Last Day in Paris: Irving Penn Exhibit

irving penn

The Irving Penn exhibit at the Grand Palais is exquisite.  Three floors of his work in room after room on each floor.  All of his themes are here: his fashion photography from over 60 years with Vogue, his celebrity portraits, his still life masterpieces, his ethnographic work from Asia, Africa and South America, even his cigarette butt series.  If you are a photographer and are anywhere within striking distance of Paris, this would be worth a weekend trip.  The show is up until January.  Would combine very nicely with a shopping trip when the Christmas market is open along the Champs Elyseés and the store windows are decorated for the holidays.  (Don´t forget to ride the ferris wheel and catch snow flakes on your tongue.)

God help me, I bought a 35mm 1.8 lens.  One of my instructors recommended that I buy this lens, so it is not my fault.

I am so broke.



Gritting My Teeth in Paris


Paris can be horrible sometimes.  Since I arrived, the weather has fluctuated between hot and humid and cold and clammy.  It rains a lot. The skies are usually gray.  I am beginning to understand why the French leave Paris in droves in August.

I missed the Walker Evans photography exhibit at the Centre Pompidou by one day and did not want to miss David Hockney, so I headed to the Marais yesterday.  I should have bought the ticket online.  The line JUST TO GET INSIDE was two hours long.  The Pompidou looked ratty.  The exterior pipes are starting to rust and it reminded me of a big gerbil cage.

It was hot and sticky.  A lot of French smoke and many don´t wear deodorant, so the crowd was pungent.  As the hours passed, people grew increasingly antzy, especially as the line serpentined into four loops under the walkway.  There must have been 50 visitors in each loop, packed like sardines. The air was dead still.  More people started smoking.  Even their cell phones didn´t sooth them. At one point, the guy beside me punched a column (Dumbass).  The woman ahead of me was mumbling.  A Japanese woman was rocking back and forth and tapping herself.

Inside, there was another line to buy the ticket to the Hackney exhibit. The marquee above the line warned visitors that it would be an hour wait to get into the show.

I decided to visit a couple of the photography galleries instead.  I don´t know if it was me or the photos, but I was not impressed.  The photos were mostly dark, B&W, blurry and self-consciously artzy.  The one I remember most featured an egg carton on the floor in front of a refrigerator.  It reminded me of a video I saw two weeks earlier at the Jeu de Paume Photography Museum of a roll of tape unspooling in slow motion.  For. Five. Minutes.

Sunday, I visited the European Photography Museum and saw the exhibit of Yasumasa Morimura.  I waited in line 45 minutes to get into this museum.  Morimura`s photography basically replicates famous paintings with a surrealistic Japanese twist.  They are huge and very busy.  The one below, called Daughter of Art History, took up an entire wall.   Morimuras photos were exhibited in a small room, which made th e space claustrophobic and the works seem oppressive.  Maybe that was the idea.

Daughter of Art History

Today, I tried to go to the Henri Bresson Photography Museum in Montparnasse.  It was difficult to find. There is a lot of construction going on in that part of the city and the scaffolding hid the street names on corner after corner.  It took me an hour to find the museum once I got there, which is not very big or well-known among residents in the quarter.

I finally found it, with 15 minutes to spare before my rendezvous with my glass-blower friend.  He had emailed me that that morning he would be 45 minutes later than orignially planned so I had changed my schedule around to be there on time.

He didn´t show up.  I waited a half hour then left.  To top it off, there was a sign on the door that said the museum would be closed until September 15th.  There was nothing to see.

When I got home, there were two emails from the Glass Blower.  The first said that he would be arriving even later than he said in his earlier email and gave me a new time to meet him.  The second email said he had arrived so late he had missed me.  So sorry to have kept me waiting so long, it said.  Too bad he missed me, it said.  We wouldn´t see each other again but, oh well, have a nice trip it said.

I hate having my time wasted.  I have had enough of museums for a while.  And glib excuses.

Update: Received another email from Glass Blower saying he hoped all my dreams came true.  Grrrrr.  Stand me up, waste my time, make glib excuses and then patronize me with a Halmark Greeting card afirmation?  Grrrrr.

Tomorrow I pack and clean the house for the owners who are returning Thursday.  On Friday, I´ll be in London.

Time to do a bit of street photography with my nifty new 55 mm f/1.8 lens.








Salon Cut and Color or Cleaver and Boning Knives?

No cliffhanger here; we know which one I chose.  My hair is going to be a DIY affair.  I trimmed my bangs with the scissors of my Swiss Army knife.  and my hair color is from a box I bought at the Arab market.  No idea what is in it.  Probably something carcinogenic.

