkles as the trees along the famous thoroughfare are decorated in scintillating garlands and floating tree rings that change color throughout the day and night. 

At the Place de la Concorde you will admire the tallest Christmas tree in Europe which measures 35 meters, about as high as the Obelisk that adorned the grand square. 

Visit the window displays of the Grand Department stores like Printemps, Bon Marche and Galleries Lafayette. Their mechanical window scenes are sure to enchant children of all ages.  The Galleries Lafayette has had Louis Vuiton decorate its windows to honor the 100 year anniversary of the store's Art Nouveau glass dome.

While at the Galleries Lafayette come in and admire the Christmas tree that stands majestically under the century old rotunda.  It sparkles with hundred of thousand of leds light and is crowned by a star-like suspended chandelier decorated in brilliant Swarovski crystals.

Galleries Lafayette 2012

Explore the Christmas market along the Champs Elysees between Avenue George V to the Place de la Concorde where chalets built in the Vosges mountains are temporary installed for the season.  They sell regional delicacies and hand-made holiday ornaments and gifts .  To warm you up while shopping savor a cup of hot mulled cider, a warm crepe or some roasted chestnuts.

For fun, ride the giant Ferris wheel in the Tuileries Garden for a view from above of the sparkling city of light .

How about putting on skates to glide on the skating ring installed in front of the Hotel de Ville. As for the little ones, a ride on the merry-go-around will sure delight them.

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Dali at the Pompidou

Persistence of Time (1931)- Dali MOMA
A new exhibition of Spanish surrealist artist Salvatore Dali (1904-1989) just opened in Paris at the Pompidou Museum.  It assembles a collection of 200 works including oil paintings, drawings, sculptures and  films. Many of the works come from the Dali Foundation in Figueres, the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid, MOMA in New York and the Dali Museum in St. Petersbourg Florida.  This is the second retrospective of the widely eccentric and creative artist's works at the Paris museum for contemporary art -the first one in 1979 attracted record number of visitors.  On view are such iconic oeuvres as "The Persistence of Memory" (1931); "The Endless Enigma" (1938); the "Lobster Telephone" (1936) .  (Exhibition Dali at Pompidou Museum -November 21-March 25, 2013)

Friday, November 23, 2012

From Raphael to Hopper in Paris

Paris 2012 autumn cultural scene is packed with exciting  museum exhibitions.  On my recent trip to The City of Light  I had a hard time picking which show to view as I had an activity filled week with my travel group .    I did manage to sneak in three - Edward Hopper, Canaletto in Venice, and  Raphael' Mature Years.

Raphael's  Mature  Years at Louvre Museum
Bindo Atoviti- Raphael
On show for the first time, this  exhibition is organized by the Louvre in partnership with the Prado Museum..  It assembles  works produced by the Renaissance Master, Raphael Senzio,  during the later years of his short life (1483-1520)

In all some 100 paintings, alterpieces, drawings and a tapestry are on display retracing the development of Raphael's art together with that of two of his closest assistants, Guilio Romano and Gianfrancesco Penni.  Though Raphael's Madonnas are so exquisite (i.e. Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist), I found his portraits entrancing such  as Baldassare Castiglione or the portrait of Bindo Altoviti. (Louvre Museum till January 14, 2013)

Canaletto in Venice at  Musee Maillol

Canaletto- Musee Maillol

Next, I went on a pictorial journey to Venice at the delightful Musee Maillol where the works of Antonio Canal (Canaletto) are on display.  This is a first time that an exhibit entirely dedicated to the eighteen century Venitian artist takes place in Paris. Some 40 paintings representing the Venitian landscape are on display  on loan from private collections and major museums. Also on view are the artist sketchbook  and a replica of the  Camera Obscura used by Canaletto. I enjoyed staring at the cityscapes of Venice 300 years ago with the familiar landmarks  like the Grand Canal, Saint Mark's Square and Basilica, Doge's Palace , the Rialto Bridge and seeing people go about their daily business or partaking at festivals and fetes galantes. (Musee Maillol till February 10, 2013)

