The Current Lists 2015 (Books, Concerts, Exhibitions, Shows)

A new post for 2015.

Concerts and Shows

  • West Side Story, live symphony playing to the movie, at the Grand Rex, Paris

Exhibitions

  • Brancusi Workshop at the Pompidou Centre

Books

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Movies

  • The Theory of Everything
  • Boyhood
  • Guardians of the Galaxy
  • Into the Woods
  • The Hundred-Foot Journey
  • To Be Takei
  • The Imitation Game
  • Date Night

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Notes from the Paris Winter Sales 2015

IMG_2855Arriving in Paris in October, I found out that there are only two official sales periods in France a year, closely regulated by the government. Having waited three months for the winter sale start, I was full of anticipation. And confusion. I understood that it would be busy, and people would be shopping. It seemed that every week, there would be further price cuts. The sales would start on 7 January and finish on 15 February (after we leave).

But beyond that, I wasn’t sure how it would work. Colleagues cautioned that if you really want something, to get it right away so it isn’t sold out. Apparently people scout stores beforehand to see what’s available and check their sizes. There is a story that they would try to hide things in the corners of stores until the prices went down further, but that stores caught onto that… The little I could find on websites also had this same attitude of… frenzy, advising to find what you want, scout it out, and be ready to fight the crowds.

IMG_2836Various observations and conclusions, after being in Paris for most of the sales period.

  • There are thousands of shops in Paris and an exponential number of items of desire. I’m really not sure it’s necessary to get so worked up, particularly when I don’t think the sales prices are as great as in other countries (certainly, not the crazy sales and discounts you’d find in the USA).
  • Wouldn’t it be more relaxed to pop into your favourite stores occasionally during the sale period, see what is on sale, and if it might go down even more as the sales period goes on.
  • The thing is: it’s unpredictable. It’s not clear what will go on sale, and while some shops do have a 2nd or final markdown, it doesn’t particularly seem to be on a weekly basis. A number of stores don’t seem to go lower then 50% off. The first week of the sale, with 20% only seems pretty lame.
  • However, if you are really keen, the night before, large stores like BHV or smaller chain stores (like the IKKS store I stopped in at) start putting the sales prices on, even if you can’t buy them. So you can do some research.

    Rather nice jacket/cardigan from Zara

    Rather nice jacket/cardigan from Zara

  • In the clothes stores, a selection of items from last season will be on sale, and there will still be a section with their new collection.
  • Most of the chain clothes stores that I scouted out, like Zara and H&M, or higher-end ones like the Kooples and IKKS, have reductions ranging from 20% to 50%. This means that the beautiful and high-end French clothing stores like Agnes B, Zadig & Voltaire, or the Loft are still going to be far out of my price range. 50% of 200 euros is still 100 euros…
  • Printemps was less crowded on the Saturday after the sale started than Galeries Lafayette, but it does seem more expensive. There, a selection of clothes was between 20% and 50% off… but there was one area, on the 7th floor of the homewares store that had super-bargains up of to 70%. What an odd mix. In the men’s section, there were Top Shop short-sleeve button-up shirts for cheap, right next to a Dries Van Noten tank top, that did not stand out except for its price tag of 400 Euros (70% off that means 120 euros, or about $180 Australian). Cough.
  • Galeries Lafayette was huge and buzzy, and had much better deals, with lots of different racks up to 70% off. In addition to the highest end designers, they seemed to have a bigger middle-range than Printemps, for example, selling labels I like such as Ben Sherman and Scotch and Soda and their own brand.
  • I also stumbled on a huge department store called Citadium that had only men’s clothes and was aimed at a younger market. Still, it had some fun favourites like Fred Perry, Cheap Monday and the Danish company Suit, and a whole bunch of weird streetwear which is not appropriate for my age.

IMG_2856In the end, what do you get when you cross a shop-a-holic with a fashion victim. C’est moi!

  • I bought a scarf and t-shirt from IKKS that I was obsessing over. Because my women work colleagues really gave this impression that things WOULD SELL OUT, I got them online, because I worried that they wouldn’t be in the stores in my sizes, but I discovered that I would have been able to find them no problem and saved me the delivery charge, and over the course of the sale, the prices continued to drop. I paid a lot more than I could have. If I was to do it again, I would have ordered online… at the end of the sale, not at the start, and not worry about anything selling out. Because they didn’t.
  • I treated myself to an Alexander McQueen pair of jeans at 70% off, probably the only time I’ll ever be able to afford something from him…
  • And am planning on rocking some corduroy pants from Scotch & Soda. They’ve slowly seemed to creep back into fashion…
  • I also surprised myself by getting a jacket and a vest from Zara. They really do a good job of translating high fashion trends into the mainstream, and at affordable prices, and though Zara goes on sale in other countries, I couldn’t resist these and was perhaps influenced by finding the prices in other stores still too high.
  • As the weeks went on, I also bought a great dress shirt from Emile Lafleurie and a 50% off vest from COS. It was clear that either I needed to leave the country, or the sale season needs to stop, before I continue with my mad consumerism…
  • I admit though that one of the reasons I succumbed to a shopping spree is that I realized that everything is expensive in Paris, so while the prices seem relatively more expensive than say, a good sale in the USA, they are in line with the high cost of going out to eat, and the general cost of living. At least that’s my excuse.

