To Paris With Love

Ile-de-France by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

Ile-de-France by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

By Theadora Brack

Paris will survive. The City of Light has been through thousands of years of barbarian invasions, plagues, religious wars, sieges, and Nazi occupations, and always comes through. In fact, the city’s heraldic symbol is a boat on waves surrounded by a motto that says something to the effect that no matter how rough it gets, she keeps on floating, “Fluctuat nec mergitur!” A 14th century mantra: “Tossed by the waves but never sunk!”

And Paris will keep on floating and cha-changing with the times.

My musician friends have already started spreading the word about their upcoming gigs in concerts halls, big and small, and parks, bars and cafés, too.

“The beat must go on,” my bass player friend Jeff wrote.

Les Trois Grâces at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photograph: Theadora Brack)

Les Trois Grâces at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

So this week, let’s also gently, gently sail forth with a stroll through the Jardin des Tuileries, one of my favorite havens to rendezvous, rain or shine. Created by Queen Catherine de Médici with a slight Italian flair in 1564, the Jardin des Tuileries (literally, “the tileworks”) was built atop the clay pits of the former city tile factory. Here Catherine and her courtside “flying squadron” of ladies-in-waiting threw many a fit, fête and soirée.

L’Air by Aristide Maillol at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

A few decades later, King Henri IV grabbed the reins. With the help of gardening gurus Claude Mollet and Jacques Boyceau, the king of the urban-redo revamped the royal grounds, replacing the old-school checkerboard patterns with floral boxwood designs. Deep in the scrolling embroidery-like parterres en broderie, the petal-pushing king horsed around with his friends, entertainers, and mistress, Gabrielle d’Estrée. As Henri liked to say, “Great cooking and great wines make a paradise on earth.” O, Henri!

Basin at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

Ahead of the curve he may have been, but very little of the dream team’s original makeover still survives because some sixty years later, the Jardin de Tuileries was given yet another redo by landscape architect André Le Nôtre, during the Sun King’s reign. After the Big Wigs’ big move to Versailles, it became one of the first public parks. Sadly, this was also where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were held prisoners during the French Revolution. At that time, due to years of neglect, the gardens were rampant with duckweed, prostitution, and angry mobs.

L'Aube by Aristide Maillol at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

L’Aube by Aristide Maillol at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

Today the park is back in the budding business. Here you’ll find beaucoup hideaways, perfect for reading and whispering sweet nothings. There’s never a shortage of café terraces, goats, flowerbeds, benches, shady trees or views of the Eiffel Tower. Here is where I often dance with sculptor Aristide Maillol’s voluptuous bronze beauties. With their infectious tranquility, this statuesque entourage of eighteen femmes has never failed to repair this flâneur’s heart. The statues have been holding court here at the Tuileries since 1964, thanks to a generous gift from Maillol’s muse and model, Dina Vierny.

Panorama du Jardin des Tuileries et de la rue de Rivoli (Image: T. Brack's archives)

Panorama du Jardin des Tuileries et de la rue de Rivoli (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

Seeing evening come to the Tuileries, I am reassured once more that this city is still a special place, a very human place, and a place for the whole planet to cherish and celebrate. This certainly isn’t the first time we’ve all needed to be reminded of this. Amid the smoking rubble of the Premier Guerre Mondial, tourists with copies of M.V. Vernier’s pocket-sized 1918 edition of “How to Enjoy Paris” in hand would have read these passionate words, urging them to keep visiting:

“The spirit of Paris gradually takes possession of you and permeates you never to depart. From now on, wherever you go, it will re-awaken you. You will be drawn back to it with irresistible force, like the moth, at even-time, to the flame. There is no other cure for Paris-itis—save a little three week trip across the ocean and tropics. And at the end of the voyage is found the long-sought-for-oasis, the delicious and magic fountain where lost attractiveness is found again, and the most capricious whim is satisfied.”

