8.25.2009

Parquetry de Versailles

Sometimes, while writing my blog, I become frustrated. My frustration stems from feeling as if I am failing in my effort to capture and express what I experience. I am having such a moment right now. It is impossible for me to express the magnificence of the Chateau de Versailles - everything in it and everything about it is a work of art.
The few photos and comments posted yesterday do not begin to convey the history, quality, workmanship and beauty of this palace. Perhaps, I can best illustrate this fact by talking about the floors.
First of all, they are not just any floors. They are "le parquetry de Versailles" - handcrafted wood planks installed in an elaborate pattern, designed by a cabinet-maker for Louis XIV for this palace.
In the late 17th century, it became fashionable to have hardwood floors. Rugs were thought to attract and retain dirt and people no longer wanted them in their homes. The manner in which hardwood floors were installed varied throughout Europe. It is only natural that Louis XIV would have something unique and something magnificient. The pattern and application would become known as Parquetry de Versailles.
Parquetry de Versailles is much more complex than something like a traditional herringbone pattern. It is comprised of a series of frames or compartments which contain more than 40 small dimpled square pieces of wood that form a criss-crossed, basket weave pattern. Each piece was hand-crafted and joined with tongue and groove and mortise and tenon pegs. To further complicate the configuration, Parquetry de Versailles is set on the diagonal and installed within a narrow border that runs parallel to the walls.

I realize that the photo does not clearly show the detail of the pattern or the polish of its finish, but I had no idea that write about the floors and this is the best photo I could pull from my collection. It looks rather unimpressive, until it is seen in its entirety.

Walking on these floors is like walking on a piece of furniture - no squeaking, no loose planks, no knot holes. They are fit for a king!





8.24.2009

Versailles

Visiting the Chateau de Versailles with Julia, marked my first return to the interior of this magnificent palace in a few years. Since my last visit, considerable restoration has taken place.
To honor architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart and commemorate his work on the 300th anniversary of his death, a massive restoration of the roof is underway. I love the over-the-top Baroque elements on this portion of the Chateau. The multi-colored façade features brick, stone, slate, marble, gilded lead and sculpted décor. The ornamentation is splendid - it exudes opulence and it reminds me a bit of the Flemish architecture that is so prevalent in Lille.



The restoration and re-guilding is being done from the center of the Chateau outward. The work is almost complete. In the upper right hand corner of the photo above, one can see the difference between the "before and after" of the this project. The entire roof was dark and grey, it now glistens like a royal crown.
The royal chapel sits to the right of the main portion of the chateau. It was also designed by Mansart, who died in 1708, while it was under construction. Mansart's brother-in-law, Robert de Cotte, completed the project on his behalf.
An interior view of the royal chapel, where courtiers and the royal family attended mass daily.
During my last visit, the ceiling of the coronation room was being cleaned and restored. The scaffolding has since been removed, revealing the work of French painter Francois Le Moyne, who depicted the Triumph of Hercules on ceiling. Above the fireplace is Venetian painter Paolo Veronese's depiction of Rebecca at the Well.


The Hall of Mirrors is probably everyone's favorite room in the Chateau. Julia and I were delighted to visit this room just prior to closing. It was completely empty and we could fully appreciate the enormous crystal chandeliers, the beautifully laid parquetry floor and masterfully executed paintings by Charles Le Brun. How often does that happen?

A view of the grounds from the Hall of Mirrors. Marie-Antoinette may have stood at this very spot, gazing at the gardens and the grand canal beyond. This is my "pinch me" moment.
The Queen's bed chamber, which is adorned with rich tapestries in pastel colors.
The King's bed chamber, adorned in deep shades of red and green. The bedrooms the King and Queen contain a "lit Baldaquin." The term used to describe the elaborate half-canopy, which features rich tapestries suspended from a carved and guilded frame. Both are topped with ostrich feather festoons.
 

8.19.2009

A weekend with Julia

My good friend Maria-Grace has come to Paris to attend the Christie's Reunion and to deliver her daughter Julia to ballet school.
Julia is an absolutely delightful young lady and, apparently, quite a talented dancer. She comes to Paris for a month each summer for an intensive ballet course. I met Julia when she was six-years old. She was a bright, enthusiastic and energetic child. Needless to say, she hasn't changed a bit.
Maria-Grace had to return to the States a few days prior to Julia's school opening. So, Julia became my house guest. What fun! We had an action-packed weekend.


On our first day together, we went to two museum expositions, did a little sightseeing and then had a casual dinner at one of the cafés along the banks of the Seine.