But I have my knives.

Knives are the most primitive of all tools, right up there with the semi-automatic and a tube of red lipstick.  Cooks will argue for hours about knives.  Here is my two cents.

I am not a knife snob.  I don´t have a huge knife collection and the brands don´t have to match.  I own two paring knives, two 6″ and 10″ German-style chef´s knives, two cleavers and a breat knife. My favorite small knife was made by a knife maker in Bali.  I could use it to chop down a bamboo forest and still slice tomatoes.

Instead of splurging at the salon, I bought a Wüsthof boning knife for $90, a fair price.  The blade is long and slender – perfect for working with meat.  A lot of brands have blades that are too wide, which makes boning difficult.  With boning knives, it is especially important that the blade is strong and flexible so it doesn´t snap.

Here´s where I become a knife heretic. most cooks put cleavers way down on the list.  Most own only one if they own one at all and they spend too much money on it.

The cleaver used most often is for chopping through bone.  In reality, it is a small axe.  It should be heavy and not expensive because it is going to get banged up.  Periodically, it will have to be ground on a wheel.  Sharpening it on a stone won´t work. The blade is too thick.

The other kind of cleaver is from Asia.  I have one and use it a lot.  It is not for chopping through bone as much as it is the Asian version of a chef´s knive.  However, the cutting skills for an Asian cleaver are different and must be learned.  Its blade is thin and the knife doesn´t weigh much.  The flat side of the blade is used for smashing garlic, ginger, peppercorns and other spices and for scooping up choped vegetables to cook in the wok.  This type of cleaver can be sharpened on a stone.

The third kind of cleaver – the one I just bought –  is halfway between the baby axe and the thin Chinese cleaver.  It has heft but a thinner blade.  It can also be sharpened on a stone.  This kind of cleaver is used for very specialized tasks, like chopping meat when you don´t want to grind it, for example when preparing steak tartar.  The knife I just bought is from the French manufacturers Déglon.  I paid $95, also a fair price.

So much for my rant on knives.  Time to sign off and head to my last class at Le Cordon Bleu.

PS: Next question: new dress or a 5o mm lens?

Four Heads of Lettuce for the Price of One and a Marriage Proposal

Sunday, I went to the Marché Bastille, where a lot of chefs shop.  This tray of mushrooms stopped me in my tracks.  I bought two.  The woman selling them wrapped them carefully, swaddling the tubers as if they were newborn babies.  That night, I cooked them gently in a white wine parsley reduction, finishing with a cognac flambé, then sliced and served them on toast points.

At the Bastille market, I came across the best cheese I have ever eaten in my life.  It was a gargonzola fresh from the farm. There was a small knot of Parisians clustered around a wheel of it looking at it like it was the baby Jesus.  I edged closer for a look. The stall had cut the top off of the wheel so you could see inside.  It was so creamy, the only thing holding it together was the rind.  I bought a thick slice, which the owner of the stall put on a styrofoam tray so it wouldn´t run over everything.

Two stalls down, I bought a crusty baguette.

On the way home, I went to the Arab market.  At the end of the day, the Arab merchants, who don´t want to lug produce back to storage, if indeed they have storage, drop prices precipitously and you can get some great deals.

I bought some crunchy pink and gold Gala apples to accompany the gargonzola.  I decided to make a salad, so I went to the stall that was selling all types of lettuce.

The stall owner, who was about my age, wanted to give me four heads of lettuce for the price of one.

“No thanks”, I said.  “I`m single.  I couldn´t eat that much lettuce before it went bad if all I did was eat lettuce morning, noon and night.”

“You are single?” he asked as he put the four heads in a sack and handed it to me.

“Yes”, I replied, taking two heads out of the sack and putting them back on the stand.

“Here, free gift for you”, he said, handing me a sack with four gigantic bunches of radishes.

“I´m single, not a rabbit”, I said putting two bunches back on the stand.

“My wife died.”

“I am so sorry.” Poor thing, that´s why he looked like he was going to seed.

“I am looking for new wife. Maybe you looking for husband. I see you before.  Always come end of market when prices low low low.” He slipped a couple of big lucious tomatoes into a bag and handed it to me.

“That´s me.  Looking for low prices, but not a husband.”

“I good man.  Do not drink.  Work hard. You think.  Maybe you change mind.”

“I´ll think, and you keep your prices low.  Deal?”

“OK Dokey”, he said.

Not an especially romantic proposal, but the tomatoes were excellent.

It was a Toss-up Between Lingerie and Truffles

Paris is the mecca for cooking stores, drawing chefs from all over the world.  I thought I´d just have a look and then make up my mind between clothing and cooking.


