1. “La Rentrée”
La Rentrée [ratre] nf. 1. The period marking the end of the summer and the beginning of back-to-work and back-to-school for the entire city of Paris after weeks to months of vacation. 2. In Paris, in July and August – and especially August – inhabitants flee like lemmings to vacation destinations across the country and the globe. Restaurants close, nightclubs shut down and even the most animated of neighborhoods start to resemble ghost towns. The narrow streets of the city are empty other than the pitter patter of tourists’ feet and the occasional loud Texan saying “Naw where is that Aiiiiifulll Tawr.” Then, suddenly, starting the last week of August, those same streets begin to fill up with French-speakers, restaurants re-open their doors, the parties start again and new TV seasons get underway. Not to mention that, in France, the big US summer blockbusters all wait to hit theaters until this time of year so there is entertainment to be had. Bookstores overflow with the latest from “La Rentrée Littéraire,” when hundreds of new books hit the shelves. La Rentrée is one of few times of year when many Parisians are actually – gasp! – smiling ! Yes, whether it’s love or simply optimism, something is in the air as September rolls around. That same nasty neighbor who snarled at you in June is now smiling (and quite tanned, may I add). A new year is about to begin and there’s an incredible energy everywhere – Paris is a different city. There’s something to be said about a Parisian with a tan and a smile (and it’s not “rude”). As they say here, “Il faut quitter Paris pour mieux le retrouver.” Which translates roughly to “You need to leave Paris in order to appreciate it more.” As much as Paris can be suffocating at times, especially during those last weeks of June or early July when the humidity turns the city into a broiling sauna filled with smelly French people and hoards of tourists, every time I leave and come back, I’m reminded of what a magical place it is. During La Rentrée, most of the city has left and returned, and everyone shares this sentiment of “wow, I forgot how beautiful this place is.” Of course, this is only a momentary blast of optimism before the cold, dark late Fall/early winter months arrive, but I say, enjoy it while it lasts – Vive la Rentrée !
“I just feel so French. I just must BE!” Meryl Streep, playing Julia Child, tells her husband (Stanley Tucci) in Nora Ephron’s summer hit film “Julie & Julia.” Julia Child’s story is very much like my own – fabulously wealthy with a loving, perfect husband … I’d say we’re two of a kind. It’s the story of a very tall American woman who moves to France, discovers a passion for cooking (and eating) and writes. Aside from the fact that Ms. Child happens to become a best-selling author, transforms the way America cooks and influences the entire country still to this day. Julie & Julia” hits French theaters on Sept. 16, after a premiere at the Deauville American Film Festival earlier in the month. The film follows Julia Child as she embarks on a culinary romp through France and cuts on and off to a parallel story of a young blogger in Queens who attempts to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes in 2002. While the film would have been much better had Ephron chosen to simply focus on the former (Amy Adams is a not-so-tasty side dish to Streep’s main course, and the viewer spends the entire time she is on screen anxiously waiting to get back to Meryl in Paris in the 1940s/50s), “Julie&Julia” is a delicious sampling of French cuisine with a distinct American flavor. It’s Paris filmed by Hollywood for American audiences, and all of the clichés associated with our favorite Frogs are accentuated as expected, but Streep is a joy to watch, Stanley Tucci is fabulous and the food itself, so wonderfully shot, is a star in its own right. I don’t recommend seeing the film on an empty stomach – the close-ups of all of the buttery, creamy goodness of French cuisine will make your stomach moan (and that obnoxious French lady next to you likely moan as well – Remember, this is France, and “a movie” and “a big tub of popcorn” are mutually exclusive).
3. Le Montana
If you were expecting an American bar with moose heads on the wall, beer on tap and a crowd of muscular men sporting t-shirts and baseball caps, think again. THIS Montana is the French hipster scene’s version of Montana. (Read: no moose, champagne glasses aplenty and men wearing tight pants with gel in their hair whose last workout consisted of walking across the street to buy a pack of cigarettes). Situated right next to 6th arrondissement hub the Café de Flore, le Montana opened last Fall and has been attracting the crème-de-la-crème of the left bank (and their reluctantly accommodating right bank friends who agree to a trans-Seine-lantic voyage) ever since. Le Montana is “Le Baron” (trendy hipster sceney club by Alma Marceau) all grown up. Opened by king of nightlife Andre and the (self-proclaimed) king of cool, Jean-Yves Le Fur, Le Montana has been attracting the fashion crowd, the media crowd and the arty crowd since it opened during fashion week. Guests – who often include celebs like Sofia Coppola’s hubby Tomas Mars, Milla Jovovich or Dita von Teese – can sip cocktails upstairs in the très chill bar or, after a few drinks, may opt to dance the night away on the dance floor downstairs. Finally, the Germanopratin”* [*term designating inhabitants of the 6th arrondissement who rarely leave said neighborhood and frequent its establishments notably the Café de Flore and its environs] community can rejoice – “Left Bank chic” is back in style. (And it’s right around the corner from my apartment, even better!)
