Day Trippin’ to Chantilly

As much as I appreciate Paris for its history as an artist’s haven and for the opportunities with which it pulses to educate oneself culturally, it is a big city and, like any big city, can leave one longing for nature. Chantilly, a small town only half an hour outside of Paris by train, offers a refreshingly grassy landscape, a château with bluish gray roofs that sparkle, and horses and is the perfect day trip destination from Paris!

From the train station, one can walk to the château through the town via Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, turning right at Rue de Connétable. I’d recommend taking a detour via the side street Boulevard de la Libération Maurice Schumann for a lovely first glimpse of the château.

Having arrived at the château, I was turned around, so what I’d meant to do last I did first: I walked to the Anglo-Chinese garden, alongside a line of daffodils that paralleled a stream, to Le Hameau, a white and dark-wood cottage restaurant with a water wheel on its side said to serve the best Chantilly cream.

Though the menu lists many attractive options, among them a plate of fresh strawberries topped with Chantilly cream, I chose the simplest, a scoop of Chantilly cream served by itself. Chantilly cream is many things at once without being any of those things: it looks like whipped cream, has the consistency of frosting, and tastes like ice cream, a subtle sweet with a hint of vanilla. It is not something to be skipped when visiting Chantilly!
The château itself is a museum, the Musée Condée. It is home to Nicolas Poussin’s Le massacre des innocents and Raphael’s La Vierge de Lorette but comprises many rooms, one of which holds black lace—including a piece sewn into the shape of a butterfly—and many of which contain paintings by Bellini, Dulac, Girardet, Gudin, Mazzoluno, and d’Orleans, to name some of the artists. There is Delacroix and Delaroche, too, but look for L’amour désarmé, by Jean Antoine Watteau, in a rotunda with a skylight and paintings of French cities hung just below the windows. I loved this painting for its artistic style—soft and blurred, but not as in Impressionist works—but more so for the beauty of the emotion it evokes with its name, once one connects it to the painting’s subject: Venus steals Cupid’s bow, but as Venus is the mother of Cupid, the painting is also simply of a mother and her child, and so the name might be interpreted literally as Cupid, disarmed, but also as Venus, Goddess of Love, disarmed by her small child, whom she loves.

Worth seeing is the Cabinet des Livres, a library of beautiful books collected by a bibliophile and organized by format, intellectual movement, and binding period. It contains over 700 incunabula, or books printed before 1500. The prettiest book on display, I think, is a beaded one with an “M” on it for Marie de Médicis.

Additionally, there are the grands appartements and Le Chambre de Monsieur Le Prince, full of things glittering, upholstered, and gold; La Grande Gallerie des Batailles, on the walls of which hang a floor-to-ceiling canvas of a scene from battle and another, skinnier, canvas like a map; and Le Salon de Musique, which contains only a harp but looks out onto the French garden.

After doing a lap around the English garden, I said hello to the horses in the grand stables and walked through Le Musée du Cheval, which contains statues of horses from Asia, drawings of horses from the Middle East, and European portraits of champion racehorses, before walking back into town along a racetrack and rows of trees.

Le songe d’une nuit d’été – March 18, 2017

The Paris Opera Ballet is idolized as one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, yet for some reason—perhaps because I had never observed dancers who had nurtured such finesse—I was not expecting its dancers to move as beautifully as they did and to be as effervescent with magic as the story they told: Le songe d’une nuit d’été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). They had me literally sitting on the edge of my seat (they and my insistence, as a twenty-something, upon purchasing a ticket for one of the least expensive and worst seats in the Opéra Bastille); they were enchanting, and I was enchanted.

Choreographed by Balanchine and set to music by Mendelssohn, the ballerinas’ dance was the apogee of whatever notions of feminine fragility captured America’s heart half a century ago. In the first act, Hermia jumped into the palladium of Lysander’s arms, both legs folded under her body like a caterpillar’s newly formed wings, still too immature to spread and resting just below its protective chrysalis. Upon his catching her, she descended into an arabesque—one leg pointed straight below her, the other straight behind—with languid elegance, as if she were suspended in water, and finally, Lysander assisting her in performing various extensions en pointe, she wrapped a single leg around his torso to give life and shape to a series of movements across the floor.

The quiescent power of the male dancers was most exhibited during one of Obéron’s solos—the dancer had leviathan thighs, pure muscle, which made me long for the idea of having lots of muscle, all for a purpose, and nothing else besides. It’s an idea that applies not only to the male dancers but to the ballerinas, too; for them to be able to lift themselves by a string from their center of gravity and to lift their legs so high above their swan’s necks into the air requires immense strength. Obéron masterfully executed quick coups-de-pied that ended in little extensions, all within the span of a few seconds and in the air.

The couple who opened the second act controlled the ballerina’s movements together. She trembled as she leaned on her partner for support as if at any moment she could deliquesce into him, but rather than making her seem unfit for her role, this made the things they made together all the more beautiful because it was obvious that they needed each other.

There was beauty also in the production of the ballet. I thought the fairies’ costumes strange, but a part of me liked them for their whimsicality. The three lead ballerinas’ wedding tutus were speckled with gold; the others’ were all white. The court costumes—blue dresses for the girls, billowing white shirts for the men—were charming. I quite liked one of the sets, pink blossoms protruding from the wings, and then there was the aesthetic of the choreography, not only that of the soloists’ and couples’ dances but that of the company, their formations as they wove in lines and formed semicircles in the backstage. The dances had a contrived softness to them, a worked-for illusion of sweetness that expressed physically what we all crave from love, much as people express their thoughts and feelings through language. It’s more difficult, in a way, to communicate through ballet, because there are no words, but the dance is itself a language that has us all sitting on the edge of our seats to watch unfold stories of love.

