Yoga in the Marais

On a recent trip to Paris I decided I needed to fit some yoga into my busy schedule of seeing apartments and meeting owners. I don’t know what compelled me, as I don’t even keep up a practice regularly at home. I literally arrived at Orly airport around 5pm and took a taxi straight to the Yoga du Maria Center for a 6:30pm class, suitcase and all.

Sounds a bit fanatical, I know.  The truth is, I prefer to think of Paris as a big red wine and chocolate eclair retreat rather than a place to cultivate inner balance.  But aren’t vacations a good opportunity for breaking out of normal routines? It’s a great time to not just see the sites but to also try and incorporate other practices that at home we’re too busy, or too distracted, to do. Plus, it’s fun to do familiar activities in foreign cities and see how they compare.

The owner of the center, Michelle, is an American expatriate who’s been Paris for ages.  She and her other teachers conduct a nice range of classes every day in the Hatha style.   They’re located centrally at 72, Rue du Vertbois in the 3rd Arrondissement.  More info, as well as their schedule and prices, can be found on their website here.

by Steven Brenner

Vegetarian Paris

My last time in Paris, about 3 years ago, it was almost impossible to find vegetarian food.  Waiters would disdainfully propose a salad – always the same salad, with goat cheese.  Nice stuff, but not something I wanted to eat at every meal.  A few years later and I’m amazed not only at how many vegetarian and vegetarian friendly options have emerged, but also how well it mixes with French food and the French approach to food in general.

Here’s 4 places worth checking out:

1.  Nanashi – Le Bento Parisien.  One on 57, Rue Charlot in the 3rd and another on 31, Rue de Paradis in the 10th.

This place isn’t 100% vegetarian, but very vegetarian-friendly.  It’s like a long train of a place with a variety of regular offerings and daily specials, all written out on a large blackboard.

I had a vegetarian spring roll wrap with rice paper, filled with sprouts and a honey sauce to dip into.  I then had a vegetable soba noodle dish, full of cooked mushrooms and lightly sauteed grated carrots, with a little nama shoe.  It was amazing — fresh and flavorful and a clever combination of Asian and European flavors.  With a glass (or two) of sake, it was a great meal for only around 30 euro or so.

The staff was also extremely helpful and nice and eager to please.

2.  Soya – Cantine Bio on 20, Rue de la Pierre Levee in the 11th.  A bit more upscale at night, it’s a good bet for a semi-fancy dinner and is probably more casual at lunch time.  Located on a residential street with almost no other activity, and without a sign, you could easily miss it, but that just adds to the charm.

Inside are dark cement walls, warmed up by dramatic lighting and some simple, eclectic, unpretentious design.  All vegetarian and mostly organic.

I had a tartare of alge, and a couscous dish with mixed vegetables.

For dessert, it was hard to settle on a choice, but I was very happy with my apple crumble and cream.  All with red wine and coffee for about 35 euro.

3.  Le Potager au Marais at 22-24, Rue Rambuteau in the 3rd about half a block from the Pompidou.  Probably the most well-known by vegans and vegetarians, it gets lots of attention from both locals and tourists.  The menu is large, with interesting daily specials.  The international staff is friendly, and happy to help in a variety of languages.

I went for the seitan à la bourguignon – a dish I’ve always adored and needed to taste what it would be like without meat.  I also wanted some onion soup, but felt it would be too much, so I took the suggestion from the staff and had a velouté of fennel, which was nice and light and flavorful.

Then came the bourgiugnon with rice, which was as hearty and filling as the original.  Ok, it’s seitan — not meat.  I won’t pretend it’s the same thing, but it sure did the trick.  I don’t think a meat eater would have anything to complain about this dish.

In the end  I had no space for dessert, which was a shame as they seemed to know what they were doing in the vegan dessert department as well.  Open for lunch and dinner, they stay open until midnight.  It’s the kind of place you could return to a few times in one trip.

4.  Le Tête dans le cuisine on 29, Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in the 11th near Oberkampf.  This is a small place that specializes in homemade cakes, tarts, quiches and bagels, mostly for takeaway but also for a quick bite for lunch.

Not really on the tourist trail, but if you’re staying in the 11th, it’s worth passing by for a soup and sandwich, or get something to go and have it later when you’re out and about.

There are also a number of suggestions at Happy Cow, especially for vegetarian Chinese and Vietnamese cuisine.

by Steven Brenner

A Video Postcard From Paris

Here’s the newest in our series of video postcards, shot and edited by our friend Peter Wall, with music by Iggy Pop and Francoise Hardy.

Cold, Rainy Days in Paris

The last time we were in Paris it was over a long Easter weekend school break. We did a home exchange with a family who also had small children. It was cold and rainy the entire time, and our girls, then aged 7, 5 and 2, didn’t want to do anything. With home exchanges you usually get something comparable and familiar to what you’re offering. We felt comfortable exchanging with a family who had kids, feeling confident that their home would be more kid-friendly. In this case the home was perhaps a little too kid-friendly. Our girls were quite content to just play all morning with these “new”, unfamiliar toys. By the time we could cajole them into getting dressed and out the door, we would leave too late and arrive at our destination close to lunch time only to find long entrance lines and end up having to bail on our plans altogether and look for a place to eat instead.

But I had a trick up my sleeve.

A year or so before, on a solo trip to Paris, I’d arrived at the Châtelet metro stop and while transferring to another line, was drawn to the sound of wonderful classical music. At some point I turned a corner and down a set of stairs was a full orchestra – a really good orchestra at that. A handful of people stopped to listen. Others seemed annoyed that their commute was disrupted. For me though, as someone who wasn’t exposed to this on a daily basis, I thought it was wonderful, and as I listened I contemplated how there are so many beautiful, random things in the world that people miss because they are too busy to stop and pay attention. This was definitely one of them.

So, fed up with not being able to see all the attractions we had hoped to see and spending loads of money eating out and repeating, “this is the LAST time we’re going ANYWHERE with you girls” about 10 times a day, we decided to change our course. We set out in the rain, stopped at a sidewalk crêpe seller for a cheap lunch on the fly, and with a handful of extra large crêpes wrapped up in foil we set off for the nearest metro. We took them underground, settled somewhere with a good view and good acoustics and ate our crêpes and listened to Bizet’s Carmen.

It might be a touristy thing to appreciate, as most residents would take it for granted, but I thought it was a great afternoon: cheap, delicious, cultural, and unique to Paris.

by Steven Brenner