Bonjour Madame, workshop & retreat
Monday, September 26, 2011, we arrive in Paris!
On the evening of our arrival in Paris, there were two moments that would set the tone for our week in Paris. The first of which occurred as we enjoyed aperitifs in our apartment. To honor this very special occasion, my husband Dale had prepared a toast, in French no less. "A cet instant, et les moments à venir!" (To this moment and moments yet to come!) And, there were many many wonderful moments to follow.
Dressed to the nines and ready for our night on the town!
Thanks Steve for sharing all those great photos you took!
CITY OF LIGHT
Paris has a myriad of nicknames, but she is most famous as "La Ville-Lumière" or the city of light. And, as such, it seemed only fitting that we spend our first evening in Paris drifting dreamily upon the Seine river illuminated by her sparkling iconic monuments. As we glided serenely, a violinist strolled amongst our tables and a solicitous staff served course after delicious course, the the first of many feasts we were to luxuriate in over the week. But alas, after several hours, our cruise ship on the Bateaux Mouche made it's final tour of the Seine and glided back to the docks at the Port de la Conference. On shore, our taxis awaited and whisked us away on a daring race back to the apartments in the Petite Montrouge neighborhood where we would live our lives as Parisiennes over the ensuing week. This wild ride was momentous in that our week in Paris would be anything but tame. Let the adventure begin!
The following day, as with the days that followed, we encountered cool mornings, warm sunny afternoons, and not a drop of rain. Un grande merci Paris! We took the first of many daily rides from our neighborhood metro, line 4, Porte d'Orleans, to destinations throughout the city. On this particular day, it was the Abbesses station, one of the few remaining Hector Guimard art deco-style entries, and as we can attest to, one of the deepest in Paris at 36 meters (118 feet).
We explored two neighborhoods in the 18e, Les Abbesses quarter and Montmartre's Place du Tertre. Just outside the metro we arrived at Place des Abbesses, the neighborhood's nucleus. There we discovered one of the many quaint merry-go-rounds of Paris. Worlds away from the maddening crowd, we strolled the winding cobbled streets and ultimately found our way to Tombees du Camion, literally translated means "fallen off the truck." This pocket-sized shop was artfully styled and stocked with vintage ephemeral treasures. The clerk was delightful and we travelled on with petit reins for our visual journals (more on that later). Place du Tertre, by contrast to the authentic charm of les Abbesses, is a tourist mecca but none the less a lively area and worth a visit, though immediately after the brisk uphill jaunt I am not sure everyone would have agreed.
After a morning of wandering and exploring, our reservation at Moulin de la Galette awaited us. The Moulin de la Galette was the subject and title of several paintings by Van Gogh and Pissaro, but we were there because of the excellent reviews including one by Rick Steves. Once again, we were not disappointed, the food and service earned high marks and we had a long relaxed déjeuner in true Paris form.
After our first day of exploring, we journeyed back to our apartments to incorporate new found materials into our Paris journals, a visual retelling of our journeys.
Lana and Catherine during an artmaking session.
On Wednesday, we turned up the volume considerably trekking to the bustling 1e and 2e, into the thrumming heart of the city, to arrive at the highly anticipated Ultramod mercerie and haberdashery. Ultramod first opened its doors in 1890 and once inside this quaint boutique with its floor to ceiling wood drawers, and boxes filled with thousands of buttons and notions, there was a feeling that we had alighted in a place where time stood still. In this oasis of quietude and calm, we spent a good bit of time exploring as others like us have done for more than 120 years. We travelled on with passamenterie, ribbons and other tresors tucked into our bags. Once on our way, and just as we were about to enter into the Passage Choiseul, we looked back to find Lana, who had entered a vintage clothing shop, with her face and arm thrust through the open door waving a spectacular patterned skirt. This is but one of many priceless memories of our adventure and one worthy of memorializing (I just wish I had caught it on film!).
