The Secret Garden

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 038

Sssshhhhh…..this is my most favourite spot in Paris.  Frequented largely by Parisians, I don’t want it over-run with tourists.  So if you promise to keep this address to yourself, I’ll tell you about it.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 045

It’s called the garden of the Royal Palace – le jardin du Palais Royal – and it’s a sublime sheltered retreat tucked behind a courtyard near the Louvre.  The long, rectangular garden is hemmed in by elegant arcades that border its perimeter.  Exclusive boutiques are to be found in 18th-century shopping galleries.  As well as two or three restaurants.  And other treats.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 047Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 048Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 058I love the faded grandeur of the buildings.  The author, Colette, lived in one of these apartments overlooking the garden.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 066Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 063The history of this palace and its grounds is so long and fascinating that I couldn’t possibly write it all here.  But here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia (a snippet history lesson) -

Originally called the Palais-Cardinal, the palace was the personal residence of Cardinal Richelieu. Construction began in 1633 and was completed in 1639.  Upon Richelieu’s death in 1642 the palace became the property of King Louis XIII and acquired the new name, Palais-Royal.  When the King died the following year, it became the home of the Queen Mother Anne of Austria and her young sons Louis XIV and Philippe, duc d’Anjou.

From 1649, the palace was the residence of the exiled Henrietta Maria and Henrietta Anne Stuart, wife and daughter of the deposed King Charles I of England. The two had escaped England in the midst of the English Civil War and were sheltered by Henrietta Maria’s nephew, King Louis XIV.

House of Orléans

Henrietta Anne was later married to Louis’ younger brother, Phillipe de France, duc d’Orléans in the palace chapel on 31 March 1661. The following year the new duchesse d’Orléans gave birth to a daughter, Marie Louise d’Orléans, inside the palace. After their marriage, the palace became the main residence of the House of OrléansThe Duchess created the ornamental gardens of the palace, which were said to be among the most beautiful in Paris.  Under the new ducal couple, the Palais-Royal would become the social center of the capital.

You could easily spend half a day here. There’s a beautiful fountain in the middle. Tree-lined allées that provide shade.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 053Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 040There are little squares of rose garden in which to sit to read a book, contemplate life, people-watch, write your memoir.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 072Where young princes once strolled, local boys today play soccer.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 069And at the far end, near the entrance, is an inner courtyard containing the controversial columns designed by artist, Daniel Buren.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 035Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 033I love the interplay between modern and classical.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 036Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 041

I love the jardin du Palais Royal.  It’s French, it’s fabulous, it’s forever.  Pour toujours.

papaya Paris

Paris, 25 July 2014 086

I’m off work for the week and mindfully planning each day so as not to waste a single minute.  I work on my book project from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Then I stop and go outside. Today I crossed Paris for a rendez-vous in the 11th arrondissement.  Afterwards, as I was strolling along the rue de Charonne that leads into the boulevard Voltaire, I passed a market selling fruits and vegetables.  Hey, I said to no-one in particular, these are half the price of the fruits and veg in my neighbourhood.  So I made a few purchases and continued on my way, now carrying a cauliflower, blueberries and a papaya.

Here’s the delicious smoothie I made when I eventually got home – papaya, fresh lime juice, coconut milk, orange juice, fresh ginger root, blueberries and raspberries. Fresh mint leaves would’ve rounded it off, but I didn’t have any.  My Haitian friend, Monique, enjoys her papaya sprinkled with lime juice and a tiny dash of salt.

Paris, 25 July 2014 090

I unwittingly stumbled across this store that I’ve been meaning to visit for two years now. “I can’t believe you’ve never been to Merci!” says Rosemary, my friend from London who goes there every time she visits Paris. They call it a “concept store”. OK. So now I can tell Rosemary that I’ve been there, however because I was carrying a cauliflower and a papaya (and blueberries), it took some juggling to get my camera out. I only made a quick tour of the ground floor. The owners of Merci, I later learned, are also the owners of Bonpoint, that precious high-end clothing store for children. Through a foundation, 100% of Merci’s profits are donated to help women and children in Madagascar.  I’d like to be able to do something like that.  I’d like to create a foundation that helps children in Iraq.

Paris, 25 July 2014 012Paris, 25 July 2014 015Paris, 25 July 2014 017Paris, 25 July 2014 028

Turning left into the rue Froissart I continued walking. I actually had a specific destination in mind which you’ll discover further down. I passed the headquarters of the French Secours Populaire (People’s Aid) society.