I was able to pass up the gorgeous copper pans at Dehillerin on rue Coquillière and the white porcelain at Simon on rue Montmartre.  A sign caught my eye. Bovina, just a few doors down, was having a sale.

I asked a irascible clerk if they had a scale and precision thermometer on sale.  He looked at me over his half spectacles like I had fallen out of a tree and hit every branch on the way down.

With an flick of his hand, he dismissed me to the section of the store where they were. I could not find them so I came back to ask him to show me.

Clearly irritated at being disturbed again, he gave that French sigh that involves puffing out one´s cheeks, stomped over to where they were located and waved his arms.  It was difficult to determine if he was pointing, or just demonstrating the approximate size of a racoon.

I paid for my purchases, made an extremely unsuitable comment and left.

Next stop was MORA, on Montmartre, for some proofing baskets.

Pastry chefs come from all over the world to visit MORA. Shopping at this store is like dying and going to heaven.

Proofing baskets, also called brotforms and bannetons, can be found in just about every shape and size–round, oval, or long. You line them with linen for a smooth texture on your bead, or dust them with flour and leave them unlined so the pattern of the basket imprints on the dough (like the image above).  I prefer unlined.  I purchased two round proofing baskets and a specialty cake pan, then high-tailed it out of there while I still had some will power.

The last stop was G Detou on rue Tiquetonne.


Detou is a play on the words “du tout” meaning they have everything. It is one of the best shops in Paris for specialty foods, a place capable of bringing tears to a cook´s eyes. I bought two precious jars of truffles and a jar of Chef Fonds Brun de Veau Lié.  About the size of a small can of coffee, it is a syrupy reduction of 70 gallons of veal stock that is simply to die for.

The lingerie will have to wait.

I am already starting to plan Christmas dinner.


Squall, Joie de Vivre and Silk Road

I spent the past week learning about perfumes.  (There is a lovely museum dedicated to fragrances in Paris, well worth the trip.) When I return to France next year – the family I am house sitting for has invited me back – I plan to take a side-trip to Grasse. Grasse, located on the French Riviera, is the world’s perfume capital.  It produces over two-thirds of France’s fragrances used in the fabrication of perfume. The Grass Institute of Perfumery is Cordon Bleu of perfume schools.

I designed three private-stock perfumes this week.  The first one is Squall.  It is a top-note fragrance, very fresh and light, composed of citrus, green tea and marine scents. Squall is anchored with more long-lasting grass and white amber scents to give it stability.

Top notes have the lightest molectular structure and are smelled immediately upon application.  They are also the first to fade, so like a squall, this scent will be gone within hours.

The second scent is Joie de Vivre.  Its top note is bergamot, which transitions nicely into the middle notes of rose, jasmin and musk.  Middle notes, which make an appearance once the top notes evaporate, are considered the heart of a fragrance. These notes last longer than the top notes and have a strong influence on the base notes to come. In fact, some base notes don´t smell that good when they first hit the skin.  The job of the heart notes is to buy time until the base blooms.

Joie de Vivre also contains Aldehydes, a clean scent which was the breakthrough ingredient in Chanel No. 5 when it came out in 1919.  Chanel No 5 remains one of the top-selling perfumes in the world.  Joie is anchored with a small amount of opoponax, which is a base note.

Silk Road is a heady oriental perfume.  It is my favorite.  It is all about the base notes, and it lasts a long time.

The fragrance leads in with mandarin and cloves top notes, which give way about five minutes later to jasmine and rose middle notes. About ten minutes later the base notes of patchouli, cedar, sandalwood, amber, musk and opoponax kick in. Opononax is a sweet myrrh that has a warm-balsamic and honey-like aroma.

It is the olfactory equivalent of a three-stage firework display.

Silk Road reminds me a bit of Opium, which was created in 1977 by Yves Saint Laurent. YSL managed the Dior fashion house for a time after Christian Dior died.  Perfumes in this category are called Orientals.  For someone like me, who was always stealing my boyfriend´s aftershave, the orientals strike just the right note.

Both Silk Road and Opium`s top notes contain mandarin and cloves, but Opium includes a lot of other ingredients like bay, pepper and cardamon.  Silk Road and Opium both include jasmine and rose.  Opium also includes Lily of the Valley, but that floral scent smells horrible on my skin so I deleted it.   Both contain very similar base notes.  The difference between the two scents is complexity.  It is very difficult to make a complex scent and not kill it along the way.

I´ve always wanted to have my own perfume.  I came home and had a ball designing names and images. I´m having so much fun in Paris, it is a good thing it is not taxes…