Friends, I am so excited to finally share this with you: I am now blogging for The Paris Collection, a “hand curated selection of unique and authentic experiences from Paris’ top bloggers”! Jennifer, of the blog Books & Baguettes (two of my most favorite things! how did I not think of that blog name before??), contacted me a few months ago asking if I’d be interested in contributing my own tips and suggestions for the things to do & see in Paris that are off the traditional tourist track. I said ‘oui’ without hesitation.
With so many resources for Paris itineraries floating about on the internet, what makes The Paris Collection different? Our “criteria of authenticity and uniqueness with a dash of Parisian flair” means you won’t find suggestions to visit the Eiffel Tower, or the Louvre, or even Ladurée; “If most people know about this place, it’s going off our list!” We aren’t just giving recommendations, we’re relating our individual experiences, including best days to visit a specific bar or shop, the amount of time and money to budget, as well as personal photos.
Two and a half hours is no where near a sufficient amount of time to see enough of the Met, but it turned out to be the perfect amount of time to see the Late 19th & Early 20th Century European Painting Wing, with just enough time left over for a panicked phone call with my credit card company, and a harried cycle around the gift shop (I say this frequently but it bears repeating, as it was one of the best things my dad ever said: Every good cultural experience must end in a retail experience.”). I’m like a moth to a flame when it comes to Impressionist paintings, or rather a heat-seeking missile. Get out of my way, arms and armory. Move it, musical instruments. Modern art? Girl bye. I need to visit my old lovers: Claude, Pierre-Auguste, and Vincent. The Met did not disappoint. The last time I visited was over four years ago, and there were so many treasures to discover this time that I practically floated around the galleries, like something out of a dream. When I saw this Monet, I actually burst into tears. I circled the rooms over and over, finding new things to delight over, or swoon over, every time, stopping every so often to scribble something down in my notebook: the dark, beady eyes Manet seemed to favor painting, or how nothing stays still in a van Gogh.
I could’ve spent days there.
How’s this for a humblebrag: I was across the room and noticed a pair of still lifes on an opposite wall, lush flowers in low bowls, dark, near muddy backgrounds, and thought, “Those look like Fantin-Latour.” I walked over to get a closer looks, and they were. My dad would have been so proud of me.
This might be a slightly controversial suggestion, but you shouldn’t pay the recommended $25 admission rate. Now, I consider myself an enthusiastic museum supporter and patron; museums are my happy place. I have a membership to both the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Louvre (the latter, it’s worth pointing out, has an annual membership fee of around $15 more than the Met suggests you pay for one visit). The $25 admission fee is a wildly inflated, noncompulsory rate that was actually the subject of a lawsuit back in 2013. An 1893 New York State Law mandates that “the public should be admitted [to the museum] for free at least five days and two evenings per week.” The Met is a non-profit organization, receives free rent from the city, pays no income tax, and has a $2.58 billion (with a ‘B’) investment portfolio. Admission fees only cover 11% of the museum’s operating budget. And still, armed with all of this knowledge yet still happy to pay $10 for my visit, the person working the ticket window threw the most severe shade at me for not ponying up the full, recommended $25. The judge in the 2013 lawsuit ruled that visitors could pay “at least a penny” for entry, snarky sir.
Last Wednesday morning I walked up Madison Avenue from our hotel at 57th and 6th on my way to breakfast and the Met. I knew this route would take me, teasingly, past Ladurée; I wouldn’t be able to stop in until later in the day, as you can’t bring food into the museum. And so I summoned all of my willpower as I approached 70th street to not stop or drool or faire du lèche-vitrines, a French term that translates to “window shopping” but that means, quite literally lick the windows. Being so close to macarons again after so long without being able to rush in immediately and buy any was a fascinating study in self-discipline. Sure, Jamal had brought me a large box back in November or December after a day-trip to New York for a meeting, but I personally haven’t been since Paris, and for all my suffering I deserve some sort of consolation prize. Ergo: macarons aplenty!
I came back after lunch with Lyndsey and, like the nerd that I am, whipped out a list I’d made days before, itemizing the flavors and quantities of macarons I needed (we’re well past the ‘like’ and ‘want’ stage of this game). I went with a box of 15 –including Vanille, Pistache, Rose, Citron (which the lovely girl behind the counter inadvertently confused with Yuzu Ginger, a limited edition flavor in the same bright yellow shade), and Framboise– and a fancier box of six, three each of Caramel au Beurre Salé and the seasonal, delicious Cassis-Violette because (and this would be embarrassing to admit were I not still so punch-drunk from eating 21 macarons in four days that I feel no shame) it would be prettier to photograph. Oy. It really was, though!
