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 Anthony (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 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’s “Paris by Cellphone” site! The bells shine in Paul’s photographs!
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.”
By Theadora Brack
Confession: I’ve got a new obsession in my life. Following in the footsteps of the Surrealists and the late writer and historian Walter Benjamin, I am also now carrying a big torch for the 19th century shopping arcades in Paris, (a.k.a., “dream houses”). Whenever I can’t seem to find my supernatural powers, I beat the blues with a breathy jaunt to the passageways in Paris. Adding hustle to my bustle, it does the trick every time.
So this week, let’s roll out some soft focus stills, and pay homage to a few of my favorite passages couverts. Come on, Bébe, light my fire.
Winding back the clock
Ever since Louis XIV cried, “Let there be light,” tourists have been flocking to Paris. Under the reign of the Sun King, Paris became the first city in the world to illuminate its streets after dark, which helped turn it into the Number One tourist destination practically over (a well-lit) night.
The invention of the folding waterproof umbrella in 1709 and the appearance of the passages in 1800, sealed the deal. Providing gas lighting, luxury goods, and heated shelter from rain and mud, the shopping mall was born. Linking streets and boulevards, the passages couverts offered new shortcuts and flâneur-flavored promenades.
Here’s Eduard Devrient’s 1840 description, as recorded in Walter Benjamin’s “The Arcades Project” (1927-1940).
“Rain showers annoy me, so I gave one the slip in an arcade. There are a great many of these glass-covered walkways, which often cross through the blocks of buildings and make several branchings, thus affording welcome shortcuts. Here and there they are constructed with great elegance, and in bad weather or after dark, when they are lit up bright as day, they offer promenades—and very popular they are—past rows of glittering shops.”
Sadly, only about twenty of the original 150 arcades survived “Baron” Haussmann’s sweeping supreme makeover in the 1850s-60s, improvements in transportation, and the dramatic arrival of the Parisian grand magasins (department stores).
On the bright side: The shopping meccas that remain are still very much worth a look-see. 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, book shops, antique stores, shoe cobblers, boutiques, cafés, bars, and discount bookshops.
Even Émile Zola tumbled flat. Here’s his nostalgic description of the Passage des Panoramas in his 1880 “Nana.”
“She adored the Passage des Panoramas. The tinsel of the Article de Paris, the false jewelry, the gilded zinc, the cardboard made to look like leather, had been the passion of her early youth. It remained, and when she passed the shop- windows she could not tear herself away from them.
It was the same with her today as when she was a ragged, slouching child who fell into reveries in front of the chocolate maker’s sweet-stuff shows or stood listening to a musical box in a neighboring shop or fell into supreme ecstasies over cheap, vulgarly designed knickknacks, such as nutshell workboxes, ragpickers’ baskets for holding toothpicks, Vendome columns and Luxor obelisks on which thermometers were mounted.”
Trekking to Paris? Interested in time travel? Don’t miss the passageways. Here’s how to set the mood: Visit on cold, rainy day. Perhaps spin a little Satie as you throw on your thick tights, hooded cloak, and twelve flouncing horsehair linen petticoats in black, of course. Don’t forget the parapluie.
Kick-off your tour with a glass a red wine at the Pâlais Royal, and then slowly, slowly saunter over to the Galerie Véro-Dodat. As you make your entrance, keep one eye peeled for the spirits flitting high between the globe lights, having a dandy of a good time. Bon Voyage!
1. Galeries du Palais Royal
Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre
2. Galerie Véro-Dodat (1826)
19 rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau – 2 rue du Bouloi
Métro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre
3. Galerie Colbert (1826)
6 rue des Petits-Champs – 6 rue Vivienne
4. Galerie Vivienne (1823)
4 rue des Petits-Champs, 5 rue de la Banque, 6 rue Vivienne
5. Passage des Panoramas (1800)
11-13 boulevard Montmartre – 151 rue Montmartre
Métro: Grands Boulevards
6. Passage Jouffroy (1847)
9 rue de la Grange Batelière – 29 Passage Jouffroy
Métro: Grands Boulevards
7. Passage Verdeau (1847)
6 rue de la Grange Batelière – 31 bis rue du Faubourg-Montmartre
Métro: Le Peletier
Clipping from Walter Benjamin’s masterpiece again: “I hear they want to roof all the streets of Paris with glass. That will make for lovely hothouses and will live in them like melons!” Now, let’s take a stroll!
