Sunday, 24 November 2013

Le Village de Noël des Champs-Elysées 2013

Le Village de Noël 2013 (Christmas Village) on the Champs - Elysées, had an early opening last weekend, to last until January 5, 2014. This Christmas village was started in 2008, based upon the design concept of Marcel Campion - a French businessman who is also responsible for the Carnival of the Tuileries Gardens and the owner of the great ferris wheel at the Place de la Concorde. 

Unlike in the United States where Thanksgiving is celebrated - which, then, signals the official start of the holiday season, there is no specific date to determine when the French holiday season begins. I am presuming that this early opening - which was very well attended by the crowd that showed up, was made to boost the economic success of the village participants - the vendors.

Imagine walking with me now to experience this Parisian, festive event this winter...
 Situated between the Champs-Elysées rond point...
...and the Place de la Concorde,
 ... over 160 Christmas chalets are now standing on the widened sidewalks,  providing Parisians and tourists a winter-holiday shopping and amusement setting, right in the heart of Paris.

Some of the added features this year are...
 tables for a a place to savor the artisanal foods 
 an ATM machine for easy access to cash

Something new and something old - attractions for the children and adults:
a photo op by train with Santa on board
 a window display introducing the wooly yak, the lion, the sheep and other furry animals to the kids
a simulated habitat for pandas
bungee-jumping for the kids and the young at heart
Petit Train - a train ride for the little ones
a merry-go-round

les patinoires (ice-skating rinks):
 for children
 and one for adults, too.

Most of the food stalls do quite well as shoppers dine out while shopping or simply walking about the Christmas village - open day and night.
 a churrascaria
sausage, cured meats, cheese 
chichis (churros), crepes and waffles, and warm wine (vin chaud)
the candy store
chocolate bark creations

 The toilets are easy to find on both sides of the street. Prepare 50 centimes to get in.

 Just in case you missed seeing the Eiffel Tower, here is a replica to behold.

Specialty stores:
 The Galaxy Studio - a showroom for the latest Samsung products
 Some vendors were inviting visitors to check out MADE IN FRANCE products by emphasizing that their products were not made in China.
 Pshychodelic - a stage featuring...
Django Reinhardt (January 23, 1910 - May 16, 1953) was a French-Gypsy guitarist and composer who earned the distinction of being one of the greatest guitar players of all time. He was among the first European jazz musicians who contributed much to the genre. Notable about him is that he only used to use his index and middle fingers on his left hand while playing his solo pieces. He had lost the use of his third and fourth fingers after suffering an injury in a fire that caused his fingers to become paralyzed. Here is a sampling of his music.
 holiday lights, decorations and LED-lit toys
 "Santon" creche and village figures to create your Christmas scene
 hand-made lamp shades, candle shades by the artist/vendor, on site
 toys for the tiny tots

Our walk is almost over. How about a last bite and drink for the night? 

A relaxing way to end our visit to the Christmas village is to have a free-ten minute massage service, for a tip.

A visit to the Christmas village - as you can see, can be turned into a family affair, a time with friends, or a date. Shop, eat, and have a good time.

This holiday season, there are other Christmas markets to visit in Paris - at the Trocadero, at La Defense, and a few smaller ones around the city. I love this season! 

Happy holidays!

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Harvest Festival on Avenue Montainge 2013

In France, the harvest festival coincides with the grape harvest in the fall, anytime from September to November, in different regions. Known as "La Fete de Vendange." just about every city has a date set for their celebration. "Vendange" means grape harvest. And from this, what is celebrated are the wine and bubbly products that become part of our daily lives, our celebrations.

In the fashion district on Avenue Montaigne, the vendange festival was set for September 12, 2013. Featured and served in this festival, as you can probably imagine, were the big names in wine and champagne. This event is by invitation only - for clients, fashion editors and writers, and other VIP guests.

