The 10 Best Things You’ll Ever Find at the French Pharmacy That Aren’t Chocolate

It’s no secret that French women have the secret to being the most beautiful people in the world. You come to Paris for a lot things- the museums, the food, the ambiance and of course, to immediately feel bad about yourself. Paris is kind of like Miami in that respect, except with less sparkle and more brooding.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not, in fact, the consumption of copious amounts of baguette or decadent chocolate displays in store front windows- trust me, I’ve done the research and nothing happened except I was very full and very happy. Instead it seems what they say is true: there is just something about French people. They possess a certain je ne sais quoi that allows them to role out of bed with hair you still can’t copy even with all the product in the Western Hemisphere, and trot out the door like a runway model- gracefully gliding over cobblestone streets like little Tinker Bells in 5 inch heels. This is simply not in my wheelhouse.

So, while I can’t equal them in stiletto skills, I can at least benefit from equality in the beauty aisle. Welcome to the world of the French pharmacy. Unlike in America where you’ll find everything from DVDs to candy and eventually the prescriptions and makeup counter, the pharmacies in Paris deal primarily with the latter two. You’ll see them every block or so, their neon green crosses shining bright over the sidewalks beckoning you in.

But there is one in particular, the Holy Grail of pharmacies, located steps away from Café de Flore that’s a bit like falling down the rabbit hole of French beautydom. The place I speak of is none other than CityPharma (cue angelic choir). But get your elbows ready because this place is worse than the Louvre on free museum Sunday. Every. Single. Day. Starting at 8am.

Sigh. It’s worth it though. CityPharma has the best prices and friendly, English speaking staff willing to help lost looking tourists pointing to products on their iPhones. Plus there are two floors (two!) full to the brim of exotic sounding lotions and potions. The lines are often long but move quickly, so don’t be deterred.

paris_city_pharma

Couple of things to keep in mind whilst you read:

1. Misters are really popular here, so be prepared to hear a lot about them below.

2. Just about everything on this list is multi-purpose, so while you may be buying a mister (see above) it will list its other uses as a toner, make up remover, pillow fluffer, head massager, tiny kitten dispenser, etc.

3. I’ll use the word refreshing a lot. It’s not my fault, most of these products are made from natural ingredients so their scent/feeling is legit refreshing. Let’s play a game and count how many times it happens.

4. As a general rule I don’t want my face to smell like a fruit or a flower throughout the day, so I use most of these products at night. That way they can do their work and I can wash them off in the morning.

5. As previsouly stated in the title, there will be no chocolate, but these are the next best things:

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Eating Croissant: Suggestions in Enjoyment

The French really have their priorities in order. Laws protect everything from rising baguette prices to mandated Speedos in public pools. These laws are also helpful in selecting which delicious viennoiserie you should be buying from your local bakery. And if at this point you’re asking yourself why anyone would live any where that didn’t have a law protecting the sanctity of the often imitaded, never duplicated, French croissant, the answer is: you wouldn’t.

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Dances With Words: An Exercise in French Logic

It was 11pm on free museum Sunday. We had just biked our way through the city of Paris like two crazed lunatics with complete disregard for our appearance or for traffic. Coming out of Musée d’Orsay 15 minutes earlier, we realized that we might actually have a chance at making final call for The Tudors exhibition at Musée du Luxembourg.

Breathless, we ran up the road after parking our Vélibs in their charging stations (I know now, this was our undoing) and toward the line that was, dare I say, manageable at the entrance. Before us stood a French security guard at least two feet larger in both height and girth than all the people that surrounded him. He was speaking with an Italian couple that clearly had no idea what they were getting themselves into.

“But it is only 11.”

Ce n’est pas possible, the museum closes at 12.”

“But it is 11.”

“Yes, but the museum closes at 12.”

“But it is only 11. Why not?”

Pas possible.”

“Can we get in that line?”

Pas possible.

“But the museum is still open.”

“We close at 12.”

“But we still have an hour.”

Non, we close at 12. Ce n’est pas possible, monsieur.”

“Can we just stand in line to see if we get in?”

Non, we close at 12.”

“But it is 11, we can get in if you let us stand in the line.”

“I understand, but we close at 12.”

“We just want to stand in line.”

“No, we close at 12. Pas possible.”