Dress at the Seaside
In these days when amateur photographers swarm everywhere and when the click of the indiscreet apparatus takes one by surprise, on the plain, in the valley, on the mountain, it is necessary, more than ever, for women of fashion to watch over their reputation for style. The bathing hour at the fashionable seaside resorts is, above all others, the most critical.
At that moment the Kodak rages.
It is well to make use of large waterproofed silk knickerbockers over everything, drawn in at the knees; in this manner the dress is kept dry up to the waist. To wear these costumes with comfort, it indispensable to have a waistband corset of strong linen, and very slightly stiffened, which supports the back and gives a curve to the loins.
Lastly, need we sacrifice our pretty waved hair, which forms an auricle round our features and a pleasing nimbus to which all eyes are accustomed? A fringe of curled hair will adapt itself to the interior of our selected harmony of the face. Nowadays, accessories are so numerous that it is really laziness on the part of the woman without a maid who is not bien coiffé!
(All this, according to The Paris Herald in 1901, “The Inevitable Kodak: How to Set off Charms that Nature Has Bestowed and Create Those Which She Has Refused”)
Trekking to Paris? The Musée de la Marine, located at place du Trocadéro is worth the expedition. Dive deep into my favorite French naval history museum’s vast collection of artifacts ranging from Napoleon’s gilded ceremonial barge (with all 24 oars still intact!), the Carmagnolle brothers’ diving suit (at 800 pounds, those brothers were heavy indeed), to toy boats that once belonged to the young Louis XV!
Tip: Stop by the gift shop. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. Long and narrow like a ship’s salon, here you’ll find ocean liner posters, postcards, books, model ships, and striped shirts by designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Then, with a book in hand, head to the Jardins des Trocadéro, tucked behind the museum. Its hideaways are the perfect place for a rendezvous.
Covet nautical wear? Heck, who hasn’t been touched by the bold stripes of the traditional nautical shirts of Brittany? That coastal region is where the French-striped top originated.
Thank Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel for taking the French naval uniform to the streets in 1916, deftly improvising with fabric and color like a jazz musician. Off the hook, overnight silky loungewear caught fire—at the seaside and in the city, and soon beach pajamas followed suit. “It is always better to be underdressed,” according to Coco. I agree.
Stars and Stripes Forever
This look not only touched appealingly rugged-types like Picasso, Hemingway, and Jean Paul Gaultier, but also lured Rykiel, Schiaparelli, Jean Seberg, Brigitte Bardot, and Audrey Hepburn—just to name a few. And it continues to captivate. Why, the very shirt (by Mark Cross) that Audrey herself wore on the set of the 1956 film “War and Peace” was recently put up for auction in London. Oh, was I tempted . . .
Speaking of temptation, a confession: I myself fell for the marinière after reading Hemingway’s “Garden of Eden.” Throughout the slim novelette, it crackles.
Here’s a nibble:
“Catherine sat was sitting at breakfast on the terrace. There was a red-and-white checkered cloth on the table. She wore her old Grau du Roi stripped shirt fresh-washed and shrunk now and much faded, new gray flannel slacks, and espadrilles.”
“She had bought the shirts for them and then had washed them in the basin in the room at the hotel to take the stiffness out of them. They were stiff and built for hard wear but the washings softened and now they were worn and softened enough that when he looked at the girl now her breasts showed beautifully against the worn cloth.”
“You look lovely,” he said. “Thank you. I feel lovely,” she said.
Sigh! Inspired, let’s now hit the cobblestone rues, and earn some romantic stripes of our own, shall we?
More Tips Ahoy
In the Marais, you’ll find beaucoup de Breton stripes. Kick-off your quest at the FREE’P’STAR at 61 rue de la Verrerie. Decked out in neon signs, funky lighting fixtures, and original photography and paintings, it’s easy to spot. Keep your eyes peeled for the shrine dedicated to photographer Brassaï. His “Conchita with Sailors, Place d’Italie” (1933) sits pretty in the vitrine.
Though a bit smaller, the Vintage Désir down the street at 32 rue des Rosiers also has bountiful goods aplenty. Then, pop tags by the kilo at the nearby Kilo Shop at 69-71 rue de la Verrerie Vintage. Tarb and scales abound, matey.
This week, I’ll close with a little Paris Pop Quiz.
