Paris SANDOW understands that a vacation isn't something to be consumed and forgotten. It's to be savored and, where possible, relived at home. The Santa Monica vocational counselor with the romantic first name had just returned from traveling in -- appropriately enough -- Paris, when he made a pleasing discovery.
"I found myself missing the European treats that I had been eating daily. Walking down Main Street in Santa Monica, I came upon a small shop called Chocolat. And when I stepped inside, I was magically transported back to Europe," Sandow says. As the proprietress wrapped his purchase like a gift in fancy paper, he mentioned that he missed Paris.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Le Petit Cafe -- A list of French restaurants in Thursday's Calendar Weekend section gave the wrong Web address for Le Petit Cafe in Santa Monica. The correct Web address is www.lepetitcafe.info.
"She took a step back, looked at me, and then said that she understood, that the city of Paris, to her, was more important than life itself."
It's the little things, like a shopkeeper's wistful memories, that can bring out the Francophile in ordinary people. It may be the distinctive lilt of Parisian French spoken by your cafe waitress. It could be a kind of gypsy jazz that drifts from the windows of a tiny club. Or perhaps it's the unmistakable musk and tang that waft from the open doorway of a cheese shop.
The surprise is when those indelible moments occur as you step into a cafe in downtown's Fashion District, or into a Belmont Shore jazz club or into a gourmet shop in Silver Lake. Throughout Southern California, nascent and die-hard Francophiles can at least momentarily re-create the atmosphere of France and its culture.
Today, as the French at home and abroad celebrate Bastille Day (known in France as "le 14 Juillet"), the Tricolore will be flying not just as a symbol of the French Revolution but also as a reminder of the widespread influence of French culture. The estimated 30,000 French natives who populate L.A. have re-created portions of their homeland here. They bring us their food, festivals (including a Bastille Day celebration at the George C. Page Museum gardens on Sunday) and an appreciation for small pleasures -- a fine wine, a fragrant lavender lotion, an elegant journal, a loyal dog.
Though several organizations, including the General Consulate of France, help disseminate information about the country and its culture here, the city lacks a central French neighborhood. There is no Little Paris or Frenchtown. Mention "Paris," and people in this town think "Hilton."
Instead, the region is dotted with isolated hubs that provide a constant but low-profile Gallic presence. A stretch of Robertson Boulevard may seem like a fashionable district in Paris. One of the boutiques is French apparel maker Agnes B., which last month celebrated the DVD release of "Heart of the Festival," a documentary on the Cannes Film Festival. And the stretch of Main Street that captivated Sandow also includes Paris 1900, whose Art Nouveau storefront hints at the lacy finery inside. On the west side of Main, Le Sanctuaire, a modern culinary supply store, is devoted to exceptional equipment, literature and ingredients.
Los Angeles is home to re-creations of idyllic French streets, shops and gardens that represent a romanticized ideal of France and its capital. Those places, such as the Two Rodeo shopping plaza in Beverly Hills and the Grove at the Farmers Market, look vaguely European, while their French-born Rodeo Drive neighbors at Christian Dior, Louis Vuitton and Celine aspire to an international standard of glamour that speaks of no particular nationality.
The native French in Los Angeles are, not surprisingly, a lot like natives from anywhere else. They want to dine at friendly and affordable places, shop at the local market and keep up on news from home to help maintain a connection to their nationality.
Naturally, that quest begins with food. Ask a French chef where he goes for a taste of France and he is likely to cite the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market for its fresh produce. Chefs also mention the Farmers Market at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. The open-air stalls, the quaint wood-slat shopping carts and the lively street scene remind chefs such as Jean Francois Meteigner (La Cachette) of how Europeans like to shop for food. One of the Farmers Market tenants is a French market and restaurant, Monsieur Marcel. The packed shop carries dozens of varieties of French olives, wines, cheeses, charcuterie and chocolates, and it hires French ex-pats who say they wouldn't work anywhere else.
Chefs regularly cite the authenticity of the tiny Angelique Cafe in downtown's Fashion District. Owners Florence and Bruno Herve-Commereuc offer breakfast and lunch menus featuring homemade charcuterie, pate, classic omelets and salads that appeal to a mix of fashionable sales representatives from the nearby California Market Center and also to tattooed downtown denizens.