By Theadora Brack
Celebrating cooler weather and fresh starts, let’s take the plunge. And why not? “After a hot bath, I’m ready to take on the world,” is what my indomitable grandmother used to say. Napoleon would have loved her. In fact, one of his own favorite mantras was, “Water, air, and cleanliness are the chief articles in my pharmacy.”
I couldn’t agree more. So let’s recharge the batteries with five bizarre bath tales from the City of Light. I’ll grab the towels and bubby, while you fill the tub.
1. Puttin’ on the Ritz
After an extreme makeover, the Hôtel Ritz Paris has reopened. Down through the years, the hotel has seen the likes of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Charlie Chaplin, and Greta Garbo, along with Sophia Loren, Orson Welles, and Marlene Dietrich — just to name a few. Let’s not forget Hemingway, either.
Hem’s wife Mary wrote, “Marlene used to wander down to Ernest’s room to sit on his bathtub and sing to him while he shaved, and they both forgave me when I mimicked her.” Oh, la la. It is a small world.
King of the Hoteliers
César Ritz (a.k.a. “Host to the World”) opened the Hôtel Ritz in 1898. Adding posh and circumstance, rooms were outfitted with telephones, electricity, and bathrooms. With real tubs! But in a rare fit of pique, wet blanket Oscar Wilde missed the point. “Who wants an immovable washing basin in one’s room?” he whined. “Hide the thing. I prefer to ring for water when I need it.” Oh, Oscar.
Here’s another royal blush: After King Edward VII got stuck in a bathtub at the hotel during a ménage à trois, Monsieur Ritz swiftly installed king-sized tubs in all the rooms. After all, this “host with the most” was also credited with having coined the phrase: “The customer is never wrong.” Rub-a-Dub-Dub!
2. Turn on your love light
Ever since Louis XIV cried, “Let there be light,” tourists have been flocking to Paris. Under his reign, Paris became the first city in the world to illuminate its streets after dark, turning it into the world’s premier tourist destination practically over (a well-lit) night. It’s been the City of Lights ever since.
One of the establishments that flourished under Louis XIV’s lighting initiative was his very own bathhouse. Operated by the Sun King’s first valet de chamber, Francois Quentin, here is where he went for rubdowns with essential oils, hair removal, and the occasional “indulgence.” Yes, sometimes, according to palace gossip, the Duc Saint-Simon, his highness would take a little comfortati (a.k.a. “aphrodisiac”). Wowza.
Trekking to Paris? Don’t miss the king’s octagonal bathtub at Versailles. Restored in 1936, it’s made from a single block of reddish violet and creamy white marble. Installed in the palace in 1773 and costing a whopping 14,000 18th century dollars, it weighed in at an impressive ten tons. Imagine Oscar ringing for that.
According to dancer Gabrielle Deslys, the best way to cleanse the skin while improving circulation was to travel to the seashore, collect some salty beach sand, and then heat it before scrubbing the skin until it glows.
“Every morning I have my bath. But, unlike most people, I do not dry myself with towels. A quantity of the finest sea sand is heated until it is quite hot and brought in on a large piece of canvas, and when I get out of the tub, I am rubbed with this sand until I am not only perfectly dry, but until my skin has attainted a perfect polish, and feels soft and satiny to the touch.”
“Afterwards, I am comfortable and so happy that if I were a kitten, I could purr.” Gaby wrote from her own black marble bathtub in 1912.
Mademoiselle Deslys was also known for a dance called the “Gaby Glide,” and is credited with having performed the first strip tease on Broadway—while serving as a spy for the French government. Talk about a multi-tasker!
Get out your Geiger counters. After WWI, radioactive face creams, toothpaste, lipsticks, and bath salts were all the rage. In 1932, Dr. Alfred Curie (apparently—and amazingly—no relation to Madame Curie) launched the Tho-Radia line of beauty products, which promised lighter, brighter complexions. And no wonder he could stake that claim—they were made with glow-in-the-dark thorium chloride and radium bromide.
Advertisements featured a cool blonde washed in an eerie, bluish light who taunted, “Stay old if you want.” But Paul Frame, a curator of radioactive consumer goods, warns against the temptation to collect the Tho-Radia line because it’s still “an inhalation hazard that your lungs will not thank you for.” In other words, it’s not such a bright idea.
5. All Washed Up
Napoleon bathed regularly, back during a time when the average European bathed only once every few weeks. He even brought his bathtub with him on military campaigns. Legend has it that his beloved bathtub was lost on the morning of the fateful battle of Waterloo. At the time, he thought it as a very bad omen. It’s true—you could say he was all washed up!
A stickler for first-rate hygiene, Napoleon’s toiletry kit included a shaving basin, soap, licorice, a pair of tweezers for plucking the beard, toothbrushes, tongue scrapers, razors in mother of pearl and gold, combs, scissors, gimlets, cork-screws, a looking glass in a matted gold frame, and an ear picker—along with large gilt bottles for Eau de Cologne.