Here are your clues: Jean-Luc Godard’s classic 1960 “À bout de soufflé” (“Breathless”) was shot on-location in Paris. Both Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg wear striped garb throughout the film. In a few key scenes, Seberg’s character, an up-and-coming journalist named Patricia, sports a marvelous striped dress.
Question: Name the French store where director Godard (Bargain Hunter Extraordinaire) purchased the dress. There was no official costume designer on the set.
Clipping Hemingway yet again, “My big fish must be somewhere!”
By Theadora Brack
“We’ll always have Paris,” Rick tells Elsa at the end of the movie Casablanca, without mentioning any of their favorite haunts in the City of Light. But I say, “Play it again, Sam,” and this time with addresses. After all, everyone’s got their own Paris.
For instance, King Henri IV cavorted on the tip of the Île de la Cité, while centuries later the Seine bridges crossing the island captivated painter Edward Hopper. Hemingway liked to sit on a bench in the Jardin du Luxembourg and wait for his first true sentences (along with dinner: roast pigeon), while the food stalls at the great Les Halles market sparked Julia Child’s joy of cooking.
Though I’m hardly a king or a master of French cooking (yet), I, too, have a few outdoor havens I run to for inspiration.
1. The Fontaine Steinlen
Place Constantin-Pecquier, 18th arrondissement
I’ve a confession up my faux fur sleeve. After my cat left this world for another Fancy Feast, this is where I spent many hours. Montmartre residents Eric Satie and Théophile Steinlen understood the wonderous feline, and I found and still find great comfort in that. The fountain was created by Paul Vannier in 1936 as a nod to Steinlen, who lived nearby at 74 rue Caulaincourt. Where is the love? Trust me, it’s here.
Think Steinlen is the cat’s pajamas?
I do, too. After we sunbath at the cool fountain and sip some cream at a nearby café, we’ll hoof it on over to the nearby Musée de Montmartre at 12-14 Rue Cortot, where they often display Steinlen’s works, including his cat iconography in all it’s nine-lives glory. Perfection, eh? Don’t miss its gift shop. Posters from former shows hold court near the entrance.
Along the way, we’ll pass the Cimetière Saint-Vincent (a.k.a. “The Cat Cottage”). Here is where Steinlen rescued and adopted many stray feline muses, much to his poor wife’s chagrin. Though it’s quite fitting, see, because here is also where Steinlen is buried. Wild kitties still keep watch over his grave. Sir Paul got it right: “And, in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.” Chow. Wow. Wow.
My tale to tell: From floor to ceiling, my childhood bedroom was decked out in Steinlen posters, so whenever I visit the Musée de Montmartre, it always feels like home. I have my mom, dad and Steinlen to thank for my profound love of Paris, art and cats. Tapping together my ruby-encrusted claws again and again, there is no place like home. It’s true.
Tip: Steinlen’s original Chat Noir Bar sign is on display at the Musée Carnavalet at 23 Rue de Sévigné in the Marais. Trekking to Paris? Don’t miss it.
2. Cimetière des Chiens
4 Pont de Clichy, Asnières-sur-Seine
Celebrating the recent Pet Memorial Day, now let’s hotfoot it on over a few hot tin roofs (teasing) to another favorite resting spot in the city. Located northwest on the Seine, Paris’s Le Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals) is the oldest pet cemetery in the world. It’s Cimetiere du Pere Lachaise of pet cemeteries.
Founded in 1899 by lawyer Georges Harmois and journalist Marguerite Durand, here you’ll find the graves of dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, mice, hamsters, horses, monkeys, turtles, fish, sheep, foxes, and even one shark. Canine movie star (and World War I hero) Rin Tin Tin and Marguerite Durand’s own pet lion, named Tiger, are also buried here.
Tip: There is a small entrance fee, but paws down, it’s worth every penny. Keep your eyes peeled for the massive but shapely Art Nouveau entrance by Eugene Petit. A well-worn dirt path will lead you through a maze of moss-covered tombstones, urns, and sculptures. You’ll also spot toys, food dishes, photographs, and love letters.
Sit with me on a bench and grab my hand. If it’s a quiet day, you’ll be able to hear the gurgling of the river passing by, while witnessing such heartfelt gestures. Its resulting beauty both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time. I always weep.
Where is the love? In your lap.
By Theadora Brack
Oops, I did it again.
I attended an exposition’s “vernissage” (literally, the “varnishing”—what we would call the opening), and became smitten with the show and its fine-looking catalog. Obsession activated! Hit hard, and a post card just wouldn’t do. Let me tell you, during the late summer days in Paris, there is nothing sweeter than curling up with an art book in a park just before l’heure bleue.