If anyone else has hints and tips from the Paris sales, why not share them in a comment?

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Restaurant Review, Le Connétable, Paris

We’d passed this corner restaurant and bar on the way to the amazing Dessance restaurant. It looked cozy and so we managed to get back here on a dark winter night. Without a reservation (though the first to arrive), we got the very last table. By the time we left, it was completely full, and I think this was only a Monday or Tuesday. Le Connetable is both a bar and restaurant and the hotel dates back to 1340. It has a fantastic historic feel to it, and serves traditional French bistro food. Because of that, and because the menu looks pretty typical, my expectations were only medium.

But after tasting the food (we each had the 24 euro formula), we were super impressed. It was simple, wonderful and tasty, a whole notch above the dozens of other French bistros, as well as above our expectations. My salad of green beans with chicken livers was a thumbs-up as was S.’s hot chevre profiterole. He was happy with his very tender lamb, as was I with my turkey scallopini with a heavy rich cream sauce of sorrel (I think: Oseille, in the original). I finished with a baked custard with salted butter, but snagged a tasty piece of S.’s pear and chocolate tart. We were very happy with choosing Le Connetable.

Le Connetable
55 de la rue des archives
Paris 75004
Leconnetable.net

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Four months in Paris

Short vacations of a few weeks and living abroad for years or longer have their various benefits. But at this point in my life, where I have a happy home in Sydney, the unexpected opportunity to live in Paris for four months has been just right.

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Atop the Printemps department store

I like a bit of routine, admittedly, so I’ve liked the schedule of a full-time job (at work that I’m enjoying) and fitting in exploring around that. I’ve tried different cycle routes to work. I’ve found my favourite coffee shop (meaning they make coffee more like in Australia). I’ve poked around shops and grocery stores, exploring new neighbourhoods or our own quartier. There has been time to do that.

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S.’s birthday dinner (as we arrived, and the Eiffel Tower went all sparkly)

I’ve liked not being in a rush to explore. There is a lot to do in this city, but it has been enough to see art exhibitions and shows when we could and eat in interesting and fantastic restaurants, but also make quiet meals at home, to do laundry, or even to watch TV shows and movies on our laptops, somehow happier, for now, that Paris is bustling just outside our apartment.

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Inside the Opera Garnier… definitely worth a visit.

It helps that Paris seems almost made-to-order for short sojourns. I’m surprised how easy it’s been to be here. Apartment rental was easy enough. There couldn’t be another city with so many websites for furnished apartments! Paris is so easy to get around, particularly with the Vélib free bikes. We’ve both had moments when our French has failed us but mainly causing only embarrassment or annoyance, no real problems. Today’s technology – free messaging and skyping to friends and family, local cellphone SIM cards, and international money cards – has worked just fine for us here.

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A quieter pleasure, art nouveau vases at the Musée d’Orsay

A few months is not enough to delve deeply into one’s surroundings, but enough to observe, and make deductions and find one is wrong, and do more observing. I’ve observed the changing of the season, and the different rhythms of the city. Paris is slightly quieter with the colder weather… though really, always quite busy. I notice the different rhythms within myself. I think it took a full two months before I was slightly less breathless with amazement and glee for being here. Now, I’m merely happy.

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When I took S. up to the top of Galeries Lafayette, the view was overcast and moody.

My time here has also been an unexpected revision to my experiences as a younger man living in Brussels and London. Then, I was so invested in trying to understand the cities I lived in, to find a place in them, and find my way. I was serious, melancholy and often lonely. Years later, now I’m here in France with my partner. I have enjoyed the experience with little burden. The reporter Richard Boudreaux wrote in the Wall Street Journal in late December that ‘[t]he beauty of nomadic life is that you’re detached from the flaws of the surrounding society while you soak up the best it has to offer. You’re an observer. You have no stake. You’re just passing through.’

