The Perfect Paris Apartment

We are often asked if we take the same Paris apartment every time we are here. The answer is no. We never take the same apartment because we have  yet to find the perfect one. Our first apartment here was a splurge and  we found it, ironically enough, through the American agency Paris Perfect.

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It looked a bit like this one although it was smaller. It had pull-out couches for the girls and two quite excellent bathrooms. The kitchen was tiny but had great appliances (it convinced us to buy a Miele dishwasher). It offered a view of the Eiffel Tower and was in the tony, residential 7th arrondissement. We wanted to be there because Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker  lived in the 7th and we had been reading his Paris column for years. It is a great spot to raise kids and to live for a few years, but is not actually that central. The perfect Paris apartment should be an easy walk (i.e. less than a half hour) from the Louvre.

Our next place, in the 13th Arrondissement, was our home for six months. We had a challenging wish list: four bedrooms  ( a rare thing here) to house us, our two daughters, and the lengthy list of guests who wanted to come. We also needed a terrace for our two doggies. We ended up with something fantastic: a four bedroom, three bathroom, three storey house which united a cool loft-style industrial space for the kitchen/living/dining to a renovated 19th century worker house for the bedrooms. The terrace looked much like this one:

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The entryway was like this.

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It had beams and stairs like this.

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The living area had much of this vibe , a spacious area mixing  the modern and ancient.

The place in the 13th was really cool, but I don’t imagine I will ever need something so big again. Important travel tip: if you rent it, they will come. We began to feel that we were running a bed and breakfast in the 13th and we still didn’t manage to accommodate everyone who wanted to visit. SOOO, having extra space can be something of a liability in your Paris apartment.  And was this place expensive. We rented  out both our Montreal duplex and our country house and managed to cover HALF the rent of this cool house. Also, the 13th is about a 40 minute walk to the Louvre.

Last year, we found a charming place in the Marais, just the perfect location for us. With its 17th century buildings, chic boutiques, incredible food shops, youthful artiness and central location, we feel the Marais (3rd and 4th arrondissements) is us. You may have seen these photos:

photo 4 From the dining area to the living room.

photo Three nice chimneypieces.

IMG_0144  Two French windows in the bedroom and living room.

photo 3  Nice views.

By now you are wondering, what’s wrong with this place? Looks… perfect.

photo 5  Here’s what’s wrong. World’s tiniest kitchen. Broken/inferior appliances. No counterspace.  AND,  I can’t even show you the shower area, too embarrassing that I lived with that for three months. The whole space was charming but shabby. One day, it will make a great apartment, after the renovation.

This year, we went for what seemed a slickly renovated place, again in the Marais. Check it out.

photo 8 The entryway. You see the master bedroom on the left.

photo 14 Outside the master, nice details.

photo 7 The hallway leads into the dining and living area.

photo 15 The selling point: amazing, wrap around views.

photo 10 This is the Eglise St. Paul, our view from all the rooms. It looks especially lovely at sunset.

photo 1 There are two bathrooms. I like the tile work in this one .photo 12 Heated towel bar. LOVE IT.              photo 17  Walk in shower.photo 11I like the way the striped tiles wrap up onto the wall.

photo 15 It’s about the view, really. The balcony wraps around the entire apartment.

photo 4 There are custom-made curtains on every window. Do you think the fabric is a bit much? photo 5 Enough already. We know we are in Paris.

photo 13 More fabric details. Throw pillows abound.

photo 6 The leather couch turns into a double bed. There is also a tiny second bedroom with another convertible couch.

photo 16 Here is the kitchen/ dining end  of the living area. Cool chandelier. Tulip table. Plastic chairs, as seen in design magazines,  are surprisingly comfortable. AND counterspace is totally inadequate. I have, I think, twelve inches of prep space. The whole thing looks nice, though.

Is this THE ONE, then? The perfect Paris apartment? Perfect, no. All that glitz, it’s just not for me. Which of these apartments would suit you best?

