Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Au Revoir Paris

In the Palais Royale
The Palais Royale is such a beautiful space.  This end of the garden has a sculptural installation with black and white striped posts of varying heights - and you know how I love black and white stripes!  Some of the posts are surrounded with a grate as they are over running water.  Quite cool.

These last days in Paris we wandered through some favorite neighborhoods and explored new areas.  The weather chilled out so we decided not to stand in line for an hour on Friday afternoon to view the Andrée Putman exhibit at the Ville de Hotel.  Rather we got there first thing on Saturday morning when there wasn't a crowd nor a wait.  The exhibit was beautiful and inspiring.
Andrée Putman
 Andrée Putman is the premier interior designer in France, the Coco Chanel of interior design, and yet she is so much more than that.  At 82 she looks marvelous and is still going strong!  All those black and white tiles we love - she's been using them for years. Boutique hotels - she did the first. Clean lines, stunningly simple designs, livable spaces, gorgeous furniture with unique detailing, contemporary clarity ahead of her time and in contrast to the over-the-top ornate and patterned luxe of other French designers.  Quite the role model!

Trip home was long and thankfully uneventful.  I watched movies the whole way and hardly cracked open my Kindle.  Must have been movie deprivation...  Happy to be in Minnesota for the holidays with lots of time to hang out with my children and grandchildren. 

I wish for you a holiday season filled with peace, love and lots of laughter!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Paris Play

At the Carnavalet
Couldn't resist amusing ourselves with the huge mirrors at the Musée Carnavalet.  As we wander through the beautiful rooms, I try to imagine what it must have been like to live there.  The lap of luxury for a few and huge amounts of work for the rest.  The many massive mirrors would reflect the candlelight and certainly make things brighter on those grey Paris days...

The beginning of logos

There was a Louis Vuitton show at the Carnavalet which (in spite of not being a particular fan of what I consider 'status' merchandise) we went to.  It was fascinating.  I now see where the term 'vanity case' comes from.  And it certainly fits with much of what the original Louis Vuitton does and the company is now doing but it's vanity faire for sure.

The first Louis Vuitton was a packer - he packed peoples trunks for them - and so he began to figure out designs that worked better to not only keep clothes neat but organized.  After living out of a suitcase for nearly a month I envied the labeled drawers for shoes, containers for toiletries and perfectly engineered slots for brushes or tools of any kind.  Silver, horn, ivory, brass, leather and other fine materials were crafted into brilliantly designed, beautiful containers for anything you could want to travel with, anywhere and anyway you wanted to go.  Obviously the folks who ordered and owned these pieces were not carrying them themselves.

My favorite was the 'Brazza' bed designed for the French explorer Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza.  Basically a camping cot (not especially comfortable looking) with chic red and white stripe cover (made extra long for Brazza's height) that folds into a trunk. 

Metro Chic?

Traveling by the Metro is efficient and life underground is always interesting.  I actually think the French stay slim from walking up and down all those stairs and tunnels.  You have music, food, accessories, pan-handling, momentary drama and here clothing (the first I'd seen).  Everything was 5 and 10 euros, cheap chic compared to the other prices I've encountered here.
Isobel being creative at Desigual
Chic clothing is in full force at Desigual, a Spanish company whose windows reminded Marcy and I of home (updated hippie stuff).  Loved the place with its loud music, bright colors, stacks of pattern on pattern and a tiny corner set aside to personalize whatever you buy with hand-stitching, paint or sequins.  Reminded me of a hand-painting gig I did for Daytons/nowMacys some years back.  Isobel was talented as well as gorgeous as she personalized our purchases.

Street chic
I've spotted some very chic women and men on Paris streets (not as many as you would think though bad fashion choices exist even here).  There seems to be a 'uniform' of sorts - faux or real fur/leather jacket, skinny jeans or little skirt and leggings and boots, high or low.  It's a look that is all over the window displays and all over the street.  I loved this young woman with her artfully ragged fishnets.
Coco doll
You can't visit Paris without at least looking in the windows of the original Chanel on the rue Cambon.  They are now sporting a white look, Lolita frocks with far too many ruffles for my taste, for Resort and/or Christmas/Holiday. What I liked best were the many Coco dolls, apparently not available in the stores...
Peaceful Paris outside our window
Returning 'home' in the evening with some delicious soup, bread and wine for supper is the end to a perfect day.  Maison Zen has a beautiful zen (of course) garden that is right outside our window providing a calm transition from the bustling streets of Paris.

