By Theadora Brack
Blushing wildly, I confess. I am still looking forward to seeing Baz Luhrmann’s mercurial “Le Magnifique Gatsby” split the silver screen in 3-D. A life-long lover of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald’s fragrant prose, my inner Flapper is glowing. Ever since reading their books, diaries, and letters, I’ve always wanted to be Zelda.
Being Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald
Back in the day, I’d play the role. Re-inventing myself with a bobbed hairdo and southern accent, I’d pine for the moon in cemeteries, reciting poetry about dead lovers, weepy, watery blue flowers, and statues in ruin. Totally losing myself in their brightly painted passages, I devoured but yet savored each word, slowly, slowly turning the pages. Committing phrases to memory, I was smitten, see. I still don’t leave the house without a Fitzgerald paperback. There, I’ve said it.
Puttin’ on the Ritz
Embracing the movie launch, let’s hoof it on over to the Hôtel Ritz Bar—one of Scott’s favorite joints in Paris. In fact, the bar made cameos in Fitzgerald’s “Babylon Revisited,” “The Bridal Party,” and “Tender Is the Night.” For kicks, we’ll also nip into the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and hobnob with the works by Braque, Matisse and Picasso. Tip: The permanent collection is still free. Plus, the view of the Eiffel Tower is a stunner. So don’t leave without looking up!
What to order?
For inspiration, let’s dip into Frank Meier’s “The Artistry of Mixing Drinks.” During the heyday of the cocktail, Frank was the head barman at the Hôtel Ritz Bar. Published in 1936, his flask-sized guide is full of tips, recipes, and gossip, along with some old-fashioned remedies. Feeling the motion of the ocean? Champagne is your cure, according to Frank. Good one Frank, I’d say! Rock the boat.
Pulling no punches, he serves up 300 easy-to-follow recipes for Cobblers, Coolers, Daisies, Fixes, Flips, Highballs, Juleps, Rickets, Shrubs, Slings, Smashes, and Sours. With wit, he delivers. Whenever he’d serve his signature “Tin Roof” cocktail, he’d quip, “It’s on the house!,” and then follow up with, “but this hotel’s roof is made of tile!” That joke never got old, I’m sure.
Crank up the printer: For your garden parties, I’ve pulled 12 of my favorite cocktail recipes from Frank’s book. While planning the shindig, don’t forget his credo about what makes a great bar truly great. It’s not the drink recipes, he said. And it’s not the décor. It’s the people!
1. Mint Julep
“I will make you a mint julep, and then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself!” snapped Daisy in “The Great Gatsby.” In large tumbler: half-filled with shaved ice: a teaspoon of Sugar, sprigs of Mint, one glass of Bourbon Whiskey; stir vigorously to bruise Mint and mix with Whiskey; decorate with Mint and a slice of Lemon.
In shaker: two-sixths Bacardi, one-sixth Lemon juice, half Anise “Pernod fils,” shake well and serve.
3. Third Degree
In mixing-glass: a teaspoon of Anise “Pernod fils,” one-third French Vermouth, two-thirds Gin; stir well and serve.
4. Gin and Sin
In shaker: a dash of Grenadine, a teaspoon each of Orange and Lemon ice, three-fourths Gin; shake well and serve.
5. Edward VIII
In small tumbler: one glass of Seagram’s Rye Whiskey, a dash of Anise “Pernod fils,” two teaspoons each of Italian Vermouth and plain water, a piece of ice in long Orange peel, stir well and serve.
6. Royal Romance
In shaker: One-fourth each of passion fruit juice, and Grand Marnier, half Gin; shake well and serve.
In shaker: a dash of Anise “Pernod fils,” half French Vermouth, half Gin, a sprig of Mint; shake well and serve.
8. Bee’s Knees
In shaker: a teaspoon each of Fresh Cream and Honey, one-half glass of Bacardi; shake well and serve. (The Bees’ Knees drink is made with one-quarter Lemon, a teaspoon of Honey, and one-half glass of Gin.)
9. Sea Pea
(Created for Cole Porter) In shaker: the juice of one-half Lemon, one glass of sweetened Anise “Pernod fils,” shake well, strain into fizz glass, add Schweppes soda water or siphon and serve.
In mixing-glass: a dash each of Maraschino and Anise “Pernod fils,” half French Vermouth, half Gin; stir well and serve.
11. Million Dollar
In shaker: half white of Egg, a dash of Grenadine, a teaspoon of Pineapple ice, one-half glass of Gin; shake well, strain into double cocktail glass and serve.
12. Last Round
In mixing-glass: two dashes of Anise “Pernod fils,” two dashes of Brandy, half French Vermouth, half Gin; stir well and serve.
My Stardust Melody
Closing now with a favorite passage from Fitzgerald’s lyrical “Tender is the Night” (1925), I highly recommend reading the words out loud, slowly, one phrase at a time. His cadence woos and mesmerizes. Stir and repeat. Stir and repeat.
“By one o’clock the bar was jammed; amidst the consequent mixture of voices the staff of waiters functioned, pinning down their clients to the facts of drink and money. . .That makes two stingers . . . and one more . . . two martinis and one . . . nothing for you, Mr. Quarterly . . . that makes three rounds. That makes seventy-five francs, Mr. Quarterly. Mr. Schaeffer said he had this — you had the last . . . I can only do what you say . . . thanks vera-much.