Edward Hopper at the Galleries Nationales du Grand Palais
Chop Suey- Edward Hopper 
The lines were long to get into the Grand Palais' exhibit of American artist Edward Hopper.  I had to wait an hour outside despite having bought the  'skip the line" ticket in advance.  This is the first Hopper retrospective held in Paris and it is a crowd pleaser.  It reviews the artist's career, starting when he came to Paris in 1906 and subsequently in 1909 and 1910 where he was influenced by the impressionists like Degas and the contemporary art of his time.  Many of his paintings in Paris were painted in plein-air in the fashion of the Impressionists whom he admired - Tugboat at the Boulevard Saint Michel (1907; Whitney Museum; New York).  From 1910 he worked as an illustrator in New York and many of his magazine illustrations are present at the exhibit.  I particularly enjoyed his light infused watercolors of rural New England -its seascapes and architecture of neo-Victorian houses that brought him commercial success.   But what most enthralled the French crowd at the exhibit were his paintings of American urban life of the early to mid 20th century .  Chop Suey (1929), Nighthawks (1942),  Early Sunday Morning (1930), Gas (1940), Hotel Lobby (1943), New York Office (1962).  Many exude a sense of isolation, alienation and a feeling of melancholy.
(Grand Palais till January 28)

Edward Manet- Jeune Dame
Musee d'Orsay
Well that was enough for a week but I had wished I could have also viewed Impressionism and Fashion at the Musee d'Orsay (till January 20, 2013) .  I tried to get in but the lines through security were too long and I gave up.  I might be lucky and catch this traveling exhibit when it comes to the states -- first to New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art from February 19-27 and then to the Art Institute of Chicago from June 30- September 22, 2013.   

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Ready, Set, Go ...The Beaujolais Nouveau est Arrive!

On the third Thursday of November the Beaujolais Nouveau will be released at the one minute past  midnight.   Experts believe this year's production is one of the best though the harvest was smaller than in previous years. Made of Gamay grape, Beaujolais is produced in the region of the same name located between Lyon and Burgundy.

The occasion of the Beaujolais' release is an event eagerly awaited in France and around the world and an occasion to party.  It is a young wine that is  bottled just 6-8 weeks after harvest thus its fruitiness freshness.   It pairs well with meat, poultry, fish and seafood and is a good accompaniment to your Thanksgiving feast.  This year marks the 30th year of celebrating the arrival of  Beaujolais Nouveau in the USA.   To honor this anniversary, George Duboeuf the major producer of Beaujolais Nouveau  has invited techno illusionist/magician Marco Tempest to develop a smartphone app thru which wine lovers can celebrate the Magic of Beaujolais Nouveau.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Want a Little Spook in Paris??

Halloween is upon us as ghosts, ghouls and goblins prepare  to trick or treat on this eve of All Hallows (All Saints) which in  French is called la Toussaint.   Halloween roots come from the pagan celebration of Samhain where on this day it was believed that the spirits of the dead rose to mingle with the living.  Traditionally, Halloween is not celebrated in France but since the 1990's there has been an increase in the number of  revelers due to marketing efforts by companies like Mc Donald, Disney, Coca Cola and others who generated awareness for the holiday among French consumers.  When visiting Paris,  here are three places where you can get a good dose of spook.

In damp and dreary underground tunnels, dug in former Parisian quarries lay the remains of six million Parisians. Skulls, tibias, femurs are compactly and decoratively stacked. This ossuary was created in the end of 18th century when bones from the overflowing Cemetery of the Innocents located in the Halles district were removed and relocated in these old quarries. The removal of the bones took place every night for two years (1786-1788) in a long and lugubrious procession across Paris.  Bones of famous historical figures such as Madame de Pompadour, Mirabeau, Rabelais are among the remains. (Metro: Denfert Rochereau)

Pere Lachaise Cemetery
This is the largest cemetery within central Paris and the most famous.  Strolling along the neat winding paths and leafy alleys you can visit the graves and mausoleums of many historical figures including Heloise and Abelard, Moliere, Victor Hugo, Proust, Chopin, Oscar Wild and Jim Morrison. (Metro: Pere Lachaise)

Sewers of Paris-
 In Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables, Jean Valjean tries to escape through  the labyrinth of the sewers of Paris. The system dates back to the late 1300's and has been over the centuries enlarged to cover  a network of over 1300 miles of sewer tunnels.  A visit of the museum of the Sewers of Paris will let you explore the galleries with large displays explaining the history of the sewers, the engineering and how Paris handles waste water from elimination to purification and drinking water. It is interesting to know that each sewer street mirrors the street above.  (Metro : Pont de l'Alma)