But, how to score an affordable art catalogue? Take my hand, here’s how this fool falls in love.
1. Check out that rack of glossies
Most museum shops sell “les albums de l’exposition” (guides, magazines, and portfolios). Published by Beaux Arts Magazine, Connaissance des Arts, Le Figaro, or the museum itself, these slim gems are usually prominently displayed, lightweight and affordable, costing just €2 to €10. Full of visuals with punch, they’ll satisfy your head, pocketbook and suitcase. Translated versions are often available, too.
2. Crack Da Chintzy code
La Boutique du Musée du Louvre not only carries current and back issues of “albums de l’exposition,” but also discounts catalogs from its previous expositions by up to 60% off their original cost.
More Tips Ahoy
Other museums like the Centre Pompidou, Musée Carnavalet, and the Palais de Tokyo also slash art catalogue prices throughout the year.
Always one to boast, while at the Musée national de la Marine, I recently netted their “Le Marins Font La Mode—Sailor Chic in Paris” catalog for just a few euros. The felt “bachi” on the cover wooed me like a siren. By the way, the museum also carries handsome striped shirts by designer Jean Paul Gaultier. Steady yourself, Matey. Even the bags are suited in stripes. Now that’s an outfit!
3. Cha-ching at Fuh-nack
Fnac (pronounced “fuh-nack”) also discounts their inventory of books. This includes the catalogues from this year’s blockbuster shows, like Edward Hopper at the Grand Palais, Keith Haring at the Centquatre and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, and Roy Lichtenstein at the Centre Pompidou. Magazines by Beaux Arts are also discounted here. At the moment, I’m coveting the Musée d’Orsay’s Le Romantisme Noir de Goya à Max Ernst. Like the show, it’s a stunner.
Tip: Founded in 1954, 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).
4. Flâneur-tastique. That’s how we stroll.
I’ve been known to spend entire days in the aisles of Mona Lisait Librairies. Although this funky bookstore chain that specializes in new and used art books has shops scattered all over Paris, its Marais location at 17bis rue Pavée is closest to my heart. Its creaky wooden floorboards, uneven brick flooring, tinny classical music, helpful staff, and free gift-wrapping all add up to real atmosphere.
For another take on the arts, go meet the artists or at least their wax replicas at the Musée Grévin (Paris Wax Museum). Then visit the Librairie du Passage just a few feet away at 39 and 48 Passage Jouffroy. Open since 1846, it’s in one of Paris’ classic 19th-century shopping arcades. Even bargain hound Victor Hugo shopped here.
6. Mosey on to Glory
Here I weep. At La librairie de l’Avenue in the middle of Clignancourt Flea Market, the angels sing on high from a little CD player located just below the cashier’s desk. The sweet smell of frankincense tickles the nose. This large but still cozy bookshop is well stocked with new and used art books, vintage prints and antique magazines. Deciding exactly where to start my quest is the only glitch I encounter here as I make my way though the narrow labyrinth of floor to ceiling bookshelves, stocked with discounted books that have been meticulously organized by category, author or genre.
An important note on pronunciation:
You risk raising a few bemused eyebrows if you ask for directions to an “exhibition.” “Exhibitions” (with an “h”) are peep show—which is fine, if that’s the sort of display you’re after. However, if you’re looking for art, give that word a “p”–“exposition.” Oh, la la.
Trekking to Paris in September?
Here are eight expositions I’m looking forward to seeing. Love is swinging in the air. Heads-up: A few of my picks are scheduled to close in September, so plan accordingly.
L’Art Nouveau: La révolution décorative
Tamara de Lempicka: La Reine de l’Art déco
Through September 8 2013
Art Nouveau AND Art Deco. Pinch yourself! Looking for another win-grin? After your visit, trek it on over to the Jardin des Tuileries. The walk should take you about 15 minutes, but with all the architecture whizzing by, it will feel like five.
2. Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits
Titanic, 100 ans après
Closes on September 9th 2013 but our hearts will go on—Near, far, wherever you are. But for now, anchors aweigh!
3. Musée Jacquemart-André
Désirs et volupté à l’époque victorienne, Alma-Tadema, Leighton, Burne-Jones
September 13 2013 to January 13 2014
Downton Abbey fans, don’t leave the building without having tea in the former formal dining room. It’s worth every cent and calorie. Flaunting frescoes by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and chocolate cake, I’ve never failed to make the scene without getting weepy. Afterwards, rendezvous to your heart’s content in the nearby Parc Monceau.