The Charlie Hebdo incident punctured a hole in the unreality of nomadic life, exposing more than I wanted to see. So, perhaps it’s a good time to leave, to return to my content life in Sydney. There, I’ll see how Paris has settled into me, after this perfect amount of time.

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Hotel de Ville, January 2015: Charlie Hebdo solidarity signs up, and a temporary skating rink set up in front…

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Restaurant Review: Septime, er, no, the Pause Cafe

This review of Septime the Pause Cafe is for lunch on 28 January 2015.

So, while this is not a review of Septime, it is a little story about it, as well as living in a foreign land. My friend Greg, who was the sommelier of one of Australia’s top restaurants and is always good for recommendations for food and grog, had highly recommended the restaurant Septime on Rue Charonne from when he was passing through on a champagne tour.

On our trip to the southwest of France in August 2014, we had a few days in Paris either side. But as they’re only open Monday to Friday evenings, our schedules didn’t quite coincide. I decided we’d head to their sister restaurant, next door, Clamato, which has gotten rave reviews. I carefully checked their website which said it was open on the weekends, non-stop, noon to 23h. I decided it would be our special meal in Paris to finish our holidays together. I thought an early dinner on Sunday might be less busy, so after finding our way to the 11th, and finding a place to park our vélibs, we stumbled into the restaurant which was… closing. Packing up, chairs on tables.

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This is the Pause Cafe, not Septime

Oh, we’re closing for the holidays, I was told. Non-stop? Very disappointed, I asked if they had any recommendations of other restaurants close by, and the waitress seemed exasperated at both the question and my poor French. We left, and being a Sunday in August, it wasn’t that easy to find a restaurant that evening.

Flash forward. Back in France, unexpectedly, and this time for four months. I meanwhile find out that Septime is the new hot restaurant, has great reviews and is hard to get into. I put it on my list of restaurants to try. Their website advises that you can make reservations online but every time I clicked, it was filled. I’d found the booking service, La Fourchette, easy to use and efficient for other restaurants. But it didn’t work in this case. I later read the fine print. Reservations only open for a three week period daily. I tried online a number of times, at the time it said reservations were open, but only once did a reservation come up, and it was for lunch, when I was working.

Still, it was in the back of my mind, and a pal at UNESCO said it was really interesting. Don’t do it online, just call up. And so I did. I figured surely I could get us in sometime during our last two weeks in Paris. But no, when I got through, dinners were all booked up. There were lunch bookings available. I hung up, disappointed and then thought: well, why not? I’ll take off half a day and go for lunch. So I called right back. When did I want the reservation? As late as possible, I said, thinking that it would still allow me to work in the morning. OK. How about treize heures? Pleased with myself, I hung up, put the reservation in my calendar for 3pm, and messaged my partner with the good news.

Flash forward. I arrange to take the afternoon off from work. I’m very pleased to create this treat and occasion for us, a special meal in our last week in Paris. They call the day before to confirm the booking. But the first call, I’m in a meeting with my boss and the second call, I don’t manage to answer before it goes right to message. The message says that I can call them back to confirm after 17h, or just send an email. I decide that an email is easier, and write that I’m looking forward to seeing them tomorrow at 15h.

In the back of my mind, I do know this is a strange time. But somehow I’ve convinced myself that they are so busy and popular, that they run a non-stop service between lunch and dinner. It’s a drizzly Wednesday but not too wet to ride our bikes. I leave work a little earlier than I expected, telling colleagues I’m off to a special lunch. I head home, pick up my partner and we ride to Rue de Charonne.

When we enter, I can see an empty table for two, the rest of the place is filled and buzzy. How nice. But the waiters, all gathered at the counter look up with some confusion and that particular Gallic air that says you’ve done something wrong. ‘We’re here for our reservation at 3pm’, I say with my best accent.

No, no, it’s not possible, the kitchen is closed now, and you were supposed to be here at 12h30.

I am confused. 12h30 doesn’t sound a thing like 3pm, and it hadn’t been a short conversation on the phone. But he checks his computer, and it was 13h we were supposed to be there, sorry sir, there’s nothing he can do about it. Neither is there any space tonight or anytime soon.

But I tried for weeks,’ I say feebly.

Next door is no reservations, they open at 19h30′, he says, and then for emphasis he says, ‘Not 17h30. Don’t get it mixed up.‘ The waiters all laugh.

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Duck parmentier and beef with winter vegetables

I am rather emotional to tell my partner I screwed up, and as we wander off in the direction home, it starts to rain, more heavily. ‘I tried so hard,’ I tell him. We pop into a cafe nearby before we get too wet, a lively and colourful cafe that we’d noticed back in August. It doesn’t take me that long to realize that the reservations guy had told me ‘treize heures‘, meaning 1pm, and I’d mistaken it for trois heures, 3pm.