Paris, 25 July 2014 032Paris, 25 July 2014 033Paris, 25 July 2014 035

All that is human is ours“.  I’m a volunteer for the French Secours Populaire, devoting occasional Saturdays to help out at jumble sales, fairs and events to raise money for charity.  I look forward to the day I retire so I can devote more of my time. I could teach English, for example.  Being English mother tongue, I have discovered since living in France, is a major asset and can open doors to, well, lots of things.  It’s precious currency.

  Paris, 25 July 2014 041

Now I’m on the rue de Bretagne in the 3rd arrondissement and I’m looking for a small Italian deli called Mmmozza. It specializes in mozzarella cheese, coldcuts and sandwiches and the address is 57 rue de Bretagne.  Here’s Chez Omar at number 47 rue de Bretagne.  Go there for one of the best couscous in the city at reasonable prices. Great atmosphere, convivial and relaxed. They don’t take reservations. Another good couscous place in this district – more expensive than Chez Omar – is Le 404 at 69, rue des Gravilliers. Reservations are a must.

Paris, 25 July 2014 038

So I find Mmmozza and step inside, famished because I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and roasting because of the heat and all the walking.  My papaya is gloopy.  “Bonjour”, I say to the smiling woman behind the counter. “I’d like a sandwich, please”.  I had read about their delicious mozzarella-rocket-sundried tomato sandwiches and I’m salivating.

Paris, 25 July 2014 051Because it’s so late in the afternoon, the woman informs me, there’s no bread left.  It’s a 40-minute wait for new bread to come out of the oven.  Merda.  I order a mocha ice cream.Paris, 25 July 2014 045Paris, 25 July 2014 047Paris, 25 July 2014 055Paris, 25 July 2014 050Paris, 25 July 2014 059

Their beautiful, fresh mozzarella is delivered every Thursday from the region around Naples. They also serve pecorino cheese and other products.  In the end, I didn’t wait for the bread to come out of the oven.  I went home to make my smoothie. But I’ll return.

the Old City of Lille – part II

Lille, July 2014 032Lille, July 2014 036Lille, July 2014 038

Continue walking along the rue des Vieux Murs and you’ll arrive at the rue de la Monnaie and this wonderful bakery on the corner. They make a northern specialty called le craquelin which, as you can see from the above photo, is a sort of sugared brioche. Delicious with morning coffee. Another speciality of Lille is “le welsh” which makes me laugh because in actual fact it’s Welsh rarebit, but no-one knows that. If you ask anyone (even the cook who prepares the dish) what “welsh” means, they’ll shrug their shoulders and say they have no idea.  “Wales” in French is Pays de Galles and “Welsh” is Gallois.  It’s a thick slice of toasted bread covered with melted cheddar cheese. The cheese is mixed with beer, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. As a child, I used to make Welsh rarebit at home using a can of Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese soup.

As a treat, the eldest of my god-children and I go to the best place in Lille for “le welsh” which is Brasserie André located at 71, rue de Béthune.  It’s in the center of town across from the main cinema.  We went last Saturday, but I didn’t have my camera with me. This is one of the last brasseries serving traditional northern cuisine in an upscale setting.

Turn left onto rue de la Monnaie and you’ll come across a small, open-air market selling local produce.  I’ve always said that markets represent the soul of France (or any country, for that matter).  Look at these gorgeous mushrooms.  I bought a bag, sautéed them in butter with a splash of olive oil and made a delicious mushroom omelette, crusty baguette on the side. No cheese, no onion, no ham, just sea salt and pepper. Fresh tarragon or parsley would have made a good addition. Don’t rinse the mushrooms under water!  Wipe them clean, trim the stems and thinly slice.

Lille, July 2014 044Lille, July 2014 042Lille, July 2014 048Lille, July 2014 050Lille, July 2014 054Lille, July 2014 056Lille, July 2014 091


the Old City of Lille – part I

I took a break from my rambunctious godchildren to quietly walk the cobbled streets of Lille’s Old City, just me and my camera.  I love the brown and red brick (a Flemish influence) that you only see in the north of France. For atmosphere, a laid-back vibe and great shopping, a day trip to Lille is not a bad idea. Only an hour from Paris on the fast train (the TGV), you could then continue on to Brussels, London, Amsterdam or elsewhere. Lille is an important crossroads in the European high-speed rail network.  

