By Theadora Brack
It’s that most wonderful time of the year for shoppers in Paris. This year, “Les Soldes d’Eté” launch on Wednesday June 25. So in celebration, I’m not only updating my big summer sales tip sheet, but I’m also shining a bright spotlight on one of my favorite artists, Fifi Flowers.
Inspired by artists like Henri Matisse and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Fifi paints the City of Light in bright hues, bold strokes, and intricate curlicues. Possessing retro whimsy, her signature brand of wit and charm captures Paris’s shapely Art Nouveau street furniture, sleek black iron balustrades and manicured flowerbeds, along with cocktails, poodles, and scooter bikes—all girly, glamorous, and gussied-up to the nines in nifty, fifty shades of pink.
As Coco Chanel once said, “Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening!” Mais oui!
La Vie en Rose
Fifi is also a romance writer. Her Falling in Montmartre will make its debut in October 2014. “My books are a bit racy!” she says with a wink, and before giving the scoop, “The new book is part of a series called ‘Encounters.’ A book collector, Avril Claudette Paulson, has stumbled onto something more than an interesting book. She has stumbled on the cobblestones, and into the arms of the very handsome Parisian Emilé Zola Capet. Book shop owner Emilé has no problem coming to her rescue!”
Sigh. Now who hasn’t dreamed about being THERE before?
Dig her work? Then pop by her online shop. Original art and stationary are available. Through September 30, Fifi is generously offering us a 25 per cent discount. “Paris25” is the magic code! In the world of texts and emoticons, a little handwriting will feel good to the hand, spirit, or paramour!
Now, let’s get down to popping some discount tags. And get the printers cranking!
1. Prior to your trip
I highly recommend having a “quest” in mind, since visualization will help narrow your hunt while increasing your chances of finding the object of your desire. What’s missing from your closet? A trench coat? Ballet slippers? Both are timeless French classics, and quite souvenir-worthy.
Covet nautical wear? Who hasn’t been struck by the bold stripes of the traditional nautical shirts of Brittany? This look not only touched appealingly rugged-types like Picasso, Hemingway, and Gaultier, but also lured Jean Seberg, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn. Described by Hemingway as “very stiff and built for hard wear but softened by washings,” you’ll find beaucoup de Breton stripes throughout Paris.
2. Cents and Sensibility
Consider your basic shopping tool kit: water bottle, pre-cut moleskin, chocolate (for energy), gum, eye drops, Métro tickets, maps with targeted shops circled, and a few coins for WCs. And don’t forget an oversized bag for your treasures. Most French grocery store chains sell them for just a few cents. Lightweight and good-looking, they make perfect souvenirs, too.
3. Do your homework
After your arrival, while waiting for a taxi or before jumping on the RER train, pick up a few fashion magazines at Les boutiques Aéroports de Paris. You can’t miss their bright red signs. Getting you coming and going, there’s usually one located just outside of baggage.
Here’s a great way to find out what’s happening on the streets of Paris before actually hitting the cobblestones. Often magazines like Be, Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue include a free gift with purchase. I recently scored a scarf and cosmetics, along with a chic Édition Limitée Nuisette (nightie) by Princesse Tam Tam in a drop-dead burgundy. Talk about a win-sin.
4. Get smart
I spy. If time permits, visit your favorite shops just before the sale. Memorize the layout. Take note of “rack formations.” Also, try on clothing—you’ll avoid the lines later.
When should you pounce? In France, “smalls” fly out the door first, but “large” and “X-large” stick around a little longer. On the other hand, prices drop as the sales progress, so it’s a gamble. Know your European size numbers.
Tip for the road: Avoid the masses by shopping weekday mornings or early afternoons. My friend Véronique beats the crowds by scooting around by bike. “I’m able to visit at least twenty shops by 10 AM,” she boasts, while installing her new jumbo-sized basket just in time for the sale. Need a bike? Rent a ‘Vélib’!
5. Study the classics
I also recommend kicking off your hunt for garb around Paris’s centuries-old shopping districts like Place Vendôme, Avenue Montaigne, and Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré. Perfect for window-shopping, take note of what’s hot in the high-ticket vitrines, and then commit the designs to memory. Rest assured, you’ll be able to find similar styles in the more affordable “indy” boutiques and trendy chains.
However, if you’ve got the cash to splash, make it rain! If the shoe fits, dear Cendrillon, then I say wear it! Just hold on to your umbrella and necklace while making your entrance at Dior, all you Carrie Bradshaw wannabes.
6. Solid as a rock
Who says money can’t buy you love? Befriend the staff. Throughout the year, my friend Dominique drops off chocolates for the sales team at her favorite shops. Guess who hears about the bargains first? Don’t live in Paris full-time? Send thank-you notes after each visit.
Repeat business is highly valued and often rewarded with a “carte de fidélité” (fidelity card). Restaurants and shops give them out to their patrons as a way of saying thanks and “come again soon.”
Looking very much like a business card, each time you make a purchase, the card gets hand-stamped or punched, soon adding up to super discounts or delicious prizes! Didn’t receive one? Just ask. It will be taken as a compliment, and a signal that you’ll be back. (Tip: Often the cards don’t have expiration dates, and can be used for years.)
7. ”Un carnet, s’il vous plait!”
For the love of sanity, don’t buy your Métro tickets (good for both the bus and Metro) one or two at a time. Purchase a “carnet” (10-pack). With a thick stack of tickets in your hot little hand, you’ll not only save about €3 over the single-ticket price, but you’ll also be able to focus on more pressing matters, like shopping, museums, and most importantly, food!
Tip for the road: When grand touring, time is precious. However, it is possible to visit two fashion-related exhibitions, three historical monuments, four department stores, and five prime (and affordable) shopping districts—all on one day. It’s true! My eyes have seen the glory. What’s my secret? Get on the bus, Gus! Paris’s great mass transit system (a.k.a. the RATP) helps me feed my passion for bargain fashion, especially during big annual winter and summer sales.