4. Musée de Montmartre
Impressions à Montmartre: Eugène Delâtre and Alfredo Müller
September 14 2013 to January 12 2014
“Come up and see my etchings.” That’s what Eugène Delâtre said.
Inventing color engraving in his rue Lepic studio in Montmartre, his brand-spanking-new technique inspired Picasso, Steinlen, and Toulouse-Lautrec, along with Renoir, Alfredo Müller, and Suzanne Valadon. Featuring works by Delâtre, Müller, and Valadon, the eyes are treated to scenes of daily life in early 20th century Montmartre—night and day, along with portraits of stage starlet Sarah Bernhardt, and dancer Cléopatra de Mérode (the Beyoncé of her day!).
5. Grand Palais
September 18 2013 to January 6 2014
And speaking of Montmartre, it was here at “le Bateau-Lavoir” that Picasso met Georges Braque. “Notre pard,” Picasso took to calling the six-foot former boxer, race car driver and dancer, a phrase he pinched from “Les Histoires de Buffalo Bill.” A tight bond was formed, and Cubism took flight. That was back when you could say, “Be there or be square” and really mean it!
6. Musée national Jean-Jacques Henner
Sensualité et spiritualité: À la recherche de l’absolu
Through September 16 2013
Along with Henner’s dreamy paintings of radiant nudes, the exhibition features his private notebooks, diaries, drawings and sketches. This is one of my favorite ways to get intimate with an artist. It’s all about the process, I say. After your visit, float on over to the Parc Monceau for some more love in the ruins and music lessons.
7. Musée d’Orsay
Masculin / Masculin: L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 à nos jours
(Masculine / Masculine: The Nude Man in Art from 1800 to the Present Day)
September 24 2013 to January 2 2014
Strike a Pose
I have the Anna Wintour bangs, so where’s my front row seat? Mark your calendar and get set. Glow! Then, afterwards hotfoot it on over to the Jardin des Tuileries (literally, “the tileworks”). Built atop the clay pits of the former city tile factory, here swanky cafés, chairs, and over one hundred statues (including many by Maillol) also seductively tempt.
8. Centre Pompidou
Roy Lichtenstein, ‘Une rétrospective’
Through November 4 2013
WHAAM. Oh, Roy. I do love you. Darling, these paintings are masterpieces even if they are a bit cartoonish! But then again, so am I. Pop goes the easel! After your visit, cool your heels by the Stravinsky fountain. Keep your eyes peeled for Jef Aerosol’s “Shhhh” mural. Created by the great graffiti artist back in June 2011, it measures in at an impressive 350 square meters. The mural’s message? “Stop, look and appreciate the city!” It certainly stopped me in my tracks.
Clipping from Henry 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.”
(Apologies for Monday’s technical glitch. Moo, la la!)
By Theadora Brack
Blame it on the summertime weather, but I’ve been picnicking in parks with beaus and paramours like there’s no tomorrow. I nibble. I whisper. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul reaches when you’re in reach. Dear fromage, how do I love you? Let me count the ways.
Updating my little red book, here’s a list of my favorite French cheeses, guaranteed to make a splash at your next backyard shindig, or cocktail party. Grab a knife and a ballpoint pen. A slew of them are available outside of France. Prepare to swoon.
1. Brillat Savarin (Tastes like buttah!)
Butter. Brillat. Butter. Brillat. That’s what he said. Thank my cheese monger friend Ishai (extraordinaire!), for introducing me to this very velvety, voluptuous beauty. I’m a fool for fresh salted butter, so for me it was love at first bite. In fact, I squealed. Read my hips. This decadent triple-cream cheese from Rouen contains a whopping 75% butterfat and about 40% fat overall.
Yes, this little piggy will be returning to the market for more. Tip: I recommend serving it with a sparkling wine or a palate-cleansing beer. The carbonation will cut the fat, while enhancing its milky mushroom flavor. Visiting Paris? Sample Brillat Savarin as a fresh young’un. For the love of cream cheese or ice cream, you won’t be sorry.
Here are a few historical tidbits to help pump up your plateau de fromages and cocktail party conversation. Created in the 1930s by Henri Androuët, he named the cheese after the 18th-century French gastronomic guru, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. A master of words and cuisine, B-S is responsible for such gems as: “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you who you are,” and “A dessert without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.” (Huh?)