Steve and Lana just outside Ultramod
Incidentally, the Passage Choiseul is a pedestrian corridor comparable to an indoor shopping mall. After navigating the passage, we exited into the chaos of the city, zig zagging through a maze of hectic avenues and narrow but heavily trafficked corridors en route to Aux Crus de Bourgogne off of the trendy market street Rue Montorgueil, where we had reservations for lunch.
Aux Crux de Bourgogne was a rare find. I confess to being an information junkie and dove headlong into locating the best restaurants in the neighborhoods we were to visit. However, when it came to reviews it was at times confusing due to the many conflicting impressions. In this instance, however, the reviews were unequivocally excellent in terms of food and service. While there is no specific "Parisian" cuisine per se, Paris offers the best of regional French cooking as well as influences from the blended cultures of the people of the city. The fare offered at Aux Crux de Bourgogne orginates, as the name implies, from the Burgundy region. The specialty of the house is of course bouef bourgogne, but our group of ten ordered a multitude of other dishes, all of them outstanding.
After the harried walk through the city, we once again found ourselves in a quiet haven. The setting, a private dining room on the second floor had been made ready for our party with a starched white tablecloth, white china, and glistening glassware. Though we may have prompted an initial head scratch from our waiter, he was an amiable man and worked hard to meet all of our needs, including some vegetarian requests, and the food was luscious. This is where I had my first citron pressé introduced to our group by Lana. Lana ordered one and, intrigued, several of us followed suit. Order this drink anywhere in France and you will be served a glass with ice and the fresh squeezed juice of one or more lemons, along with a bottle of cool water, and sugar. Basically, the ingredients of fresh lemonade, but served with so much more flare. I found it very refreshing and a great palette cleanser with which to begin a meal.
After lunch we visited Stohrer on Rue Montrogueil. One of the venerable patisserie's of Paris. Nicolas Stohrer was the royal patissier to Louis XV and when he left the court in 1730 he took his recipes with him and established this patisserie. Two revered house recipes are Stohrer's puits d'amour and baba au rhum. There was also an article posted out front lauding the eclairs, so quite naturally I had to sample all these delicacies!
Next stop was Le Droguerie, France's largest chain of craft boutiques. But, Le Droguerie is quite unlike anything you would find here in the US. It was yet another small scale boutique stocked floor to ceiling with old fashioned wood drawers, and shelves filled with jars and jars of buttons, beads and other trims. I wish I knew more about the history, as the shop we visited in Paris had an old world feel to it. Here we found elements well suited to embellishing our developing Bonjour Madame characters. This shop reminded me of Tinsel Trading in NYC in both style and offerings, except for the tiny Eiffel Tour charms which I was delighted to discover there. I had been wondering about the name of this boutique, Le Droguerie, literally translated, the drug store, until I discovered that droguerie could also be translated as bead, but either way you translate it, it spells obsession!
After a visit to Le Drogerie, it was back to the apartment to rest and attend to our evolving journals. We had the remainder of the day and the first half of the following day to completely immerse ourselves!
The French Garden
While we spent the first half of the day in the apartment, the remainder of our time was dedicated to attend the fashion show, or should I say exhibit, at Chateau Versailles, Le XVIII au gout du Jour, The 18th Century Back in Fashion, exploring the Grand Trianon (where the exhibit was held), the Petit Trianon and the private domain of Marie Antoinette. I have posted my two favorite fashions from the exhibit but if you would like to see more, French Vogue has posted photos from the show on their web site.
by Vivienne Westwood
by Alexander McQueen
This fashion exhibit exemplified the fascination that I myself and others hold on 18th century fashion, and especially the Louis XVIth period, fashion a la Marie Antoinette. The extravagance, the exquisitely embellished and accessorized ensembles, and the voluminous hairstyles have captivated the fashionista in me since the Marie Antoinette movie. For this exhibit haute couture designers adapted a modern reading on 18th century fashion, some of the silhouettes were almost literal while others deconstructed and expanded on them. It was breathtaking to say the least to be there and close enough to appreciate the details. There was one pink confection, "Vive la Cocotte" by Vivienne Westwood, that was spellbinding. The workmanship was exquisite and the fabrics and embellishments were so delicate and beautiful I could have spent the day admiring them, but I was not the only one enchanted. This was the last week of the exhibit and there was a monumental turnout though I wish that I had passed through the exhibit at least one more time. I just could not get enough.