For the mere price of a Métro ticket, you’ll not only cruise between the shopping havens with the greatest of ease, but also brag about your first scores of the day while the panorama of Paris rolls by en route to the next shopping district.
There are several shopping meccas long the “95” bus route, to cite just one example: rue de Rennes, rue de Rivoli, Carrousel du Louvre, Montmartre-Abbesses, the grand magasins along Boulevard Haussmann, and the neighborhood surrounding the Opéra. Dear Black Swans, the historic Répetto ballet shop is just a hop, skip and a pirouette from the old Opéra Garnier (of Phantom fame). Sometimes it is possible to have your historical cake and take-away bling, too.
8. Retro active
Vintage shops often reduce prices, too. You’ll find pockets of boutiques scattered through Montmartre (start at La Caverne à Fripes at 25, rue Houdon) and the Marais, where at Vintage Désir (32 rue des Rosiers) you’ll find a vast collection of striped shirts.
Also, don’t miss Paris’s 19th century shopping arcades (a.k.a. “dream houses”). Flooded with natural light, their narrow tiled halls are smartly dressed in glazed roofing, cast iron, mosaics, and marble pillar columns, along with sculptures and frescoes, giving a whiff of old-fashioned Parisian glamour. Hives of activity, here you’ll find art galleries, bookshops, antique stores, shoe cobblers, boutiques, cafés, and bars.
9. Don’t forget the obvious
Discount shops like Sympa in Montmartre and TATI on Boulevard Rochechouart take their already bargain basement prices to new lows. Sympa’s bargain bin shops (which were once dance halls and brothels that Pablo Picasso frequented during his “blue period”) are also where the famed terpsichorean, La Goulue (“The Glutton”), made her debut.
Now you can nab your own knickers in the very room where she once flashed her heart-embroidered bloomers so fetchingly at the absinthe quaffing crowds. “When I see my behind in these paintings, I find it quite beautiful!” La Goulue told Toulouse-Lautrec when she saw his drawings of her. Strike up the band!
10. Keep your cool
Pick a handful of boutiques and one or two shopping districts, or you’ll end up overwhelmed before the get-go. For instance, I focus on the Spanish marque, Zara, which slashes prices like almost no other store (I once scored almost 400 euros-worth for under 50 euros!).
My Personal Strategy
You’ll find clusters in busy shopping districts throughout the city. Boulevard Haussmann, for instance, has five Zara’s in a six-block radius. Two are inside Printemps and Galeries Lafayette, and one even has a view of the Opéra! Divine, yes, but their proximity also saves you time.
The Zara location in the Félix Potin building on rue de Rennes is a personal favorite because it usually serves as one of last stops for the chain’s closeout clothing sales. Also, the fair sight of the stunning Art Nouveau dome topping off the bargains inside is heaven. So gaze up, but do look both ways before crossing!
Now, let’s take a breather at the Moulin Rouge! For kicks, I’ve meshed Fifi’s works with some fine vintage art created by Marcel Vertès for designer Elsa Schiaparelli. Love IS in the air.
Clipping from Christian Dior: “In this machine age, which esteems convention and uniformity, fashion is the ultimate refuge of the human, the personal and the inimitable. Even the most outrageous innovations should be welcomed, if only because they shield us against the shabby and the humdrum!”
Or as “Schiap” used to say, “Buy only the best or the cheapest!”
Happy bargain hunting! And thank you, Fifi, for sharing your gorgeous work! Think pink.
Dig window-shopping in Paris? Check out our friend Paris Paul’s recent nod to Les Soldes d’Eté! Click here.
By Theadora Brack
Keeping on our tipsy toes, we’ve been spring cleaning here on Planet Bling like there’s no tomorrow. Next week we’ll be back on track with a fresh batch of tales about the City of Light. Fancy a swing by the Opéra Garnier? Step-by-step, I’m with you. For kicks, I’ll reveal a slew of newly-acquired tidbits about the historical palace, along with Sun King’s Ballet de l’Opéra de Paris and Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Black Swans, this pas de deux is for you.
Getting prepared: In the meantime, here’s a classic French cure for fatigued feet. Like delicious gossip, it’s a recipe worth repeating again and again. Let’s stop, beautify, and smell the roses with a green clay masque, shall we? Grab a pencil, wings, and your gauzy tutu, my fellow Sylphides. Here’s our shopping list. La vie en rose!
Half cup French green clay powder
Half cup water
2 drop rose or lavender oil
3 drops olive oil
In the Wings
Once these have been rounded up, crank up the ice machine and Claude Debussy’s bewitching L’après-midi d’un faune. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, the ballet made its Paris debut in May 1912. According to writer Joy Melville, Auguste Rodin wrote, “When the curtain rises to reveal Nijinsky reclining on the ground, one knee raised, the pipe at his lips, you would think him a statue; and nothing could be more striking than the impulse with which, at the climax, he lies face down on the secreted veil, kissing it and hugging it with passionate abandon.”
Ice cube, anyone? Next, trap a book and pour a tall glass of Pastis. Set aside. NOW proceed with the recipe. Blend ingredients and apply to feet. Cover with a plastic bag and wait 30 minutes. Elevate toes. Sip. Inhale. Listen to Debussy. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale. Chill thoroughly. Just chill it all, I say.
La Fée Verte: French green clay is quarried in the south of France. The color comes from iron oxides and decomposed (fossil) plants, mostly kelp, seaweed and algae, and is considered a mightily powerful external detoxifier. Pharmacies often carry the powder. I’ve spotted it online, too. Your friends and arch enemies will be green with envy. Meanwhile, you’ll be green with smug joy.
When Nijinsky was asked the secret to his airy, floating leaps, he would say only, “You have just to go up and then pause a little up there.” Happy Spring Fling!