2. Oh, Mighty Mimolette
Scatter close, my history bugs, because I’ve got another royal story to tell. After the Sun King banned imported goods from Holland in the 17th century, the folks in Lille, in northeastern France, put their heads together and created a copycat version of Edam, their favorite Dutch cheese. To make it sound more French, they called it Mimolette. After all, a rose by any other name is just as stinky!
So what’s the difference?
Though both have the same basic texture and spherical shape, Edam is dipped in red wax, while Mimolette features a natural (waxless) rind that gives it a neon orange hue. And thanks to the addition of cheese mites, it is riddled with holes. Yes, that’s right—mites!—as in bugs. But fear not, they’ve all flown the coop by the time the finished Mimolette makes it to market. So don’t even think about it!
Here’s a tip
Go vintage! The older, the better, my friend, is what my fromager tells me. Yes, given enough time, Mimolette eventually blossoms, revealing a rich, salty, hazelnut flavor. Looking a lot like a cantaloupe, both inside and out, just try the flaky “extra-vielle” (that’s been aged 18 to 22 months). By the way, it was Charles de Gaulle’s favorite cheese.
The Maréchal de Sennecterre introduced Versailles to Saint-Nectaire, a superstar from near Clermont-Ferrand in Auvergne. Boasting an earthy aroma acquired while curing on straw for eight weeks, the thick, gooey Saint-Nectaire has long had its share of fans.
Even Louis XIV gave this taste sensation his Good Palace-Keeping seal of approval!
My musician friend (and Charlotte Gainsbourg look-alike) Cat is absolutely mad about it. “It’s from where I grew up. The cheese is not industrial. Outside, the crust is grey, but inside it’s creamy, nutty, and fruity. Délicieusement fondant, baby! When I eat it I think of home and my family.”
Keep your eyes peeled for its cousin Pavin, too, dressed in a bright orange rind. Named for Lac Pavin, its strong mushroom flavor will send your taste buds over the moon.
4. Morbier Fermier
Morbier Fermier is easily identifiable in display cases by the horizontal blurred line of bluish ash cutting through it like a layer of icing in the middle of a vanilla cake. This dates back to when farmers would half-fill their cheese molds after the first milking and then scatter a little ash on the curds to keep bugs away till they’d milk the cows again and top up the molds.
Warning: When ripe, it can be smelly! But fear not, its aroma is stronger than its (grassy-with-a-lemon-twist) bite.
How did I discover Morbier Fermier? Again, with a little help from my friends. Television editor Yohan and media analyst Stéphanie made the grand introduction. Whenever I attend one of their dinner parties, I always take notes. “We like Comté, Vacherin Mont d’Or and Morbier Fermier. They’re all from Yohan’s hometown, Besançon,” says Stéphanie.
Where do they shop?
Chez Virginie Fromagerie is their secret weapon. Located at 54 rue Damrémont in the 18th arrondissement (Métro Lamarck-Caulaincourt), Virginie herself is a third-generation cheese monger, and extremely friendly and accessible. If you need help, just ask questions. I also recommend the shop’s signature chèvre, topped with pesto or tapenade.
My pal film editor Laurent discovered Soumaintrain while completing a documentary about the late French New Wave filmmaker, Claude Chabrol. “The film story took place in an old house, where some friends of his came to visit him to enjoy a really good lunch, and he served them Soumaintrain.” After days spent editing this mouthwatering scene, Laurent had no choice but to set out on a quest to find it on his own.
“It’s from Bourgogne. It’s creamy and smelly. You can find its cousin Époisses at many cheese sellers, but only a few of them sell Soumaintrain. It’s very difficult to locate because the producers don’t always identify themselves. It’s like a secret society. Soumaintrain has a stronger taste and even more pungent smell than Époisses. You must drink it with a red wine—a Burgundy, or a good Bourgueil from the Loire Valley.”
6. My guilty pleasure: Cantal
Flummoxed by all these choices? Then I recommend starting off with a satisfyingly buttery number that’s everywhere in Paris but difficult to find outside of France: the “Cantal jeune.” Named for a region filled with volcanic peaks and Saler cattle, even the Sun King was a fan.
Also worth a nibble are the rugged (and rarely exported) six-month-old Cantal vieux and its cousin, Salers. Take any one of the varieties and ménage à trois it with a baguette and a bottle of wine, and you’ve got the perfect mid-summer meal—morning, noon and night.