Across from him the Dane and his companions had ordered luncheon. Abe did likewise but scarcely touched it. Afterwards, he just sat, happy to live in the past. The drink made past happy things contemporary with the present, as if they were still going on, contemporary even with the future as if they were about to happen again.”
By Theadora Brack
In giddy anticipation of film director Baz Luhrmann’s upcoming ritzy, glitzy retelling of “The Great Gatsby,” let’s give a nod to the original king of the shindig! That’s right. This week, we’re winding it back to party down in the garden of the dashing King Henri IV. Grab your beaded glad rags and galoshes, too.
Spring has sprung in Paris, so with arms tangled, let’s roll on over to the centuries-old romantic hot spot, le Square du Vert-Galant at the tip of the Île de la Cité. Created by passionate King Henri IV, its spectacular view of la Seine and currents crashing into its banks still move the rendezvous-ers, so hold on tight while I straighten the back of your frock coat collar.
Follow my plume: The Saint-Michel Métro stop will allow for a little bouquiniste browsing as we make our way. Along with a book, we’ll pick up a dough-so-filling crêpe fromage. I’m not the first to propose the Île de la Cité as the perfect spot for a little picnicking, and I certainly won’t be the last. By the way, the bouqinistes have been pushing their wares along the Seine banks since the 16th century. Politics, fashion plates, and leather bound erotica still reign here.
Looking curvaceous and fabulous at 406-years-old, the “New Bridge” is actually the oldest standing bridge in Paris. Created by Henri IV, it was the first bridge in the city to be built without houses or shops (i.e., “firetraps”) lining the spans.
This Side of Paradise
During the bridge’s construction, it became popular for young daredevils to jump from rampart to rampart. Following suit, even the King made the leap after hearing about the craze. Sadly, more than a few men fell and drowned. When this tidbit was reported to Henri, he quipped, “This may be so, but none of them were kings.” Touché, King Henri. And well done, you.
Henri was also the king of the original urban re-do. He not only banned timber construction throughout the city, but he also promoted symmetry in its public architecture, connected the Tuileries with the Louvre, and created Paris’s first city square! Thank Henri’s Place des Vosges for getting the party started in the Marais. Even today, the square is still a prime place to see and be seen.
Tender is the night
So pinch your cheeks and rouge the knees. As we promenade across the bridge, we’ll stop and cool our heels in one of its nook-like bastions. Originally these niches were created for the safety of pedestrians seeking to avoid being run over by passing carriages madly clattering by. Street vendors, entertainers, and thieves also set up shop here.
Today, they’re the perfect spot for lip-locking, picture taking, and retrospection. The shapely bridge blends so well with the river that the eye can’t always separate the organic from the man-made. Its resulting beauty both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time.
Jolly Green Giant
The bridge cuts across the island connecting the Right and Left Banks of the river. In its very center, you’ll find a huge bronze statue of Henri IV on horseback. Some folks consider the square around it the very center of Western Civilization. I don’t know about that, but I can vouch for it as a great place to make momentous decisions. See, this is where my beau proposed to me. (I accepted.) You’ll find the King’s garden directly below. Just follow the steps.
What’s in a name?
For the love of vitality, gossip, and admiration, Parisians gave this little tear-drop-shaped park the flamboyant King’s nickname, “Vert-Galant,” or “Gay Blade,” since he was larger than life, compassionate, and wildly loved. Mad about music, wine and women, Henri would horse around here with his friends, entertainers, and favorite mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrée. As he liked to say, “Great cooking and great wines make a paradise on earth!”
And speaking of big appetites, this is also where Ernest Hemingway relaxed with books, wine, and sausages while watching the fishermen. “They always caught some fish,” he wrote, “and often they made excellent catches of the dace-like fish that were called goujon. They were plump and sweet-fleshed with a finer flavor than fresh sardines even, and were not at all oily, and we ate them bones and all.”
Just beyond le Square du Vert-Galant, you’ll find the downstream tip of the Île de la Cité. Pick a spot on the stone ledge for some smooth bateaux-cruise watching from underneath the weeping willow—the first tree in Paris to leaf out each spring. Listen hard for King Henri’s laughter and soft music, faint and pleasant, as the Louvre, Notre Dame, and Samaritaine rise above the pea green river, twinkling like stars among the whisperings, pink clouds, and bubbly champagne.
Bookworms, ignite. Desire more time travel? Checkout the nearby Shakespeare & Co. at 37 rue Bûcherie. Located in a former 16th-century monastery near Notre Dame, it’s my favorite bookshop in the city.
A favorite Beat Generation haunt, the late, great George Whitman opened the Bûcherie location in 1951 under the name of Le Mistral. He changed its name to Shakespeare and Company as a tribute to his friend Sylvia Beach after she closed up the original shop by the same name, which had been a few blocks away. (Sylvia also inspired Hem, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, James Joyce and yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald—just to name a few.
Clipping from Fitzgerald’s Gatsby
“The lights grow brighter as the earth lurches away from the sun, and now the orchestra is playing yellow cocktail music, and the opera of voices pitches a key higher. Suddenly one of the gypsies, in trembling opal, seizes a cocktail out of the air, dumps it down for courage and, moving her hands like Frisco, dances out alone on the canvas platform. A momentary hush; the orchestra leader varies his rhythm obligingly for her, and there is a burst of chatter as the erroneous news goes around that she is Gilda Gray’s understudy from the Follies. The party has begun.” Yes, the party has begun.