By Theadora Brack
As promised, this week we’re going to shimmy back up to the hill of Montmartre, and pay homage to my favorite movie house in Paris, Cinema Studio 28. Don’t forget to pack your fancy duds, too, because we’ll also trek it back in time again with photographer Maurice Sapiro. Winding it back to the summer of 1956: While playing the trumpet with the 279th Army Band in France, Maurice documented the streets of Paris, deftly improvising with light and architectural texture like a jazz musician. Inspired by the Lumière Autochrome color film process, Maurice’s shots still snap, crackle and pop, much like the City of Light herself. In the words of John Milton, “Come and trip it as you go, on the light fantastic toe!” Step right up. Here’s your ticket!
Trekking to Paris? Why not take in a film? After all, cinema is as French as Camembert cheese. In fact, both date back to around the time of the Revolution. Moving pictures got their start in the 1790s when enterprising showman Étienne-Gaspard Robertson began charging admission to weird magic lantern horror shows he called phantasmagoria, projected on the walls of a crypt down under the ruins of the old Capuchin crypt near the Tuileries. Apparently, “the Great Robertson” also invented the zoom, the dolly shot, and the pan.
“I am only satisfied if my spectators, shivering and shuddering, raise their hands or cover their eyes out of fear of ghosts and devils dashing towards them; if even the most indiscreet among them run into the arms of a skeleton!” he said. Bonjour, Goosebumps!
Rolling, Rolling, Rolling
Now, movies as we know them today came along a century later, when the Lumière brothers patented perforated movie film and invented the cinematograph (which could not only shoot movies but develop and project them as well). In 1895 they held the first public screenings ever, at the Grand Café near the Paris Opéra. Later they invented color photo film too, but that’s whole other reel!
Time marches on: Dear fellow news junkies, we have the Pathé Brothers to thank for introducing the news reel to theaters in 1908. They also experimented with hand-colored film. Try watching their footage of Loïe Fuller’s “Serpentine Dance” without grabbing your very own bed sheets and giving it a whirl. I’ve tried but no can do.
Lights! Crepe! Action! Here’s the deal: On November 5, 1892, Marie-Louise Fuller (a.k.a. “the Priestess of Fire”) became an overnight sensation at the Folies Bergère after she performed her signature twirls while decked out in billowing Chinese silks, under rotating jewel-colored spotlights projected from above. Looking very much like a life-sized origami in motion, she transformed modern dance in one fell swoop. Like wild fire, word spread. A star was born. Soon the Grand Magasins du Louvre and Bon Marché were selling Loïe-inspired skirts, ties, and scarves. Enraptured by Paris’s “Electric, Salome,” even bars and cafés hopped on the fan wagon, and created flaming cocktails, donning the dancer’s name.
In 1900, the New York Times wrote: “Loïe Fuller’s inimitable fire dance is the boldest and most marvelous that has ever appeared in spectacular dancing in any epoch. Between the dream world and reality, inhabits the darkness with never-to-be-forgotten apparitions.” Or as one critic cooed, “She delivers dance from the high kicks and tutus!”
The Hills are Alive!
Now, let’s trot on over to Studio 28 at 10 Rue Tholozé. With just 170 seats and about ten screenings a week, it has earned a special place in the annals of cinema. Founded in 1928 (hence the name), it immediately carved a niche in history as the world’s first avant-garde art theater when it showed films by Abel Gance in “Polyvision,” a technique involving three synchronized projectors to show the first wide-screen movies.
Fast Forward: Two years later, Studio 28’s fame was secured when Salvador Dali and Luis Buñuel premiered one of the first surrealist films there: “L’Age d’Or” (The Golden Age). Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller went to see it, and afterwards Miller praised it as “pure cinema and nothing but cinema.” But an angry mob was apparently somewhat less impressed—upset by its sacrilegious symbolism, they attacked the theater, threw ink on the screen and destroyed an art display in the lobby that included works by Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Yves Tanguy, Joan Miró and Max Ernst (who starred in the film). After that, programming took a lighter approach when it introduced France to comedies by Ernest Lubitsch, the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, and Frank Capra.
Before you go
Today, Studio 28 provides a delightful experience while remaining relatively inexpensive compared to other Paris movie theaters. During July, it offers a special reduced-fare series featuring international classics along the lines of “Rebel Without a Cause”, “East of Eden”, “Roman Holiday”, and “Double Indemnity”, among others. The cinema offers a rare opportunity to experience films the way they were before the multiplex—it’s no wonder that Audrey Tautou’s “Amélie Poulain” headed to Studio 28 every Friday.
Also to note: Studio 28 maintains a rotating display of artwork, and showcases the hand- and footprints of famous actors and directors who have premiered films there.
Sweet Spot: A bar at the end of the lobby opens onto a small beer garden (enclosed in winter) where you can sit and have a drink or some snacks before the show. Once you’ve entered the auditorium, settle into your plush red seat, let your eyes adjust to the dark, and make sure you check out the old piano nearby. It last saw serious use when Charlie Chaplin showed his movies here. The large set of surrealist light fixtures in the same auditorium were created by artist and film director Jean Cocteau. Monsieur Cocteau called Studio 28 “a cinema of masterpieces and a masterpiece of a cinema.” I think you’ll agree.
Please note: Cinema Studio 28 is closed during the month of August.
Other favorite cinemas
La Pagode (57 rue de Babylone, 7th arrondissement), looks like a Japanese temple. It was built for the wife of the founder of Au Bon Marché, the oldest department store in the city.
Le Balzac (just off the Champs-Elysées at 1 rue Balzac) will make you feel like you’re on a steamship bound for a distant land, thanks to its porthole-and-riveted-steel-hatchways ocean liner decor.
At La Péniche Cinéma that particular aesthetic is carried even further, as the theater actually is a ship—well, a barge, anyway—docked at Parc de la Villette each winter, and then moored at La Villette canal basin all summer.
Le Grand Rex is by far the city’s largest and flashiest theater. Located at 1 boulevard Poissonnière (between Metros Grands Boulevards and Bonne Nouvelle), this humongous movie palace was erected in 1932 at the height of the Art Deco movement. It can seat audiences of 5,000.
