Archive for July, 2011

The Legacy of Napoléon

Sunday, July 31st, 2011
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Napoléon on His Imperial Throne
By Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Whether remembered as a general, a consul, or an emperor, Napoléon is the most famous Frenchman in the world. On one hand, he is adulated because of his military genius at battles such as Arcola, Rivoli, and Austerlitz (often, his victories were obtained against more numerous enemies) and also because of his political spirit and vision. On the other hand, Napoléon is hated for his authoritarian regime, his incessant military campaigns, which brought about the death of more than a million civilians, and his defeats in Spain, Russia and at Waterloo.

However, one thing is undeniable: Napoléon was a great builder, and this is especially true in Paris. He transformed the city into the “capital of the world,” constructing opulent buildings and modernizing its infrastructure. Even if some of his most monumental works were never completed because of his ultimate defeat at Waterloo, his indelible mark remains very present in the French capital.

When Napoléon came to power in the late 18th century, Paris was a poverty-stricken city. Unlike London, its streets had no sidewalks, and garbage simply accumulated on the ground. Freshly appointed in 1802 as “First Consul for Life,” Napoléon wanted to transform Paris into a real capital. He ordered the construction of 10 km of sewers, sidewalks, bridges, and breakthrough arteries. To stimulate economic activity, he built wharves and warehouses along the riverfront.

Parallel to the construction of infrastructure, Napoléon, as a great lover of antiquity and classicism, wanted Paris to look like a modern Rome. He renovated the Tuileries Palace (demolished in 1883), built the triumphal arch at what is now place du Carrousel, and ordered the construction of the Arc de Triomphe at the top of the avenue des Champs-Elysées. Then, having created new state financial institutions, he built sumptuous buildings to house them: examples include the Orsay Palace (destroyed in 1872) for the state finance auditing agency (called Cour des Comptes) and the Palais Brongniart (still standing) for the stock exchange.

Unfortunately, by 1809, Napoleon’s wars prevented him from completing all of his urban development projects. Military campaigns were expensive, and the state treasury could no longer finance the works. Many building projects that he initiated would only be completed after the end of his reign.

After Napoléon’s death, France erected a number of monuments in Paris to honor him. His tomb at Invalides is among the most impressive.

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Walking in the Emperor’s footsteps in Paris is an original way to discover and explore some of the most famous monuments in the French capital. It is also a good way to learn about the life and the social and architectural heritage of a man who, most of the time, is only presented in military context.

For more information about the legacy of this great man, contact Napoleon Tours, a company that specializes in guided public and private tours about the Emperor, at the following link:

Savoring the Sweet Life of Summer in Paris

Saturday, July 30th, 2011
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Le Coup de Grâce Wine Bar on Rue Berthollet
Photo by

From about mid-July to the end of August, most Parisians go away on vacation. One of our neighbors said that he was leaving the city to spend time in the country “where he could breathe.” Ironically, these few weeks during the summer are the best time to be in Paris, because automobile circulation and pedestrian traffic are greatly reduced.

During this period, people gather in cafés and on sidewalks to savor the brief respite.

Here are some photos of people enjoying the sweet life of summer in Paris.

Sitting on a Balcony
on a Pleasant Summer Evening
Photo by

Relaxing on a Summer Evening
on Rue Vauquelin
Photo by

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Don’t Lose Your Head about This,
But It’s Amazing What You Can Get for the Price of a Tweet!

Friday, July 29th, 2011
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The guillotine in this picture stands against the wall of a bar in Paris. And now, for the ridiculously low price of a tweet, you may download our e-book Paris Insights – An Anthology – The Abridged Edition, and learn the name of the bar in which it can be found.

Read other fascinating things about the Paris that you never knew! Learn what is the number one difference between French and American wines in the article entitled “Wining and Dining with Juan Sanchez;” learn about the diversity of worship in the article “Christian Churches in Paris;” and learn why the avenue des Champs-Elysées occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Parisians in the article “Les Champs-Elysées – Quintessential Paris.”

Want to learn more about Paris? Click here to download the abridged edition of Paris Insights – An Anthology. It costs no more than the price of a tweet!

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Tasting Sidamo at Nouvelle Torréfaction

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011
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Nouvelle Torréfaction
Photo by

Recently, I stopped by the Nouvelle Torréfaction coffee-roasting boutique while doing research in the Goutte d’Or neighborhood for a guided walking tour.

Prices of fresh-roasted coffee here are quite reasonable compared to the prices that I have been paying at other shops around town. I purchased 250 grams of whole-bean Ethiopian Mocha Sidamo for 3.20€. At the shop in my neighborhood where I normally buy coffee, 250 grams of Sidamo costs 6.80€.

