Abundance of art in Paris

From markets to museums, Paris overflows with abundance. In the markets, myriad vegetables, fruits, fishes, cheeses, meats, and spices inspire creativity in the kitchen and on the plate.

Marché couvert Batignolles, 17th arr.

Marché couvert Batignolles, 17th arr.


Shops brim with fashion to spark even a slob’s sense of style. Museums present a banquet of history, science, culture, and art to gorge upon.

And so, while exploring la Nouvelle Athènes neighborhood in the 9th arr., I come upon the Musée National Gustave Moreau, the painter’s former house and studio that he left to the state along with some 1,200 paintings and 10,00 drawings, many of which are on display. Truly an abundance. But M. Moreau? I’m not very familiar with his art, though I recall he is not widely and wildly favored by modern critics. Do I have that right? It begins to rain. Suddenly this quiet museum seems the perfect refuge, and I step inside.

The lesson learned from this impromptu visit? Abundance creates interest and respect. The full record of an artist’s life, sincere vision, and works is an inspiration. Exploring the shear volume generates awe. During his lifetime, 1826-1898, Moreau had times of fame and acceptance as well as periods of harsh criticism, termed an eccentric by some and falling out of regard in the first half of the 20th century. Retrospectives in the ’60s brought renewed interest. According to Laura Morowitz writing in The Art Bulletin in 1999: “Exactly where Moreau fits in, and his real place in art history, is as difficult to determine in 1999 as it was in 1899. Perhaps our only safe judgment is to agree with the critic Theophile Gautier, writing a century and a half ago, that ‘…his work stands in singular isolation, and whether it pleases or not, one has to reckon with it.”

So, reckon I did, circulating through his house and studio, examining the paintings and poring through the hundreds of drawings on display. In the days since, I’ve read up on Moreau and his influences (Renaissance art, Persian, Indian, and Japanese prints, mythology and mysticism), his friends (Edgar Degas and Eugene Delacroix among others), and his students (including Georges Rouault and Henri Matisse at the Academie des Beaux-Art).

In the museums of Paris, abundance breeds interest and opens new doors.

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Hesiod and the Muses, 1860

Hesiod and the Muses, 1860


The Unicorns, 1885

The Unicorns, 1885

The Daughters of Thespius, 1853

The Daughters of Thespius, 1853


The Return of the Argonauts, 1890-97

The Return of the Argonauts, 1890-97


The Unicorn, 1885

The Unicorn, 1885


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Hamburgers in Paris

My hometown is in beef country USA. So I know a good burger when I taste one! The best burger I have ever eaten in my life? Recently at Cosy Corner, 94 Rue des Dames in the 17th arr. (A wonderful street lined with casual restaurants, by the way.) Their hamburger was perfectly cooked with a delicious bun and served already garnished with a to-die-for sauce.

Another favorite burger in Paris? From Le Camion qui fume food truck, which parks in various locations around the city. The day I indulged, the truck was parked in the place de la Madeleine–which offers a perfect picnic spot, especially on a rainy day. Run by a Californian named Kristin Frederick, Le Camion qui fume does it right with superb burgers and hand-cut fries. A long line forms and when they run out of meat, they close up and roll away.

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Hungry yet?

“The Game of Thrones” game in Paris

I had never been to Le Musée de l’Armée at Les Invalides because I’m not particularly interested in military history. However, I’ve now read all of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire cycle and am half-way through Maurice Druon’s The Accursed Kings series, of which Mr. Martin says “This is the original Game of Thrones.” Rather than dry history-book recitations, these books flesh out the warfare and conflict with true-to-life characters and page-turning drama. I have really tried to like the Game of Thrones HBO series, but after the wildly intricate details and plot lines in the novels, the TV depiction is far too abbreviated for me. The casting is fine, and Michele Clapton’s costumes are gorgeous, but I prefer the world of Winterfell, King’s Landing, and the Wall that Martin’s words conjured in my own imagination.

Steeped as I am in medieval warfare and intrigue, fantasy and historical, I am now primed for a visit to the halls of armor and weaponry. Le Musée de l’Armée is a good archive to enhance the already vivid scenes of my imagining. As with any artifacts, the “realness” gets under my skin. Someone wore this suit of armor. This very one! Fought and killed in it. Felt the weight of helm and cuirass, the viselike pinch of metal joints gouging the skin, and heard the crash of war hammer slammed against metal and the screams of battle. The men themselves were weapons, suited for death.

I would guess that a few fashion designers as well as history buffs were intrigued by the outfit in the final picture below. Coco Chanel, perhaps?
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Shoes in the Paris metro

In the Paris metro, I don’t read or listen to music because I want to observe and listen to the people around me. But during morning rush hour, standing so close to others, I cannot surreptitiously watch faces. So I look downward and observe feet. Always entertaining. The French wear beautiful shoes, men and women alike. One day my eye was drawn to a woman’s feet in a crowded metro car. She wore beautiful, pale silver-matte sandals with a one-inch-wide strap across the base of the toes and a loop of strap at the heel. She had the perfect shade of nail polish, though an unexpected choice: a rosy peachy sort of shimmery color. Gorgeous. As the crowd began to thin out, I glanced upward to see what outfit this lovely young creature would be wearing. A lovely tailored, but loose, gray dress. And she was at least 60 years old. Just a hint of makeup. Wrinkled but beautiful clear skin. Whitish gray hair. How fun it is to be an older woman in Paris. You get to have such flair and style.