A few years ago I organized an artist collaborative, La Theatre Troupe. It was the same year that I introduced the Queen of Tarts collection, an homage to Marie Antoinette. It was such a pleasure to have the opportunity to have a member of that group along with me on this adventure. Sara Hanlon, accompanied by her multi-talented daughter Kimberly. And, to meet another member of le troupe, Pat Rogerson, the following day at Musee D'Orsay, I was over the moon! And how apropos to have the opportunity to spend the day in Marie Antoinette's private realm and to visit the La Petit Theatre de la Rein with the Hanlons. This mother and daughter seemed more like sisters, and obviously shared a special bond. Very best luck to you two ladies in your new roles as business partners!
Postcard depicting Marie Antoinette's private theatre
The threate as we found it
Marie Antoinette's theatre is a jewel box. I visited it first with my husband who seemed just as excited as I was to be there. And it would have been so easy to miss this treasure, had it not been for all the expert direction I had been given by Pat Rogerson. I wonder just how many people do miss it. You need to approach through the French garden, and in a nondescript building on the right, viola, you will find the entrance to this delicate ornate chamber, though actually entering is prohibited. You will find a cool quiet corridor where you can stand and meditate, however. After our visit to the theatre, we walked a meandering path on the periphery of the gardens to arrive at the petit hameau and the vast many buildings that were part of Marie's fantastical world. A place where she went to play shepardess and imagine a simpler life. It was truly beautiful and I am so grateful for the time we were able to spend there together.
We later walked back into town and had a delicious dinner at Golden Bengal Restaurant Indien, that was spotted by Sara earlier in the day along the main route from the train station. The menu was a bit of a challenge, with so many exotic offerings and all of them described in French. However, the Hanlons are connoisseurs of Indian cuisine and offered helful suggestions. I also adopted a routine when ordering from French menus, that is to focus on the price fix menu, which was usually a lesser expensive combination of options than the a la carte menu and affords the opportunity to experiment. All of those experiments worked out well as they did on this evening from the kufi to the coffee!
While we visited Marie Antoinette's private domain, the other members of the group returned to the antiques shop we had discovered earlier on our walk from the Versaille Chantiers train station to the chateau. You can find it on the left side of the street on the main route through town on your way to Chateau Versailles. One of the things I remember best about it, is the radiant light coming through the class ceiling. There were some exceptional pieces of furniture to be had, including an old shop cabinet, s well as inexpensive paintings and lots and lots of books, and at quite good prices. This was yet another one of those moments where we might have been time travelling, as this antiques shop was pricing things much lower than expected on highly sought after items, including an ancient 20x15" ledger book for less than 30 Euro!
On Friday we visited the Musee d'Orsay. It was an another sparkling day in the city of light, and we were able to enjoy it sans the heat and noise. The light that illuminates this space is but one of the many reasons that d'Orsay is my favorite museum in Paris. We spent a couple of hours perusing the art galleries before rendezvousing with friends Pat Rogerson, Susan Wilken, Sharon Bruner, and the other members of their group who were also visiting Paris. We dined at the beautiful Restaurant de Musee d'Orsay, one of the grand Belle Epoque salons of the former hotel that adjoined the train station that is now the Musee d'Orsay. It lived up to its reputation in every way. Architecturally stunning in every detail, perfect service and delicious food. We had a long Parisian style lunch, chatted amiably, and took a few photos before parting. A perfect meeting place. Thank you ladies for taking time to meet with us. We will always have Paris!