All week, construction crews worked to build structures along Avenue Montaigne and François 1er. The more elaborate ones were on the intersection of these two streets. During my afternoon stroll on the day of, I spotted some last minute details being put in.
At Zadig and Voltaire, the bottled spirits were made part of their window display. 
 Dinh Van ( a jewelry shop) had grape vines on the tent set-up they situated by the entrance to their store.
 Caron (perfumes) had a plastic-covered area that took up a big chunk of the corner sidewalk. Elegant table settings were in place in a more classic style, with golden wall candelabras, enlivened by silk roses.
 Diagonally across from Caron was Nina Ricci, where the workers were aiming for an up-to-the-last-minute schedule to get the set-up completed.
By nightfall, the grape-shaped lighting street lamps were aglow.

I went out to dinner with some friends and part of our plan was to see how the harvest festival was coming along, right after. 
 The store that stood out on François 1er was Courreges. It was brightly lit up in a pinkish shade. Their guests were both entertained and served indoor and outdoor.
 Anne Fontaine had an ice-icream cart, aside from the wine and bubblies being served, that was popular with their guests, inspite of the chilly weather.
 They had a sidewalk-cafe set-up just for this evening's celebration...
 ...with music that filled the air from a live band.
 The Nina Ricci corner was overflowing with people. 

Lots and lots of French wine and champagne were being consumed, overall, in a festival like this.
 Just as the wine flowed from Caron, so did the people - into what was left of the sidewalk...
 and the street, with drink in hand.
 Part of the entertainment along Avenue Montaigne was a quartet. They played New Orleans jazz. That was lovely!
And there was disco/techno music playing at the Louie Vuitton shop.
 Loro Piano cordoned off a platformed sidewalk with a grape cluster motif.
 Traffic officers kept the traffic at the intersection less chaotic and flowing.
 The touch-of-class award (from me) went to Dior! They had no elaborate structures - just two giant, beautiful, flower arrangements at their main door entrance.
The party was winding down by 10:30, for after all, tomorrow is a work day. 

Once again, this was a time when the red carpet was rolled out on the fashion strip, as grape clusters came alive, with people celebrating the good vintages brought out by the different fashion houses, while the looky-loos - like my friends and me, peeked and enjoyed the music, the animations, and the festive moment. 

Until next year, may we always be blest with good spirits!

Saturday, 29 June 2013

In the Kitchen: Paleo Cooking, Carrot/Oatmeal Cookies

Have you heard of the Paleo Diet? It's a healthy approach to dieting by going back to the eating style of the Paleolithic Era, also known as the Stone Age. The people, then, were sourcing their food through hunting and gathering what ever they could find. This period goes back to 2.6 million years ago up to the start of the agricultural revolution, roughly about 10,000 years ago.

Dr. Leon Cordain, author of the modern-day Paleo Diet - along with his colleagues, in their research of the hunter-gatherers of the Stone Age period, discovered that the ancient people did not suffer from chronic diseases so prevalent in many populations, today. Applying their eating principles to our modern day diet means that we need to go back to incorporating a lot of fresh and unprocessed foods. This diet includes fresh meats from animals that are cage-free and grass fed (beef, pork, poultry, lamb); fresh fruits and vegetables; nuts and seeds; and healthy oils derived from  coconut, avocado, flaxseed, macadamia, and walnut. The excluded food categories are dairy products, cereal grains, legumes, and any packaged foods that have been refined and processed.

I came upon this diet when I was looking for recipes that used the healthy coconut products - oil, flour, and sugar. I began using coconut ingredients when I changed course in my eating habits and decided to be on the healthy path.

The coconut comes from Cocos Nucifera and is dabbed as the Tree of Life as it is a source of food rich in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and with healing properties at the same time. Coconut oil is anti bacterial, anti viral, and anti fungal. It is a healthy oil that is recommended for cooking as it does not degrade nor become rancid when subjected to high heat. It also aids in losing weight. Coconut sugar is made from the sap of the coconut buds that is simply cooked down to a concentrated level to produce the sugar. It has a low glycemic index of 35 and is, therefore, diabetic friendly. Coconut flour is rich in high fiber and is low in calories.