4. The Deauville American Film Festival
Less than a two-hour train ride from Paris, Deauville is the perfect stop for cinephiles during it’s two-week annual September film festival. The 35th edition runs September 4th-13th in the Normandy seaside town. Harrison Ford will be the fest’s 2009 guest of honor and Andy Garcia and Robin Wright Penn are also expected in town for career hommages. Contrary to other more fascist film festivals (cough cough – Cannes – cough cough Toronto), screenings are accessible and open to the public. Some highlights from this years edition include more commercial fare such as “Julie & Julia,”
Marc Webb's "500 Days of Summer," Gerard Butler starrer "Gamer,” David Hollander's "Personal Effects" with Michelle Pfeiffer and Ashton Kutcher, Anne Fletcher's "The Proposal" and and Michael Meredith's "The Open Road" with Jeff Bridges and Justin Timberlake. Festgoers can also catch screenings of films that gained critical acclaim at other festivals like Cannes or Sundance such as Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock,” Lynn Shelton's "Humpday" and Lee Daniels' "Precious." Deauville's Uncle Sam's Docs sidebar will show seven documentaries including Robert Kenner's buzzed-about "Food, Inc." and R.J. Cutler's "The September Issue." Like the films in selection, the stars in Deauville are also more accessible than usual. Don’t be surprised to catch Matt Damon drinking a beer in the Hotel Royale lobby, see Harrison Ford and Calista F. going for a morning jog on the beach or bump into Meryl Streep on your way out of a seafood restaurant. The short train ride from Paris to Deauville is a great way to see the countryside and a convenient day trip or weekend getaway.
5. “L’Affaire Farewell”
“L’Affaire Farewell” stars Guillaume Canet and – well, do you actually need another reason to go see it when it hits French screens on Sept 23 ? Okay, so perhaps not everyone shares my huge crush on Canet, but there’s no denying the actor’s talent. “L’Affaire Farewell,” a political thriller from director Christian Carion (“Merry Christmas”) follows a KGB officer in Moscow in the 80s whose actions hastened the fall of the USSR. The film co-stars the talented Emir Kusturica and gives audiences a complicated and engaging yet not too esoteric story told in English, French and Russian. The suspenseful spy movie also features an all-star supporting cast including Willem Dafoe, Alexandra Maria Lara and Niels Arestrup. Make sure to say hello to “Farewell.”
6. Rose Bakery
As Edith Piaf once said, “Je vois la vie en Rooooooooose.” I certainly see la vie en … Rose Bakery. The bakery / eatery, co-owned by a British woman (Rose) and her husband, is a Franco-Anglo-Saxon twist on all things breakfast, lunch and brunch. The original Rose Bakery is located on the quaint rue des Martyrs in the 9th arrondissement and has expanded to a second location in the “Haut Marais” on the rue Debelleyme. Rose serves up the best brunch in town, but doesn’t take reservations, so expect to wait for a long time, unless you arrive on a Saturday or Sunday before noon (as I’ve learned to do). You can dine inside or opt to take away the fresh salads of the day, homemade mini-quiches or delectable scones and cakes. The staff at le Marais location are cheery and friendly and the housemade bread and butter are reason alone to head over. Both the more Japanese-influenced fare at the Marais location or the more British homestyle cuisine at the original rue des Martyrs spot use fresh ingredients, organic veggies and serve both meat and vegetarian options. The specials change every day, so even the most loyal customers (cough, cough) are forced to try new things and taste the season’s freshest ingredients. And, at reasonable prices relative to the quality (think: 12,50 euros for a quiche or pizzette and side salads or 13 euros for a cheese scone and scrambled eggs or around 3-4 euros for a dessert tart or cake), I continue to see the world through Rose-colored plates.