Until next time, Ladurée mon amour. I’ll see you in Paris in just a few short weeks.
I felt the same way about Manhattan this trip as I did about my Wednesday morning visit to the Met: I only saw the tiniest piece of it. Our hotel was just a block south of Central Park, and my boundaries for exploration turned out to be 25 blocks north to the palatial museum at 82nd, and as far east as Madison Avenue. A small, narrow pocket, to be sure, but more than enough this time. I had breakfast both mornings at a sweet French café, and spent two and a half hours wandering the 19th & Early 20th Century European Paintings wing in daze, wholly overwhelmed by the volume and quality of the art. My visit was punctuated with an unfortunate phone call from my credit card company, alerting me to fraudulent activity totaling nearly $5k (!!!), news that warranted a last minute dash to the American Wing to track down a Severin Roesen still life just to calm my nerves; art therapy in its most basic form.
My darling friend Lyndsey was in town for work, and we were able to meet for lunch and shopping along Madison Avenue before she had to hop in a cab, leaving me unattended at Ladurée (always a dangerous endeavor). Jamal and I had drinks at our hotel’s rooftop bar before dinner and a late night show at an underground jazz club. I stuck to my plan of eating macarons for breakfast but, because that alone wasn’t indulgent enough, did so in a plush hotel bathrobe in the even plusher hotel bed. Not bad for a Thursday.
Next week: photos from The Met and, of course, Ladurée.
You’ve heard me sing this tune before, but: Jamal travels a lot for work. A lot. Starting in the middle of February through the middle of April, for example, he will be gone an average of three days per week. For a host of reasons (my job, the dog, money) I never travel with him. The locales he visits aren’t always appealing options to spend my accrued vacation leave, either, even if I could plunk down money on a flight to loaf around his hotel room while he works; Cedar Rapids, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Mexico City, Minneapolis, and of course his quarterly trips to India. I’ve said that one of these days I’ll join him in Bangalore, and by “join him” I mean fly halfway with him and get off the plane on his layover somewhere in Europe, and by “somewhere in Europe” I mean Paris, obviously.
But this week he has a trip to New York City, for a lease accounting committee meeting or something (he’s told me a thousand times what it is precisely, but I’ve been so distracted by the proximity to Ladurée that I haven’t actually heard him). For a $7, 2-hour bus ride, I decided it was finally the perfect opportunity to freeload along. “You’re always welcome, you know that, but I don’t want you to be bored while I’m working,” he said. Uh, dude? Drop me anywhere within a reasonably navigable distance to macarons and a museum and we’re all good. My rough itinerary for the next few days looks something like this: macarons for breakfast, wandering the Met for hours, macarons for lunch, power nap, macarons for dinner.
This will also be the first break I’ve had since our honeymoon in early October. I’m beyond excited at the prospect of sleeping past 6:30 on a weekday, and maybe (maybe!) getting a bit of writing done. I’ll be back on Friday with some photos to share with you!
You’ve probably heard of French artist Louis Béroud, though maybe not because of his work; his name isn’t mentioned among the great painters of the late 19th century. His paintings –often of other painters practicing in the Musée du Louvre or of the grand space itself– are certainly beautiful, rich in detail, and an interesting mixture of late Realism with some early Impressionist touches, a direct result of the era in which he painted. Even still, you might not have even been able to identify one of his paintings just by sight, the way you can with, say, a Monet, and his pieces don’t make the headlines if they’re brought to auction. (For fun, I checked Sotheby’s auction results archive. From 1990 to present, only three Bérouds have been sold, either at auction or in private sale, for an average hammer price of $42k. For contrast, a pair of chairs sold for nearly as much at the end of February.)
But if you’ve ever heard of the (entirely true) theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911, then you’re familiar with Béroud. For it was Béroud who, on the morning of August 22, 1911, alerted the guard that La Jaconde was missing. Béroud had arrived at the museum with his easel and paintbox, ready to continue work on a study of the Mona Lisa, only to find an empty space on the wall of the Salon Carré where painting should have hung. When he informed a guard, he was told the painting was likely upstairs being photographed or for some light frame preservation. Béroud waited several hours but at 11am, having grown impatient, suggested the guard check upstairs in the photography department himself. It was only then that the museum realized what had happened. It would be two and a half years, with a wild goose chase across France and Italy, fake identities, and forgeries sold and shipping across the Atlantic, before Mona was returned to her rightful place at the Louvre. This book does a far better job of explaining everything than I just attempted, and reads like fiction.