When I discovered the Paleo Diet, I was pleased. I incorporated some of it aspects into my Raw-Food Diet. SInce I am a vegetarian of sorts, I did not include the foods in the meat category. Although, I do eat them only when I am in the company of others, when celebrating an occasion. I also eat whole grains, dairy products, legumes from time to time. If I may just point out here that I prefer to buy the organic versions of the foods I eat, so as to eliminate chemicals and pesticides from my diet.

The weekend counts as my cheat days. I was wanting to eat some cookies today. So, I looked at my ingredients on hand and decided to make some organic Carrot/Oatmeal Cookies. It helps me to stick to healthy choices when I don't buy the off-the-shelf versions of what I am craving.

1. In a mixing bowl, beat 3 eggs - I used a whisker.
2. Add -
     1/2 c. almond flour
     1/2 c. coconut flour
     1/2 c. coconut sugar
     1/2 tsp. baking soda
     1/2 tsp. baking powder
     1/4 c. oatmeal
     1 c. organic carrot pulp (a by-product of my juicing)
     1/2 c. coconut oil
     * Optional - you make add some chopped, raw nuts.
Mix all together, with a spatula.
3. Add 1/4 c. of water - mix in and let the soft dough stand for about 30 minutes to an hour. This gives the coconut flour and the oatmeal time to hydrate.
4. Prepare for baking -
     Preheat oven to 375°F or 190°C
     Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper
     With an ice cream scooper, fill up with dough and let go of it on the paper, then flatten the top a bit with the scooper or with a fork.
     Space them 2 inches apart
5. Bake  for about 25 minutes, or until you  get a whiff of the cookie aroma which indicates that it is done. I used a toaster oven to bake 2 batches.
* The cooking time for a regular oven may vary.

My first attempt at this turned out well. 
The finished product measured 2 1/2 inches in diameter, 1/2 an inch thick. It was a little crusty on the outside and a bit soft on the inside. I had 14 cookies in all.

As of this writing, I only have 10 left as I gobbled down 4 as soon as they got out of the oven. That  gave me a sugar fix. But I was not worried as the carrot/oatmeal cookie was high- fiber, with a low glycemic index, and they gave me healthy calories. 

Except for the oatmeal, this would pass as a Paleo cookie recipe. I am inspired to come up with more recipes using these healthy ingredients, plus more.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Celebrating the Summer Solstice in Paris - La Fete de la Musique

The summer season is set on our calendars on June 21st, and the summer solstice can occur anywhere from the 20th to the 22nd of June. This year, our change in season to summer began with the longest day of the year known as the summer solstice, this June 21st. This happens according to " how the earth's north-south axis are being tilted 23.4 degrees relative to the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system." Interestingly, while we experience the summer solstice with the North Pole tipping more toward the sun, the Southern Hemisphere has the shortest day which is called the winter solstice. The reverse will happen on December 21, 2013.

This day has been celebrated by many cultures all over the world. The summer solstice is also referred to as midsummer.

In the ancient days, close attention was paid to the "natural alignments". To these, some "mysticism and supernatural significance" were attached. The summer solstice was associated to one's wellbeing. Specially In agriculture, it was relevant to the growing and  harvest seasons."Paying attention to the solstices was a way of teaching mathematics, celestial mechanics, astronomy, culture, and history." 

The more famous solstice celebrations - summer and winter,  have been held in Stonehedge in the United Kingdom, for about 5,000 years.

Now a days, the nature of the celebrations have changed. For the most part, we are now less of an agricultural world. Most of us live in an in-door culture - we work indoors, we play, eat, and do some, if not most, activities indoors. So, this day has given us another excuse to go out, have a good time, and party, except for the neo-pagans who still perform their rituals.

In Paris, the 32nd Fete de la Musique was celebrated on the streets. Professional and amateur performers came out, looked for a corner, a sidewalk, or any space they could find to set up and perform, much to the delight of the music lovers who crowded around them.

