A Parisian in New York: “The City” Life on Parade and in the Cafés
For the first time I had the opportunity to visit with Leopard Films, the producers who create the House Hunters International shows for HGTV, the network. They’re the behind-the-scenes ‘factory’ for what you see on your screen and the people with whom I have worked all these years to create the TV shows so many of you have come to love.
The communication has been largely on email and phone with the crew since 2006 when we did my first episode, but never had the chance to meet face-to-face — only the ground crews they hire to film the episodes (camera person, director, sound engineer and fixer) who are free-lancers hired mostly from their London office. The people who manage, conceptualize, organize, coordinate, edit, etc., etc. (sorry I don’t know all the official titles for such professionals), are part of the team in the New York and London offices we ‘contributors’ rarely get to meet. This was an opportunity not to be missed.
While I get stopped on the street by fans of the show, sometimes in the craziest of places (here in New York at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on busy 5th Avenue and in Grand Central Station), it was overwhelming to be so warmly welcomed by the crew that has seen every episode intimately — witnessing every single detail including the many hours of footage that ended up on the ‘cutting room floor.’
The bottom line is that they want to do more France shows, particularly those involving renovation projects. If you are a North American (or other Anglophone) with sort of ‘partner in crime’ under the age of 50 (sometimes they do film older people), have begun a purchase and/or renovation project and would be willing to spend a few days over the course of a couple months filming a House Hunters International episode with me, do let me know all about it! If it sounds like they might go for it, I’ll pass it on to the producers and maybe you can star in an upcoming episode! Email me with your story at [email protected]
One taxi driver in “The City” told me while blabbing away about this and that, that he won’t drive on Saint Patrick’s Day because everyone on the streets is inebriated — they start early in the morning getting ‘drunk as skunks.’ I didn’t find that to be true, however — at least not from what I saw during the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade along Fifth Avenue Tuesday morning. Although there were plenty of greenly-dressed Irish (or not) sporting bottles of beer, there wasn’t any rowdiness.
“The New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade is our country’s oldest and proudest Irish tradition, marching for the first time more than 250 years ago, on March 17, 1762 — fourteen years before the Declaration of Independence.”
Drunk or not, it would be silly to miss it considering the opportunity. It parades down Fifth Avenue forever and ever, one uniformed group after another. I’ve never seen so many police in one place, in their blues, looking happy to be there. The crowd was cheering them on. Then there are the bagpipers in their Scottish kilts, the Army, the Navy, the Fire Department, the High Schools, etc., etc. that follow one after another for hours. Getting across Fifth Avenue to any other destination is the big challenge, but fortunately the police allowed for streams to cross at certain intervals. In this case, it was 51st Street, which enabled us to reach Grand Central Station on the East Side.
“Grand Central Station” has always been the ‘joke’ to describe any very busy place. It wouldn’t be unusual to say, for example, “There were so many people coming and going you might have thought this was Grand Central Station.” Other than taking a train to some point beyond “The City,” Grand Central is a wonderland of activity, including a Fresh Market, lots of shops and one of the city’s greatest restaurants: The Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant on the lower level. It’s become a regular meeting spot for some of my old, close New York resident friends.
I don’t choose to eat the oysters, since I’d rather have a Gulf of Mexico oyster in New Orleans than anywhere, but all three of us ordered the Foursome of Seafood Salads and it was perfect (see their menu). Every visitor to New York should make a point of stopping there just for the pleasure of the experience in one of “The City’s” oldest establishments — dating back to 1913. The tiled vaulted ceilings were common in its hay-day, but it’s famous for its “whispering gallery” by which someone standing in one corner can hear someone standing in the opposite corner perfectly no matter how softly they speak. (We did not test it out!)
Mostly I’ve been meeting with would-be property buyers to discuss the possibilities of investing in property in France. As is the habit to meet in cafés, I’ve discovered a couple of good meeting points in the West Village that have been regular haunts, like Café Charlot on rue de Bretagne. Starbucks at Sheridan Square/Christopher Street Station (72 Grove St, New York, NY) is my ‘office’ early in the morning, but it can be noisy, so Amy’s Bread at 250 Bleecker Street and Leroy Street is a better choice for a quiet meeting.
Café Minerva at 302 West 4th Street is particularly perfect — I love it’s floor-to ceiling windows that allow the space to be bathed in light and what my daughter calls “clean food” — healthy. While there are lots of great ‘eateries,’ “The City” is still lacking for café culture like we have in France. Sidewalk cafés, as we know them in Paris, spilling out onto the sidewalk in just about any form, simply can’t exist, thanks to “The City’s” regulations:
1. You are not permitted to operate a sidewalk café until you receive approval from the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA).
2. You are not permitted to operate unless you have personal and property liability insurance for the sidewalk café at all times.
A “sidewalk café” is a portion of a legal restaurant that operates on the public sidewalk.
There are three types:
1. Enclosed Café: An enclosed area on the public sidewalk in front of the restaurant that is constructed predominantly of light materials such as glass, plastic, or lightweight metal.
2. Unenclosed Café: An outdoor area on the public sidewalk in front of the restaurant that contains removable tables and chairs.
3. Small Unenclosed Café: An unenclosed sidewalk café containing no more than a single row of removable tables and chairs next to the building. The tables and chairs can occupy no more than 4 feet, 6 inches of the public sidewalk.
Read the rest of the regulations to understand how difficult it is for a New York café to mirror the café life we have in France.
I do miss it. It will be a pleasure to get back to Café Charlot, order up a “café crème” or “café allongé avec du lait” (American-style coffee with milk) and watch the world of Le Marais interact, debate, complain, do business, meet friends, or whatever it is they are doing in such a free-spirited atmosphere.
That’s tomorrow plan — back to Paris.
A la prochaine,
(photo by Erica Simone)