Les fleurs de Monet

The allure of Monet began, for me, with les nymphéas. For too long I’d wanted to go to Musée de l’Orangerie, a museum in Paris famed for its two elliptical rooms in which long canvases of water lilies conform to the walls, providing almost the experience Monet intended the viewer to have—that of being encircled by one continuous landscape of flowers.

My grandparents (visiting for the holidays) and I had sought out the museum and found ourselves in the place of the viewer, in the middle of one oval room, then the other, each lit in muted natural light. The French have a word, feutré, meaning felt-like, and that’s exactly what this light was like. One end of the room to the other transformed light into shadow, warm, late-afternoon radiance into nightfall on the depths of a lake.

My favorite painting was in itself like three paintings, the way it progressed in color. From left to right, it comprised gentle lily pads of sage, olive, and emerald; clouds of powder pink, apricot, and mauve blended into lilac and forget-me-not; and water, jet with but a touch of aubergine. Four little red lilies like roses floated in the top right corner like tutus lifted en pointe; below, strokes meticulously applied so as to look haphazard swirled into faintly pink flowers—pink mixed with red with violet—and messy swishes of light and dark blue.

My second favorite was a mess of dark colors, all black and grays and violets and blues with lily pads so obscure as to be almost indistinct and delicate blush blossoms, single and in pairs, a tiny lonesome green blossom up and away to the right.

My third characterized clusters of lilies at the bottom and some in the background, a sky of pink mist descended amongst willow branches. It’s all pinks and blues, as if captured just before dusk or just after sunrise.

In every painting, the lilies were different: dark blue pads with the slightest touches of dark purple, and blooms light green as if memories of light blue; rough, rosy magenta and cream brushed into more cream, peach, and lightest green; vibrant, thickly painted light pink, bright red, dark pink, stone blue, passionflower, periwinkle, honey tulip, and lemon green, all smudged into fields of floating flowers.

At the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, was Le bassin aux nymphéas, one of 17 paintings of the Japanese bridge draped in willows; another, and I liked this one more, for its cooler tones, is held at the National Gallery in London.

Though it’s not strictly a painting of water lilies, Le jardin de l’artiste à Giverny, also at the Musée d’Orsay, I found beautiful, with its beds of lavender flowers speckled in places with dark violet and white and patches of bright turquoise and red that give the illusion of reflections of lilies on a pond in the background.

Then there was the Musée Marmottan Monet, a charming little museum tucked away in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, a calm, slightly more upscale neighborhood removed from the city center. Behind a long park with a tree that, when I visited, was like cotton, covered in white blossoms, the museum proved misleading at first, seemingly dedicated as much to its décor—mirrors, chandeliers, and statuettes, all of which were art—as it was to its paintings. Though charmed by the pink and sage rotunda that is the first room and the blue and cream elegance of the second, delighted at finding a second Antonio Canova statue, L’Amour et Psyche, (I love Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour, at the Louvre), and more educated about Berthe Morisot and Camille Pissarro (there was a Pissarro special exhibition on) than I’d ever imagined I’d be after going to a museum named for Monet, I began to think that perhaps the museum was only named after the artist and I’d misunderstood what I’d read about its housing 100 of his masterpieces.

They were hidden in the basement, like coveted bottles of aged wine in a cellar. Across from a biography of the artist printed on a dark red wall was a painting of Charing Cross Bridge, in London, all white and touched with the faintest silver blue. In addition there was Londres, Le Parlement, reflets sur la Tamise, a cool, misty image, mainly teal. Impression, soleil levant was plainly the highlighted attraction, set into a wall away from the other paintings: a neon (it actually looked neon) poppy sun illumined wisps of nectarine clouds while ships like watercolor shadows faded into the water, struck definitively with teal strokes contrasting with the reflections of the sun.

Yet, I preferred the flowers. I saw another of the tulips in the Netherlands like one I’d seen at the Musée d’Orsay, Champ de tulipes en Hollande, but I liked this one more than the other. It was brighter, the yellow sunnier. Bras de Seine à Giverny was puffs of pink and white clouds; pink, navy, and blue water striped with lavender, berry, and violet; blues and greens in at least four shades each composing the trees. I quite liked Champ d’iris jaunes à Giverny, a happy field of yellow irises tilted to appear as though swaying in the wind, and of course, there were nymphéas—canvases of vivid purple blossoms and bright lime green in the leaves; light yellow, daffodil yellow, and orchid; and blue, yellow, and baby green with red flowers.

A Le bassin spoke in red with aqua, orange, pink, and purple accents, while the most beautiful Le bassin promised incandescent blue blossoms smoothed into purple and trimmed in wine. In Reflets de saule, pensive pale and deep pinks combined with ruby and cornflower blue on a midnight background. Lily of the Nile added another kind of lily to Nymphéas et agapanthes.

Finally, two wisteria, two Glycines, painted from 1919–20, echoed the water lilies at l’Orangerie, hanging from long canvases stretching the length of a wall. Both were pretty; my favored one between the two was pale yellow flowers cascading from green leaves the color of limes and seaglass, spots of pistachio and turquoise, and navy and orange trails faded into hints of pink, all set on soft, feathery lavender.

