Saturday, January 30, 2010


Recently, while sipping tea at my favorite corner cafe, I was approached by a tall, elegant woman with an engaging smile. "Madame, give me your hand and I will tell you your future."  I returned her smile, but declined her offer.  She talked for a few minutes more, trying to convince me of the foolishness of my actions, but then decided that her time would be better spent on other patrons. On her way out the door, however, she passed my table, stopped and said:  "There will be magic in your future."

I did not have long to wait. Just two days later, while walking on the nearby rue St. Paul,  I spied the Academie de Magie, which houses a  museum and a school of magic.  How could I have passed this way so many times before and never noticed this entryway?  Magic? It must  have been because  I readily paid the 12-euro ($17) admission charge -- pretty steep considering that the world-famous Louvre Museum costs only 9.50 euros.  

Located in a 16th-century building, the museum is the brainchild of George Proust, a magician and fervent collector of  all things magic. Proust acts as guide and his booming voice rises over the squeals of delighted children. On this day, it was the 6th birthday of la petite Jeanette, who was having a wonderful time with about a dozen of her friends. Her mother and grandmother, on the other hand, looked as if they would welcome the wave of a magic wand to calm their rambunctious charges. It brought to mind a long-ago birthday party in America that we had for our son and his friends at  a place called Chuck E. Cheese - an event that  happily is in the past and not in the future. (Click here for a classic video.)

The visit to the museum began with a magic show - rope tricks, card tricks and a disappearing act featuring la petite Jeanette.  Afterwards, little Jeanette, along with her friends and family, disappeared once again - this time to enjoy cake in an adjoining room.  The rest of us were free to roam the museum.  Its seven vaulted rooms are chock full of mysterious machines, magic wands, optical illusions, fun-house mirrors and historical items that once belonged to some of the world's great magicians.  More than 100 antique automates are displayed on shelves and in glass cases.  Simple in nature, but ingenious in their mechanics, each one comes to life at the push of a button, including a grandmotherly fortune teller who will predict your future for only one euro.  (Grand-mère said I will soon go on a wonderful trip that will bring me riches and happiness.)

So it seems that the palm reader led me to the Magic Museum, which led me to the grandmotherly fortune teller, who has put me on the road to happiness and great wealth. A pretty good investment of 12 euros, I would say.

Today, however, I discovered a small bakery/cafe called
La Baguette Magic, a clever jeu de mots. A baguette is a French bread so the name could be "The Magic Bread." But  baguette is also the French word for wand, giving us "The Magic Wand." 

Could this be the magic in my future? I was carrying too many grocery bags to stop at La Baguette Magic this morning, but I'm going back this afternoon to see if their hot chocolate can  take the chill out of this cold Parisian day. Now that would be magic!

To see more photos, click here.


                                                           A bientôt,

Musée de la Magie
Musée des Automates
11, rue St. Paul
75004 Paris 

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor


Saturday, January 16, 2010


It must have been a day like today that ushered in the Great Paris Flood of 1910.  We awoke to light rain that, as the morning progressed, began to drum harder and harder on the glass roof of our small covered courtyardBy mid-afternoon, the rain was falling in sheets and the wind blew the umbrellas of passersby inside out.  

It was a perfect day to visit the Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris. The library is hosting Paris Inondé, an exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of one of the worst floods in the history of Paris. 
In one terrible week of rain and snow from January 20 to January 28, the Seine, the river which flows through the heart of Paris, rose from 3.80 meters (12.5 feet) to 8.5 meters (27.9 feet). The tunnels below the city - 1,200 km  (746 miles) that housed the water and sewage systems, telephone cables, pneumatic message tubes, the subway and even vestiges of tunnels from Roman times - filled to overflowing.  Water began seeping into basements and Paris began to flood from above and below.  

As the water rose, it transformed the streets into canals and Paris into Venice. Journalists and photographers from around the world, lugging their heavy photographic equipment, came to record the scene, which was the first big catastrophe for this new media. Reproductions of photos and post cards were quickly made available and sold in the millions. Well-to-do Parisians hired boats and paid 50 centimes to have their photos taken braving the flood.
For the dispossessed, however, life was more difficult. There was no transport, no light and no heat.  Food, which usually came down the Seine in barges, was in short supply since the boats could no longer pass under the bridges. Most people could not even assuage their misery with drink since  the wine depots of Bercy were also underwater. The broken kegs added to the tons of debris clogging the river.