Pinching from Henry Valentine Miller YET again: “Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.” Carpe diem!
Grab my hand. Let’s take a spin around Montmartre with Maurice Sapiro.
(Thank you, Maurice!)
By Theadora Brack
Today we’re going to swap our Belle Époque frothy petticoats for some pencil skirts and starched Peter Pan collars. Maybe put a few Chubby Checker 45s on the Hi-Fi, too. That’s right, twisting time is near, so grab the vintage cocktails and the gingham-lined picnic basket. Dear Mad Men fanatics, this tease is for you. Here’s the squeal: Next week, we’re going to take a joy ride back up the hill of Montmartre, and visit my pet movie house, Studio 28 Cinema, the only theater in the historic ’hood.
And that’s not all, Folks!
I’ll also introduce you to one of my favorite photographers in the world. Flashback to August, 1956: While playing the trumpet with the 279th Army Band in France, Maurice Sapiro hit the cobblestoned streets of Paris running, with camera in hand. Inspired by the Lumière Autochrome color film process, he documented the Paris cityscape with fervor, ardor and zeal, capturing her dramatic skies, sunsets and glittering lights like no other. It was a game changer. After I got him on the horn, he set the scene:
“I bought a Leica IIIF at the Army PX for $99. I’d start each day with a coffee and a croissant on the Champs Élysées. Within view of the Arc de Triomphe, I’d begin taking photos from my seat at the café. It’s a memory so strong, it seems like it was just yesterday, not 58 years ago. I fell in love with Camembert, wine, paintings and photography. At the Louvre, I decided that painting and photography would be a major part of the rest of my life. Even then, I knew nothing in the future could compare with Paris.”
Like the old French adage says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same!” The city continues to captivate. Ever since spending my teen summers hawking balloons beneath the “Mini-Me” Eiffel Tower replica at Kings Dominion amusement park in Virginia, I’ve been obsessed with France. It’s true. So join us next week for a spin around Montmartre. Meet me at Studio 28. I’ll buy the corn. We’ll spend more time with Monsieur Sapiro, too. So be there or be square!
Thanks for sharing your photographs, Maurice!
In the words of Draper , “Live like there’s no tomorrow, just in case there isn’t one.” Mais oui!
By Theadora Brack
Embracing ice skates, glitter, and sequins, this week, let’s glide on up to the Moulin Rouge, sitting pretty in the hills of Montmartre. That’s right. Get ready for some more time travel as smooth and exciting as a vintage Johnny Weir solid gold triple axel. He is still my hero. However, did you catch Yevgeny Plushenko shining like a diamond as he skated to the “Tango de Roxanne” from Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack (2001)? His quad toe / triple toe possessed mass appeal in my book. Love will lift us up where we belong! Indeed!
You will be missed, Monsieur.
Now, let’s grab soda pops at the nearby Monoprix, and commandeer a bench with a view of the centuries-old Moulin Rouge. Spirits are high and I’ve got a tale to spin. Lean in because it’s show-time.
A tale I often tell
“Life is beautiful; here comes the French Cancan!” artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec would shout out before the highly charged show within the Moulin Rouge’s pulsating walls. Built in 1889 by Charles Zidler and Joseph Oller (founder of the Nouveau Cirque—the first venue in Paris to offer the comfort of reclining seats!), the Moulin Rouge has remained the undisputed queen of cabaret dance halls and monarch of her neighborhood, Montmartre—where at one time as many as 30 windmills turned “as swiftly as the Parisians’ heads,” as one smitten Italian poet wrote.
Drunk in love
The eager crowd would rush the stage, forming a tight circle around the cancaneuses. Hemmed in by their aggressively courted fan base—sometimes six-deep—the dancers performed the quadrille naturaliste, always competing to see who could kick the highest with (but often without) pantaloons underneath their multiple layers of lacey petticoats, before climaxing with a final exuberant high split in mid-air!
Do an old-school dance
“Naked feet, and thighs, and arms, and breasts were being flung on me from bloody-red foam of translucent clothes,” wrote Andrey Bely in his 1906 letter to Alexander Blok about the “Tavern of Hell” at the Moulin Rouge, where lackeys dressed as devils, and dancers whirled demonically. Talk, talk about a show-stopper.
On the flip side
Dancer Jane Avril’s description of the scene reminded me of a poem or perhaps, perhaps my new spring wardrobe wish list: “The dancer’s skirts, some twelve metres in circumference, were of panels and frothy lace, as were the drawers. The effect of the black stockings against this snowy whiteness was to emphasize the shape of the legs.” Avril, Toulouse-Lautrec’s favorite red-haired muse, was the first to wear ruby red lipstick and vibrant-colored undergarments.
Here at the Moulin Rouge is also where the famed terpsichorean, La Goulue (the Glutton), another muse of Toulouse-Lautrec, made her debut. In Montmartre, she earned her moniker for swiping drinks and entrees from her audience while distracting them with her pantaloons and little pet goat.
“When I see my behind in these paintings, I find it quite beautiful!” she told Toulouse-Lautrec when she first saw his drawings of her.
Singer Yvette Guilbert wrote, “La Goulue, in black silk stockings, made the sixty yards of lace in her petticoats swirl and showed her drawers, with a heart coquettishly embroidered right in the middle of her little behind!” Toulouse-Lautrec mused, “When you saw her dance, you forgot her sins.”
Elephant Love Medley
Like the queen of Parisian sensuality, the early Moulin Rouge’s most remarkable feature was her derrière. Just on the other side of her main façade—in the secret garden that became not such a secret but an outdoor café during the summer months—stood an enormous stucco elephant. Originally constructed for the Exposition Universelle of 1889, any dandy with a franc to burn could climb a spiral staircase inside one of the elephant’s legs to the hollow belly of the beast to reach a small stage set adorned with red flags and banners. Sadly, when the Moulin Rouge was rebuilt after a fire in 1906, the elephant wasn’t called back for an encore; it mysteriously disappeared.