Curious as to whether there might be a difference in quality between the lower-priced Sidamo and the higher-priced one, I purchased the same amount from my customary shop. Taking both back to my place, I brewed them separately in a French press and tasted them. Both have a full-bodied bitter-chocolate flavor. The only difference that I could detect was that the Sidamo from Nouvelle Torréfaction tasted slightly sweet, not at all unpleasant.

Naturally, I favor paying the lower price over a higher one for what seems to be the same coffee, but, alas, the savings in price is defeated by the length of time that it takes to get to the Goutte d’Or neighborhood—45 minutes by metro!

Coffee-Roasting Machine
at Nouvelle Torréfaction
Photo by

Nouvelle Torréfaction
14 Rue Poissonniers
75018 Paris

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Bjørn Berge at the Parc de la Butte du Chapeau-Rouge

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011
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Bjørn Berge
Photo by

Bjørn Berge, Norwegian-born guitarist and singer, performed at the Parc de la Butte du Chapeau-Rouge last Sunday evening.

Playing hard-driving bluegrass, blues, and metal on his amplified 12-string guitar, his thunderous music rolled across the park in giant waves of sound.

His appearance on Sunday was part of a summer program entitled “Paris Quartier d’Ete,” sponsored by the city of Paris.

Bjørn Berge Performs in the Parc de la Butte du Chapeau-Rouge
Photo by

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Egyptian Project at the Jardin Tino-Rossi

Sunday, July 24th, 2011
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The Egyptian Project
Photo by

Last Monday evening saw the Egyptian Project perform in a free concert at the Jardin Tino-Rossi, a sculpture garden down by the river. While tourist-filled boats plied the water and discharged their passengers on the dock behind the stage of the Franco-Egyptian band, the musicians belted out pulse-pounding rhythms.

The idea for the creation of the band was sparked after French singer and music director Jérôme Ettinger had worked with a number of musicians of different styles and traditions for a number of years. The result is a fusion of traditional Egyptian songs and instruments into a modern style that incorporates trip-hop (downtempo electronic music), hip-hop, and jazz.

It was a powerful performance and the first of a series of free outdoor music concerts sponsored by the city of Paris this summer.

Salama Metwally, Rababa
Photo by

Ragab Sadek (center), Percussions
Photo by

Little Girl Dancing
Photo by

Another Girl Dancing
Photo by

Woman Dancing
Photo by

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Pay With a Tweet – Download Our Book

Friday, July 22nd, 2011
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Peter Greenberg, Travel Editor, CBS News, called Paris Insights – An Anthology “a true insider’s guide to one of my most favorite cities in the world, written by someone who has lived the special experiences you’ll never find in a guide book.”

The abridged edition is now available for the price of…a tweet! Click here and download now!

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Bellying up to Hemingway’s Bar

Thursday, July 21st, 2011
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Plaque showing were Ernest Hemingway sat at the bar of the Closerie des Lilas.
Photo by

Last Saturday evening we had the occasion to dine with a group of Ohio State University alumni in the upper room of the Closerie des Lilas, a restaurant rich in history. After the dinner, Monique and I descended to the ground floor to see if it was true that there was a plaque marking the spot that American writer Ernest Hemingway occupied when he frequented the bar.

Arriving there, a couple who had just finished their drinks moved away from the seats that they occupied. Spotting the plaque and the empty seats, we decided then and there to sit down, enjoy a cocktail, and relish the moment in this chic place.

But what a price we paid to “relish” the moment—the price of cocktails start at 15€! Taking a deep breath, we each ordered a Kir royal à la fraise des bois.

I guess the adage is true that drinks taste better in Paris, and even better still at the very same spot where Hemingway once sat.

Ernest Hemingway looks down benevolently from above.
Photo by

Bartender pouring two 15€ champagne cocktails.
Photo by

Proof that we were there.
Photo by

Monique and Tom doing their best to relish the 15€/drink champagne moment.
Photo by

Why we may never go there again.
May Hemingway rest in peace!

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Tasting Chocolates at Richart

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011
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Richart Assorted Ganaches
Photo by Discover Paris!

The chocolate company Richart was founded by Joseph Richart in 1925 in the city of Lyon. Today it is owned by the son, Michel, and has expanded into several franchise boutiques throughout the world, including shops in the United States, Spain, Italy, Morocco, South Korea, and France (with two shops in Paris).