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Paris Viewed by Hollywood

A few weeks ago, while in Paris I visited the exhibit Paris Vu par Hollywood (Paris Viewed by  Hollywood ). It is held at the Paris City Hall from September 18-December 15.  More than 800 Hollywood movies have represented Paris real or imagined.  Iconic Parisian spots frequently featured include: Eiffel Tower, Place de la Concorde, Notre Dame, the Ritz Hotel, Place Vendome, the banks of the river Seine and Montmartre.  In the Hollywood movies Paris has a certain allure representing sophistication, sex appeal and a certain "je ne sais quoi." Cliches abound about Paris in the early Hollywood movies.  Often you see people drinking Champagne, attending fashion shows and partying the night away in Parisian cabarets. Starting with silent movies, Paris was the setting for major historical epics such at the French Revolution and Notre Dame de Paris.  Then in the thirties, Paris was depicted as the high society's pleasure ground, refined and sophisticated; after  WWII,  Hollywood movies featured the Paris of the artists, bohemian life and French Cancan. In almost  every movie  romance is associated with Paris. Many of the early movies were actually shot in the Hollywood studios and only in the 50's did American productions companies come to film on location in Paris.  The Paris Vu Par Hollywood exhibit features film clips, photographs, costumes, scripts, small model of decors and  posters. Directors who used Paris as backdrop include Ernst Lubitsch who featured Paris in ten different movies; Minnelli, Blake Edwards, Hitchock, Donen, Huston, Woody Allen, and Sophia Coppola to name a few.

Here are  10 iconic Hollywood movies set in  Paris :

  • An American in Paris (1951)
  • April in Paris (1952)
  • Gigi (1958)
  • Charade (1963)
  • The Pink Panther (1963)
  • Irma la Douce  (1963)
  • Da Vinci Code (2003)
  • Devil Wears Prada (2006)
  • Marie Antoinette by Sophia Coppola (2006)
  • Midnight in Paris (2011)
Midnight in Paris

Paris Vu par Hollywood -Paris City Hall- 5 rue Lobeau.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tour de France 2013- A Celebration of France's Patrimony

2013 will be a milestone year for the Tour de France bicycle race as it will be its 100th run.  From 29 June to July 21, the race will be run exclusively in France.  It will begin in Ajaccio, Corsica , the first time ever the race is to run on the island and then move on to the mainland where it will cover over 3300 km. Runners, followers and viewers will be treated to some of the most beautiful landscapes of France some of which are classified as UNESCO World heritage sites.  Specifically, the race will cover the Calanche de Piana in Corsica, the Mont Saint Michel, Albi's Cathedral Sainte Cecile, the historic heart of Lyon and the Gardens of Versailles. Mountain stages will include the mighty Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux in Provence and the Alps where runners will climb up to the Alpe d'huez station twice.  The tour will end on the Champs Elysées for a first time ever arrival at dusk. To attend the Tour de France, I advise booking early in advance as traditionally hotels in the various stages of the tour get filled up quickly.

Calanche de Piana

Mont Saint Michel

Old Lyon- Renaissance Houses

Sunday, September 23, 2012

French Gastronomy Fair-September 22-23

This weekend, France celebrates its gastronomic heritage.  This is the second edition of this new annual event that takes place throughout France.  This follows the UNESCO's 2010 designation of the French gastronomic meal to the list of World Intangible Heritages, which honors the traditional social practice for celebrating with  meals moments in life-- birthdays, births, anniversaries, weddings, achievements or the customary sunday lunch at maman et papa.  It is a celebration in the art of good eating, drinking and togetherness.  A proper French meal includes a careful selection of dishes, the purchase of fresh locally grown products bought at the local market, pairing the food with wine and the setting of a beautiful table.  It usually starts with an aperitif and "amuse gueules" (nibbles), proceed with a starter ("entree"), a main dish of fish/or meat with vegetables; salads with cheese, dessert and coffee with an after-meal liqueur.  This year festival's theme is French Terroir whereas the local cuisines of the different regions of France (27 including Corsica and overseas territories) will be celebrated in their own unique way.   Here are five regional specialities I or someone with me especially enjoyed. Bon Appetit!