Adventures in Brittany: La Côte de Granit Rose

Lately I’ve been thinking about the stories I’ll be able to tell in the future, both three months from now, when I’m home, to family and friends, and thirty years from now, to acquaintances sitting around a fancy table and sipping from delicate wine glasses. When I travel, I try to do things that could turn into stories. My first story is from the first day of the first trip I took after arriving in France.

It was an adventure, truly, in the sense that I had little idea of how to get where I wanted to go and even less of an idea of how to get back. I caught the once-a-day bus to some place maybe thirty minutes walking from Ploumanac’h, the most picturesque part of La Côte de Granit Rose, and walked through a small residential town to a dirt path called “Chemin du Phare,” which means “Way to the Lighthouse.” It was like walking into the woods: an arch of trees gave way to a couple of houses, nestled away, and finally to an outcropping of pale, dusty pink rock, the Ploumanac’h Lighthouse visible in the distance.

A bit one way was a house for a boat (I don’t know what else to call it—it had a roof and tracks leading out to sea). Just past that, the path continued past a pretty little stone bench set into the hillside and onto a beautiful miniature bay, where the water crashed violently over a rock across the water but was tranquil closer to shore. It felt like a paradise, a small haven carved out in the coastline just for me, where I could listen away from the noise of every day to the high-pitched tinkling of the rocks tumbling over one another, the water withdrawing back into the sea.

After collecting shells from amongst the rocks, washing them in the water and holding them in my hand, I headed back along the path towards the lighthouse, climbing around boulders and up stairs to the lighthouse. From there, I saw that the pink granite coast wasn’t constrained to only this stretch of coast but that it was in fact three times that size, with two more areas like this one extending at intervals into the ocean. I walked back towards the town via a path different than that on which I came, this one leading me past a gem of green—of ferns and trees the kind of verdant green that makes one think of New Zealand or of glens in the farthest reaches of Scotland.

Next I set out walking across town, around Port de Ploumanac’h, around an estate right on the water, over a quay, and through a larger town named Trégastel to La Grève Blanche, the (pebbleless) “white pebbled beach.” It resembled a resort at first on account of not only its seclusion and the whiteness of the sand but also a wooden fence that lined the steps down to the sand and a solid white one stretching the length of the sand, separating the homes and a waterside restaurant called Latitude (I didn’t go because it was a bit pricey, but it looked to have an adorable ambience and a fabulous menu) from the beach. Out on the water, windsurfers pulled up their sails, visibly fighting with corporeal might against the earthly splendor of an ocean breeze.

Curiosity led me around the point—I almost didn’t go because walking in the middle of that wide stretch of immaculate sand could have been enough, but I’m so happy I did—to the most striking location I’d visited all day. The rocks flanking the beach were dark, almost black: that’s what I saw first. Next the kayakers; then the coast wrapping around on one side, enveloping the sea; then the homes lining the beach; and the clouds, incandescent in contrast to the dark blue of the sky, beams of sunlight turning the sand white and obscuring the coast in scintillant light. I had to sit on the sand for a moment and feel, as I did, that I was in Brittany, this most elysian of places.

I could stay for but a few heartbeats before I had to walk back into town to call a taxi; I didn’t know whether or not I’d be able to find one available (all of the taxi companies here are individuals), and the nearest train station, in Lannion, was a three hours’ walk away. On my fourth try, I found one—and it turned out he was from Lille!—which meant I had a couple of spare hours, but I didn’t mind. Lannion was cute, kind of like a mini-Vieux-Lille bordered by a river lined in trees, a bed of flowers at one end, and it was here that I ended my day’s adventure.

Quimper: The Cutest French Town

I’ve just booked everything for my final trip, in May, once my TAPIF contract is over! I’ll be going to the south of France, Geneva, Scotland, and London. I’m especially excited for my adventures in the Scottish Highlands: new cities are wonderful, but sometimes, you have to throw in a little nature!

Thinking about what I expect will be one of my favorite places made me want to write about one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far: Quimper. This is by far the cutest French town I’ve visited. If I were to move to France—and I don’t want to, but if I did—I could live here. It has charm subtle enough that the city isn’t trending amongst tourists (yet), and it effuses a delicate shine—reflecting like glass the early morning light that reaches the water, brightening the whole of the river Odet in the middle of the afternoon, twinkling in the crystals that hang in lines in the air, like stars.

I started my day in Quimper in a way a bit out of the ordinary: I walked all the way to the end of Quimper, past the historical district to Locmaria and the older section of the city. I followed the dirt path along the river, where lots of runners took advantage of the misty morning and other people walked their dogs. I passed quaint little houses styled in typical Brittany fashions: white with gray rooftops and cobblestone.

The fog transformed the city that lay ahead of me into an empyrean cloud of light and settled on the houses on the other bank of the river, where another dirt path mirrored the one I was on and appeared to lead to a small orchard or something like it.

Back in the city, I first explored the main street, Rue Kéréon. It’s here you’ll find lots of shopping and adorable buildings with timber framing—some a light, dusty blue, others with bright pink framing around the windows.

Lots of little side streets wander off from this main street.

It’s on this street, too, that I saw two ponies waiting to give pony rides!

Up the hill is Place au Beurre, where a crêperie can be found on every corner.

At the far end of Rue Kéréon is Place du Terre au Duc, which is pretty but nothing too special, and another river, Le Steïr, around which a bit of wandering will lead you to a small park and a nice row of restaurants.

