Karl Lagerfeld

paris arts decoratif and street 2013-09-18 025Our last night in Paris I dreamed of Karl Lagerfeld, the maestro of the house of Chanel. He strode about in my dream dressed in his usual snug black suit–but his shirt was fuschia not blinding white–and he had removed his ubiquitous dark glasses.  In the dream his eyes were warm brown and revealed a kind and amused man. Amused at the world in which he operates and amused at the conversation we were having. I haven’t ever dreamed about Karl Lagerfeld before.

We spent most of a day at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs.  One of the installations displayed pieces from a recent Chanel collection on manikins lounging upon priceless furniture from the museum’s collection.

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Part of the display was a video of the presentation of that fall collection held at the Glass Palace in Paris which made a great impression on me. In person, the intricacies of the dresses were just as unbelievable as the inlay of tiny pieces of wood and ivory in the furniture or the elaborate gold paint on a mirror were.  The fabric of the clothing was made of sequins sewn so beautifully it appeared to be a solid piece of shimmering cloth.

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The placement of the whimsical fashion collection with the priceless jewelry, furniture, ceramic, silver, glass and so on that makes up the permanent collection at the museum summarizes for me all that I love about Paris.

Sometimes the officious and imponderable workings of the French mind annoy or baffle me, but over all the whimsy and the desire to join new with old excites and thrills me.   This museum and its trompe l’oeil exhibition delighted me.  I think I can forgive a certain amount of rigidity if it’s leavened by humor and reverence for beauty.

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This new red piece overlooks the principal entry hall of this wing of the Louvre which houses the Musee des Arts Decoratifs. Below they are preparing the hall for an event.
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I’ve had my hand kissed three times.  I mean the hand kiss that you see in movies (check out Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer in “The Age of Innocence”) but rarely in real life. In fact it’s so infrequent, at least in my life, that I recall each instance!

The first time I was at a fancy soiree and was introduced to a baron.  Yes, a real baron, who upon seeing my outstretched hand to shake instead lifted it to his mouth, lowered his head and held my fingers near his mouth but did not touch them.  Needless to say, it was a heady moment!

The second time a good friend greeted me this way–someone I had not seen for several months.  It was a very charming moment and this friend knew the correct protocol:  no wet smooch, only dry lips which barely graze the lady’s hand.  Again there is something very breathtaking about this graceful gesture.  It does make a great impression.  Here is a gentleman who is cultured and confident in his masculinity. And the third time occurred here and in a most unlikely venue but that I believe is the essence of Paris: surprise and wonder.

We had finished an exhausting and messy four hour adventure at Porte de Vanves sifting through the wares of over 200 vendors and needed to sit, eat and use the toilette.  So we went into a small, tattered bar/bistro not far from the metro stop.  Locals were there–no tourists–and we took a seat.  The waiter took our order which included pomme frites.  The food arrived and Ken asked for ketchup.  The owner said, “No ketchup, mayonnaise.”  Ken was dismayed; “I want ketchup,” he said.  “One moment,” the owner said.  We saw him run out the door, run down the block and shortly reappear carrying a small plastic tub full of ketchup which a neighbor restauranteur must have provided.  “Voila!” he said, as he placed the little tub on our table.  We all had a big laugh and Ken was delighted.

Later as Ken was paying the tab, I went over to the owner, extended my hand and said “Enchante, monsieur.”   At that moment, he looked at me, smiled, and took my hand in his, brought it to his lips, bent his head and lightly touched his forehead to my hand.   All the bar habituees were enjoying this bit of play as was I.  As we left, he called out, “Bonne journee, Madame et le Roi du Ketchup!”  Everyone roared.  Ken didn’t understand, but I translated for him later.  So what does this tell you about Paris?  Surprise and wonder; the unexpected will delight, anger or amuse, but it will always be there waiting for you if you are open to it.

Paris Roller Coaster

Up and down.  A little sun, heavy rain.  Clear blue sky above with puffy, white clouds.  Dark and threatening skies, rain imminent.  Warm and breezy, blustery and chilly.  So it has gone now for 11 days.  Tomorrow it will drop to 40F an unheard of low for September.  The weather is a bit like my feelings: some days I am so frustrated by Paris, I vow I’ll never return.  Other days, I wish I could stay here forever and walk endlessly in these ever unwinding streets full of their odd little shops and bistros; the endless boulangeries, patisseries, boucheries, fromageries, shops, marche des fruits, and just about anything else you can conceive.   Not to mention the museums and the churches.  They’re all here waiting to be discovered.  It’s exhausting, it’s fascinating.  It’s impossible but we try–about 5 miles a day on foot–we try.

Did you know there is a canal in Paris?  I didn’t.  There is.  Canal St. Martin.

