Un Cake

imageI found another really cute boutique in the Marais, but since that branch is about to close, I’ll point you in the direction of their main shop, Les Cakes de Bertrand (7 rue Bourdaloue, in the 9th Arrondissement, near Galeries Lafayette, open Monday to Saturday, 12:30 to 7:30). The great window display caught my eye, with its look of vintage Paris. I bought the little accent lamp with the round shade on the right in the photo, above. I think it’ll look great in the powder room of our new home. I’m planning to go back for a baroque-inspired laptop case, now that I’ve verified that it will fit.

imageDidier Bertrand and Adolphe Besnard, the two men behind Les Cakes de Bertrand, started off with a market stand selling desserts. They then expanded into a tea room and a full line of bags, candles, lamps, and other accessories inspired by the Jazz Age Paris that existed between the two world wars. Everything is designed in Paris and made in an atelier that employs six people, located right behind the boutique. Those products became such a huge success that the duo decided to forgo the edible goodies and focus  on developing their product line.  The line is now sold in over 250 boutiques world-wide.

imageEven though desserts are no longer sold at the boutique, this is a good moment to explain the word cake. Cake, in French, refers to a loaf-style cake, such as pound cake. What we refer to as cake in English is un gâteau in French. This can cause a little menu confusion, but probably less confusion than finding out that there are no desserts to be had at Les Cakes de Bertrand!

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Un abat jour

imageI discovered the boutique Les Mille Feuilles several years ago, and I always try to stop in when I am in Paris. Here you can find everything you need to accessorize a room in the perfect French manner. Their website is nice, but it doesn’t express the range of their offerings, nor the artistry of their little vignettes throughout the store.

imageI’m a huge fan of their lamp shades, or abats jour (ah-bah zhoor), made of reproductions of historical documents. The first time I saw them, I gushed so much that my daughter was mortified. I have a lovely desk lamp that needs a new shade in a hard-to-find size. The owners helped me pick out the right frame and e-mailed me what I’ll need to select the print or prints that I want to use.

imageThey explained that the shades are made right here in Paris by a small family firm of only four people. (The circle shades, above and below, are from a different company, but they’re pretty cute, too.) They are closed for the summer, so there is no point in completing the order today.  Once ordered, my new shade will take about six weeks to be delivered to the shop. Then, they will either ship it to me or I can pick it up the next time I am in town. I can’t wait! It’s going to look so amazing.

imageEven if you don’t need new lamp shades, this is a great place to pick up picture frames, candles, and chic decorative objects for your own home or to give to others. I love the up-cycled metal clock faces,above. The shop is in the heart of the Marais at the intersection where rue Rambuteau turns into rue des Francs Bourgeois as it crosses rue des Archives. They are open seven days a week, but just in the afternoon on Sunday and Monday.

51X2F55K1ML__SL75_A Corner in the Marais: Memoir of a Paris Neighborhood

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Pansu

imageAt 42 rue Bonaparte, the same street as Buly 1803, is another store that I try to visit when I’m in Paris – especially during the sales – Jules Pansu.  This is where you can find beautiful tapestry cushions, purses, wall hangings and other textiles, all proudly made in France since 1878. I always get compliments on my red Jules Pansu purse and I’m looking forward to seeing my new tapestry cushion on my favorite chair when I get home – that is, if the cat will let me sit there.

imageThe first Jules Pansu established a jacquard weaving facility in Halluin, in the Flanders region of France, with a sales office in Paris. Four generations later, the Pansu family is still balancing innovative designs with traditional weaving techniques. They have been awarded the prestigious designation Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen in France) not once, but twice. Not only can you find their products in their own boutique, but also in many museum and château gift shops for whom they make exclusive designs. In 2012, they were named an Entreprise du Patrimoine Vivant for excellence in craftsmanship.

imageThe name of the shop does, however, always make me smile. Pansu (pahn-sue) means “paunchy.” I always imagine a predecessor of Jules who had a rather big belly and the moniker stuck. I’m glad none of my ancestors caused me to suffer the same fate!

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L’Officine

imageMy job in Paris has permitted me to have less time-off than in previous years, so I’ve been impatient to get out and see the long list of places I’d planned on visiting this summer. One of those spots was Buly (6 rue Bonaparte) a new/old perfumerie and beauty store that feels like you’ve stepped back in time the minute you cross the threshold. The official name of the shop is L’Officine universelle Buly. The word officine (o-fee-seen) means “dispensary.” Buly 1803 represents a return to the origins of beauty products when they were made in small batches by your local pharmacist instead of by international conglomerates.

bulyIn 1803, Jean-Vincent Bully, a perfumer and cosmetician, opened his boutique in Paris. His most famous product was a perfume unappealingly known as vinaigre de Bully. Bully’s business was destroyed in the political uprising of 1830, but others continued to produce vinaigre de Bully into the 20th century.

buly2Early this year, a new boutique Buly 1803 opened its doors after three years of work to create an environment that appears to have been here for 200 years. (The owners, husband and wife team Victoire de Taillac and Ramdane Touhami dropped one “l” from the original name to avoid confusion with the English word “bully.”) A few years ago, the couple found a Bully catalogue at an auction. Enchanted with the detailed illustrations, they decided to re-launch the brand.

imageShopping here is a delight for your senses. First, there is the sense that you are stepping into an apothecary shop with beautiful paneling. terra cotta tiled floors, marble counters and labeled jars, second, there is the lovely mixed aroma of the Buly products, and finally, the classical music in the background completes the mood.

imageThe salewomen know their products – mainly perfumes, skin care, and candles – but they aren’t at all pushy. The products are attractively labeled and displayed in artistic vignettes. The perfumes are water-based, so they won’t stain your clothing or react with sunlight, nor do you need to wait for the alcohol to burn off to get the true fragrance. The skin care products are free of artificial ingredients, but they aren’t particularly revolutionary – variations on toners and moisturizers do abound in the world, after all. I bought the Lait Nettoyant (facial cleanser) and  the rose-scented Eau Superfine (toner), seen the the photo above. Both products have a lovely fragrance and are gentle on my skin. Still, I predict that due to the pleasure of shopping there, Buly 1803 will be around for a while – maybe even 200 more years.

 

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À vélo

loire-a-veloI love to ride my bike, but I don’t love to slave over strenuous terrain. In New Jersey where I live, there are terrific, flat bike trails along former train lines and canal networks. It’s delightful. The French equivalent is cycling along the Loire, among all of the magnificent châteaux.

loire a veloWhen you explore à vélo (ah vaylow), or “by bike,” the discovery of the treasures of the Loire happens in total serenity. Cycling and hiking paths cross 500 miles of the Loire Valley, which is classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO, and it’s easy to cycle dozens of miles a day. Eight hundred thousand cyclists a year whir along the river.

loire a velo2If you prefer wine to châteaux, you can chat with vineyard owners whose properties abut the pathway. The French have a reverence for terroir, that je ne sais quoi that is incorporated into a natural product by the soil where it grows. The land along the Loire has been adding that little something extra for four hundred years.

loire-a-velo-vue-sur-toursSince multi-day trips along the Loire are so easy, you’ll want to make arrangements to stay overnight. You’ll have lots of choice – hotels in any of the towns you pass, gîtes in the more remote areas, or camping grounds for those who wish to truly rusticate (not me, by the way).

val-de-loireTo plan your trip, you’ll want to consult the web site Loire à vélo. You’ll find everything you need to rent a bike, to have your luggage moved from one location to the next, to find places to eat, sights to see, and things to do along all 500 spectacular miles.

51G5Dd294UL__SL75_How to set up a Cycling Tour of the Loire Valley of France

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Défense d’entrer

chateau-de-chevernyThe châteaux of the Loire Valley are perennially popular with tourists the world over. One of the absolute gems is Cheverny. Built in the 17th century as a grand hunting lodge, it inspired Hergé, author of “Tintin,” when he created the château de Moulinsart.

chevernyNested in the heart of a 250 acre forest, 350,000 visitors a year visit the four hundred-year old château. The tourists are free to wander through the fifty-three public rooms. Each one has treasures collected by the generations of owners. At the end of a hallway in the right-hand wing is a rather insignificant door. What lies behind it is off-limits to the public – the private quarters of the owners.

marquisThe marquis de Vibraye is the present owner. He lives in the château with his wife and three children. He is a descendant of a branch of the family who has lived there throughout its history. But as wonderful as it seems, life in a château doesn’t just have advantages. The marquis says that living right next to the public spaces makes the family feel as though they are always in a state of occupation. To get a bit of distance from all of the visitors, he likes to take to the cupola on top of the house. The 360 degree view is worth the effort of the strenuous climb.

Cheverny_salonIn order for the family to be able to live here, the château has to pay its own way. The marquis, like any small business owner, changes hats several times a day. Human resources, acquisition of antiques, you name it. A recent purchase was a harp, as music was an important part of the life of the château.

cheverny dogsIn France, it is rare for châteaux that are open to the public to be inhabited. The marquis and his family share this privilege with about 100 other residents – a pack of hunting hounds (I wrote about them here). While we had the opportunity to witness the spectacle of the feeding of the hounds, we didn’t get to see the puppies. They live apart from the rest of the pack for about eighteen months. This protects them from germs that visitors could bring with them as their constitutions are apparently quite delicate. That’s hard to imagine when you see what slavering beasts the fully grown hounds become at 5 pm!

moulinsart02As I mentioned, Tintin also lives at Cheverny. An exhibit has been dedicated to the famous reporter for the past ten years, during which almost one million visitors have enjoyed key scenes and memorabilia from the classic comic book series. It’s yet another reason to visit one of the most beautiful châteaux in the Loire.

Cheverny-Garden-GateToday’s phrase, défense d’entrer (dayfehns dontray) means “no entry.” This is what you might see on the door at the end of the hall that separates the public and private faces of Cheverny. Still, the public spaces give you a great idea of what life could be like if one lived in a château. I think I could get used to it!

 

51rX0FXfsLL__SL75_DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Loire Valley

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L’art, c’est l’homme, ajouté à la nature

Auvers-Sur-Oise 2If you’re still looking for a pleasant place to spend some time this summer, consider Auvers-sur-Oise, a little village where Vincent Van Gogh lived during the last weeks of his life. A village where he painted a masterpiece each day.

auvers sur oise egliseFans of the artist will recognize the little country church that he painted. Judging by the light, he must have set up his easel very early when he painted the now world-renowned church. Everything in the village is a reminder of Van Gogh’s time there. The alleys and staircases haven’t changed, nor have the wheat fields that he painted without cease at all hours of the day. And let’s not forget the banks of the Oise River. More than 120 years after his arrival at the train station, people still come to immerse themselves in the places he painted.

France, Church of Auvers-sur-Oise. painted by Vincent van GoghAt Auvers-sur-Oise, van Gogh painted seventy paintings in seventy days. Anything and everything in town became the setting for a painting, even the tiny town hall. During this time, Van Gogh was under the care of Dr. Gachet – whom the artist painted seated at a little scarlet table. His brother, Théo, had decided to engage the specialist in melancholy to treat Vincent. It was an ideal location for the brothers – picturesque with beautiful light and someone to watch over Vincent.

vincent-van-gogh-champ-de-ble-aux-corbeauxAt Auvers, Van Gogh rediscovered the same quality of light as the northern lands of his childhood. You can find the exact crossroads where he painted “Champs de blé aux corbeaux,” a feverish hymn to the beauty, the force, and the freedom of nature. In the evening, he returned to the auberge des Ravoux. For 3.50 francs a day, a mere trifle, Van Gogh received room and board. He died in his tiny room on July 29, 1890, after having shot himself in the stomach. Here as well, nothing has changed.

auversSince his death, the room has never been used because it was the room of someone who had committed suicide, which was bad luck. All of the other rooms at the inn were modernized with electricity, gas, and running water, but Van Gogh’s is intact. Visitors are moved by the beauty, the genius, and of the immense waste of a life. It’s quite a paradox.

7763486671_des-admirateurs-deposent-des-pinceaux-et-des-tournesols-sur-la-tombe-de-vincent-van-gogh-au-cimetiere-d-auvers-sur-oiseVan Gogh said,”L’art, c’est l’homme, ajouté à la nature” (lar, seh lum, ah-zjoo-tay ah lah natoor) “Art is man added to nature.” Whether you’re a fan of art or nature, there is plenty that appeals in Auvers-sur-Oise.

51NnimUSF1L__SL75_The Last Van Gogh

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