Not far from the Musee d'Orsay is Sennelier, and how could we not take a just a little more time to visit this iconic purveyor of art materials on the Quai Voltaire founded in 1867? Along the way, we discovered street artist Zamir Mati. At first I thought he was selling photocopies, which is something we see quite a lot here in the US. He explained that they were all original paintings rendered in watercolor and ink. On his ipad, Zamir shared with us the full range of projects he has been involved with from children's book illustration and postage stamp illustration, to an extensive collection of paintings and drawings. He showed us his web site but unfortunately it is not up and running at the time I am journaling. I hope all is well. Our chance encounter with this gentle man and talented artist, was yet another of the special moments we shared in Paris.
Marche aux Puces de Porte de Vanves
Finally, Saturday arrived and we took the tram just a couple of stops to the Marche aux Puces de Porte de Vanves. Flea markets are pretty much hit and miss whether you find yourself at your local flea or at the puces in Paris. And, it takes a patient practiced eye. In Paris, you might also be a tiny bit intimidated, as I was at first. Items were not marked, obligating one to request prices and some of the replies seemed very high by US standards. So, it might have been a miss day for me had I not encountered a booth that was so beautifully conceived. Baskets held an assortment of ephemeral paper items such as tags, papers and labels, as well as Victorian scraps, all priced and affordable. There were also some handcrafted items, vintage rubber stamps, small tins and boxes. We parted with words we heard throughout our visit, merci au revoir. From there I discovered a woman with a large collection of French Victorian scraps. The illustrators and scraps were new to me, and whimsical and alluring in a typically French style. Her prices were as would be expected and she was a sweetheart. She was enthusiastically trying to tell me something in French that was beyond my personal lexicon, but her warmth and friendliness were unmistakable. I went home with a dear collection. My last stop was at the end of a long row of sellers, where I discovered a woman offering vintage initial ribbon and my own personal initials, something I will treasure. In my studio back home I have a large old fashioned ribbon cabinet. I love ribbon, and have painstakingly arranged my collection by color. And, over the years have collected a lot of this vintage white initial ribbon with it's red trim bearing others initials, so it feelt magical to finally find just one box with my personal initials in a beautiful flourished font!
Catherine sharing her journal.
Lana sharing her journal!
Sara (above) and Kimberly (below) sharing their journals!
Teresa sharing her journal!
Saturday evening we sat and shared our journals, the work we did, the small treasures that we collected and included, and their histories. In the kitchen Chef Phillipe prepared our evening meal, the final meal this group of bon vivants would share together, with a lot of help from my husband Dale. We had so many courses it is difficult to remember them all, though I do remember that it started with champagne and an amuse-bouche, and from there we moved to the dining room where our first course was a luscious green salad, accompanied by a wine personally selected by Phillipe to compliment the flavour notes of the salad. I had requested champignons (mushrooms) be included in our menu as it was mushroom season and they would be fresh and delicious (and they were)! We were served roti de veau aux champignons and gratin dauphinois for our main course, accompanied by organically grown fresh carrots and two types of green beans, and more carefully selected wines. The main course was followed by a cheese course of no less than five cheeses, and Phillipe described the cheeses and which wines to pair with them. The cheese course was followed by dessert, a tarte tatin (an upside down apple tart)! This was a bountiful feast, expertly prepared, who could ask for more?
Chef Phillipe is a lovely man and a fantastic chef, but he could not have carried this off without the help of my husband Dale. Dale was to have been seated at the table the entire evening enjoying the meal along with all us, but he saw the need and rose to the occasion as he did throughout the week. I love you Dale! Thank you for all you did to make this week comfortable for our guests. And, I know that Phillipe will be eternally grateful for all you did!
In the morning after our guests travelled safely on to their next destination, Dale and I spent a relaxed day together. We metro-ed over to the Eiffel Tower, where we discovered a quaint little cafe on a narrow corridor removed from the pandemonium that surround this iconic monument. We languished over our meal for a good long time and celebrated the moments we shared over the past week and the many more that would follow in the French Riviera the following week. And, we toasted the magical city that is Paris and her quiet and reserved people who generously took time from their daily lives to lend a hand in friendship to this lively group at many points in our journey. Merci au revoir!
Stay tuned for views of my art journal, and part deux of our France Travelogue: La Côte d'Azur"