Grand Bassin at the Jardin des Tuileries, 1918 (Image: T. Brack's archives)

Grand Bassin at the Jardin des Tuileries, 1918 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

Standing by a fountain in the Tuileries, I think yes, Paris may change a little—but then again, it always has. After all, that’s what made it what it is today. Just remember that, like the old French adage says, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

So stay safe, I say, but carpe diem anyway! Keep on traveling and definitely keep on dancing.

Basin at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

Basin at the Jardin des Tuileries (Photo: Theadora Brack)

La Douleur by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

La Douleur by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photo: Theadora Brack)

La Baigneuse aux bras levees by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photograph by Theadora Brack)

La Baigneuse aux bras levees by Aristide Bonaventure Maillol (Photo: Theadora Brack)

BRACK Tuileries 606

Weird Paris: Angels and Aliens

Let’s rustle up some spirits in another dimension, Grands Magasins du Louvre, 1954 (Images: T. Brack’s archives)

By Theadora Brack

Gather ’round, my fellow angels and aliens. October always means it’s time for the annual re-spilling of bizarre stories and red wine. I’ve got a big ring jangling with skeleton keys to the imagination. This year, I’ve also added a few more mysteries and photographs. So without further ballyhoo, here are some of my favorite phantom-chasing grounds in Paris.

Ready to raise heck? Let’s go rustle up some spirits in another dimension.

1. Down in the Seine

Witness if you will, a young woman, hailing a taxicab at Place Pigalle. The year is 1922 and the destination is the Pont Neuf. Arriving at the bridge a bumpy ride later, she hands the driver a five-franc note, climbs up on one of the nook-like bastions, and then immediately tumbles over the parapet. Her body isn’t recovered until much later that evening, some distance downstream.

According to newspaper accounts the following day, Alice Marie Dessenne was a seamstress, still sharing a flat with her parents in Montmartre. She had recently fallen head over heels for a pearl dealer from Sri Lanka, but unfortunately, her Prince Charming turned out to be not all that charming. He had fled France before tying the nuptial knot. (more…)

Paris: 5 Tales from the Tub

Splish! Splash! LA FONTAINE DES MERS, PLACE DE LA CONCORDE Photograph by Theadora Brack

Rub-a-dub-dub Mon Ouvrage magazine, March 1957

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. (more…)

Paris: Backdrops for Photo-ops with Peter and Riley Brack

Riley Brack on the Pont Alexandre III with the Eiffel Tower in view (Photo by Peter Brack)

Riley Brack on the Pont Alexandre III with the Eiffel Tower in view (Photo: Peter Brack)

Peter Brack at the Woodstock Hostel (Photo by Riley Brack)

Peter Brack at the Woodstock Hostel (Photo by Riley Brack)

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…)

Paris: Rendezvous with Lady Liberty



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…)

Paris: Smooth Sailing at the Department Stores

Smooth Sailing: “First fashion show held in the air” Lord & Taylor, 1931 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

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…)

Rome: Timeless Images of the Eternal City

Fashion show at the Sorrelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack's archives)

Fashion show at the Sorelle Fontana studio, featuring Ava Gardner, Rome, 1954 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

“Playtime Pants” by the Fontana Sisters, Villa Borghese, Rome, 1955 Photographer: Massimo Ascani (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

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.

Fontana Sisters

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…)

Paris Tips: Paradise Found


Pass the new-fangled Ambre Solaire, 1935 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

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…)

New York: A Shopping Spree

A Pretzel Break at  Bergdorf Goodman and the Grand Army Plaza (Photographs by Theadora Brack)

A Pretzel Break at Bergdorf Goodman and the Grand Army Plaza (Photographs by Theadora Brack)

An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant (Image: Movieposterdb)

An Affair to Remember with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant (Image: Movieposterdb)

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…)

Springtime in Paris: Rise and Shine!

Get to Packing! We've got places to go and people to see! (Images: T. Brack's archives)

Get to Packing! We’ve got places to go and people to see! (TWA Press Shot, 1958 Image: T. Brack’s archives)

Full Steam Ahead! (TWA, 1958 mage: T. Brack’s archives)

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.

Flour Power

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…)


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