Objets anciens

image The Saint-Paul neighborhood of the Marais is full of unique boutiques that are fun to poke around. One that I enjoyed this summer was EW at 21 rue St-Paul, which was full of objets anciens (obshjay anh-see-en), as it says on their business card. Ancien can have several meanings, including “ancient” or “old,” but here, I think the one that fits best is “bygone.” The items in EW will make you think of bygone times and cozy corners, like your grandmother’s kitchen.  Whether you are looking for a complete canister set, a single café au lait bowl, or a quaint picture frame, this brocante is the place to go. Happy hunting for bygone objects!

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51HAKULm0QL__SL75_Paris Brocante

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Un Aide-mémoire

parislibereThe exhibit that I liked the best while I was in Paris this summer was Paris Libéré, Paris Photographie, Paris Exhibé at the musée Carnavalet in the Marais. Although it’s particularly pertinent right now, as Paris was liberated 70 years ago on August 25, it’s on until February 8, 2015. I had written about this exhibit before going to France this summer, but it had a different impact on me than I had expected.

600_281955_vignette_2On one level, the exhibit recreated one that took place immediately after the liberation of Paris. But on another level, it really pushed the viewer to consider the role that photography plays in history. For example, the exhibit looked at images of the occupying German troops posed in front of Parisian landmarks that where juxtaposed with pictures of the liberating American troops posed in exactly the same way.

Une-image-rare-une-femme-fait-le-coup-de-feu-sur-les-barricades_exact780x585_lThe rooms had provocative questions written on the walls in French, German, and English. One of those questions wondered what happens if there are no photos of an event or a group. Did the event really happen or was the group really there? There were no photos in the original exhibit of women or people of color as combatants even though both groups had actively participated in the liberation. There was footage of one female Resistance fighter disarming a soldier and then receiving a commendation for bravery. Women were only shown kissing soldiers in the initial exhibit. The contributions of both African-American and North African soldiers were figuratively whitewashed out of the photographic record because the American commander wanted an all-white liberation.

occupationFor me, the most chilling photograph was a room in Paris lined in asbestos that was used as an incineration chamber. The heat softened the asbestos and the photo trapped the hand prints of victims trying to claw their way out of the room.  But the kicker was that this room was used both by the Gestapo AND the French authorities who collaborated with them.

236881-paris-brise-paris-martyrise-mais-paris-libereNear the end of the exhibit, a video interview with geneticist Axel Kahn delved into philosophical questions about image and reality. What “wins” when a photograph conflicts with a memory? Which is real? He also talked about how stress, such as living in an occupied city during a war, changes people at a genetic level – even two generations later! It was fascinating stuff.

parisliberatedToday’s expression, un aide-mémoire (uhn ed maym-wahr), means a memory-aid or a reminder. The exhibit does an amazing job of discussing the role of photographs as propaganda as well a memory-prop. It was the most intellectually stimulating museum exhibit I’ve ever experienced and I highly recommend it to you.

513IsHuYZXL__SL75_The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944

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imageOn my one full day off from my job in Paris during July I took care of a trip that was on my bucket list – a visit to the Château de Chantilly. It was a hot, sunny day – perfect for an outing. I read that I could get there by the RER D line (the commuter rail that runs out to the Paris suburbs), but that was bad advice. It was a lot slower and then I had to change to a regional train to get all the way to Chantilly. For the trip back, I got a regional train that went directly from Chantilly to the Gare du Nord in less than half an hour for about 8 Euros.

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Once I got to the station, I opted to walk the rest of the way to the Château. I like to walk, and it was a great day. There were plenty of signs, so that part was easy. After about half an hour, I was at the stables where I bought my ticket. Chantilly is a big horse racing town and horses were a major part of life at the Château. I wasn’t there at the right moment for any of the dressage demonstrations or other horse-related events, but it’s always a pleasure to be around such beautiful animals. Then it was off to the Château.

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Architecturally, the Château is a bit of a hodge-podge, with two principal wings that are radically different from one another. The interior is dominated by a huge art gallery. The duc de Condé was a major art collector. The over 800 paintings in his collection include three Rembrandts and several other Louvre-quality paintings, including three small portraits by one of my personal favorites, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. Although it is no longer on display due to its fragility, the ultra-famous Les Très riches heures du duc de Berry are part of the holdings. Another very beautiful Book of Hours was a worthy stand-in.

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Besides the art, the highlight on the upper floor is the Grand Singerie, the room paneled with scenes where monkeys cavort dressed as though they are members of the nobility. It was learning about the recent restoration of these panels that had made me want to visit the Château de Chantilly in the first place. I also really enjoyed the chapel with its beautiful carved wood and stained glass. The library was stunning.

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After enjoying all the art, I went down a level to the private apartments. This small group tour was only a 3 Euro add-on to my ticket and totally worth it, although the guide was a little odd. She seemed totally blasé about what she was showing us and almost seemed miffed that we were taking her away from some passionately exciting duty elsewhere, but she thawed out a bit as the tour went on. I hadn’t realized that there was a second Petit Singerie that was painted at the same time as the larger one that was just for the family’s enjoyment. Totally cool.