Escargot de Bourgogne
Choucroute d'Alsace

Cassoulet de Toulouse

Mussels of Arcachon-Aquitaine

Tarte Tatin- Sologne (my absolute favorite!)

Friday, September 21, 2012

A Flying Carpet has Landed at the Louvre !! New Islamic Arts Center

Musee du Louvre- Philippe Rouault
Islamic Arts has a new showcase and it is at the Louvre. This week the Louvre inaugurated its long in coming Islamic Arts department.  As a brainchild of President Jacques Chirac, it took 10 years from the time of inception of the project till its completion.  Architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti designed a glass and gold metal canopy reminiscent for some of a  dragonfly wing and for others a flying carpet. The building is located between the ornate and recently restored neo-classical facades of the  Visconti Courtyard and offers 2,800 m2 of exhibit space to house some 3500 works of Islamic art  many of them never exhibited before. The collection spans 12 centuries from the 7th to the 19th centuries and includes mosaic, carpets and textiles, ceramics, glass works, manuscripts and books.  The collection displayed cover  widely diversed islamic cultures ranging from the Egyptian Mamluks to India Mughal dynasty  and from  Iran to  Morocco, Medieval Spain, and Central Asia. The Louvre holds an estimated 14,000 artworks and artifacts many held for centuries in the royal collection among them is the Baptistere of Saint Louis, a 14th century bronze vessel inlaid in gold, silver and nielo used as baptismal font for the royal children since Louis XIII.   Other priceless treasure on display is an Egyptian Mamluk  porch -an ensemble of 300 stones that once formed the entranceway to the home of Mamluk ruler at the end of the 15th century. 
The Islamic Arts center project costs $125 million and was in part financed by the French Government and by governments of countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Kuwait, Oman and the Republic of Azerbaijan.  
The Louvre Islamic Arts wing opens to the public  this Saturday, September 22. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Paris Island -Where it all started

Paris' humble beginning started on an island on a wider bend of the Seine river.  The ancient Gallic tribe, the Parisi settled here in the third century BC and lived on wooden pile structures alongside the muddy banks of the river.  The Romans conquest of Gaul in the first century BC, let Emperor Julian to found Lutetia (the ancient name for Paris) on the Ile de la Cite in AD 358.  So smitten was the emperor  with the pleasant climate, the pure water of the Seine and the vineyards on the island, that he sojourned there three years making Paris de facto capital of the Western Empire. Ever since, the heart of the geographical Paris is on the Ile de la Cite.  Centuries later, the island became the seat of Royal power. The Merovingian King Clovis  moved to Paris, made it the kingdom's capital and changed the name from Lutetia to Paris.  His son Childebert built a palace and throughout the Middle Ages, Capetian Kings resided on the Ile de la Cite.  Successive kings enlarged and embellished the palace. Louis IX (Saint Louis) built the Sainte Chapelle to house the Crown of Thorns relic. But, in the 1338 the Valois king, Charles V abandoned the palace and moved to the Louvre.  Over the centuries, the palace served as prison and was called La Conciergerie.  During the French Revolution, it housed the unforgiving Revolutionary Tribunal that tried and then sent over 2600 prisoners to the guillotine including Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, Danton and Charlotte Corday.  The Palace still stands alongside the Seine, its elegant medieval gothic architecture adorning the river bank.  Have you ever noticed the oldest clock in Paris.  It is located on the face of one of the four towers in the Palais de Justice complex and dates from the 14th century (1338).  Until the French Revolution its silver bell announced royal birth by pealing continuously for 72 hours.  It was taken down and melted during the reign of the Terror.  Today you can visit the Palais de la Cite and notably the gem-like Sainte Chapelle, the Palais de Justice (Law Court) and the former prison where you can view Marie Antoinette's cell.  Other landmarks on the Ile de la Cite includes Notre Dame Cathedral and the Hotel Dieu- Paris' oldest hospital.  This will be for another blogpost.

Join Paris Through the Ages Tour -November 4-10 when  we will visit the ile de la Cite and recount its colorful history. Visit for more information.