By Theadora Brack
I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Never, ever underestimate the power of a good old-fashioned “air bath”— whether it’s in the middle of the day or all alone in the moonlight.
As my fit-as-a-fiddle grandmother Emmae used to sing, “After an air bath, this little Brack birdie is back on track. Hear me soar!”
I couldn’t agree more. And I’m not the only big time believer in the benefits of a bain d’air.
Because bathers are gonna bathe
Apparently, francophile Benjamin Franklin also possessed a mad penchant for launching each day all au natural. Nestled naked in a chair by an open window sat the bigwig polymath—winter, spring, summer, and fall.
“You know the cold bath has long been in vogue here as a tonic; but the shock of the cold water has always appeared to me, generally speaking, as too violent: and I have found it much more agreeable to my constitution, to bathe in another element, I mean cold air,” Franklin wrote to a Parisian friend in 1768.
“With this view I rise early almost every morning, and sit in my chamber, without any clothes whatever, half an hour or an hour, according to the season, either reading or writing. This practice is not in the least painful, but on the contrary, agreeable!”
A royal treatment
Royal S. Copeland, M.D. would have certainly put his stamp of approval on Franklin’s daily pet ritual. In fact, he did.
In 1933, the Commissioner of Health of New York City shared a few D.I.Y. tips in his column: “Include air baths in the health campaign! Keep it up year ’round! Air baths improve the texture and tone of the skin . . . The baths should be taken in a moderately cool, well-ventilated room. For the first bath, only half the body should be exposed. As the body becomes accustomed to the cool air, more clothes can be discarded!”
Now on the flipside—but equally off the bathtub chain was Soprano Mary Garden’s fontaine de jouvence remedy. The “Sarah Bernhardt of the Opéra” was notorious for sharing beauty secrets. For instance, she often touted her favorite “youth-giving tonic,” which included swimming in the buff, capped by a midnight seawater massage.
“God never intended that we should wear clothes! That is civilization’s mark!” Mlle. Garden told awed reporters in 1924. “I went to my villa at Beaulieu overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean. As usual, I took long swims with my two police dogs, away from the shore where bathing costumes are not necessary!”
Word quickly spread
A publicity slam-dunk for Mary, for sure. Soon women everywhere began taking the plunge all au natural. And how could they not, after reading the zippy newspaper headlines: “Mary Garden Back! Slimmer! Younger! More debonair than ever!”
But that’s not all, my Opéra and Olympic Games fanatics. In preparation for her “Salomé” role in 1908, our Mary took her appetite for healthy living to new heights, or more specifically, Mont Blanc. That’s right. Not losing her head, she scaled the highest mountain in the Alps. Garbed in knickerbockers and a sweater, the divine diva miraculously made ascension in two days. At the top, she apparently bared it all in her birthday suit, according to legend. A real peak experience, you might say.
“My lungs seem twice as strong now! You need a good head and a strong heart, but then one needs the same things in everything—to climb anywhere!”
Words to live by swimmingly, I’d say.
There is something about Mary
So this week, let’s be more like Mary, and let it all hang out on 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 all-time favorite paradises in Paris. The wine is affordable, while the view of the Eiffel Tower never fails to thrill.
Here you’ll also spot my favorite voluptuous nymphs, chilling by the poolside. Created by by sculptors Léon-Ernst Drivier and Auguste Guénot in 1937, the bathing beauties were recently given a much-needed beauty cleansing treatment. The graffiti is gone. Like the wind, so are most of the pollution streaks. Wearing nothing but sheer confidence and stylish do’s, don’t hate them because they’re still beautiful.
And I’ve got a few before and after shots to prove it. To repeat: Never underestimate the power of a bath. Perhaps this explains the strength they exude?
In the words of my other grandmother, Helen J., “If you feel like a million bucks, you’ll look like a million bucks!”
I second that potion. Now, in celebration of La Rentrée, let’s study the before and after shots, whilst air bathing like nobody’s watching. Pass the Ambre Solaire!
