The Hemingway Bar and Raspberry Martini

Today the historic Ritz Hotel is closing its doors for two years.

I never stayed at Ritz. It is way above my pay grade. But I always enjoyed a nice cocktail at the storied Hemingway Bar.

From its history you might imagine an imposing space but the Bar is actually quite small.

The entrance is at the right side of that picture. It is a small unpretentious door.

Behind the camera there is a small room/alcove slightly elevated from the rest of the bar with three tables.

The walls are full of Hemingway memorabilia and for some unknown reason you never think that they might be replicas.


The Costes Brothers and La Société

The other night I finally went to eat at La Société.

It is one of the many restaurants that belong to Costes Brothers. Some ten years ago, Time Magazine had a piece about them entitled "The Brothers who Ate Paris." At the time they had 40 cafes, restaurants and hotels.

In the intervening decade they expanded their empire by adding more restaurants, a perfume line, a ready-to-eat food line and watch and luxury luggage lines.

This is the map of the eateries they own either directly or through extended family and senior management.

As you can see, they own the renowned Café Marly of Louvre Museum, the restaurant Georges on top of Beaubourg and L'Esplanade, which is the only cafe on the entire Esplanade des Invalides.

Lately, the Brothers Costes set their sights on overseas prizes and are reportedly thinking of making a bid on "New York’s iconic Oak Room and Oak Bar in the storied Plaza Hotel."

La Societe is one of their new ventures. It is strategically placed across from the Church of Saint Germaine and next to a Louis Vuitton store and Cafe les Deux Magots.


Homeless in Paris: From Clochard to SDF

Parisians are compassionate.

They are. I am not being facetious.

In fact, when you consider that they are the inhabitants of a large metropolis, they are downright humanitarians. The best illustration of that is their attitude towards homeless people.

Historically, homeless Parisians were known as Clochard which means tramp, hobo, bum. They had this somewhat romantic aura, stemming from Charlie Chaplin's Tramp and Jean Gabin's Archimede le Clochard. People pictured them sleeping by the Seine, drinking cheap wine and reciting poems.

Like everything else in the last four decades, the clochard lost this glossy image and became SDF or persons Sans Domicile Fixe.

They are not just by the Seine, you see them everywhere in Paris.

You will find them asleep in the doorway of a posh building in the high end 7th arrondissement. You will see them in metro stations. In parks. Next to supermarkets. Everywhere.

 Many of them are mentally ill. They are almost never violent but some are prone to bitter outbursts of long denunciations, better known as tirades, a word with etymological roots in French.
Elsewhere, especially in North America, homeless people are at best invisible beings and at worst they are so hated that they are the target of random violence. Occasionally, someone will give them some change but for most people they are drunken parasites to be avoided at all cost.

In Paris, they are human. And very much visible. People give them money, food, blankets and clothes.

Most importantly, people stop and talk to them. They treat them like ordinary human beings fallen on hard times. Which they are. I saw well dressed bourgeois women take them to a local cafe and buy them a warm meal.

I witnesses on more than one occasion people in supermarket cashier lineup pay for their food and booze. This latter act would be impossible in puritanical North America. Paying for booze and encourage drinking, oh my gosh, major pearl clutching moment.

Here, they simply don't care about lecturing these poor souls about alcoholism. They know that no one is going to stop drinking while they live and sleep on a sidewalk. Why not buy their two-euro-a-bottle-twist-top-wine for them?


Essential Rules of Shopping in Paris: No Returns

Paris is a great city for shopping.

Besides celebrated department stores like the Galeries Lafayettes or Le Bon Marché you have literally thousands of small boutiques carrying the latest creations of up and coming designers.

You also have specialized stores, like the one on Boulevard Saint Michel that is selling nothing but umbrellas or the one in the Marais district that is just offering brushes of all kind, for shaving, dental care or for removing specs of dust from your dark coat.

There are also electronic and DVD stores like Fnac and and electronics and small appliance chains like Darty.

It is all great fun except for one little detail. The return policy. When you buy something in Paris it is yours to keep. The only store with a reasonable return policy is the GAP. Everywhere else, the moment you want to return the stuff you bought you enter a world of hurt.

Most stores will simply not take the merchandise back. It is too bad Monsieur that you noticed that your new shirt had a small hole in the back. How do we know that it wasn't you who perforated the shirt to be able to return it. Non Monsieur, we are not going to fall for it.


Ah Cher Monsieur, it is too bad that your new shirt didn't fit you properly. You should have tried it beforehand.

A few stores will take the item back but (a) you have to talk to their after sales clerks (b) convinced them after a lengthy and detailed interrogation in a windowless room that you have excellent and valid reasons for returning the goods (c) you will not get your money back, just store credit.

You think I am exaggerating, right?

Example 1

Fnac, the electronics, books and DVD giant, is one of the few chains with a 14-day return policy. A good friend of mine, knowing that I am a geek at heart, asked me to help her with the purchase of a new laptop. She liked a silver Sony VIAO that she saw at the Fnac.


Hailing a Cab in Paris

One of my favorite pastimes in Paris is to watch hapless tourists trying to hail a cab. You simply can't. This is the only large metropolis that I know of where you simply cannot hail a taxi.

In eight years I saw only two cabbies stop when they saw someone desperately flailing their arms. I assumed that they were new to the business.

This is because taxis want to be called by telephone. You see, when you call a cab, they turn on the meter right away. So it is not unusual for taxis who are far away from your location to accept the dispatch's call and show up at your door with ten euros already on the meter.

This is on top of what they will charge you to take you to your destination.

Apparently, there is a maximum amount they can have on the meter upon arrival, something like 6-7 euros but I had taxis show up with anywhere from 11 to 15 euros on their meter. What was I supposed to do, miss my plane? Like everyone else in Paris, you grin and bear.

You might wonder what happens during slow hours when there are not enough callers. Well, they have taxi stations, literally like bus stations, they park there, read papers, solve cross-word puzzles, have a smoke. It is siesta time. They would reluctantly take you as a client if you gather up the courage to knock on their window, bonjour them and ask if they are free.

Then rush hour comes. They simply take off and start waiting for a call.