By Theadora Brack
With my pointy arrow and swell pocketbook, I’ve decided to kick-off my birthday weekend with a little pictorial, showcasing a few of my favorite things in Paris: Place Vendôme at l’heure bleue, Jambon Beurre Gruyère baguettes, the clocks at the Musée d’Orsay, and the bells of Notre Dame. There, I’ve said it.
And thanks to WordPress, I’m already having a great birthday weekend. Thank you for the bright Freshly Pressed spotlight. This means a lot to me. I was thrilled when they featured my recent “Paris: 5 Iconic Backdrops for Photo-ops” story. What a gift!
Right now I’m off on a working field trip, but over the weekend and throughout next week, I’ll respond to your gorgeous comments and pay more than a few visits. So get ready! But before I forget, I must give a shout-out to my chum Virginia over at Bel’ Occhio for the beautiful birthday post. I’m still grinning. Merci!
Enjoy the weekend and keep on ringing the bells! Clipping from Victor Hugo’s “Notre-Dame de Paris” (aka, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”):
“On that day the air was so fresh and clear that Quasimodo felt his affection for his bells returning. Clapping his hands, he ran to and fro from one rope to another, awakening his six songsters by this voice and his gestures, as a maestro leads his skilled musicians. Well done! Gabrielle! Louder, louder! Hey! You up there, you sparrows! I don’t see you making any noise. What’s the matter with those brazen beaks of yours, that seems to be yawning when they ought to be singing? Come on, work! Sing! There’s beautiful sunshine; we have to have beautiful music!”
By Theadora Brack
Flashback! It wouldn’t be Poisson d’avril (April Fool’s, or literally, “April fish”) without the annual retelling of my favorite whopper of a Vaudeville tale. I’ll also show-off a new batch of April Fool’s Day postcards, freshly scored at the Vanves Flea Market.
So grab your rod and reel while I trap the Picon-bière. Created in 1837, this bittersweet kiss of oranges and deep blue gentian flowers is typically served with a sudsy demi-pression, into which you splash a shot of Picon. Richly colored and aromatic, the orange-toffee flavored brew packs a potent punch, perfect for “l’heure de apéritif” and some fine vintage spinning!
Winding it back
Here’s the scoop: In 1894, French Vaudeville performer and Folies-Bergère dancer Anna Held was sued by her Greenfield Dairy milkman for not paying her bill. See, when she arrived in New York City from Paris, she had demanded 40 gallons of milk (at the rate of 20 cents per gallon!) delivered to her hotel every other day for her decadent nightly beauty baths.
Splash Forward: Three hundred and twenty gallons later, Anna cancelled the order, claiming the milk wasn’t fresh or creamy enough for her beauty rituals. The milkman then hired a lawyer to help secure the $64 dollars she owed. The matter, however, was settled out of court because, “milk baths were too peculiar to be discussed in in public,” according to the newspaper reports.
After the story leaked, Held’s manager, Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr. (of Ziegfeld Follies fame) held a press conference with reporters outside her room at the Marlborough Hotel. All but one New York City paper attended the frothy affair. “The milk was sour and entirely unsuited for milady’s bath—in fact, it spoiled her complexion!” said “Flo.”
He also told them that 2000 years ago an Egyptian slave had told Roman emperor Nero’s wife that bathing in ass’s milk would not only preserve her complexion, but Nero’s love. The secret had been kept ever since, until generations later a Nero descendant passed it on to Anna Held!
Asking if they would like to see the fetching Anna in the aforementioned milk bath, Ziegfeld then flung open the door to reveal the bubbly Mademoiselle Held, “laving her rose leaf limbs,” chin-deep in milk.
Batting her wide, flirtatious eyes, Anna told them, “At home in Paris I take a milk bath two times a week, but here on the road it is more difficult. I miss them.” For the love of drama, instantly a star (with an 18-inch waist and very proud of it!) was born.
Word quickly spread: Soon women everywhere began bathing in milk. In fact, a “dairymaid” in Cologne, France was caught daily soaking in fresh milk before selling it! It came out later that the lawsuit had been cooked up by Anna and Florenz as a publicity stunt. He and Held married the following year. Well-played, I’d say!
Pinching from the popular song in the 1906 musical, “The Parisian Model” (one of Anna’s hit roles), “My lips may say, Run away from me, But my eyes say, Come and play with me! I just can’t make my eyes behave!”
If you find yourself in France on April Fool’s Day, do keep your eyes peeled for the tricksters. The classic old prank is to attach a paper fish to the coattails of an unsuspecting victim. So watch your back!
Collect vintage postcards?
My current favorite hunting ground for “cartes postale ancienne” is at the Porte de Vanves Flea Market. Here you’ll find ephemera dealers and wheelers throughout the market. My favorite stalls are located kitty-corner to the piano player and snack shack halfway through the market.
Looking for a specific category? Don’t be afraid to ask! Marie Antoinette? Montmartre? Cats? Spill your obsessions. They’ve got you covered. Plus, the dealers will often give a discount or a free post card as a gift (un petit cadeau)! Here fidelity is appreciated and rewarded.
