Newsletter #238: January 2023
In this Issue:
The Renaissance of Le Défenseur du Temps
The fascinating automaton clock Le Défenseur du Temps has finally been restored, and is temporarily on display at Anticipations Lafayette. Read more about the history of this clock and see it in action. Read more…
Live Translation Apps
Remember that scene in the 1985 film National Lampoon’s European Vacation when Clark Griswold used what looked like a calculator to translate what he wanted to say to the waiter from English to French? If only his little gizmo could have interpreted what the waiter was saying back!
Today there are smartphone apps that CAN do that, so that when you travel you can hold a conversation with someone speaking French in almost real time. Talk about a game changer! You can either let the app “talk” for you, or mute it and just read the text yourself if you want to practice your French. Then hold it up to your French interlocutor so it picks up and translates what they’re saying to you. I tested a few, both free and paid, and found that the quality is generally consistent for the French/English translation, so you really just need to pick the interface you prefer (I found the paid versions are usually MUCH better, to remove the ad interruptions, include offline options, and voice gender). Here are the apps I’ve tried (all available on Android and Apple):
Speak & Translate
Instant Voice Translate
If you’re looking for a unique Paris souvenir or gift for your favorite Francophile, Sur le Fil de Paris (2 rue de l’Ave Maria, 4th) is a little bookstore in the St-Paul district of the Marais specializing in antique books about Paris as well as vintage and antique Paris maps, photos, and guidebooks (including some in English). You can browse some of the more illustrious items in the collection on the website, but don’t let the prices scare you. Not every item costs the same as an almost-mint condition hand-colored Paris map from 1690 (for €1000). They also host regular art expositions highlighting different themes in their collections. Open daily except Wednesday.
Yes, You Can Hail a Taxi in the Middle of the Street
You can’t always believe what you read in glossy travel magazines (even when the author lives in Paris and the article’s fact-checker gets a byline). You absolutely CAN hail a taxi anywhere in Paris if you’re lucky enough to see one driving down the road with its green light on (I snapped this pic above on Thursday just after seeing someone do just that). It’s not strictly required to go to a taxi stand or call a taxi to come get you. Of course, the taxi won’t stop if it’s already taken, or if the driver doesn’t feel like stopping, or if they’re within eyesight of a taxi stand with other taxis already lined up. As for whistling for a taxi? I’ve never seen that in Paris (and if the driver is French you may just get run over rather than picked up), so try it at your own risk. You can find more taxi info here.
Film Short: The Seine’s Tears
“Les Larmes de La Seine” is a 9-minute 3D animated film by students from the French digital creative arts school Pôle 3D which is – on the surface – about the 1961 Paris massacre of Algerian demonstrators, an event which the French government denied until 1998. But it’s also about dreaming of a better tomorrow. It has won many awards, including the SXSW Film Festival’s “Special Jury Recognition for Unexpected Emotion.”
If you’re unaware of the history behind this event or how the violence of the Algerian War of Independence spilled over into Paris, I highly recommend first reading this three-part documentary on France24 “October 17, 1961: A massacre of Algerians in the heart of Paris.”
And, finally, read this interview with the director about the making of the film, explaining the meaning behind the fantastical ending: Meet the team behind the animated short film “Les Larmes de la Seine” / “The Seine’s Tears”
Covid Booster Shots Now Available to All
Before December 9th you had to be 60 or older, or have a specific health risk, to get a Covid booster shot in France. But now it’s once again open to everyone 12 and over as long as it has been at least six months since your last shot. And since France is peaking its NINTH wave of Covid cases right now, it may be a good idea to check your status. Covid shots are free if you’re in the French health system, or about €8 if you’re not. Last month I mentioned the flu shots are open to all ages now, as well. You can get both at the same time in any participating pharmacy, either by booking on Doctolib.fr, or at the pharmacy directly (click here for the list of ones in Paris).