 

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

Hunting and Gathering

It has been a good week for hunting and gathering. At Drouot, the auction house, there were 15  auctions taking place throughout Wednesday afternoon.  I was commissioned by a young friend to bid on a (Hermes) Kelly bag as two were on offer at the fashion auction. I don’t quite approve of the brand obsession attached to the Kelly,  but I was happy to go, catch the scene, and drop by another auction, this one devoted to antique textiles. Imagine. A roomful of people interested in dropping a thousand or more euros on a piece of Renaissance embroidery. Talk about specialized.  I love fabric and had to see these lovely pieces of textile art as they came out. This is close to the  way they looked: 8a4454c80b75d78c628d974e3276e1c977219ddbd6b9b552c6228fb150986cee Beautiful, no?

I also had a second motive. Remember that Kuba fabric from Zaire that I hankered for at the flea market? Here is a reminder:01bb5960f265b02868cb8fbce9b04e8e96231491fc  I had learned on-line that  there was a lot on offer containing three pieces. I sat expectantly and in due course the lot came up, described somewhat sniffily as “Du raffia”. What luck. In this crowd of high rollers no one was interested in “du raffia”, and so it was mine for 25 euros. How much did that flea market guy ask for one piece of the same? I think it was 75 euros. Here  are my trophies.

019aea9edbf14ae711240bf02d1f903f7428cb7afd  Here is what they will look like if I make them into pillows. What do you think? Should I frame them instead?

411fc990a6a17742c813846d1dbd8ab0  I have been reading about how the artisans weave these, husbands and wives sharing the tasks of collecting palm leaves, stripping and tufting the fibres. Quite interesting. But I could not rest on my laurels. There was fashion to be had.

Upstairs in the fashion auction, a roomful of women resembling Lee Radziwill were packed like proverbial sardines. It was easily as interesting watching them as the Chanels, St. Laurents and Givenchy’s coming off the racks.There were hundreds of items sold and the auctioneer handled the bidding from the crowded room as well as from a crowded table full of Drouot staff working the phones and computers. She was very amusing, full of patter, “Mais c’est ravissante!” , “C’est du Sonia” (Rykiel), “Jamais vous ne le regretterez”. There were many bargains, especially if you long for a little black dress, an impossibly chic black suit or two, or a fur. Personally, while I admire these items, they do not actually fit into my lifestyle. Perhaps I should change my lifestyle. The furs were going for A SONG – by which I mean 200-250 euros. For mink. In my view you shouldn’t have to feel guilty about the mink because you got it second-hand. Someone else was responsible for its death, there is no point throwing it in the garbage now.  Unfortunately for Sophie, the Kelly bags were not going for a song, unless that song is “Money, Money”. They brought 500 and 1000 euros respectively. I think that’s ridiculous but no doubt there are a couple of people out there convinced they got a bargain.

You might think that I would have had quite enough by now, but auction-going is not for the weak. The last hour is the crazy hour and I had spotted just the right kind of junky/garage-sale-esque auction going on in the basement. It was me and a bunch of guys named Salim as things got down to the wire. Amidst the pseudo-antiques there were some quite nice things and they were going for nothing. I mean it this time. A piano in good working condition went for 20 euros. I had spotted a stack of rugs and I was thinking that a couple of small ones would probably fit in my luggage. The rugs came on last. They brought out the small ones and slapped them down on the table. A cloud of dust rose up. They were selling all of the small ones (10? 12?) in one lot! What to do? How could I take all of them? I didn’t want all of them! But the auctioneer couldn’t even get 20 euros for them. The price came down to 15 euros. My mind was racing. And as it did so the lot sold. Rats!  No matter, Salim assured me. “You will find many things here.” No doubt. Tomorrow, Hunting and Gathering II.

Dames d’un Certain Age

We are fascinated with French women, and especially la Parisienne. Writing a book about them in which you guarantee your readers that they will learn the 7 essential secrets of being a woman in the French style is a fast track to the best-seller list. This idealization of the Frenchwoman includes the notion that she is slim, ageless, witty, sophisticated and very seductive. She is also a great chef (knows how to cook mackerel, for example) and juggles work and family without strain. Judging by the behaviour of the French heads of state, it seems that these stellar qualities are lost on the men of France. But certainly not on the women of North America. That is why I am writing a book called, Aging a la  Francaise, because unlike all those other writers, I actually have figured out a number of things about Frenchwomen such as how and why Parisennes keep their figures. It’s their junk food. Pathetic. Check this out.

