early evening, pau hana time in Paris, and my husband and I were meeting a couple of French literati for a drink at Le Select, also known as the American cafe, on the Boulevard de Montparnasse. A book editor and a filmmaker, they’d been introduced to us via email by a mutual friend.
The filmmaker, wrapped in a chic sweater and scarf against the chill April wind, exclaimed with delight to hear we were from Honolulu. “Oh! But I love Hawaii; I lived on Maui once,” she said, and launched, to our dismay, into a cheesy imitation hula, wriggling her hips and waving her arms.
We later learned that such tourist stereotypes are commonly held among the French. “Total ignorance of Hawaii is so typical here,” said Vanessa Leilani Thill, a Paris native, hula dancer and concert promoter who spent childhood vacations with her mother in Honolulu. She was saddened, she said, when “Tiki Pop,” a 2014 exhibition at Paris’ Musee du Quai Branly, which specializes in indigenous art of Asia, Africa, Oceania and the Americas, presented Western fantasies and kitsch images of Polynesia while ignoring the region’s true culture and art.
IF YOU GO: PARIS
>> Getting there: Research all your options, from American to European airlines, some of which partner with one another so you can accrue or use miles. When we bought our tickets in February, 2 -1/2 months in advance, the best deal was to fly Hawaiian to Los Angeles, for $400, and then Air France direct to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport for about $700 each, round trip. It did involve long waits between flights, but the new international terminal at LAX has lots of charging stations and couches for stretching out.
>> Travel warning: Strict international size and weight limits (26.4 pounds) for carry-on luggage are assiduously enforced by Air France and some other carriers; our roller suitcases and laptop bags, which made it to Paris without penalty, were overweight and the suitcases had to be checked for a fee of 50 euros each. If you’re bringing omiyage and other souvenirs back from Paris, consolidate your heavier stuff in one checked bag.
>> Money: As of press time, the euro was worth about $1.17.
>> Where to stay: If you’re staying for at least a week, want to cook occasionally and have a bit of space to stretch out, rent an apartment through airbnb.com, vrbo.com or lodgis.com, a similar French service that our son and daughter-in-law used. Otherwise, cheap hotels abound in Paris; we recommend the Hotel Cluny Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter, the 5th arrondissement, near the Luxembourg Gardens. It’s 67-89 euros a night for a small but bright room with a nice, firm queen-size bed, closet, TV, cramped but clean private bath (big, generous towels compensate for sadly ineffective shower curtain) plus 7 euros for a breakfast of orange juice, cafe au lait or hot chocolate, a croissant and bread, butter and jam. It is at 8 Rue Victor Cousin, hotel-cluny.fr/?lang=en. Paris is laid out in a clockwise spiral of 20 arrondissements, or districts.
>> Shopping: If you plan to shop for French fashion, late June and early July are biannual sale times in Paris department stores and boutiques, so enjoy! A must accessory for women, winter and summer (the metro is air-conditioned) is the long, wind-around (and around) scarf. For summer, grab a lightweight cotton/rayon version for 5 euros at a street market or 24 euros in an Indian print at the city’s many exquisite Diwali boutiques. Also abundant are Comptoir des Cotoniers boutiques, which stock lightweight cotton and linen clothing for women and men and where my husband found a well-fitted cotton pair of pants? For young children and teenage girls, Petit Bateau carries soft, French-made cotton T-shirts in nautical stripes. Monoprix, the big, ubiquitous, reasonably priced department store, is great for men’s, women’s and children’s underwear and any incidentals you may have forgotten, like a rain slicker. It also has a basement supermarket offering “bio” (organic) foods, a good wine selection, and a pharmacy with some bargains, such as Weleda’s botanical skincare products, which cost a third less than in the U.S.
>> Note: Unless you’re desperate, don’t get bread or pastries here: go to a real boulangerie or patisserie. For some essentials, such as eyedrops, eardrops or contact lens solution, you must go to a pharmacy.
>> Warm-weather treats: Forget macarons (been there, done that) or standing on line in the heat for famed ice cream at Berthillon Glacier on the Ile St. Louis. Dip into one of the many Pierre Herme patisseries for their perfect, gilt-packaged ice cream sandwiches in “saveurs” (flavors) like this season’s pomegranate-and-strawberries Isfahan, or lilikoi with chocolate. If you’re a die-hard, they have many saveurs of macarons, too. And, you can order a dish of Berthillon in many restaurants and cafes.
>> Metro caution: In the metro, hold onto your used ticket until you’ve safely gone out the exit, or you may be pounced on by the metro police and fined 30 euros.
