Thursday, August 31, 2006

Rouge et Verte

Laura of Lauralines asked me yesterday, "I'm amazed there are still photos coming from your last trip to Paris!! Did you pre-plan your blog entries and are now unveiling them, bit by bit, till the end of your stash?"

I wish I was that organized. It's more of a stockpile of Paris images randomly recorded. I love going through them - like being there again when I need a Paris fix, and ideas pop into my head in the process. Just made-up theories...

I mentioned there's a bit of a controversy over which is the more "Parisian" of the two cafés - Café de Flore or Les Deux Magots? In Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon, he wrote at length, going into historical factors and issues of snobbism.

He calls it , "the Two-Café Problem". It seems Parisians only want to be seen in the "right" café of the moment, even if it means waiting for a table when there are plenty of empty seats in the café across the street, says Q+a Magazine.
Well, here is my hypothesis, and it's based solely on color theory and nothing else. Color acts on us in unconscious ways and drives us to do things we hadn't planned. The absolute winner of color combinations is rouge et verte or the RED/GREEN combo. It's the best pair of color compliments of all three.
red + green turns up where ever you look. Go to your corner grocery or Farmer's Market. The grocer intuitively understands color theory and never painted a color swatch or had to sit in color theory class for hours.

The RED tomatos are ALWAYS next to the GREEN peppers, lettuce, parsley etc. Christmas, who can avoid it, is a RED/GREEN holiday. RED roses have green stems and you see them every Valentines day, particulary in the hands of those who almost forgot ? Florists understand this intuitively. Red cherries have green stems, making them so much more appealing...someone up there gets color theory.
So what does any of this have to do with "the Two-Café Problem" you ask? Because the Café de Flore has the winning color combination - RED + GREEN. Les Deux Magots, malheureusement (unhappily), chose for their signature colors a creamy Naples yellow (my favorite color) + a deep forest GREEN. It's a classy combo, but it doesn't have the pulling power of the all-time winners, RED + GREEN.
Maybe I should explain a bit more about complementary colors. They enhance each other and effect the brain too. Complimentary colors sit across from each other on the color wheel. So what?

Well, if you have a predominantly green color environment and than add a touch of red, the brain will make that green vibrate like crazy and the red will sing out like Callas. Get the picture?
Café Flore's use of green as an accent color enhances those red chairs and makes it all the more appealing. Did you know that all important cafés in Paris have their own proprietary chaise (chair) designs and their own proprietary rattan weave as well? Maison J. Gatti is responsible for these. You can find them stateside at Cafe Society in San Francisco.
The master of the red/green combo is Pierre Hermé. I left a Kremer Pigments red color chart in his rue Bonaparte shop and realized belatedly that I'd forgotten to bring along the green color chart. Quelle disastre! Next visit in 52 days...

So, sorry Deux Magot, your signature colors are très classy and I'd take a set of your breakfast crockery anyday over Flore's. Your chocolate chaud is hands down the winner on the boulevarde, but you can't compete with the red/green combo. Adam Gopnik would have a good giggle if he read this... Nevermind color is powerful and even trés chic Parisians are not immune. So that's my theory on "the Two-Café Problem".

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Paris Breakfasts Les Deux Magots

You can't go to the Café de Flore and not go to the Les Deux Magots on 68 Boulevard St. Germain. They're side by side and both tempting to the Paris lover. There's an ongoing controversy over which is the preferred café of Parisians, but I'll go into that later. Both offer the best of "petite" déjeuners (breakfasts) and touristy or not, should be visited just as you'd go to the Louvre.

It's a good idea to go on a rainy day, when cafés are less crowded. Rain puts off everyone everywhere. At the Shake Shack last Saturday it was drizzling and the line, normally a 30 minutes wait, was non-existent. In Paris, you'll be treated more attentively by the waiters, and they'll put up with your faux pas if it's raining outside. BTW never call a French waiter, garçon. Only Bonjour Monsieur will do. You're on THEIR premises and better behave accordingly with proper respect or don't bother. It's worth it.

The chocolat chaud at Deux Magots is just as good as Angelina's. Taste is what counts and here it's rich and chocolaty, achieved by grating plenty of dark chocolate bars. That's the secret of any hot chocolate, so forget the powders and throw a bar in your cup, pour hot milk on top - et voilà.

