10.14.2008

Europa Books


Europa is one of favorite bookstores in Chicago. Here one can purchase books, magazines and newspapers from France. It is located in a vintage building at 832 North State Street, just around the corner from the Alliance Française.

10.12.2008

Alliance Française de Chicago


The Alliance Française de Chicago offers language and cultural activities for French enthusiasts throughout the city.

10.10.2008

My Kind of Town


Chicago: my home town and another great city that I love.

It's Friday and I feel as if I've slept for four days. For some reason, I was unusually jet lagged after this trip.
Well, I may no longer be in Paris, but I have plenty more items to post.

And, the next best thing to being in Paris is taking in French inspired cultural activities in Chicago...

10.05.2008

Going Home

The taxi to the airport arrived promptly at 7 AM. It is Sunday morning, it’s still dark outside and I don’t want to leave.

I know this routine well. I’ve done it many times and it’s always the same: a sense of melancholy brought on by my impending departure, juxtaposed with joyful satisfaction at the wonderful opportunity I’ve had to spend a month in Paris.

We load my bags into the trunk and head for Charles de Gaulle. It rained last night and roads are still damp. The reflection of oncoming headlights glistens on the pavement. After a short drive along the périphérique, the flow of traffic comes to a crawl. Eventually, we pass a badly damaged vehicle upside down in the middle of the road. The driver comments, “ahh, un petit accident.”

I smile at his comment. In my view, this accident is anything but “petit,” but the use of the word is so French. It's a subtle reminder of how the French take what life throws at them in stride. The moment reminds me of another occasion in which I noted the unexpected use of the word. I was in college and heading to class. I learned that my metro line was shut down due to “un petit suicide.”


The driver and passengers of the vehicle were standing on the side of the road. Everyone seemed fine. We continued on our way. My flight and the remainder of the trip went as smoothly as possible.

It feels great to be home, but I know that in short order I will be anxious to return to Paris
.

10.04.2008

La Cristal Room Baccarat




For my last night in Paris, I wanted to do something special. My friend, Dawn, suggested that I go to Baccarat’s Crystal Room for dinner.

I had never heard of it. She was quite surprised as it opened a few years ago and it’s located on the Place des Etats-Unis, not too far from my apartment.

Specifically, it is a restaurant in the former home of Marie-Laure de Noailles, a well-known and respected patron of the arts and the great, great, great granddaughter of the infamous Marquis de Sade.

This was one of the most surreal dining experiences I’ve ever had. French designer Philippe Starck beautifully and creatively merged traditional and contemporary design elements to create a modern and inspiring experience that could only take place in Paris. Baccarat crystal chandeliers, serving pieces and decorative objects added an element of opulence rivaling that of the most luxurious homes I have ever seen in France.

We entered the dimly lit building and ascended a red carpet staircase to the reception desk. There, we were greeted by two very large Baccarat crystal urns flanking the room. Each urn contained a ghost-like image of a beautiful woman’s face, who greeted us upon our arrival. The mysterious images spoke in a soft voice; they likened the attributes of fine crystal to the attributes of a woman's beauty. This was the start to what would become a magical night.

Before being seated for dinner, we browsed the Baccarat boutique which contained mirrored display cases lit from below. The lighting technique created a sense of mystery and mise en valeur (put into value - as the French would say) the perfection of the crystal. Everything from unusual sculpted jewelry to stemware was on display, and everything exuded a combination of magnifience and artisitry. The chandelier photographed above, for example, contains more than 200 lights. We had reason to pause as we marveled at its beauty.

We dined in a very sweet, yet very elaborate, baroque inspired dining room. The walls were decorated in burgundy and green veined marble accented with gilded accents. The banquets were upholstered in bubblegum pink leather with cameo images centered on the back pillows. Glorious crystal chandeliers hung overhead from a tromphe l’oeil painted ceiling reminiscent of those I had seen at the Chateaux de Bagatelle. The same cameo images adorned a central portion of each wall that revealed exposed brick where plaster had been removed.

The opulent décor, the juxtaposition of materials and the beauty of the crystal were not the only things that impressed me. I had a delicios dinner. As an appetizer, I had foie gras accompanied by a glass of the same Muscat de Baumes-de-Venise wine I had a few nights earlier. This was followed by steamed lobster served over a bed of asparagus spears in a Marinière sauce and a glass of white wine from Burgundy. For dessert, I had the degustation, which usually means a small sampling of various flavors. In reality, this was anything but small. The selection consisted of five full-size desserts, including a chocolate soufflé, raspberry tarte, strawberries and vanilla cream served in an almond wafer box tied with Baccarat inscribed white ribbon, a timbale of hot chocolate and a lemon tarte. So much for eating light the night before a long flight…I devoured most of every dessert presented to me.

