Saturday, December 14, 2013

Palais du Trocadéro

Jean-Antoine-Gabriel Davioud, designer of the well known Fontaine St-Michel, was also the creative force behind the strange Palais du Trocadéro, demolished in 1935. The huge building (derisively known as the “crab” because of its silhouette) was built for the 1878 World’s Fair to accommodate meetings of international organizations. The name Trocadéro refers to the Battle of Trocadéro in Spain, in which the French had a hand in restoring the Spanish Bourbons to the throne. The luxurious and over-the-top style of this building inspired many restaurants, cinemas and nightclubs to use the name.
The Palais du Trocadéro and the banks of the Seine were linked by terraced gardens that still afford the best view of the Eiffel Tower. The “palace” contained a large concert hall with two wings and two towers in a style characterized by Moorish and Byzantine elements. The concert hall contained a large 4-manual organ built by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the first large organ to be installed in a concert hall in France. César Franck's landmark Trois Pièces were premiered on the Trocadéro organ, which was ultimately removed to a hall in Lyon and subsequently destroyed by fire.
The Palais du Trocadéro was replaced in 1937 by the Palais de Chaillot, which forms the terminus of a monumental axis that begins at the École Militaire, sweeps across the Champs-de-Mars to the Eiffel Tower, then crosses the Seine and up this hill.
Métro: Trocadéro
Note: Architect Davioud, a colleague of Baron Haussmann, was also responsible for the two theaters at the Place du Châtelet: Théâtre du Châtelet and Théâtre de la Ville. The latter was known previously as the Theatre Sarah Bernhardt, where the actress produced herself for nearly two decades from 1899. Since the late 1970s, this venue has been known for its presentation of ballets.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Madame Clicquot's Champagne

Madame Clicquot and her great-grandaughter (1861)

Champagne, the perfect apéritif, conjures up images of France, but Parisians don’t save their favorite sparkling wine for special occasions. There is hardly a bar in Paris where you will not see someone enjoying a Kir Royale before dinner. Classic recipe: champagne plus 1 tablespoon black currant liqueur (crème de cassis); when ordering a kir royale, waiters in France now normally ask whether you want it made with crème de cassis (black currant), de mûre (blackberry) or de pèche (peach).
Madame Clicquot was a woman who, years before it was fashionable for females to be successful in the business world, accomplished just that by tackling her late husband’s numerous mercenary affairs. She devoted extraordinary efforts to their champagne business, making Veuve-Clicquot one of the premier champagnes in the world (veuve is the French word for widow).
She presented Napoleon’s soldiers with some of her bubbly in return for the safety of her property (an alcoholic bribe!). Offering soldiers on horses bottles of her champagne and glasses to drink it from, she was astonished to see them toss the glasses to the ground, draw their sabres to cut off the cork and neck, then drink it right from the bottle.
The method of opening a champagne bottle by cutting the top off – cork and all – with a saber or knife is known as sabrage (“sabering” in English). It takes a little practice, and failures are expensive.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

French text pronounced on-line

Every now and then I discover a web service so amazing and useful that I have to share it with about everyone I know. The Acapela Group offers a free web pronunciation service in over a dozen languages, French among them. This means that you can type in a place name or menu item, and a native speaker will pronounce it for you. No kidding.
See for yourself.
Go to the clickable link at the top right of this blog:
Choose a voice (select from four native French speakers – 3 women and one man)
Type in text (up to 250 characters – try “le Square du Vert-Galant” from my last post)
Click “SAY IT”
Click “PLAY” for a repeat
Click “NEW TRY” to start over
Is this useful, or what?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Pot au feu

You approach a Parisian restaurant and look at the menu posted in the window or at the door. The price looks right (a three-course "Menu" at 34 Euros), but you see that the starters (entrées) include a choice between Crottin chaud en salade and Consommé princesse; the main course (plat) choices include Pot au feu and Blanquette de veau; dessert choices are Île flottante and Profiteroles. You scratch your head and wonder, "What is this stuff?"
I can come to the rescue by sprinkling the occasional menu item (with a photo) into future posts, and today we start with Pot au feu (literally "pot on the fire"), which has always been popular in France. This unpretentious, bony stew of boiled meats and vegetables is the perfect French comfort food. A variety of meats and root vegetables are cooked together until everything in the pot is fork tender. Beef is generally the main meat (beef shank, short ribs or rump steak, along with big pieces of bone, which are used for their flavorful marrow). A pot au feu is served in two stages. Diners start with a bowl of the concentrated broth accompanied by bone marrow spread on slices of toasted baguette, then usually salted (trust me, it's better than it sounds). A second course consists of the different meats and vegetables removed from the pot and served with mayonnaise, mustard, and horseradish.
Note: in France a starter is called an entrée; a main course is a plat.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Canal St-Martin

Strolling along the Canal Saint Martin will reveal a bit of the hidden Paris that locals know. It is a delightful 3 mile long waterway that cuts through the northeastern part of the city (the 10th arrondissement). Lined with trees and pathways, the canal links the Seine with the other canal networks to the north. The idea for the canal dates back to the Napoleonic era to resolve a pressing need for more fresh water in the city center. The Canal St-Martin opened in 1825. There are boats that you can ride and wonderful cafés and boutiques to patronize.
In the early 1870s the canal inspired the paintings of Alfred Sisley and fellow Impressionists. Most recently Amélie, the 2001 film, opened with a scene shot on the canal’s double lock, Écluse du Temple, with its swivelling road bridge.
Today, a portion of the canal is covered, from Rue du Faubourg du temple to the Bastille.

Metro stops Jacques-Bonsergent and Gare de l'Est
are closest to the shops and cafés;
Jaures is closest to the top of the canal.

Canal cruises are offered by Canauxrama and Paris Canal. The boats travel through more than a mile of tunnel and nine locks, under two swinging traffic bridges and eight footbridges. Duration, approx. 2.5 hrs., departing from the Metro Bastille area.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

PARIS: Rue François Miron

Rue François Miron is an ancient road in the heart of the Marais that skirts the left side of the church of St-Gervais, and the tall, slender houses at number 11 and 13 are two of the oldest remaining medieval houses in Paris, dating from the thirteen hundreds. It’s all the more amazing that they have survived, given that they are constructed of exposed wood half timbering, prohibited at the time because of risk of fire. The law required that exposed wood be covered with plaster of Paris, made readily available from the plentiful supply of gypsum in the soil. In medieval times, roof gables faced the street.