If you have been to Paris once or twice before, or even better if you live here, why not explore a little? Like every great city, Paris is full of hidden and not-so-hidden places. Here are a few Parisian spots with a foreign flavor. Dépaysement garanti!*
The Russian Orthodox church of Saint Serge is hidden away behind high walls just north of the Buttes-Chaumont park. The first time I went there, with a Russian Orthodox friend for Russian Christmas (which is two weeks later than ours, I believe), we went in the night and there was something magical about it. We walked in through a gate and were suddenly in a little village world where everyone greeted us in soft Russian. Someone gave us tall tapers and we walked uphill in a crowd of people carrying lit candles past little wooden houses to the church, which was brilliantly lit on the inside. No chairs-- everyone was standing. The priests in their long robes were carrying on the long, long service and the singing was beautiful. Gold everywhere. Incense wafted over our heads. After a while I started to feel faint. "No harm in leaving," said my friend. "Most people don't make it all the way through the Christmas service."
Another Russian church in Paris is Saint-Séraphin-de-Sarov, which I haven't visited but looks intriguing in the same way. The grandest Russian church here is Alexander Nevsky, where the Russian aristocrats still go. A lot of them fled to Paris after the Revolution.
The Mosquée de Paris
The Mosque of Paris was built for North African Muslims by the French government in gratitude for their loyal service against the Germans in World War I. At the time, much of North Africa was colonial French territory. The Mosque is a rampart against fundamentalist Islam and its rector is a well-known public figure, in favor of integration of Muslims into French society.
On the other side from the mosque entrance is the mosque's tea salon and hammam, both very popular among Parisians of all and no religions. The day I took this [above] was cold and rainy, but on nice days the terrace is full. The inside is very pretty too and you feel as if you are in Tunisia or Morocco. The pastries are delicious.
Jardins Albert Kahn
Albert Kahn, a well-traveled businessman of the 1800s, created a beautiful Japanese garden and "Japanese village" in Boulogne, a suburb at the southwest edge of Paris (if it were London, it would be part of the central city! You can get there on the métro). A French garden, English garden, and museum are on the site too. There used to be a tea salon-- apparently there will be one again soon.
The Swedish Circle (Cercle Suédois)
The Cercle Suédois is a private club for Swedes, Norwegians, and the occasional French person, but every Wednesday there is a jazz concert open to the public-- €10 and you get a glass of wine. Swedish appetizers are also available for another €10. You get a fabulous view of the Tuileries and Place de la Concorde along with your music.
It was meant to be a majestic Chinese commercial center, with a shopping mall full of Chinese stores, a hotel, and restaurants. But somehow it was built before its time, or badly managed, and aside from a grocery store and a lot of weddings in the picturesque courtyard [below], nothing much has happened there for a while.
Well, China has stood up! And Chinagora is being renovated, to reopen in 2013. A luxury hotel where every room overlooks the Seine or the garden, a gourmet Chinese restaurant (which Paris badly needs and is set to open this month), and a location for cultural events should be on the spot by next year. 加油!
Have you ever seen Scottish reels? They're a lot like square dances, with the difference that in Scotland, they're fun and everyone dances. There's one dance where the young men whirl around as fast as they can, with the girls between them flying out horizontally because they're going so fast. If you think you'd like to give it a whirl, try the Scots Kirk [Scottish church] in Paris. They have open dance nights every Friday from October to June. Warning: It's not as easy as it looks at first.
*You will feel as if you are in another country.