Le Strip Tease
The Cancan wasn’t the only dance born at the Moulin Rouge. Legend has it that on February 9, 1893, art students gathered at the music hall for their second annual Bal des Quat’z Arts. At midnight, an atelier model named Mona jumped up on a tabletop, and started removing her garments one by one, as she danced the Fandango, much to the sheer delight of her companions. Bump and grind, Le Strip Tease was born! However, it didn’t tickle everyone’s fancy.
Because haters are gonna hate: Mona was arrested, setting off a series of student protests in the Latin Quarter. After a bystander was fatally injured during one of the harrowing tumults, the government relented and apologized, setting Mona free. Like wildfire, word spread about the new craze, and soon other Paris music halls followed suit, adding a little “artistic nudity” to their repertoire of titillating skits.
Fast and Forward: In 1907, writer Colette caused a few commotions of her own when she shared an onstage kiss with the Marquise de Belbeuf at the Moulin Rouge during her Rêve d’Égypte” pantomime, and performed topless at the Folies-Bergère. In fact, she was one of the first to bare it all. “Boredom helps one make decisions,” Colette quipped. By the 1920s, prancing in the buff was the norm in most Paris clubs. Josephine Baker’s 1926 debut at the Folies-Bergère sealed the deal. Wearing only a banana skirt, black Kohl eyeliner by Helena Rubinstein, and a “smile to end all smiles,” a star was born. Yes, we have no bananas!
All that glitters
Despite many major and minor modifications and reconstructions through the years, the Moulin Rouge has steadily flourished. Today a single show may involve 1,000 costumes, 800 kilos of shoes, and 60 kilos of paste jewelry and glitter. The little “Red Mill’s” creaky wooden stage and plaster of Paris walls have seen the likes of Edith Piaf, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Yvette Guilbert (Madame Arthur), Mistinguett (Queen of the Music Hall), and Cab Calloway—just to name a few.
Star Power: Numerous movies have been made about the the historic music hall, including John Huston’s 1952 Moulin Rouge (starring José Ferrer and Zsa-Zsa Gabor), Réne Clair’s 1925 Fantôme du Moulin Rouge, Ewald André Dupont’s 1928 Moulin Rouge, Jean Renoir’s 1954 Le French Cancan, and Baz Luhrmann’s particularly exuberant 2001 Moulin Rouge, with Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman.
Scrubbed clean and almost family friendly but not to everyone’s liking!
In 1950, remorseful co-founder Charles Zidler wrote, “I liked the Moulin Rouge as she was, lighthearted and hot-blooded, a little strumpet who thought only of tonight. Now she is grown up and knows better. She has money in her stocking, wears corsets, and never drinks a drop too much. Worst of all, she never sees her old friends anymore. She has gone into society!”
Clipping from Colette, “Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”
By Theadora Brack
Chim chim-in-ey! Chim, chim, chérie! Get your glad rags and wiggle on, jazz babies and pêcheurs de lune! With the discerning eyeball of a dandy and the goddess Fortuna statue neatly tucked in our pocket, let’s swing by the Clignancourt Flea Market (Marché aux puces de Saint-Ouen) for some old-fashioned, toe-tapping, bodice-ripping window-shopping, shall we? Get to picking!
Flashback: In the 19th century, the infamous “rag and bone men” (forerunners of today’s “dumpster divers”) kicked-off the big flea frenzy. Trekking to Paris? Get thee there. Clignancourt’s eclectic palace-worthy collection continues to charm. In fact, the bustling centuries-old market had a cameo in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” Confession: Yes, the movie was a tad hokey pokey in places, but I fell gladly for it. Fantasizing about time travel always makes my heart swell. Larger than life, Yves Heck as Cole Porter was simply divine. Paris, you DO do something to me.
Meet me at the Square Django Reinhardt at rue René Binet and Porte de Clignancourt (Métro Porte de Clignancourt). Recently the mayor of Paris honored the late, great musician by renaming the square for him. Reinhardt lived there with his family when they moved to Paris from Belgium shortly after the “Grande Guerre” (a.k.a. World War I). Each weekend, the site is home to a gathering of stalls and booths that form an “offsite” market along the approach to Clingnancourt itself.
To reach the main flea market: Walk beyond Square Django Reinhardt and head underneath the big underpass just down the street. At 122 rue de Rossiers a block or two into the real market, you’ll find La Chope des Puces, with live music, a spirited bar, and an impressive Django Reinhardt shrine surrounding the big performance space in the rear. Guitar aficionados will find many a wonderful instrument to drool over!
WWJCD? (What would Julia Child do?)
Back in the day, here at Clignancourt is where Julia Child purchased her first antique mortar and pestle after she moved to Paris. “The mortar was made of dark-gray marble, and was about the size and weight of a baptismal font,” she wrote. “One look at it, and I knew there was no question: I just had to have that set.” That very mortar and pestle, along with other kitchenware she brought back from France are now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. “Everything has a history,” as Julia would say. I agree!
Who else found inspiration at Clingnancourt? Elsa Schiaparelli, André Breton, Pablo Picasso, Christian Dior, Christain Bérard, Yves Saint Laurent, Andy Warhol, and Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel—just to name a few. According to writer Laure Verchère, Coco coolly quipped, “When I go to the flea market, everyone says hello to me. They come and kiss me. I let them. It doesn’t cost a thing.”
Keeping it Real: I’m not going to lie to you. Finding bargain deals at Clignancourt is not easy-breezy. It takes the curiosity and patience of a cat, and more than a few shots of soda pop for courage. That said, once every blue moon, I do manage to pounce on a few affordable treasures. Grab a ballpoint pen. Here are a few of my favorite hunting grounds.
1. Daniel et Lili (Marché Vernaison)
Clipping from my grandmother, “Diamonds are for the birds!” I agree. Rhinestones and Bakelite have always been this girl’s best friend. Here at the Daniel et Lili shop, you’ll find brooches, buttons, bangles, beads, barrettes, bags, flowers, hankies, illustrations, and key chains. Oh, we’re plastic but we still have fun!