Clipping from Ziegfeld, “Curtain! Fast music! Light! Ready for the last finale! ” Happy Hunting! Poisson d’avril!
By Theadora Brack
Buds are bursting on the trees in Paris, making it the perfect time to update my list of iconic French backdrops for photo-ops, perfect for your social media portraits and status updates, too. There’s no sin in boasting. Besides, this outdoor repertoire is free.
Celebrating favorite photographers—Robert Capa, Man Ray, Robert Doisneau, Erwin Blumenfeld, Georges Dambier, William Klein, and Willy Maywald, (who often showcased France’s beloved national monuments in their haute couture spreads)—I’ve meshed the new with the old, fully appreciating the dynamic, overlapping, ever-changing juxtapositions.
So with Rolleiflex firmly in hand, it’s now time to snap, crackle and pop! Shall we? For the profound love of Bruno Ganz and Wim Wenders’ canted angles and slow, graceful arcs, here’s my “Wings of Desire” edition.
Flying to Paris?
If so, kick-off your jaunt at the Musée Galliera’s “Mannequin, Le Corps de la Mode” exhibition at the Les Docks, Cité de la Mode et du Design. Curated by Sylvie Lécallier, the exhibition smartly covers the history of modeling with photographs, sketches, magazines, videos, dress forms, and fine vintage garb, of course. My heart raced at the sight of a 1966 white dress by Balenciaga, side-by-side a film loop showing the Master Couturier creating the very same dress.
Color scheme: Gold, blue, beige and black brought to you by Haussmann
Attire recommendations: Mercantile green or pale baby blue
When it comes to classic French backdrops, it’s all about the view and location. The rooftop paradise at Printemps possesses both. Here you’ll find one of my all-time favorite views of Paris. A triple-threat photo-op, so strike a pose like there’s nothing to it with the Eiffel Tower, the Opéra Garnier, and Sacré Coeur. Heads-up: the safety barrier is crystal clear, so if you possess a fear of heights (like I do), tiptoe slowly!
Splendor in the Grass
Tip: Galeries Lafayette’s rooftop is just hop, skip and a jump away, and it also has some sublime catbird seating, along with faux green grass and funky red plastic chairs and sofas. Here is where I often kick back with a soda pop and rest my feet after window-shopping along Boulevard Haussmann. It’s another prime people-watching hot spot in the city.
After recharging your spirit and soles, check out the grand magasin’s estained glass coupole. Heaven on earth, this Belle Epoch stunner with a Byzantine twist was installed in 1912. Try gazing up without getting all weepy. Borrow my hanky. I won’t tell.
2. Opéra Garnier
Color scheme: Gold, beige, black and copper green
Attire recommendations: Gold, purple and ruby red, too
After touring the grand magasins on Boulevard Haussmann, jeté across the street to the Opéra. I usually photograph outside the Métro Opéra main entrance. Shining like a superstar, blue skies are this edifice’s friend, though it’s also ideal to arrive just before an evening performance in order to see the red carpet-worthy glittering garb dart across the busy rues.
Pointer: Tours of the building are offered. Prefer to dance solo? It’s not a problem here. For just a few euros, I was able to explore practically the entire building on my own, from the lobby to the reception halls, salons, and foyers, decked out in mosaics, mirrors and sculpture. I even spotted a few ghosts. Heavens, I was in heaven.
And yes, I did re-enact Audrey Hepburn’s dramatic entrance in the “Funny Face” movie without slipping down the slick marble steps on my back. I was also able to take a brief peek at Chagall’s famous ceiling mural and a live rehearsal.
With glee, I then toured the costume exhibitions and gift shop with a view, stocked with books, dvds, and cds, along with ballet slippers, tutus, tiaras, opera glasses, and evening gloves. With Debussy softly playing, I could have danced and shopped all day, and well, yes, I did.
3. Place Vendôme
Color scheme: Beige, black and pale green
Attire recommendations: Gold, royal blue and shocking pink
After snapping a few pix at the Opéra, take Rue de la Paix to Place Vendôme. Look for Napoléon’s column. In 1935 designer Elsa Schiaparelli opened one of the first prêt-à-porter boutiques under its shadow at 21 Place Vendôme. A tale I enjoy telling often, “Schiap” would unveil her collections with squads of circus performances in the middle of the square, complete with elephants and tightrope walkers!
As I reported earlier this year, Diego Della Valle (of Tods) recently bought the “Schiaparelli” name and now plans to revive the Place Vendôme salon. They’re still shopping around for a designer. I’ll keep you in the loop.
More inspiration? Here’s where Robert Capa photographed the iconic images of poodle-toting models for Dior in 1948! Calling all cinematic fans, Billy Wilder’s “Love in the Afternoon” with Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier was shot here at the Hôtel Ritz.
By the way, like the nearby Repetto ballet shop, the Ritz is also getting a supreme makeover. Currently a gigantic mural, scaffolding, and temporary little apartment-like buildings cover the entire front facade. I’m already looking forward to the dramatic unveiling. It’ll be a knock-out, I’m certain.
4. Arc-de-Triomphe du Carrousel
Color scheme: Black, beige, gold, and pink marble
Attire recommendations: Black, red and at least one piece of bling or medal
After your Place Vendôme photo session directly below “le petit caporal’s” watch, strut on over to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, located by the Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries. The petite size of this “Mini-Me” of the big Arc de Triomphe at the far end of the Champs Elysées makes for an easy, breezy shoot. Also, this is where the infectious balloon scene in “Funny Face” with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire was filmed.