>> Restaurants: For cheap eating, you can’t go wrong with a croque monsieur or madame in a cafe; one step up is the good traditional French cooking at a restaurant like Polidor, 41 Rue Monsieur- le-Prince — go early to snare fresh coquilles St. Jacques (scallops) on the 35-euro menu; or the distinctive Vietnamese and Middle Eastern restaurants on the same road in the 6th arrondissement. My son and his wife treated us to the hip, elegant new Auguste restaurant, 54 Rue de Bourgogne, in the 7th arrondissement, where Chef Gael Orieux’ seven-course tasting menu of sustainable seafood was pure revelation (about 100 euros each). We treated them to Guy Savoy’s Les Bouquinistes, 53 Quai des Grands Augustins in the 6th arrondissement, about half the price and a hit with hearty servings of French-produced seasonal fish, meats, vegetables and desserts (in spring and summer, strawberries reign).
>> Entertainment: Paris is filled with live music, theater and dance, so take your pick. We heard New York jazz pianist Kirk Lightsey at the warm, welcoming Duc des Lombards club in the 1st arrondissement, and a classical solo piano concert in the nave of St. Julien le Pauvre, a partly ruined, charming church older than its glam 12th-century sister across the river, the cathedral of Notre Dame. Paris also has news kiosks on every corner, so grab the L’Officiel des Spectacles magazine to get listings of all the month’s happenings, or go online at offi.fr.
Determined to correct faux impressions, the nonprofit Association France-Hawai‘i created a Festival des Arts d’Hawai‘i, which ran in 2012 and 2014 and will take place in Paris for the third time from June 22-July 4.
The festival will be held throughout the city, from the tony 7th arrondissement, a visitor hub anchored by the Eiffel Tower, to other districts that lie off the tourist path. It’s a chance to experience lively, up-and-coming neighborhoods where younger and less affluent Parisians reside and clubs and galleries feature new music and art, and to meet and mingle with the natives.
“French people are really interested,” Thill said. “They already love surf and ukulele (Thill has brought Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Taimane to Paris), and at our festivals they’ve been marvel-struck by the authentic hula and mele.”
Festival des Arts d’Hawai‘i
The festival kicks off at 6 p.m. June 22 in the 19th arrondissement, La Villette, with a free program at the charming Pavillon des Canaux, a brightly painted mansion with a dining room and performance spaces. There will be a screening of the short film “A Hawaiian Princess in Hove,” about Princess Kaiulani in Britain, and photography and art shows, including an installation by fiber artist Marques Hanalei Marzan, who will come from Honolulu along with other local artists and scholars.
At 7 p.m., Halau Mele, led by kumu hula Mahealani Wong and Samuel Gon III, a scientist and teacher of oli, Hawaiian chant, will give a concert.
On June 23, those age 10 and older can take a 1-3/4 hour, stand-up paddling class on the nearby Canal de l’Ourcq. The French instructor, Jean Baptiste de Gon, will also lead SUP sessions on June 30.
Those too young to SUP can explore the vast, free-form Parc de la Villette, built in 1986 in the city’s former slaughterhouse district. At age 7, our son loved the interactive Explora exhibits at the park’s glass-and-steel Cite des Sciences et de l’Industrie and its Cite des Enfants for children.
At 3 p.m. on June 23, a show of Marzan’s art opens at Galerie Orenda in the 7th arrondissement, followed at 4 p.m. with hula by the Paris-based Halau Hula O Manoa, founded by Thill’s mother Kilohana Silve.
Hawaiian surfing will be celebrated at 7 p.m. on June 25 with a showing of the 2017 Waikiki documentary by John Clark and Ann Marie Kirk, and a talk by Jeremy Lemarie, author of “A History of Surfing: How Hawaii Flooded the World” (published in French).
Feeling sore from that long plane flight? On June 28, from 5:30-7 p.m., you can get a lomilomi massage, then learn about sacred and healing Hawaii native plants.
A cool alternative to a tourist-packed bateaux-mouche (sightseeing boat) on the Seine is Le Petit Bain, a converted houseboat anchored in the river in the 13th arrondissement.
On June 29, at 8 p.m., it will host a kanikapila with music, dance and a Hawaiian dinner prepared by Aloha Cafe, a coffee shop at 32 Rue Pierre Fontaine near the Opera Garnier. Poke was on the festival’s last menu, “so this year it’s lomi lomi salmon and huli huli chicken,” Thill said.
If you are feeling ono for poke in Paris, try Ono Poke, 167 Rue Saint-Jacques, not far from Le Petit Bain, or Aloha Cafe.
There’s much more going on at the Festival des Arts d’Hawai‘i than can be listed here: For a full schedule and directions, go to festivalartsdhawaii.com; online reservation required at email@example.com.