There's a terrific urge to swipe everything off the table so you can recreate your own café. The possiblility of le petit déjeuner at home too tempting. That's why some cafés have onsite stores to indulge your impulses. There are plenty of shops stateside for those who hesitated. I have a café table and chairs from Pottery Barn and I dream of covering it with real café logo crockery.

In May, I was very smitten with Deux Magots' porcelain ashtrays, though I don't smoke. These impulses are unpredictable. I was pleased to find the same porcelain ashtray at Sennelier holding a pan of BLOCKX watercolor. I bought the Naples Yellow, one of Deux Magots' signature colors.

I chose off le carte (menu) not-so petit déjeuner complet includes:Café, chocolat à l'ancienne ou thé Damman
Jus de fruit frais, orange ou pamplemousse
Viennoiseries variées et petit pain du boulanger
Beurre d'Échiré, confitures artisanales ou miel

Artisanales as in the jams are made in a factory with less than 50 workers, so they're more or less homemade. For a closer study of Les Deux Magot carte look here. Any preparatory work you do before going to a Paris café can only help overcome the ever present intimidation and will let you enjoy cafés to the fullest.

How one person could possibly complete this so-called small breakfast is beyond me. This is the "after" picture. I felt compelled to try everything if unable to finish it. Even the Normandy pat of butter (Beurre d'Échiré), got tasted and it's autocollant (label) makes a nice sticker for a Moleskine cover.Excusé moi Monsieur, je suis terminé.
L'addition s'il vous plait?You may get your bill with the tray, but just in case. For the record, we're having continuous Monsoon rainy weather here in New York and there's nothing I'd like better than go sit in a Paris café. Malheureusement, I have to go in to work today, but in 53 days... Bonne journée

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

ParisBreakfasts @ Cafe de Flore

Towards the end of my stay I got M. to go to Café de Flore for petit déjeuner with me. M. isn't keen on cafés, brasseries and most other public places. Her father was a G.M. (general manager) in many of Paris' top brasseries so she grew up amidst smoke and crowds.
Therefore she neither smokes nor drinks and refuses to be near others thusly engaged. An impossible woman to drag out anywhere unless it's to an organic marché and who wants to do that while in Paris?
I love this picture of M.'s clenched hands while I record her cup of tea for future possible "research" purposes. We got the works. I got a pot of chocolat chaud and oeuf dur and M. got thé and actually ate TWO croissants and FOUR types of confiture (jam).
This has to be some kind of record for M. who is not your average French woman except that she does watch what she eats. I always forget to watch = my downfall. I just eat. Haven't you heard that many times, "Watch what you eat!"
Of course these lavish so-called "petit" breakfasts are not petit at all. 4 kinds of jam? Who does that at home. It takes a huge effort to forget there is just 1 kind of jam sitting inside the refigerator while you eat your unbuttered toast, much less munch on a magnificent French croissant.
AND they bring you a big round pad of Normandy butter to put on your already buttery croissant. Coals to Newcastle and all that... Oh well, that's the point of going on vacance, even if you do tell people you'll be very busy doing research. Yeah, research on croissants and confiture and chocolat chaud! My vacations are ALWAYS research-oriented.
Now here's a tip you'll only find out from a G.M.'s daughter. Why don't café glasses have their logo on them?
Because everyone takes them home as a souvenir, that's why.
I bought a Flore glass at the Café Flore shop around the corner - open 12 noon. I'm sorry to report it's a far more elegant version than the sturdy, robust glasses served in the café, where they stand up to wear and tear of daily usage and rowdy customers.. Disappointing all the same :(

Café Flore P.D.,watercolor, 10" x 12 1/2"
While we were sitting there wolfing down this "grand" déjeuner, a big elevator-contraption appeared in the Flore doorway. This mammoth thing brings stuff up from the cellar - dishes, bottles, whatever. She and her brother used to ride up and down it for kicks!
M. told me she would also monkey around with the beer pressure in the cellar. When her father would serve a beer from the tap, it would blast out like nobody's business. Evidently there were indulgent parents back then as well, since she never got spanked for any of these bistro pranks.
I took a special still life painting class with Susanna Coffey, called "Perishables" at the National Academy. We painted the same still life over and over for a month and by the end of class, that thing was seriously "perished".Now this is what I would call a perished p'tit déj' if you can say such a thing. I'm not nearly as in love with the perfect untouched, pristine still life as I am with the devastated and devoured one.
This is a living thing and not so still. And it's going somewhere -> to the kitchen and the trash. OK. It's future is not so serene as a Morandi or Chardin still life hanging in the Louvre. But it is very alive.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Carnets de Couleur