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Then it was time to explore the garden. The formal parterres were designed by LeNôtre. There was also a hameau, or farm hamlet, like the one at Versailles. I hadn’t known that this was a fad for the aristocracy; I thought the one at Versailles was the only one. This Chantilly hameau was actually the inspiration for Marie Antoinette’s. Apparently, the interiors were off-the-hook glamorous, despite the rusticity of the exteriors. Today, they are the site of a tea room.

imageSince the tour of the apartments fell right when I would have eaten lunch, I was now rather famished, so the tea room was an interesting destination. They only thing on the menu, however, that reassembled actual food was a plate of raspberries with whipped cream. They were the most expensive raspberries I have ever eaten in my life (17 Euros!), but they were delicious. The word for whipped cream in French is Chantilly (shan-tea-ee), which is not a coincidence. According to legend, the French chef Vatel created whipped cream at a grand banquet when he was in charge of the kitchen at the Château de Chantilly. But the whipped cream at the tea room was like none I’d ever had before. When I saw the recipe in the shop portion of the tea room, I could see why. The proportion of heavy cream to sugar was almost one-to-one! Totally delicious, but wow!

image“Wow” is a good word overall for the Château de Chantilly. I only had one full day off during my summer job, and I’m so glad that I spent it right here.

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Le glamour

musee galliera ParisMy move to Massachusetts went as well as it possibly could. Now I even have functioning internet! So, it’s time to get back to the blogosphere.

An exhibit that I enjoyed when I was in Paris was Les Années 50: La Mode en France 1947 – 1957 at the Palais Galliera. It’s on until November 2, 2014, so there’s still lots of time to see it if you’ll be in Paris. I had written about this exhibit before my trip and it lived up to my expectations. The Galliera is a small museum that only has temporary exhibits. Each of the rooms focused on a different aspect of fashion – from haute couture gowns to swimsuits. I loved being able to ogle this embroidered Dior gown up close. Talk about gorgeous!

PalmyreSpeaking of up close, a criticism that I had of the show was that it was REALLY hard to read the information cards WAY DOWN on the podium. I got lots of practice with deep knee bends as I crouched down to decipher the information. Also, it was only in French. That worked for me, but it would exclude a lot of visitors from around the world from being able to get the most out of the exhibition.

gallieraThe show focused on the decade that followed the furor that followed Dior’s New Look collection. I learned that just four years after that seminal collection, Dior had captured 49% of the French fashion exports. The Bar suit, that exemplified that look, was one of the outfits on display.

largeBarSuitI jotted down a quote that I liked by Lilly Daché, French milliner and fashion designer from the 40s and 50s, “Le glamour est ce qui motive un homme à demander le numéro de téléphone d’une femme” (luh glamoor eh suh key mohteev uhn um ah duh-mahn-day luh noo-mare-owe duh tay-lay-fone doon fam), which means “Glamor is what motivates a man to ask for a woman’s phone number.” I’ve always loved the beautiful, feminine look of this decade, so seeing this exhibit was truly a pleasure.

51AdUF2OqIL__SL75_Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style

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Mise en place

imageI’m moving to Massachusetts today. To say that I’m busy and tired does not do my current state justice. Blogging is rather low on my list of priorities. NPR (National Public Radio) to the rescue. Yesterday, they broadcast a piece explaining the French term mise en place (meez ohn plahs), meaning “to put in place.” Click here to listen to it. When I set up my new home, I’ll try to keep the ideas from the interview in mind. Or maybe I’ll just hire a French chef.



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Mise en scène

imageOne of the best exhibits I saw while I was in Paris, Il était une fois l’Orient Express, is only on until the end of August. The exhibit celebrates the connection between the mythic train, literature and cinema, and the opening of the East to European travelers. From the time I read Agatha Christie’s Murder of the Orient Express, I’ve wanted to take the train from Paris to Istanbul. Parked in front of the Institut du Monde Arabe near the Seine are four authentic wagons from the train. They have created mises en scène (meez ahn sen), or settings, that make it seem as though the people who glided from country to country while ensconced in luxury have just stepped away for a moment to let you have a peek at their life.

imageAfter having visited the train cars, the exhibit continues inside the Institut du Monde Arabe with a multimedia presentation of the history of the Orient Express. First rolling in 1883, the legendary train pulled into its final station in 2007. One of the stories that I loved was what happened during the first press junket. Armed bandits in eastern Europe held the reporters on the train hostage until they were ransomed! The beautiful Art Deco detailing in the Lalique glass insets in the wood paneling, the travel posters, and the film footage of the many movies that were set on the Orient Express helped me feel some of the magic of being on board.

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If your budget can handle it, you can also dine aboard. Multi-course menus at 120€ and 160€ are inspired by each of the countries in the train’s itinerary. I think that would be a fabulous way to celebrate a special event.

51xlO6rB1wL__SL75_Murder on the Orient Express

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Une Nocturne

imageWhile my summer job in Paris was quite different than normal, I did have a few opportunities to get out to see some exhibits and do a little shopping. One of the exhibits that I had wanted to see was Paris 1900 – La Ville Spectacle at the Petit Palais. The exhibit meshed well with my recent trip to Nancy, with a nod to the Art Nouveau movement. I particularly enjoyed the advertising posters for the original Expo in 1900, the Lumière brothers film footage, and the juxtaposition of what life was life for different social classes. It’s on until August 17, 2014, if you’ll be in Paris in the next two weeks.

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A great time to visit any museum is during une nocturne (oon noktoorn), the one evening each week that a museum stays open until late, usually 10 PM instead of 6 PM. In Paris, it’s also a time that tends to be less popular with tourists, so the lines to get in are not as long and the rooms are not as crowded once you do get inside.

61Obn+yCBcL__SL75_The Food Lover’s Guide to Paris: The Best Restaurants, Bistros, Cafés, Markets, Bakeries, and More by Patricia Wells


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