La Grande épicerie
  • 29
  • May
  • 2010
Text by Richard Price for Vingtmagazine

The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf paused at the meat section of the grocery store and gazed down at the choices.  He clutched his throat whilst he gazed at the selections.  Without pause, he picked up a packet of Bellota Bellota ham from Spain – by far, the finest and most expensive ham in the world.   And just as swiftly, he put it back, extending his fingers and examining them, as if he had touched something horrid.

Thirty Euros?  For a few chunks of ham?  That seems a bit high.  The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf stroked his chin and pondered the situation.  There are, after all, starving people in Africa.  How can one justify a 30-Euro bite of ham?  And without a flinch, the packet of 30-Euro ham went into the grocery cart, a la Mary Tyler Moore in the opening credits of her 1970’s TV show.  A rolling of the eyes.  The onward movement of the shopping cart.

The man in the jaunty suede jacket and the casually woven scarf was me, and I had just arrived at La Grande Epicerie de Paris – the gourmet food hall adjacent to the Bon Marché department store in the 7th, (metro Sevres-Babylone).

If you are a true food-lover, upon entering la Grande Epicerie de Paris, it feels as if your head might explode at any moment.  They have so much and it is all so good.  It really is the best food in the world and it’s right at your fingertips.  All the best meats and cheeses, of course.  This is France.  Of course, they have wonderful meat and cheese.  But their butter department is bigger than my first apartment in Paris.  In particular, they stock plenty of Bordier butter from Normandy, which is considered to be the finest butter in the world.  My fridge is always well-stocked with it.

I love tarama (a sort of creamy fish paste that is spread on bread or crackers), and at la Grand Epicerie, they must have at least two dozen varieties.  The foie gras “island” is a highlight, and one can select a modest portion of terrine de foie gras or blow the twins’ college fund on a huge lobe of entier de foie gras.  Likewise, the truffle department.  You don’t want to shop here when you’re hungry!  In the prepared foods department, they have everything from (very good) Chinese to Indian curries to bratwursts and anything else you can imagine.

In addition to the foie gras, fleur de sel, tarama, Camembert cheese, Bordier butter, balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil and the like, I bought three gorgeous lamb chops at the butcher department.  (The butcher deftly and swiftly removed the fat and hacked off the extra bone.)  And they cost less than 6 Euros (about $8).  Meat is a bargain in France.  Those lamb chops in the U.S. would have cost at least $15 in a grocery store and $35 at a decent restaurant.  Meat, cheese, wine and dog food are all bargains in France.  (They do love their dogs here.  Hence, the price of dog food is absurdly low compared to the U.S.)
I brought those lamb chops home and marinated them in mustard, olive oil and a pinch of ground herbs de Provence.  Then, I sautéed them in a hot skillet with a tablespoon of olive oil for about a minute and a half per side to render them medium rare.  Served with some gooey mashed potatoes the consistency of Elmer’s glue and a salad of mesclun, lardons (bacon “matchsticks”), radishes & cherry tomatoes in a homemade vinaigrette, well, it was a splendid meal that cost a fraction of what I’d have spent in a restaurant.  Economizing in France can be fun and delicious.

La Grande Epicerie de Paris,38, rue de Sevres,75007 Paris, M°Sevres-Babylone

From El Greco to Dali
  • 21
  • May
  • 2010

The Musée Jacquemart-André presents until August 2010 a prestigious collection of paintings by the Spanish masters offering a selection of paintings that has never been exhibited in France before. Among them are works by artists from the Spanish School such as El Greco, Ribera, Murillo, Sorolla, Picasso, Dalí and Miró. The exhibited works are selected from the private collection of Juan Antonio Pérez Simón, an important Hispano-Mexican businessman and celebrated art collector who began to build his collection in the 1970s.