Clipping Julia Child, “Life itself is the proper binge!”
By Theadora Brack
C’est l’été and the Pastis sipping is easy, so let’s celebrate with a summertime flashback, shall we? Grab the books, baubles, and bathing suits because this week we’re Provence bound. One of my all-time favorite hot spots in the world, especially when the country brocantes are jumping and the lavender is high! I’ve added new tips and pics. Ready for lift-off?
But first scatter around, all history bugs. I’ve got another royal tale up my puffy sleeve!
Pop quiz: Where was fellow Baltimore belle Wallis Warfield Simpson on the day of King Edward’s abdication back in 1936?
Here’s the scoop: While Edward VIII bid farewell on the radio airwaves, “Wally” and her stylish BFF motored to Grasse, inland from Nice, and toured the Molinard and the Bruno Court perfume factories. According to the newspapers of the day: “Mrs. Simpson Calm; Takes An Auto Ride,” was the zippy headline.
Heck, I’ve had those days! Fully embracing flower power, lavender both soothes and re-energizes my spirits every time, transforming not only perception, but also attitude. I am a believer. In Provence, I once trailed a lavender truck flush with clippings as it slowly made its way to a distillerie les coulets (traditional lavender distillery), beaucoup miles out of my way because of its intense scent and the tranquil buzz it gave me.
La Maison Molinard
Designed by Gustave Eiffel, the Molinard factory in Grasse is still worth the journey. Located at 60 Boulevard Victor Hugo, the headquarters flaunts a swanky but cozy show room, outfitted with the Molinard family collection of antique Provençal furniture, perfect for cooling your heels after a long morning of sniffing it up on the town.
Even Queen Victoria paid a visit to stock up on her beloved Eaux de Cologne. Here at Molinard, you’ll not only get an eyeful of their eclectic collection of vintage bottles, labels, and advertisements, but you’ll also learn how perfume is made in Grasse. For a small fee, they’ll even help you create your very own signature scent. Talk about being a queen for a day!
My pick? It’s got to be Habanita. The powdery fragrance was created in 1921 as a product for flappers to scent cigarettes. Inspired by the sweet tobacco smoked by WWI Allied Troops, this leathery number with hints of lavender was re-launched as the real McCoy a few years later, coolly dressed to the nines with water nymphs by Réne Lalique. So wiggle on in your glad rags. Oh, la la.
La vie en rose
While touring in Grasse, I also recommend touring the Parfumerie Galimard and the Parfumerie Fragonard, along with my personal favorite: the Musée International de la Parfumerie Grasse.
Making a splash
Tip: Hold on to your turbans! Designer Paul Poiret is in the spotlight at the Musée International de la Parfumerie Grasse. “Paul Poiret: Couturier Parfumeur” shines through September 7, 2013.
Here’s the squeal: Paul Poiret (a.k.a. Le Magnifique) was the first couturier to create a perfume line. In 1911 he launched his “Parfums de Rosine” with a rousing Ballets Russes-inspired tented backyard shindig. Making leaps and bounds with the theatrical possibilities in garb, Poiret dressed his guests in his new “lampshade”-silhouetted tunics and silky “harem” pants. And thus was the birth of loungewear!
Wandering deep in Poiret’s personal garden of Eden, the party goers feasted and drank wine while cavorting on pillows and blankets embroidered in shades of green and red roses, too. Even Isadora Duncan made the scene and cut a rug like no other. The fête was a success. Word quickly spread about Poiret’s new-fangled scents and “trousers-dresses” for women. It might even say the news had “real legs.”
Ahead of the curve, yes, but it still took awhile for the jupe culottes to catch fire, not hell. “Unladylike,” the critics cried. When the rebelling fashionistas were first spotted sporting such duds in Paris, near riots broke out, according to a 1911 New York Times story.
The reporter wrote, “It is perhaps the American woman, with her love of freedom, who will adopt them for walking in preference to the tight hobbleskirts which would appear to be designed with the the express intention of impeding movement, a state of affairs which the modern energetic athletic woman was bound to ‘kick against’ soon or later. Now that she can ‘kick’ literally as well as figuratively, what will she do? Will she take advantage of this new freedom offered to her?”
Fast Forward: Now throw on your hot pants and let’s take a spin around Provence. Time marches on!