We spent the following afternoon in Versailles, where we took a self-guided tour of the chateau and strolled through the gardens during Les Grandes Eaux Musicales, when the fountains are set to 17th and 18th century Baroque music.

On Sunday, we went to mass at Notre Dame, shopped at the flea market and saw the film, An American in Paris, starring Gene Kelly. Late that afternoon, Julia checked into her dorm room.

She stayed in a terrific residence hall operated by the nuns from Notre-Dame-des-Champs in the seventh arrondissement - not to be confused with Notre Dame cathedral. Julia's room has a great view overlooking the church.

I had a fabulous weekend, but by the time it was over...I was très fatiguée!

8.17.2009

Le Flore Champagne Cocktail

Festive, sweet, and delicious for an outdoor summer gathering. 
2 Tablespoon of Grand Marnier
2 Tablespoon of Cognac
2 Tablespoon of Coulis de Fruit Rouge - which is just a fancy way of saying, puréed strawberries and raspberries.
Place the ingredients in a flute and fill the remainder of the glass with Champagne.

8.16.2009

Christie's Reunion

One of the best things about summer in Paris is spending time with friends who come to visit. On that account, this summer has been exceptionally rewarding. After arriving in Paris, I learned that Christie's Education has organized a reunion and several of my former classmates will be in town for the event.

The party would consist of cocktails and dinner at a Saint-Germain-des-Prés restaurant. And, everyone who had studied at Christie's between 1996-2006 was invited. I was due to return to the states prior to the party, but I decided to extend my stay in order to see friends and faculty who I had not seen in a few years.

Maria-Grace, Charlie, Bruno, Moi, Isabelle and Sylvia

It was a wonderful night. The dinner was held at Villa Montaverdi, an Italian restaurant in the heart of the Latin Quarter, on one of those teeny-tiny streets adjacent to the Saint-Sulpice church. Our former Director, Anne-Sophie organized the evening and she did a marvelous job. Cocktails were served in one of two private dining rooms while we checked-in, mingled and enthusiastically greeted each other.

Eventually, we found our places at one of several large banquet tables. We dined on a delicious three-course meal that included a tomato and mozzarella salad, chicken scallopini in a lemon-caper sauce and tiramisu. Throughout dinner, Anne-Sophie did her very best to try to get us to mix it up and sit with students from years other than our own. But, we would have none of it!

We stayed in our little cliques, gathered news of those who could not attend and told funny stories about events that had happened during our year of study. It was so much fun and I am so glad that I reorganized my travel plans to ensure that I could be there.

8.14.2009

La Favorite

On the rue Passy rests an unassuming little café that could easily go unnoticed by passers by - there's no view, no celebrity clientèle, no historic relevance and no tree-lined terrace. In fact, there's nothing at all remarkable about this little place.

What is does offer, however, is the ideal location to meet friends. Afterall, meeting friends at "the cafe" is an essential part of French culture and I can't imagine spending time in this country without spending time in its cafés.


La Favorite is where I go to meet my good friend Isabelle. We started meeting here when we were students. She lived near the base of rue Passy and I live near the top of rue Passy. La Favorite half-way between our homes. Back then, we'd call each other and say, "let's meet at the café...you know, our favorite one on rue Passy." We never knew the name of the place!

We would linger at this café for hours, discussing everything from Spanish influences in Manet's painting to whether it's better to hang dry bath towels (à la francaise) or tumble them dry (à l'Américaine).

Charlie, Moi and Isabelle at La Favorite

Isabelle now lives in Dubai, but she keeps an apartment in Paris and returns frequently to visit family and friends. So, when she called me and said, "let's meet at the café," I was thrilled. Our trips to Paris had not coincided in a couple of years, but once we were together it was just like old times - sitting at the café, talking about everything and nothing at the same time. On this day, Isabelle's sister Charlie (who also lives in Passy) happened to be walking by, she stopped and joined us for a drink.

There's nothing like whiling away an afternoon with great friends.


8.12.2009

Café Noisette



The French take coffee drinking seriously, And, how they "take" their coffee depends largely on the time of day.
In the morning, they usually have café crème or café au lait - coffee with warm cream or milk. In the afternoon, or after a meal, they usually have un café - a small, but strong black coffee that Americans would refer to as an expresso.

Another great beverage option is a café noisette or une noisette. Noisette is the French word for hazelnut, in reference to the color not the flavor. Une noisette is an expresso with just a "touch" of cream.


Like an expresso, it's served in a demi-tasse cup and it's very strong. But, the acidity is reduced by the cream and the smoother flavor is a little more palatable to most Americans. It's also significantly less filling than a café crème - it won't spoil your appetite if taken alone and it won't make you feel as if you're too full if taken after a meal.

