Au Revoir, Paris

Sad. Can’t help feeling it, saying good-bye to beautiful Paris. Tomorrow we will be winging our way home, looking rather like this.

 

Image from www.alovelybeing.com

  Image from http://www.alovelybeing.com, with thanks.                  

 

The first thing we do on arrival is retrieve this wonderful being, my “son”.

IMG_0072

Then we will light a fire, even if it is rather warm.

IMG_0062   But the Christmas tree will not be there. I hope. I did take it down, didn’t I?

I hope that these two people will come over right away.

IMG_0030

And we will open presents from Paris and a bottle from Bordeaux.

I will fix them a dinner that looks something like this.

IMG_0013

In a kitchen that looks like this.

IMG_0141 Not like this.imgres

Then in a day or two someone who looks like this will come from Toronto and we will give her big hugs.

IMG_0116  And we will have visits with mothers, and sisters and pay our taxes late – first time ever, I swear and it will all feel wonderful. It does already.

Advertisements

Dames d’un Certain Age II

Don’t think I have ceased researching my soon- to-be best-seller on the beauty secrets of middle-aged Parisiennes. Au contraire.  I know that in this time of resurgent Cold War and financial uncertainty, when a SARS-like epidemic out of the Middle-East (coincidence?) is heading our way, the primary pressing concern of the average North American woman of a certain age is how to stave off the ravages of time, shed wrinkles and extra pounds,  and achieve the insouciant epitome of chic that is the natural state of women over here. I have dedicated myself to this research (a fact I particularly insist upon in the expectation that I can write off all of my expenses on this trip in my 2014 tax return). I cannot give away all the book’s secrets, but to whet your appetite I would like to begin with a general discussion of certain myths concerning the aging Parisienne.

#1. It is not true that all  Parisian women are young-looking and chic. Not at all. They often  show their age. Every one of those Gitanes they smoked as they mounted the barricades in May 68 is written on their faces in wrinkles as complex as the Paris metro map. They often wear nondescript outfits and sensible shoes. Their hair is in  a bun, and  not a chic messy-bun as seen in the advertizing for Aesop skin care products. Not at all.

#2. It is not true that the French don’t try to be beautiful. Believe me, they try. Take cellulite creams. In the pharmacies of Paris there is hardly room for any drugs because of the amount of shelf-space devoted to cellulite creams. And honestly, who would be naive enough to think that a cream would get rid of cellulite, anyway?

Imagined conversation:

Pharmacist:   “Desolez, Madame, but I cannot give you any antibiotics for your oozing sores to-day, because we ran out of room for them.”

Customer: “Zut, what shall I do?”

Pharmacist: “Perhaps try some cellulite cream? It’s very effective.”

#3. It is not true that Parisiennes do not use botox. At a dinner party I attended recently, a truly beautiful fellow guest was so botoxed that when she spoke, she sounded like she had no teeth. It was painful to see her try to form words, and discover that her upper lip just wasn’t going anywhere.

Exercise for those considering botox:

Go to a mirror. Stuff four cotton balls under your upper lip. Notice that those witchy lines do disappear, but also notice that  you look like Bugs Bunny. Now try to talk. Say words like: wonderful, please, and why would I want to look so ridiculous.

Enough myth-busting, although there is much more to be said. Time for stalking the chic Parisiennes we do admire. Let’s look at some photos and analyze.

A few weeks ago, at the Paris Art Fair, I noticed that I was surrounded by the subject types we are most interested in. Ah-ha, iphone 5C at the ready!

IMG_1299 Here’s the setting. The beautiful Grand Palais. Chic Parisiennes are everywhere, selling, buying, discussing, seeing and being seen.

IMG_1282   Our first subject shows that you need not be young nor happy to be chic. She has style, she matches the paintings, the grey hair was a good choice and she understands that if you are going to go grey you have to wear lipstick.

IMG_1276 Perfect. The figure on the right has orange everything – jacket, hair and hem. And it’s really working. She looks vibrant, chic – er than thou. Her friend has the most gorgeous coat. The purse and pants are right.

IMG_1241 Some art. Just to raise the tone of our discussion.

IMG_1245 Oh, the young Moms. Jeggings, leggings, great knee-length coat, large hand bag, white platform running shoes. Copy that.

IMG_1253 Running shoes again. Now this hurts a bit, because no running shoes unless at the gym, used be a central tenet of the Parisiennes’ creed. But things have changed and running shoe culture has come to Paris. Still, as your teenagers know, they have to wear the RIGHT running shoes. White or black lace-ups. Look like Keds. Could be platform if you want a little height.