Tip: Throughout the Marché Vernaison, you’ll find more vintage finery, fragrance bottles, and magazines, along with the cozy Chez Louisette. Flaunting a retro-vibe, the café serves food and live music on Sunday afternoons. Pass the hat! Edith Piaf is often on the playlist. Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien!
2. Caveyron Devey (Le Passage)
Whenever I misplace my Superpower, I make a beeline to my favorite vintage postcard shop, the Caveyron Devey. It kicks the blues to the curb every time. Looking for a specific category? Don’t play coy. If it’s a rainy or chilly day, wear warm attire, because the stall is open to the breezes and sometimes damp. Also, if offered a seat at the house table to flip through a box, take them up on it. You’ll look like a serious aficionado and your toes will thank you. Tip: Chez Sarah’s antique garb is located just a nip, tuck, and pose away.
3. La librairie de l’Avenue (31 Rue Lécuyer)
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Here the angels sing on high from a little CD player located just below the cashier’s desk. The sweet smell of coffee and frankincense tickles the nose. This large, but still intimate bookshop is well stocked with new and used art books, catalogues, vintage prints and antique magazines, organized by category, author or genre. My recent steals include a short stack of “Elle” magazines from the 1950s, along with a 1920 “Bon Marché” catalogs for just a few euros. Pleased as punch, I’m still aglow.
Embracing André Breton, “The marvelous is always beautiful, anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful.” Now, let’s shop ’til we drop!
By Theadora Brack
Dear friends, Romans, and fellow window-shoppers, I am back behind the old chariot wheel. Delayed and waylaid by la grippe or Roman Fever (Daisy Miller, the Colosseum was lovely at midnight!), but fret not—I am now good to go. So lend me your pointy cat ears and dark glasses! Blame it on the festive holidays, but I’ve suddenly got a strong hankering for some ritzy, glitzy window-shopping in Rome along the straight-as-an-arrow Via del Corso (my new favorite shopping ’hood). Let it glow, let it glow, let it glow. Giddy-up!
Here’s the scoop: Named for the Berber riderless horse races that took place here during the Roman Carnevale, the historic thoroughfare connects the northern spectacular entrance gate, Porta del Popolo to the center hub, the Piazza Venezia (at the base of the Capitoline Hill). After a few spectators were killed during the 1800s, King Victor Emmanuel II put his hoof down and banned the games. Heads-up: The hustling, bustling shopping area is still a prime promenading, people-watching hot spot, so look both ways before dashing. Distractions abound!
Tip: Between 5 PM to 7 PM, the northern section of the stretch becomes a pedestrian-only (almost!) zone, but still watch out for the occasional bus or taxi. Also, both the Spanish Steps (Piazza di Spagna) and the Trevi Fountain are just a hop, skip, and a jump away. Shopping and monument hopping during the big winter sales (through February 14, 2014) just got easier! During the holidays, lights twinkle like bright stars against the brilliantly painted shop façades, bathing pedestrians and creating an illusion of a soft rainbow sea.
It is easy being green
More Scoop: I didn’t find a pot of gold, but I didn’t need one. Zara’s brand-spanking-new, planet-friendly flagship at Via del Corso 189 wooed me like a siren. And I’ve got the pencil skirt and ankle booties—in black, and on sale—to prove it. I tumbled flat.
Housed in the former 1880s La Rinascente department store, the five-level atrium flaunts mirrors, massive white columns, and floor-to-ceiling vertical wires. I felt as though I was popping tags in a Justin Timberlake light show, bringing sexy all the way back. Designed by Duccio Grassi Architects, the eco-glam shop consumes 30% less energy and 80% less water than comparable other shops. And that news alone almost made my heady transactions guilt-free.
If the suit, tie, and carbon footprints fit, own it!
And squeaking of high energy: I’ll also throw in a few photographs taken with the Vestal Virgins in the Forum, at the Vatican, and at the Centrale Montemartini Museum. The Montemartini is a new fave–housed in a classic 1932 electric power plant, here you’ll be able to get all up-close and “Olympian calm” with 400 ancient gods and goddesses. Left, right, and center, the white marble collection of curvaceous and delicate torsos, busts, and heads contrasts surreally with the hulking cast iron turbines, diesel engines, and steam boilers like something out of H.G. Wells or Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Flaunting a weird futuristic vibe, the juxtaposition is both seamless and titillating. Trekking to Rome? Don’t miss it.
Cause when we kiss, Fire
Tip: After visiting the Montemartini, I highly recommend hoofing it on over to the nearby Cimitero acattolico di Roma (a.k.a., the Protestant Cemetery), nestled behind the Pyramid of Cestius and the city’s ancient Aurelian wall. Back in the day, Oscar Wilde called the cemetery the “Holiest place in Rome.” A perfect place for smouldering reflection on our mad, mad world.
Here I recently spent a luminous hour with John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Tears were shed. On this bewitching night—there was nary a soul in sight. It was dusk and the swooning was easy. With a neighborhood cat napping at my feet, I read out loud in a low whisper one of my favorite passages from Keats’s “Endymion” again and again.
“Now a soft kiss—Aye, by that kiss,
I vow an endless bliss,
An immortality of passion’s thine: Ere long I will exalt thee to the shine
Of heaven ambrosial; and we will shade
Ourselves whole summers by a river glade;
And I will tell thee stories of the sky,
And breathe thee whispers of its minstrelsy.”
Yes. A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever. Happy New Year! (Thank you, Bradley Corbett! I love my new header!) Obsessed with Rome? Check out our chum Tin Man’s field report here! Grab a hankie. His photography is gorgeous. No surprises here!
Now let’s get to prancing!
By Theadora Brack
Calling all Pixies and Saints: Grab three coins, see, because I’ve got the fountain. Our Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign. If you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead compartment, I do say with relish. During the festive month of Dicembre, let’s celebrate La Dolce Vita behind the great walls of the Eternal City, shall we?