5. Petit Palais
Color scheme: Black, beige and specks of gold
Black with a splash of red and cobalt blue
Gather ’round, my fellow art-loving flâneurs, I’ve got a new favorite museum in Paris up my sleeve. Designed by Charles Girault for the Universal Exhibition in 1900, I plan to pen a full-bodied post on the Petit Palais and its world-class permanent collection, so I will not spill the entire plot today.
But suffice it to say, I fell madly for the space, art works, and library, along with its affordable café with outdoor seating in the (soon to be lush) courtyard garden. Plus, the admission is free. I left feeling inspired and invigorated, walking on sunshine and air, I tell you. Do stay tuned!
Clipping from Colette, “Live in the moment! Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.”
Allo? Allo? C’est moi, Theadora!
From sunrise to sunset, I’ve been poking around Paris non-stop, creating a new master list of attractions. Donning my freshly bobbed hairdo (with full, blunt bangs—no less!) and a tailored Nancy Drew “investigative” cap, I’ve dedicated the last few weeks to visiting the new spring arts exhibitions in the city.
Monuments, museums and galleries—I’ve tried to leave no historic cornerstone, cobblestone (or gift shop boutique, even) unturned, see.
My eyes have seen the glory, along with few ghosts and goblins at the Musée d’Orsay, and phantoms over at the Opéra. I’ve also coveted beaucoup ballgowns and accessories by Poiret, Paquin, Vionnet, and the Callot Soeurs, along with Grès, Schiaparelli, and Balenciaga at the Hôtel d’Ville, before waiting hours for the dashing “Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí” at the nearby Centre Pompidou. Whew.
Juggling spectacles, I also ran away with the circus for one swell night at the Cirque d’hiver Bouglione in up-and-coming République. Monsieur Loyal’s one-ring “Eclat” show featured clowns, acrobates, trapézistes, and the sassy “Salto Dancers.” Imagine. Degas, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec sat on these same red velvet seats! The cozy icosagonal-shaped house was packed to the gills!
Tip: The 2012-3013 season closes on Sunday, March 17th. If you’re currently in Paris, find a tiny car and get glee there immediately. I suggest buying your tickets in advance at the door. The website is a tad tricky. The seats in the very last row are just €12—but I’d spurge on one of the middle range cat bird seats! It’s worth every cent.
Calling all Downton Abbey fanatics, I’ve got a few historic house recommendations up my silky hand-sewn Poiret sleeve, I’m happy to report. For the love of shiny copper pots and pans, the “downstairs” kitchen at the Musée Nissim de Camondo is both BBC and Julia Child worthy. Hands-down, the “cuisine” is a showstopper, in my book. It still possesses a spirited vibe. I got chills.
Built in 1911, the design of the drop-dead gorgeous digs was inspired by Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon at Versailles. Sitting pretty on the edge of Parc Monseau, the Camondo is worth the trek. Let’s not forget to mention the classic black and white tile salle de bain with a view and hydronic heated towel warmers. C’est Magnifique. Yes, I am smitten.
Best assured—I’ve got the seasonal scoop. So do stay tuned! In the meantime, let’s get surreal at the “Dali” exhibition. Then we’ll crawl backwards to the Porte de Vanves Flea Market, and meet a few dolls from the 1950s. Pretty s’marvelous, I’d say. With the sun shining on our heads and shoulders, we’ll stop and smell the roses like there’s no tomorrow.
Clipping from Dalí, “There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction!”
By Theadora Brack
In high anticipation of the return of springtime and the critically acclaimed “Mad Men” television series, I’ve suddenly got a strong hankering for Champagne cocktails, heady scents, and beaded party gowns, along with some old-fashioned, toe-tapping, finger-snapping haughty-naughty tunes. For the love of all that is sweet, lowdown, and swanky, what would Don Draper do?
You’ve got that thing
Celebrating Mad Men’s approaching sixth, coming in April, let’s hobnob it over to the rendezvous-worthy bar Le Defender at the historic Hôtel du Louvre, and listen to some retro-lounge sounds, featuring Siegfried “Ziggy” Mandacé and his three fabulous quartets. Get ready to step out and I don’t mean maybe, guys and dolls. His beat can’t be beat.
Let’s do it
Located near the Jardin du Palais-Royale and shops, the joint flaunts a real surreal David Lynch vibe. Setting the scene: From floor to ceiling, the bar is decked out in warm tones of mahogany, gold, black marble, and red velvet with a Napoleonic twist. Don Draper would have felt very much at home here on the love seat.
Tip: It’s also a sublime people-watching hotshot spot. Performers from the nearby Comédie Française often pop by for drinks.
Give me one for my baby
Here’s the deal: The shows are free with a purchase of a beverage, and they’re wickedly expensive. But holy moly, when are you going to get another chance to kick back with a classic tiny-bubbled cocktail in hand, while listening to the tipsy-curvy jazz in the City of Light? Sometimes you just got splurge a little, is what my grandmother Helen J. Wentz would say.
So nurse your drink and make it last like there’s no tomorrow. And Don, yes, the coveted top shelf Armagnac from 1963 by Château Laubade is stocked. And the Champagne cocktail? Why, it’s “Ziggilicious,” the charismatic bandleader said with a wink.