By Theadora Brack
Celebrating the launch of the “Les Soldes d’Eté” (Summer Sales) on Wednesday, June 26th, I’ve decided to hit the streets of Paris for some window-shopping. Like Holly Golightly, whenever I get the mean reds, I foxtrot it on over to the grand magasins along Boulevard Haussmann. It’s my favorite nook of paradise in the city. Here the lights are much brighter and the rooftop views are always free.
Meet Frances Waxman
At the flea market, I recently scored Frances Waxman’s illustrated 1912 slim gem: “A Shopping Guide in Paris and London.” Feeling groovy, let’s take a spin around Paris with her handy-dandy of a shopping guide. I think you’ll dig her tips.
For instance, back in the day, globe-trekking, yet frugal, fashionistas flocked to the department stores to feed their bargain basement blues. On Fridays, the shops lured passersby inside with fantastical displays of discounted silk remnants (a.k.a. “coupons”)—”things which can be combined into a French creation.” Someone get Martha Stewart on the horn! She’d approve.
Rebel, Rebel Tip: For walking, Madame Waxman recommends sporting a skirt short rather than with a train that must be held up in “French fashion.” I second that motion. All the better to carry beaucoup shopping bags, I’d say. Grab the leather gants. I’ve got the parasols. Let’s put the hustle in the bustle!
First Stop: Bon Marché
Waxman sets the scene: “Underclothing of all sorts, stockings, handkerchiefs and gloves are all good and cheap at the Bon Marché! It is a fact that the large balls of darning cotton sold here have a certain renown among frequent visitors to Paris.” Don’t ever underestimate the power of a “Made in Paris” label. Then, now, and hopefully forever!
“The cathedral of modern commerce!” is how Émile Zola neatly described Le Bon Marché in his novel “Le Bonheur des Dames.” The store was the first to launch fixed pricing, welcome stations staffed with English-speaking personal shoppers, and self-service. Even prostitutes were welcomed here with open arms.
Dressed to the Nines: Winding it back to the 1870s, the Paris department stores were the first in the world to install polished plate glass windows because of their close proximity to the France-based Saint-Gobain Glassworks. Ahead of the curve, yes, but it still took awhile for faire du lèche-vitrine (“window licking”) to catch fire. Some shops even hired paid window shoppers to tempt others to do the same.
Soon shoppers were stopping by the new “walk-around” palace on a daily basis. They were hooked. Even as the Prussian army surrounded the city in the war of 1870, American and English fashionistas didn’t flee but kept on shopping at Bon Marché, because a trip to Paris without having shopped would be a “life-long regret.” Now, who hasn’t been there before?
Next Stop: Boulevard Haussmann
After picking up a petit four or five at Bon Marché’s La Grande Epicerie de Paris (one of the world’s largest international food labyrinths), we’ll take the Métro up to Boulevard Haussmann, where Printemps and Galeries Lafayette sit pretty. Along the way, let’s flip once more through Waxman’s 1912 Paris shopping guide, and get still more scoop.
“As the Parisians go to the Bon Marché for their substantial things, they go to Printemps for hat and dress trimmings. Galeries Lafayette is a good place to look for bargain blouses! The lingerie there is often beautiful, and ready-made dresses are to be had in every sort of material and of every degree of elaboration. And its prices are not too high!” Do you hear what I hear? Music to my ears.
Under the looking glass
Tip: While promenading up and down the boulevard, don’t leave without nipping inside Galeries Lafayette for an peek at its glass domed ceiling by architect Ferdinand Chanut. Installed in 1912, this Belle Epoch beauty with a Byzantine twist never fails to dazzle with its razzle. I suggest taking the escalator to the first floor above ground level.
After a quick fly-by through Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s witty garb, lean over the Art Nouveau balcony for a rather spectacular aerial view of the beauty booths below. The logos were installed specifically for this bird’s-eye perspective. Here the phantoms keep time with the fragrance hawkers down below. Squeak to squeak, I’m in heaven.
Snipping yet again from “Bon Marché Weather,” a poem by Gertrude “Lady Dada” Stein: “There are a very great many things everybody is buying. There are a very great many things you are buying. There are a very great many things they are buying. There are a very great many things I am buying.”
As our good chum Virginia over at Bel’ Occhio would say, “A dangerous liaison – this is what Paris is all about. Every woman knows. This frisson of excitement. This bargain well found. This carrying of bags and box. This Paris mine.”
Sigh. Happy hunting!