We stopped by the boutique located at 258, boulevard Saint-Germain and purchased a ballotin (small box) of assorted ganaches, or filled chocolates. The company produces seven different types of ganaches, and under the heading of each type, it produces seven varieties. For example, under the “roasted” category, one finds seven different roasted fillings, including grilled almond, grilled coffee, and grilled sesame seed.

Given that seven different varieties of seven different types of ganache equal forty-nine different chocolates, we decided to purchase a small box that contained a small sample of most of the types. For a box of sixteen tiny ganaches, weighing four grams each, we paid 11.90€—roughly $7.50 an ounce! The sixteen pieces of chocolate in our collection represented six of the seven types of ganache: floral, fruity, citrus, roasted, herbal, and spice.

Each piece of chocolate is in the shape of a die, and within the thick walls of each die lies a perfumed filling.

We began with floral, for which there were two varieties: exotic bouquet and violet. The exotic bouquet had a light, gelatinous interior whose flavor was indeed exotic, but we could not precisely identify the taste. The violet ganache had a mild violet flavor.

The two varieties of herbal, matcha tea and star aniseed, had distinctive, identifiable flavors. The matcha tea variety was visually distinctive with a green filling.

Next, we tasted the fruit ganaches of which there were four: current, blueberry, strawberry, and chestnut. The current and blueberry had the strongest, most-distinctive flavors. The strawberry filling had a creamy, pink color and mild flavor. The chestnut filling was weakly flavored, in our opinion.

Citrus was next with two varieties. The bouquet d’Hespéridés (citrus bouquet) had a light, liquid, citrus interior. The orange zest had an assertive flavor, with a light orange-yellow color.

In the roasted selection, there were four varieties. The almond had a light pasty interior; the walnut a creamy paste with an assertive flavor; the pistachio was the least strongly flavored; and the caramel was quite assertive.

Finally, we tasted two varieties of spices. We were pleased that both the cinnamon and the ginger ganaches had pronounced flavors.

At the end of the tasting, we were somewhat disappointed that a number of the chocolate varieties did not have strong, distinctive flavors. However, we realize that had the chocolates been larger, we would have had a better opportunity to taste their fillings.

We think that the chocolates are greatly overpriced! One can find fine-quality, filled chocolates for less at other chocolate shops in Paris.

Chocolate lovers living in the United States can try this tasting themselves by “investing” the rather hefty sum of $25 (plus shipping) for a box of “Selection Ballotin.” (The box sold in the U.S. does not contain the identical selection that we purchased here in Paris.)

Bonne dégustation!

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The Masked Ball at the Palais of Versailles

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011
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Greetings Paris Insights readers!

Sir Robyn poses in his dashing costume.

I’m a friend of Tom and a fellow blogger in the City of Light. Unlike Tom, I tend not to blog about anything particularly useful. I’m in favour of strange observations and the occasional laugh on a blog I call “A Canadian in Paris.” Tom graciously invited me to post about a recent event that took place in Paris, specifically in a city located a little way south of Paris called Versailles.

If you are a history buff, you’ll know all about the Palace of Versailles. You’ll know that it was built by Louis the XIV back in the 17th century and construction continued for almost a century. Poor old Louis the XVI was dragged out of there in 1789 and… well if you don’t remember, you can read about him on some history blog.

Since then, the Palace of Versailles has been in the hands of the people of France and currently operates as a museum. Last Saturday, the 9th of July, the Palace of Versailles was host to a masked ball. The venue was the Orangerie, a garden featuring over 200 boxed orange trees situated around a large circular pond. Surrounding the Orangerie were a series of monstrous halls that provided an indoor setting for the gala event. Nearly 2,000 participants showed up in decidedly authentic-looking French garb dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, though the 18th century was the hands-down favourite.

One thing to note is the rarity of this event. Only a few times in the last few centuries have ordinary people been able to party at Versailles. Certainly many tourists visit, but they do not party there. This event was quite unique. In the past decade, the only other parties there were hosted by Jon Galliano (for a royal wedding) and an Indian billionaire with a private guest list. For most of the revellers, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Attached are a few pictures from the event EXCLUSIVE to Paris Insights. You can see more at my own blog, A Canadian in Paris, here:

Enjoy the photos,
Sir Robyn

The halls of the Orangerie are abuzz with anticipation.

Various couples went outside to take and pose for photos.

A couple looks on at a photo shoot. Notice the boxed orange trees behind them.

Military costumes made their way into the party. Some of them were very authentic.

18th century costumes were the favourite of the evening. Despite being billed as a "Viennese" ball, the costumes were decidedly French.