01f98e2da9def24bc74fc2d42df24d6bf51dc9a704_00001This is a Paris vending machine. What are they selling? Waffles. I kid you not. Who the heck would want to eat a waffle from a vending machine? And where’s the fat and the salt that make a junk food addictive? No self-respecting person would turn to these as a “treat”, and certainly not a Parisienne. No human has ever said, “I got fat because of those vending machine waffles”. That was Exhibit A. On to B.

01ca873974d24f5eca4a1f377aeb47abd0b9998488 So, here  is the side of a vending machine. There is the waffle, some cookies, a package of jujubes. And, what I don’t get is the name of the product: Bon Plans. Do you get that? What does that mean in the context of furtively scarfing your junk food on the subway platform? Obviously, it’s not a bon plan. And why are we throwing in English words gratuitously anyway?  Most puzzling. But not as strange as Exhibit C.

016e97ede98774d3cf8649ce195914acf91d4341deWow. Proust would be so gratified. Madeleines in the vending machine. This is not how you get fat. These vending machines represent a mentality. And if you want to know more you will have to reserve an advance copy of my book.

In order to research this book, I have had to seek out the most chic and compelling dames d’un certain age in Paris. They are to be found here.

0194d0bbb8765893c9e8ba0d482bf2fe0d18056f13 In the north-east corner of the Marais, Merci is the height of cool. So cool that it, too, is something I don’t understand. It is a non-profit store. Proceeds to charity. Nice idea. My gallery, too is non-profit as it turns out, but not intentionally. The French don’t like the idea of profit I guess and that is part of what makes Merci very cool. I do get how beautiful the interior space is. Huge, industrial loft style, great clothes, fantastic furnishings, linens and a big draw for Parisiennes of the sort we want to research.

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0119c319df3a3e36bff137f7b8b8a62c5e0eba1d07 Voila. There she is. Great coat.  Well-tailored pants.

0161aa1c6f5fbcb465d5d88c2fde57d2a3e61f282aI admire this. Tidy. Elegant. Serious. Looks like she reads Foucault.

01a099f8c0a13080f7b792fd2215617425abbee468 Another thing to notice. Not trying to look young. Doesn’t have to try hard in any way. Just is. Here’s the coup de grace.

0156ddf48e6bad16033c32abf359575d80819146cf These are her shoes. Match the scarf. She is having fun and not asking anyone’s permission. She is showing that while she looks serious and adult there is a playful side you would probably like to get to know. 01c8c7dcef260165e7d6fa6b2cd0bef1397cc40c27 So much to notice here.  Great jacket with its velvet collar. Blouse, simple and perfect. Probably cost 500 euros. Don’t ignore the finer points. Those little hairclips. This is attention to detail that requires study.

01bf3bda0f7c55ca285436e037d51b5699ef5d95b3This one is a movie star. I’m pretty sure. Let me know if you recognize her.

01829125d9962cd4797ada26e5669c55b0e5767186 Finally, I leave you with this example, from the Jardin des Plantes (a great place for stalking chic grannies). Notice how her foulard matches the orchids.

 

 

See the Flea

If you have been following, you know where I will be on Saturday morning. Here’s what I saw at the flea market today.

01801a003869bdc24c214a28fea272d16235a7ac19  We’re off. Look at that chandelier.

01eeb30adbfd809f191a7b87725198f3d24ba14957 Early on, I was taken with a big stack of sketches from the model in sanguine conte. They were stamped to authenticate, looked to be 19th century and were going for only 10 euros. So tempted. Under the umbrella were some great looking modern works.

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01a7f53ea459c6bff1a67e0df6839aedbc339e135b  I was interested in this whole table of old cameras.

01c4d1e35e6fdb84d1c2149168ea71e3d3dda5fd94 These alabaster pendants were really cool. Why didn’t I get them?

