As we approach Thanksgiving, I would like to wish everyone a very happy holiday with family and friends. Once again, I will be lucky to be with the Paris Chapter of French Heritage Society at their very festive and delicious pre-Thanksgiving feast at the Hôtel Le Bristol. Enjoy this beloved American holiday wherever you might be!
Chairman, French Heritage Society
Having recently returned from a marvelous trip to Marseille and Aix-en-Provence with the Chairman's Circle of FHS in October, I would like to share more of the stunning architecture of Rudy Ricciotti with you. In 2013, in conjunction with the city of Marseille being named the European Capital of Culture for that year, the Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée (MuCEM) was officially opened.
Conceived by Rudy Ricciotti together with architect Roland Carta, this lacy structure appears to defy gravity. Riccioiti designed MuCEM as an ethereal building inspired by “stone, water and wind”. It is a square latticework shell of fiber reinforced concrete that allows the brilliant light of Marseille to permeate the museum. At the same time, the pre-stressed concrete cuts the wind of this port city bringing the Mediterranean water and light into fanciful play with the concrete filigree of the exterior. On our visit, we were fortunate to have architect Roland Carta with us to explain the feats of construction and the strength of the fiber-reinforced concrete that allowed this triumph of construction.
The MuCEM is joined by a slender bridge to the 17th-century historic Fort Saint Jean overlooking the spectacular bay of Marseille. It has a magical setting that offers panoramic views from its rooftop restaurant featuring the cuisine of celebrated chef Gerard Passedat. MuCEM is worth a special visit.
Rudy Ricciotti has also worked his magic on another recently opened museum on the Mediterranean. In 2011, the Jean Cocteau/Séverin Wunderman Collection was inaugurated in the town of Menton, on the Côte d'Azur close to the Italian border. It is much bolder and heavier in appearance than the MuCEM but it features the same play on light entering the building with shadows and reflections. It evokes the black and white of many of Cocteau's designs, and appears to be a giant spider posed on the promenade of Menton.
The Séverin Wunderman Collection of the works of Cocteau is extensive and also includes photographs and videos of Cocteau's life and theatrical and film productions. With the charm of the 19th-century atmosphere of Menton, a favorite winter destination of the Victorian English, this is another destination that is “vaut le voyage”.
In April of this year, I wrote about the Ricciotti designed along with architect Mario Bellini Department of Islamic Art at the Louvre Museum that was opened in 2012. The Cour Visconti has been covered by a Ricciotti-conceived flying lace carpet of a ceiling with walls filtering the light of the courtyard, in his signature style. This is a beautiful space that houses an exceptional collection of Islamic art.
Musée des Civilisations de l'Europe et de la Méditerranée
7 promenade Robert Laffont, 13002 Marseille, France
Located in the heart of St. Germain-des-Près, near the Ecole des Beaux Arts, art galleries, cafes and boutiques, L'Hôtel is pure fantasy. Oscar Wilde stayed there and you can still feel his presence! The rooms of the hotel are all theme based and inspired by legendary figures of the literary and artistic world. But you do not have to stay here to have a momentary escape from reality. For a bit of fun and fantasy, have a drink at the bar of L'Hôtel.
Renovated by Jacques Garcia, this cocoon setting features leopard print carpets, Italian marble columns, black cocktail tables and grey velvet banquettes. With a jazz lounge soundtrack, sink into one of these banquettes and enjoy one of the variety of champagne cocktails, or a spirit of your choice. This is a favorite of Parisian locals of the left bank as well as celebrities. It has “a very French” ambiance. It is a secret spot that, to me, comes with the thrill of being slightly naughty.
Drinks are served until 1am, and for those who prefer a meal, the adjoining “Le Restaurant”, overlooking a small patio, is a favorite neighborhood spot with an excellent one star cuisine.
The Bar at L'Hôtel
13 rue des Beaux Arts, 75006 Paris
“Americans in Paris” by British writer Charles Glass is one of my very favorite books on Paris. No, this is not about “the lost generation” of American writers who flocked to Paris in the 1920s. It is about a variety of quite different Americans who were living in Paris during the German invasion of the City of Light in June 1940. Against all the advice of the American government, these expatriates stubbornly chose to stay because of their fierce love of France and Paris. The chapters alternate between these people and their personal stories during those extremely difficult and trying times.