Ziggy on fire
Possessing the spirit and style of stars and starlets from days gone by, the band’s chemistry is flawless, infectious and timeless. From the roaring 1920s to groovy 1960s, Ziggy’s playlist includes everything from Django Reinhardt, Georges Brassens, and Serge Gainsbourg, to Irving Berlin, Miles Davis, and Joao Gilberto.
You’ll find Ziggy and one of his quartets here at the bar Le Defender on Thursday and Friday nights at 9 PM. Drop my name, and if time permits, he’ll take your requests, avec plaisir! Want catbird seating? Arrive twenty to thirty minutes before the show, suggests Ziggy.
What to wear?
Suggested attire is “dressy,” so I’d recommend taking the fine vintage route. For a full-bodied time-travel experience, drop by the nearby Didier Ludot at 24 Galerie Montpensier-Jardin du Palais Royal. It’s a great place to window-shop for high ticket vintage garb. All big wig names are represented here.
And the band played on
Yearning for a little “La Vie en Rose” to take home with you? Before the show, trek it to Boîtes à Musique Anna Joliet. Located at the northern end of the Jardin du Palais Royal, Anna and her collection of hand-cranked music boxes have held court here for three decades. Prices start at only €8.
Looking for a specific tune? Just ask. Here you’ll find Debussy, Chopin, and Charles Trénet, along with Mozart, Beethoven and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Yes, my fellow felines, “Memory” is always in stock.
Tip: In the mood for more tiny bubbles? Don’t miss the nearby Palais-Royal Métro bejeweled entrance. It has never failed to lift this gal’s spirits to soaring heights.
The buoyant Kiosque des Noctambules (The Kiosk of the Night Owls) was built in 2000 by artist Jean-Michel Othoniel in celebration of the Métro’s centennial. Created also as a nod to Hector Guimard’s curvaceous Art Nouveau entrances, its glass-beaded cupolas symbolize the dreamy meshes of day, night and afternoon. Where is the love? Trust me, it’s here.
In the words of Draper , “Live like there’s no tomorrow, just in case there isn’t one.” Mais oui!
Looking for some fine vintage duds to wear to your next shindig? Ask Virginia! Trust me. She knows. For the love of Joan, Don and Roger, be prepared to swoon. Golly, it’s perfection.
By Theadora Brack
In celebration of love and remembrance, I’ve decided to share a few classic French “sweetheart” postcards from “La Grande Guerre” (aka La Première Guerre Mondiale, i.e., World War I), along with one of my favorite passages from “The North China Lover” by Marguerite Duras.
To enhance the romance, consider a sweet and sour Sidecar. Invented by head barman Frank Meier (and author of the “Artistry of Mixing Drinks”) at the Ritz during the aforementioned Great War (Harry’s New York Bar devotees, look away!), you grab the cognac and Cointreau while I squeeze the lemon and crack the ice. Then we can take turns shaking vigorously!
Always in fashion is passion, so let’s throw a little Édith Piaf on the Victor-Victrola, “Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu Mon Dieu.” Little Sparrows, I’ve never failed to weep after reading, so pack a hankie. And perhaps a silky embroidered pillow for some sweet swooning?
Duras penned: “Years after the war, after marriages, children, divorces, books, he came to Paris with his wife. He phoned her. It’s me. She recognized him at once from the voice.
He said, I just wanted to hear your voice. She said, it’s me, hello.
He was nervous, afraid, as before. His voice suddenly trembled. And with the trembling, suddenly, she heard again the voice of China. He knew she’d begun writing books, he’d heard about it through her mother whom he’d met again in Saigon. And about her younger brother, and he’d been grieved for her.
Then he didn’t know what to say.
And then he told her. Told her that it was as before, that he still loved her, he could never stop loving her, that he’d love her until death.”
O, I feel the love
I highly recommend both the book and the movie, with its haunting soundtrack composed by Gabriel Yared. In fact, I’m listening to it as I tap it out on my Royal Typewriter. On this day, let’s not forget Frank Meier’s neat credo about what makes a great bar truly great. It’s not the drink recipes. It’s not the décor, he said. It’s the people. Straight up! So spread the warmth, I say, like there’s no tomorrow.
Clipping from Edith Piaf again, “Non, je ne regrette rien. Avec mes souvenirs, j’ai allumé le feu.” And she’s right, you know, there’s just no other good sway to say it: With my memories, I light the fire!
Bises! Happy Valentine’s Day.
By Theadora Brack
This week, let’s hoof to one my favorite shopping districts in Paris, the lively rue de Rennes—one of the longest streets in the city. Giddy-up: This is where I shop during the last few days of the Big Winter Sales.
Here’s the squeal: The Zara location at 140 rue de Rennes in the Félix Potin building (an Art Nouveau marvel!) usually serves as one of “last stops” for the Spanish marque’s leftover clothing. Also, there’s a second Zara shop, located nearby at 45 rue de Rennes (next to the Église de Saint-Germain-des-Prés).
Divine, yes, but their proximity also saves time. Bopping between both shops, my sister once scored a belted trench coat and black skinny jeans, along with seven turtle necks, all costing just €3,99 a piece. She had just arrived—but by this victorious wardrobe-expanding moment—the woozy feeling of jet lag completely abandoned the scene. Yes, sometimes fleeting joy CAN be bought.