As we watched this exquisite dance of words unfold before us, we could only nod in understanding. A year ago we might have been baffled. There’s nearly an hour until closing, surely we can pop in and have a look. We came all the way out here and there’s still time! The problem with this reasoning is just that: it’s reasonable. Those are all logical thoughts. You’d think the security guard would lean more toward, “What’s the harm in letting people stand in line? If they make it in, great, if they don’t, well, that’s their choice- either way it gets everyone out of my hair and I can think about more important things like how I can crush you with my pinky finger.” It’s less work, you don’t have to argue with tourists- win win.

But you see, all of that does not matter. It does not matter that you have arrived with ample time to join the queue and take a gander at the special exhibit. It does not matter that there is a hour between where you are standing and the doors officially closing for the night. It does not matter that you are making perfect sense in your attempts to persuade the gentleman at the entrance to let you have just a chance at getting in. None of this matters.

What matters is that the museum closes at 12. That is all you need to know. That is all that you will be told. The gentleman at the entrance has spoken. He has decided that you will not make it in. He has decided that if you did, by chance, make it in, you would not have enough time to appreciate the exhibit the way that you should. He has decided that if you did make it in, and you saw the exhibit and then felt that you had seen enough of it to accomplish all of these things in an hour, well, that’s not the kind of person he wants in his museum anyways.

We understood. And after watching this dialogue go in circles for a solid 10 minutes we decided to make our way back to the Vélib station and bike our way home. We took the long way, letting the lights of Pont Neuf guide us through the dark. Down side streets and closed cafés, we laughed. Because at this moment, who else could appreciate what had just happened and when did we get to the place where this all made sense to us? Ce n’est pas possible.

It was an exceptional evening.

Paris Pastries

Tarte Caramel Salé.

You can’t find a lot of American candy in France (and yes, I realize what I just said). I was moderately distressed by the fact that there was not a Junior Mint or York Peppermint Patty to be found…anywhere. It’s not that the French don’t care for the flavor, it’s that if they want chocolate covered mints, they get them hand made in single serving batches by this place. A fair trade one might say.

It is interesting to note what candies do make it over to this side of the Atlantic though- M&M’s of the peanut variety, Snickers and Twix of all things. But after enjoying (understatement of the century) Sadaharu Aoki’s Parisian equivalent of our American milk chocolate staple, I am ruined for life. Never again will I crave the double-stickness of the Mars Twix bar, because I, dear reader, now know what’s out there.

With a buttery sablé biscuit as its base, Aoki then layers on sweet caramel, accented ever so slightly by Guerande fleur de sel. This pool of salty-sweet perfection is then topped with the airiest milk chocolate cream known to man and carefully dusted with cocoa powder. Le Twix, if you will.

Go ahead, dive right in, but be warned: It’s a familiar taste and yet, this particular combination of milk chocolate and caramel is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. You’ll start to question your childhood. You may begin to cry. You understand now why French children do not trick or treat on Halloween- what’s the point when they can get our candy equivalent after the park each day? You’ll slowly start to wonder if you’ll ever look at the candy aisle at Walgreens the same way again. Why would they do this, you ask. Was it better that you didn’t know?

But some things you just don’t question. Some times it’s best just to sit down, stuff your face and be thankful.

Sadaharu Aoki. 6th arrondissement.

Coming to Terms with Ce N’est Pas Possible

The most important words to know when traveling to France are many. Merci, bonjour, s’il vous plait and toilettes will definitely be in your repertoire, but the absolute most important phrase to know when coming to Paris is, without a doubt, this: Ce n’est pas possible.

It is the end all and be all of French-ness, the pièce de résistance of the Gallic language and the one, as a foreigner, and perhaps more specifically an American, you will be on the receiving end of everywhere you go.

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Meet the Wisest Man in Paris

Since moving to Paris there has been a large learning curve in overcoming such things as the language, wearing a scarf, renting apartments, standing in lines, killing fruit flies, walking down the street, peeing, driving, the weather, getting haircuts, avoiding low flying birds, properly using paperclips, sitting on the grass, using the post office…the list goes on.

But most importantly we’ve had to learn how to best overcome that age old question of where to eat. More often than not we inadvertently find ourselves following the advice of the same person, and each time come away praising his recommendation.

