What to wear in Paris, Summer edition

The setting: Paris in summer.

The challenge: Staying comfortable without descending into a hell of rumpled athletic wear that serves mainly to underscore how deeply un-athletic one, in fact, is.

The answer: Pretty much Eileen Fisher.

Yes, yes, I know. You think it’s an old lady brand specializing in muumuus and wrinkly linen shirts. You are wrong! In recent years the brand has grown to embrace all sizes, including all you adorable little petites with your XXXS derrieres, and offers clean, architecturally inspired shapes in natural materials, many of them organic.

Here’s a summary of core pieces I took on my recent trip to Paris, Continue reading “What to wear in Paris, Summer edition”

Eiffel Tower

Tour1-600x381Like the pyramids of Egypt and the Colosseum of Rome, the Eiffel Tower is one of those immediately recognizable landmarks. I remember the first time I was driven into Paris (we were actually stuck in the mind-blowing congestion of the 5 p.m. rush hour on the Peripherique road that circles the city) when I looked up and realized I was finally looking at the actual tower. Such a thrill.

Since then I’ve visited the tower in sun, rain, early in the morning and at night and I never fail to get a charge out of it. It would be nicer without all those other people — and the ubiquitous signs warning of pickpockets are a bit of a downer — but it is still a lot of fun. Winter is always better than summer, although you will need to keep an eye on the weather, conditions can lead to restrictions on where you can go.

The tower was built as the archway to the 1889 World’s Fair. You probably know it’s named after engineer Gustav Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower. But you may not be aware that it was quite controversial. A number of people, including the writer Guy de Maupassant, a protege of Flaubert’s, hated the idea of plonking a huge metal oil derrick in the middle of elegant Paris.

Eiffel, in typical modest, retiring engineer fashion, blandly compared the tower to the pyramids and the project steamed ahead. The plan was to take the tower down in 20 years but Eiffel came up with the idea of encouraging using it for scientific experiments, including radio communications, and it survived. At 1,050 feet tall (somewhere near the equivalent of an 80-story building) the tower ought to be completely out of place. And yet, with its soaring arches and elegant narrow lines, it is quite beautiful, whether viewed up close or from a distance.

If you would like to visit the structure, go here for more information. You can take the elevator to the top, which costs €15 (about $20) or take the stairs to the 1st or 2nd floor for €5. (Note: 1st floor France = 2nd floor America. The official “3rd floor” is at the top.) Elevators run from the North, East and West pillars, going to the 2nd floor where you switch for the elevator to the very top. South is stairs only. Check the website before visiting for info to scope out weather conditions, possible elevator outages, and approximate wait times.

If you are reasonably hale and hearty you may want to consider taking the stairs to the 1st and/or 2nd floors and then catching the elevator to the top if you want to go higher. The lines are shorter for the stairs, sometimes much shorter, tickets are cheaper, and the climb is not too arduous at about 700 stairs with places to rest. The stairs between the 2nd floor and the top are closed to the public so if you want to go higher it’s time to jump in the ascenseur.  There are exhibits on the 1st floor, panoramic views from the 2nd and more view at the top as well as Eiffel’s office complete with the gramophone Edison gave him.

There’s an app available for smart phones with a guided tour of the tower. If heights make you peckish, you can pick up a snack at the 1st floor buffet, eat at the brasserie on that floor, book a table at the very expensive Jules Verne restaurant on the 2nd floor or sip on bubbles at the Champagne Bar on the 3rd floor at the top.

The tower can also be enjoyed from the ground — be sure to walk up the steps of the nearby Palais de Chaillot, which offers good views of the tower and the skyline.

You’ll probably walk away a fan of the tower. Unlike de Maupassant. His dislike of the structure never abated. In fact, he is said to have routinely eaten lunch at one of the tower’s restaurants, remarking tartly that that was the one place in the city he could be sure of not having a view of the structure.


  • Ticket info: http://www.tour-eiffel.fr/en/preparing-your-visit/planning-your-visit.html
  • Don’t miss: Seeing the tower at night. Crowds drop a bit, the tower is lit up like a Christmas tree and the views of the city glowing beneath the night sky are magnificent.