IMG_1243 More art. Improve your mind.

IMG_1246 Yes. Camel and perfectly coiffed. Oxfords are another good shoe choice and they are everywhere here.

IMG_1295  Arty, shawled, dark tights. Take notes.

IMG_1277 Dashing about. She’s working but always coordinated in the great Paris non-colours that are a no-risk choice for the chic.

Okay, there you have it. More myths busted and more secrets revealed in “Aging Like A Parisienne”, by Christine Stonehewer. Advanced orders accepted.

 

 

Weird French Food V

Part of the fun of staying in Paris for a few months is seeing the changing produce in the markets. A sure sign of spring is the appearance of French (not Spanish – pah!) asparagus on the market tables. The most prized, and costly, is the fat, white asparagus that we seldom see in North America.

IMG_1063  Compare the girth of the white variety to their skinny green cousins at left.

IMG_1061 More skinnies and fatties.

IMG_1078 There will be no comments about the Freudian aspect.

We decided to have a taste test. We would cook up the tender, green, skinny asperges and the bold, white fatties and see which was better. Our young dinner guest, Caitlin, kindly agreed to do a blind tasting. She was too pretty to blindfold, but she promised not to look.

IMG_1079 Getting ready to taste. On the table you see the white ones dressed in a simple vinaigrette. On the right are the green ones with a topping of chevre, tomato, and vinaigrette. Was this tipping the balance in favor of the green?

IMG_1080 First goes the white. Caty’s father excitedly helps himself to one.

Next is the green. Hey, is Caty peeking? No, her eyes are closed. IMG_1081

The verdict? Caty comes in on the side of the green, which she says “tastes green”. I know what she means.

IMG_1148 Caty the next day, at the Jardins du Luxembourg, none the worse for her exertions with asparagus.

At the table, the vote was split. Some sided for green based not only on the taste, but for the beautiful colour it gives the plate. Good point. Personally, I thought the white was ahead by a nose because in addition to having all the flavour of green asparagus, it had an appealing texture: firm on the outside, nicely mushy in the centre. If you see white asparagus why not have your own taste test and let me know how it turned out.

 

The Stomach of Paris

“You will see what even Parisians never get to see,” Genevieve said as we lurched and swerved our way through early morning traffic. Glad that she, not me, was driving, I hoped that there would be coffee at our destination. We had left our apartment at 6:15 to rendez-vous with G. “How is it that you get to go in?” I asked. “Je suis membre d’un societé,” she said rather mysteriously. “It must be the Society of the Legion of Honour,” I murmered  to Alan. “Actually,” she said, having heard, “both my grandfathers, my father, and my ex-husband  had the Legion of Honour”. I have told readers before that G. is crème de la crème. “Then you are a Legionnaire by proximity,” I said. She chuckled.

About 15 minutes beyond the outskirts of Paris, we arrived. “It has its own airport,” G. said. “Shipments come in from all over the world.”

“And from here to the rest of France?” I asked.

“To the rest of Europe.”

We are standing on a superb, sunny and warm day in a rather bleak, unending parking lot. Silly me. I had thought that Rungis, the Marché Central of Paris, would be like the cheery, tented street markets that dot the city, only bigger.

IMG_1544 Here you see row on row of electrical lines and greenhouses at Rungis.

Rungis is the successor as the “stomach of Paris” to the far grittier and picturesque Les Halles. That the earlier market existed for centuries but a stone’s throw from the Louvre is another indicator of the centrality of food for the Parisian. You may have read those wonderful Paris memoirs in which Hemingway and friends cavort until dawn and then end their white night with a bowl of bouillabaise at Les Halles. It also is the scene of many a crime novel. Today the area is under renovation but the streets surrounding the former market site are amongst our least favorite, proving that even Paris has its tacky neighbourhoods.

“Hurry,” Genevieve said. “we must get to the flower hall. It’s the first to shut down.” We step into a building that would dwarf an airline hangar and enter…. heaven.

IMG_1538IMG_1543IMG_1535IMG_1537

Men with trolleys are running around frantically, as the French do when they’re working, and each trolley is packed precipitously with mountains of gorgeous, absolutely freshly-cut flowers.

IMG_1534 Bins of roses, four deep.

IMG_1533 Cut orchids.

IMG_1542IMG_1531

Colour and scent everywhere.

