31 January 2020

Waiter tips

Ignorance of a culture can be expensive. Consider the American who has chosen Paris to retire, only to discover that the large tips he's been leaving at the café he frequents are not yielding “special” service - freebies, little extras, fawning attention.... or even better service. Unless it's a tourist hotel bar, no one is falling over themselves as would happen "back home." And when predictably (and inevitably) he gets overcharged, or shortchanged, he’s outraged, and, jowls a-flutter, concludes that a habitué he’s become friendly with has been stealing his tips off the table - even though service isn't any better when he is there by himself, which is 99% of the time. Similarly, his chatty friendliness towards waiters in general - whose names he learns by asking (but more than likely noted from the check) - is not producing the results he’d counted on, au contraire.

What’s he doing wrong?


Adapted from my talk:

Paris and The French: A Unique Culture

30 January 2020

Paris - Venice: Carnevale 2020

In spite of flooding reports the Carnival of Venice festivities, parties and masked balls are full on schedule.

February 8 - 25

Getting there:
From Paris: direct flights daily (less than 2 hours) to Marco Polo airport
- Cancelled - 

28 January 2020

Hot chai

Sometimes there's nothing's more warming on a cold day than a chai latte with someone who loves to laugh as much as you do.

27 January 2020

Winter of discontent

"Now is the winter of our discontent." 
Richard III - William Shakespeare

Strikes, demonstrations, protests, civil unrest.... 
And now (update September 28, 2020) coronavirus.

25 January 2020

My French hair

Some years back as editor-at-large of BonjourParis.com I wrote an article called, "Getting It Straight: A Hair Piece." It received quite a bit of attention at the time and, thanks to those days, many of those readers followed me to USA Today and eventually here, to this blog.

From an early age, my hair never really did what I perceived it should be doing. It seemed like everyone but me could effortlessly achieve perfectly coiffed, straight hair. But no, mine had to be curly, fly away, rebellious, no matter how much time I spent trying to tame it. If I blew it out to a smooth sheen, in no time at all East Coast humidity would frizz it up again. Not curlers made from coke cans or ironing it or teasing it or applying chemical straighteners made my hair "behave" the way I wanted it to, like the carefree do's of those Georgetown private schoolgirls, and peer pressure made it worse. It was hopeless. Then one day, I suppose I was about 15, waiting in line to buy ice cream, someone behind me tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was French. I'd seen him before and thought he knew my name, Pasquet, but he didn't. And then he said, "You have French hair!"

It was the first but not last time I'd hear that. As it turned out, French hair was a "thing." A concept. It was unruly, defiant, tousled. A cousin, Mireille, who spoke only French, came to stay with us one summer and I remember watching her daily routine of swiftly piling her thick dark locks atop her head, securing the knot with no more than two pins. As strands tumbled around her barely made-up face, it felt good just looking at her. My siblings, our offspring, relatives on my father's side including an aunt who was a print model for Revlon well into her 40's (we'd come across her photos leafing through glossy magazines at the supermarket checkout), all of us, had this hair. Mine wasn't "strategically disheveled" as in yesterday's Parisienne chart; it did it all by itself. When I moved to Paris for good, so many, I began to notice, had hair just like mine, and like The Ugly Duckling, I thought, maybe I'd been swimming in the wrong lake. BPJ


"Flat, straight, hair looks like death... The biggest difference [between French hair] is that they are much more into movement than other countries in the world, and they like volume... It doesn't have to be perfect." - David Mallett (See Paris' Most Famous Hairstylist on French Hair - Kathleen Hou 2016 The Cut)

Below: in Cadaqués Spain, 80s

Merci to my beautiful Parisiennes, everywhere.

24 January 2020

The Parisienne #2

How many of these are you?
 [Chart: My Little Paris 10/2019]

Clichés are often anchored in truth, and in Paris, the (cliché) Parisienne is alive and well. Like other clichés - the Southern Belle, Valley Girl, Sloane Ranger... - she is a subgroup unto herself. Not every woman in Paris is, or even wants to be, a Parisienne. But many are. Trying to change and redefine her to fit your comfort zone doesn't work. As legendary hair stylist David Mallett put it, "You know her when you see her."