But still, there had been a number of opportunities to avoid this, if I’d managed to answer the phone for first, or second time. If I hadn’t been too busy and called instead of emailed. If they’d read the email and thought it strange that I was confirming for 15h instead of 13h. If my partner (or anyone I’d mentioned it to) had spoken up to say: the French don’t serve lunch at 3pm. If I’d remembered that the French don’t serve lunch at 3pm. If, in all my years of travel, I’d gotten used to the 24 hour clock, so I would never have expected the reservations guy to say 3 in the afternoon, rather than a thirteen or fifteen.

Licking my wounds, I toast to my stupidity with a cup of champagne (I like that they call it a coupe instead of a glass, une verre), and at the Pause Cafe, my better half has a tasty sort of stewed beef on winter vegetables, and I have a rather excellent duck cottage pie (a parmentier).

It’s not like cultural confusion and language problems don’t happen all the time. In fact, last night, a colleague asked for a hot whiskey, a grog, and after a long wait was presented with a melted cheese sandwich, a croque monsieur. We both agreed that they sound nothing the same and that our French pronounciation isn’t THAT bad.

I don’t begrudge Septime for being so popular and hard to get into, and acknowledge my own mistake and their losing a table of two for lunch. But you know when you try and try and things just don’t work? Septime, I’m sorry, but we’re never ever going to be friends. As for the Pause Cafe: thanks for saving a distraught stranger in a strange land, with a rather imperfect comprehension of everyday French language (and evidently, culture).

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Coffee in Paris

Nico at Coutume Cafe

Nico at Coutume Cafe

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It’s slowly getting out around the world that Australians are obsessed by coffee, and Australians make very good coffee. What’s slightly confounding, I think to all concerned, is that Australian coffee is so good because it’s Australian. The Australians created it… a version of coffee called a ‘flat white’ with the same principles used to make a ‘latte’ or ‘cappucino’. Wikipedia says it was invented in the 1970s but do we trust wikipedia?

In any case, the Sydney Moving Company has a very good explanation of how coffee is different in Australian than in the USA. If you haven’t tried one, go for it. Order a flat white or latte, both are similar. You don’t have to put on an Aussie accent to do it. Starbucks apparently has introduced an Aussie Flat White in the USA as of January 2015. If you’ve tried it, please tell us what it’s like in the comments!

Barista at the Boot

Barista at the Boot

Anyways, when Australians (or those of us who’ve adopted Australia as home) complain about not getting good coffee overseas, we’re not talking about espressos (which are just fine in Europe), nor really about black coffee. We’re saying we can’t find a latte or flat white like in Oz.

A lovely coffee from Boot Cafe

A lovely coffee from Boot Cafe

Caitlin, the daughter of a friend of my better half, told me about the Coffee(In)Touch Guides. As an app for the phone which comes in versions for London, NYC and Paris, it’s been a bit of a saviour over the last four months. Though admittedly, we’ve ended up at the chains Costa and Starbucks more times than I’d foreseen. Through the app, a few that we’ve discovered include: La Caféthèque on Rue de l’Hotel de Ville, near the Seine in the 4th. It runs coffee tasting and appreciation nights, has nice sweets, and a homey atmosphere in a maze of four interconnected rooms. We were directed to Café Craft on Rue des Vinaigriers in the 10th, right next to Canal St Martin, an interesting set-up where people can come and work on computers and treat it as a casual workspace or office. We were served delicious coffees by… an Australian.

IMG_2768Boot Café up in the 3rd, close to Boulevard du Temple is tiny and charming. The rather adorable American barista was signing along to hip Americana music while we all politely figured out how to sit and stand in the small space. The photos in this post are mostly from here.

Finally, the last is not only not the least, but my favourite. Coutume Café, half-owned by an Australian, was not far from where I stayed for a month in the 7th arrondissement and everytime I went, it made me happy. It’s fun, hip and modern, the most of all the ones I’ve mentioned here; the staff are great and I became friendly with them, and they serve delicious pastries in the morning; if you’re lucky, there’s a selection of three. They do a roaring trade in brunch on the weekends too, and have just set up a demonstration station in the back of the cafe with various coffee apparatuses and supplies. After I moved from the 7th to Beaubourg, I’ve only occasionally managed to stop off for a coffee on my way to work, savour the taste, and feel glad to not settle for the horrible coffee at work. I’ll miss them the most when I’m gone.

Thanks Coutume Cafe. You gave many mornings a good start.

Thanks Coutume Cafe. You gave many mornings a good start.

