Letter From France | The Paris Hotel Scene Gets a Glitzy New Player

At the new Peninsula Paris Hotel, not far from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, workers are frantically hanging paintings and placing umbrellas on the rooftop terrace in preparation for this Friday’s grand opening.


At the new Peninsula Paris Hotel, not far from the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe, workers are frantically hanging paintings and placing umbrellas on the rooftop terrace in preparation for this Friday’s grand opening.


The Peninsula combines two related trends in the Paris luxury hotel landscape, both brought about by the shifting desires of the hotels’ wealthy international guests, most recently those from China, who are coming in ever-greater numbers. For many such guests, the history, culture and class of the city’s old palaces are no longer enough. They also require bigness, brashness and glitz: spa suites with private saunas and rain showers, trendy nightclubs, private butlers and on-site contemporary art consultants.

Continue reading “Letter From France | The Paris Hotel Scene Gets a Glitzy New Player” »

Made in House? Prove It

Owen Franken for The New York Times
Jean-François Le Guillou, the chef and owner of La Forge in Paris, says he will display a government-issued symbol on his door saying that all his dishes are made in house.


PARIS — The black-and-white symbol looks like a saucepan with a roof for a lid. And if it sits next to an entry on a restaurant menu, it signals that the dish is “fait maison” — house-made.


Or does it?

Continue reading “Made in House? Prove It” »

In France, a Yearly Feast of Fish

Nanda Gonzague for The New York Times
The St. Pierre statue carried by the water jousters.


SÈTE, France — This Mediterranean port town is famous for its annual Worldwide Festival of electronic music, seven miles of glorious beaches and fish.


Lots of fish.

Continue reading “In France, a Yearly Feast of Fish” »

Letter from Umbria | A Storied Ceramics Workshop Where Visiting Artists Can Get to Work

Elaine Sciolino
At the Rometti ceramics workshop in Umbria, Jean-Christophe Clair, the factory’s artistic director, works on his “Birili” collection inspired by ancient and primitive shapes.


You won’t find Umbertide, Italy, in most guidebooks. This town in northeast Umbria has little to recommend it: no churches with vibrant frescoes, no hilltop vistas, no Michelin-starred restaurants, not even a first-rate pizzeria. Umbertide is so ordinary, in fact, that “The Companion Guide to Umbria,” the 1969 classic armchair reader on the province, singles it out as the only second-tier town in the region that is not worth even a short visit.


What Umbertide does have going for it is Ceramiche Rometti, a ceramics workshop, showroom, retailer and museum (okay, it’s just several dozen objects displayed behind glass) on the edge of town. Since 1927, Rometti has been turning out fine hand-painted ceramics and sculptures of clay mined from a local quarry that dates back to ancient Rome. Among its collaborators these days are Chantal Thomass, the Parisian queen of lingerie, and Roche Bobois, the high-end French furniture and interior design company. Through the latter, Rometti also has made large vases with designs by the 20th-century artist-writer Jean Cocteau with the authorization of Pierre Bergé, the longtime personal and business partner of Yves Saint Laurent.


Continue reading “Letter from Umbria | A Storied Ceramics Workshop Where Visiting Artists Can Get to Work” »

Ode to the Classic Bistro

Ed Alcock
A pair of extra-large organic hard-boiled eggs served with homemade mayonnaise from Bistrot Valois.


PARIS — It is a question I have come to dread: Can you recommend the perfect bistro?


The reason it’s so hard to give my visiting friends a good answer is that the Paris bistro scene is in full transformation. And the trends are moving in contradictory, and worrisome, directions.


On one hand, there’s a lot of really bad bistro food these days: dishes like onion soup and blanquette de veau that are mass-produced at large industrial sites, shipped to kitchens and reheated just before serving. If you’re not careful, you can end up paying serious money for a meal that was vacuum-packed or frozen just a few hours before.


Continue reading “Ode to the Classic Bistro” »

Capturing the Spirit of the Tattoo

Marc Garanger
The French photographer Marc Garanger’s 1960 portrait of a woman whose village was destroyed during Algeria’s war of independence.


PARIS — Tattoos are beautiful; they are crude. They are declarations of protest, politics, beauty, religion, mourning, hatred or love. They have been used to identify, cure, honor and subjugate those who wear or are forced to wear them.


At the Musée du Quai Branly here, an ambitious new exhibition, “Tattoo” which opened Tuesday and runs through Oct. 18, 2015, grounds the tradition of tattooing in antiquity, follows its myriad expressions around the world and showcases a new generation of artists whose medium happens to be marking human skin.