IMG_1536 How to choose? G. and I zoned in on some white and almost black anemones. I also got white sweet peas and G. got a little pot of lily of the valley.

On to the greenhouses. We drove. Everything is big and far in this market. From a plant point of view, and as a botanical garden, Paris’ Jardin des Plantes is a bit disappointing. But who needs one when you have these massive, incredible greenhouses? Suivez-moi.

IMG_1548  Topiary Olive trees. You know how I love topiary.

IMG_1563 Clematis. We can’t grow this kind.

IMG_1562IMG_1553IMG_1549 Xmas tree- shaped azalea. Not fair.

IMG_1550 Topiary azalea. Ditto.IMG_1545IMG_1552IMG_1551IMG_1554IMG_1564IMG_1546

Okay, I know that so far there has been precious little about food. Don’t worry. We did get to food. A classic Parisian hostess, G. begins most of her soirées with a glass of champagne (yes, real) and foie gras which she always prepares herself. She gets the foie gras at Rungis, by the box. Driving over to her provider, she seemed piqued that I was not getting any. How to explain? It’s a bit of an animal cruelty objection and a bit of a high fat issue. Eating a bite of foie gras is delicious, but on the third or fourth bite I feel as though I’m eating a pound of butter. I said something lame about it’s not the way I cook. No problem, though. At this provider (“He supplies all the 3 star chefs”, G. said), I found delicious smoked salmon, a large bag of escargots in butter and garlic, a pot of fig jam, hazelnut oil, argan oil – for my skin and hair –  and duck confit. In the adjacent vendor, I bought cheeses and sweet butter (see, I have nothing against fat, in modest amounts – au contraire).

IMG_1567IMG_1568 There were also entire chateaubriands and filet mignons as big as eels. There were boxes of poultry, including pigeons as you see on the right. I was very tempted by the pigeons, as I just love them, but even on Weird Food Wednesday I would not have the heart to cut off that sweet little head. There were suckling pigs, too, but enough said about that.

Our expedition was not finished, but the battery in my camera was, so you’ll just have to imagine the massive florist supply store we went into where G. enthusiastically darted about getting little bibs and bobs for her grandchildren for Easter. We ended at a wine and gourmet item warehouse (chocolates, sauces, sun-dried tomatoes and the like). We were invited to taste champagne. Well, it would have been rude not to. G., as the driver, took only a tiny sip, but the gentlemen serving were pouring out tumbler-fulls  for Alan. I guess that noon is late in the day at Rungis and they didn’t want to waste it.

Back in the car, on our way to Paris, G. asked,”Does this interest you, going to Rungis?” This is French for, “Did you like it?”

“Yes,” I said. “It fills me up. It’s like Paris itself, so packed with possibility, so expressive of a particular viewpoint on life, where everything produced is the best one can get, is just what one really enjoys, is there and will always be there and promises so many future pleasures that….” I trailed off, feeling confused. Perhaps it was the champagne leaving me feeling foolish and tongue-tied. Genevieve just smiled and shrugged.

 

The Matter of Size

IMG_1397

My husband is not a tall man. In fact, one of his early romantic gambits was, “You should let me move in….I don’t take up too much space.” Pictured here, at the beautiful Musée Bourdelle, you see him further diminished by the monumental sculpture typical of 19th century Paris. But for the most part, Alan is right at home in Paris where he is not short, but of medium height. We buy his pants here, which suit his slim frame and they don’t need to be altered.

IMG_1049 Here, the Smart Car doesn’t seem so tiny.

 

We have been amazed at how easy it has been to live in 400 square feet. Except in the closet/kitchen, the apartment doesn’t seem cramped at all. When I paint, it is like Jackson Pollock, on the floor. Not ideal for me, but workable.

IMG_1365

So, while in Paris, small may be beautiful in so many contexts. But it is also true that here, the French are also masters of BIG. La grandeur as a vehicle of power is practically a French invention, and they have perfected what my friend historian Pierre L’heureux would call the architecture of absolutism.

IMG_0660 Louis XIV, Mister Big.

IMG_1624 Versailles. You have to respect a guy whose home is big enough to accommodate 20,000 guests.

IMG_1625 The garden comes with a pool.

IMG_1634Or two. The point is inescapable. The owner of Versailles is the Big Kahuna and you better mind your P’s and Q’s. Sorry – wildly mixed metaphor.

Back in Paris, the same point is clear every time you open your eyes.