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Restaurant Review: Chateaubriand, Paris

new doc 2_1 For the 2014 World’s Best Restaurants, Chateaubriand is ranked #27. I ate here about four years ago, after reading a story in the New York Times about how French style was turning to upscale bistros rather than the traditional formal dining. Basque chef Inaki Aizpitarte’s restaurant was highly recommended (here’s my review from then, the price for the menu has gone up from 50 to 70 euros), I was happy to return here in January 2015. There is something brusque and confusing about arrival, I remember it from last time. This time, even with reservations, another couple barged in front of us, and I had to signal to a waiter that I wanted something. No one seemed to care. Then there was a bit of a wait, as I suspect they want to time everyone’s multi-course meal to flow smoothly from the kitchen.

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To start with, served with a tasty Chenin blanc, were a series of starters. A few tasty cheese chou pastry puffs. Then, as above, a small piece of dorado ceviche in a startling sour broth. I loved it. I missed taking a photo of another broth, as it was so plain to look at. But the combination of anchovy, fennel and coffee was delicious. I think it hit the umami spot. IMG_2790

Some tiny prawns deep-fried and with raspberry powder. Yum.IMG_2791

A salad, unusual, with some tiny barely cooked (or raw?) clams hidden underneath the leaves.IMG_2793

Served with a light pinot noir, the first ‘main’ was crab, tofu and treviso (the bitter red lettuce). Someone spent a lot of time in the kitchen extracting that sweet crab perfectly. The tofu was light and delicate, with an orange sauce that I thought was tomato based. I don’t associate fine dining with tofu and was impressed. A very interesting balance of flavours.IMG_2794

Here’s an interesting pairing for the next dish: champagne. The cod was all about the texture, soft and slightly bland. Then ribbons of radish, crunchy deep-fried sage leaves and  a sunflower oil dressing. Cédrat seems to be a large thick lemon with a thick rind. Maybe that’s what I thought was the radish. Hmm, curious. IMG_2795I think calves’ thymus or pancreas (ris de veau) is not necessarily for the faint of heart. Soft and rich, it needed the hazelnuts and walnuts to add texture, the individual leaves of the brussels sprouts were perfect, as were the pomelo tears.

Lucky us, being a pair, I opted for the cheese plate (three pieces of delicious cheese which I didn’t record) and my better half had two little desserts. The mont blanc was astonishing. It had raw mushroom in it (and tasted great!). The tostino del cielo was a crunchy meringue with a tiny raw egg yolk on top. By this time, the wine and food, I was happily giddy and didn’t manage to take photos of the last dishes.

What makes food interesting is that everyone has different tastes. My partner liked the food, but he said he liked as much watching me enjoy it. The sour flavours, the unique combinations and unusual ingredients didn’t blow him away. But I was blown away: I liked how different it was from other French restaurants, I thought the combinations were really interesting, slightly Asian but not quite: it felt new and original to me, even on a second visit, four years after the first.

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Restaurant Review: L’Alsacien, Paris

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So, I tell my better half that I want to try this Alsatian bar that I pass by to get to my most frequent parking station for my Vélib (that’s free French bike for those not in the know). It’s never open in the mornings but I’ve seen it as it opens up, looking bright but with cosy decoration, both modern and homey, as if you’re hanging around in a friend’s kitchen, but one that is new and stylish. I tell him it’s a pizza restaurant, based on an image I saw on the web.

But I’m completely wrong. L’Alsacien specialises in flammekueche, a specialty of the Alsace region, also known as a Tarte flambée. It does have a passing resemblance to a pizza, but is a bread dough rolled out very thinly, and then covered not with a tomato base but with crème fraiche and other toppings. Wikipedia tells me the dish was only made at home until the 1960s when pizzas became popular, and it moved into restaurants (there seem to be a few in Paris from Alsace) and now L’Alsacien says they are the first flammekueche bar.

I thought it was absolutely sensational. Crisp, hot, savoury and delicious. I love discovering new dishes! The service, by the way, was nice as can be.

L’Alsacien
Paris 75004
www.alsacien.com

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Do you vélib in life after love? My favourite pastime in Paris.

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While getting lost, people-watching, and wandering are among my preferred activities in Paris, my singular favourite thing to do has been riding around on the amazing free bikes, the vélibs (vélo = bike and libre = free).

It’s an amazing city for cycling, with many bike paths, and other areas with big lanes for bikes, buses and taxis. This would seem dangerous, particularly in Sydney, but the buses (and cars and taxis) give cyclists a wide berth here.IMG_2744
There are people of all ages, sizes and occupations on the bikes. It’s part of the culture and pace: in warmer weather you might see someone with a baguette in the convenient baskets above the front tire, while they are smoking or talking on a mobile phone with their free hand. It’s even easy to ride at night; the vélibs have bright lights, powered by the cycling, and it’s all very easy.

