If you are a fan of French beauty products, the place to go when you are in Paris is CityPharma at the corner of rue Bonaparte and rue du Four right near St Germain des Près. The aisles are packed with top brands such as Nuxe, Caudalie, and Avène at discounted prices. Le pactole (luh paktoll) means “the jackpot.” The only problem with Citypharma is that everyone else seems to have figured out that they’ve hit the cosmetic jackpot in coming there and it is very, very crowded. Take your list, forge through it, wedge your way to the cashier, and then go to a swanky nearby café such as Les Deux Magots or Café Flore to spend your savings on an over-priced cup of coffee.
In my job as the director of a summer program in Paris, I sometimes get to do really cool things. Last week, for example, I got to tag along with the Fashion class on their field trip to a bridal-wear designer. Natalia Dubuis specializes in semi-custom or custom bridal gowns fit for a modern princess. For the semi-custom gowns, Dubuis starts with a basic shape that the bride can then embellish and customize with lace overlays, different sleeve or strap options, or bejeweled belts. Custom gowns are a collaboration between the bride and the designer. Depending upon the level of customization, Dubuis’ gowns, which are made in France of French fabrics, cost between 950 and 2,500 Euros. Learn more about her services at By N Paris.
Another thing I love about my summer job is learning new expressions from my French co-workers. A new one for me last week was “Ça fait ouf, quoi!” (sah feh oof kwah), which just means that something is really amazing. When they saw my photos of the trip to By N Paris, more than one female colleague exclaimed Ça fait ouf, quoi! And they were right.
When I heard that Inès de la Fressange had opened a new boutique on super-chic rue de Grenelle in Paris, I made a point of checking it out. I’ve been slightly in awe of the long-legged former model and muse for Karl Lagerfeld since long before her book Parisian Chic started a feeding frenzy in the how-to-have- French-style genre. The boutique is a distillation of a lot the cute types of things she recommends on the Inès’ Little Diaries videos on the Roger Vivier YouTube channel. There are vintage-y clothes, leather goods, adorable kitchenware, and gifts for the favorite children in your life. I really liked the clothes, especially the simple dresses whipped up in the atelier at the back of the store. Small-scale checks, stripes or floral prints were sewn into clean-lined summer dresses. They weren’t cheap, however, at around 350 – 400 Euros each. I was very tempted by a thin leather belt and may yet go back for it even though it’s not exactly what I was looking for. If you aren’t able to stroll over to 24 rue de Grenelle to check it out, there is a website, but it does not have the full range – for example, neither the belts nor the dresses are there. Une passade (oon pass-add) means a whim or a fancy. Inès de la Fressange’s boutique has enough delectable merchandise to help you satisfy your passades – just bring a lot of cash with you.
I hadn’t been to the famous Marché aux puces de St Ouen at the north end of Paris for about fifteen years. Since moving to the Boston area and furnishing our new home, I’ve had more interest in antiques, so I decided it was time for another visit. Between being the director of a summer program in St Andrews and one in Paris, I thought I needed a day off – or at least a partial one. Sunday was very calm in our office, so I decided it was the ideal time to slip away, as the Marché aux puces are only open Saturday through Monday. To get to the largest Marché aux puces in Paris, take the 4 subway line to the northern end, Porte de Clingnancourt. When you get off, it’s not the most savory part of town, but just follow the throngs and signs. You’ll first pass by people selling illegal knock-offs of couture goods, things that “fell off the truck,” and tacky souvenirs, either spread out on blankets or proffered in the vendors’ hands. Keep going. Then you’ll pass stands of cheap clothes and incense. Keep going. Follow the signs to Marché Paul Bert if you want to find antique or vintage items that are worth buying. The stands that open directly onto the street generally have things that are less precious and more affordable. This is where I spotted a cache pot in porcelain that caught my eye. The burgundy glaze was perfect for my home and it would look terrific with an orchid inside. There was no price marked on it, so the negotiations began. The proprietor told me about all of the wonders of the cache pot and said that it had just arrived and that he was planning to ask for €60, but said that he would let me have it for €30. I hefted it and thought about carrying it in my hand luggage all the way home. I thought at €25 I’d be happier about the weight. I tried. I failed. I attempted the walking away in sorrow trick to see if the price would drop. It didn’t. I decided to keep going and see what else I might see at Paul Bert.