At the other end of Rue Kéréon is the cathedral, formally called Cathédrale Saint-Corentin. Of all of the churches and cathedrals I’ve visited in Europe—which is to say quite a lot—this one is my most loved, and it’s because of the tiny coats of arms on its ceiling. One is painted I think to look like a Brittany flag, and the ceiling itself is a pretty light coral-pink tile. The first thing I do now when I walk into a cathedral is look up: on many of the ceilings are coats of arms such as these.

The cathedral is lovely for reasons other than its tiny coats of arms, though. In contrast to those of many Gothic buildings, which may appear hard, rough, and intimidating, the exterior of this Gothic cathedral is delicate and sweet.

Inside, light streams through stained glass windows up high to play on the opposing walls. Along the upper walls are mini rainbows of barely-there color, while more opaque red and purple decorate the center of the cathedral.

In some of the chapels, paintings incorporate the old depiction of the halo, a thin golden circle around the head.

Turn around and the organ is small but magnificent, the definition of Quimper cuteness!

After visiting the cathedral, I walked down to the Odet and sat on one of the benches beside it for a while, taking in the blueness of the water and working myself up over the flowers in their boxes on the bridges. It was a tranquil way to end my day in Quimper and something I highly recommend doing!

A Morning in Montmartre

When one goes to Paris, one is compelled to visit Montmartre. Its name short for Montaigne des martyrs, or “Mountain of Martyrs,” Montmartre is a charming bohemian town rich in artistic history. During the Belle Époque, many artists, including Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec as well as Les Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist avant-garde painters, lived here or derived inspiration from the town. Separate from the rest of Paris both geographically and atmospherically, it has its own characteristic charm and is not to be missed.

coquelicot

Start your day with breakfast or brunch at Coquelicot. This bakery offers the option of either taking things to go—there’s a queue out the door around peak breakfast- and lunchtimes—or sitting to order from the menu. If there’s room, sit at one of the petite wooden tables outside.

café au lait

It’s here that I drank the best coffee I have in Paris, a perfect glass cup of café au lait (I ordered the café crème on the menu, but when the waitress brought it out she said “café au lait,” and it tasted more like milk than it did cream. If you order food, you’ll receive a basket of freshly baked bread that you can dip in the coffee as the French do—so good!

For food you can choose one of the predetermined meals, some combination of bread, jams, orange juice, and other items, or order à la carte. I opted for the latter and chose the tartine rustique, toast with yummy applesauce (America doesn’t do applesauce right. There, it’s that disappointing dessert you find at the bottom of your lunchbox at school; here, it’s delicious and often mixed with other fruits!), camembert half-melted, and raisins, accompanied by an impressively fresh mix of greens.

tartineYou can’t leave without ordering goodies to go. You can order them at the table, of course, but you may as well order them at the counter and take them to have them as a midday snack, as I did with this blueberry tart, because as at many bakeries in France, you pay more for the same thing sur place compared to à emporter; it’s like you’re renting the table at which you’d eat. If you choose to only stop for a minute and queue rather than sit, the brioche au sucre (it has pearls of sugar on top) is fantastic.

tarte aux myrtilles

When you’re through with breakfast, make your way to Place du Tertre, a square full of painters selling small canvases and caricaturists who aren’t afraid to vie for your business by telling you you’re pretty and they simply must draw you. When you reach the top of the steps, look down! (This works best when there are leaves on the trees and in the morning, when the light filters through the leaves.)

A short distance from here is the Sacré-Cœur, a beautiful basilica. As the name implies, it’s dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Roman Catholic devotion that takes Jesus’ physical heart as the representation of his love. Designed by architect Paul Abadie, who is considered a key figure of French historicism, the basilica was consecrated in 1919.

The walk up to it is very pretty; stairs on either side lead to a plot of grass with two long staircases side by side in the middle and one final staircase above that, overlooking the city from the top of the Butte of Montmartre. The dome paradoxically looks smoothly etched; the stone looks bright from afar, aged up close.

I believe everyone ought to see the Sacré-Cœur at least once in his or her lifetime. I myself have been three times: the first time, my jaw dropped as I walked inside; the third time, I was still noticing details I hadn’t the previous two.

sacré-cœur inside

The Chancel
Likely the first thing you’ll notice upon walking into the basilica is the monstrance, in which is located the Body of Christ, at the front of the church. It’s carried by two silver angels, the Angels of the Adoration. White in the middle, red and rose gold around, and sparkly like a star, it has its own little shrine, in which a white curtain falls behind it.

monstrance

Carved into the platform on which this piece rests are the twelve apostles; the gold altar contains statues of them. Around the back of the chancel are wooden boxes with pointed tops, again with the apostles inside. To either side of the chancel are Stars of David.

In the middle of the striking mosaic of the apse,  Christ’s heart shines out of his chest. At the base of the mosaic is written in Latin, “Sacratissimo Cordi Jesu Gallia poenitens et devota et gratia”—in French, “Au Cœur très saint de Jésus, la France fervente, pénitente et reconnaissante” or, in English, “At the saintly Heart of Jesus, France—fervent, penitent, and grateful.”

The Nave
angels of the passion
In each of the four corners where a column meets the ceiling is an Angel of the Passion. These angels carry the instruments of the Passion of the Christ: a cross, a lance, a crown of thorns, vinegar, etc. Delicately patterned stained glass windows encircle the top of the dome and allow a soft light, which contrasts sharply with the shadows around, to filter in.

The Side Aisles
Walk through the aisles and around the back of the church, stopping at each of the chapels. You can learn a lot from reading their dedications; for example, I learned that Saint Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.

At the top of the walls to the sides of the nave are flower-shaped windows, small but daintily beautiful. One carries the image of a bird, one an apple, one a snake.

