Sneakers, Scooters, and Bicycles: Pedestrians in Paris Beware!

The Fashion Capital of the world has gone mainstream casual. While the Paris Fashion Week runway may still be haute couture—despite the reappearance of clunky, chunky throwback boots—the street scene is anything but. Gone are dressy work shoes and spiked heels. Dressing down seems to be the rage. Whether or not COVID hibernation is to blame, I don’t know, but even the older ladies and gents of a certain age are sporting sneakers (baskets in French).

Imagine those well-heeled 19th century folks time-traveling to Paris today. They would be aghast. Shorts and sneakers and jeans are in. As the weather cools, out will come the leggings, perhaps a skirt or two, but I bet sneakers will still prevail. Store window displays—normally the creative expression of high style—are full of the ordinary as well as shimmering, sequined sneaks, and splashes of color. Whether sparkling or plain, sneakers are the new street footwear, and stores are heeding the call. If you like to lèche vitrine (window shop), don’t be surprised at the new shoe presentations.

Even when American women were wearing jogging shoes and sneakers to work, the French femmes were holding out. Not any more. It was one of the first changes I noticed when I arrived in Paris after the two-year COVID traveling hiatus.

What would Coco say? As a woman who defied norms, she’d probably approve of the practicality.

Now, even if you are meandering the streets of Paris in those practical, rubber-soled shoes, be on the lookout for scooter speed demons of all ages and stoplight cutting bicyclists. With COVID restrictions in place last year, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, altered many of the roads, eliminating car lanes, reducing the speed limit, and creating bike paths in an attempt to transform the city into an eco metropolis.

As a bicycle rider, I applaud that. But many of the roads and roundabouts create directional confusion, and as a pedestrian I worry about being trampled when crossing streets. The crazies are out in force. And they think they own the roads.

Even when I was riding my rented bicycle along the road with the flow of bikes, I worried someone might smash into me when I stopped at a red light.  Faites attention (pay attention) when biking or scooting along the quays also. Auto prohibition notwithstanding, maneuvering on a wheeled vehicle around oblivious pedestrians can be a bit nerve racking especially on the weekends.

So, if you plan to visit Paris and wander, I urge caution. Keep your eyes open and check all directions before stepping off the curb. To read more about the developments, check out Liz Alderman’s excellent article in the New York Times:

Art Replaces Grain and Futures: Bourse de Commerce Renovated

In the late Sixteenth Century, when court astrologist Cosimo Riggieri informed Queen Catherine de’ Medici (1519-1589) that she would die near Saint-Germain, she naturally assumed that he meant the church Saint-Germain-l’Auxerrois, near her Tuileries Palace. Ironically, it was a priest named Julien de Saint-Germain, who presided over her eventual death. Nonetheless, the prediction prompted Catherine to move to a new residence, built for her by architect Jean Bullant, first called Hôtel de la Reine (Queen’s residence), then Hôtel Soissons (for one of its owners)—and eventually the site of the Bourse de Commerce.

Before French billionaire Francois Pinault decided to share his contemporary art collection with the public, The Bourse de Commerce, now The Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection, had diverse occupants and a long history over the past couple of centuries. Even once on the site, a home for wayward but repentant girls.

In 1765, Louis XVI commissioned a grain market there, called Halle aux Blés (wheat exchange) for the commercial trade of wheat, corn, flour and similar commodities. A circular structure originally with an open-air courtyard and, in 1783, a wooden dome, the Bourse had an arch so people could see through it to ascertain the level of food and grain in the middle. One of the first structures in Paris to use a wooden dome, it was influenced by Roman temples and their glorification of food.

An iron dome replaced the wooden one eventually and, in 1885, architect Henri Blondel began renovation on what was to become the Bourse de Commerce or Paris’s grain futures market. He retained the circular shape with 25 bays, its double staircase, and he modified the dome. Structurally the building’s double staircase to the upper lever allowed those who went up to avoid others on their way down.