Not thinking about money in Paris

I came to Paris to experience the sublime. Too bad I can’t pay the bills with it. But I’m trying not to think about money! In a cafe in Le Marais, I watch buskers counting out the coins they’ve collected. If you look closely, you’ll see there aren’t many euros in the pile, mostly 5-, 10- and 20-centime coins. I’d say that when they’re playing their music out on the street, their thoughts are more on the sublime than on the money.

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Why women love Paris

I was on my cell phone, talking to a young man at AT&T to sign up for an international data plan. When I told him that I would be traveling to Paris he said “Oh, that’s every girl’s dream!”

Yes, I admit it. I am a cliche. Women — middle-aged women in particular — love to escape to Paris. Remember Carmella from the Sopranos? Here’s her reaction to Paris.

Of course, it’s not just women who love Paris. Case in point: Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. But for many of American women, Paris and France hold a special allure.

I think one reason is that Paris is a 24/7 experience of sensual pleasure. American women have spent a lifetime being judged for our attractiveness. We dress, diet, exercise, groom with an eye on the mirror and a self-conscious sense of how others perceive us. But how often do we allow ourselves to turn our sights away from the impact we make on the outside world and let the outside world afford us delight?

For years middle-aged women have focused on the needs of others. We are pragmatic and disciplined. And then we arrive in Paris. Everywhere it is a feast of sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. The city surrounds us with beauty, harmony, history, artistry, and elegance. The food, the wines, the museums, the bridges, the river, the light, the street fashion, the architecture, the fragrances, the style, and the heightened aesthetic of living.

Paris delights us. It offers us beauty and asks nothing from us in return. The people might judge us, but Paris does not. It asks us to be free, to take delight in all its pleasures — directly, individually, and solely for ourselves.

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Next stop: Paris

I reluctantly leave beautiful Villefranche-sur-mer…but it’s time to try out my fledgling French language skills in the big city. My apartment in Paris is on the Right Bank, a few blocks from the Gare Saint-Lazare train station. During past trips to Paris, I have stayed on the Left Bank, so this is new territory to explore.

My apartment windows look out on a courtyard. I hear French voices and smell fish cooking.
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The decor includes pillows with a welcome reminder of my dachshunds back home. What a funny coincidence.
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Two kinds of people

Perhaps it means I’m cautious, or contemplative, or earth-bound. You see, I prefer the beach to the boat and the valley to the mountain top. I like to walk the shoreline, watch the light change the colors of the sea and feel the force of the waves battering the rocks, much more than I enjoy sailing on a boat looking back at the land. Exploring the craggy coastline below or relaxing in the cafe at sunset suits me.

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I also much prefer standing knee-deep in wildflowers in a mountain meadow, gazing up at the clouds drifting across the mountain peaks, rather than perching atop the mountain high above, scanning the patchwork of land and the ant-like cattle grazing. Top of the Eiffel Tower or down below peering up through the iron latticework? You guessed it: below looking up. Beach or boat? What kind of person are you?
Paris, Sept. 25-Oct. 5, 2010 173

Life in large spaces…family connections and tragedy

Two villas within walking distance of my apartment exemplify the lifestyle of people not averse to living on a grand scale. A connection binds the family members who envisioned this luxe life, and leads to a mansion in Paris and a tragic end.

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a rose-colored confection built by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild after her separation from her much older, STD-ridden, banker and gambler husband Maurice Ephrussi. Beatrice was the daughter of banker and art collector Baron Alphonse de Rothschild. When Maurice ran up gambling debts of 12 million gold francs (equivalent to some 30 million euros today), Baron Alphonse took him to court and obtained a legal separation for his daughter. The following year Baron Alphonse died leaving Beatrice a vast fortune. She began construction of this beautiful villa with tiered themed gardens, which stands near Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat overlooking the Bay of Villefranche and the Bay of Beaulieu. She bequeathed the villa and collections to the Academie des Beaux-Arts.

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The nearby Villa Kérylos was built by archeologist Theodore Reinach and his wife Fanny Kann, who was the cousin of Maurice Ephrussi. Styled after ancient Greek noble houses, named Keryos for the kingfishers in mythology that were good omens, the villa contained exact copies of Grecian chairs and other furnishings modeled on those in the National Archaeological Museum in Naples. The villa and collections were bequeathed to the Institut de France. Theodore’s son, Leon, took charge of the archives. During the Nazi occupation, the villa was seized. The villa was preserved, but the archives were destroyed.

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Which brings me to the tragedy connected with these beautiful villas. After Theodore Reinach’s death, his son Leon lived in Neuilly sur Seine just outside of Paris with his wife Beatrice Camondo Reinach and their two children. Beatrice was the daughter of Moise de Camondo whose Sephardic Jewish family owned one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire, with branches established in France. Moise built a mansion in Paris near the Parc Monceau to house his collection of 18th century art and furniture.

photo courtesy of le Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris

photo courtesy of le Musée Nissim de Camondo, Paris


His son, Nassim, was killed in action in WWI and later Moise donated the mansion and collections to Les Arts Décoratifs to establish the Musée Nassim de Camondo. Moise died in 1935. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, Leon and Beatrice were deported to Auschwitz along with their son and daughter, where they were all killed.