Rue de Rennes
Thanks to Haussmann, this super-sized boulevard was made for non-stop walking, gawking and talking. Don’t forget to pack an oversized bag for your treasures. While the multiple-shopping bag scene with Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” is charming and all, you’re just inviting advances from pickpockets with both hands filled with separate bags. Combine them in all in one big sturdy bag. Most grocery store chains sell them for just a few cents.
Layout of the land
The rue de Rennes shopping district stretches from Boulevard du Montparnasse to Boulevard Saint-Germain, connecting the tallest (and only real) skyscraper in Paris—Montparnasse Tower—with the oldest church in the city (Saint-Germain-des-Prés). This ‘hood has always been one of my favorite spots for window-shopping. For the love of juxtaposition, the trendy chains and boutiques coolly mesh with the classic Parisian shops. Frankly, I dig the mix.
Documentary photographer Eugène Atget would have had a field day. Stop. Look. Hold your horses! Actually, Atget did shoot a dragon here ’round 1900 at 50 rue de Rennes. Today the façade has dramatically changed, but the dragon still frolics in a land called Paree. Look for the perfect blue door and the Monoprix sign.
Ready for my close-up
Where else in this world is it possible to fall madly for a spectacular turban window display after trying on maillots de bain at Etam? And yes, feeling all femme fatale and pin-uppity, I bought an armful of resort wear (in noir, of course, Mr. Wilder. How could I not?).
Film buffs, Billy Wilder made his directorial debut during the 1930s in Paris. Can you name the film? It wasn’t “Sabrina.” Clue: The film’s leading lady Danielle Yvonne Marie Antoinette Darrieux is still one of France’s most beloved movie stars!
Looking for military garb?
Don’t leave the city without a flyby through the Doursoux Surplus, nestled in the shadow of the Montparnasse Tower at 3 Passage Alexandre. The prices can’t be beat and the service is always charming.
Here in the airy hangar-like warehouse, you’ll find vintage bags, pea coats, hats, sweaters, belts, shoes, scarves, midi blouses, striped shirts, and sailor caps. My pal Jess recently scored a leather aviator “Trapper” cap and goggles from WWI. Channeling her inner-Amelia Earhart, later she donned the headgear on the boulevards and looked silver screen marvelous.
Chains, Chains, Chains
I dig chain stores. There, I’ve said it. Their affordable price tags allow me to experiment without shelling out big bucks. Keep your eyes peeled for my pet haunts: Etam, Zara, and Naf-Naf, along with Kookaï and Darjeeling. If the cuisine is your scene, pop-by the practical and whimsical La Vaissellerie, Culinarion, and Plastiques where the owl egg timers rule the roost.
Need a camera chip? Stop by Fnac (pronounced “fuh-nack”). The largest French entertainment retail chain discounts their inventory of books, including the latest exhibition catalogues. Fnac also stocks cameras, camera chips and batteries (not to mention DVDs, CDs, and tons of French comic books Bande dessinée (an art form all their own).
It’s now time for a little pick-me-up. First, we’ll stop by the Boulangerie de Rennes, and buy a meringue cookie. Sweet and crunchy, it’s the ultimate instant sugar rush, making the perfect portable snack. Goldilocks, size does matter, so I recommend going with a medium-sized cookie because the smaller ones are sometimes on the dry side, and the larger ones are occasionally too soft.
Next, we’ll nip into Léonidas Chocolatier and pickup a few gifts for the cat sitter. Located at 65 rue de Rennes, they’re more than famous for their sparkling (and tasty) Versailles-worthy Eiffel Tower sculptures, royal cameo candies and metallic covered chocolate hearts. In my book, edible rhinestones and dark chocolate will always this girl’s best friend.
Designs on you
After strolling your heart out along the rue de Rennes, make a bee-line to Saint-Germain-des-Prés for some high-ticket boutique browsing. Check out the splurge-worthy beret caps at the agnès b shop at 6 rue Vieux-Colombier. They’re hard to find outside of France and terribly expensive online.
Designer and founder Agnès Bourgois Troublé has also created inexpensive unisex red scarves. Available in cotton during the summertime and wool during the winter, the profits go to various humanitarian causes, including the fight against AIDS.
Afterwards, let’s rest our tired tootsies and grab a café and a fromage Cantal sandwich at the Café de la Mairie at Place Saint-Sulpice. It’s another personal favorite people-watching spots, plus the prices are affordable.
Bookworms, who else found inspiration here? Don’t stop me if you heard this one before! Heck, it’s one of my favorite tips. Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, and Ernest Hemingway, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, and Djuna Barnes. Added bonus: After fifteen years of restoration work, the church of Saint-Sulpice across the square recently shed its scaffolding, and the view is once more a beauty.
Still in the mood to shop ’til you drop?
Well then, jump on the “95” bus line (there are multiple bus stops along rue de Rennes), and take it to any of several other bustling shopping meccas along its route, like the Carrousel du Louvre, the neighborhood surrounding the Opéra (wannabe Black Swans, Répetto is just a hop, skip and a pirouette from the Opéra Garnier!), or the grand magasins along Boulevard Haussmann, or the funky boutiques, vintage shops and bargain bins in the Montmartre-Abbesses area.