From the outside, the shape of the cupola prompted writer Victor Hugo to criticize it as “an English style jockey cap on a large scale.” Today the dome is listed as a historic monument. On the pediment above its entrance sculptor Aristide Croisy carved allegorical figures of Abundance and Trade flanking the city of Paris.

Only the Medici column—probably then used for astrological viewing—remains from Catherine’s original residence. Carved inside are memorial symbols—mirror shards, love knots, and the initials C and H—of her grief over her lost love King Henri II. After her death it passed through multiple heirs, property owners, debtors, and was divided between royalty and aristocrats over time.

Now, Japanese architect Tadao Ando has transformed the building’s interior into a special cylinder while maintaining the structure’s status as a classified historical monument and preserving the interior domed space. He derived his interior plan of a cylinder and concentric circles from the the concept of Russian dolls “to serve as the link between the threads of time, the past, present and future…”

And he has made brilliant use of those staircases to create a contemporary helix-like modification that is as impressive, if not more so, than the art collection itself.

The renovation is masterful in general. Depending upon your art taste, you might enjoy the artwork. I found much of the art derivative from the mid 20th century—a touch reminiscent  of Bruce Nauman, Richard Estes, Duchamp, Francis Bacon. To me much of it has a “so what” effect though I did enjoy artwork from Antonio Obà especially Sesta, which conjured a dream-like, welcomed pause in life and Martin Kippenberger’s Paris Café, a scene poised for the start of an evening’s gaiety. But there is surely something for everyone in the massive collection of 10,000 works of art representing nearly 400 artists from the 1960s to the present. For me the architecture is definitely worth a trip.

Sesta, Antonio Obá, 2019
Paris Cafe, Martin Kippenberger, 1993

Final Dream Wrapped Up: Christo’s L’Arc de Triomphe

Shimmering silver and bounded by red recyclable rope, Christo’s and Jean-Claude’s last project drew throngs of visitors on opening weekend. With the Champs-Elysées closed to vehicle traffic and security guards and police carefully monitoring comings and goings, the L’Arc de Triomphe-Wrapped–unveiled officially on September 18–is the fruition of a sixty-year-old dream. A monumental dream.

Covid be damned, everyone who viewed the masterpiece was in a celebratory mood, masked and unmasked, freely mingling about under a hazy sunlit sky, enjoying the mild weather. Someone was handing out woven sample swatches of the wrapping—metallic silver on one side, bright aqua blue on the other. A few people dressed in costume. Most were content to circle the monument and snap photos with sheer delight.

Imagine the material and preparation and engineering: approximately 270,000 square feet of blue-backed silver polypropylene, nearly 10,000 feet of the same plastic red cording, and a structural support of steel slabs weighing 150 pounds so as not to harm the arch’s friezes. It was approved by the France’s Center of Monuments Nationaux and supervised by Christo’s and Jeanne-Claude’s nephew Vladimir Yavachev. According to Roger Cohen in his New York Times article, “Building the cages whose steel bars pass an inch or two from the outstretched hand or foot of a frieze or a funereal relief was painstaking. So was rappelling down to work under the overhangs of the cornice. In all, 1,200 people labored on the wrapping.”

The Arc stands at the center of Place Charles de Gaulle, now nicknamed—on an amusingly plastic-wrapped sign—Place Christo & Jean-Claude. Seen from the twelve roads that radiate from the Place, this imposing monument is a natural tourist site with a 360-degree view of Paris atop its observation deck.

Originally commissioned in 1806 by Emperor Napoléon to glorify France’s Grande Armée’s victories of 1792, this colossal and neoclassical arch—was thirty years in the making. Napoléon did not live to see its completion. It was erected fifteen years after his death.

Since then, the Arc has been witness to history: Among many highlights, in 1885, mourners passed by to view Victor Hugo in his coffin; returning WWI French soldiers marched beneath it; Nazi soldiers stomped through it during their WWII Occupation; French and US Military paraded around it in victory, in 1944. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lies beneath it, and each night the eternal flame is lit in remembrance.

