Sunday, January 25, 2009

Student souvenirs: La Sorbonne

I have had the plesure of spending four wonderful years in a palace dedicated to knowledge : La Sorbonne. The buildings are beautiful (though not very practical…) and the history of the university is both inspiring and fascinating.

In 1250 the Parisian academia left l’Ile de la Cité, and teaching was hence organised at La Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. The Church imposed latin as spoken language on the premises– whereof the name Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter).

Founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon and Saint Louis, the first aim of the Sorbonne was to welcome destitute theology students. The university was rebuilt between 1626 and 1642 upon the wishes of Cardinal Richelieu. It was closed down for several years starting from the Revolution, and teaching was only taken up again in 1821. In 1884 was put down the first stone of the new, expanded university. Nénot, architect in command, imagined La Sorbonne as we know it today.

One of the treasures that are housed by La Sorbonne is the Library (photo above). How can you not feel inspired when sitting and reading in such a beautiful place? Another pearl is The Large Amphithéâtre. The latter is where graduates receive their diplomas. In The Large Amphithéâtre, that has space for some 3000 people, are statues of Sorbon, Descartes, Lavoisier, Rollin, Pascal and Richelieu. In the dome you can see symbols of Law, Medicine, Science, Litterature and Theology – the five faculties that constituted the university in 1889. Above the scene is the famous and symbolic painting “le bois sacré” (the sacred woods) by Puvis de Chavannes. The beautiful piece of art measures 25,60 m x 4,50 m.

Of the former Sorbonne, there remains only the chapel, built by Lemercier between 1635 and 1642. The Cardinal's tomb, by Girardon, is located inside.

La Sorbonne is still the most famous university in France. It is worth visiting, but a visit is not necessarily easy to organise. You can try by writing to If you are a group, your chances of success are certainly greater than if you are a single person. Need I say that writing in French would be a smart move..?

Métro Cluny La Sorbonne (line 10)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Wild animals, insects and curiosities: Deyrolle

Since 1831 the unique store Deyrolle has been the central point in Paris for entomology and taxidermy; wild animals, rare butterflies, strange insects, beautiful shells, old-fashioned science posters and other curiosities linked to mother nature can all be found in this beautiful store in rue du bac.

Deyrolle has always been a fascinating and inspiring place both for scientists and for profanes like myself. The painters Bernard Buffet, Mathieu, Salvador Dali and André Breton, the writer Louise de Vilmorin as well as the philosopher Théodore Monod were often seen here.

In early 2008 a tragic fire caused great damages to the boutique and the unique collection. Deyrolle being an important parisian landmark, last winter several artists gathered around the noble cause of its restoration: 75 works of art were sold at an auction and brought in 260 000 euros. Thanks to this tremendous help, Deyrolle is progressively being rebuilt. Several rooms are already fully restored. I strongly recommend that you a drop by, it is worth the visit!

46 rue de Bac (métro Rue de Bac, line 12) (website only in French)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cinema Paradiso: Le Chaplin

In Paris you can find many local theaters called "cinémas de quartier". Le Saint-Lambert, recently renamed Cinéma Chaplin, is one of them.

At Le Saint-Lambert time has stood still for many years. There are few signs that we have actually passed the 50s... The elderly man selling old-fashioned tickets with slow and meticulous gestures has probably worked there for decades.

Le Saint-Lambert is never in a hurry. Movies come to this place when they are taken off from other theaters. The combination of a small theater and lots of different films means you must pay careful attention to the program (see link further down). A given film is maybe just being projected every Wednesday afternoon, whilst another one is solely being shown on Sunday evenings. The advantage is that it is never crowdy: fifteen people at the most is my own, personal experience. Another good point is that there is a decent selection of films in "version originale" (not dubbed into French).

Forget about popcorn, crisps and modern jelly beans. However, if you would like to buy a traditional chocolate bar, then pick one from the small selection in the wicker basket near the entrance and tell the old gentleman.

Find out what's playing at the moment: (NB: VF = French, dubbed version. VO = original version with French subtitles)

6 rue Péclet (métro Vaugirard, line 12), close to the townhall of the XVth district.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The summum of prêt à porter: Paule Ka

Serge Cajfinger makes timeless and very chic prêt à porter inspired by Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. Always stylish and classy, sometimes sexy, but never vulgar.

The PK clothes are quite expensive (400-1000 euros for a dress), so look out for the sales, and remember that it can be great to combine designer clothes with much more affordable pieces. That perfectly cut PK-jacket can make you look outstandingly good, although the rest of your outfit comes from H&M or Zara!

There are several PK-shops and corners in Paris. I recommend the shop located 192 Boulevard Saint Germain (métro Saint Germain des Prés, line 4) as well as the corner at Le Bon Marché (métro Sèvres-Babylone, line 10 and 12).

Cheesy fantasies: Quatrehomme

To fully appreciate the exotic results of turning goat- sheep- and cow's milk into cheeses, check out this Rive-Gauche fromagerie, run by one of the most respected cheese experts in Paris, Marie Quatrehomme. Personally, I appreciate a lot her reblochon, comté fruité, tête de moine and camembert.

Enjoy your cheese with a rustic baguette and some white wine. The latter often matches cheese better than red wine. Camembert, for instance, tends to give a "metallic" taste to red wine whilst it goes perfectly together with white.