The Chapels

The windows in the chapels in the back of the church are lovely too—brightly colored and patterned in squares and rectangles. They say things, though I’m not entirely sure what. The panel on the right in the picture shows what looks like a small ghost but I would suppose is actually an angel.

sacré-cœur stained glass

In the chapel directly to the back of the basilica is a chandelier with what I think look like four-petalled flower cutouts, through which shine pink candles. In this chapel is also a golden tree of life with a cross in the middle and, on the stone just below it, a dark floral design. In another of the chapels are shield shapes in which are written the names of French cities, including Paris and Lyon.

After you’ve spent some minutes sitting in the pews or standing and staring in the back of the basilica, wander a little back down the hill to La Maison Rose, on the corner of rue de l’Abreuvoir and rue des Saules. Once an artist’s studio, it was made famous by Maurice Utrillo’s painting of it.

As it will likely be afternoon by this point, stop for a glass at Le Carrousel, a café that serves my favorite Bourgogne Pinot Noir. It’s this Pinot Noir that began my obsession with finding good Pinot Noirs (I haven’t found anything comparable). It has notes of cherry! Snag a table outside so you can people-watch as you sip your wine in the afternoon air.

Breakfast at Angelina

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For a proper Parisian breakfast, there is no place to go but the Angelina tearoom. No matter how long your stay, set aside one morning to stroll along the famous rue de Rivoli in the First, the sky freshly lit and not quite bright. Stop in front of the Angelina windows to gaze desirously at displays of daintily crafted confections, but instead of taking big bites of what looks like a croissant and washing them down with coffee out of a paper cup, queue outside; you’ll soon be nibbling on mini croissants and pains au chocolat fait à maison and sipping signature Angelina hot chocolate, so divine that once you’ve tasted it, no other hot chocolate will ever compare!

Angelina is to breakfast what Laduree is to tea and macarons the color of powder puffs. Sumptuous but less posh than Laduree, it’s a place where refinement meets modernity, breathing sophistication as one can only find in cosmopolitan Paris. Founded in 1903 and fashioned in the style of the contemporaneous Belle Époque, the tearoom in fact comprises two rooms, but it’s the front one in which you want to sit. Lavish embellishments trim walls colored chiffon, lace, and pearl and decorated with golden frames and landscape paintings, while mirrors give the illusion that the room is twice its size. As you engage in lively chatter with family and friends, it’s possible to imagine that you are at the same moment listening intimately to the conversations of the writers and designers, including Coco Chanel, who favored it over a century ago!

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Go starving and order the Angelina breakfast. First you’ll be served the renowned hot chocolate, so rich it fills you up before you’ve eaten anything and served with a pot of whipped cream. With this you can choose a juice (I ordered the lemon, which turned out to be incredibly tart but yummy; it tasted like pure lemon juice, crushed ice, and water). To eat you’ll be given an assortment of viennoiseries and bread with butter, apricot jam, and honey, arranged on a silver tiered serving tray, along with a cup of delicious fresh fruits (pineapple, mango, kiwi, melon) and eggs prepared as you like (I ordered them soft-boiled and they were delicious!).

angelina-table

Though the incomparable hot chocolate and extravagant quantity of food might leave you feeling intoxicated, don’t forget to stop in the boutique on your way out! The case of pâtisseries to your left holds creations classic (such as the Choc africain, a dark chocolate mousse cake with notes of the same spices in the hot chocolate and covered in satiny chocolate cream) and seasonal; my favorite in this year’s fall and winter collection was the Flore, an amorous red, rose-shaped treat made of meringue, raspberry jam, and vanilla white chocolate mousse. Like any salon de thé, Angelina also sells macarons, including an Earl Grey flavor, which has flecks of tea leaves baked into the cookies! For products that will last longer, choose from chocolate bars and tea in boxes colored like springtime (I’ve been eyeing the linden and mint in pistachio) that line the shelves on the wall.

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angelina pâtisserie

What You Need to Know to Reëmerge from a French Pharmacy (Not Looking Like a Ruffled Snuffalupypus)

Walking into a grande pharmacie is like walking into a dermatological dream of pretty bottles in clear ocean, grassy green, and snowy blue; writing in sparkly silver, iridescent white, and spring peach; and little boxes with magic inside.

Any pharmacie looks like this, really, but as grande pharmacies are larger, there are even more options of skincare products, too many options. Studies have definitively proven that when presented with too many choices, people find it harder to make a decision, but if more proof were needed, all one would need to do is go to a pharmacie. Trying to figure out what you need (and how much you can afford) is practically impossible if you’re not French!

bioderma

French girls say they couldn’t live without Bioderma micellar water.

The first thing you should know is that the French have elaborate skincare routines, which may be why micellar water, the easiest thing to find in a pharmacie, is trendy right now: it simplifies them! A cross between a cleanser and toner, micellar water both removes makeup and cleans, lifting impurities without drawing water from the skin. Whether you’ve sensitive skin, dehydrated sensitive skin, or very dry skin, there’s an eau micellaire for your skin type.

If it’s stronger cleansing you want, there are lotions (toners); if it’s lighter, cleansing milks and foaming cleansing gels. If your skin is blemished, there are types of all of the above that contain trace amounts of various acids to tighten the pores and to eliminate “imperfections”.

Moisturizers, as in America, are a necessity, and you can find them in varying intensities—for example, légère, riche, and extra riche. It’s possible to find essences too, products that prime the skin for moisturizing by freshening and restoring natural moisture to the skin after it’s exposed to astringents.

