Paris: Take a chance on a chanson performance
You don't have to be fluent in French to appreciate a performance of chanson, a catch-all term for lyric-driven songs. Even if you don't know all the words to these ballads, you'll get caught up in the cabaret-style performances of the catchy pop melodies. (For a sample, listen to this "chanson radio" stream at Last.fm.)
Chanson's heyday was in the 1950s and was famously performed by George Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Édith Piaf. But chanson is alive and still being played in Paris. Modern chanson is extremely literate and witty, and its performers really know how to work a room. You won't find its singers mumbling face-down into the mic—today's chansonniers are engaging, endearing, and hilarious.
The most vibrant center of Parisian chanson is Au Limonaire (18 Cité Bergère, 9th arrondissement). On a small street tucked behind the buzzing Grands Boulevards, the spot offers nightly shows with two or three different sets. It's usually standing-room only at this intimate club, unless you reserve a table for dinner before the show (011-33/1-45-23-33-33). The food is only passable, but the wine is decent and affordable—like a very drinkable bottle from Roussillon for only €15 ($19). Best of all, there's no cover charge for entry at Au Limonaire. A hat is passed at the end of the night for you to give something to the performers. Throw a ten-spot in and you've still enjoyed a very cheap and fun night out.
My first experience at Au Limonaire made quite an impression. I arrived with friends to catch the last song in a set by the duo who would later become Arlt. That one song was so good that we returned to hear them again the next night—an affordable luxury when entry is free. Following Arlt. (yes, the band's name has a period at the end) has exposed me to other great music in the same genre. The Festival Minimum (March 5-7) brings together local folk, lo-fi and modern chansonniers every year in a concert series at la Maroquinerie. If you're not in town at that time, you can still listen to the bands on the festival website.
For those who like the style but can't come close to understanding the lyrics, there's a young American who regularly performs her clever and comic songs in English. Playing her accordion and engaging her audience in the style of the great old chansonniers, Dana Boulé performs several times each month and usually for free. Check her website to find out about upcoming concerts and to hear recordings of some of her songs.
This weekend: Meet the mushers in Alaska's Iditarod
And we thought the weather in the Northeast was bad this week. On Saturday, 67 mushers will begin to compete in the Iditarod, Alaska's 1,131-mile dog-sled race, and temperatures during parts of the race could drop below zero. Brrr! The Iditarod, a tradition since 1973, starts in Anchorage and traverses snow-covered tundra and barren terrain before ending in Nome, a city on the Bering Sea. (Some checkpoints along the way include Finger Lake, Eagle Island, Elim, and White Mountain). Racers (and their teams of 16 dogs each) usually take between 10 and 14 days to finish the grueling race. Even though the winner gets a hero's welcome in Nome, the last to finish the race also gets an award—the Red Lantern. Longest time for the Red Lantern, ever? 32 days, 15 hours, 9 minutes, and 1 second. Ouch. View the mushers on Saturday at the Campbell Creek Science Center in Anchorage for free. The site is about 7 miles outside of downtown Anchorage, where the teams will take off, and provides free parking, restrooms, exhibits, and warm drinks. Follow the Iditarod virtually with the GPS Tracker for about $20.
The most beautiful airport in the world?
I had never heard of Samui Airport until I visited it last month during a trip to Samui, an island off the eastern coast of Thailand. It instantly became my favorite airport in the world. Here's why: • At the departure gates, free pies and fruit juices (blueberry, orange, or pineapple) are offered at a counter. And they were delicious! • The lounge is full of wicker chairs and couches with plush upholstery. • A children's playground lets kids unwind, but at a quiet remove from the other waiting passengers. • The airport takes advantage of the tropical weather by having an open-air design. Fresh-cut flowers decorate all sections. • Airy, modern, and superclean bathrooms. • An airline representative circulates through the departure lounge, pre-clearing passengers for departure and thus circumventing the need for lengthy waiting boarding lines. • Free Wi-Fi. • The TVs are silent, with closed-captioning. And they're tuned to sports news, not financial or political news. To quote another passenger I overheard, "This airport is so pretty, I'd spend the night here." EARLIER The world's best airports (with picks from our readers)
A hotel without borders in Linz, Austria
The honor of European Capital of Culture 2009 goes to Linz, which has obliged with a slew of cultural projects, including the Pixelhotel, whose rooms are scattered in six locations. (Linz is Austria's third largest city, right on the Danube and not far from the Czech border.) These Pixels make use of unconventional spaces while still providing conventional amenities like a minibar, a TV, daily cleaning service, and Internet access. A one-time cabinetmaker's workshop, Pixel im Hof transformed a freight elevator into a walk-in closet and installed a '60s vintage camping trailer—with the suggestion guests think of it as an adjunct living room. There's more of a true living room vibe at Pixel in der Textilpassage, which has throw pillows and multiple plush levels for lounging. Its elevated island connects with Nimmerland or "Neverland," a literally kid-size play room. (Adults, bow your heads!) Pixel in der Textilpassage shares a building with an art gallery, but it's one-upped by Pixel in der Galerie, an actual gallery whose owner, Simone Feichter, has outfitted it with specially designed angular furniture. Rates from €87 ($110) for all Pixels except Pixel am Wasser—a moored houseboat with three renovated cabins that go for €107 ($136) or more. Book by calling 011-43/0-650-743-79-53 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. RELATED Photos: Awesome Art Hotels The New Boutique Hostel Italy: The Town That Became a Hotel
How much is an airplane bathroom worth to you?
We've all become more or less resigned to paying airlines for services that until recently were free. Coughing up $15 or so to check a bag—any bag? Fine. Paying for in-flight food or a mighty power-nap sack? Fine again, maybe. But what about having to pay to use the bathroom? Everyone's favorite publicity-mad cheapskate carrier, Ryanair, has managed to do what it does best: Get people riled up. This time it's a proposal to start charging people £1 to get into the airplane bathroom—the plan would be to put coin slots on the doors. The chief executive, Michael O'Leary, billed this idea as a net gain for the world, saying that Ryanair's always looking for ways to "lower the cost of air travel to make it affordable and easier for all passengers to fly with us." Ryanair's marketing team did make the necessary backtrack, admitting that "Michael makes a lot of this stuff up as he goes along." Another employee, however, also made it clear that there's "no legal requirement for an aircraft to have a toilet on board." In other words, Ryanair could start charging for potty access if they really wanted to. And so that got us thinking. If airlines did start charging for bathroom access, what do you think a reasonable fee would be?