Pinch yourself. ALL these happy-hunting-grounds are on the scenic “95” bus line. It’s another win-spin.
This has been Theadora “Norma Desmond” Brack! Happy Hunting!
By Theadora Brack
Celebrating the new bike lanes on the right bank in Paris, let’s take a sentimental journey! Pop open a Coke, crank up Claude Debussy’s “Petite Suite,” and prepare for some bumpy late 19th century time travel along avenue Foch. This centuries-old promenading stretch is my favorite spot for gazing up at the Arc de Triomphe. Each time I tumble flat!
Pump it up
Don’t forget les bicyclettes. Ladies, this includes you! By the 1890s, thanks to the introduction of the Starley Rover Safety Bicycle and its handsome pneumatic tires, “all Paris was a-wheel,” and women were not only pedal pushing in public but also “unblushingly” flaunting menswear or something “alarmingly” like it. Oh, la la.
So what to wear? “The first costumes were mostly home-made affairs, designed by the riders and made up by work-women sworn to secrecy,” reported Scribner’s magazine in 1895. Exercising in public was brand-spanking-new then, see.
Possessing “real legs,” excitement about the bike craze and its newly-adopted garb quickly spread, and soon women were spotted biking all over Paris, wearing gaiters, straw caps, high-collared blouses with leg o’mutton sleeves and tight, tailored bodices, along with knickerbockers and short bloomers, adding “one charm more to the Bois de Boulogne!”
During the Gay Nineties, you were in with the in-crowd if you were seen pedal-pushing the new status symbol. Thanks to mass production, it was also an affordable sport. Everyone was “mounting the steeds of steel and rubber” or learning how to ride. In sheltered bicycle rinks, lessons were available for 12 to 15 Francs. Two favorite rinks were located in the Bois de Boulogne and along the Champs Élysées. And like today’s Vélib’ Bike Program, bikes could be rented by the hour.
Even photographers, artists, and writers got caught up in the frenzy. In fact, the bike makes more than one cameo in Émile Zola’s “Paris” novel (1898). Marie, his protagonist, sings the praises of bicycling by saying:
“If I ever have a daughter, I shall put her on a bicycle just to teach her how to conduct herself in life. . .By wearing rationals [sensible clothing] women free their limbs from prison; then the facilities which cycling affords people for going out together tend to greater intercourse and equality between the sexes . . . In this lies the greatest advantage of all, one takes a bath of air and sunshine, one goes back to nature, to the earth, our common mother, from whom one derives fresh strength and gaiety of heart! Just look how delightful this forest is. And how healthy the breeze that inflates our lungs! Yes, it all purifies, calms, and encourages one.”
Get set! Go!
Now, let’s glide on over to the Arc de Triomph. FIRST one to reach the monument buys the vin chaud! As we make our way up the wide, park-like avenue Foch (formerly, the avenue du Bois de Boulogne), keep your eyes and ears open for Claude Debussy’s old digs at 23 Square l’avenue Foch.
Here the composer wrote, “There’s nothing more musical than a sunset!” I couldn’t agree more. Tip: The Arc de Triomphe at l’heure bleu makes a dandy of a backdrop for your Paris photo op. So plan accordingly!
Arc de Triomphe
Like a sympathetic angel in a Wim Wenders film, the Arc de Triomphe looks down on the city of Paris from her post on top of the hill of Chaillot. Located at the center of the heavily trafficked Place Charles de Gaulle, she is the key piece of L’Axe historique—a series of monuments that starts at the Sun King’s equestrian statue in the Musée du Louvre courtyard and ends in the outskirts of Paris at La Defense.
Flashback: Although the Arc was commissioned by Napoleon in 1806, she didn’t reach her full regal glory until the 1860s, when city planner Baron Haussmann made her an urban center of attention. At 165-feet-high and 150-feet-wide, she’s the second largest triumphal arch on earth (the only larger one is a slightly expanded replica in Pyongyang, North Korea). “The pile of stone for a pile of glory!” is how Victor Hugo described the Arc de Triomphe’s overpowering allure.
L’aimant (the magnet)
Her domineering stature has also made her the perfect staging ground for pageants, parades, and demonstrations. Often called L’aimant, she’s attracted lovers, suicides and daredevils!
Winding it back: In 1919, French aviators were somehow left out of the planning for the WWI victory parade. They were quite sore about it, so they decided at an impromptu meeting at Fouquet’s bar on the Champs-Elysées to “repair the affront.”
Lieutenant Charles Godefroy was assigned to the task of rectifying the omission. On the 9th of August (three weeks after the parade), he flew his Nieuport biplane through the womb-like arch with the greatest of ease, after practicing with a wooden replica of the same size. It was a risk worth taking, as the aviators were never left out of any future celebrations!
In fact, nowadays the French Air Force provides the finale for the Défilé militaire du 14 juillet (The Bastille Day Military Parade) the oldest and largest military parade in the world, which has been held each year in Paris since 1880. If you’re in Paris at this time, don’t miss it.
Historical tidbit for the road: The fabulous Wright Brothers financed their flight experiments with the profits made in their bicycle shop during the 1890s Bike Boom! It paid off when they took off in 1903. Flight attendants, take your seats!
Clipping from Debussy again, “The century of airplanes deserves its own music!” So keep on biking and flying!