TRAVELLING to Paris this summer? Along with the Eiffel Tower and bateuaux mouches, you'll want to observe a new Paris phenomenon: Winnipeg-philia.
Since the opening of the art exhibit My Winnipeg at the prestigious private gallery Maison Rouge last week, Parisians have been high on that little-known snow-and mosquito-filled city we call home -- and they call WEE-NEE-PEG.
First stop, then, should be a visit to the Maison Rouge to watch Parisians as they examine this encyclopedic exhibit of Winnipeg's contemporary-art scene and try to understand how a seemingly banal and cold prairie city could have such a hot art scene. (10 Boulevard de la Bastille. Until Sept 25.)
"The winters are so long, it forces you to be creative," one Parisian after another was heard saying.
Then you'll probably want to do what most of them do post gallery -- go for dinner.
Visitors basing themselves near the Maison Rouge are in luck. The gallery is in the Bastille district, heart of the nouveau bohemia, what some are calling the new Left Bank. It's along these often-nondescript streets that you'll find some of the most inventive restaurants, galleries and shops in Paris these days.
My perennial bistro favourite is Paul Bert in the serious netherlands of that neighbourhood. (18 rue Paul Bert). My Paris friends and I often go there whenever there's something to celebrate -- and even when there's not.
Long a quintessential neighbourhood bistro, all of Paris seemed to suddenly "discover" it. Then, quelle horreur, the American food press discovered it. Next thing you know, it was inundated with American tourists toting copies of Gourmet magazine's Best of Paris edition, to the often amusing exasperation of the staff.
A few years ago I took some visiting Winnipeg friends to Paul Bert. We didn't have a reservation, but as they were jet-lagged we thought there'd be no problem getting a table early. When we arrived at 6:30 p.m. the restaurant staff were eating in the otherwise empty dining room. Not one would deign to raise an eyelid in response to our request for a table -- even an hour later, still an ungodly early hour to dine in Paris.
Well, at least my friends got to experience le cranky French waiter (check it off the list). Moral of the story: Don't even think of going to Paul Bert without reservations, even if you're with a hot Winnipeg artist. And go at lunch -- it's less crowded, less touristy and less expensive.
I lunched there recently and an elderly couple at a table next to me (well, there were three if you include their poodle) struck up a conversation that lasted throughout the meal. By desert time, they insisted I try a bite of the famous Paris Brest they had ordered.
Rue Paul Bert is really the foodie's dream street. There's also the excellent fish restaurant L'écailler du Bistrot (22 rue Paul Bert), and Le Temps au Temps (13 rue Paul Bert) a pocket-sized restaurant with only one waiter and two cooks lovingly preparing bistro fare. And at three courses for about 30 Euros it's a bargain.
The wine boutique Crus et Découvertes, just down the street (7, rue Paul Bert), is also worth a stop. The young owner is knowledgeable, enthusiastic and sometimes offers tastings. Another atmosphere-fueled option for a late-night dinner not far from the Maison Rouge, is Chez Omar (47 rue Bretagne) a fashionable but relaxed couscous restaurant favoured by Paris media and art crowds.
From there it's a 20-minute or so stroll -- but a pleasant one -- to Chez Prune, a wine-bar cafe popular with hip Parisians on the ultra-trendy Canal Saint Martin. (It's the same canal from whence French actress Arletty cried out "Atmosphere" in the film Hotel du Nord). Chez Prune is just up the canal from the converted warehouse that hosted the My Winnipeg opening-night after-party, and on warm summer nights it's as pleasant a place as you can hope to find in Paris.
Many My Winnipeg pilgrims will presumably want to check out the city's other art events, and there's the usual summer blockbuster or three on offer. "Images de l'Inde, Paris -- Delhi-Bombay" at the Pompidou Centre received somewhat anemic reviews. But the permanent collection is always worth a visit, and riding the outside escalator to the top provides a fabulous -- and free -- view of Paris.
"Manet: The Man Who Invented Modernity," at the Musée d'Orsay, on the other hand, has been extended to July 17 owing to its success.
The small galleries along the rues de Seine and Beaux Arts give a good overview of Paris's own current art scene. Towards the end of the rue de Seine, near the river, you'll find one of the Left Bank's best people-watching cafes: La Palette. Its beautiful ceramic-tile interior and leafy terrace have been hangouts for art students and art dealers for ages (43 Rue de Seine).
Back on the Right Bank, the Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, in the heart of the Marais (76, rue de Turenne) is also worth checking out. A perfect (and perfectly Parisian) way to spend a Sunday afternoon is strolling around this elegant, historic neighbourhood.
The rue des Rosiers is the main strip of this traditionally Jewish quarter and the place to go for excellent falafels -- some of the Winnipeg artists and curators ate there the night before the show's opening. The street has been gentrified, so the falafel shops now sit next to French retail chains stores. Grab your snack and venture towards the Places des Vosges the beautiful Renaissance-era square in the heart of the Marais.
There's a new gallery in a lovely space just off the Place Des Vosges towards the Bastille called Polka Gallery, which puts on exhibits featuring the best of photojournalism old and new. The gallery was founded by the former editor of Paris Match, the iconic weekly newsmagazine. (Cour de Venise 12, Rue Saint Gilles.)
On a lost street in the 11th arrondissement, towards the Bastille, you also might stumble across a store called Fargo (42 Rue Folie Méricourt). It's the retail headquarters of a French indie music label, owned by a devoted Coen Brothers fan. The store is a great place to shop for hot new French and world music, and also get the lowdown on great club concerts from the plugged-in staff.
If you're in further retail mode and you're travelling in the next few weeks, you're in luck. The summer sales (whose dates are regulated by the government) are on now.
Stop by the Galeries Lafayettes department store near the Opera. But wait, what's that? A Manitoba Bison in one of the store windows? Yes -- in a crossover collaboration with the department store and La Maison Rouge, the Manitoba Museum's diorama of our buffalo is decorating the front of the famous Parisian department store this summer. (From July 11- Aug. 5 Aug; Galeries Lafayette, blvd. Haussmann).
Bison. Winnipeg. Fargo. We've been so busy myth-making about Paris, we never stopped to think they might be doing the same about us.