Driving through France can seem like a drive through the centuries. As we headed north to Paris after five days at the beach, roads branched off the autoroute to Cognac, Blois, Orleans, Le Mans and more. The drive takes you mostly through farmland; and after traversing the stunning vineyards of Bordeaux we were rewarded with miles and miles of sunflower fields.
Early September in France was as hot as it was in New York, but the vistas made the heat less onerous. The promise of Paris awaited as we planned to see old friends and to see what the new season would bring. The French call early September la rentrée, the return; time to go back to school and back to work, and catch up with real life.
It would have been nice to stop in Tours, and other places along the A10, but Paris beckoned.
We got to Paris late in the afternoon. It was steamy and the AC in our five-star hotel was not working. Since most of the homes and businesses in Paris don’t have air conditioning, we couldn’t complain too much even though it was extremely hot (“when in Paris …”). As we headed out to dinner at a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, Paris glowed in the twilight.
Cyril Lignac is a young chef, with a big media presence, and a small group of restaurants. We had eaten in one on our last trip, Le Chardenoux, and decided to try the Café Lignac. A small, neighboorhood restaurant, it serves delicious food at reasonable prices. I had one of the best crab toasts I had ever tasted, and a langoustine ravioli. The staff was young, engaging and fun, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. Though near a tourist destination, the area is a cohesive Parisian neighborhood.
Café Lignac, 139 rue Saint-Dominique
The next day began with a shopping morning. I find the Fortuny boutique interesting. You can find clothing, bags, and scarves in the signature fabrics, as well as lots of unique lighting and other pieces. All of it is made in the original workshops in Venice.
Fortuny, 17 rue Bonaparte
Cafés in Paris are always lively. Tourists and locals share the sidewalks, and the sunny weather.
If you love shirts, then you need to take a look at Figaret. It is full of shirts for men (cut on the slim side) and women. The shirts come in a wide rage of fabrics for classic and relaxed looks.
Biba is always full of clothing from the Sentier (the Garment District of Paris) that is attuned to the trends of the season. This season they love bohemian mixtures with ethnic touches. Most of the looks are very casual and include lots of peasant shirts, vests and mixtures of prints.
Biba, 18 rue de Sèvres
Paris was very dry again this year. Normally the trees change colors in October, whereas this year early fall color arrived quickly in September. On the corner of the rue de Sèvres and la rue Babylone is a quiet place to rest.
Courtois is full of hats; plenty of them for men and women. Straws and Panama hats are sold in the summer months and there will be a new rotation of styles in felts and other cool weather materials. There is also a nice selection of gloves. A very Parisian boutique.
Courtois, 8 rue de Babylone
If casual clothing is what you are after, have a good dig at Brand Bazaar. The two-story boutique is jammed with hundreds of styles of tees, sweaters, blouse, jackets, jeans and more. Keep in mind, you definitely need patience to sift through it all.
Brand Bazaar, 33 rue de Sèvres
Boutiques line many of the small streets near the Place Saint-Sulpice. Saint Laurent, Agnes B., American Vintage and more. It is a shopper’s paradise.
After lunch it was off to the Rive Droite. A new exhibition had just opened at the Fondation Azzedine Alaia. On the way there I popped into the Bazaar de l’Hotel de Ville or BHV to pick up some fun things for my apartment. From parrot shaped light bulbs to interesting “lanterns,” there was a lot to choose from.
BHV, 52 rue de Rivoli
Behind BHV is the corner of the rue des Archives and la rue de la Verrerie. The Foundation Azzedine Alaïa is located just down the street. The exhibition, Alaïa/Grès, Beyond Fashion, is located on two floors of the brand’s headquarters.
It is likely that the two designers never met. At the entry to the exhibition is a long, detailed and facinating bio of Azzedine. A friend of mine had worked as one of his assistants years ago, and while I had met him and knew some of his history, I was happy to learn more. Both his work and that of Madame Grès are meticulous and timeless.
On the second floor, his design studio, untouched since his death, has just been opened. He was a very hands-on creator, sewing most of his samples himself. There is another Alaïa exhibition opening at the end of September at the Paris Galleria Museum. Titled Couturier Collectionneur, it displays a fraction of the 20,000 pieces he owned. Two wonderful exhibits.
Fondation Azzedine Alaïa, 18 rue de Verrerie
Heading back to the Rive Gauche, Notre Dame was looking like it was almost finished. It is said that it will reopen in December of 2024. The only thing that mars the church these days is a large Gucci billboard attached to the scaffolding on the river side of the cathedral.
A friend had told me about Brasserie des Prés, a new restaurant on the hidden Cour de Commerce Sainte-Andre. It’s located on the right, across from La Procope, the oldest restaurant in town. With a glacier, or ice cream bar, featuring the chef’s cool treats, it looks like a must-visit.
Brasserie des Prés, 6 Cour du Commerce Saint-André
The warm weather meant that the chic cafes are filled day and night.
The next morning the skies were a leaden grey, and it was raining. It was still warm, but I do prefer a sunny Paris. The city really needed the rain, though.
The Place de la Concorde was filled with some unattractive structures. There are Rugby Villages all over France so people can watch the competition on large screens. The Rugby World Cup goes through the month of October, and the French are rugby-mad these days. France had just beaten New Zealand when we were there (a huge upset). The Village did detract from the beauty of the square.
An exhibition of the Italian photographer Frank Horvat at the Jeu de Paume covers the first 15 years of his career. Starting to shoot in the 1950s and ’60s, he did not set out to be a fashion photographer. The show offers a wide range of his work, including photos from around the world.
Frank Horvat, Le Jeu de Paume, Place de la Concorde
Another show had just opened at the Petit Palais. Called Treasures in Black and White, the exhibition features a collection of prints by Dürer, Rembrandt, Goya, Toulouse-Lautrec and others. It is hard to imagine the technique used to carve the wood block prints by Dürer. The small works are stunning.
Treasures in Black and White, Le Petit Palais, Avenue Winston Churchill
There was an unusual exhibition of the life of Marie-Thérèse, Duchess of Angoulême. She was the only surviving child of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. I had never heard of the Chapelle expiatoire and was curious to see it. The Chapelle was built after the fall of Napoleon on the grounds of the Madeleine cemetery. It was here where the thousands of people executed between 1792 and 1794 in the Place de La Concorde were tossed. When Louis XVIII came to power, he moved the remains of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette to St. Denis and built this chapel in the memory of the thousands who died, among them, his family members.
The Princesse Royale was married to her cousin, the Duke of Angoulême. Despite having had such a traumatizing childhood, she grew up to be a strong individual. Napoleon called her “the only man in the family.” Even if you cannot see this exhibition, the Chapelle is quite moving. There are ongoing archeological explorations and mysteries to discover.
La Chapelle Expiatoire, 9 rue Pasquier
As it was so rainy, we spent the afternoon catching up with a friend who we had not seen in several years. Later that night we headed over to Les Halles for what we had hoped would be another excellent dinner. We were headed to Poule au Pot, a restaurant that is in the stable of a trendy chef.
Dinner would have been a joke, if it hadn’t been so, dare I say, pathetic. The decor is old-fashioned and kitschy and seeks to remind you of when it was a real hang out. Our young waiter was new to the job and apparently had received absolutely no training. We had ordered an apero to start, and when the food started to arrive he opened our bottle of wine. He had neglected to bring new glasses for the wine and actually poured the first taste into a glass that still had kir in it. When called out about it, he said that he had done the correct thing as all French people mix red and white wine in the same glasses! We called the maitre d’ to the table, and he blustered, while sending spittle into my eyes, that it was our job to train the new waiter. From there, the service didn’t improve and the food was extremely disappointing. The waiter kept making mistakes at every table and we were forced to endure the maitre d’s loud scolding of him less than a foot from our table as more spittle flew. We fled before finishing our food. Several staff members were apologetic and I got a strong feeling that they didn’t love working there. I am certainly not the only one who thinks the place has gone down hill. It has also lost its Michelin star.