By all means, in preparation, let’s clip more and more and MORE from Billy Wyler’s “Roman Holiday” trailer (1953). Repeat after me: There’s a new holiday on your calendar, so let your hair down not promises, and prepare for the greatest gay and giddy spree a girl ever had lived, loved, or filmed in Rome.
Stop. Wait. Was that Gregory Peck, Marcello Vincenzo Domenico Mastroianni, or Cleopatra’s main squeeze Mark Antony (we’re talking B.C. not J.Lo!). Never a mess, I am hooked. Love in the ruins. I am lost in time travel.
Pinching from the always “radiant as a royal moonlight” Audrey Hepburn’s character, Princess Ann, in the award-winning “Roman Holiday” flick, “Rome. I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.”
I will, too. Let’s roll the teaser! Lights! Camera! Action!
By Theadora Brack
In the words of the late, great songwriter, Theodora Morse, “Hail! Hail! The gang’s all here!” This week, let’s salute music and Remembrance Day. Up my sleeve, I have a few favorite patriotic music sheets, recently scored at the flea markets. We’ll also pay homage to the Tin Pan Alley music publishers, songwriters, and artists. So strike up the band!
Trekking to Paris?
Don’t miss the Cathédrale Notre Dame’s great organ. Earlier this year, after an intensive and much needed 10-month supreme makeover, the organ kicked-off the festivities for the cathedral’s recent 850th anniversary. Music to my ears. Listen: All 8,000 pipes (some dating back to the 18th century) were individually cleaned, and a new electronic panel with five cascading keyboards and some 200 stops were installed. Boom. Boom. Boom. Can you hear me now?
The Bells of Notre Dame
Calling Quasimodo! Meet your new bells: Jean-Marie, Maurice, Benoit-Joseph, Steven, Marcel, Dennis, Anne-Geneviève and Gabriel, along with six-ton Marie. Using medieval techniques, they were cast at the Cornille Havard Bell Foundry in Normandy. (Marie was made in the Netherlands.) As part of cathedral’s birthday fête, the shiny newbies replaced Napoleon’s 19th century bells: Angélique-Françoise, Antoinette-Charlotte, Hyacinthe-Jeanne and Denise-David.
“Bells are like human beings. They live and, one day, they fade,” said one of the “campanologues” (bell experts) involved. Sunny side: The oldest Bourbon bell (13-ton Emmanuel) survived the French Revolution and the recent turnover. Without fail, since 1856, the bells of Notre Dame have rung every 15 minutes. They also rang to mark the end of World War I and the liberation of Paris in 1944.
Clipping from The New York Times in 1875: The people in the abbeys, cities, towns, and hamlets loved their bells and listened to them on holidays, as people nowadays listen to an opera. They could understand the language of the bells in its many cadences; and when the clanging was heard as a war-alarm, they were stirred as with the sound of a trumpet, and could feel something like Victor Hugo’s Quasimodo, the Hunchback who falls into such a frenzy among the clanging monsters in the belfry of Notre Dame.
People were always willing to fight for their bells, and just as ready to seize those of other people in their military excursions. Bells played high parts in war as well as peace. When the King of France came to attack Millau, in its days of burgher independence, the Archbishop of the city cried out: “Let him sound his trumpets! I will ring my bells!”
The Music Man
Leo Feist would have agreed with the Archbishop! “There isn’t anything in the world that will raise a soldier’s spirits like a good, catchy marching tune,” wrote the music publisher. “Music Will Win The War!” was his mantra. Yes, Feist wore his flag on his “sheets.”
Winding it back: During “La Grande Guerre” (a.k.a. La Première Guerre Mondiale, or World War I), Feist published a pocket-sized “Songs the Soldiers and Sailors Sing” for the masses. At fifteen cents a pop, the 80-page collection was affordable, patriotic, and catchy. It included now-famous titles like “K-K-Katy,” “Over There,” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.” The booklets, along with individual song sheets, were sold in five-and-dimes and department stores. Folks were encouraged to sing the patriotic songs at home, in theaters, and at Liberty Bond rallies.
In full-page advertisements, Feist sounded his trumpet and bells like no other: Our boys on the fields of France, our sailors on the big, gray sea-fighters, and the boys in our training-camps are singing them! The whole country is singing them and dancing to their inspiring melodies! Being sung to tremendous applause in thousands of theatres throughout the land! Try over the choruses and you will know why. Don’t wait until you hear everybody singing them—get copies of all four of these songs now and be the first to sing them. They can’t stop our singing army!
Interested in Notre Dame’s bells? Grab your cloche hat and follow this link to our chum Paris Paul Prescott’s “Paris by Cellphone” site! Then, stop by his new site: “Our Ladies: The Churches and Miracles of Paris.” Paul’s photographs are gorgeous!
By Theadora Brack
Blame it on the falling autumn leaves, but now I’ve got a strong hankering for a little Magical Mystery stroll. Let’s crack open my slim, leather-bound volume of spirited adventures in Paris for another retelling, see. Here are my favorite sacred grounds. Grab the bottle of Suze while I fluff the pillows. Pinching from Edith Piaf: “Tou qui m’aimais! Moi qui t’aimais!” Get closer.
1. Eiffel Tower
The Eiffel Tower is a virtual magnet for suicides. From the get-go, folks have been jumping off it like there’s no tomorrow. In fact, it’s one of the most popular spots to commit suicide in all of Europe. She may not have been the first to say it, but perhaps she was the most memorable: “So sorry to rain on your parade,” Princess Anna Troubetzkoy shouted, as she fell from the top on Bastille Day in July 1931. At first it was ruled accidental, but then a farewell note was found in her bag.
Back in May: Anna had married a certain Prince Sergei in New York. They kicked off their European honeymoon in June and were set to renew their four-month vows in August when they reached Russia. So what happened? Was she already envisioning endless crash diets and yet another round of dress fittings? (Heck, we’ve all been there!) Nobody knows for sure, but obviously something had already gone astray between the lovebirds to make her decide to fly the coop so dramatically.
2. Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne
Trekking to Paris? Grab my hand. I’ve got the place for you. Located in the Latin Quarter near the Université de la Sorbonne and Panthéon, the Hôtel Cluny Sorbonne has always attracted starving poets and Lonely Hearts, too. Here La Vie de Bohème can still be found in its coveted reflection-inducing garret rooms.
Poet on Fire
In fact, in room 62 is where visionary poet Arthur Rimbaud composed the ultimate break-up, “he’s just not into you” opus, upon his fiery return to Paris in 1872.
And speaking of another Rimbaud poem, “Eternité,” do keep a watch for spirits. The hotel is rumored to be flush with glowing literary orbs. Experiencing writer’s block? Perhaps one will lend a guiding hand. Just bask.
“I have stretched ropes from bell-tower to bell-tower; garlands from window to window; chains of gold from star to star, and I dance!” Arty brilliantly penned. Sigh.
3. Notre Dame
A young woman known only by the initials “M.J.” appeared at the cathedral on a cold and rainy October day in 1882, begging to climb the tower. She was refused, because back in the day, women weren’t allowed to ascend without a chaperone.
So what to do? She quickly spotted an elderly lady who was also touring the church and decided to make fast friends. After buying her breakfast at a nearby café, M.J. asked the lady to tour the tower with her. She agreed and they headed back to the church.
By the time the pair reached the upper parapets, rain had begun to pour. While the elderly woman sheltered in the bell-ringer’s room, the M.J. screamed and apparently jumped. According to witnesses, she fell onto the spiked railings below and was neatly severed in two. No identification was found in her bag, but her kerchief was marked with the initials “M.J.”
Poof: As for the old lady who agreed to escort her, she seems to have disappeared into thin air too. If you happen to visit Notre Dame, keep one eye peeled for either one—they’ve both been seen flitting between the gargoyles.
Pack the opera glasses, I say. Do let us know if you spot them!
4. Arc de Triomphe
Almost immediately after it was completed, people began heaving themselves off the Arc de Triomphe’s rooftop parapet, after climbing all 284 steps to get there. (Did they not spot the gift shop?) Occasionally a skirt would tangle and catch on a cornice, leaving the poor women dangling a few long moments above the horrified crowds below, before the seams would give way and they’d plunge to their deaths.
Figuring out which police station to contact after one of these unfortunate incidents has always been a major source of confusion because the monument sits at the juncture of four arrondissements and they’ve never clearly settled whether it’s the departure spot or the point of arrival (i.e., the sidewalk) that should be the determining factor in establishing proper jurisdiction.
Atop the Arc, look out for a particular spirit named Rose. After quarreling with her beau on Bastille Day in 1914, Rose jumped, narrowly missing throngs of tourists in her tumble. Our hobble-skirt clad fashionista was “dressed expensively and well,” according to the newspaper report.
Just what is it about Bastille Day that drives folks to make the leap? Is it uniforms or the martial music?
5. Pont-de l’Alma, Princess Di
Just outside the Pont de l’Alma Métro station is the “Flamme de la Liberté” memorial, which now serves double duty as the unofficial Princess Di shrine. Pilgrims still leave poems, flowers, and love letters there.
According to my friend Ghislaine, who worked on two documentary films about the crash that killed her, “There are definitely ghosts in the Alma tunnel. After many nights spent filming there, I can tell you it’s eerie. It was if Diana’s ghost was trying to urge us to find the truth. And I was certainly not the only one to feel this.”
On May 3, 1987, Yolanda Gigliotti, better known as pop idol Dalida, took a handful of pills, put on her sunglasses and “left our world for another,” as a fan website puts it. Ever since, the house has never quite felt the same. However, sometimes a shadowy figure appears at the window as if to greet her fans—and she certainly still has them by the millions.
In addition to the house, the late diva’s life-size sculpture is in the Cimetière de Montmartre, while her bust is at the junction of rues Girardon and Abreuvoir. Both memorials are often rubbed for luck before athletic and musical competitions.
7. Cimetière de Montmartre
After spending time with Dalida, visit Marie Taglioni’s shrine. Paying homage to the ballerina, dancers from all over the world leave their well-worn ballet slippers (sometimes with little notes). The sight of the heartfelt gestures has never failed to lift my spirits. It’s true.
Winding it back: Though Marie Taglioni wasn’t the first to dance en pointe or don the muslin skirt (skimming the ankle much to the delight of every binocular-carrying fan!), she’s the one who made it her own. “Shorten your dress just a little,” begged one admirer, according to a newspaper report in 1884. Taglioni’s popularity launched her name into the lingo: the verb Taglioniser (to be slender and graceful). And most coveted coiffeur? À la syphide!
8. Cimetière du Père-Lachaise
After dancing with the stars, hotfoot it on over to the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, you’ll not only find the graves of famous folks like Chopin, Balzac, Modigliani, Proust, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and, some say, Jim Morrison, but a few final resting places that are even more interesting because of the behaviors they induce.
Tip: It’s worth buying a map at the entrance to help you locate them. The best time to watch the action is early in the morning.
One of my favorites is the grave of Allan Kardec in section 44. Here you can discreetly watch as true believers in spiritualism not only come to caress the shoulders of the bronze bust glaring from its niche (under what looks to be a crude prehistoric dolmen), and to whisper messages in order to “telephone” their dead loved ones in his ear, but often also to put in requests for winning lottery numbers.
Behind the tomb is an official warning from the city of Paris (akin to the surgeon-general’s warning on a pack of cigarettes) to the effect that the municipal government can’t be sued if your numbers don’t win.
On the flipside: France is still a hotspot of afterlife activity—it’s no accident that words like séance, clairvoyant, and déjà vu are all French terms. So Bonne Chance!
Clipping from Allan Kardec, ‘Unshakable faith is only that which can face reason in all human epochs.”