This posthumously completed dream—36 years after the couple wrapped the Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge—is a fitting memorial to the life and work Christo and Jeanne-Claude. As they planned, the wrapping moves sensually in the wind and reflects light. I wonder what Napoléon would have thought of it. Like life, it’s fleeting in nature, and will be dismantled on October 3rd.

L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris, 1961-2021.
On View: September 18-October 3

‘We’ll Always Have Paris’ … Just Not This Year

Recently gave a Zoom talk for the Levy Center in Chicago about Paris Off the Beaten Path to over 400 people!

With Covid-19 limiting foreign travel, my armchair tour around Paris was warmly received by both those who had never visited as well as those who have made multiple trips. The Evanston RoundTable profiled me and the Levy Center posted my virtual presentation on YouTube.

Click here to read the article.

Click here to view the talk on YouTube.

Reviews of Notre Dame de Paris: A Celebration of the Cathedral

Reviews of my most recent book:

ND Cover

Artisan Chocolate

Chocolate. Let me count the
ways. I should say at the start that I’m pretty close to a purist: I adore dark
chocolate in the percentage range of 70-75%. And for the most part, I want my
chocolate unadulterated. No foreign bodies mixed inside, save almonds or
walnuts or cocoa beans. So, when in Paris, craving chocolate, I revisit old
favorites chocolatiers and search for new ones. Read more ›

Paris in Flood

Note the guardrail on the left, normally a lane of traffic. But the Eiffel Tower shines on.

Paris Après le Deluge

Last week, we arrived in Paris to an overflowing Seine and heavy traffic due to roads underwater. Even the Louvre & Musee d’Orsay closed for a few days and treasures were relocated to top floors. The water was about 20 ft higher than normal. Hasn’t been this high since 1982 and before that 1910. See this comparison in photos with that Great Flood:, and below for a few of my own views. Read more ›

Silverscreen Entertainment in Paris

Photo from Five Hundred Buildings of Paris, text by Kathy Borrus, photos by Jorg Brockmann and James Driscoll.

Blogathon June 30

Since the Middle Ages, theatrical entertainment in Paris was more spectator sport than high culture. Whistling, shouting, stomping, or hooting audiences—often drunk and rowdy—routinely disrupted performers in opera and theater. Even in the seventeenth century, playwrights such as Moliere wrote and presented satirical pieces that mocked religion, the aristocracy, and the bourgeoisie to jeers and cheers.

By the late nineteenth century, an evening out at the theater became a fashionable event—as much (if not more) about who was wearing what as it was about the dramatic events on stage. But by the 1920s, the emerging film industry captured the public’s imagination, and The Rex shined brightly as a temple to cinematic wonders.

There are theaters older than the Rex and a few are worth visiting to gaze up at the stars on screen (or overhead, in the case of the Rex). Please note: If your French is only restaurant ordering level, look for the letters, VO, “original voice,” under the film title, which means you can listen to the film in its original language often English. If VO is not there, then voices are dubbed in French.

2nd Arrondissement
Le Grand Rex
5 Boulevard Poissonnière

On December 8, 1931, 3,500 lights pierced the night sky from the Rex’s Art Deco tower. The blazing illumination announced this new cinematic landmark, possibly the largest in Europe at the time. Its monumental screen stretches almost 60 feet high and more than 40 feet wide. The baroque interior is outsized with seating for about 2,700 on three different levels. Even if you don’t watch a film here, it’s worth a visit to view the ceiling where stars rotate above the gigantic screen—a bit of cinematic magic intended to give the illusion of watching a film under the night sky. The Rex specializes in Hollywood films but dubs them in French.

Besides movies, the Rex offers other events and concerts in its Grand Salon. You can also stargaze at an interactive, behind-the-scenes, audio tour called “Etoiles du Rex” (Stars of the Rex) to discover more about French cinema and, specifically, about the projection screen and special effects. Consult the Rex’s website for event or film times and prices, or to reserve online.

Independent Film Venues

The ones below often show Hollywood films in VO, but they are considerably smaller theaters than the Rex. As independent cinemas, they attract art house aficionados and they project a bit of old-time celluloid history and culture in Paris.