I have a bag full of color test swatches and I can't throw them out. The 1st watercolor lessons you learn, is test out your colors on a bit of paper before putting brush to expen$ive watercolor paper.
I get attached to test color scraps.
Sometimes they're better than the finished 'work of art'. After David Dewey's watercolor class I'd go round picking up test scraps off the floor. The colors are lush, splashed on freely. Some of my own color test scraps are far superior to anything else IMO. People tear their hair out daily trying to get their walls to look like some swatch of paper with a divine color on it. They fall in love with that color and will settle for nothing else = madness.In many PB posts I'll mix up and match paint colors to whatever I'm going on about, whether it be macarons, chocolate, swimming pools, cherries, toy birds, ice cream, orange, red, black, pink etc. I once took a color mixing class at Parsons. We could only use  3 primaries, RED, YELLOW, BLUE. We mixed away till we were blue in the face for 6 weeks.

That's the thing about color. It's so easy to fall in love with. I thought I was mad for RED. All those ridiculous personality tests where they ask you your favorite color, I always put RED. But now I realize it's BLUE I can't get away from or stop using blue all over the place.
Your most favorite/least favorite color etc. The results are not far off:
Hungers for intensity in life and welcomes opportunity to take on challenges and makes a focused effort to solve them. Wants to concentrate energy on achieving goals. Not to be sidetracked by outside influences. Aims to achieve impressive success by expending great effort and single-minded perseverance.
WOW! I'm loving this.

I took Dr. Lusher's color test for this post. You get to choose
A watercolor book I had, Spanish I think, had an exercise for making over 100 colors with just 3. Ilove color mixing and matching. It's a nice meditative exercises.
Tachisme, a French abstract art movement during the 40s and 50s, was a reaction to cubism and the equivalent to American abstract expressionism. Some of Les tashistes were Sam Francis, Hans Hartung, Georges Mathieu, Henri Michaux, Pierre Soulages. Being hooked on blobs, it's a natural that I'd love Sam Francis' paintings. You usually see him surrounded by sheets of paper on the floor -> giant color tests. And he looks incredibly happy. mindless activities you can do endlessly, yet at the same time quite challenging.
It's not as easy to match a color as you'd imagine.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Le Pain Molskine

It's not just my Moleskine who likes to hang out at Le Pain Quotidien. I'm a fan of the 1131 Madison ave. branch near 84th street. The light is particularly good there for doodling, reading and taking table shots. Hey there's a café au lait bol hanging out!I love the long spacious common table. The condiment bottles sail across that broad expanse like ships - think of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa's like a landscape to my eyes.You can pretty much pick out what you want to eat by looking at your neighbor's plate. Guess I'm "outer-directed" but it works for me. "Ah..I'll have what he's having please?" This is the Paris Jambon with 3 mustards plate. The food is delicious and plentyful. Though an overseas Le Pain fan said we're getting bigger portions in the US.Hmmm..that's not going to help the national waistline problem Le Pain :( Please give us those tiny postage stamp portions the French are famous for... OH heck nevermind. Just look at this lush plate - the Mediterranean Tartine - Ricotta, Prosciutto, Pesto, Olives + Tartines. What's a tartine you ask? It's a hunk of bread on which you can slather anything you like - an of open face sandwich that works for breakfast or lunch. Le Pain usually gives you 3 different types of bread, all very homey, all made from organic stone ground flour. Le Pain Quotidien is a Belgian company BTW started in 1990. Quotidien means everyday things and Le Pain's common table is full of them. I fell so hard for this little milk jug that I went on a quest to the Bowery's restaurant supply stores and bought 4 of them. I love the reflections and metal is always a challange to paint. The common table allows you to overhear conversations too. Often strangers start conversing across their tartines and by the end of they meal their exchanging email adresses. Where else can that happen in New York?I used to focus only on Le Pain's delightful desserts (the Belgian Brownie was a repeat performer.) I'd walk in, get my brownie and walk out. But then I discovered the the joys of sitting down at the big table and combining eating, sketching and shooting.There's always a delicious trio of Le Pain's homey brand of apricot preserve, REAL hazelnut nutella, and 4 red fruits preserve just waiting for you to help yourself on the table. And if you've got a bit of leftover crust from your tartine, and who hasn't left their crusts, since we're all watching our carbs like hawks... Well then you can end your meal with a sweet by dabbing on spoonful of jam or a glop of their outrageous hazelnut nutella. YUM!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Moleskine à Table