Although loss of life was minimal, about one-quarter of the 80,000 buildings in Paris were inundated and 150,000 people were homeless and without employment.  Another 200,000 people fleeing the surrounding countryside sought refuge in Paris. Damage was estimated at 400 million francs, roughly one billion euros ($1.4  billion) in today's currency.

The historian, journalist and socialist leader Jean Jaures, among others, urged collective action. Dans tout désastre il y a une lecon - In every disaster, there is a lesson, he wrote in L'Humanité, the left-wing newspaper he edited. With a sense of solidarity that catastrophes often foster, the government, business, charitable organizations such as the Red Cross, and various women's groups mobilized to provide assistance and housing to the flood victims. Parisians set about cleaning up and rebuilding the city and by April, Paris was once again a functioning city.
Five years later, the experience gained by aid groups during this natural disaster would help the French people weather the far more devastating man-made disaster of  the First World War.

To see more of my photos, click here

                                   A bientôt, 

Paris Inondé
Bibliothèaue historique de la Ville de Paris
January 28-March 28, 2010
Tuesday-Sunday, 1 p.m. -7 p.m.
22 rue Mahler, Paris 4eme

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor and
courtesy of the  Bibliothèque Historic de la Ville de Paris

Sunday, January 10, 2010


Along the Seine this winter afternoon, the pearl grey sky, the slate-roofed buildings and the gun metal grey river flow together into one seamless landscape. Parisians bundled up in their traditional black brave the exceptional cold. Their dark outfits add a contrast that turns the whole scene into a Manet painting come to life.

We have been back in Paris for one day, but we are already settled into our old habits. It's Sunday morning so it's over to the Bastille outdoor market, where the cries of Bon Dimanche (Happy Sunday) can be heard up and down the aisles of the market stalls. We buy lunch: oysters and white wine; olives from Provence; and a Mont d'Or cheese.

Mont d'Or is made from the winter milk of cows brought down from their pastures in the Jura Mountains of eastern France. Like fine wine, Mont D'Or has an Appellation d'Origine Contr ôlée, which guarantees the region of origin, the type of milk and even the breed of cow from which the milk is taken. The distinct round wooden boxes, in which the cheese continues to ripen, appear in fromageries in September. By March, they are gone. A soft cheese wrapped in a thin band of spruce that gives a distinct flavor to the cheese, Mont d'Or is eaten with a spoon. Its creamy, pungent, melt-in-your mouth, high-fat goodness is an antidote to counteract the cold, damp weather.

At four o'clock there is still time, before the early darkness of the Parisian winter falls, for a walk on the Quai de la Seine, my all-time favorite city walk. The cold has kept the crowds away and we have the glory of Paris in grey almost to ourselves. Closed to traffic on Sundays, the Quai runs for miles past some of the world's most beautiful monuments. We begin at Ile Saint Louis, passing along the way Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Musee D'Orsay, the Place de la Concorde and numerous other landmarks of Paris.

We walk under the famous bridges of Paris, including the elaborate, recently refurbished Pont Neuf (the New Bridge). In spite of its name, the Pont Neuf, completed in 1607, is the oldest bridge in Paris. It's a bridge for lovers with its many balcony-like alcoves jutting out over the Seine, all furnished with rounded benches where couples often sit entwined in each other's arms.

Crossing the Pont Neuf late one summer night, we came upon a couple in the middle alcove of the bridge. They were seated at a small table covered with a white linen cloth and set with fine china for the dinner which waited in a nearby wicker basket. On the table sat a tall candelabra aglow with the soft light of many candles that illuminated their faces as they sipped champagne from crystal flutes and gazed into each other's eyes. You see things like that in Paris.

As a French friend of mine once told me: Tout peut arriver à Paris - Anything can happen in Paris. I'm off tomorrow morning to see what does happen. I'll let you know.

To see more photos of Paris in winter, click here.

A bientôt,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor