Paris: Hobnobbing with Lady Liberty

The Statue of Liberty (a.k.a., “Bartholdi’s Big Daughter”), New York, New York Image: T. Brack’s archives, 1950s

The Statue of Liberty (a.k.a., “Bartholdi’s Big Daughter”), New York, New York Image: T. Brack’s archives, 1950s

Dorothy Mackaill, Motion Picture Classic, 1929

Dorothy Mackaill, Motion Picture Classic, 1929

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…)


Paris: A Pompom Romp Through Old Parigi

It was a cloudy day, and the clocks were striking thirteen, Rue des Saints-Pères (Photo by T. Brack)

It was a cloudy day, and the clocks were striking thirteen (Rue des Saints-Pères, Photo by T. Brack)

Marie France magazine, July 1951 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

Marie France magazine, July 1951 (Image: T. Brack’s archives)

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…)

Paris Treats: The Ooey Gooey Edition


Queen For A Day is my mantra while on holiday (Image: T. Brack's archives, Marie France, 1950)

“Queen For A Day” is my mantra while on holiday (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Marie France, June 1950)

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…)

Paris: Tête-à-Tête with Venus and Photographer Maurice Sapiro

Venus of the Sea! Esther Williams as Annette Kellerman, Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952 (Image: MovieStillsDB)

Venus of the Sea! Esther Williams as Annette Kellerman, Million Dollar Mermaid, 1952 (Image: MovieStillsDB)

Meet Neptune’s Daughter! Annette Kellerman

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…)

Paris: Bouncing down the Boulevards

View of the Eiffel Tower and L’église de la Madeleine at Galeries Lafayette (Photo by Theadora Brack)

Gussie-up all Sarah Bernhardt-style

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…)

San Francisco: A French Connection

Getting all Tippi with the birds at the bustling Union Square, San Francisco (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Slide, 1957)

Just grab your faux furs and mittens, and meet me under the old clock at the Hotel Saint Francis! (Image: T. Brack’s archives, Marie France, 1948)

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…)

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. (more…)

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…)

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