Notre Dame fire reveals global love for Paris in troubled times

by Catherine Down

I shared some thoughts with CNN Travel about why the world loves Paris so much and why you should be traveling here right now.

See below or check out the original article by Channon Hodges on CNN.


“When fire consumed Paris's Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame, the world watched in horror, with many expressing their love and support for a city that seems frequently beset by heartache.

There seems to be something about Paris that exerts a hold over the global imagination, even for those who have only ever daydreamed about walking next to the Seine, lunching on the Left Bank or watching the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower.

And though it has endured terrible events in the past few years, the city itself seems resilient to such tragedies, rising time and again to claim its position as the world's capital of romance.

The city has obvious allure as a travel destination thanks to landmarks like Notre Dame, world-class art museums such as the Louvre and a legendary dining scene, but there seems to be something else that ignites international affection.

"You would be hard-pressed to find anyone worldwide who hasn't seen a film, read a book, listened to a song in which Paris featured heavily -- let alone seen Parisian fashion and or eaten French cuisine," says Alizée Moreau, who was raised in Paris.

"Unless they are part of a remote community, they will have not only seen images of Paris, but also 'experienced' its culture, even if they haven't visited in person. It is part of our common heritage and our shared imagination."

That popularity has persisted despite the city's recent troubles. Over the past few months its been besieged by rioting "yellow shirt" anti-government protesters. And in 2015 it was shaken by two deadly terror attacks.

Resilience and love

While tourism may have fluctuated in the wake of these events, it has remained relatively consistent. A recent study on the world's most visited cities ranked the city number six on the global list, with nearly 16.9 million arrivals in 2018.

Among the city's global fan base, tragedy seems to strengthen affection.

In the aftermath of the November 2015 attacks on Paris's Bataclan concert hall, Facebook implemented its temporary profile picture application for the first time on a major scale, allowing users worldwide to filter images with the red, white and blue of the French flag in solidarity.

"So 2015 was a very hard year for the whole industry in Paris and France," says Stéphanie Boutet-Fajol, CEO of French tour company Sacre-Bleu Paris.

"However, tourists and especially Americans are resilient and the love for Paris is so strong that they finally came back. Hotels were the most impacted but it ended with something good because people perfected their service."

American food journalist Catherine Down, who has lived in Paris for six years, also felt the impact.

"I used to work in tourism. I used to give food tours. After the terrorist attacks, the company I was working for lost €15,000 [$16,928.00] overnight," she says.

Down said after the 2015 terror attacks she'd had articles canceled because editors told her "people aren't traveling to Paris."

But Down also acknowledges that the city will always be a popular destination -- and assures visitors they should still visit.

"Even though the perception of someone watching the news from far away is that this is an unsafe place to be, or there's all this chaos, for the most part it's still life as usual," she tells CNN Travel.

The Notre Dame fire is unlikely to deter visitors in the same way as other tragic events; indeed, as the city starts to rebuild, it could well attract more.

"I think that this latest tragedy will possibly attract more as people realize the fragility of these historic places," says Heidi Evans, a tour guide who runs the Women of Paris walking tours -- which spotlight women's role in Parisian history.

"If the crowds around Notre Dame today are anything to go by then seems like everyone wants a chance to see the wounded Lady," she adds.

However, the fire is still likely to have an affect on morale -- both good and bad.

As the fire burned on Monday, for many, it felt like a physical affront, says Down.

"Part of the role of a cathedral is to feel the presence of the sublime. People humanize it almost -- it's literally 'Notre Dame,' 'Our Lady,'" she says.

The cathedral is one of the City of Light's most famous symbols, attracting an estimated 13 million visitors a year.

Predating the Eiffel Tower by 500 years, it's seen upheaval and destruction during the French Revolution and survived the German occupation of the city during World War II. It was immortalized in literature in Victor Hugo's "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame."

"Watching Notre Dame burn was a huge shock," says Moreau. "It had never occurred to me that this wonderful, medieval piece of my childhood -- the center of Paris, the garden behind it where my grandma used to take me on my tricycle, the blossoming trees next to it, the pale golden stone, the view from the top of the tower -- could one day be gone.

"They have been there for centuries and I thought they would always be there. It feels like a broken thread, a great collective loss."

McSweeney's: Think Pieces Attempting To Define “Big Dick Energy” Or Joan Didion's Iconic Essay “On Self-Respect”?

by Catherine Down

Originally published on McSweeney’s

1. “It’s a self-assurance that radiates from deep within and can be felt for miles. It’s an energy that immediately shifts the dynamic of a room. It is not actively seeking out debauchery or pleasure, but having it gravitate toward you.”

2. “People with [it] exhibit a certain toughness, a kind of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues.”