Most people wear neither helmets nor fluoro safety vests, a sign to me of cycling’s relative safety – as is the fact that people cycle in all weather. The rain is never very heavy and usually stops but I’ve still been surprised how many people ride when it’s raining. It seems the sturdy fenders prevent one from getting splattered. Now, in the cold, people are still riding, just wearing heavier versions of their stylish scarves.

There is a certain technique for choosing one’s bike. I notice that the native Parisians kick at the tires to see if they’re flat or not. But they must have more sensitive toes than my own can’t tell the difference between tires that are fully pumped and a little deflated – I give them a squeeze with my thumb and forefinger. One also should give the pedals a quick spin to see that they move smoothly, that the seat can be adjusted but stays tight (so that going over a bump, the seat does not suddenly drop six inches), and that the rubber grips aren’t missing (in colder weather, the bare metal is rather uncomfortable).IMG_2746
There is a sort of organised chaos. Most cyclists pay attention to road rules, but some do not. Most pedestrians don’t. At many pedestrian crossings, the cars don’t seem obliged to stop, just to not run over anyone. I’ve seen cars go through red lights, and the drivers give the Gallic shrug, ‘Oops’.

This all adds up to a safer feeling rather than less so, as the majority of people seem laissez-faire about sharing the road or pavement, cycling, or getting somewhere in a hurry (though of course, if someone is blocking your way, you ring your cycle bell or drivers honk).

There are many things I love about my adopted country of Australia, but attitudes to cyclists are perhaps what I love the least. Conservative politicians, colluding with Murdoch-controlled media, have somehow made cycling not a form of exercise or transportation, not a healthy ecological measure or an activity that most people do, but instead a mark of political philosophy and belief. Cyclists are wealthy, annoying, left-wing, lycra-wearing rule-breaking radicals. They must be stopped. It’s so bizarre. I’ve never witnessed another country so rapidly anti-bicycle.

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Here in Paris, a yearly membership for a vélib costs only 30 Euros, I sprung for a special card for 40 that gets me a 45 minute free ride at a time, rather than 30 minutes. My handy phone app tells me where to get or leave my bike from, but I also sometimes use it to figure out which way I’m headed! Very occasionally, I’m in a neighbourhood that is super short on bikes, or conversely the stations are too filled to park at. But I’ve found the system incredibly convenient overall.

So, I ride around, energized by the beautiful lines of sight, buildings and views, often singing stupid songs out loud: Do you vélib in life after love? (If Cher vélibed) I’m a véliber (If the Monkeys vélibed). I often get lost, and there are some tricky one-way streets (although there are a surprising number of streets that are one-way but marked clearly that cyclists can go the other way!). But I like getting lost in Paris. I’m not in a hurry and there’s always something wonderful around the corner.

The greatest gift of Paris has been to be here with my partner, and to experience its great joys together. But partners should have time apart too. S. has explored far more of the city than I while I’ve been at work, and knows it better than I do – plus he prefers the slower joys of walking, being a flâneur (as described by Edmund White). The dozens of moments I’ve experienced on a vélib, feeling the wind on my face, caught up in joy and wonder at the city’s beauty and energy, these are the moments I’ve secreted away, the little part of Paris I call my own.

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Men’s Clothes in Paris: Resale, Consignment, Thrift & Outlet

3rd arrondisement, BIS is just up here...

3rd arrondisement, BIS is just up here…

As a teenager, I always loved thrift shops because of the hidden surprises within, the bargains, and the bargain surprises. So, after developing a taste for nice clothes in Europe (with much coaching from friends who were appalled by my Canadian fleece and gortex style), the natural progression from thrift shops was to consignment stores or designer resale shops.

I’m not sure which were the first shops I stumbled across, but I loved looking through second-hand clothes of a higher quality, and seeing if there was something I wanted. I was scornful of designer labels in my youth, but after living in the amazing fashion city of London, I learned that there’s a reason that beautiful clothes cost more, and it’s not just the name of the brand. I found out that fashion is fun, that I enjoyed wearing nice clothes, and that finding something special that suited me was exciting.

It’s become a part of my travel itinerary if I’m in the right city. A good city for designer resale shops or consignment shops is somewhere where people wear nice clothes, and want to get rid of them on a regular basis. Women’s shops are common enough, but men’s not so much. In Sydney, there’s only Blue Spinach, which has wonderful charity sales twice a year, but their prices are still out of my range. Designer clothes are very expensive in Sydney, and not worn by many – so even at consignment prices, prices don’t come down that much.

