Posts from the “Travel” Category

A Drop in the Bucket for Austerity

Posted on May 2, 2013

Photo: Paige Bowers

Photo: Paige Bowers

This week the Elysee Palace announced it would be auctioning off 1,200 bottles of wine from its cellars, which are known for stocking the best of the best vintages France has to offer. The state plans to pay down some of its debt with the proceeds from this auction, but, as The New York Times writes, the move amounts to little more than “highly exclusive drops” in the bucket.

The Times provided a taste of the bottles up for bidding:

Among the wines to be auctioned at the end of the month at the Hôtel Drouot, through the Paris auction house Kapandji Morhange, are three bottles of 1990 Château Petrus, estimated to be worth $3,000 to $3,400 a bottle, and a 1998 Meursault Premier Cru, a fine white burgundy. There will also be bottles of 1975 Château Lafite Rothschild, estimated at more than $1,000 each, and 1985 Krug Champagne, as well as Champagne from Salon, some of the world’s rarest and most expensive.

In general, the best bottles are served to heads of state and monarchs. When President George W. Bush made his last visit to France in 2008, Mr. Sarkozy, who like Mr. Bush does not drink alcohol, served Château Mouton Rothschild to his guests.

The chief sommelier of the Élysée, Virginie Routis, who was appointed in 2007, selected the bottles to be sold. They make up just a tenth of the presidential cellars, which were established in 1947. Lesser bottles will be sold, too, with some expected to start at as little as $20 and many available for less austere prices of under $130.

President Francois Hollande plans to serve more modestly priced wines to his guests. No word yet on what those are, but the Times offered an interesting glimpse of past presidential favorites. According to the article, Francois Mitterand, a fellow Socialist, loved Burgundy, one of the world’s most expensive wines. Georges Pompidou loved Chasse-Spleen, a red Medoc whose name means “to chase away the blues.” And Jacques Chirac drank beer in public, but Dom Perignon in private, an interesting fact, given his history.

Eugene Atget

Posted on October 17, 2012

atgeteclipseEugene Atget was a late 19th and early 20th century photographer in Paris. He’s interesting to me because he captured scenes of the old city (winding cobblestone streets, small tradesmen, basic daily living) at a time when it was slowly being demolished and replaced with something new (grand boulevards, colossal department stores and the like). For all the reading I’ve done about that time period, these pictures bring the City of Light to life for me in an entirely different way, giving it a slower, sweeter pace than I’d find in an account of Haussmann’s reconstruction, a tale of the bloody Commune, or a glitzy recap about opening night at the Palais Garnier.


Atget’s technique was interesting to artists such as Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, all of whom championed his work.  He took his pictures with a long exposure, which gave his snapshots an unusual depth. So in the shop window pictured above, you not only get the suits and the mannequins, but the reflection from the trees and buildings outside and a feel for the big new avenues that sliced through the city. organgrinderThe old was still there, if you looked for it. Atget looked for it, and preserved what he could. And as a nostalgia dork, I can appreciate that he tried to capture as much of the city’s vintage charms before they faded away.

How To Say “Sale” in French

Posted on October 11, 2012


I’ve never been a recreational shopper. I’d call myself more of a kamikaze shopper. I go in with a purpose, strike, then get out. When I was in France earlier this year conducting master’s thesis research, I arrived just in time for seasonal sales. So I was willing to relax my usual mercenary technique to engage in a little bit of what the French call “faire du leche-vitrines,” or window shopping. The French term translates literally as “window licking,” which I think is kind of cute in all its Gallic weirdness.

So imagine that you are licking windows and tempted to buy something you see, but your budget is limited. If a shop window says “soldes,” then walk in and poke around. But say “Bonjour” to the shopkeeper before you get down to business. Otherwise, you’re just being rude and, well, American.

“Soldes” means “sales”  and they are a girl’s best friend, especially in a gorgeous boutique like Sandro (pictured above).

But here are three other variations on “soldes” that are worth noting. There are…supersoldes1. Super Soldes and Soldes Massifs — This is the one-two punch of soldesmanship. It says the sale you are about to witness is above and beyond the scope of sales you’ve seen today. It is superheroic. It is epic. You should walk through the door, say “Bonjour” and partake. You won’t be sorry.

destockage2. Destockage Massif — The “everything must go” of France, with prices so low, you can afford that extra bottle of Sancerre! ‘Tis a pity that Jacques Genin didn’t offer a “destockage massif” of its renowned caramels…

festivaldelachemise3. Festival de la Chemise — Not a mere sale, this is a destockage massif that celebrates the humble shirt. We need more shirt festivals. We really do. They’re an underappreciated piece of clothing.

Ode to Charm City

Posted on October 9, 2012



We moved to Baltimore in 1981 so my mother could take a public relations job with a prominent defense contractor based there. Ronald Reagan was president then and although the world was technically at peace, he oversaw the biggest arms buildup in U.S. history. My mother’s job was to promote her company’s missile systems for warships; her colleagues nicknamed her “Lady Launch” and even caricatured her riding the back of a missile fired (presumably) into the former Soviet Union or maybe even Afghanistan. These were heady times full of American might.

For me, part of the lure of moving to Baltimore was

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Posted on September 5, 2012


I have a friend who likes fresh grouper. Actually, he doesn’t just like fresh grouper, he waxes enthusiastic about it, as if there were no other food on this planet worth eating. The friend in question buys his grouper from the same seafood place in Perdido Key, Fla. everytime he’s in that neck of the woods. So when we vacationed near that spot this summer, we made a pilgrimage to Grouper Mecca and were not disappointed with our haul.

Pictured above: Abita Beer-battered grouper, made by yours truly.  Informal recipe is as follows: 1. Pour a bottle of Abita Amber or Abita Golden into a bowl; 2. In another bowl, mix a few cups of flour with sea salt, black pepper, red pepper, garlic salt, onion salt, paprika and maybe parsley; 3. Dredge grouper slices in flour first, then in beer, then back in flour (expect messy fingers); 4. Fry covered grouper slices in hot oil until golden brown; 5. Dig in and enjoy what my seven-year-old declared “the best fish I’ve ever had in my life.”