I went inside the main building of Paul Bert. There were many splendid things. I spotted another lovely cache pot tucked in a dusty corner, blocked by piles of other merchandise. Here would be a bargain, I was sure. The proprietor produced it for my closer inspection. It was actually a tulipière with a cover with holes in which to place blossoms. He told me that it was €1000, but he could let me have it for €800. Even with a €200 discount, my other cache pot was looking much more attractive, and even lighter to carry. I admired many, many beautiful objects – Hermès enamel bracelets, chandeliers dripping in crystal, paintings that looked worthy of a museum wall. I saw an interesting pair of silhouettes that I was tempted by for my husband. The price of €700 was not shocking, but they were quite large to take home. I passed. I loved a delicate little mirror on a stand, perfect for a vanity. I was very tempted, but €580 was a lot for me to pay for something that I really didn’t need. Whenever I had a question about an item, I would say, “Pourriez-vous me renseigner?” (poor-e-ay voo muh rohn-sen-yay), which means, “Can you give me some information?” and proprietors were happy to oblige. For example, I learned that the small starburst mirrors, usually convex, are called “sorcières,” or witches, because they allowed people to see every corner of a room to make sure that no evil spirits were lingering. I was getting as tired as the cat I saw snoozing on a chair, so I had a crêpe before heading back on the métro. I decided to go back to the stand with the cache pot and see if it was still there. At first, I thought it was gone and I kicked myself for quibbling over €5. Then I spied it in a display case, now marked at €50. The proprietor remembered me and the price he’d offered. I handed over my €30 and left with one cache pot swaddled in newspaper that may or may not be worth €30, but I was enriched by a day spent among beautiful objects and knowledgeable proprietors.
Now that I’m in the midst of the hurly-burly of Paris (and loving it!), I think in some wonderment about where I was just a few days ago. While I was In St Andrews, I kept hearing about the beauty of the Fife Coastal Path and I made a point of walking along part of it a couple of days prior to my departure.
The Kingdom of Fife is the county in which St Andrews is located and the Fife Coastal Path is a 117 mile long trail that hugs the North Sea. When I visited Antibes, the Sentier piéton was my favorite part of the south of France. The Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island is another place that I thoroughly enjoy, so I had high hopes for the Fife Coastal Path.
I picked up the trail near East Sands beach. At first it was paved and passed by an upscale mobile home park where a luxury car was parked next to each green cube that was situated to enjoy a fabulous view of the sea. Then the path diverged from the shore and became a sandy trail that passed among waving tall grasses, flower-laden shrubs, and trees. In the days leading up to The Open, St Andrews was becoming increasingly busy and, dare I say it, congested. But here, on the Coastal Path, all was calm. I passed a few dog walkers, joggers, and families out for an evening ramble. The shore flirted with the trail, revealing glimpses of a rocky coastline, foam- capped surf, and water that was tinged orange by the slowly descending sun. I only walked for about an hour before I reluctantly turned back to town. If I’d had a full day off, I would gladly have devoted it in its entirety to walking the Fife Coastal path from village to village.
La solitude (lah sol-e-tood) is something that I crave from time to time. Even when I’m surrounded by people whom I genuinely like and I am thoroughly enjoying myself, I find that a time of quiet is really important to my esprit. If I never get to slip away, I feel that I’m being nibbled at by the needs of others and I get snappish. I don’t want my iPod on; I don’t want company; I don’t want an objective. Even a short break refreshes me and restores my stock of energy to respond to the needs of others. While the part of the Fife Coastal Path that I walked was rather tame, it does have more challenging stretches. It certainly met my needs for la solitude. If you are going to be in Fife, I think you’d love it.
Ne pas lésiner sur les moyens (nuh pah lay-seen-ay sir lay moy-en) is the equivalent of “to spare no expense.” For most of us, this simply isn’t possible, at least not across the board. For example, you may spare no expense when it comes to organic vegetables, but choose to scrimp on clothing. If I could truly ne pas lésiner sur les moyens, I think I would splash out on a private jet that could whisk me back and forth to Paris in total comfort. Lately, I’ve been squished between snoring sprawlers and pummeled by the feet of an angry toddler. What would you splurge on?
I went to an interesting exhibit at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh entitled Photography: A Victorian Sensation. It just opened a couple of weeks ago and will continue until November 22, 2015. The exhibit was full of multimedia displays that traced the contributions of pioneers in the field of photography, including Frenchmen Daguerre and Niépce.
Two of the British inventors, William Henry Fox Talbot and Frederick Scott Archer, reaped little financial benefit for their contributions to photography, specifically calotype and wet plate collodion processes. Talbot was a man of means who seemed to be more upset that Daguerre published his process before Talbot could, thus receiving the glory. Archer, however, died penniless, or fauché (foe-shay), leaving a wife and three daughters in pretty dire circumstances.
There was also a tie-in to my current residence of St Andrews, Scotland. Robert Adamson of St Andrews and David Octavius Hill of Perth used Talbot’s calotype process to create thousands of sepia-toned images – portraits, landscapes, but most notably pictures of real people, such as the fishwives of St Andrews. Their output is impressive, considering that each print was a labor intensive work of art. The duo were particularly skilled at producing natural looking portraits, which is astonishing because the subjects had to remain completely still for long periods of time.