6.30.2009

Karl Lagerfeld






Café de Flore is always a fun spot to hang out and last night was no different.

Shortly after my arrival, Arielle Dombasle came waltzing out the front door, walked right in front of me and headed down the Boulevard Saint Germain. She was on the arm of Bernard-Henri Lévy (aka BHL). No big deal...I've seen them at the Flore before, the French are discreet and the French don't make a big deal out of celebrity status.

About two minutes later, Karl Lagerfeld walked up, paused right in front of me and then sat down two chairs to my right. Ooh la la! Now this caught my attention - it was completely unexpected and a bit surreal. Trying to be as discreet as the French, I fished my telephone out of my bag (yes, my little nylon Longchamp bag for which I have forsaken my big heavy Chanel bag, see post 6/2/09) and took a series of photos by aiming the lens in his direction without looking at him.

Well, so much for the French being discreet and so much for the French not caring about celebrity status. For the next hour, several people and several groups of people made a BIG deal out of Lagerfeld. He posed for photos, shook hands, chatted with fans and gave generous tips to the street musicians performing in front of the café.

At one point, the waiter seemed quite irked and asked Lagerfeld if he minded being disturbed. Lagerfeld had a great disposition and was very nice about it. He told the waiter it was fine and that he was used to the attention.

PS - Fashion Week for men's 2010 spring collections started yesterday in Paris.

6.29.2009

Champs-Elysées


A view of the Champs Elysées on Friday evening.

6.26.2009

Sales Begin in France



Every six months major sales take place in France. The huge mark-downs create a bit of a shopping frenzy, with customers quickly purchasing merchandise they've had their eye on for a couple of weeks. It's a bit like the day after Christmas in the States.

On Wednesday morning, the streets in Passy were packed with pedestrian and automobile traffic.








6.24.2009

Notre Dame

I walked past Notre Dame the other day and couldn't help but notice how beautiful it looked. It was about 8 o'clock in the evening, the sky was perfectly clear and the sun was just beginning to descend over the Seine.

I don't think I've ever seen the façade looking so well. There is no restoration work in progress and there were relatively few tourists on the square.

Can you imagine how great those windows must look from the other side?






6.22.2009

La Fête de la Musique



I'm beginning to think that I should have named my blog French Fête, as we are celebrating yet again in France. Sunday marked both the Fête des Pères (Father's Day) and the Fête de la Musique.

Father's Day needs no explanation. But, the Fête de la Musique is a popular and lively celebration of the summer solstice, with musical performances in bars, cafés and the streets. On this day, you can hear every variety of music by simply strolling through the neighborhoods or you can look on-line for scheduled performances.

Yesterday, I stumbled onto a classical music concert at Place Colette just in front of the Comédie-Française Theater. A crowd gathered and enjoyed several pieces by composers such as Mozart, Vivaldi and Handel. As the day progressed, the city became more and more populated. Streets were blocked, crowds gathered, and pedestrians disobeyed traffic signals. At 5 PM, I took a taxi to meet a friend. Along the route, the driver became increasingly frustrated then announced, "That's it. After you, I'm going home!"

I don't blame him. The metro is free and open all night for the Fête de la Musique and it's the only way to travel.


6.19.2009

Pique nique au Faubourg Saint-Germain

A picnic on the streets of Paris? Yes, it can be done...and very well, in-fact.

Last night, the Saint-Germain neighborhood held its annual picnic celebrating cherry season. I was invited to join New York interior designer Penny Drue Baird and her family for this festive event.

The theme for the night was Asian inspired with red placemats, carpet and Chinese lanterns hung overhead. Organizers provided the décor, tables and chairs for picnicking guests. Everyone brought their own dinner and spread out along rue de Grenelle and rue de la Chaise. Local restaurants moved tables, chairs and banquets into the street to offer outdoor dining. A trio added to the ambiance with upbeat music.

Penny packed a delicious dinner of quiche Lorraine, salade de mâche (lamb's lettuce), shredded carrot salad, assorted cheese, paté, bread and wine. We had a raspberry tart and an assortment of macaroons for dessert.

Publicity for the Fête.

Our group and moi. Hostess Penny doubled as the photographer at this moment!

The musicians.



6.17.2009

Le Dîner en Blanc - The White Dinner


Every year in early June, chic Parisians meet "spontaneously" for a night of al fresco dining. It's a civilized affair - Champagne and haute-cuisine at the foot of a famous monument. Everything from attire to table settings is white, thus Le Dîner en Blanc.

Like any "flash mob" gathering, the location is kept secret until the last minute. An invitation is required (via text message, email or telephone), but I've heard of crashers hanging out in Metro stations to spot "white" dinner-goers and jump on the bandwagon. Last Thursday, the dinner was held at the Place de la Concorde. Reports estimate the crowd at 5,000. Sunday's Pique-Nique en Blanc at the Prix de Diane was a carry-over from this event.


One woman described the occasion as l'art de vivre à la française - perfect for my blog!



The photo above is courtesy of Demotix.com.

6.15.2009

Prix de Diane


The weekend forecast promised good weather, so I decided to head out of town.

Eventually, my road trip led me to Chantilly for the Prix de Diane, a horse race for three-year old fillies. It is France's counterpart to the English Oaks at Epsom Downs and the Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs. On this day, it's all about the ladies - both on and off the track. As such, the Prix de Diane has become known for elegant women and "over-the-top" attire.


I've been to many racing events over the years. This was the most understated, yet overstated event I've ever attended. In fact, it's impossible for me to describe how opposing qualities combined harmoniously to create a glorious day.

The theme was Voyage Extraordinaire dans les Jardins des 5 Sens and it was just that...an Extraordinary Voyage into the Garden of the 5 Senses. I was captivated by my surroundings at every turn. That said, the organizers should be proud of how well-planned and well-executed everything seemed to be.

In keeping with the theme, the infield was arranged like a formal French garden with five parterre, each one dedicated to one of the five senses. Under white tents, one could satisfy their sense of touch, smell, hearing, tasting, or seeing in any numbers of ways. Tents featured massages, distinct floral fragrances, small orchestral concerts, savories to taste, and fashion shows to see. Adults and children alike participated in each of these endeavors between races.

But, there was also a children's area that featured a carrousel, pony rides, face painting, etc. A food court offered a variety of tasty items. There were also beverage bars, ice cream bars, Champagne bars, dessert bars, etc. Tables and chairs with market umbrellas were provided for those who didn't want to sit on the grass. Throughout the day, well-dressed staff serviced tables, picked-up litter and kept the entire area impeccably clean. Everything was color coordinated in bright pink and lime green - even the Champagne was rosé.

The paddock was located to the west of the grandstand and easily accessible. Visiting the paddock, however, was not at all necessary because just prior to each race, the horses and jockeys were paraded on a small ring just behind the grandstand - much like Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. Several stations of betting windows were strategically scattered indoors and outdoors to prevent crowd congestion and ensure that everyone could place bets up to the last minute.



The 18th century stables, Les Grandes Ecuries, provide a breath-taking backdrop to the race.


A terraced hillside provided additional space for picnicing guests. Here, friends gathered, socialized and enjoyed a great view of the track.

In the moments before the Prix de Diane race, the grandstand became packed with racing enthusiasts. The race was exciting, but it was every bit as exciting to see some of the hats. These ladies looked fabulous and they had absolutely no problem posing for the camera. I must have 100 photos. I've featured a handful of the most extreme fashions.








Nosegays were made and given to any woman willing to stand in line for one. The fashion shows featured avant-garde dresses and hats designed by students.


A picnic lunch, consisting of two mini-sandwiches, fruit cocktail, chips, dessert and a bottle of water, was available for 25 euro. The lunch was packaged in a hat box and a portion of the proceeds was donated to charity.


As a carry-over from Thursday night's "Diner en Blanc" in Paris, a large group
of people gathered for a "Pique-Nique en Blanc" in Chantilly.



Even if you're not a racing fan, the spectacle of the Prix de Diane at Chantilly is well-worth experiencing.

6.12.2009

French Porcelain at the Louvre

I usually try to avoid the Louvre on rainy days because it's always so crowded and the experience is sometimes compromised by the sheer number of visitors.

Nonetheless, having been caught in a few downpours on previous days and fearful of catching a cold, I was determined to avoid the rain. As it turned out, going to the Louvre was an excellent idea - it's open until 10 PM on Wednesdays. By the time I arrived, people were winding down their visits and heading out to dinner.

I started my tour in the Objet d'Arts galleries in the Richelieu wing of the Louvre. This wing exhibits porcelain, silver and furniture. It's nowhere near the Mona Lisa, Winged Victory or any of the other popular works visitors flock to see.

There's so much to write about all of the wonderful things I saw that I'm going to limit myself considerably. For me, the highlight of the day was a porcelain soup tureen that belonged to Marie-Antoinette. This piece was made in 1784 by the Royal Manufacturers of Sèvres. It was only recently acquired by the Louvre.

Other pieces from the same service are part of the Baron de Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor, located northwest of London. I've never been to Waddesdon Manor, but it's definitely on my "bucket list."

Seven dinner plates from this same service (and one supplemental plate from a later date) were sold at a Sotheby's auction in Paris in October 2008 for nearly 50,000.00 euro. One can only imagine what it would have gone for had the bank crisis not occurred the previous month.

Unaware of all this history, I chose the same pattern years ago for my own formal china. My service is a reproduction called Louveciennes made in Limoges by Haviland. At the time I chose it, I just thought it was beautiful, feminine and quintessentially French. I've loved it ever since I first saw it.



I saw several other pieces of porcelain that I found almost equally intriguing. Most of those items were made for a specific purpose, indicated by their form or motif. They included a pierced bowl and saucer for soft cheese. One can easily imagine this lovely bowl filled with a delicious serving of Epoisses cheese from Burgundy or Camembert from Normandy.


A darling little pint-sized milk pitcher and matching bowl. The panel simply says "jatte" or bowl, but I would think it was used for honey because milk pitchers like this one are still used for breakfast and the motif on the front of the bowl depicts a beehive with lots of bees flying around it and a flower garden. Honey is often served at breakfast.


Individual glass coolers. These two are a quite small. They were used to cool a single wine glass. The glass would have been placed upside in the cooler and immersed in icy water. I love bird motifs and I love blue and white porcelain, these were stunning.


The Louvre would have been a sight to see if it had been empty. The rooms exhibiting all of these objet d'art were decorated during the same period. Looking at the ceilings, one can easily see the similarity, as the same decorative motifs were used for both the porcelain and interior design. The garlands of flowers, arabesques and color palettes are virtually the same.



Can you imagine being served a painstakingly prepared meal on this artfully created porcelain in one of these magnificent rooms? What an experience that would be!


6.10.2009

Montmartre Walking Tour

As promised, a few photos from my walking tour of Montmartre with Alexandra and Lou last week.

Montmarte is absolutely darling. It is no wonder that this neighborhood is often used for film and fashion shoots. Alexandra was a great tour guide and brought me to the most charming spots. We came upon two movie locations and one fashion shoot. At times, I had to ask Alexandra what was real and what was faux. Is that really an 18th century cottage or did a movie crew put that there? Sometimes, it was hard to tell.


The scene at a "faux" butcher shop in Montmartre.

The interior of a "real" restaurant, called Le Basilic.

The "real" Café des 2 Moulins, used in the incredibly successful French film Amélie,
starring Audrey Tatou.

A "real" dirt path to a private home.
A "faux" French couple and a sneak preview of 2009 fall fashions. I took this photo when we came upon a magazine photo shoot. Ladies - it seems that capes, thigh-high leather boots, leggings and felt fedoras are in our future!
A "real" old fashioned Pétanque Club.
This game is often played in rural France.

A "real" neighborhood movie theater, owned by French director Claude Lelouch

The only "real" remaining vineyard in Paris.


After my guided tour from Alexandra, I stayed in the neighborhood for more exploring. Like a true tourist, I got completely lost. The steep hills and narrow streets made it very difficult to follow a map. All the same, I stumbled across some interesting sites and had a great time.


6.09.2009

Coco Chanel

 
 
An all-day, heavy rain sent me and many others scurrying into the movie theaters on the Champs-Elysées yesterday afternoon. I saw the film Coco Avant Chanel, starring Audrey Tatou.

This is a heartwarming tale of Coco Chanel's life, her influences and how she revolutionalized women's fashion in the first part of the 20th century. The film was released weeks ago in France and I'm glad to have had the opportunity to see it before its term is up in the theaters.
 
What a well-done and informative movie.


6.08.2009

Hôtel de Crillon


Even though it was a holiday weekend and things were relatively quiet in the city, I am resolved to make the most of my time in Paris and go out as often as possible.

After dinner last night, I headed to the piano bar at the Hôtel de Crillon to have a drink and listen to some live music. The Crillon is, perhaps, the finest luxury hotel in Paris and one of the very few to provide live music on Sunday evenings.

Despite the la crise, everyone in the place was American, except for the two bartenders and the pianist. Realizing that we were all from the States, we began chatting with each other during breaks in the music. One woman had roots in my hometown of Chicago - the north suburbs to be more precise. Her father co-founded a little pharmaceutical company. Perhaps you've heard of it...it's called Baxter Healthcare.

She was an elegant, friendly and grounded woman. So much so that she declined a 60 euro glass of port wine because it was too expensive. Without compunction, she asked for the drink menu, read it from right to left, and ordered something else - a Midwestern sensibility and a woman after my own heart!

The next day, she and her husband would be taking off for Provence to meet up with several other couples who have homes there - an annual week of golf outings and informal tournament play. Then, they would be on to St. Tropez, Nice and other towns along the Côte d'Azur. I suppose it's safe to say, you meet the right crowd at the Crillon hotel!

The Obamas happen to be staying at the hotel as well. This led to an interesting conversation about the past few days at the Crillon. Apparently, the hotel was as boring as could be when Barack was there. No one was allowed to see the President. In fact, large black curtains and screens were placed in the hallways to ensure that no one could see the President.

On previous nights, the bar was empty. Hardly anyone was allowed into the hotel and staff was standing around with little or nothing to do. Everyone seemed quite happy that Barack had departed and things were getting back to normal.

Michelle and the girls are still there. Security is present, but reduced. The square in front of the hotel remains partially closed and, I have to say, I had never seen the Crillon so empty. I snapped a few photos because the architecture and furnishing are magnificent.

In addition to all of this "gossip," I learned a lot about the history of the hotel and the square on which it sits. Everyone seems to know that Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI lost their heads to the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde, but how many people know they were married there? I had no idea.

I also had no idea that the Crillon was owned by the same company that owns Baccarat crystal and Taittinger Champagne. It has recently changed hands, but this former ownership structure is the reason that Baccarat crystal is used throughout the hotel and Taittinger is the house Champagne. The light fixtures in the bar are Lalique, but they pre-date the "Baccarat era" and they were kept.

I was given a book outlining the history of the hotel, the building and the square. I was also invited back by a member of the staff for a private tour, including the suites and Marie-Antionette's music room, which has been carefully preserved. The entire staff couldn't have been nicer or more welcoming.

I can hardly wait for my tour!


A view of the hotel on Saturday morning, while Barack Obama was in the city.
The main entrance to the Crillon.

The stairway to the reception and ball rooms.

The lobby, which features Baccarat chandeliers hanging from the ceiling
and torcheres lining the east wall.
The Piano Bar, designed by French fashion designer Sonia Rykiel,
features Lalique ceiling fixtures.

Our courteous bartenders.


Our very talented pianist, who played many requests beautifully.





10, place de la Concorde
75008 Paris
01-44-71-15-00