Another readily found product is creams to help “intolerant” or “reactive” (hypersensitive) skin manage stress, fight toxins, and be more resistant to irritation. In addition to these are creams to achieve soothing, hydrating, mattifying, nourishing, and lightening effects; anti-aging creams and serums; creams to conceal redness, even skin tone, and brighten the complexion; cicalfate creams that help wounded skin to recover; BB and CC creams; exfoliating scrubs and masks; spot treatments to fade brown spots and dark spots; and “global” all-in-one treatments to limit blemishes, even skin tone, and refine skin texture.

avene

Of Bioderma, Avène, La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Uriage, and SVF—all dermatological laboratories—Avène seems to offer the most products.

Many of these products, and all of Avène’s, contain eau thermale, thermal spring water, which also comes as a spray. This is essentially mineral water from deep under the earth that decreases inflammation and so has soothing and healing properties for the skin.

It’s not until I walked into a pharmacie that I realized how intimate a thing skincare is: with as many  types and brands of products available as there are, a girl can purchase as many or as few as she likes in pursuit of skin in which she feels comfortable. As I vacillated between eau micellaires, lotions, and eau thermales for over an hour, assessing my desire for a smooth skin against the euros in my bank account, a British girl asked her friend, who was walking towards the checkout with a handful of products, how she planned to apply at the same time all of the products she had picked out. It was an entirely appropriate question, if you ask me. I didn’t catch her response, but in a way, I’m glad I didn’t; like a French girl’s skincare routine, the pharmacie will remain a little mystery.

French Beauty and Where to Find It

Iris Mittenaere was crowned Miss Universe 2016 yesterday, becoming only the second Miss France (and the first since 1953) to win the world’s largest beauty pageant. And she’s from Lille!

I know that the Miss Universe competition is about more than beauty; as its tagline reads, it’s about empowering women to be “Confidently Beautiful” and to inspire the world. However, this year’s winner is exceptional in that she holds the world in captivity not only because she is Miss Universe but also because she is French and so possesses a sort of quintessential beauty.

Every culture has its own vision of beauty, but few are so coveted as that of the French. French beauty may be described as timeless, classic, fresh, au naturel, and effortlessly chic, and it is all of these things. Think to the richly smoky eyes of the woman of the Roaring Twenties; to the soft and flirty complexion of the woman of the 1990s; to the messy hair, half-up or undone, and red satin lipstick that the French woman of today wears. The French woman aspires to beauty incarnate.

Yet the number-one rule of French beauty is to work with what you have, as opposed to trying to change it. That cerain je ne sais quoi? It’s achieved by actually not trying too hard, and it often results in a more natural look. The French woman embraces what she was given and in this way exudes what the Miss Universe competition considers the most important quality of any contestant: confidence, très sexy.

One of the reasons for which the world envies French women is their reputedly flawless skin, and many of them do have this because they care for it! From the time they are girls and their mothers taught them how, French women follow a meticulous skincare routine, and to meet the demands imposed by this endeavor, the French have an extraordinary number of skincare products. I’ve bought two micellar waters (they remove makeup and clean all at once), a deep pore-cleasing “lotion” (not the same thing as in America; lotions are liquids), a moisturizing cream, and a thermal spring water mist (it’s supposed to be soothing), and those are only the basics! For example, many women also start using anti-aging products when they’re young, in their mid-twenties, which makes quite a lot of sense, actually, as that way you can keep your skin looking young, instead of only keeping it from looking older. I’m considering investing in one of those soon, too.

Of course, because they put so much work into making their skin look perfect, French women don’t need to add much to it. They apply little makeup, using it merely to accentuate what they want to show rather than to cover up what they want to hide. They would much rather smudge some creamy eyeliner on their eyelids than wear glittery eyeshadow, or paint their nails a sheer ballerina-pink than a color of the season. In effect, many women appear slightly disheveled and surreptitiously pretty. Those who neither have good skin nor wear makeup, well, they appear a bit of a mess, and they’re not too uncommon, but this is different in Paris, where a history of haute couture has elevated beauty to a seat almost as highly valued as that which fashion occupies (that’s the impression I’ve gotten, anyway).

Most, however, appear put-together, and it’s the practice of arriving at this look that I admire. I’m too American to ever be French, and I’m fine with that. I like being American. The dedication shown one’s skin, though, and the poise that follows and allows the French woman to sparkle silently in a crowd, a goddess of subtle seduction… I think I’ll at least take this little piece of French culture home with me.

20 Differences Between French and American Culture

The French have a verb, assimiler, that has a literal definition of, as one may guess, “to assimilate”, but a figurative one also of “to absorb” or “to learn”. Since I packed my bags and found myself a studio in France, that’s what I’ve been trying to do with regard to French culture, to assimiler dans ma tête what is different about life in this country as compared to life in America.

Here’s what I’ve discovered:

1. I love bises!
Imagine it: the late-afternoon sun lights the sky in warm tones of daffodil yellow and clementine, the Eiffel Tower stands iconic in the distance, and against this meet the silhouettes of two people, both of whom give the other a swift air kiss beside both cheeks, allowing their cheeks to brush as they make a bright, puckered kissy noise with their own lips.

Though but the French equivalent of a hug or handshake, bises conjure up daydreams of Paris, where romance saturates the air like the fragrance of soft pink rose petals, and so gives to every French encounter an element of freshness and spontaneity. Both friends and acquaintances, especially two women or a woman and a man, may give one another bises. It may also be said when saying goodbye or written in the closing of a letter. Similar but more playful, bisous are kisses on the cheeks or lips given between lovers and friends.