The exhibition is structured by both themes and by chronology. Starting with a selection of the sixteenth century court paintings commissioned during the heyday of the Spanish kingdom under the reign of Charles V (Charles I of Spain) and his successors .
A big part of the exhibition is of course inspired by religion. Alongside the traditional subjects of the Christian faith, artists of the time are inspired by mystical ideas and devoted their interests in the depiction of saints such as Saint John the Baptist, Virgin Mary and Saint Jerome. Highlighting the selection is Dalí’s L’Ascension du Christ.

But the period when child portraiture has risen to prominence in Spanish paintings, is also presented such as  Sorolla’s Sur la plage , depicting the scene of mother and child on the beach.

Continuing with subject of the everyday life with a particular focus on outdoor paintings, featuring works such as Sorolla’s Soleil du matin (1901) and Godoy’s La Balançoire (1899-1900). And  the theme of feminine figures, with particular focus on bathers and nude figures which dominated the interests of Spanish artists at the turn of the twentieth century. Artists employ different styles in the depiction of the female forms, as seen in the simple strokes of the plump figures in Picasso’s Grande danse nue (1962), the soft, sensual portrayal of the bather in Buñol’s Après le bain (1913), and in Miró’s Personnage étoile.

Ending with the painting of portraiture dated from the eighteenth to the twentieth century. Highlighting the selection is Romero de Torres’ Portrait de femme (around 1925-1930), which captures a Beauty endowed with a sense of mysteriousness. The captivating dark eyes and the delicate features create a mystical veil upon the subject which entraps and fascinates. The exhibition ends with the works of the modern Spanish masters who play an important role in the avant-garde movements. Among them are notably works by Picasso, Dalí, Tàpies and Miró.

From El Greco to Dalí.
The great Spanish masters. The Pérez Simón collection.
Jacquemart-André Museum,158, Boulevard Haussmann,75008 Paris
Open daily  from 10 am to 6 pm

Cars that ate Paris are given the boot
  • 17
  • May
  • 2010

By H.Samuel  in the Sydney Morning Herald 17-18 April 2010 out of the Telegraph, London

Roads along the Seine are to be closed after 43 years in an attempt to return the backs to their ” former beauty”.

The roads were built by Georges Pompidou as part of his great “expressway program”. Up to 70000 cars a day travel along the Seine’s left bank on what is known as the Pompidou expressway, a dual carriage way along the right bank built in ’67. Pompidou was an arid motorist who once declared : “The French love their cars.”

The banks have been UNESCO World Heritage site since ’92. Delanoe, the mayor of Paris who introduced Paris-Plage when the banks become a temporary beach every summer, said that removing cars from sections of the riverbank would help cut pollution and boost the capital’s international standing. He declared war on the “unacceptable hegemony” of cars, introducing new trams, bike and bus lanes and the Velib cycle rental scheme since 2001.The move have been welcomed by most non-motorists but car- and taxidrivers have complained that congestion has become intolerable.

Undeterred, he planned to pedestrianise a 2 Km stretch on the left bank from Orsay to Pont de l’Alma near the Eiffel Tower by 2012. There are also plans to include steps down to the water, as well as gardens ,walkways, green “islets” and a botanic garden.

To avoid gridlocks, cars will not be totally banned from the right bank, but the expressway will become a boulevard with traffic lights and bike and pedestrian areas.

“The idea is to transform an urban autoroute into a living space with areas where there will be no cars” said Delanoe.

Parisians : An adventure history of Paris
  • 12
  • May
  • 2010

The writer Graham Robb, the acclaimed biographer of Balzac, Rimbaud and Victor Hugo published in 2007 “The discovery of France”.

His new book “Parisians, an adventure history of Paris” tells the story of Paris through the lives of its most colourful citizens. These include spies, scientists and businessmen as well as photograpers, philosophers and prostitutes that are part of Parisian mythology.

The book begins at the dawn of the French Revolution, and ends a few months ago. There are also some excursions to the medieval and prehistoric past.

It traces the spread of the city from the island in the Seine that was the home of the Paris tribe to the mushrooming suburbs that inspire more fear today than when they were patrolled by highwaymen and wolves.

Reading this is an adventure, one which will turn even the briefest trip to Paris into a tumble through time.