Morning brought a hint of blue skies. We were headed to the Musée de Luxembourg in the Luxembourg Gardens. The rue de Tournon is wide and filled with some beautiful architecture.
The museum is on the small side, and was offering Gertrude Stein et Pablo Picasso. L’invention du langage. Highlighting Stein’s years with Picasso and the Cubists and then exploring American art influenced by her, it made for an interesting curation.
The show is in two sections — the Cubist period and then a selection of American-based art, poetry, theatre and music. It is an intersting melange that ties many worlds together.
Musée du Luxembourg, 19 rue de Vaugirard
Paris never fails to charm. Leaving the Luxembourg, via the rue Férou, there is a wall covered in calligraphy. It is a copy of Rimbaud’s poem, le Bateau Ivre, that he declaimed for the first time in a cafe on the other side of the Place St.-Sulpice (just up the street). It was done by a Dutch group, the Fondation Tegen Beeld, and paid for by the Dutch government and its citizens.
We headed back to the Rive Droite. I had wanted to have lunch at one of my favorite small restaurants called Le Soufflé for soufflé, of course. It was packed, and I hadn’t booked, so we went around the corner and ate at Angelina on the rue de Rivoli. No line this time at the classic tea room.
Angelina, 226 rue de Rivoli
There are many new stores in this neighborhood tucked on small streets between the rue de Rivoli and the Faubourg St. Honore. Ganni has a new outpost, and it is full of the brand’s quirky looks.
Ganni, 1 rue du 29 Juillet
Galignani is always a must-visit store. It’s next to Angelina and is packed with a mix of books in French and in English. The selection of books on art, artists and architecture, is amazing. A reader can easily spend an hour or so just browsing through the different sections.
Galignani, 224 rue de Rivoli
Acne, the Swedish brand, has opened a new shop on St Honoré. Their updated classics always look right. The design of the boutique is as modern as the clothing.
Acne Studios, 219 Rue St Honoré
If perfect white shirts, and other crisp basics like trenches and pants are your thing, pay a visit to Meilleur Moment — or the best moment. Sometimes simple is best.
Meilleur Moment, 211 Rue St-Honoré
The artist JR has covered the renovation scaffolding on the Palais Garnier with a depiction of Plato’s cave. The artist is doing two acts, one in September and one in November. There are a series of free performances of dance and music using the art as a backdrop, open to the public. Pretty impressive.
Palais Garnier, Pl. de L’Opera
Balzar is a brasserie near L’Ecole de Medicine. It has all the classics and also serves on a nice terrasse. I discovered it as it is open on Sundays, something that is often hard to find in Paris. Our waitress, in the white shirt, had a great sense of humor. A nice change.
Brasserie Balzar, 49 Rue des Écoles
Our flight back to New York left in the late afternoon, so we had some more time to poke around. The Florentine designer, Patrizia Pepe, had opened a boutique on the left bank. It carries her sleek contemporary looks, and offers lots of fun fashions.
Patrizia Pepe, 54 rue Bonaparte
La Joie de Vivre offers hundreds of fun things for the home. From portrait egg-cups, unusual glassware, tableware of all sorts, and amusing lamps, you can add a Parisien touch to your apartment. They will also ship some of the objets.
La Joie de Vivre, 72 rue de Seine
Granado Rio is a new addition that looks like it has been here forever. The Brazilian emporium offers perfumes, scented products for the home and treats for the body and bath. A great new find.
Granado Rio, 21 rue Bonaparte
Lunch in Paris will always beat lunch at the airport. Le Pré aux Clercs is a good, reliable local. Paris has lots of these. When a place is always full, and the Parisians outnumber the tourists, you know that you have found a good local. And this was the perfect place for our last breath of Paris.
Le Pré aux Clercs, 30 rue Bonaparte