That’s her on a bicycle with flawless skin, scarf in the wind, a baguette under one arm. She's feminine, thin, natural, but mostly, she's "bien dans sa peau" (well in her skin) at any age. Facelifts and botox are not part of her world. She can be chic. Or not. As long as it's on her terms, not yours. And her hair! Sometimes referred to as that "just-rolled-out-of-bed look," it's been like that all of her adventurous life.

Long after she's left you in the dust will it hit you that you were sent off on fausses pistes (translation: holes in her stories). And besides a full head of "French hair" (didn't you know?) she's had that smug expression - some call it a sneer, others a smirk - for as long as she can remember and it usually means, “You are a bore.”
You hate her but love to copy her. In your zeal to wrap her in as many shapes and sizes as there are French cheeses you forget that she is, like all clichés, unaware that she is a cliché. Or cares what you think she is or isn't because, well, she just is.

La Parisienne plays by her own rules. She tries to be politiquement correcte and not judge books by their covers, but will point out that if looks don't matter, why do publishers devote entire departments to book cover design? BPJ


The No. 1 response to my informal survey of French women about the secret of magical ageing is not gaining weight. Ever. - From French Secrets to Ageing Gracefully - Ann M. Morrison (Lifestyle/Beauty - Sydney Morning Herald 2010)


Some comments re Parisiennes:

- Believe me when i tell you that NO ONE wants to look like most french women do ! I've lived here for 6 years and for the most part, they shower once a week, don't wear any make up and very rarely even put a comb through the hair! Not to mention about the hairy situation all the time... And the parisians that everyone is talking about are one in a million rich people who can afford to buy Channel and Dior….

- (Paris) is full of people who are not a singular white, thin woman in a messy topknot and Breton-striped shirt. And yet, this is rarely (if ever) included in the many odes to "French style.” How to be Parisian, for example, doesn’t mention the incredible array of hijab fashion you will see on the street every day in Paris. And, while it would be wrong to imply that France (and Paris in particular) is a bastion of diversity — or that French culture has mastered embracing different backgrounds — the reality is that these outdated notions of What Is Parisian only perpetuate the real problems of representation in the country itself.

- Thank you for this article! I couldn't agree more with your points, especially the last one on diversity. As a Francophile, I have been made aware of this obsession with trying to become the French woman since "French Women Don't Get Fat" hit the bookshelves in 2004. To be honest, I've also entertained the notion that they possess a certain je ne sais quoi that was lacking in American culture and that I should try to obtain it. Now, I'm just over it and I roll my eyes each time Vogue, Huffington Post (or Refinery29...) writes an article about this elusive woman. I roll my eyes because I know her and she is just the same as us! Let's be proud of who we are as women on this earth and not women of Paris, of New York, etc.

- You almost convinced me. But then I remembered that the last time I was in Paris, I was struck by the dozens of chic Parisian women, commuting on bicycles, looking fresh faced and moist-lipped, even in blaring traffic. They pedaled in skirts and flat shoes, gamine and athletic no matter their age (...). I love being an American woman, but I love loving the French women.


Adapted from my talks: 

Seduction and the Art of The French Femme


Eating French: Why French Women Won't Get Fat 
(a.k.a. A French Paradox: The French Non Diet and The Art of Eating for Pleasure)

My French hair


23 January 2020

The Parisienne #1

Once again, the elusive Parisienne is in the news. Like the Southern belle, she's in a category all her own, and no amount of trying to redefine her or impose your criteria will make her go away.

Are you a (cliché) Parisienne? Check the chart

20 January 2020


Today ends almost two straight months of non-stop strikes protesting the government's proposed retirement reforms. For now. Despite endless civil upheavals, encroaching homeless and migrant populations, pollution and soaring crime, like the Eiffel Tower, Paris always manages to keep its head high and for visitors, its clichés - fashionistas, dawdling for hours at cafés, baguettes, wine, cheese, small dogs, macaron-nibbling Parisiennes and sexy French lovers - intact. For now.