Cuckoo for the citrus-scented Eau de Cologne, Napoleon emptied as many as sixty bottles per month. All other scents were abolished, wrote his valet, Louis Constant Wairy. According to his faithful servant, the “Little Corporal” also had a habit of pitching his garments all over the room, believing—as Napoleon himself put it—that you “Throw off your worries when you throw off your clothes at night!”
I know the feeling. It’s quite therapeutic. And I wake up ready to take on the world, too!
By Theadora Brack
Celebrating photographer Man Ray’s upcoming August 27th birthday, let’s trip the de-light fantastique in Paris with two of my favorite photographers in the world, Peter and Riley Brack. First, though, let me offer a bit of full disclosure: they’re among my favorites not only because they’re my cousins but also because they’re both great lensmen and adventurers, as you’ll soon see.
During the final leg of their recent month-long European expedition, this dream team documented the rues of Paris without rest, capturing the city with infectious zeal and zest. Their portraits coolly mesh old with new, fully embracing a sacred new Proustian world of dynamic, overlapping, ever-changing juxtapositions.
As Man Ray once wisely put it, “To create is divine.” I couldn’t agree more.
Peter and Riley set the scene. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
In celebration of the recent July 14th Bastille Day in France, let’s doff our “bachi” to my favorite Franco-American collaboration, the gigantesque statue of Lady Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in the New York Harbor.
This year, I’ve got new images, along with one taken by our own special photographer friend, Maurice Sapiro. While playing the trumpet with the 279th Army Band in Europe in 1956, Maurice documented the streets of France. So without further adieu, let’s play forward with some homage, shall we?
After all these years
Our own 151-foot tall beauty is still looking fierce in her spiky nimbus (that’s right, mythically speaking, it’s not a crown!) and matching floor length chiton in all its copper green tonalities. An exquisite nod to the style of classical Greece, I must say. All the rage in Empire France, too.
As the late, great designer, Christian Dior once put it, “Darling, your toile with the cinched waist is perfect!” (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Come fly with me, let’s fly, let’s fly away! Calling all bargain hunters: It’s that most wonderful time of the year in Paris. “Les Soldes d’Eté” launch today (Wednesday, June 24, 2015). I look forward to the “Sales of Summer” all year long.
In celebration, here are a few new tips for scoring big at the centuries-old grand magasins during this sizzling five-week affair to remember.
You know the thrill, so crank up the printer. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Dear friends, Romans, and incurable romantics, lend me your pointy cat ears, kid gloves, and sunglasses. Blame it on the balmy breezes blowing to and fro, but I’ve got a strong hankering for a generous spritz of some misty time travel. That’s how we flow.
As promised, this week we’re making a pilgrimage back to Rome with photographer Maurice Sapiro.
So, get to packing! Don’t forget your coins for the Trevi Fountain. However, leave the party ball gowns and “Playtime Pants” at home, because we’ll also swing by the Sorelle Fontana studio, and nip some stylish garb to call our own.
Helping ignite a worldwide love affair with Italian Haute Couture during the 1950s, Micol, Giovanna, and Zoe Fontana outfitted the curves of the likes of Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, and Kim Novak, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Jayne Mansfield, and Audrey Hepburn.
In addition to her signature draping and beading, Micol Fontana also strutted her stuff as the fashion house’s ambassador at large, fearlessly trekking all over the globe. Victory laps, most likely, because her promotional campaigns possessed “real legs.” Her legs, in fact.
According to one zippy New York Times headline, the enchanting designer traveled with a personal “international wardrobe,” made up of no fewer than 24 custom-made outfits and 70 prêt-à-porter pieces.
“If I had time to make them, I’d wear a new dress every day. I love to change my clothes—I feel that clothes really change one’s mood,” said Micol. I completely agree. And apparently, so did actor Cary Grant, who gave her a lift home after her very first fashion show in Hollywood. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
This week, as a teary adieu to Mad Men, let’s catch some bliss and sunrays. On gossamer wings, follow me to the terrace at the Musée d’Art Moderne, located on the eastern arm of the Palais de Tokyo. Built for the 1937 Exposition Internationale, here is one of my favorite havens in Paris. The wine is affordable, while the view of the Eiffel Tower breaks hearts faster than Don Draper.
On the terrace, you’ll also find voluptuous nymphs chill-axing by the poolside. Wearing nothing but sheer confidence and stylish do’s, don’t hate them because they’re still beautiful. According to master coiffeur Acacio Pezzutti da Silva, our mod squad is sporting the softer 1930s rolled-up version of the bobbed hairdo, originally fashioned by Antoine de Paris in 1909.
Never underestimate the power of a flattering hairdo. Perhaps this explains the strength they exude?
As my grandmother Helen used to say, “If you look like a million bucks, you’ll feel like a million bucks.” I couldn’t agree more.
Trekking to Paris?
