Thoughts on Paris

Nothing is more pretentious or annoying than when an American offers, uninvited, their opinions of Paris. Here, then, are some of mine.

  • Starting the day with a two hour lecture on elliptic integals:

    OUI: Who does not get a slight frisson upon seeing the identity

    \displaystyle{\frac{j}{16} = (\sqrt{k})^4 + \left(\frac{1}{\sqrt{k}}\right)^4  + \left(\frac{1 - \sqrt{k}}{1 + \sqrt{k}}\right)^4 + \left(\frac{1 + \sqrt{k}}{1 - \sqrt{k}}\right)^4  + \left(\frac{1 - \sqrt{-k}}{1 + \sqrt{-k}}\right)^4 + \left(\frac{1 + \sqrt{-k}}{1 - \sqrt{-k}}\right)^4 + 42}.

    where j is the modular invariant and k is the usual parameter of elliptic integrals, given in terms of theta functions as \theta^2_2/\theta^2_3 where \theta_2 = \sum q^{(n+1/2)^2} and \theta_3 = \sum q^{n^2}.

  • Starting the morning with a croissant:

    NON: There are decent enough croissants available, but in the general spectrum of correctly proportioning one’s caloric intake, there are better choices.

  • Starting the morning with a Kouign Amann:

    OUI…ET NON: Yes, I did wake up at 6:45 so I could bike to Blé Sucré and have a Kouign Amann before they were sold out. It was indeed good. But it still didn’t live up to the buttery sugary indulgences I had in Brittany. Calling on Jacques Tillouine to organize another conference in Roscoff!

  • Using Vélibs (the Paris bikeshare program):

    OUI: Travelling by bike, especially from my location at Paris 7, was extremely convenient, not to mention very pleasant in the clear 70 degree days with a light breeze that were pretty much a constant throughout my stay. The bike paths were excellent, and rarely required having to get too close to cars. But even on-the-road traffic (for example, cycling around the place de la Bastille) was less stressful than it can sometimes be in Chicago or London. The Velib stations themselves were not perfect: there were a number of times the internet connection was down, or the machine inexplicably returned to the initial screen or gave some other error (the “you already have a bike rented” being the most disturbing one), or the closest stations were either all full or empty depending on whether you were trying to return or rent a bike, but this type of thing seems to happen for many such programs. Extra points for the baskets on the front of the bikes which were extremely useful. Also points for being so much cheaper than Divvy: I had about three weeks of use for 24E, wheras in Chicago the cheapest option would have been to get a $100 yearly membership.

  • Going anywhere by car:

    NON: Traffic was terrible. Fortunately, I mostly avoided having to be in a car. We did go by bus to the Paris Mosque. We ended up being stuck in one stretch of road for about 10 minutes, at a point where the alternative would have been a very pleasant (and less than 10 minute) walk through the jardin de plantes.

  • The Gardens at Giverny:

    OUI: I had to choose a day exursion for my young charges, and I was very happy with this choice. Admittedly, a Parisian local described my choice as “American,” so make of that what you will.

  • Lunch with Clozel:

    OUI: I didn’t have much time for socializing on this trip, but I did get to have a very pleasant lunch with Laurent. If you leave this off your itenerary, you haven’t seen Paris!

  • Orange SIM cards:

    NON: My phone would randomly claim that I had used up all my data, and I would hae to turn it off and start it again before it would work. It was truly the worst SIM card I have ever used in Europe. I strongly recommend using anyone but Orange.

  • Third Wave Coffee:

    OUI…ET NON: It is well known that the French have mastered all aspects of cafe culture except making drinkable coffee. But I was very interested to see how much of the third wave had infiltrated into Paris. Here’s a breakdown of the third wave places I visited in order of preference: Telescope, Boot (Right Bank and Left Bank — the Right Bank store is much smaller and has wifi, the Left Bank is bigger and does not), Coffee Cuillier, Fragments, Strada (two locations), Le Peleton Cafe, Ten Belles, and Passager, although the gap between almost all of these was close to non-existent and I would revisit any of them if I was in the neighbourhood. (I had a very pleasant stay at Passager working on my laptop outside. I stayed there for so long I very nearly forgot to pay for my coffee when I left.) Given the weather and general ambience, the general experience of biking to these cafes and then sitting down for a flat white (or equivalent) or espresso was overall very pleasant. On the other hand, I would rate the coffee at these places as generally fine but not great. Many of these places seem to be run (or staffed) by Australians, which is no surprise. (As mentioned previously, Australians have also done wonders for coffee in London.)

  • Background music in cafes:

    NON: There seems to be some sort of cultural time warp, with Paris 7 students consisting of skateboarding dudes smoking and wearing ’80s fashion. The music in the cafes is similarly pretty bad. Of course, YMMV.

  • Restaurants:My restaurant list is somewhat longer than my cafe list, and I have a detailed set of notes, but I would say the best overall meal was at La Bourse et La Vie. For those on a budget looking for a cheap place to have a light lunch, I strongly recommend Canard & Champagne. Other notable courses: a rendition of vitello tonnato at Paul Bert, a light egg tapas dish whose name I don’t remember at Sourire tapas françaises, a fluffy squid dish which tasted like liquid quiche at Semilla, seared Foie Gras at Domaine De Lintellac, and a few more.
  • The weather in May:

    OUI: It poured the first day or so, and threatened in the forecast to rain quite frequently. But future forecasts faded, and for almost the entire three weeks, it was pretty close to a blissful 70 degrees, clear, with a slight breeze. Perfect!

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4 Responses to Thoughts on Paris

  1. Peter Woit says:

    Very helpful, especially for those of us planning a trip late next month. On the Kouign-Amann front, I recommend those at the boulangerie on the Place Maupert, although yes, not as good as in Brittany.

  2. TG says:

    fwiw I thought the filter coffee I had at Telescope last week was noticeably better than those I had at Ten Belles and Fondation this morning (both of which were decent, though).

    • Yes, I think Telescope is definitely a step above the others — thanks for the tip. Having arrived just as the rain stopped, I think I also departed just as the heat arrived — I think it was 90 today in Paris?

  3. TG says:

    Indeed – thankfully for the first time in a while we were staying somewhere with A/C, but it was pretty brutal nonetheless.

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