The ostensible hero of the book is Dr. Summer Jackson, the director of the American Hospital, and his wife Touquette and 15-year-old son Phillip. Each of them fight for the French Resistance as they live their everyday lives. The American Hospital as well as the American Library were presided over by the French aristocrat Count Aldebert de Chambrun (who was a descendent of the Marquis de Lafayette) and his American wife, Clara Longworth (a Cincinnati heiress), who was a cousin of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Their son René de Chambrun was married to Josée, the daughter of the Vichy government's Prime Minister, Pierre Laval. This eventual compromising alliance actually allowed the hospital and library to continue to remain open even after Hitler's declaration of war on the United States in December of 1941.
Other characters include a seemingly louche businessman Charles Bedaux, an American of French birth who continued to entertain high society in great style at the same time that he exploited all sides to his best advantage. The literary figure of Sylvia Beach, the famous owner of the Shakespeare & Company bookstore, is also a major character in this book who remained in France despite her American relatives desire for her to leave her beloved France.
The description of daily life in Paris and France during these fraught times is gripping. As the portraits of both heroes and traitors emerge from these pages, it is clear that nothing in those ambiguous times was clear at all. This is a thought-provoking book that you cannot put down.
La rentrée est arrivée! The return to work or school life for the French after the famous August month of vacation has arrived. With it comes the anticipation of new books, new theatre, autumn shopping, and dining. For some fortunate French Heritage Society members, there will be a glorious trip to the sparkling towns of Marseille and Aix in mid-October.
For those of you lucky enough to be in Paris, I would like to propose some special places that have brought me great pleasure, or to which I look forward in la rentrée, as well as a book for all seasons.
Chairman, French Heritage Society
I feel on top of the world at the Mini Palais. First of all because it is a soaring space located in a wing of the gorgeous Grand Palais, erected in 1897 for the Grand Exposition of that year, and today, a national monument housing the musée du Grand Palais. But, make no mistake, this is not a museum restaurant; in fact, you cannot even enter it from the museum.
From its corner entrance, facing the Seine, on avenue Winston-Churchill, the Mini Palais occupies a huge vaulted space that opens onto a superb terrace with majestic columns facing the Petit Palais. It is always a favorite spot during the September Bienalle de Antiquaires, and this year was no exception. However, it continues to be a sought out spot in October when Paris often experiences its own Indian Summer.
The Mini Palais always seems en fête. With large tables filled with families or lifelong pals to couples having a tête en tête, there is always an animation in this convivial place; nonetheless, due to the high ceilings, there is never any deafening noise. Among the perpetually good looking crowd, I feel happy and lucky to be in Paris.
The other reason that I love the Mini Palais is one can drop in (with a reservation!) from 10 in the morning until midnight, every day of the week. I love brunch on a Sunday or supper at 11pm after the theatre. At any time of the day, one eats well. The cuisine is overseen by Eric Frechon, the three star chef of the Hotel Le Bristol, who is a great friend of French Heritage Society. Every November, he prepares a pre-Thanksgiving dinner for FHS at Le Bristol.
At the Mini Palais, his menu features bistrot food, with starters of charcuterie, prosciutto, sardines, or a Caesar salad followed by a superb choice of pasta, Mediterranean fish, poulet de Bresse, or French beef, each accompanied by the freshest vegetables of the season. As soon as one sits down, a waiter will offer you a warm popover. I often wonder what the French think of the concept of popovers, but these are among the lightest and best that I have ever eaten!
End your meal with a giant baba au rhum for two, or chose a superb cheese plate. I hope that you will enjoy the Mini Palais as much as I always do. However, a word of caution: service can be slow, so just sit back and savor this special place.
3 avenue Winston Churchill, 75008 Paris
01 42 56 42 42
My favorite antique shop in Paris is that of Sylvain Levy-Alban who has the knack of selecting objects of great personality, whimsy and beauty. Beginning his career at the Marché aux Puces, and later installed in a boutique of enormous style on the rue de Beaune, Sylvain is now ensconced in a shop overlooking the Seine on the quai Voltaire just a few steps from where the great 18th century writer and philosopher lived.
At Sylvain Levy-Alban, there is always an eclectic choice for every taste; one can acquire an 18th-century French fauteuil, a 17th-century Spanish chandelier, as well as being tempted by 18th-century Venetian mirrors or a set of 19th-century English stone ware. There are desk size objects that could be carried home in your hand luggage or large paintings to be shipped.