Don’t leave the city without indulging in a beverage (or two) on a café terrace. Sure, your drinks may cost a little more than in a grocery store, but the upside is that you’ll have courtside seats for people-watching, and you can stay as long as you like. So don’t forget to pack your sketchbook or selfie stick! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Start spreading the news! Grab your glad rags and shopping bags. This week, we’re trekking to New York, New York for some springtime faire du lèche-vitrine.
Whilst day tripping, time is precious. However, it’s possible to visit most of my favorite centuries-old department stores in one day. I’ll also throw in a few cinematic tidbits. I’ve been walking Fifth Avenue since the age of eight. I’m still cuckoo for it.
Here’s how Anaïs Nin described New York City to Henry Miller: “I love the proportions, the amplitude, the brilliance, the polish, the solidity. I look up at Radio City insolently and love it. The newness. The vitality. Just bring your own contents, and you create a sparkle at the highest power!”
All aboard? Let’s glow.
Miracle on 34th Street
We’ll kick-off our jaunt outside Macy’s at Herald Square. Commandeer a few chairs, while I trap the still almighty hot-to-the-touch salted pretzels.
After we’ve admired the vitrines and massive pots of tulips, we’ll gaze up at the nearby Empire State Building, the closest thing to heaven in this city. It’s still true. However, before crossing, do look both ways or else you, too, will have a star-crossed Affair to Remember! Besides, Cary Grant left the building years ago. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Calling all Guys and Dolls: Get ready to step out, and I don’t mean maybe. Start packing! Springtime has arrived, making it easy, breezy to tour, explore, and adore. This season we’ll not only brave New York’s concrete canyons to take a bite out of the Big Apple’s vitrines, but we’ll also waltz back in time to the Eternal City of Rome with one of my favorite photographers.
And that’s not all. In the weeks ahead we’ve also lined up a rendezvous at a centuries-old Parisian fashion house. So there’s no need to pack your ball gown yet. I’ve got you covered, Cendrillon! O, sigh do sew! Pinch yourself. That’s how we roll.
Today, though, let’s rise to the occasion at Le Grenier à Pain in Montmartre. Hook, line, and teeth sinker! Here is where I buy most of my baguettes and jambon-fromage sandwiches. Consistency, attentive service, and a wild house selection of cakes, breads, and tarts are just a few of the Grenier boulangerie’s captivating qualities.
Add award-winning to the mix, too. Back in 2010, Boulanger Djibril Bodian won the 2010 “Grand Prix de la Baguette de Tradition Française de la Ville de Paris” which not only earned him a medal and cash but also earned him the honor of baking bread for the Palais de l’Elysées for one year! America’s own White House pales in comparison! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Fully embracing World Book Day and the bittersweet “gallop of remembrance,” this week I’m sharing my growing stash of patriotic sheet music. I’ll also include an excerpt from one of my favorite love letters, by poet and founding surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, written in 1915 while he was enlisted with the 38th Regiment of Field Artillery.
Setting the Scene: Living with Gusto
Madeleine Pagès was his muse. A cartridge casing served as his inkwell.
While serving in uniform in Champagne in the Premier Guerre Mondial, Apollinaire showered both his sweethearts and fellow artists with daily dispatches from the front: “Polishing galore, theory more than galore, maneuvers on foot, sabre, musket, revolver, horse management, riding, gymnastics, and a reasoned, practical and thorough study of the 75, which is a beautiful weapon, as beautiful, strong and sweet, I think, as one of my poems.”
Oh, say can you see?
Often by moonlight the prolific poet penned his calligrammes and signature “fireworks in steel.” Way ahead of the Dada hairpin curve, Apollinaire’s sensuous, erotically charged poèmes simultanés are still almighty hot to the touch, just bursting with joyous desire. I am in awe of his composure to compose his burning lines of verse while under actual fire, again and again. (more…)
By Theadora Brack
In celebration of Saint-Valentine’s Day, next week I plan to share my all-time favorite love letter by poet and founding surrealist Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine Pagès, written in 1915 while he was enlisted in the French army’s 38th Regiment of Field Artillery during the Great War.
Apollinaire’s prose is pretty darn steamy. You are in for a treat, in fifty shades of glorious sepia.
In the meantime, let’s salute to love with our annual toast. And yes, let’s share another sweet-and-sour Sidecar!
Repeating myself: Invented at the Ritz during the aforementioned Great War by head barman Frank Meier (and author of the “Artistry of Mixing Drinks”—Harry’s New York Bar devotees, look away!), you go and grab the cognac and Cointreau while I squeeze the lemon and crack the ice. You know the thrill!
But especially on this special day of the year, let’s not forget Frank Meier’s neat credo about what makes a great bar truly great. It’s not the drink recipes, and it’s not the décor. It’s the people. So spread the warmth. Straight up! I say, like there’s no tomorrow.
Until next week!
My love I am sending you a butterfly’s wing that I found today.
Butterflies have beautiful names but I don’t know them, beautiful mythological names.
May the autumnal hues of this wing suggest to you the even more delicate shades of love.
—Guillaume Apollinaire to Madeleine, October 1915 (more…)