62 rue de Sèvres (métro Vaneau, line 10)

Heaven for Port- and Armagnac-lovers: Ryst Dupeyron

Ryst-Dupeyron specializes in vintage armagnac, as well as Bordeaux grands cru, port and malt whiskies. If you look for a birthday present, you will definitely find something from the year your friend is born. The staff is very friendly, gives great explanations and willingly answers questions you may have. There are generous possibilities for tasting as well...

79 rue du Bac (métro Rue du Bac, line 12)

A "Parisian" shopping experience: Le Bon Marché

There are other shopping centers in Paris that are more known abroad (like Galeries Lafayette and Printemps), but the one and only that is truly Parisian and chic is Le Bon Marché.

The atmosphere is calm and bourgeois. There are no disturbing announcements of promotions, nor any hip music. If any music is heard, it is most likely Bach or Händel, and you are never obliged to raise your voice and compete with the music when addressing someone.

Books, records, jewellery, cosmetics, prêt à porter, lingerie, shoes, furniture, art de table - at Le Bon Marché you find it all. Do not miss La Grande Epicérie in the building next door - clearly Paris' best supermarket for food.

24 rue de Sèvres (métro Sèvres-Babylone, line 10 and 12)

A walk in Amélie's footpaths: Abbesses

One of the most charming areas in Paris is Abbesses. It is also a treasured place for all those who cannot help but smile when they think of the film "Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain".

Enjoy a walk in the cosy streets, and let the Parisian old-fashioned ambiance fill your mind: Rue des Abbesses with all its cafés, Rue Lepic with all its fabulous food shops (and the "Café des Deux Moulins" from the film), Rue Yvonne le Tac, Rue des Trois Frères...

In Rue des Abbesses you find a wonderful bakery called Coquelicot ( where you can buy tasty "pains spéciaux", for instance olive-bread and bread with gooseliver bites.

When coming from Rue des Abbesss, I recommend you walk Rue Lepic both downwards and upwards - all the way to Place M.Aymé where you will find a very charming theater. Continue straight ahead towards Place Dalida, and then take Rue de l'Abreuvoir. If you stay on the west-side of the cathedral, you will find lots of enchanting streets and houses.

If it is your first time in Paris, it is worth to walk up the stairs from Place Saint-Pierre (or take the funicular), enjoy the spectacular view and have a glimpse at the Sacré Coeur cathedral - but elsewise focus on Abbesses and avoid the touristic area near the cathedral.

Métro: Abbesses, line 12.
"Le fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain" trailer: (English trailers are also available on youtube)

The essence of Paris: Jardin du Luxembourg

Created in 1612 following the wish of Marie de Médicis, Jardin du Luxembourg is a beautiful park in the center of Paris and a cherished meetingpoint for Parisians.

Green, characteristic chairs are found all around the park, even when the lawns are covered with snow (it happens!). In spring- and summertime astoningly beautiful flower arrangements can be admired.

The park houses the Palais du Luxembourg (le Sénat), a prestigious engineer school, a museum, an orangerie and lots of quality sculptures representing animals, French queens and princesses, greek mythology, composers...

Many Parisians spend their Sundays in the park, playing chess, tennis, bridge, basketball or reading in the sun. Children can rent old-fashioned sailboats and steer them with sticks on the dam in front of the Sénat, go pony/donkey-riding, attend puppet theater and enjoy mary-go-round-horses.

Be aware that you are not allowed to walk on the lawns. If you do so, you will soon here a whistle and see a guard approaching with a finger lifted high up in the air...

Métro: Odéon (line 4 and 10), Rennes (line 12), Saint Sulpice (line 4), Cluny la Sorbonne (line 10), Notre Dame des Champs (line 12) Vavin (line 4)

The King of Pastry: Pierre Hermé

The pastry of Pierre Hermé is as beautiful as it is delicious and subtle. Some creations can be found all year long, like my all-time-favourite Ispahan (rose macaron with fresh raspberry and lychee) whilst others vary according to the season. Indeed, in line with French fashion industry, Pierre Hermé launches his summer- and winter-collection... So chic!

If you are a tourist and want to buy something you can eat outdoors, I recommend that you opt for a couple of macarons (easy to handle!).
There are two shops in Paris and several in Tokyo.

72 rue Bonaparte (métro Saint Sulpice, line 4)
185 rue de Vaugirard (métro Pasteur, line 6 and 12)

A beautiful museum: Nissim de Camondo

The Nissim de Camondo museum takes you into one of the most sumptuous private homes from the early twentieth century in Paris.

Moïse de Camondo, a reputed Parisian banker during the Belle Epoque, was a passionate collector of French furniture and art objects from the eighteenth century, and he amassed a collection of unusual quality. In 1911, he hired architect René Sergent to build a private mansion next to Parc Monceau that would be worthy of this collection and suitable for his family. Behind the handsome décor of wood-paneled apartments were hidden the accoutrements of modern life, including kitchens, offices and bathrooms. The home, which is fully preserved in its original condition, offers an opportunity to discover the taste of a great collector and to get a glimpse of the everyday life of an aristocratic home.

63 rue de Monceau (métro Monceau, line 2 and Villiers, line 2 and 3) (The best photos are found on the French pages)