Wednesday, October 22, 2014

La Samaritaine to Reopen as Hotel

Moët-Hennessy Louis-Vuitton has unveiled plans to convert the La Samaritaine department store in Paris into a luxury hotel, to open in 2016. The landmark Art Nouveau listed building complex overlooking the Seine at Pont Neuf has been lying dormant since it was closed for safety reasons in 2005.

Moët-Hennessy Louis-Vuitton is also planning to convert Samaritaine’s second building on the Rue de Rivoli into resident apartments and a shopping complex for luxury goods.
As the conversion plans await approval by Paris’ town hall, France’s CFE-CGC trade union, whose members had hopes of seeing La Samaritaine restored to its former glory as a department store, expressed despair that such a store is not included in the plans proposed by Moët-Hennessy Louis-Vuitton. After much political grappling, the mixed-use project now includes a department store, the first Cheval Blanc hotel in Paris (designed by architect Edouard François) as well as LVMH’s first DFS duty-free emporium in Europe, a full-sized Louis Vuitton retail store, office space, 96 residential apartments, a day care for children and a restaurant.

Photo: the spectacular Art Nouveau staircase, not seen since the store closing in 2005.

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.