Parisian politesse

arc de triompheOne of my favorite lines in the Pixar movie Ratatouille occurs when the young chef and his chic Parisian girlfriend have to leave a roomful of people in a hurry and she announces bluntly, “We hate to be rude … but we’re French!”

Who doesn’t chuckle at the thought of those brusque, supercilious Parisians?

So I feel a little strange having to report that during my recent trip to Paris I encountered … nice, helpful, extremely polite people.

My experience started with the taxi in from the airport. My driver was a native of Cambodia who spoke French and Mandarin fluently, very good English and could hold his own in Spanish. And that wasn’t all. Finding out I was a wine writer by trade he proceeded to launch into a description of the six classic grapes of Bordeaux. (Thank goodness I finally remembered petit verdot or I would have been properly embarrassed.) The kicker, we get to our destination and it turns out I haven’t made it clear that I want to pay with a credit card; he takes only cash. Is there a blow-up? A disappointed sigh? Nope. Pas de probleme. We nip around a corner to the closest ATM and all is gas and gaiters.

And that was just the start of it. I got lost quite a bit and never failed to find a shopkeeper or waiter willing to help me out in English or the very slow French that I can comprehend. Some came outside the business to point me in the right direction. A time or two cars even stopped to let me cross in the crosswalk! OK, this may have had something to do with the fact that my companion was a tall, stunning, blonde. But, still, people. City drivers giving way _ not an everyday occurrence.

I don’t know if the rude Parisian was always more a creature of fiction than fact, or whether this is the result of a campaign to brush up Parisian politeness, which kicked off in 2007 after reports that polite Japanese tourists were being traumatized by their experiences in the City of Light. But I do know that Paris compared very favorably with some other European countries I’ve visited. I’m looking at you, Italy … with the exception of that time on the Rome train when a rather handsome fellow helped me lift my case onto the overhead rack after I had tried, failed and spontaneously blurted out a rather bad word.

That expression, by the way, turns out to need no translation.

Here is a link to a few other, rather more polite and advisable. phrases that may be of assistance if you are traveling to France this summer.

Bon voyage!






Le Big Mac

McDonald’s on the Champs-Elysees, Paris /Photo Michelle Locke

Fair warning, foodies. Look away now for today we are going to talk about committing a gastronomical gaffe of the first order.

Yes, this is the I-went-to-Paris-and-ate-at-McDonald’s post.

What can I say? I was standing on the Champs-Elysees, taking in the Arc de Triomphe, when suddenly my eye was caught by an arch of a different color, something golden and oh-so-familiar.

Could I? Should I? Reader, I did.

Frites pour moi /Photo Michelle Locke

McDonald’s is known as McDo’s (mac-doze) in France and it’s not considered the McDon’t you might think despite being in the land of haute cuisine. Quite a few people I met talked about occasionally popping in, especially if they had children. I think it’s the novelty concept plus the appeal of quick service.

I usually eat at McDonald’s once a year on our annual pilgrimage to Lake Tahoe, so it’s not like I’m a core consumer. But I’ve always been interested in the company’s ability to consistently maintain a certain level of quality, something a lot of restaurants can’t do for a 50-seat dining room, let alone 12,000+ franchises.

I wondered, does that consistency spread all the way to France?

Yes and no. McDonald’s abroad isn’t quite the same. The outlets I saw in France often had separate coffee bars selling macarons and other pastries along with some not-bad coffee. You’ll also find variations in sandwiches, such as the recently launched McBaguette, tailored to appeal to French diners.

But if you want your basic fries and burger, they’ve got it. At the Champs-Elysees branch I ordered a Royal cheese, aka a Quarter-Pounder. It tasted fine although would have been better if it hadn’t been sitting under the hot lamp quite so long. But the fries were awesome and I wasn’t ashamed to dip them in le ketchup.

Let’s give the last word on this to a well-known philosopher, relevant part starts 40 seconds in.