01933309e31d29b86319e5c19a240ce172d2836bfe Vintage cloth from Zaire and Cameroon. Each one is a masterpiece of abstraction. There are many different colors and sizes. All QUITE expensive, 175-400 euros. 01bb5960f265b02868cb8fbce9b04e8e96231491fc I have to figure out the pricing on these.

01219f820c2575450a383479de2e297a4ddd90f79cIn the meantime, This guy was adding to the merriment with his tinkly piano. I was getting into the jewellery vendors.

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And finally, I settled on little doodads for making jewellery. Spent too much. You know, each piece is only a euro but before you know it…. Anyway, I will make something beautiful. I hope. I especially like the coins and tear-shaped pearl. I find that I have reverse buyer’s remorse. The pendants, the sketches. Oh well, there’s always next week.

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Good People and Bad

Looking out my window recently, I saw two young boys of perhaps seven or  eight years whizzing around the corner on their scooters. I was glad to see that young kids are allowed out to play in our part of town, unsupervised. You just don’t see overweight children here.  Just seconds before one of the boys entered his code outside his door and leapt inside, it struck me that he was wearing a yarmulke. He pulled his friend after him and disappeared…This glimpse  was one of those  small moments that mean a lot to me. I get a feeling of triumph every time I see visible the survival of the French Jews.  011ffcb62e1b6f039f64ff66852d885c2167884659

These plaques are everywhere in Paris. They attest to the number of dead children, given up by the French and seized from their schools and homes by the Nazis, then deported and murdered because they were Jewish. I admire the French willingness to own up to this shame. These constant reminders distress me, but we owe those children our distress even so many years later.  Five years ago, sending my own half-Jewish child to attend a French school, she went past one such plaque and the big blue doors of the ecole shut behind her. I gulped hard, imagining her fate had we lived here at the wrong time.

But today, bright and sunny and perfect these thoughts were not on my mind. We were off to visit the Maison Victor Hugo, one of Paris’ many small museums. We went through the beautiful courtyard of the Hotel Sully and into the gorgeous Place des Vosges. Children were playing, their mothers’ laughter ringing out.

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And unbidden, as these things often are, I noticed a green door in the arcade of the Place des Vosges. Peering more closely I realized with a start, it’s a synagogue.

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Wow. A congregation of Jews, thriving in the heart of the former Jewish district (as the Marais was) and in a highly significant Marais location, too. This miracle survival, despite the very best efforts of some very bad people was heartening.  Bravo.

On to Victor Hugo, what a delight. 01ba425b0db70b5beb6b5c59579c8eb030b7b0bb15

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I am a big fan of nineteenth century novels and admire  French ones  as much as English and  Russian. In the museum, I learned about Hugo’s life and experienced his surroundings,  the apartment he lived in through some of his most successful years. No starving artist, Hugo gave his  apartment on the Place des Vosges a sumptuous appeal.0153605ba96b3955ed9e14aaf255f88c414dc52095_0000101080d9175dbafd5f9f4cb54f764d816b64455599b_00001015ed5aaa9c45277b8fd24cbe1d53be737068119c5_0000101f724aee7b156a4d59446e46a61323404fa7fe1db_00001

Bright rooms, en enfilade, are filled with the paintings and furnishings selected by Hugo, who clearly enjoyed decor and was a fan of Chinoiserie. As with his prose style, in Hugo’s view, more is more.

Despite his evident success, Hugo’s interesting life had many difficult moments. His beautiful daughter Leopoldine drowned together with her husband, at the age of 19, shortly after her marriage. Hugo could not recover.

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This is Leopoldine.

As well, Hugo’s outspoken support of Republican causes put his life in danger when Napoleon III seized power. He fled and remained in exile for 15 years, unable and unwilling to return to a homeland that was not free.

014ffee776852f81b3904044b7e8b6de25f98c669dHow many successful artists today would risk it all for a principle? Hugo could have returned in a general amnesty to join the cultural life of his homeland, but he refused. He must have been tempted to see family and friends, talk to his publishers, get theatre projects going, be in his beloved Paris, but he chose to use his fame to promote freedom.  Despite all the disturbing plaques, the reminders throughout Paris of horror and terror, of human criminality, Hugo’s life shows us how a good man can behave and what it is to be moral.