 

IMG_1189 Paris Town Hall. Huge Square in front. More statuary than you can shake a stick at.

Then there’s the Louvre which obviously supports my case. There is that breathtaking moment when you walk into the central square. It’s magnificent and imposing. It imposes its owner’s power on you.

IMG_1617

IMG_1606  This makes you feel pretty darn good when you are on the inside, as Alan is here, having birthday lunch at the Louvre. Dining in its vast arcade he felt like Cardinal Richelieu. Only jewish. And married.

IMG_1376 Then there are all those vast cathedrals such as Notre Dame, shown here. Towns outdid each other to produce the biggest, tallest ones. It took ages to build them and all kinds of tricky engineering such as flying buttresses but it was worth it to make the point that God is great. Pilgrims – after the Vikings, the original medieval tourists – added considerably to local economies. In this rush to impress, everyone forgot that blessed are the meek. Oh, well.

In Paris, going west is going to bigness. Below, the Grand Palais is aptly named.

IMG_1191

Across the road, the Petit Palais is not petit at all.

IMG_1192  It does have some very nice stuff, however.

IMG_1193 Aren’t those hooves killer?

IMG_1198 Alan coordinates with the statuary.

Come to think of it, the Greeks knew quite a lot about impressing people and the Romans even more. Or maybe they just cared about it more.  So, while the impulse to create grandeur may arrive from tyranny, greed and other nasty human traits, we,  the lucky inheritors of the architecture of absolutism, its buildings,   statues, bridges, roads and towns, get to enjoy it all and not care a whit if Louis XIV was powerful or not. In fact, if we don’t feel like cooking in a closet one night, we can even go dine on his porch.

IMG_1194

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Safari

IMG_1604IMG_1603

On the Left Bank, a stone’s throw from the Eiffel Tower, is the large structure you see pictured above. The French designer, Patrick Blanc, was the first to create buildings clad in vegetation and what a beautiful idea that is. This building is the Musee de Quai Branly, the home of France’s “ethnographic”  collection. It inspired Picasso and  Matisse. And inspirational they are.

IMG_1581 This stone sculpture, half animal, half human, is Oceanic but could easily be a modern work by Brancusi or Zadkine.

IMG_1573To enter the museum, you walk up a long ramp, in the dark, as a river of lit words, in the various languages of the peoples represented in the museum, appears underfoot. “What the hell is that?” Alan said as we stumbled up the ramp. “Art, Honey” I replied. When you get to the top, the happy guy pictured above waves at you. The dim lighting prevails, as you can see.

IMG_1572

To add to the confusion, scores of tiny school children are dashing about, calling excitedly in shrill voices. You can’t see them and you are afraid you will step on them. Glass cases are filled with scary guys like this.

IMG_1577And this.

Is it not slightly masochistic subjecting tiny children to these frightening works? Apparently, it’s part of the national toughening up in  France. “Don’t worry dear” I said to Alan. “Imagine having to be the class parent on this outing.” He grimaced. “That is a truly scary thought,” he said as he dodged a tot hurtling like a missile in his direction.

We continued on and things got better. We tried to stay ahead of the school groups.

IMG_1584IMG_1582

Ahhh, fabrics. How I love them. And this museum offers a feast. These are batiks from Java.

IMG_1597IMG_1591

Zoom on these, if you can. The needlework is incredible.

IMG_1600IMG_1601

IMG_1602

IMG_1598IMG_1599

These colours and designs, representing Cambodian, Middle Eastern and Afghani peoples, literally take my breath away. I am moved by these works in the way I would be by a Van Gogh. They found these patterns and designs compelling and I do, too. So viewing their art I feel united with them as we share aesthetic values. At the same time I felt slightly uncomfortable standing in front of all these captive goods, emprisoned as they are in plexiglass. These remnants of the French colonial enterprise, housed in the beautiful modern museum, are mute. They cannot say what might be said about suffering, greed and loss.

Enough said, I suppose. Returning to inspiration, it is perhaps not accidental that the week after Quai Branly, I was up at the Marché St. Pierre in Montmartre. Here, at the foot of Sacre-Coeur, a host of discount fabric stores offer their wares to dedicated hunters. The main shop, a department store offering five floors of fabric, was a trove of fabric finds.

IMG_1462

A couple of trips later, I had bought many metres of cloth for the coming pillow line at the gallery this summer.

IMG_1529IMG_1530IMG_1479 Look for great pillows this spring at artefact.