I decided to take part and planned to go to the Latin Quartier and St. Germain des Pres to get a piece of the action. Boy, was it crowded. It was not just the summer solstice, but it was also a Friday evening! I joined the international crowd to celebrate this day.
 I headed to Place St. Michel (near the Notre Dame) and watched the opening performance of this hip-hop dancer, where he actually mimed-danced to the music. Unfortunately, he had competition from the loud noise being made by a marching band.
 I caught up with the marching band on their way to the Latin Quarter. Their sounds were coming from percussion instruments - drums of different types. They played pulsating rhythms. I would have loved to dance, but no one else was.
 All sorts of sounds and music were drifting in the air. 
 I meandered through the street and...
 found this group doing New Orleans blues/jazz. It brought back memories of my visit to the French quarter in New Orleans.
Piano bars were full, too.
 Restaurants lined both sides of the narrow streets - I almost stopped to have a gyro sandwich at a Greek restaurant. I was getting hungry with all the aromatic flavors permeating the air.
 As I decided to head to the St. Germain des Pres area, I stopped to listen to iconic tunes performed in the style of smooth jazz. This group came from Carpe Diese - a school of music. Old romantic, sometimes classical songs were featured in their repertoire.
 This man was giving away bags of Doritos. I tried so hard to stick to my diet and I managed to say "No, merci." I was craving for something more healthy. I was on my way to rue de Buci.
 My first stop here was at a flower shop - it's the season for peonies. So pretty!
 I noticed that outdoor seating was full - as expected, as these are the premier, choiced seats among the diners during the summer, or as soon as the sun comes out.
 I found this place that was recommended by a friend - Pastavino, on 18 rue de Buci. I was ready for a quick bite.
 It's an Italian deli with an almost hidden restaurant on the second floor.
Ten tables set, with a maximum capacity of 22. I decided to sit near the window. I noticed the lighting fixture above the bar, and I found it interesting.
The light bulbs were diffused with different sized, ribbed glasses. How clever that was!
 I ordered Freschissima - a plate of affumata, mozzarella, ricotta di buffala, and stracciatella on a bed of arugula and tomato salad. Paired with bread sticks and bread slices, this was so delicious and quite filling. By the time I finished my food, this place was full. Back to the streets I went.
 This rock band had a quaint sound - they were singing in English with a French accent.
 A French, rock band - they were singing in French!

After two hours of being out, I thought it best to get home.
Here was my last stop before entering the metro station - by Jean Francois Batelier's artworks. His posters had stories or messages, including political satire.

The metros were terribly full. I managed to squeeze in.

It was a fun early evening outing. I found myself in a music festival that was free, entertaining, and showcasing some good music. What I missed the most was Brazilian music - bossa nova and samba.

La Fete de la Musique was the brainchild of Maurice Fleuret. He was a French composer, music journalist, radio producer, arts administrator, and festival organizer. He became a director of music and dance in the Ministry of Culture headed by Jack Lang,  under the socialist regime of Francois Miterrand. Upon the request of Jack Lang and a study he found about the cultural habits of the French - that one out of two children played a musical instrument, he conceived of an idea of how to bring people out in the streets. Thus was born this musical festival, the day of summer solstice on June 21, 1982.

The festival was a spontaneous event that turned out to be very successful. It became the occasion for all types of musicians - professionals and amateurs alike, to perform any kind of music - from traditional, classic, to rock, jazz, and the latest musical trends. With the help of media, municipalities, and institutions, and the participation of musicians, this music festival has become one, major French cultural event, every year.

This music-festival model has been adopted in other countries in Europe, Africa, Brazil and Columbia in South America, in San Francisco and New York, and even in Manila, though, not necessarily happening on June 21st.
On my metro exit at the Champs-Elysees, I found this band of musicians from the Andes. They played their ethnic songs, sounding like the Gypsy Kings.

Oh, life in the streets of France can be so entertaining.


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