Just two more days....  What to do?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunny Day

The sun was shining in Paris and on a Saturday too!  After days of grey and rain this is amazing, wonderful and appreciated.  We visited the Orangerie where viewing Monet's 'Les Nymphes' is a spiritual experience.  Nothing quite like diving into the depths of Giverny's water gardens and melting into the reflections of clouds and leaves.  Renewing on so many levels.
Our farewell dinner at Le Grand Colbert was quite grand.  It's the restaurant featured in 'As Good As It Gets' which plays non-stop in the washroom.  I ate far too much rich food and enjoyed every bite.  Couldn't wait to photo my tasty salmon rillettes - I had to eat most of it first and it was delicious!

Paris continues being appreciated.  That was the theme for today and of course there was much to appreciate and be grateful for - fine food, beautiful buildings, friendly French people, sweet treats and fun companions.  This really is as good as it gets!

Every day was packed with discovery and for me the week flew by.  Tonight the group met in the hotel bar for a light dinner and closure.  We shared our favorite experiences and laughed some more.  Tomorrow brings transition and change. 

Au revoir for now.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quelle Idée

Up and out bright (well, actually it's been quite grey in Paris) and early, we traveled with the crowds on the Metro yesterday morning to the Marie Claire Idées Expo.  Like all big convention centers, at Port de Versailles you walk blocks and wait in line. More fun though when its in Paris... And quite interesting to see what appeals to the French in the area of craft.  Grateful to be there early - by the time we were ready to leave you can see how crowded it got...  You couldn't get through the aisles in the scrap-booking section.

We did find a few cool items among the massive amounts of kits and stencils.  I loved this booth with its very French tags, boxes, strings and things.  My purchase here was a totally cool chicken wire 'lampshade' thing that you can see in this photo if you look very carefully above the guy's head (where Marcy's hand is).  It will probably be filled with my laundry for the suitcase ride home.

This is my other favorite booth - a very simple but effective display - with these marvelous magnetic pin creatures that you could use for closures, pins or buttons.  Tres chic! and very original.


Off now for another day of adventure in Paris.  What a wonderful life I have! 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Going With the Flow

What a fun group we have in Paris with us and what a grand time we are having together!  People move in and out of scheduled or spontaneous activities depending on their energy level and interest.  Choices flow smoothly and decisions show up bright eyed and sparkling like the Eiffel Tower last night.

We were hoping to go all the way to the top of the Eiffel Tower which is an amazing experience in the daytime and I was anticipating an awesome sight at night with the crescent moon up there...  For some reason the top level was closed but the view from the second level didn't disappoint.

For 360 degrees the panorama was stunning. The moon shone, the tower was sparkling (for 10 minutes on the hour, every hour), and the crowd seemed small once we arrived at the platform.  There I was, on the Eiffel Tower; looking out over the city of Paris; the sparkling Seine; a river of red lights on the streets; the Arc de Triomphe standing tall; Sacre Coeur crowning the hill; the Trocedero holding her arms wide; a soccer field with an ants game moving back and forth.  Magic certainly.

Magic is the operative word for this time here.
 The group likes to shop for fabric so we did some of that yesterday, finding some elegant and alluring pieces. 
Wendy scores!
At the end of the day (which sometimes feels more like a week given all we are doing) it feels great to sit down and have a cuppa something. Last night there was a martini in several of our cups...

À votre santé

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A Week in Paris With No Internet, Just Adventure and Rain

No internet connection in our wonderful apartment means we have to get creative (as the wifi at Starbucks in our neighborhood is not working) so we lugged the laptops up to the new Apple store by the Opera.  Situated in an old bank it is massive and impressive and as all Apple stores seem to be filled with customers (as few other store in Paris are).  We settled in on a bench at the bottom of the stairs in what could have been a bathhouse (given all the tiled surfaces) but now serves as the place to purchase Apple accoutrements.  This was much to the amusement of the mostly French folks and Apple techies going up and down, but several people kindly offered to take our photo...

Miserable weather in Paris can’t dampen the spirits but it sure soaks everything else. .  The kind of a chill damp rainy blowing blustery day that I would normally avoid going outside in at all...  But then Paris is not normal.  Paris is fabulous and exhausting, friendly and impersonal, warm and cold, stunningly beautiful or garbaged ugly, inviting and stand-offish all at the same time.  Probably not the ideal day for walking and getting lost but that is what we did.

As ‘une femme du certain age’ in Paris I am always looking for toilettes in Paris.  They are few and far between.  Parisian women obviously don’t drink much water - and where do all those espressos go? There are a few public spots on the street but I couldn’t help laughing when I turned the corner with my umbrella blowing inside out and spotted this!  Not much privacy but then the French are looser about natural tendencies than we are...  (An aside rant - Apple get hip!  How can a huge American company have a behoumouth store anywhere with no bathroom available for the customers?  Shame on you Mr. Jobs! No pun intended.)