By Theadora Brack
In celebration of Bastille Day 2016 in France, let’s once again doff our “bachi” to my favorite Franco-American collaboration, the gigantesque statue of Lady Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in the New York Harbor.
I’ve got new retro-rocking images, along with one tale of spunky heroism. So without further ballyhoo, let’s play forward with some homage to friendship, shall we? Grab a seat and a Perfect Manhattan in a coupe cocktail glass. Here’s the squeal.
The year is 1913.
Setting the scene: Witness if you will, two young women hustling up the spiral staircase to the Statue of Liberty’s crown. Nothing is going to break their stride. Not even their hip hugging hobble skirts! In fact, Margaret Donovan and Gladys Revere not only beat their fellow steamer passengers to the crown, but also commandeer the best vitrine in the room. Balancing on tipsy toes, they gaze out at the Big Apple, transfixed! The view from the grande dame’s starburst tiara is like nothing they’ve ever seen.
Suddenly, Margaret gets a wild hair, and attempts to wiggle through the teensy window and clamber down to the itsy-bitsy ledge just above Lady Liberty’s hairline. Then the unthinkable happened.
Sea legs, don’t fail me now (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Snapping to le point, I’ve been on the hunt for the fantastical, slip sliding all the way, up and down the wet rues of Paris. Suited with waterproof shoes, a parapluie, and sponge-like senses, I’ve been striving to capture the heady, surreal sensation of experiencing the rustling, bustling Parisian cityscape as if for the very first time.
I focused. I opened my eyes more. Seeking what Jean Cocteau called, “true realism,” I squinted and daydreamed, too. With cat-like whiskers and reflexes, I followed the poet’s recipe to a T—adding more than a heaping dash of transcendence in order to discover “surprising things which habit keeps covered and prevents us from seeing.”
I walked new rues, rode unfamiliar bus routes, often to the end of the line, while peering through my sea foam-tinted pince-nez spectacles.
I baked 33 batches of les Chouquettes from scratch. I rescued a toy cat from a fountain. I stepped, stepped to a dope Renaissance beat. I biked. I boxed. I saw tigers and clouds in my coffee-flavored “Dieu du Ciel Pénombre” beer, after bumping into Henri Rousseau’s spirit deep in the Jardin des Plantes at the end of a rain shower.
But still, still inside me, swirling deep, was a single burning question: Is it really possible to attach too many pompoms to one’s handbag? Always one to revel in the revival of a century-old craze, I think not. And let me tell you, the proof is in the puffing. I’ve spied the little darlings everywhere in the city—dangling from everything from scarves and necklaces to Gladiator sandals.
So yes! I’ve got much to share. Stay tuned for more limonade-flavored summertime Paris stories.
Clipping from Henry Miller yet again: “One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.”
I completely agree. Now, let’s roll the tape! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
This week, let’s talk turkey! Grocery store chains may be your best bets for cutting costs while living in Paris, and they’re perfectly fine and dandy for long-term stays. But what if you’re visiting for just a week or two? Well then, I say, live it up like there’s no tomorrow. “Queen For A Day!” has always been my mantra while holiday.
When visiting one of the finest food capitals of the world—a place chock-full of bountiful “Bon Produits” (specialty shops), all managed by certified experts who are more than willing to share their vast wealth of knowledge—it is absolutely not the time to stoop to shopping at chain grocery stores just to save a few centimes. If you’re in Paris long-term, sure, but if it’s just for a week or two, then take in all those wonderful boulangeries, pâtisseries, chocolatiers, confiseries, glaciers, éspiceries, fromageries, charcuteries, poissonneries, caves, and cafés with a clear conscience. That’s what you’re here for.
And don’t be shy. Ask for recommendations, and in the process you’ll take home more than the receipt. Make every meal an experience! After all, it was Julia Child’s very first lunch in France that changed her life, and set her cookbook project in motion. Years later she wrote, “I can still almost taste it. And thinking back on it now reminds me that the pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite!”