I know it sounds like I’m commissioned by the Lille tourist board to write these travel pieces, but I’m not (maybe I should be!)  It’s just that I go to Lille frequently because of friends and my godchildren, aged 13, 11 and 9, who live there.  In August I’ll be in London for a week (stay tuned for a blog post from that fine city) and in December I’ll be returning to Bruges (with the kids).  There are many cities in northern Europe that host the famous Christmas markets – Bruges is one of them.  Anyone wishing to visit Bruges (in northern Belgium) in December must book now.

Lille, July 2014 059Lille, July 2014 113Lille, July 2014 064Lille, July 2014 086Lille, July 2014 067

This hair salon, at 16 rue d’Angleterre, has a serene and stylish interior. Julie and Romain specialize in cuts and colouring and I’ve already decided to go there when I next return to Lille for the annual, mega flea market.  Book your hotel and train tickets now for La Grande Braderie, first weekend in September!  (September 6 and 7). The biggest flea market in Europe with over 10,000 exhibitors and 2 million visitors!

Lille, July 2014 082

I came across my kind of place at the corner of rue des Vieux Murs and rue des Trois Mollettes.  mmmmmm… and little cakes.  And maple syrup (sirop d’érable) with little pancakes!  Maple syrup reminds me of home.

Lille, July 2014 090Lille, July 2014 092Lille, July 2014 087Lille, July 2014 111Lille, July 2014 089

Across the road from the coffee shop, located at 27 rue des Vieux Murs, is a boutique called el Lugar that showcases handcrafted glam-rock jewelry. I tried on half a dozen bracelets made by artisans in Spain and France at very affordable prices. Opposite is a wonderful shop-restaurant selling traditional food and products from the Aveyron region of France (north-east of the Midi-Pyrenees in southern France).

Lille, July 2014 107Lille, July 2014 095Lille, July 2014 103Lille, July 2014 101

These stools are handcarved from bois de frêne which is ash wood in English. I loved this small milking stool which costs 139 euros. I would have bought it if I didn’t have to lug it home on the train (it was quite heavy.)

Lille, July 2014 104

Here are the famous Laguiole knives. These gorgeous steak knives (above) would make a beautiful gift for someone.

Lille, July 2014 106


In the meantime, here’s what Lonely Planet says about Lille -

Lille owes its name – once spelled L’Isle – to the fact that it was founded, back in the 11th century, on an island in the River Deûle. In 1667 the city was captured by French forces led personally by Louis XIV, who promptly set about fortifying his prize. Long the centre of France’s textile industry, the miserable conditions in which its ‘labouring classes’ lived were exposed by Victor Hugo in the 1850s. Lille’s textile industry has declined but the city has shown renewed vigour and self-confidence since the TGV came to town in 1993, followed a year later by the Eurostar from London.

Vive la Paix !

The Bastille Day celebrations opened last night with giant illuminated words that sprang from the Eiffel Tower and spelled out in fireworks across the darkened sky:  VIVE LA PAIX (Long Live Peace).  I wondered what the effect would be if the Eiffel Tower and its message were dispatched to Baghdad, Gaza City or Tel Aviv.  Or Kabul, Mogadishu, Nairobi, Somalia, Syria, etc.  The list is too long.

Imagine the giant, glittering Lady of Lace - eloquent and elegant like some emissary extraordinaire – rising high above the bombs, the armed drones and the dead civilians – and silently proclaiming -

يحياالسلام   Long Live Peace

سلام  Salām

שלוםתחי   Long Live Peace

שלום  Shalom

The Middle East can use some Eiffel Tower right now.

Here’s a message to extremists on all sides – STOP THE KILLING OF INNOCENTS! STOP THE SHAMEFUL, shameful SLAUGHTER!  Innocent civilians (children, teenagers, mothers, law-abiding citizens) are caught in the crossfire of your self-righteous, self-serving, fanatical “principles”. 

Islamic extremist groups distort the meaning of the Koran to their own ends. They brandish the Koran, but do not apply what’s written within.  To kill in the name of Allah is grotesque and an insult to humankind, not to mention an insult to peace-loving Muslims. Fanatics are so blinded by twisted doctrine, they do not see how abhorrent they are; how they discredit themselves.

“We made you to be a community of the middle way, so that you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind.” (Qur’an, 2:143)

Below is a clip from last night’s performance, set to the music of John Lennon’s “Imagine”. John Lennon.  Who wrote in another song, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” And then, years later, was gunned down in front of his apartment building.

What is wrong with us?