2. La politesse is deeply ingrained in French society.
If you don’t faire la bise, you must at least say “Bonjour” or “Bonsoir” (depending on whether it’s day or night) to everyone you meet, from friends to coworkers to the person at the checkout at the grocery store. If you walk into a room of people, you should greet the room upon walking through the door. And don’t forget to wish people a good day or evening (“Bonne journée” or “Bonne soirée”) and to say goodbye (“Au revoir”, pronounced “ah-vwahr”) as you leave!

3. The pace of life is slower.
France’s café culture exemplifies this perfectly. People go for drinks—café in the morning and alcohol in the afternoon into evening—just to socialize, because one’s social life is of more importance in France. People may invite friends over for the apéritif, drinks and classy snacks before dinner (there’s even a whole apéritif cheese section at the grocery store), and if they take it out, there are many apéritifs, usually liqueurs, listed on restaurants’ drinks menus.

Meals are more important too, as they provide the day with structure and the French value ritual more highly. Lunch is an hour and a half, so many people go home to cook or go to lunch with coworkers, and after dinner, you can hang out, finishing your wine or smoking, if that’s what you like to do; waitstaff don’t push you to leave (though this goes both ways: you can’t expect speedy service from them, especially since tips are included in the bill). Plus, people converse at the table! If you see someone on their phone, you can be 99 percent sure that person isn’t French.

4. The French are more proud than are Americans.
The phrase “proud to be an American” has nothing on French pride; the difference is that French pride is less openly expressed. Nevertheless, the French are extremely proud, both as individuals and as a people and, as such, they are easily bothered. You can tell when a French person is upset because he or she will adopt mannerisms one doesn’t hear in the U.S.; this manner of speaking is about resolution, and sometimes feigning discontent in order to get one’s way. It’s an inflection of the voice accompanied by gap-fillers (especially bah, “well”); widening of the eyes; and air blown out to fill the cheeks, momentarily rendering the person a chipmunk before being released. While French is a romantic language in which the words flow one into the next, enunciation of certain consonants and phrases sounds sharper, and the words en fait (in fact), voilà (there you go), and C’est tout (That’s all) may be heard a lot.

5. The women are more feminine.
French femininity is subtle, and it’s individual. The French woman doesn’t flaunt her femininity but rather takes care to show it in whatever way she can. She doesn’t wear heels every day, but she does wear skirts and dresses, and underneath those, lingerie—a matching bra and panties that make her feel that she deserves to wear pretty things, even if nobody sees them. She maintains good posture and carries herself with poise. She’s not perfect, but she’s interesting and in command of herself, and that makes her alluring.

6. There is no such thing as “overdressed”, in either sense of the word.
You have to hand it to the French: they really do have a certain sartorial savoir faire. In their trench or wool coats, ankle boots, and endless scarves, the women sparkle with confidence that simmers in the simplicity of a few go-to pieces. The men wear sweaters, pullovers, and button-downs. Nobody takes off his or her coat while riding the métro or tram. That took me a little getting used to at first, but now it just seems easier. It would be too much of a hassle to remove your perfectly-wrapped scarf, coat, and pom-pom hat every time!

7. Many people rely on public transportation.
The French don’t have to worry about earthquakes collapsing their cities, so the cities are built up, not out. This is great because it makes most French cities walking cities! The lack of earthquakes also makes public transportation safe. In Bordeaux, there’s a fabulous, modern tram system, but in Lille, the métro is primarily underground, and in Paris, it’s partly aboveground and partly underground. Since everything is close together, it’s quick, too.

8. People read!
Bookstores exist! There’s a seven-story Furet du Nord in Lille. I firmly believe that if America had more public transportation (which meant people would have free time during the time they normally spent driving) and if all of the bookstores hadn’t disappeared, we would be a smarter country.

9. People buy their groceries from open-air markets.
These marchés are everywhere, and unlike farmers’ markets in America, they’re year-round! The biggest ones take place on Sunday mornings, but you can find smaller ones throughout the week, too. At any marché, you can buy fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and at some of the bigger ones you can find honey, olives and tapenade, cheeses, meats and seafood, and roasted chicken (people queue for this!).

10. “Clean eating” is not a thing.
Before coming here, I rarely drank milk or ate bread and had no interest in butter. But here, you can buy organic milk for a little more than one euro (as compared to four or five dollars), and the butter. is. delicious. That’s to say nothing of the bread, which is baked fresh every morning and inedible after two days, as it contains no preservatives (so at least it’s a little healthier!). You can pick it up at an artisan boulangerie-pâtisserie on almost any corner for about a euro. My favorite breakfast is a tartine (any slice of bread, but I prefer an open-faced baguette) with beurre doux and Bonne Maman jam.

Unfortunately, salads are not too common—I make mine at home and bring them with me to work—while sugar is all too common. The French have a sweet tooth.

11. The French aren’t really ones for exercise.
Some guys go to the gym, and it’s rumored that some girls do, too, but that they only do cardio while they’re there. It’s more common to run outdoors—I’ve seen it both in Paris and in Lille—or, more still, to not exercise at all.