3. “The complete security of not needing other people’s benchmarks — wealth, intelligence, beauty, or [it] — to know one’s own worth. Any suspicion of tryhard vibes kills [it], as does the kind of cockiness that speaks of insecurity.”

4. “People with [it] have the courage of their mistakes. They know the price of things. If they choose to commit adultery, they do not then go running, in an access of bad conscience, to receive absolution from the wronged parties; nor do they complain unduly of the unfairness, the undeserved embarrassment, of being named correspondent.”

5. “A discipline, a habit of mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.”

6. “Adam Driver has it, as did Carrie Fisher. It fuels Themyscira and her Amazons. Imperator Furiosa and Mad Max both have it. Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor wield it, as does Angela Merkel. So do Tilda Swinton, Cher, and Cate Blanchett. Johnny Cash had it, same with Prince and David Bowie. LeBron James, Serena Williams, and Katie Ledecky have it, too. If you look hard enough, it’s everywhere around you. So is its absence.”

7. “Although the careless, suicidal Julian English in Appointment in Samarra and the careless, incurably dishonest Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby seem equally improbable candidates for [it], Jordan Baker had it, Julian English did not.”

8. “The dismal fact is that [it] has nothing to do with the approval of others — who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation — which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O’Hara, is something that people with courage can do without.”

9. “Not everyone with [it] is well-dressed, but having [it] seems to be a prerequisite to being one of the best-dressed people in the world.”

10. “[It] cannot be planned nor can it be forced. It is a natural thing bestowed upon the chosen ones.”

11. “A quiet confidence and ease with oneself… It’s not cockiness, it’s not a power trip — it’s the opposite: a healthy, satisfied, low-key way you feel yourself.”

12. “They may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.”

13. “To assign unanswered letters their proper weight, to free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves — there lies the great, the singular power of [it]. Without it, one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home.”

14. “It doesn’t assert or draw attention to itself, it simply: is.”

- - -

Think Pieces Attempting to Define “Big Dick Energy”: 1369101114 
Joan Didion’s “On Self-Respect”: 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13

To see the original piece, click here.

Mary Gelato Reopens as Pastelli

by Catherine Down in

Good news in this sweaty weather: Mary Gelateria has reopened in the Marais as Pastelli. The first location of Mary Quarta's artisanal gelateria shuttered back in 2014, only to be reincarnated this past year with a new name and location near the Archives. The name might have changed, but the gelato is as excellent as ever.

Peach Bellini sorbetto 

Peach Bellini sorbetto 

Mary makes each batch fresh each day from all-natural ingredients without any dyes, artificial flavors, or additives. Her gelatos and sorbettos, like the refreshing peach Champagne Bellini scoop above, are pure and intensely flavored. You'll find an unusual (by Parisian standards) selection of flavors including golden kiwi, black sesame, or avocado, in addition to the classic chocolate, vanilla, and hazelnut flavors. Mary debuted on the scene in 2008 when she won the Cono d'Oro (Golden Cone) ice cream competition in Milan with her coffee gelato. She then opened her first shop in Paris along the rue Charles Dupetit-Thouars in 2009. 

Best of all, the warm welcome you receive from Mary herself hasn't changed a bit. She's still wearing pink eyeshadow and using pink scoops to serve with flair. At the new location near Rambuteau, she has a small lunch counter where she prepares hearty hot dishes like lasagna and gnocchi alongside her son's girlfriend.

Note: All of the gelatos/sorbets and even some of the lunch items are labeled as gluten-free for those with dietary restrictions.

Pastelli (Mary Gelato)

60 rue Du Temple, 75003

09 83 89 05 05

Metro: Rambuteau (11)

Open every day except Tuesday from 11am-9pm, although Mary says you can ever try stopping by on a Tuesday because she's often there.


For more on Mary/Pastelli:

  • Le Figaro lauds the new location for having "something to taste at every price!" 
  • Telerama was delighted by the "deliciously natural ice creams" and the "orgasmic hazelnut." 
  • David Lebovitz was a fan of the original spot which was "full of quirky charm: from the pink-handled gelato spades to the frappés (milkshakes) with your choice of flavors, I have a feeling each subsequent time that I go back, something is going to be different. I’m not sure what to expect, which is good, because that means she’s keeping things flexible."
  • Rachel Khoo declared it "one of the best gelaterias in town."

The Food Network: Perfectly Parisian: Where to Eat in the Capital of France

by Catherine Down

Originally published on The Food Network

Discover the best spots for fluffy souffles, buttery crepes, steak frites, croque monsieur and other enchanting eats in the City of Love.


Captivating Classics

Paris’ nickname, The City of Light, does not refer to its cuisine. But croque monsieur, escargots and steak frites — the hearty classic dishes that travelers dream of trying on native soil — can often be quite challenging to find done well in Paris. Classic French food has fallen out of favor with younger Parisians, who relish the novelty of foreign foods like bagels and barbecue. Thankfully, there's a crop of young chefs (and veterans) that continues to revive old-fashioned dishes for a modern audience. If you’re craving the kind of cooking that your imaginary French grandmother would make, this guide has you covered.


