March 21, 2012

Macarons are everywhere in Paris, even at the McCafé in McDonald’s.  Yesterday, March 20, was the first day of spring and “Macaron Day,” too.  Started as a marketing gimmick by Pierre Hermé in 2006, macaron-makers are encouraged to celebrate “Macaron Day” by handing out free samples of their wares and giving a portion of the day’s proceeds to a charity.  Customers celebrate by, well, I think you can guess how they celebrate!

I enjoy a few macarons now and then, but I covet the rare ones that use only natural flavors and colors—no bright blue or lipstick red ones for me!  Chocolate, fruit and nut flavors are traditional, but almost every pastry chef has fun with more exotic ingredients, too, such as green tea (yes!), lavender (yes!), and liquorice (no, thank you!).  The all-natural ones have muted, earthy colors and delicate, subtle flavors and are usually less sweet.

But, what a feast for the eyes, no matter the ingredients!  The ones in the photo below (taken in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighbourhood) are good quality, but not the rarer, sought-after, all-natural ones that I love best.  Still, they draw me to the windows every time and I rarely resist the temptation to indulge.

Haiku Macarons

March 15, 2014

Continuing my “bookish” theme from last week’s post on les bouquinistes (the antiquarian book vendors along the quays of the Seine), this week’s post is also about books.

It’s almost obligatory for book lovers to stop in at Shakespeare & Company bookstore at 37 rue de la Bûcherie (in the Left Bank’s Latin Quarter, across the river from Notre-Dame), at least once during any visit to Paris.
This veritable institution has been at this location since its American expatriate founder, George Whitman (1913-2011), opened for business in 1951 under its original name, Le Mistral.  In 1964, George changed the name to Shakespeare & Company in honor of the “late great” Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), who had passed away about two years earlier.
Sylvia Beach opened the original Shakespeare & Company in 1919 at 8 rue Dupuytren, moving it to 12 rue de l’Odéon in 1921.  She published James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in 1922, securing her place in the history of literature and bringing fame to her establishment. But the shop experienced difficulties during the Great Depression and closed during the German occupation of Paris, shuttering for good in 1941. 
George’s reincarnation continued the spirit of the original in supporting and promoting new literary talent.  George’s daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman (named for, but no relation to, the older Sylvia Beach), operates the shop today.
Nestled in its cozy corner, with outdoor benches for reading, a few trees, and its own Wallace fountain, the green and gold storefront itself seems to embody the shop’s motto (adapted from a Bible passage): “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.”  

March 7, 2014

Anyone meandering along the banks of the Seine in central Paris will come across the dark green boxes of the bouquinistes affixed to the top of the low walls along the river, a Paris sight almost as iconic as the Eiffel Tower.  Over 200 used and antiquarian book sellers operate concessions of usually four boxes each; the 900 total boxes are estimated to contain over 300,000 volumes (mostly in French).  There are also vintage prints, magazines and journals; rare engravings, collectible stamps and old postcards.

Spanning stretches along both the Right and Left Banks of the river, you can enjoy a total of about 3km of browsing–but please ask permission to touch!  Casually pawing through the offerings just for fun is frowned upon. 

While book-selling has been an activity along this stretch of the river since at least the mid-16th century, it wasn’t until 1891 that the city allowed thebouquinistes to attach permanent boxes to the tops of the stone walls.  There is a waiting list for available boxes and a hopeful bookseller might be on the list for several years before any become available.
Lost Generation writers such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald browsed the offerings in boxes very similar to these, and one of the earliest “Americans in Paris” bought books here, too.  While US Ambassador to France at the end of the 18th century, Thomas Jefferson purchased numerous books from bouquinistes which eventually ended up in the early collection of the US Library of Congress, where they remain today.
Haiku Bouquinistes

March 1, 2014

As a follow-up to last week’s post which featured the “guerrilla artist” who calls himself “Globe-Painter,” today’s post shines a light on another street artist whose works have perhaps even more world-renown.

“Space Invader” hunt, anyone?  It was a “thing” among some high school kids I knew a few years ago.  Surely you’ve noticed them as you strolled through Paris?  There are at least 1000 installations of these colorful, mosaic-tile works of “street art” by the mysterious urban artist known as “Invader” in Paris alone. (See them here: )

Born in 1969 in France, and reputed to have a degree from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, this secretive artist has “invaded” more than 60 cities in 30 countries, including  London, Miami, Los Angeles, Brussels, Geneva, Hong Kong, Toronto, Perth, Osaka, and over 30 cities in France.  New York City has been “invaded” five times since 1999.  Most of his works are based on characters from the vintage video game “Space Invaders,” which debuted in 1978.

On your next promenade through your favorite Paris neighborhood, challenge yourself to a Space Invader hunt of your own!  Might also be an idea to try with a bored-of-all-these-museums member of your touring party, too—likely to be a hit with 8-12-year-olds.  Invader’s official website is here:

And this recent Newsweek article has an interview with the artist:

Haiku Space Invaders

February 24, 2014

This week’s haiku-with-photo features a street painting in the recognizable style of Julien “Seth” Malland, often called “Globepainter,” or “Globe-Painter.”

Whether you think of street art (also called “urban art” or “guerrilla art”) as unsightly graffiti and disrespectful vandalism, or as “popular art” deserving of our appreciation, it’s hard not to enjoy the pieces done well, with real talent or style.  Seth was born in Paris in 1972 and holds a degree from L’Ecole Nationale des Arts Decoratifs.  He has worked in advertising, traveled the world and published a few books on graffiti and street art.  See more of his work on this website: 

A continually updated, informal review of the Paris guerrilla art scene can be followed on Facebook:

Haiku Guerrilla Art

February 14, 2014

A Valentine’s Day idea:  visit the “I Love You” Wall and snap a “selfie” with your love!

Find this art installation, conceived by Frédéric Baron and Claire Kito, in a small garden near the Abbesses Metro station.  It’s a magnet for lovers who wish to be photographed in front of it, and a popular background for wedding photos, of course.  At 40 square meters, the monument is composed of 612 deep blue, enameled lava tiles across which are scrawled hundreds of versions of the world’s most universal expression, in over 300 languages.  (Montmartre, Place des Abbesses, Square Jehan Rictus; Metro: Abbesses)

Haiku I Love You Wall