5th Arrondissement
Le Campo
51, rue des Ecoles at rue Saint-Jacques

If you’ve wandered the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne, then you’ve probably seen the Campo’s marquee on the corner. This two-screen, art house cinema opened in 1939 and achieved historic landmark status in 2000. Most films are shown normal hours, but check their website for the midnight trio—“Nuits du Champo”—a three film showing that begins at midnight and lasts till breakfast.

Cinéma du Panthéon
13 Rue Victor Cousin

Another recognizable landmark for its Art Deco, metal-outlined fixed camera image on the facade, this 1907 movie house was the first one in Paris to show original English language films. It’s also the oldest extant cinema in the city. Catherine Deneuve and Christian Sapet decorated the upstairs salon and café.

Les Studio des Ursulines
10 rue des Ursulines

Behind its ordinary façade is a history of avant-garde film projection since opening in 1925, including movies by May Ray and Andre Breton. Truffaut shot a scene here for Jules et Jim, and it’s supposedly the first theater to screen Charlie Chaplin films. Its plush red seating is a retro and cozy venue for viewing in any era.

6th arrondissement
Le Lucernaire
53 Rue Notre Dame des Champs

This one is a relative newcomer compared with the others above. It opened in 1968 as a cultural forum and received official recognition for its creativity in 1984. More than a film venue, it’s a bar, a restaurant, an art and cultural bookstore, a theater, and an intimate concert space with Sunday music programming. All this makes it sound enormous, but actually it’s a unique space for hanging out and viewing a film especially if you want to nibble on something more substantial than popcorn.

The Flaneur as Parisian Market Shopper

Photo of Les Halles, undated.

Blogathan June 29

Once, in London at The Travel Bookshop—the same one in the movie Notting Hill—an eccentric looking woman in her sixties with a gray pageboy hairdo, dressed in early flea-market finds and a wide brim straw hat, confided, “I hate to shop. I hate department stores. I love open air markets.”

“Then you’ll love my book, The Fearless Shopper.” I said.

And she bought a copy. But It’s not what it seems, and here’s my little secret: I hate to shop.

I loathe malls; I get intense headaches and claustrophobia. I hate department stores unless they are free standing and even then I hyperventilate. When department stores are a necessity because I need something specific, I adopt the male approach: Buy it and get out.

I do, however, love to wander—just stroll around especially at outdoor markets. If you are a flâneur (stroller) and a shopper, then Paris is your city. For wherever your feet take you, Paris is, with apologies to Hemingway, a moveable feast. Hemingway meant, of course, that the city is in your blood, always with you. I mean the city is an undeniable treat with street shopping that entices you in every arrondissement. Below are a few of my favorites.

Markets Streets

Most commercial market streets with indoor and outdoor kiosks are open six days a week. Normal operating hours are 9 AM to 1 or 1:30 PM and 4 PM to 7 PM, Tuesday through Saturday; and Sundays, 9 AM -1 PM. Most are closed on Monday.

2nd Arrondissement
Rue Montorgueil

Since the Middle Ages, the central food market of Paris centered around Les Halles—a space brimming with market activity day and night (yes, that activity, too, along with wholesale food vendors)—until 1969. Before city officials tore down its then mid-nineteenth-century iron girders and the wholesalers decamped to Rungis, south of Paris, rue Montorgueil was an area where restaurant buyers purchased the catch-of-the-day from northern fishmongers. Today, this renovated pedestrian street is gentrified and lively. A few of the old restaurants date back to a bygone era. Restaurant Au Rocher de Canale  dating from 1850 still serves locals and tourists and has an outdoor terrace—perfect for people watching. Stohrer, Paris’s oldest patissier, creating pastry since 1730, is in the national historic registry and may tempt you with a sweet along this street.