18 January 2020

Carpe diem #2

An espresso, a café crème and to share, a luscious Saint Honoré pastry.

The ant had wasted its life and its beauty hoarding for winter, only to discover a world of beautiful, prosperous and carefree grasshoppers. 😱 - Coffee partner, habitué, and local philosopher J. S.

17 January 2020

Au revoir Alsace

Until the next time.

Below: entry wall; vestiges of a Christmas market; local police go retro; a canal view; zimmer frei

15 January 2020

3 hours (or less) from Paris: Tasting Alsace #3

Alsatian fare, generous and invigorating, is essentially a cold weather cuisine, much like the rich fondues and fromage-charcuterie planches of the French Alps.

Above: modern twist on a childhood favorite, Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte; succulent fresh fish choucroute 

Below: potato-ham-mushroom-onion gratinée topped with Munster cheese (the town of Munster is a short drive via a scenic wine route); a village street

TGV train daily (2 hours 20 minutes) + car rental at station
(driving from Paris: 4 hours via toll roads)


Addresses in February newsletter


"Tasting Alsace" is dedicated to Anthony Bourdain.

Below: Le Chambard Hotel in Kaysersberg, his final stop

14 January 2020

3 hours (or less) from Paris - Tasting Alsace #2

Because of Alsace's history its cuisine teeters somewhere between traditional German and French. Sauerkraut, choucroute in French, is king. When garnished with selected cuts of pork and sausages from Strasbourg, it is the region's signature dish.

Above: a memorable choucroute garnie; a refreshing salad; Alsatian wine (not shown: 7-hour beer-braised pork knuckle atop more choucroute)

 Below: crème brulée alight with Grand Marnier; wood oven extra thin crust flammeküche (topping: crème fraîche, onions, lardons, sprinkling of cumin seeds); view from a bridge

13 January 2020

3 hours (or less) from Paris: Tasting Alsace #1

Once part of Germany, magical Alsace, with its storybook towns of half-timbered cottages, wines, and hearty cuisine, is one of France's most beautiful regions.

On this post-New Year's Day visit we headed for medieval villages Éguisheim, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Colmar with its "Petite Venise" in the Krutenau quartier.

Above: after-dinner stroll saw Christmas decorations still up

Below: bakery shop; within, kougelhopfs - "the Alsatian brioche" - made from a yeast dough

9 January 2020

Night cathedral - Reims #2

 View toward main altar inside the resplendent interior.

Below: gothic arches and colimaćon pulpit; back exterior view

8 January 2020

Night cathedral - Reims #1

The history of France quietly reposes within a cathedral whose beauty rivals Notre-Dame de Paris.

Above: an excursion to the Alsace region found us stopping in Reims on the way where we were in for a rare treat, a visit to the cathedral at night

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims

From Paris:
1 hour by train (TGV)
1 1/2 hours driving


REIMS: City of Art and Culture
by Barbara Pasquet James
[re-print from 6-article series on the Champagne region]

If you count each bottle, there are millions of reasons to visit Reims, Rheims in English, The City of Champagne. However, like many drawn to this city of 180,000 in the heart of the Champagne-Ardenne, I came primarily to see the Cathedral.

There would be The Smiling Angel’s smile, sculptures of Christ's ancestors on the portal over the main door. I would savor gargoyles, flying buttresses, the Simon family's famed stained-glass “rosettes," and the fact that almost all of France's kings were crowned here. Here is where Marc Chagall's “Crucifixion” in his trademark blues dances with light, illuminating the small chapel behind the main altar.

But Reims is, of course, much more than its magnificent cathedral. It is an ancient university town heaving with history, art and culture.

In pre-Roman times Reims was the fortified capital of a Gaulish tribe. Following the Roman conquest, its strategic position increased its military importance from the 3rd century onwards as the Romans tried to protect the city from invasion. At the same time, the city became Christian, and the first cathedral was built. The Roman forum, Cryptoporticus, and the Gate of Mars – the largest monumental arch built in the Roman world – are the only two structures to have survived from this period.

