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Hot or Not? Our Search for the Perfect French Nanny

Little Brown Pen

When we found our apartment in Paris’ 7th arrondissement, I couldn’t believe our luck. On the 6th floor with a killer view of the Dome des Invalides, it has honey-colored parquet, classic marble mantles and balconies offering a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. I still pinch myself every time I walk in.

I didn’t think it could get any better. Then we were told that a “chambre de service,” a small independent room that once housed domestic staff, was available in the building. Did we wish to rent it?

Oui, oui!

For us a chambre de service meant one thing: The chance to finally hire a part-time nanny to help with our two kids. By offering housing in exchange for babysitting, my husband and I would get our long-desired two nights out per week for half the cost of paying an hourly wage. Chic alors!

Sunfox

Living in the States, a nanny felt like an unattainable luxury. But here in Paris, “nounous” seem almost de rigeur. Most French families I know employ them, either to care for kids while both parents work or to give stay-at-home parents those much-needed hours off.

Unlike in the U.S., there is no guilt about this in Paris. Parents are adults and meant to live adult lives. They love their children, bien sur, but cannot be expected to entertain them all day long. That’s where a nanny comes in.

Nounous in Paris are often immigrants, frequently from North Africa or the Phillipines. Or perhaps Anglophone or French students just out of school. I knew our room wouldn’t be right for everyone – it was tiny and lacked a bath or shower – but hey, this is France. She’d manage.

I began my search right away hoping to find une jeune francaise to help our kids learn. Simple enough – or so I thought.


Will Willson; Fang Guo

Then we met the young Veronique.

A French student from the coastal town of Deauville, Veronique came highly recommended. My husband was home earlier than usual that day, enabling him to participate in the bizarre ritual of sitter interviewing.

I’m not sure what struck me first about Veronique. Was it her tussled blonde mane, micro-mini, bare legs and high-heeled ankle boots? Or could it have been her ridiculously low cut tank top worn sans bra? Ah, yes. That was it.

And if I hadn’t noticed, you can be absolutely certain who did. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 13 Comments »

Spoiled in Italy: A Delicious Lunch in Montepulciano

Erica Berman was lucky enough to spend a couple months in gorgeous Genoa, Italy, this summer. She met up with HiP Paris friend and contributor Steve Brenner for a leisurely lunch in the historic town of Montepulciano before touring some villas in Tuscany. After reading his mouth-watering account of their meal, we couldn’t keep ourselves from sharing it with you here! -Geneviève

A square in Montepulciano (Stefano Piemonte)

Yesterday I drove up to Montepulciano to meet (in person) Erica Berman of Haven in Paris and her friend Mattia after literally years of email and skype exchanges.  I’ve guest blogged on her popular HIP Paris blog, and we list a few of her flats on Cross-Pollinate, but we’d never actually met in person.

Bagno Vignoni near Montepulciano where Erica was staying for a night (Elena Vataga)

She was coming from Genova to Bagno Vignoni (above) to see some flats in Tuscany for her site, so we decided to meet nearby.   I checked my trusted Osterie d’Italia published by Slow Food Italia, which has NEVER let me down, and we placed our bet on Acquacheta in Montepulciano.

Giulio Ciolfi, owner of Osteria Acquacheta

They were very insistent on us being there at 12:30 sharp. They will only accept reservations at 12:30 or 2pm, and they were passionate about giving us only one glass per person for both wine and water (per tradizione, apparently). The food was good – started with some amazing pecorino cheeses, one aged in walnut leaves, one with black truffles.  Without a doubt, the closer you get to Pienza, in Tuscany, the better the pecorino. Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Italy tips & suggestions | 7 Comments »

My First Paris: Lindsey Discovers the Art of the Stroll

Bonnaf

I don’t think anyone would dispute that the French are the masters of leisure and purveyors of refined hedonism. Meals, apéros, discussions, and strolls are all to be conducted tranquillement – without haste and with an utmost respect for life’s little pleasures. With a vast selection of renowned terraces, parks, shops, secret passageways and charming cobblestone streets, it’s no wonder their capital city ranks highly for a laid-back kind of lifestyle.

But for Paris neophytes, particularly those accustomed to a far more hurried pace, this leisurely style is a bit of a head scratcher and is my most vivid first memory of the city. When I first arrived in Paris, my legs only functioned on two speeds – fast and faster – and this immediately perplexed my husband on our first date.

Was I in a rush? Trying to escape him? Neither, really. I was simply conditioned to stride with purpose, leaving aimless wandering for rare occasions or to aid in digestion after a heavy meal.


Couple strolling on rue Montorgueil (Lost in Cheeseland)

My feckless attempts at regulating my speed made us both chuckle and helped to abate all visible signs of first-date butterflies.  With a winsome smile and blushed cheeks, he reached for my hand and pulled me back toward him to match his gait.

Where’s the fire? We’re enjoying ourselves”, he reminded me. And that set the course for the rest of our 8-hour date.  As we walked from our rendez-vous point at Odéon, through Luxembourg Gardens, and eventually winded our way through the 2nd to rue Montorgueil for a cheese plate, I began to understand why the French have a word to describe the very act of strolling. Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 23 Comments »

Paris Cultural Eats: Our Favorite Museum Restaurants

Restaurant at the Musée d’Orsay (Quyn Hanh Le Nguyen)

I’m a museum junky. I love nothing more than passing a day wandering through endless corridors of art and antiquities, but after a few hours standing on hard marble, I’m usually in need of cold drinks and some serious snacks. Unfortunately, most museums suffer from what I like to call “Disneyland Dining”, overpriced, poor-quality food with limited options, usually served cafeteria style.  And that’s not the worst of it! With food in hand and nowhere to sit, hungry patrons usually have to stalk fellow diners to snag a (very dirty) table the second someone stands up – not exactly my idea of fun.

Café Richlieu-Angelina at the Louvre

There are, thankfully, a few exceptions to the rule. Lucky for me, they can also be found in some of Paris’ best museums. Delicious, well-prepared meals in beautifully decorated (and often historic) dining rooms; impeccable service and (gasp) clean tables… heaven!

Continue Reading »

Posted in Arts, Events, Food, Restaurant Reviews | 16 Comments »

New Friends Table: A Secret Supperclub on Paris’ Hidden Dining Scene

Paris is teeming with cool dining experiences, for those prepared to seek them out. New Friends Table, a new addition to the Paris scene, aims to bring together an eclectic yet compatible group of like-minded foodies around a delicious meal in a real Parisian apartment.  Our very own Erica Berman also recently checked it out; during her dinner, she mingled with a former Moulin Rouge dancer, a Cartier wedding planner, an Argentinian working for the BBC and an organic spa owner! -Geneviève

The possibilities for private dining experiences in Paris continue to expand with yet another new addition: New Friends Table. This ‘secret eating and meeting club’ appeared on the scene last spring thanks to a multi-national group of friendly and fun, food-minded locals.  With my penchant for new and unusual eating experiences, I requested a booking as soon as it popped up on my radar.

Cozy ambiance at the New Friends Table

To secure an invitation, you introduce yourself by email with some basic background information such as food preferences, interests and what languages you speak.  While some might consider the necessity of introducing themselves a nuisance, it’s completely in line with the principles of this club.  New Friends Table is about more than just putting something tasty in your belly. It’s about conversation, interaction, getting to know your fellow diners, and hopefully even fostering new friendships. Continue Reading »

Posted in Events, Food | 10 Comments »

Buying In Nice: Negotiating Real Estate A La Niçoise

Navigating the real estate scene in France can be tricky — even more so when you are unfamiliar with the labyrinthine bureaucracy and unusual quirks the French can be known for.  Adrian Leeds, who specializes in helping Americans negotiate the market to secure their dream pied-à-terres in France,  just recently ventured into the market in Nice. She shares a few anecdotes  from her colorful experiences here. -Geneviève

The beach in Nice: Marisa Williams

Years ago I set my eye on the goal of purchasing a “pied-à-terre” in Nice for a long list of reasons:

1. Nice is nice. Let’s face it, it’s the Riviera, the Côte d’Azur, the land of the rich and famous with the blue Mediterranean Sea, balmy weather, palm trees and Italian flavor. What could be so bad?

2. Property in Nice and its environs is increasing in value on a steady basis. With an international airport and an active port, the blue coast is France’s second hotspot after Paris. This makes Nice, and just about all of the coast, an excellent real estate investment.

Nice – Marisa Williams

3. R and R…the moment one lands at Nice’s contemporary and easy airport, and you head toward Nice down the Promenade des Anglais under the swaying palms with the sea at your side, the stress just melts away. Traveling to Nice from Paris is fast and inexpensive, making weekend getaways about as easy as it gets — a perfect antidote to the cold, gray, rainy winters in Paris.

4. Rental potential of vacation apartments, particularly for the North American market, is ripe for business. While the British and Italians are well served by their own compatriots, Americans have been overlooked. Americans want and expect a higher standard of luxury and service than their European counterparts know how to provide. From a business perspective, Nice was looking awfully nice. Continue Reading »

Posted in Homes, Travel | 12 Comments »

Zut Alors! How To Speak French Like A Parisian

Lost In Cheeseland

On arriving in Paris, No.1 on the lengthy to-do list (in between museum visiting and restaurant testing, bien sûr) is deciphering the elision-liaison-silent-letter-filled waves of French flying from left, right and center.
Before setting foot (or even a single toe) on Parisian soil, I had already been vigorously drilled with irregular verbs and I’d skimmed the pages of iconic authors like Sartre. Bref, I was quietly confident that my carefully acquired knowledge would serve me well in my quest to be truly Parisienne. This confidence has since been shaken AND stirred more times than I can remember.

Erica Berman

Just hours into my Parisian experience, my linguistic talents would hurtle against their first obstacle of the viticultural kind. As I tried in vain to order red wine, I never imagined that my inability to distinguish the ‘u’ and the ‘ou’ in rouge would have such drastic consequences…

Following two years of linguistic battering, here’s my advice:
1.)    Take risks. You’ll make mistakes (but so do the French). Living in Paris, you’ll learn to laugh at yourself. Arriving directly from a year in Spain, I’d happily use my own invented French-ised version of the Spanish verb ‘pisar’ (to trample) when I accidently stood on people. That is before I cottoned on the fact that ‘pisser’ had a very different (and far more obvious) meaning in French.

Continue Reading »

Posted in Parisian Living | 8 Comments »

Ladurée: Parisian Macarons Land In New York

Ladurée macarons in their sleek box (Louis Beche)

For years, everyone—especially New Yorkers—has been clamoring for the death of the cupcakes. Let those pastel-colored, frosting-slathered, sprinkled-adorned, oh-so-cute sugar bombs be over! Can we puh-leeze move on?? And it would appear, with Ladurée’s arrival on Madison Avenue, New Yorkers may finally get their wish: the macaron could soon trump the cupcake as the sweet du jour.

Ladurée’s new NYC store, and its line of fans (Amy Thomas)

Of course Parisians are well acquainted with Ladurée, the 149-year-old salon de thé that purportedly invented the macaron. But with the exception of savvy New Yorkers who used to raid the Champs-Elysées store for a box of Technicolor two-bite treats, and then proudly parade their pale green shopping bags around the Upper East Side, the French brand has remained an exotic import to New Yorkers. Which explains the two-hour queues.

Ladurée macarons (Yuichi Sakuraba)

To be fair, by the time I made it to Ladurée, three weeks after it opened, the line was down to a 15-minute wait. As if I were a macaron virgin, the dauntless teenager in front of me who had previously waited hours for a Ladurée hit, told me the sweets “were totally worth the wait.” Continue Reading »

Posted in Food, Travel | 14 Comments »

La Pinata: Pinatas Made By Prisoners Near Paris’ Canal Saint Martin

Parisian shops devoted entirely to a single specialty (like olive oil, honey, or communist literature) are considered obvious fixtures in an urban landscape where commercial efficiency is, if anything, an afterthought. So, when my roommate Winnie showed me a place on our street specializing in piñatas, of all things, my only thought was, “Of course. Naturally.” It was, incidentally, just across the street from our radical left-wing bookstore.

Winnie, a journalist, was covering the shop in a story with an unusual social twist. The piñatas, it turns out, are made by prisoners.

Continue Reading »

Posted in Arts, Design, Events, Shopping | 10 Comments »