Tattooing dates back more than 5,000 years. The exhibition notes that the remains of Ötzi, the Neolithic iceman found in the Alps in 1991 was covered with 57 tattoo marks. Two-thousand-year-old mummies discovered in Egypt and Syria carried tattoos of mythical monsters and animals.


Continue reading “Capturing the Spirit of the Tattoo” »

Lingering Power of Hostage Crisis Short-Circuits Iranian Nominee

Associated Press
A day after taking hostages at the United States Embassy in Tehran, Iranian students ripped an American flag in November 1979. The political memory of the 444-day crisis is still powerful.


PARIS — When Iranian militants seized the United States Embassy and took dozens of Americans hostage on an overcast Sunday morning in November 1979, I assumed it was just a brief anti-American sit-in. My main concern, I told my editors at Newsweek, was not how dangerous Tehran would be. It was whether it would still be a story by the time I arrived there from Paris the next day.


I sure got that wrong. The “Iran hostage crisis,” as we called it, lasted 444 days. And as demonstrated by the powerful opposition in Washington last week to Iran’s choice for its next United Nations ambassador, it is not over.


During the crisis, President Jimmy Carter froze Iran’s assets, broke diplomatic relations, changed his re-election strategy and ordered a failed military rescue mission that left eight American servicemen dead. The hostage ordeal helped get Ronald Reagan elected as president.


Continue reading “Lingering Power of Hostage Crisis Short-Circuits Iranian Nominee” »

Letter from France | A Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Guide to Paris

Gabriela Plump for The New York Times
Pousse-Pousse, founded by Lawrence Aboucaya (right), serves gluten-free and vegan dishes including daily soups and seed crackers.


Vegetarians in France are odd ducks. Culinary deprivation is neither sexy nor patriotic here. Regional specialties like the pulpy oysters of Isigny, the velvety foie gras of Périgord, the textured andouillette sausage of Lyon and the black-and-white Coucou chickens of Rennes are meant to be savored, not censured. And although there is no European consensus on exactly what the word “vegetarian” means, less than 2 percent of the French identify themselves as such (compared with four times as many Britons and Germans). Rare is the French host who asks guests before they come to dinner if they have dietary preferences or restrictions. Explain that you’re a pescatarian, vegan or even gluten-free and you’re likely to be met with confusion, bewilderment and a pile of raw vegetables on your plate.


That said, it’s much easier to dine meat-and-fish-free in Paris than it was a decade ago, when the most you could hope for was brown rice and sautéed vegetables. A slim 2012 book called “Paris Végétarien” lists about 150 restaurants by neighborhood and describes their degree of adherence to fruit-and-vegetable purity. There are vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly blogs; the HappyCow smartphone app searches for vegetarian destinations around the world. In the last year, the French media has been filled with stories about gluten-free eating. (The serious Le Monde describes the approach as essential for preserving the health of gluten-intolerant people; the women’s magazine Femina calls it the newest diet à la mode.)

Continue reading “Letter from France | A Vegetarian and Gluten-Free Guide to Paris” »

France Rallies Around Its Truffles

France Keyser for The New York Times
Visitors sniffing truffles at the Saturday retail and wholesale truffle market in Richerenches, France.


GRIGNAN, France — As the world of French truffles falls into disarray, let’s hear it for the poor man’s truffle of Bourgogne.


Inexpensive truffles from China, odorless and tasteless, are flooding France. Synthetically flavored truffle oil is turning up in more restaurant creations. And the supply of the royal black Périgord truffle, the black diamond of French cuisine, is shrinking.


Enter Didier Chabert, the retired chief executive of his family’s nougat-making empire, who has created a truffle command center at Domaine de Cordis, his country estate and guesthouse here near Avignon, in the south of France.


Continue reading “France Rallies Around Its Truffles” »

Your Imported Beef Is Served

Ed Alcock for The New York Times
Yves-Marie Le Bourdonnec, a champion for the cause of imported beef, takes down a piece of aged British beef from storage.


PARIS — It’s easy to spend a lot of money here on a mediocre steak.


Just about every Paris bistro offers bavette with shallots, faux filet with frites, rumsteck with Roquefort sauce. Menus often identify the noble bovines that are the sources; most notably, the off-white Charolaise, the brown Limousine and the wheat-hued Blonde d’Aquitaine.


The problem is that much of made-in-France meat isn’t marvelous. So in recent years, a quiet revolution has been underway. Foreign beef — from the United States, South America or other European countries — is invading.


Continue reading “Your Imported Beef Is Served” »