I completely agree. Here are a few of my favorite little pleasures not to miss while you’re in Paris. Grab a fork, and let’s dig in! Bon Appétit! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Gather around, my fellow aquatic history bugs. I’ve got a tale to tell.
After measuring 10,000 women, one Dr. Dudley Sargent announced in 1908 that he had discovered the “perfect specimen of womanhood.” To a T, swimming champ Annette Kellerman possessed the proportions of the Venus de Milo.
“Her measurements almost surpass belief!” he exclaimed, while parading “Neptune’s daughter” past an all-male audience at Harvard. Go figure!
Soon women all over the world began sending their measurements and sepia-toned portraits to local newspapers and competitions, claiming to have proportions even closer to the classical ideal than Kellerman’s.
Because haters are going hate
At least one woman tried put the global rivalry to rest. ‘Though I have very nearly the measurements of Venus de Milo,” she wrote, “I am not at all glad of this. We are living in the 20th century and not the times of Praxiteles. The features of Venus de Milo are not at all those of the perfect beauty. Beauty changes with the centuries.” Ouch.
But she was undoubtedly right. Venus stands 6’7’ and weighs more than a ton! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Hold me close and hold me fast, my fellow hobnobbing dandies of the Paris grand boulevards. Got a mad penchant for some old time shop hopping? I’m with you, step by step. So throw your slender, opera-length gloved hands up in the air! Swoon, I will catch you.
Celebrating photographer Eugène Atget’s recent birthday, let’s break out the pointy black boots and swiftly kick the wintertime blues with a breezy promenade through a few of my favorite 19th century passages couverts.
In preparation, we’ll gussie-up all Sarah Bernhardt-style with violet-tinted powder and flaming rouged earlobes. Famous stage tricks these, guaranteed to make your eyes sparkle! “Quand même!” as the great tragedienne herself liked to say. I completely agree.
Now, let’s get to prancing!
Café with brew and a view
At high noon, meet me on the terrace of the Café Palais Royal at 202 rue Saint-Honoré, and then we’ll make our way directly to the nearby Galerie Véro-Dodat. You’ll treat this time? Well, just as you like. “Deux bocks, s’il vous plaît!” as the old-school boulevardiers put it! While we clank glasses and re-rouge our ears, I’ll give you the scoop on the passages. But first, Santé! (more…)
By Theadora Brack
Bonjour! C’est moi! I’ve been in California, dreaming, with birds and flowers in my hair. Like a hard-boiled history detective, I’ve been combing the streets of San Francisco for traces of Paris. “Pourquoi?” you ask. Flashing back to the California Gold Rush, the French were probably the largest population in the city. That’s why!
Attracted by the gold, and escaping another revolution, thousands of “Argonauts,” braved the six-month voyage around Cape Horn from France to San Francisco. Faster than a toison d’or, soon the “Paris of the Pacific” boasted three French department stores: Roos Brothers, the Verdier family’s the City of Paris, and Raphael Weill’s White House—named after the Grande Maison De Blanc back in France. (Banana Republic is there now, but the White House still rocks a Parisian vibe, while Neiman Marcus sports the late, great City of Paris’s original stained glass dome.)
So in celebration of the New Year, rebirth, and reinvention, let’s recharge our batteries with a sentimental journey around Union Square. Here is where I left my heart, along with a few dollars, too. After all, it was wintertime, and love and a massive Snoopy the dog inflatable cold-air balloon were in the air, spurring me on to dizzying heights.
Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis. After we powder our noses in the celebrity photograph-laden ladies room, we’ll sashay forth to the Romper Room Tavern on Maiden Lane to watch the twilight sky fall.
As Sarah Bernhardt wrote in 1891, with gloved hands all a-flutter, “I mean to have lots of fun in this city before I leave. This is a jolly place to enjoy life in!” Or as Frankie Sinatra once crooned, “Now there’s a grown-up swinging town!” I couldn’t agree more. (more…)
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. (more…)
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…)
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…)