Fresh vegetables are used as decor at the Parisian branch of Israeli fast-casual restaurant Miznon: tomatoes in the window, cauliflower stacked above the stove and crates of broccoli next to your feet. Although the menu is not specifically vegetarian — it features spicy lamb meatballs, baked potatoes stuffed with chicken salad, and a boeuf bourguignon pita, among other carnivorous dishes — there are plenty of excellent options for vegetarians and vegans. Popular items include the whole roasted head of caramelized cauliflower with tahini and the ratatouille-stuffed pita topped with chopped green chiles and a hard-boiled egg. Lines are long, but these sandwiches are worth the wait.

Outdoor Dining

Tucked off Rue du Temple is a beautiful cobbled courtyard that houses both a dance studio and the lovely Grand Coeur restaurant. Be sure to sit outside on the large terrace, where diners hear strains of music and see the dancers in action; there are heat lamps in inclement weather. Grand Coeur, meaning “Big Heart,” is fine dining without any pretension but with, yes, plenty of heart. The seasonally driven menu, designed by Argentinian chef Mauro Colagreco of the Michelin-starred restaurant Mirazur in Menton, is a well-executed mix of classic dishes and more unusual pairings like seared foie gras served with a corn pancake and candied citrus, or a classic cod gratin enlivened by the unlikely addition of chayote.


Baker Benjamin Turquier wins prizes both for his pastries (first place in the Best Butter Croissant competition in 2015) and for his baguettes, which have landed in the top 10 in the Best Baguette in Paris competition three times. He owns two locations of Tout Autour du Pain just around the corner from one another, so if one happens to be closed, head down the street to the other. You’d be remiss not to get one of his award-winning croissants, but all the classic French offerings are superlative, including the chocolate eclairs and caramelized white chocolate bread. The sandwiches and salads also make for an easy and ideal picnic lunch.

For more, check out the full guide

Eater: Mastering the Art of French Dining

by Catherine Down

Check out the original article on Eater.

From childhood, the French are raised to appreciate the art of dining, and the many rituals that accompany it—even public school lunches include a cheese course. Part of the reason you’re traveling to France is, presumably, to tap into that gastronomic reverence. But knowing how to do it right is tricky, particularly if you don’t speak the language. Here’s everything you need to know about Parisian restaurant etiquette, including some helpful phrases. Do as the French do, and you’ll have a much better experience in Paris.

Say Bonjour, Always

Whether it’s at the post office, a boutique, or a fine dining restaurant, say bonjour to every single person you interact with. France is formal in this respect, and it’s considered rude if you don’t acknowledge and greet people. You can use bonjour in the evenings as well, but some people will switch over to bonsoir around 5pm. The only hard and fast rule? Don’t forget to say hello. A few pleasantries can go a long way naturally so don’t forget to say thank you with merci or bonne journée for have a good day or bonne soirée, if it’s evening.

Make Reservations...

For restaurants that accept reservations, reserve. Even a casual corner bistro can easily book up. It can be hard for diners to tell if a place requires reservations or not, so unless a restaurant specifically states on its website that it doesn’t accept them, assume you’ll need to book. How far in advance you’ll want to reserve depends on the restaurant. For hotspots like Septime or Frenchie, you should call or check online weeks ahead; for more casual dining, call a day, or even just a few hours, in advance. French restaurants close more often than American ones, so making a reservation is also a good way to find out if they’re open before you cross town.

Most reservations will require a phone call—restaurant websites in Paris are often just an address and a phone number. More often than not, you won’t be able to book online, and you’ll almost never be able to view the menu in advance. To phone in the reservation yourself, always begin with bonjour. If you’d like to reserve a table for two people on the 15th at 8 p.m., then the French phrase would be:

Je voudrais réserver une table (I would like to reserve a table)
pour deux personnes (for two people)
pour le quinze octobre (on the fifteenth of October)
à vingt heures. (at 20 o’clock.)

It’s important to use the 24-hour clock to avoid confusion, so remember to add twelve!

...And Keep Them.

If you make a reservation, honor it. Many restaurants in Paris do only one service a night, because the French like to linger. This means that for a small restaurant, a no-show can have real economic ramifications. If you must cancel, give as much notice as possible. (And definitely don’t double book: Tourists are becoming infamous for making multiple bookings at hotspots on opposite sides of town, then deciding at the last minute which one they’ll keep. This is poor form.)

Restaurants will want a phone number in order to confirm your reservation a day or two in advance—remember to give your country code, too. If you don’t pick up when they call to confirm, you may show up only to find that your reservation has been given away. If you’re worried about missing the call—or concerned about international roaming charges—be proactive and call the day beforehand yourself to confirm.