After several months of having this mysterious Parisian food ninja repeatedly appear in our lives we were left wondering: Who is David Lebovitz?

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Paris Pastries

When we arrived home to Paris after our quick trip to Italy, and as it so happens some of the best tiramisu of my life, it seemed only right to throw ourselves back into French cuisine immediately and that of course meant a visit to my beloved Gérard Mulot. Imagine my surprise when there in that dazzling display case was their very own tiramisu, a tiramisu francaise if you will. I’m pretty sure I yelled something like, “IT’S A SIGN!!!” but here I’ll politely say that it was simply too much of a coincidence  to pass up and I made the executive decision to forgo my cœur frivole (perhaps the only thing that can truly temper those first penne/pizza/gelato withdrawls) and placed my faith in the formidable Mulot.

Unlike the version(s) I had just enjoyed to the South (Who can really say how many tiramisu’s were consumed? And I ask you, if you are neither in your home country, nor your adopted home country, does it really count? I rest my case), Mulot’s version was presented in a small plastic cup, surrounded by cream, hiding all those delicious layers of coffee soaked biscuits. The top, dusted with cocoa and dark chocolate sticks, covered the dense, creamy interior. Was it good? Yes. Of course. Gérard Mulot can pretty much do no wrong, I mean come on. Was it Italy good? Nope. But again I present you Exhibits A, B and C. Seems like a pretty fair trade, bein sur.

Gérard Mulot…again. 6th arrondissement.

Wandering the Streets of Paris’ Hidden Village

Tired of all those gorgeously manicured gardens and Seine side picnics? Yeah, me either. Had enough of the spring time crowds and lack of available vélibs though? Absolument.

Cue the flowers and sunshine and it’s as if the Edith Piaf playing accordionaires are pied pipping hoardes of tourists over the hills to Paris. The second you can’t find a spot of green grass at the Jardin de Luxembourg, head straight over to the 13th arrondissement for a breath of fresh air and a tiny slice of the capital that most don’t see.

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The Best Places to See Cherry Blossoms in Paris

Thanks to Asia, and in particular Japan, the world is full of cherry blossoms. DC, Sweden, Australia, Germany, the UK and even Canada all boast flowering displays not to be missed. But for some reason Paris never really comes up in the global cherry blossom conversation. As it turns out though, Paris is actually one of the best places in the world to see cherry blossoms.

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Paris Pastries

Springtime Macarons.

Full disclosure: I still haven’t hopped on the macaron bandwagon. I know, I know. But when given the choice between a tiny cookie-ish thing and a decadent pastry, I’m going pastry every time. Perhaps it’s something about the texture I can’t quite get behind or my lack of enthusiasm for meringue, but I think I’m definitely alone on this one.

Tourists and locals alike queue up day in, day out at pastry shops around Paris to purchase their weight in these flavorful bites and other assorted macaron shaped items. There are macaron Eiffel Towers, macaron paintings in Montmartre, macaron soap, macaron pillows- the list goes on forever. But, I’ll never turn down the chance to try a new treat.

When the winter weather finally seems to be on its way out, in that it-won’t-rain-every-second-of-every-day way, and the cherry blossoms begin to spring up around the city, it’s only right to try their namesake macaron in celebration. Also in case you don’t find any cherry blossom trees, the next best thing of course, is to pretend like you’re eating one.

Cue: Ladurée. If anyone can turn this season’s brightest bulb into a flavor, it’s them. The 150 year old pastry house has already stunned with this little number, so I trust them carte blanche when it comes to eating flowers.

We began with just three. Cherry blossom, orange flower, rose. (If you’re going to do it, do it right.) The orange flower tasted a bit like scented candle, so if you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to eat Diptyque, here’ s your chance. The others though, were surprisingly spot on. A bigger fan than I raved about the crispy shell, chewy interior and airy cream like center and, may or may not have uttered the words, “Ahhhhh I could eat a thousand of theseee,” in between bites/coming up for air.

So in a country where even McDonald’s offers their take on the tiny sandwich cookies as a side to le Big Mac, if you’re really jonesing for a little taste of spring, you can’t go wrong sticking with the tried and true classics at Ladurée (who sell an astounding 15,000 every. single. day.). Plus, you can’t beat those to-die-for pastel boxes that accompany them.

Ladurée. 8th arrondissement.