So if the French eat bread all of the time and don’t work out, how do they stay so thin? To be honest, I haven’t noticed a significant difference between body shapes in America and those in France. There is a feminine French figure and a masculine one, the former petite and very thin, the latter also small, with compact legs (though this surely is accentuated by the tight pants). However, just as in America, there exists a variety of body types, and there are plenty of overweight and obese individuals. That said…

12. Moderation is more widely practiced.
The French don’t overindulge. At the bottom of any French advertisement for a snack food is a statement that says that important to a healthy diet is not consuming too much of any one kind of food, whether sweet, savory, or salty. To this end, a family friend with whom I stayed in Nantes for a couple of days explained to me that when you’re finished eating, you don’t take seconds, and you can have dessert (sometimes after both lunch and dinner), but something small, and nothing more. This demonstration of self-control is the reason many French people have such tight bodies and look so amazing in skinny jeans.

13. The French are more inclined to use natural remedies.
Many items that are over-the-counter in America, such as aspirin, are behind the counter in France. If you have a headache, for example, you have to explain that to a pharmacist so she can decide the best treatment for you. This reticence to medicate is accompanied by the dedication of a whole aisle in the pharmacy to extracts (including cassis, or blackcurrant) and herbal teas.

14. The French government gives its citizens money.
Le revenu universel, also called le revenu de base, l’allocation universelle, and other names, is a monthly allowance of sorts considered to be an inalienable and unconditional right of every French citizien. It varies in amount according to the applicant’s age, work status, and salary, but it complements wages and covers living expenses in the case of unemployment.

15. French bureaucracy, however, is agonizingly slow, as anyone who has ever had to deal with it knows.
My initiation into French bureaucracy was a dramatic one. The night before my visa appointment at 9:00am the following day, I went to sleep without knowing if I would be able to obtain my visa; five months after having been accepted into the program through which I’m teaching, I still hadn’t received my work contract. Luckily, it was sent to me during the night and was sitting in my email inbox when I woke up the next morning, and I’m here now! This is but one example, however, of it taking a long time to get anything done.

16. School is harder.
The French school system is demanding: a school day can last from 7:00am to 5:00pm, though most students only have to go from 8:00am to 3:30pm. Students must pass an exam to culminate from collège (middle school), though I’m told it’s not that hard, and they’re expected to have some sort of idea as to what they want to do with their lives by that time; I doubt there’s any such thing as taking a courseload of GEs freshman year to find out what you like. Students who earn good grades in lycée (high school) go to university, while those who earn not-so-good grades go to professional (trade) schools. There are even some professional lycées. I thought all of this would mean that students would be more serious, but in collège, at least, they’re still a mix of attentive and disruptive, hardworking and apathetic.

The teachers, however, are definitely stricter, and they demand more respect: the class must line up outside the door, say hello upon filing in, and remain standing until told to be seated. The slightest misconduct may be reprimanded with a taking of the carnet de correspondance (like the agendas in American elementary schools that parents have to sign) or, and the students actually hate this, being sent out of the classroom.

17. France has upheld traditional attitudes concerning the relationship of a husband and a wife.
I’m not positive about this one, but I’m pretty sure the country is still tied to the institution of a patriarchal society. I noticed this while listening to an American who married a French man talk to me about her husband: she referred to him not by his name, even though I knew him, but as “my husband”. Maybe she loved reminding herself that she was married to him, or maybe it was simply her preference to refer to him in that way, but to me it rang as deferential. I wonder if it’s this way throughout much of Europe; on a free walking tour of Prague, my boyfriend’s and my tour guide made a quip that went something to the effect of, “But we’re far past the notion that men are stronger than women, aren’t we, Americans?

18. Racism is just as if not more rampant in France than it is in America, but the French are less willing to talk about it.
I’ve seen what may have been racial profiling on several occasions, yet under the French constitutional law of laïcité, it’s not allowed to discuss race, religion, or politics—any subject that could get touchy—in school. Furthermore, even noting someone’s race may be taken for racism. When discussing former president Obama’s presidency, I had to explain to my students that in America, it’s not considered racist to describe him as the first black president; it’s just a matter of fact. Regardless, they all think America is racist.

19. Christmas lasts for two months.
Globalization may have allowed Black Friday to infiltrate French marketing, but Christmas decorations start going up in early November. Fairy lights are strung across streets, Christmas trees go up in shopping malls, and you can find wrapping paper almost anywhere. Come December, the marchés du Noël, or Christmas markets, start popping up; every city has its own, and some towns within cities hold their own marchés in miniature. There’s so much Christmas spirit!

20. Wine.
The wine is amazing. I haven’t had enough California wine to definitively say whether or not French wine is better, but you can easily find an inexpensive bottle that’s pleasant to drink. Plus, there are more types of French wine. There are so many regions and so many varieties of grapes that it’s impossible to be a connoisseur of them all!


In spite of all of these cultural differences, I periodically have flashes of realization in which it becomes clear to me for but a moment that life here is quite the same as it is back home. All of the above differences, they’re little things.

Toddlers still go through their terrible twos. Dads still scold their children for burping in public (I actually witnessed this happen: as I was walking down the block, a three- or four-year-old burped, and his dad immediately said, only half-shocked, “Enfant!”). Schoolchildren still play sports, buy candy, and take the bus home from school. College students still go out Thursday nights. Young families still spend every day exhausted and in the love of one another. Most everyone still listens to American music and goes shopping on Saturdays (everything is closed on Sundays).

France and America are both Western first-world countries. We’re both lucky to have clean water to drink and to not have to live in fear of losing our lives and families at any second in the place we call home. And yet I wonder if on some level, the foundations of life aren’t the same for people throughout the world, if we don’t care about the same things, if we all wouldn’t be happy to simply be alive and loved.