Canal St. Martin

The canal is about 3 miles long with lovely iron foot bridges to cross from side to side It has nine locks which allow boat traffic to pass up and down. The end point is the Arsenal Marina which accommodates over 200 boats. On a sunny day the canal is a serene area along which to walk shaded by many mature trees.  Recently trendy shops and galleries have sprung up around the portion of the canal north of the Marais.  Our walk to see them was cut short when a downpour hit us about midway along the canal.  We were fortunate to get a taxi as the nearest Metro, Stalingrad, many blocks away.

We decided to go to the Louvre until the storm subsided. Like most big cities, when it pours the traffic gets even worse than it is already. In Paris it’s really a mess because the streets are so narrow and winding it is impossible to just speed away. We finally did make it to the Louvre and were bowled over again by its splendor–the buildings, the gardens, the courtyards, and yes, the pyramid. Our Museum Pass allowed us to go to the head of the line and in we zipped. Hardly wet at all.

We headed to the ancient ruins excavated several years ago which reveal the earliest foundations of today’s monstrous structure. The archeology is fascinating.

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It’s hard to believe that these stone walls (and others, of course) hold up the enormous edifice that rises above. After wandering around the ruins, we moved upstairs to see the Egyptians. Forgive me, New York City which I love and the Met which I always visit like a pilgrimage site, but this collection so far surpasses any other museum’s there is simply no contest. Rooms, vast and spectacular with painted ceilings embellished with gold, gold, and more gold. Marble absolutely everywhere–floors, walls, and columes–not pale unpatterned marble but marble in colors and configurations rarely seen. This was the home of kings and queens beginning with Philippe August in 1180.

The Egyptian wing consists of rooms filled with every small and large item of Egyptian life and death and in splendid condition and color illustrative of life 5,000 years ago, give or take a few hundred years.

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egyptian girl and duck

The rain had stopped. We were exhausted and decided to get outside and into the fresh air. We left the museum still awe struck by what we had seen and all that we had not. We had seen only the tiniest bit of the enormous holdings inside the museum’s walls.

Louvre thru the Pyramid

It was time for a treat. We were on the Rue de Rivoli and headed to Angelina’s for the best hot chocolate ever bar none. Definitely better than a martini!

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Paris: the good, not so good, and the wet

Our fast train from Bordeaux arrived on time at Gare Montparnasse. We passed the four hours chatting with an interesting American couple.  Bill is an exec at a tech company.  He and his partner had just spent several days tasting Burgundy wine and hobnobbing with some pretty exotic people including the sports maven on the Antique Road Show.  Their first stop in Paris: Le Musee de Vin!

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Our first stop was our apartment in the 5th arrondissement.  We stayed here 7 years ago and loved the place.  It’s near the Sorbonne, the Pantheon and the Luxembourg Gardens and next door to Croco Jazz.  In the other direction it’s a short walk down hill to the Seine and two metro stops one of them at the Cluny Museum.  We’re not far from Notre Dame, Ile St. Louis and the Marais.  The Metro is a wonderful thing riding it saves energy for the hard work of visiting monuments and museums.  It is costly, however, just as the London tube is.  A carnet (10 rides, one way) is E20 and that’s a bargain.  ($1.30 = E1)

metro Cluny stop

Ken got up early the next day to do some antiquing at Porte Vanvres a bit of a schlep involving 3 transfers on the Metro. He’s directionally-challenged and had a tough time getting there but once among all the dealers and stuff he was a happy camper. The size of this brocante has grown a lot since we were last here. Ken found some interesting things and plans to return (with Sacagawea–that’s me) next week.

I went out on my own and said hello to our lady who has grown huge stadium sized bleachers absolutely packed with tourists waiting to get inside. I slipped around the lines and headed to the Ile St. Louis. Many wonderful small shops and an antique store I remembered from a previous visit–lovely and eccentric items.

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That evening we wandered around the Jardin de Luxembourg before dinner. Very impressive and very beautiful. We watched the boys sailing their boats in the fountain and I thought of Stuart Little. I didn’t see him but someone said he and Margo had gone to Provence for a getaway.

Stuart Little's boat

Medicis Grotte at Jardin L
This is the Medici’s Grotte built during the time Marie de Medici was married to King Henry IV in 1575.

beautiful beds at JardinJardin de Luxembourgh statue with bird How did that bird know I was taking a picture of the statue and decided to pose for me.

Now for the ugly. We got up this morning to visit the Marche aux Puces–the huge flea in Clignancourt only two Metro lines away. We knew rain was on the way but due late afternoon (we thought). The skies opened and dumped hours of rain on our heads, the vendors’ stalls and all their goods, and flooded the streets. We were soaked; all the brocantes were either closed or closing and we made our way home like drowned rats.

wet Pucepouring

travaux signs Today’s watch word indeed!