In terms of price, one can find what might be called affordable pieces versus museum quality antiques for collectors for which price is no object. However, whether one goes to Sylvain Levy-Alban simply to look and enjoy, or to purchase, Sylvain could not be more welcoming. Educated in England, he is completely bilingual and genuinely charming.
His shop is a favored destination for leading decorators such as Brian McCarthy, Penny Baird, Jacques Garcia and Odile de Schietère. I never fail to visit Sylvain Levy-Alban when I am in Paris. Over the years, I have been lucky to purchase chairs and mirrors and commodes for my Paris apartment and my Brooklyn penthouse. Today I go just for the delight of talking about antiques and style with Sylvain. Please pay him a visit. You will be in for a treat.
33 quai Voltaire, 75007 Paris
01 42 61 25 42
Not only does Le Flore en l'Ile serve the best brunch in Paris, it also offers a stunning view of the cathedral of Notre Dame from its panoramic picture windows at the tip of the Ile St. Louis. The menu features all sorts of selections of eggs from fried to scrambled to soft boiled, with or without bacon, garnished with salmon or plain, plus delicious buttery, flaky croissants, and delectable petit pains au chocolat.
For those who "eat healthy", there is fresh squeezed orange juice and fresh fruits. Although I prefer a strong French double espresso, you can order a café Americain if you prefer an American cup of coffee in Paris. With a brunch as good as this, why not splurge and order a coupe de champagne? Toast the splendid view of Notre Dame and enjoy the dark chocolate truffles that will arrive at the end of your meal.
P.S. Lunch, tea, and dinners are equally pleasant at this Ile St. Louis institution. I always order the quiche "du jour" at lunchtime. Throughout the day, one can just order a scoop or two of the famous Bertillon ice cream in a myriad of flavors. Although there is a very popular terrace, I strongly advise the interior where you can relax and linger with a newspaper or your laptop for hours on end.
Le Flore en l'Ile
42 quai Orléans, 75004 Paris
01 43 29 88 27
This is my favorite book about France. I consult it regularly in order to learn more about a region or a certain piece of history. With her lively and opinionated voice, Ina Caro leads one "through history in France" in a chronological order of time. She begins in Roman Provence, continues through the chateaux of the Loire, and finally arrives at the Ile de France where she regales us with the Age of Louis XIV. It is a merry romp written in an anecdotal style that makes history lively and memorable.
Along the route, the author provides vivid descriptions of regional places, towns, and the countryside, as well as tips about food, meals, and hotels. With this book, you never have to leave home to discover diverse regions of France with their myriad charms. However, for me, this book makes me yearn to actually return to the routes nationales and smaller départmentales routes of rural France.
Time and again, I dip into this book to refresh my memory about countless events in French history: the Hundred Years' War, the Pilgrimage Churches of Conques and Rocamadour, or the story of the construction of Val-de-Grace (which was built to thank God for the birth of Louis XIV).
With a Masters in medieval history, and years as the sole researcher on the acclaimed biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson written by her husband Robert A. Caro, Ina Caro displays a precision for research in a scintillating style as we travel through France in "The Road from the Past". This is a "must read" for any Francophile.
For those of you who might be in Paris this autumn, I hear by the grapevine that the musical adaptation of the legendary Academy Award 1951 film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron, with a score by George and Ira Gershwin, which will open in Paris in December at the Théâtre du Châtelet, and be in November previews, is thought to be a winner.
It is scheduled to open on Broadway in the spring of 2015, but Paris beats New Haven as a preview city! For Americans, "An American in Paris" is almost a synonym for the City of Light. Who could ever forget Gene Kelly dancing along the quais of Paris. In its current reincarnation, "An American in Paris" will have a fresh new life with a book by Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nominee Craig Lucas (The Light in the Piazza, Prelude to a Kiss) and Tony Award winning Bartlett Sher (South Pacific).
In recent years, the Châtelet has revived several American musicals such as A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd and The Sound of Music. This will be the first time that an American musical will premiere at a Paris theatre before a Broadway opening. It will be directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. Tickets can be purchased on the internet. Enjoy!
Théâtre du Châtelet
1 place du Châtelet, 75001 Paris
01 40 28 28 28