Know Which Days To Go...

Many restaurants and shops will shutter for the day on Sunday or Monday. Lots of travelers go wrong here by not planning accordingly. Take a look at your list of places to eat, and if any are open on Sunday and Monday, take advantage and visit them on those days.

...And Which Months

In August and, increasingly, the second half of July, Paris can be a ghost town. It often feels like the entire city has gone on vacation, with many restaurants closed for anywhere from 2–6 weeks. So if the goal of your visit is to eat your way across the city, consider visiting at a different time of year. The end of December, also popular with tourists, is a better bet, but can still be a little risky: Many restaurants close for Christmas and New Year’s, which are family holidays when most people cook at home. If you opt to eat out, you’ll most likely end up paying premium prices for fairly mediocre tasting menus. Rent an apartment with a kitchen instead, and shop in advance like the Parisians do.

Eat At The Right Time Of Day

Set eating hours are still firmly entrenched in French society. Lunch is generally served from 12:30 pm to 2:30 pm, and most restaurants will serve dinner from 8 pm to 10 pm. Some restaurants may open earlier for dinner to cater to an international clientele, but most French people won’t step foot outside a minute before. For meals outside those time frames, less formal options are a better bet. Wine bars tend to have more flexible hours, catering to patrons seeking a drink or a snack before or after their main meal; brasseries are open all day, with continuous service; and bakeries and patisseries are good options for late-afternoon snacks. It’s fine to sit in cafés for hours as well, although it’s good practice to pay rent for your table, so to speak, by buying a round of coffees or drinks every so often.

Give Up Some Control

In France, the customer is not always right; in fact, the customer is usually wrong. The chef is an artist welcoming you into his or her studio, not a sycophant eager to please your whims, and restaurant professionals in both the kitchen and the dining room take pride in their expertise. Enjoy the guidance of the talented team in charge.

Don’t Expect Too Many Accommodations

If you have dietary restrictions or food allergies, let the restaurant know about them when you book, as Parisian kitchens are cramped and frequently don’t have a lot of alternatives on hand. You’ll have a better meal—and the restaurant will be more accommodating—if they can plan ahead.

Order Like A Parisian

On French menus (cartes), the word entrées means starters, and main courses are called plats. This is often confusing to Americans, for whom an entrée is a main course. While Parisians might keep it simple when dining at home, when they go out to eat they tend to commit to the full three-course formule of entrée-plat-dessert. It’s frowned upon to order just two starters, or just a main course.

If you’re not hungry enough for a three-course meal (although remember, portions tend to be smaller here than at home), it’s better to head to a wine or tapas bar, where you don’t have to follow the standard formula. The options at wine bars range from ambitious, high-end food to rustic platters of charcuterie or cheese.

It’s perfectly acceptable to request tap water. If you go the bottled route, you can often end up spending more on water than you do wine. For tap water, ask for une carafe d’eau.

Don’t expect bread and butter as an automatic starter. Bread will often arrive with your main course, to sop up sauces. Unless you’re at a very high-end restaurant, it’s unlikely that your table setting will include a bread plate—the expectation is that you’ll put your bread directly on the table. This can feel strange at first, but you’ll get used to it.

Cheese, if offered, tends to come at the end of the meal, right before, or in place of, dessert. Sometimes you might encounter a fresh cheese like a burrata among the entrées, and at a wine bar you’re of course free to order cheese at any point.

Thanks to a relatively new French law, restaurants must now allow patrons to take their leftovers home, but it’s still not common custom. You might get some weird looks if you request a doggie bag.

Pay—And Tip—Like A Pro

In France, it’s considered rude to bring the bill (l’addition) before a customer has specifically requested it. Whether at a corner café or a fine-dining establishment, you’re allowed to linger for as long as you like. The only downside? When you’re ready to go, you may have to be a little assertive to catch your server’s eye.

The price of a meal in Paris includes service charges, so tips aren’t required—but they are appreciated. Most French people wouldn’t leave more than 5 percent, or 10 percent for very good service. There isn’t a tip line on a credit card bill, so be sure to have cash on hand.


Thursday No Bueno

by Catherine Down

From here on out, on days when I am feeling sad and need to be cheered up, I will think of the time that my sister tried to invite our friend Kenny from high school to host our sister's engagement party but she accidentally texted her plumber Kenny who, it turns out, was totally down for cohosting. Friend Kenny didn't know that he was hosting until he got the invitation with his name on it.


Meanwhile, my sister kept complaining to my father about how Kenny wasn't being helpful enough in party planning. True story, real life. 


Is the best part when my sister asserts that she's glad they're on the same page? Is it Thursday No Bueno? Probably the best part is that Kenny the Plumber stops responding once she asks him to look at private rooms.