April 28, 2014


We finally got some much needed rain this weekend (it always seems to come on a weekend!).  The snails are happy.  The photographers were out hunting rainbows.  The pattering sound on my roof was comforting.

I have only one haiku so far that mentions rain in Paris (but it’s not about singing in it), so I thought I’d post that one this week.

The sheets of gray zinc used on the roofs of so many Paris buildings gives almost any view over the city’s rooftops a uniform and rhythmic quality.  Add in the rows of clay chimney pots and topmost windows (often with flower boxes full of bright geraniums overflowing the railings), the ubiquitous shutters and cream-colored building façades–and you have another “icon” of Paris:  its rooftops.  The patterned effect is charming.  They look even better when wet!

(Note:  My photographer son shot this photo looking out from the Chimera Gallery up on Notre Dame Cathedral.  Many people also enjoy the classic rooftop views seen from the top steps of Sacré Coeur.  You might have a favorite rooftop view from your own balcony!)

My 17-syllable impression is below.  I encourage you to give yours!

Haiku Rooftops 2

April 19, 2014

Snails:  alive, cooked & gilded!

It’s been dry for weeks in the Paris metropolitan area, in the region called “Ile-de-France.”  The spring flowers have been exceptional, however, due to the long, wet winter and mild temperatures.  To my delight, the dryness means the snails have stayed sealed and “glued” to their hideouts and not eaten much in the garden, yet.  But clouds are blowing in and rain has come and gone in short bursts.  If it rains tonight, the snails will be out to feast and drink.  And, “crunch.”

Ugh, how I hate that sound and the twinge of guilt I suffer when I accidentally step on one in the dark when I come home late.  Crunch … sorry!  I don’t like living snails …

And I’m not fond of the dead ones either, but many people enjoy a plate of them as an appetizer, my husband among them.  I believe that cooking almost anything in butter and garlic makes it palatable, even delicious, so I do understand how folks can eat them.  More for you if I abstain.

At number 38 Rue Montorgueil is a traditional French restaurant called L’Escargot, and it has over the door the biggest snail in Paris that I know of—it always makes me smile.  A gilded mini-monument.   At number 51 is Paris’ oldest pastry shop, Maison Stohrer, which opened in 1730, and is famous for its baba au rhum pastry.

Rue Montorgueil is a typical, lively market street.  Other market streets worth a visit include Rue Mouffetard, Rue Daguerre and Rue Cler.  All are wonderful to explore and shop in, but this charming snail and the historic pastry shop make Rue Montorgueil one of my favorites.

And now to sum it all up in 17 syllables:

Haiku Snails

April 7, 2014

Coffee, please!

You’re in Paris!  And you want to sit in a corner café and people-watch all day, so you order “un café, s’il vous plaît.”  A few minutes later an espresso arrives at your table.  H-m-m.  You were expecting something larger, weren’t you?  Something more substantial around which to wrap all ten of your cold fingers, so you could sip, and sip, and sip … and maybe channel your inner Hemingway.  You politely inform the waiter that you wanted “a coffee” and not “an espresso,” and the inevitable confusion ensues.

I remember my first time. It was a bit of a surprise.  How could someone sit at a table “all day” with just an ounce or two of espresso?  Ordering un café(or any drink) at a table in France means that you have sort of purchased the right to sit at that table until you are ready to leave, even if your beverage takes only a minute or two to consume.  There are no free refills, no bottomless pots.

If you want a bigger beverage, you will have to choose one of these other options:  un café Americano or un café allongé (two names for the same beverage, made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to fill a larger cup); un café au lait  or un café crème (hot milk or cream added to an espresso shot); un cappuccino (typically a breakfast beverage, but now enjoyed more and more in the afternoons, too, with lots of steamed milk foam on top); un café filtré (rare; made in a drip-style machine with a large pot); or perhaps un café double (two espresso shots in the same cup).

Paradoxically, you will rarely see a “French press” coffee pot (un cafetière à piston), although they are used at home and sometimes presented to groups dining in hotels.  Waiters familiar with “intercultural coffee confusion” sometimes inquire about the size of the coffee you are expecting.  When I want un vrai café français, I’ll often reply to the thoughtful waiter (mistaking me for a café novice) that, yes, un espresso or un café normal would be perfect, merci.

Now, to distill this “haiku moment” into its 17-syllable essence:


Haiku Café Cups, rev


March 31, 2014

Today’s post includes pigeons, baguettes and bicycles—all in 17 syllables. Now, I enjoy urban “wild life” as much as the next person, but sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.  Pigeons fall into this category.  There are too many in Paris for my taste, and many Parisians feel the same way … to the point of calling them “flying rats!”

Although the observed behavior of a few Parisians might suggest otherwise, feeding the feral pigeons is illegal and subject to hefty fines.  Feeding causes overpopulation until the birds become messy, aggressive pests.  Pigeon poop damages statues and other monuments, makes park benches unusable, and is unsanitary (and slippery when wet!).

So, eat your baguette, but don’t share any with the pigeons!  Of course, if you carry your baguette home in your backpack, or sticking out of the saddle-bag or basket on your bicycle, the few crumbs that break off will be welcomed by our feathered friends.  Still raised as a hobby by enthusiasts, many are quite pretty.

To control, but not eliminate, the pigeon population, Paris has installed a number of pigeon coops in the city’s squares and parks. The birds readily nest in these and lay eggs (an average female can lay about six clutches per year)—the more food they get, the more eggs they lay.  City workers regularly enter the coops and vigorously shake all but one fertilized egg per nest.  The shaking renders the eggs infertile; leaving them in place reduces the number of clutches laid.  Pigeon couples, who mate for life, are allowed to raise only one “squab” at a time.  All in 17 syllables, below:


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