Today the city sits atop miles of tunnels connecting hundreds of massive crayeres (chalk pits) quarried by the Romans. They are now used by champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Taittinger and Ruinart to store countless bottles of a certain monk's delightfully accidental discovery. Ruinart's cellars have been designated a monument historique.

Not quite an hour and a half from Paris, Reims is sister ville fleurie to Canterbury, Saltzburg and Florence. Not surprisingly, the best place to start exploring is from the Cathedral, whose spires are visible for miles.

Some highlights:

* Notre-Dame Cathedral
The Cathedral of Our Lady, considered a masterpiece of Gothic art, was started in 1211. It was the cathedral of coronations for French kings in memory of the baptism of Clovis, the first King of France, by Saint Remi, probably on Christmas Day, 498. The Smiling Angel statue is on the left portal on the west front. Over the centuries there were alterations, fires and endless restorations. Joan of Arc assisted in the installation of Charles VII as king here in 1429, though she never lived to see the cathedral as it is today.

* Tau Palace
Formerly the Archbishop's Palace, this was built by Mansart and Robert de Cotte in 1690. It’s just behind the cathedral and houses its museum with tapestries, sculptures and artifacts from the kings' coronations. The "Salle du Tau," once used as a banqueting hall after coronations, is astounding.

* Saint-Remi Basilica and Saint-Remi Abbey Museum
The church is the largest Romanesque pilgrimage church in northern France and was built as a shrine to Saint Remi. It is a wonderful example of early Gothic style. The museum is the famous Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Remi, and reliquary of the Holy Ampula used for the coronation of French kings. It also houses the city's Museum of History and Archeology. Impressive collections from Pre-history to the Renaissance as well as a large military history section can be seen here. The chapter house dates from the 12th to 13th centuries.

Fine Arts Museum
 This museum, housed in the former living quarters of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, has extensive collections from the Renaissance to today. In addition to an astonishing set of early Renaissance canvasses, there is a series of Cranach portraits and a noteworthy collection of Corot paintings.

* Cryptoporticus
Semi-subterranean remains of the Roman Forum (200 A.D.).

Museum of The Surrender
This map room in Eisenhower's headquarters was where the signing of the surrender of German troops took place, May 7, 1945. The original table and chairs where each of the participants sat are still in place.

Musée Automobile Reims Champagne
Vintage cars, motorbikes, pedal cars, several thousands of miniatures and period publicity posters; renews exhibitions regularly.

To discover art, museums, ancient abbeys and churches, not to mention the city's restaurants and cafés, plan on staying for at least a couple of days. And not to forget, Reims' champagne houses open their doors to visitors all year round.

Getting there:
By train: From Paris, Gare de l’Est - 12 connections daily www.sncf.fr
By car: A4-E50 to Reims

Where to eat:

Café du Palais
(stone's throw from the cathedral; ceiling by Jacques Simon)

Restaurant "Le Parc" - Les Crayeres

Tourism Office
Tourism Champagne-Ardenne

* UNESCO World Heritage sites

7 January 2020

That one, please

Though yesterday marked The Feast of the Epiphany, galettes des rois will dominate boulangerie shelves all month long.

Above: in France, unlike other countries, galettes, tartes and gâteaux (cakes) are sold according to set portion sizes

6 January 2020


The Beast knew it was a beast, and though it might possess everything its heart desired, it was doomed to roam the earth for the rest of its days as a hideous beast.

Beauty and the Beast / La Belle et La Bête
Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve

Above: the hulking Polyphemus, consumed with envy, enraged to discover the subject of his stalking entwined in her lover's arms

Medici Fountain
Jardin du Luxembourg

4 January 2020

Holidays drop-ins' table

The flutes were set out by the chimney with care....

Plenty of festive food and drink on hand for drop-by visitors from the quartier.

Above: foie gras toasts with red onion fig chutney maison, tomato-mozzarella candy cane, traditional Austrian hazelnut vanilla butter crescents (family recipe) ready for the oven


3 January 2020

New Year's Eve table

With ongoing strikes many stayed close to home on New Year's Eve.

Below: a healthy spread of Swedish gravlax, baba ganoush (secret recipe), caviar canapés, creative salads, 3 desserts (not pictured). And Champagne