5th Arrondissement
Rue Mouffetard  

Inhale as you meander down this classic market street where food merchants hawk their goods, piling up produce and more all colorfully stacked in wooden crates. Just to walk Rue Mouffetard makes you feel like a local in search of ingredients or a fresh baguette for your evening meal. It’s a bit on the grubby and scruffy side, but you’re sure to sense a certain charm here as well, even as another client may jostle you aside to peak into the cheese vitrines.

9th arrondissement
Rue des Martyrs

Just down the street from the rough and tumble Pigalle area, Rue des Martyrs has the usual blend of restaurants, cafes, butchers, patisseries, and bakers, all still retain the essence of its two-century-old beginnings. It also is multicultural with kosher and halal vendors selling side by side. It’s another street I love to wander up and down just inhaling. At 25 Rue des Martyrs, the Italian restaurant Fuxia offers fresh takeout and a grocery selection of Italian wines, olive oils, and balsamic vinegar at the front of the store as well as seating for a more relaxed meal that spills out onto the sidewalk in warmer weather. If you continue walking up the street you’ll find rue Lepic in the 18th arrondissement with its many artisanal bakeries and other cafes and wine and craft shops. You may recall that Audrey Tatou donned a waitress outfit to play Amélie serving patrons at 15 Rue Lepic, Café les Deux Moulins, the corner art deco bar that is now part of film history.

16th Arrondissment

Just as each neighborhood has its own , and character, each market has its own local vibe and Passy is no different. It’s imbued with a civilized ambience that reflects its chic residents.  This one is a shorter street with less selection, but you’ll find the usual assortment of merchants including the Belgium chocolatier  Jeff de Bruges. And if you wander down to Avenue Mozart you can enjoy being a flanuer: The upscale clothing boutiques beckon you inside with their trendy displays.

More on Wine in Paris

Photo of the interior of the Musée du Vin from their website.

Blogathon June 27

If Ô Chateau (Blog: whetted your appetite for more, test the waters (er, wine) with a visit to Musée du Vin (the Wine Museum) in Paris, indulge in other tastings, or enroll in classes from beginner to advanced. But, really, you don’t need a degree in viniculture to enjoy sipping French wine.

Musée du Vin (16th arrondissement)
5, square Charles Dickens / Rue des Eaux
Tel: 01 45 25 70 89
Metro: Passy – line 6

Head for the wine tasting room in the preserved fifteenth-century medieval wine vaults of this former Passy Monastery. Within walking distance from the Eiffel Tower, the Wine Museum—actually a museum, restaurant, and boutique—has over 2,000 objects in the permanent collection that celebrate wine making. View the tools of production, follow the various stages of wine cultivation, and then dine in the vaulted cellar of Les Echansons (wine waiters) Restaurant. Check their website for the museum’s offering of classes, conferences, and events throughout the year.

Museum Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10 AM – 6 PM

Les Echansons Restaurant Hours:

Tuesday to Saturday 12 noon – 3 PM To reserve phone 01 45 25 63 26

La Maison du Vin et des Vignobles (17th Arrondissement)
178 boulevard Berthier

Dinners, tastings—wines and whiskies—wine tours, and other events and small private group meetings by appointment. This fifth generation wine merchant family says, “Everything is possible at the House of Wine.”

Le Cordon Bleu

Since 1895, the world-renowned school of gastronomy has been training future chefs. If you’re more interested in advancing your spirited knowledge than culinary skills, you can just enroll in their Wine and Spirits Initiation program ( But brush up on your French—classes are taught in French and translated into English—and save up. The course given in three modules is pricey: 480 € for each module or 1365 € for the three modules if taken sequentially. These classes naturally come with multiple tastings. Of course, if you don’t care about a discerning palate, you may just prefer to save up, bag the lessons, buy a case, and drink up whenever the spirit moves you.

Wine Tasting in Paris

If you’re a novice, this one claims to provide you with fun and information. What could possibly not be fun about wine? In fact, they offer tastings for all levels and ages from beginner and connoisseur, specialized for groups of six. Their Paris French Wine Tour tasting is two and half hours and covers six different wines and champagne. And you leave with a pocket guide to assist in your restaurant wine choices.