24/7 Pharmacy Delivery App
Covid’s upside is that now you can get almost anything delivered in France, including prescriptions and other hygiene and beauty items from the “parapharmacie”, 24/7, within an hour in Paris using apps like LivMeds. If you’re in the French health system you can just upload your prescription and Carte Vitale to get your delivery for free. Other non-prescription items seem to be normally priced (like ibuprofen), although the convenience comes at a price, as the delivery fee can be quite stiff (calculated by time of day and the distance, so opt for a pharmacy close to you). Livmeds has a huge selection (over 30 different choices for dental floss, for example), but the real value added is that you can “chat” directly with the actual pharmacist at any point, and follow your delivery (or call the delivery person) directly via the app, which isn’t a possibility if you’re using Amazon Prime. It might be a bit too complicated if you don’t understand French, but for those living here who are too sick to drag themselves to the nearest pharmacy for Smecta and tissues, this app is worth a try. Another I found is Pharmao.fr, which has a “click & collect” option if you just don’t want to be waiting in line while coughing up a lung (or in front of someone else who is).
Back in 1900, Marius Fabre started his soap company in his back yard in Salon-de-Provence. Today it’s one of only five companies left in France manufacturing authentic savon de Marseille the old-fashioned way (with real olive oil), run by Marius’s great-grand-daughters. You can find the whole range of soaps, shampoos, creams and cleaning products in their official Paris boutique in the Marais (26 rue de Turenne, 3rd). Check out the collaborations they’ve done with the Palais Elysée (a presidential soap dish, pictured above) and the pilots of the Patrouille de France (with a vintage travel tin).
No More Single-Use Plastics in Fast Food Restaurants
Thanks to a law passed in 2020, as of January 1st all fast food restaurants with seating for at least 20 people in France will have to use washable dishes and cutlery for anyone eating in the restaurant. It will be interesting to see what the dishes will look like in places like McDonald’s and Cojean (the healthy fast-food chain in France). Read more in this Guardian UK article.
Paris Residents: Recycle Your Christmas Tree
If you brought home a live cut pine tree for Christmas, don’t just dump it on the curb once you’re finished with it. The City of Paris municipal gardeners have provided 174 drop off points all over the city (so no excuses that it’s “too far”) where you can drop your tree (in a bag is okay as long as it’s one of the compostable ones, otherwise remove the bag when you drop it off). It will be turned into mulch for the city’s gardens and parks to cut down on weeds, win-win for everyone! Read more here…
What It’s Really Like to Inherit a Castle
Just an hour from Paris, Château Vaux-le-Vicomte has always been one of my favorite castles to visit, and over the past 15 years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the family that works so hard to keep it going despite many challenges (not the least, being tied up and robbed). In the DigitalParty.com article Golden Handcuffs, Daisy Prince interviews Alexandre de Vogüé, one of the heirs running it today with his brothers, about what it’s really like to inherit a castle.
The New Skybar in the Duo Towers
I watched Jean Nouvel’s tilted towers take form over the past four years, and now that they’re finally open, I went to check out Le TacTac skybar at Le TOO Hotel (65 Rue Bruneseau, 13th). It was raining, but the view from the 27th floor was still magical; this is still Paris, even from the edge of the 13th arrondissement. The décor was oddly casual, almost frumpy, with some contemporary touches. I read afterwards that Philippe Starck did it, which makes sense (I’m rarely bowled over by his hotel décor). Supposedly the hotel (which has room from €250) is going for an “accessible” feel, not too luxurious. I think they succeeded. My friends found it “cozy”.
The cocktails and bar snacks are reasonably priced for a Paris “hotspot”, with wine from €12, cocktails under €20. There are no reservations; they open from 4pm and from 6pm they will make you sit at the bar unless you say you’re eating (or rather, snacking). The tables against the window are for two, but anyone can go outside to check out the view (it was quite windy when tried it). They say there’s a dress code (no streetwear), yet they seem to sporadically enforce it (and the wait staff are in sneakers, jeans, and tee-shirts, so…). I’d say to come check it out if you’re in the Bibliothèque district or you want to see the view. The restaurant on the 25th floor (pictured below) has the double-tall windows, so hopefully the views will distract you from Starck’s daughter’s bizarre sci-fi artworks (they take reservations).