Odering a noisette in the afternoon is très chic and it's more in keeping with French coffee drinking habits than ordering a café crème or a café au lait during the latter part of the day - I highly recommend it.



After all, you know what they say, "When in Rome..." or Paris as the case may be!



8.07.2009

Foyer International des Etudiantes


Because I was in the neighborhood and because I hadn't been there in many years, I decided to stop-by my former residence hall at 93, Boulevard Saint-Michel. I stayed there for a few weeks one summer while studying at the Alliance Française.

The Foyer International des Etudiantes was founded by American philanthropist Grace Whitney Hoff in 1906. Ms. Hoff loved Paris and she wanted to ensure that safe, affordable housing was available for women. Her portrait hangs near the staircase in the entry hall.

I had a wonderful experience at the Foyer. The other girls were friendly and nice. It was well managed and the rules were strictly enforced. In fact, I spent one night sleeping on a park bench across the street because I missed curfew and was locked out!

The Foyer is restricted to women between the ages of 21 and 25 who are enrolled in courses in Paris. An application is required. I think it's a great place to stay and I recommend it very highly.

8.03.2009

Luxembourg Garden

In yesterday's post, I mentioned that the Jardin du Luxembourg is one of my favorite spots in Paris. I fell in love with this garden when I was a college student. Back then, I rented a room at the Foyer International des Etudiantes on Boulevard Saint-Michel, on the east side of the garden. I studied at the Alliance Française on Boulevard Raspail, on the west side of the garden. Every morning and every afternoon, I walked through the Jardin du Luxembourg on my way to and from class. It was the most wonderful "communte" anyone could imagine.

There seems to be something for everyone at the Jardin du Luxembourg. I tried to capture some of the sights in this post. Enjoy!

At the northeast corner of the garden sits a music pavilion where free concerts take place nearly every day - a schedule is posted at the pavilion. Nearby, a food kiosk provides beverages and light fare in an enchanted shady setting.

Planting beds overflow with colorful and fragrant varieties of blue and white flowers, which is the color scheme of the garden this year. Everyone who knows me, knows that I love blue and white.

If George Seurat were painting today, I imagine he would capture this beautiful woman in her chapeau.

Not sure where to go? Sign posts strategically placed throughout the garden will point you in the right direction.

Children select sail boats to play in the water. It's fun to watch them amuse themselves by running around the pond, pushing their boats into a light breeze.
All of them seem to honor the unspoken rule of pushing only their own boat. Every once in a while, a child accidently interferes with another child's boat. When this happens, the error is quickly corrected by another child.
Even the most petit Parisians partake in this fun activity. The little boy in the photo above didn't quite comprehend that he could fall into the water. Under the watchful eye of his father, he made his best effort to set his boat to sail.

An artist captures a view of the Pantheon on her canvas. Her friends admire her work and visit with one another while she paints.

Men spend the afternoon engrossed in competitive, yet friendly games of chess.

8.02.2009

An American in Paris

I am very excited to report that my niece, Jade, came to Paris this summer. On a whirlwind tour of Berlin, Paris and London, she traveled with a group of art students from her high school. I am amazed at how much ground they covered in three days. She visited Versailles, Giverny, the Tour Eiffel, the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Tuileries garden, the Palais Garnier and Notre Dame!

She and her friends saw the sights on foot, by métro and motorcoach with their art teacher and a private guide. In addition to all of this, she spent half a day with me. I was thrilled to see her and show her the parts of the city that I love so much.

We met in the courtyard of the Louvre and headed directly to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Or, I should say, we headed directly to Dalloyau (at the northeast end of the garden) for an assortment of macarons - everyone who comes to Paris should experience macarons! We tried a few flavors, including Champagne and chocolate.

From there, we toured the Jardin du Luxembourg and the Latin Quarter as we made our way to Les Deux Magots for a much needed break and an apératif. As I suspected, Jade had never had a Kir, which is white wine with a dash of crème de cassis. I had my first Kir in Paris and I wanted Jade to do the same.

Like so many tourists, we sat at the café, soaked up the atmosphere and talked about how much we love Paris.

For dinner, we chose another historic spot in the Saint-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood. Founded in 1686, Le Procope is one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. There, we enjoyed an absolutely delicious three-course meal. During dinner, Jade we discussed her experiences in Berlin, her French heritage and when she may have an opportunity to return to Paris.


I was hoping to end the day with an evening boat cruise down the Seine. At night the monuments along the river are beautifully illuminated. Unfortunately, Jade was very tired and she needed to return to the hotel before curfew.

At six o'clock the following morning, she and her friends were off to London for the final leg of their tour.