After dinner, we toured the Baccarat museum. The museum held a fascinating display of items made by master craftsman. The exhibition included an impressive array of extraordinary pieces used by or created for a virtual who’s who from around the world: a chair for the Czar of Russian, stemware designed and created for the Sultan of Brunei, the service used by Coco Chanel.

My apartment was close enough to the restaurant to walk home. I knew that if I walked, I would pass the Eiffel Tour at approximately midnight. This would be my last opporutnity to see the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tour before my departure.

During the walk, I became a little self-reflective as I thought about all of the wonderful experiences I had had in the preceding four weeks. Then it occurred to me, “Well, I’ve come full circle. My first visit took me to crystal garden and my last visit took me to crystal palace…a poetic coincidence.”

10.03.2008

Fashion Week




Fashion Week in Paris is coming to a close. Most major fashion houses have shown their Spring-Summer 2009 Collections on runways at the Grand Palais, the Carrousel du Louvre and in tents along the northern edge of the Tuileries Garden.

The French magazine Madame Figaro has published video of the runway shows for collections such as Dior, Balmain and Givency at:



10.02.2008

Cercle de l'Union Interalliée




Last night, I was invited to have dinner at the Cercle de l’Union Interalliée. I accepted with great pleasure. I knew this would be a wonderful experience and I love seeing the inside of private clubs. I arrived early to take a few photos in total privacy.

We had a glass of Champagne in the cocktail lounge on the ground floor, before going to the dining room which overlooked an enclosed garden. Both rooms were decorated in pale shades of blue and off-white, one of my favorite color palettes.

As you imagine, the dinner was divine. I had foie gras accompanied by a glass of Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise as an appetizer, followed by Marinière à la Sole and a glass of Pouilly-Fumé Loire Valley wine as a main course. Sole is my favorite white fish and this was delicious. It was prepared in white wine and served with pearl onions, shallots, mussels and steamed vegetables. For dessert, I selected millefeuille. This was an unintentionally excellent choice from the dessert cart because the vanilla flavor was the perfect finish to the previous two courses.

We stopped for a cocktail at the Crillon Hotel bar. I had my usual “Marie Brizard” anise liqueur.

The entire evening was an unexpected treat.

Jacquemart-André Museum





During the rain, I visited the Jacquemart-André museum, the former home world travelers and art collectors Nellie Jacquemart and her husband Edouard André.

The late 19th home itself is a museum. It was designed by architect Henri Parent and constructed during the Second Empire when Baron Haussman was creating his grand boulevards and Monceau Village was annexed to Paris. Architecturally, the home is reminiscent of the Palais Garnier Opera House and reflects the Eclectic Style with its grand staircase and elaborate gilded embellishments.

This is perhaps my least favorite architectural style in France, I liken it to Renaissance Revival bordering on garish. Nonetheless, I love touring the interior of homes and the art collection is impressive and well worth seeing, with paintings by Rembrandt, Fragonard, Vigée-Lebrun, and Boucher among others.

Much to my amazement, during the guided tour, a painting by Hubert Robert was featured for the artist’s ability to create perspective. I found this to be an incredible coincidence, because just the day before I had seen (and wrote about) the tromphe l’oeil coffered ceiling Robert had painted in the Chateau de Bagatelle.

In addition to the permanent collection, the museum hosts a number of special exhibitions. A Van Dyke exhibit opens on October 8, 2008 and runs to January 25, 2009.

There is also a lovely café on the ground floor that is decorated with Belgian tapestries and a ceiling painted by the famous Venetian painter Giambattista Tiepolo. An outdoor terrace overlooks the courtyard.

This museum is just the right size and so conveniently located that it provides the perfect opportunity for a morning guided tour, followed by a delicious lunch and more sightseeing in the surrounding neighborhood
.
Bonne visite!

10.01.2008

Gray Skies


The weather has changed. Gray skies, wind and late afternoon showers occurred yesterday. The forecast indicates the same sort of weather for the remainder of this week.

On the bright side, I will make the most of it with plenty of museum visits.