After a March 2011 trip to Paris, I wrote down my results from my little mission to check out some of Paris’ resale shops, known as depots-vente. That post was one of the most popular to ever appear on my blog, so now that I’m back in Paris for a period (Oct 2014–Feb 2015), I’m doing an update!

As I’ve discovered though, Paris isn’t the place for consignment stores for men’s clothes. So, the following tips include the broader categories of thrift stores (charity shops), outlets, and other used clothes stores.

Thrift Stores

IMG_2775Let’s get right to the point. The Bis Solidarity Boutique in the 3rd arrondisement on Boulevard du Temple is probably the store I was looking for all along. It took me until nearly the end of this trip to find it, which is a shame… or is a good thing, since I would have bought a lot more. Perhaps it was just luck, but I found the men’s section well chosen, and was thrilled to find the most beautiful black Kenzo shirt for 15 euros, and a pair of Jil Sanders jeans for 10 euros. Not only that but the jeans, originally a 34” length, had been hemmed up to 30” so they were perfect for me. I was really happy with this store.

There is also the Emmaus chain, and a newish store on Rue Quincampoix, just up from the Pompodiou Centre has really quite a good selection of clothes for men and women, some designer wear mixed in with Zara and H&M cast-offs. I never found anything there but thought there was potential.

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Jil Sanders jeans and a Kenzo dress shirt, from Bis Solidarity Boutique, at little cost…

 

Resale/Consignment/Depots-Ventes

Chercheminippes seems to be an empire of resale stuff. There’s a woman’s store, an accessories store, a junior store, a regular sort of charity shop, and then a Men’s store at 111 rue du Cherche-Midi (in the 7th arrondisement). I actually thought the clothes were of good quality and with an interesting range. Some fabulous sweaters which I’ll go back and grab when it’s colder (“Pulls”, they’re selling them everywhere this month).

I have to say I had high hopes for Plus que parfait at 23 rue Blancs Manteaux, in the Marais in the 4th arrondisement, just off Rue archives. Oh Paris, you’re too expensive for me. There were some absolutely beautiful suit jackets and dress shirts there… from top name designers. That’s the thing. Prices start at 100 euros and jump far up from there. I suppose if the original goods are 500 euros and you’re getting something here for 200, it’s a deal! There was a dominance of formal wear here: suit jackets, winter jackets, dress shirts. There were some shelves with sweaters and jeans in the back, but a much smaller collection. I didn’t see anything that made me even fantasize about having enough money to buy it though.

Likewise for Les Beaux Mecs, at 18, rue Jules Vallès 75011 Paris. Here the prices were fairly expensive, but I didn’t see much that I recognised even. It’s a fairly small store and seemed like an OK selection but I was non-plussed.

Unless things have changed, Misentroc (63 rue Notre-Dame des Champs, Paris 75006. Tel. 01-46-33-03-67. Metro Stop: Notre-Dame des Champs) only has clothes for women.

Réciproque (88-101 rue de la Pompe, Paris 75016. Tel. 01-47-04-30-28. Metro Stop: Rue de la Pompe), in the 16th arrondissement, is the resale shop most often mentioned on the internet. There is a whole complex of stores each specializing in something – accessories, shoes, boots. I actually visited the men’s store in 2009, not this trip, and didn’t find the men’s selection particularly good. I bought an ‘Eden Park’ dress shirt that reminded me of my Paul Smith stripy shirt, and a ‘Sergio Tacchini’ zip-up athletic jacket in a shade between purple and pink that I can’t name. Nice enough but neither of them were favourites. I’m going to try and check it out and see what it looks like in 2014.

In 2011, I was lusting after Alternatives (18 rue du Roi de Sicile, Paris 75004. Tel. 01-42-78-31-50. Metro Stop: St Paul). It was a small, charming shop in the Marais that I found locked when I got there. They only wanted a few people in at a time so they can provide good service. I was drooling after various shirts by designers such as Alexander McQueen and Dries Van Noten. As of 2015, it’s open by appointment only.

Outlet Stores

So, having reviewed consignment stores, it seems that we need to turn to outlet stores instead. That is, I think, how Paris rolls. I wasn’t brave enough to head out of the city to the outlet mall which people talk about… La Vallée Village, which is near Eurodisney. But I understand this is last season’s stock at about 30% off, not huge bargains. But Paris seems to have quite a few stores which have anywhere from five or ten to dozens of brands of clothes, that sell clothes at reduced prices.