Remember when they used to say, take a book along when you go out to eat alone in a foreign city? Now that book can be a Moleskine. Moleskine to the rescue! The first place we went was for P'tit Dej' to the News Café on the corner of rue Vavin. Can 
you find the black and white dog in the picture?

Not only do you get street cred at the museum with a Moleskine along, but the Mole makes a fine friend to take out to dinner. Or to tea, or hot chocolate, or coffee, or anything. You may even get preferential treatment if they mistake you for a restaurant critic..qui sait? Here Mole is visiting Patisserie Aoki on 35, rue de Vaugiraud.

I certainly came home with huge bundle of choco samples from the Fancy Food Show in July, when I told them I write about chocolate on the NET. And you know I flashed my Moleskine about, scribbling madly to impress them with my street creds. Here we dropped into Angelina's, the Queen of chocolat chaud in Paris.

Remember when Filofax was king? I was seriously addicted to Filofaxes. In those days I was hooked on London too, so I had the newest pages before they hit US shores. The problem was, those finely ruled lines were so small. Meant strictly for orderly people, not me. It was a constant battle with those &^%$# fine lines. And I NEVER dared to paint or sketch in my Filofax. Sacrilege! Meant only for orderly activities like scheduling your minutes, your hours, your days, your life. The Moleskine on the other hand, lets you be YOU. It crys out, "have your way with me. Scribble, draw, collage, whatev." But I digress. My Moleskine's been everywhere in Paris even to Mariage Frères. And I have the stickers to prove it.

Another advantage of having a Moleskine along in a restaurant is, while you're waiting between the amuse gueule and the entré, you can, if you're in a generous mood, let your friends draw in it. They'll feel terribly grateful and creative and honored etc. Makes for a way happier meal, right Jean-Pierre?

Since my Moleskine got used to stepping out in Paris, I have to go to Le Pain Quotidien (Belgian) regularly in New York or her nose gets out of joint. She visited the Paris branch briefly so it feels homey to I have a choice?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Moleskine de Voyage #3

Carnet de VoyageLike bubbles in a champagne glass, lovely old things keep surfacing from the closet I'm still cleaning out. Stacks of sketchbooks, old macaron wrappers and now my travel Moleskines. I never leave home without a Mole. It's my religion. It's my addiction. Is there even a choice in the matter?

Carnet de VoyageI love the Moleskines with the graph paper. I'm always hoping/wishing those perpendicular lines will get my truly illegible handwriting/scrawl to straighten up. Man! even I can't read this. It's one thing when you scribble down an idea in the dark, but we're talking full daylight here!

Carnet de VoyageI also love the way the thin graph paper takes watercolor too -- kind of cheesy but it works for me...

Carnet de VoyageIs there a better friend to take with you to a museum ? Moleskines legitimize you while you sketch in front of a Renaissance masterpiece. I did these doodles at the La Nature Morta Italiano exhibit at the Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, 2003.
Someone brought in the catalog. He'd spent the entire summer in Tuscany. I freaked, ran out and got on a plane and got over there PDQ. And it was worth it. The most excessive, robust, rich still life painting you can imagine with Caravaggio as the highpoint.

Carnet de VoyageDoes anyone else cover their Moles with stickers? I've got "sticker madness". I can't stand a naked Moleskine. And I have a special passion for those French chocolatiers/pâtisserie stickers they paste down on anything you buy. They are complètement fou (nuts) with stickers too.
There's always an array of sizes and shapes. I wish I knew the French word for sticker. Merci Jennc informed me that the word is "Autocollants"

Carnet de VoyageMalheuresment, these stickers do not have the same shelflife as the Moleskine Notebook. They have a habit of curling up and falling off eventually. I wonder if my affection for these stickers is the same as travelers who pasted stickers all over their trunks and luggage? My Mole is my "trunk" full of travel souvenirs...