Shop windows in Paris are always inspirational and we like to take lots of photos.  None of the stores will let you take photos inside but they can’t stop you if you are on the street although some will try.  Here’s an angry clerk who is reaching to turn the mannequin around.  My shutter was faster than her hand.

Finding bargains on the streets of Paris is always fun.  Here’s Marcy scarfing up some souvenirs (sorry I couldn’t resist the pun).  We love a bargain!

A Bientot!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fontainebleau and Friends

Marie Antoinette's Bed (although she never slept here...)
The French nobility seem to love excess - if this is good, more must be better - but sometimes more is just more. The lavishness of the rooms at the Chateau de Fountainebleau is so over the top that eventually the visual palette is numbed.  Pattern, pattern everywhere and not a space to think...  According to these kings and queens size does matter (except in the chairs which are tiny) and the chateau goes on and on and on.  From one ornate and brightly patterned room to another the eye is tantalized with gorgeous paintings, cabinets, fabrics, frescoes, friezes, tapestries (with surprisingly bright color still intact) sculptures, reliefs and multitudes of incredibly fashioned tassels, handles and other details.  It is the rare surface that is left unadorned.  

The inspiration comes in the absorption of the details and the beauty in the whole.  The richness of the colors, even in their faded glory, energizes.  The view from each window on the gardens, lakes and trees, calms.  Life is different in these room, grounds and spaces. Every room reverberates history, echoing the stories and narrative of those who lived there and passed through.

An ordinary person entering the space might feel intimidated and awed.  I guess that was the idea...

The best part was going with a French friend, wandering the maze of rooms together and hearing her take on the place.  She was embarrassed though when they shooed us out 15 minutes before closing time.  There they are, all the guards with their coats on, wanting to rush out the door exactly at 5PM and not a minute later.  No surprise, the strikes about raising the retirement age...

It makes a richer fuller experience when I am with friends and so I am really loving hanging out with Marcy, Martine and Claude.  Their English is amazing and their company full of life and love.  We are having la vie du Chateau for sure!

Here are Marcy and Claude at Claude's friends' restaurant Cote and Port.  Fabulous French food and truly delicious desserts.  So good  that we've eaten there two days in a row!  If you ever come to Pithiviers be sure to have lunch or coffee here.  Anne serves and her husband Stephan cooks.  Tres bien!

We also took a long walk with Rhum Rasin through the village of Yevres le Chatel.  This is the kind of French village that makes me want to move to France...
Martine and Marcy in Yevres le Chatel
The Chapel at Yevres le Chatel

Street in Yevres le Chatel
And since that is unlikely to happen I am enjoying the time I have here.

A bientot!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Ah France!

Back in France again and it is fun to be in a new spot exploring.  Marcy and I are visiting our copine (friend) Martine in Pithiviers.  Her dog, Rhum Rasin comes everywhere with us.

Yesterday we drove to the Loire Valley to see some of the Chateaus there.  We spent the most time touring le Chateau de Chenonceau on the river Cher (she's even famous here!).  Built (well, supervised anyway) by women it is literally on/over the river.  No doubt that is one reason for the immense fireplaces in all the rooms and the big tapestries on the walls.  Made it easy to go down and wash tho - and the views from all the rooms are stunning.

The Autumn colors are in full regalia here which is a bonus.  Fabulous and huge flower arrangements in every room are changed twice a week using flowers and plants grown on site which adds to the beauty.

We ate a delicious lunch with a lovely local wine at the Orangerie, strolled the grounds and the 16th century farm, viewed some of the Kings and Queens in the Wax Museum and purchased some postcards. 

Driving along the river we saw many houses that tunnel into the valley banks.  With windows only across the front, these ancient homes prove that everything old is new again - the ultimate in energy efficient housing.

Next was the Chateau de Chambord with a roof full of spires pricking the grey sky.  I cannot imagine what the architects' plans must look like but they certainly kept the local artisans at work for many years!

Pithiviers is famous for the cake that bears its name and so we feel obligated to find the best tasting one.  (Yes, the no sugar, no starch regime has gone 'au revoir' for awhile!)  The first from a local bakery was good but so far the best was homemade and served as (part of) the dessert at an outrageously fabulous dinner party we attended Monday night.  Three(!) kinds of homemade sherberts and cherry 'soup' from the host's own tree completed just the dessert portion of the feast.  I could hardly waddle to the car...

Shopping for cakes is so much fun!  I'll keep you posted if I find one better than the last...

Au Revoir for now.