The first outlet store we stumbled across was Numero 50 at 50 Rue Ste Anne and it had some great men’s (and women’s) clothes at great prices, and they change their stock to different designers every few weeks. They focus on just a handful of designers at a time.

The scarf of my dreams, from VNeck, a little Italian brand, bought at Piscine.

The scarf of my dreams, from VNeck, a little Italian brand, bought at Piscine.

The Piscine chain (without a website, they’re found here on Facebook), I have to say is pretty fun, and I bought the most amazing winter scarf there. They have tons of high-end designer clothes, with lots of Italian names. This means that sometimes the mark-down is from 1000 euros to 300 euros, so there is still a lot of really pricy stuff. But they seem to have some better deals here and there. It also depends on the particular store. I was tempted by Bikkembergs clothes from season’s past at 19/21, rue de L’ancienne Comédie, 75006 Paris, France, and I found their branch at 7, Place des Victoires 75002, Paris interesting (particularly with a handful of Maison Margiela clearance) but I’ve found nothing at reasonable prices at the one in the Marais.

A special mention here goes to the men’s shirt shop, XOOS. Actually, Paris seems to have a tradition of very colourful men’s business shirts in high quality cotton. Cotton Doux stores are all over. XOOS is the favourite store of my reiki teacher, but the last time I stopped in, I found shirts I liked at well. At the store itself, they have real deals from 16 to 35 euros, during the winter sale season, I got a few shirts for 26 euros. They’re stylish and well-made with a twist of something different.

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Vintage Stores

Paris has a ton of vintage clothes stores, and they are not really my thing. I don’t find the quality particularly high, nor anything particularly interesting and they look the same from Amsterdam to Toronto. All over the world.

Free ‘P’ Star (8, rue Sainte Croix de la Bretonnerie) is a shop in the Marais mentioned on fashion sites. In fact, it had rave reviews, claiming ‘one-of-a-kind pieces that appeal to the Parisian trendsetters’ and that it was frequented by celebrities like Kirsten Dunst and Sofia Coppola. Sometimes, I think these blog writers just need to have something to say. Maybe they were fooled by the website, which is a fetching shade of hot pink and makes the place look really groovy. The shop has an air of cool, but is just a regular crappy second-hand vintage clothes stores, not designer seconds, with used army-gear, and plaid shirts, jeans and crazy dresses.

In the last few years, the Kilo Shop has found a really successful model. It is CRAZY how many clothes are in these vintage shops, that do sell clothes by the Kilo. The thing is that there are so many of them, in such variety, that there is actually some kind of cool stuff. If I was a fashion student, I would be buying old cool stuff, and reshaping and cutting them into today’s fashion, mix and matching some funky casual wear from here with a carefully chosen more expensive purchase from somewhere else. My boyf and I both bought Palestinean scarves. The thing is though that it’s deceptive. The heavier items, sweaters and coats, are really not all that cheap in the end because of their weight.

Episode, at 12-16 rue de Tiquetonne just up from Les Halles is listed on a few websites. Part of a Dutch chain, it is absolutely stuffed with clothes, crazy kimonos, sweaters, military uniforms, business shirts and more. Not a consignment store, and no designer wear, so I’d put it in the same category as Free P Star and the Kilo shop. So crammed with clothes, all over the place, on the floors, falling off the racks, that I found it even uncomfortable to browse.

Conclusion

I suspect that Paris isn’t the right place for men’s consignment stores. I think that well-dressed Parisian men hang onto their clothes, and wear them out so they’re not in any shape for resale. The majority of the affordable items that I saw were from cheap chains like Zara and H&M and why buy second-hand items from them, when you’d be able to get them on sale there for the same cost or less?

The other thing is, of course, the feeding frenzy that is the twice yearly sales in Paris. I think this manages to capture people’s shopping energy, to go their favourite stores and designers and get the clothes from last season on sale. Add to this the other options I’ve mentioned above of outlet stores, and that’s probably the way to find clothes deals in Paris.

If you’ve got a taste for designer resale for men, other cities are going to suit you better. Better to stop in at the Dress for Less on St. John Street in Islington, London (or scour their charity stores which will turn up an amazing amount of very high quality designer clothes… for a pittance). The best ever of course is the Ragtag chain in Tokyo. I’m still wearing shirts and jackets I bought from there: Issey Miyake, Lanvin, Stephan Schneider, Paul Smith… Even the last time I was in Vancouver, there were some pretty good shops these days. Turnabout had some great items.

Anyone else have advice on shopping for men’s clothes in Paris? A hidden gem I missed? Or even your favourite Men’s resale shops elsewhere? Leave a comment!

 

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