Because of his connection to what is perhaps the most famous heist in history, little focus has been paid to Béroud’s work as a painter over the years, which is a shame. In fact, his one paragraph Wikipedia entry focuses entirely on the Mona Lisa, offering no other biographical details. Several of his paintings currently hang in the Musée Carnavalet and the Louvre, though, and I’ll make it a priority to track them down next time.
When the news broke a few days ago that US Customs had intercepted the delivery of a stolen Picasso in Newark, NJ, my immediate reaction was, “Wait. There was a stolen Picasso I didn’t know about?” On December 18th, a FedEx package arrived stateside from Belgium, bound for a climate-controlled warehouse on Long Island. The shipping label offered few details about the painting’s journey, other than that it was sent by someone listed only as “Robert,” and was described as “art craft/toy” with a declared value of €30. Upon inspection, the painting was seized by Homeland Security Investigations. Last month, French museum officials arrived in New York and, using photographs and historical records, confirmed the painting was indeed a 1911 Picasso, titled “La Coiffeuse” (“The Hairdresser”) which had been reported stolen in 2001.
The 12×18 Cubist painting was bequeathed to the National Museums of France by a former director, and was last on display in Munich in 1998, before being returned to Paris. It was then kept (safely, it was believed) in the storerooms of the Centre Pompidou. It wasn’t until 2001, when a loan request for the painting led to the discovery that the painting was missing. I couldn’t find anything related to the initial theft of “La Coiffeuse” within the National Stolen Art File of the FBI, the Works of Art Database at Interpol, or even the archives of the Centre Pompidou itself. Searches of the archives of the New York Times and Le Monde turned up no results, though the Art Loss Register estimates that there are nearly 1,300 missing Picassos.
The recovery of stolen works of art is certainly cause for celebration, so rarely is there as favorable an outcome when it comes to other art heists; paintings by Picasso, Monet and Matisse stolen from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam in 2013 were burned in an oven in Romania in order to destroy evidence of the theft. James Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries for the Art Loss Register, told the Guardian: “In our experience, we would consider this kind of discovery to be extremely rare. There must be a large number of similar parcels passing through customs every day. For this one to be spotted is either remarkably good luck…or the result of some kind of tip-off or surveillance.” Last week, the US Attorney’s office filed a civil complaint to return the painting to France. Alain Seban, the president of the Centre Pompidou, “said he was moved by ‘this happy ending’ to the saga of the work’s disappearance and expressed “deep gratitude” to the customs services.” The museum hopes to put the painting back on display to the public quickly, perhaps even as soon as the end of May.
You know who else will be in Paris at the end of May? ME. I’m crossing fingers and toes that “La Coiffeuse” will be there, too.
1. This hilarious commercial for…well, I’ll let you watch & figure it out:
I don’t know what made me think of this again after all this time, but the first time I saw this on tv in Paris I laughed out loud. There are several variations on the theme and all are equally brilliant. This is one of the best marketing campaigns I’ve ever seen (though it doesn’t make me want to buy the product, so maybe I should say it is the most entertaining, rather than the best).
2. This beautifully symmetrical photography project:
French architect Gilles Alonso has been traveling around France taking photos of famous, grand, and even simple theaters from center stage. There’s something eerie and yet satisfyingly balanced about these photos that I find just captivating. And I can’t be the only one picking up major Phantom of the Opera vibes from these, can I? Thanks to my brother for sending me this!
3. This fantastic, futuristic clock:
For someone for whom it takes just a half-beat longer to read a face clock than normal (I’m pretty sure I was absent the day we learned this in Kindergarten), the QlockTwo is the answer to my prayers. Minute hands, seconds hands, forget it; blame it on the digital age we live in. Words, however, I can understand, and QlockTwo literally spells out the time in complete sentences, turning time “into a statement.” QlockTwo is 17″ square, can be wall-mounted or free-standing, and comes in a variety of colors, which adhere to the solid wood base with magnets. It doesn’t hurt that it’s typographically stunning, either. At nearly €1500, however, it is also prohibitively expensive.
4. This spot-on illustration from my favorite Tom Gauld:
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? I love everything Tom Gauld creates.
5. This reflection of a still-unsolved museum heist:
Keith Meyers/The New York Times
On March 18th, it will have been 25 years since two thieves dressed as police officers broke into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, bound and gagged two guards in the basement, and “for 81 minutes, brazenly and clumsily cut two Rembrandts from their frames, smashed glass cases holding other works, and made off with a valuable yet oddball haul” including several Degas sketches, Vermeer’s “Concert,” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni. In the intervening quarter century, the paintings have yet to be recovered, and the frames still hang empty on the walls at the museum. This article from the NYTimes details the case –including new (to me) information about paint-chip samples sent anonymously to the FBI for testing, an alleged sighting of one of the Rembrandt’s in a warehouse, and about a hundred possible suspects and leads– and reads more like my type of thrilling fiction than the sad, strange reality it is. Definitely worth a read over the weekend if you love a good art heist.
Speaking of art heists, I have one to share with you on Monday. What are you up to this weekend, kiddos? My mom’s birthday is Sunday and my best friend returned from a whirlwind trip to Italy, so I will be brunching at Parc…twice in two days. What more could I possibly want?
We’re making good progress on accommodations for our upcoming trip to Italy (80 days!), having nailed down where we’re staying in Rome for the first few days (I’ll share that apartment soon!). We still need to find a place to stay in Florence, Siena, and somewhere in the Tuscan countryside between Florence and Rome (any suggestions, friends?), so naturally I’ve been devoting all of my energy into finding an apartment to rent in Paris for the last three days of the trip. Bien sûr. I’m nothing if not helpful and focused on the task at hand. We’re all set on the bookends of the trip now. After flirting with staying in the 7eme, close to the Musée Rodin, or in the 17eme near Ternes and Parc Monceau again, we couldn’t resist the siren call of Montmartre. I don’t even know why we tried fighting it. It’s where I lived for two months and where we stayed in 2013 when we got engaged. Jamal even stayed there on his own for a few days on a trip back from India. I would’ve loved to stay somewhere new, find a new little pocket of the city to explore. And we still will, but Montmartre will kind of always be our “home base” in Paris. And when we found this apartment? Well, the decision was made for us. It’s the perfect blend of modern and artist’s atelier. The windows! The raised dining room! The green tile in the kitchen! The floor tile in the kitchen! The lofted bedroom! I wonder how the owners would feel about us moving in indefinitely?
Because I surely haven’t bored you enough with talk of my writing process: while the majority of the writing I do is in paragraphs or pages at a time –fully flushed-out ideas with a cogency both standalone and in the grander narrative arc– there are other, blurrier snippets that pop up from time to time, unmoored from the novel as a whole. I’ve made mention previously of the “single sentences squeezed out of my early-morning brain on the bus,” or the half-formed lines that burst into the forefront of my consciousness before I fall asleep at night, desperate to be documented. Usually a phrase, a line of dialogue, or maybe even just two words strung together that, for whatever reason, carry an urgency that finds me scribbling by the light of my cell phone or adding yet another line to saved draft email I use for writing on the go (word count of that email alone: 9,169). More often than not, I find their rightful home in the novel without too much effort, am able to work out these unfinished thoughts eventually and nestle them in the writing where they fit, where they were meant to fit all along only it took my brain a little longer to catch up to. But then are things I’ll write down that had such an immediacy when they came to me but now might as well be hieroglyphics for all the sense they make. Herewith, a few examples:
a life of unrealized potential
vibrating with promise at him
“She lives,” Sylvie said in a low voice.
“And ad the risk of running this animal analogy into the ground,”
—But you did love her, she says in her sleep —Yes. —And now you don’t love her anymore. —No. —Now you love me.
“Monet and everyone else. Or whatever went missing. They still won’t confirm anything.”
It lacked the necessary permanence to
Too many to count, too few worth counting at all
In a way, these are as illuminating about the way this novel is going for me as the ‘official’ first draft document. But I also feel like Lucas, from “Empire Records”: “Who knows where thoughts come from, they just appear.” I love these little unfinished thoughts, even though sometimes I feel schizophrenic when they charge into my brain out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly, leaving me muttering whatever it was out loud so I don’t forget it, as I’m digging through my bag for a pen.