7. St Germain-des-pres / The 6th arrondissement
Hey you – yes, you, old French lady about to get on the 87 bus with a big bag of groceries from l’Epicerie at the Bon Marche on one arm and a cane on the other – have you heard about a little something called THE GLOBAL ECONOMIC CRISIS? Actually, no, Madame La Riche hasn’t heard, nor have any of her neighbors apparently. The streets of Saint Germain-des-pres are filled with consumers of all ages buying clothes and bags, splurging on 3-course meals in restaurants, and sipping ridiculously overprices coffees at Café de Flore. Yes, Mesdames and messieurs, “You’ve just crossed over into the Twilight Zone…” (cue the eerie music). You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land called St Germain-des-pres whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's the signpost up ahead - your next stop, the Bon Marché department store. There, you’ll see strange things like plump wallets bursting at the seams, people smiling and – gasp! – aliens from another dimension trying to mingle with local shopkeepers (oh sorry, those are just tourists again). At first, I figured that these people who have the time to shop at 3 in the afternoon on a weekday must have been victims of the financial crisis and are simply unemployed with nothing else to do. Then, I saw them do peculiar things like not checking the price of something before putting it in their shopping carts or buying four Louis Vuitton bags at one time. These do not look like the symptoms of unemployment/poverty to me. (I’m no money doctor, but I can diagnose a bad case of Imoutofajob-itis almost immediately.) It’s uncanny, I tell you. It’s the fifth dimension over here on the Left Bank – no one seems to be struggling to make ends meet. There’s always food on the table and little old ladies with golden canes and bags of $15 apples getting on buses. I keep waiting for Rod Serling to pop out and ask if I’d like to have a steak frites with him down the street.
8. Sundays at the Organic Market, Blvd. Raspail
I am a reformed Sunday-hater. While I used to dread the day when everything in Paris closed, when none of my friends were awake before noon (or before 5 pm – you know who you are) and when the next day to look forward to was, my second least-favorite day of the week, Monday, return to work. Lately, however, I have learned to love le Dimanche, thanks, in part, to the organic market on the Boulevard Raspail. From the wee early hours of the morning through early afternoon, farmers from all over France make the trek to Paris to share their organic fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses and even wine with the Parisian population. (or rather, the more economically stable, healthy food loving population of Paris since all of the goods there are very VEP (very expensive produce)) The market is always bustling with people – mostly Raspail veterans who come with their baskets on wheels to stock up on fresh fruits and veggies for the week, but also some tourists. The stand owners are typically very friendly – probably because most aren’t from Paris – and usually volunteer samples of the week’s freshest fruit, or a sliver of the day’s apple tart so that a young American girl can taste it before she decides to invest (it was delicious. Investment made.)
9. Paris Fashion Week
It happens around six times a year. Suddenly, the entire city appears to be invaded by tall, leggy creatures with bobbing heads and obscenely dark eyelashes. There are no taxis in sight, no rooms available at the Ritz and not an empty table to be found at the Hotel Costes. And – holy merde! – an alien with a leather skirt is attacking the Plaza Athenée! (oops, don’t worry, that was just Victoria Beckham on her way back from lunch.) Paris Fashion Week - the Spring/Summer 2010 Ready-to-Wear collections that is – will kick off on Sept.30. For those working in fashion, this means days of running (or if you’re Anna Wintour or someone of a certain status, not running but rather, driven in a private car by a chauffeur named Pierre-Jeeves) from one show to the next and from one cocktail party to another. For those NOT working in fashion (cough cough) this means a few days of “really, really ridiculously good-looking” people-watching, a few more fun events than usual and a champagne-induced hangover leaving everyone Haut Cout-SORE. While the parties have been a bit more reserved (they never served food anyway, but now they’re being a tad stingy on the champagne) in the wake of the global financial crisis, Paris Fashion Week stills manages to attract fashion magazine editors, models and movie stars from across the globe. The Ready-to-Wear collections (which, may I add, are only ready to be worn by about 3% of the very, very rich population but are still more wallet-friendly and “wearable” than the couture shows) run through October 8th and, while you’ll need invites to the shows and parties, have a drink at the Hotel Costes or the Café de Flore and you’ll run into the très chic fashionistas (and fashionistos) from all over the world.
10. Carla and Nick
Because the Obamas couldn’t be the ONLY très chic and supercool first couple in the world.
PS Clip of moi talking about Michael Jackson on France 24: