April 15, 2014

Art Nouveau in the 16th Arrondisement

I've been hopping on and off the metro for nearly three years now. I have admired the green iron metro signs, railings and light posts but never bothered to go beyond.

This week, I was given the opportunity to explore my hood, i.e. the chic residential Parisian neighbourhood and understand how architecture has evolved from the influence of pioneering works such as the Fondation Le Corbusier (little did I know it was in my back yard, so to speak...) and the Art Nouveau movement in France.

In fact, it was in Paris in 1895 that this burgeoning style found a home at the Maison de l’Art Nouveau – and it was here the movement found its name. Thanks to a grand exhibition at Paris’ 1900 Exposition Universelle, Art Nouveau’s popularity soon went global.

Apparently, the 16th district developed in the 19th century as a leafy residential suburb for Paris, and was annexed in 1860. It is famous for its variety of attractive and imaginatively designed houses, several of which were by Hector Guimard, designer of the famous Paris metro exits in 1900, which look like undulating plant forms. Well, I am now that bit wiser!

With its swirling forms, intertwining patterns and fluid motifs, Art Nouveau is a style synonymous with Paris, and one that perfectly sums up the city’s timeless elegance and artistic verve. In the late 19th century artists rebelled against the linear, restrictive forms of classical art, architecture and design, turning instead to nature for organic inspiration.

During our tour, we studied the functional poetry of the facades of the Hotel Mezzara and the Castel Beranger, both designed by M.Guimard, and some excellent examples of avant-garde villas by Robert Mallet-Stevens, a contemporary of Le Corbusier, in the modern style of the early 20th century.

They tell me Chez Maxim's is a veritable museum of Art Nouveau design. I have yet to check out what was once the haunt of Paris’ courtesans and remains a Paris institution.

April 7, 2014

Jogging through the park one morning...

One sunny morning in April, running through the Bois de Boulogne, minding my own business, absorbed in my chick-lit audiobook, looking out for my friends - les Saveurs Pompiers - avoiding the endless dog poop, stearing clear from the Parisiennes with their handsome personal trainers, running by the tired-looking courtesans, admiring the bright yellow tulips along my track, enjoying the sunshine reflecting from the water, breathing the crisp morning air, thinking of my next bar of chocolate I will devour later in the day... what do I bump into ... but a ski lift cabin... parked litterally across my path!!! Goes to show: in Paris anything goes!

April 6, 2014

Around the world for lunch

It's the time of year again when the children's school makes a point of honouring the world's cultures in a day long festivity. With spring, along comes the rush of organising International Day. Over 60 nations are represented in the student body. If you're thinking this sounds like the United Nations, I assure you that pick-up at Primary School certainly feels like it.

Parents, children, and teachers from all four corners of the globe prepare for days, sometime weeks for this special day where the smells of International cuisine permeate the halls and the sounds of music drift out of classrooms. The campus bustles with activity, laughter and friendship. Every nation displays national customs, food, and items of interest with pride. Some are more popular than others for obvious reasons. We all love the US s'mores, the Italian pizza and the Japanese sushi but Brazil beats them all. They actually serve Caipirinha, Brazil's national cocktail, made with cachaça, sugar and lime, a big hit with the adults. Spain are not far behind with their red wine and Jamon Iberico. No, the Russians were not serving caviar - unfortunately - but exquisite bubliks. I tasted the Malay dish nasi lemak, was tempted by the Filipino adobo and munched out with Australian frog in the pond.

You're wondering which nation I was representing? Italy, of course, by special request of my children. Also, it would be hard to make Raclette for 600 people all by myself.

I am still waiting for the Swiss Family Robinson to arrive and give me a hand...

March 29, 2014

An often overlooked museum

Having tasted the Musée Jacquemart-André by night, my curiosity was peaked and I wanted more. I signed up for one of Mona's tours with Paris Walks and joined Cherise for an outstanding tour of the history and the gossip of this Parisian mansion.

Long terrace steps and a pair of stone lions usher visitors into this grand 19th-century mansion, home to a collection of objets d'art and fine paintings.This is a sumptuous townhouse with a collection made by wealthy art lovers, the banker Edouard André, and his wife, the painter Nelie Jacquemart.

The collection includes priceless 18th C furnishings: tapestries, furniture, all displayed in family rooms,  and superb paintings by some of the great artists such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Fragonard, David, Vigée Lebrun and Reynolds. In the upper galleries you can admire the works they amassed from the early Italian Renaissance, which are a testimony to the charm of this period. Uccello, Donatello, Botticelli just to mention a few. The house itself is spectacular in it’s own right with ballroom, minstrels’ gallery, Nelie’s studio, a breathtaking double spiral staircase, and the family dining room.

On the opening of the Hôtel André in 1876, an article in the magazine L'Illustration reported: “amazement at the enchanting ball given by Mr André. There is no more admirable setting. All the famous names from the world of fashion and elegance were there. They all shone with the same brilliance."
“Nothing was lacking to make Mr André’s ball one of those sensational events whose magnificence marks our era. The walls of the two entrance rooms, the cloakroom and the vestibule, disappeared under a scented curtain of violets and camellias. The gold decorations of the double ballroom flowed, sparkling under the blaze of a thousand candles."

Need I add more, it is definately worth a detour off the all too trodden Champs Elysées.

March 27, 2014

Never a quiet moment...

People ask me how I come up with something to post every day. Well, I've got news for you. I live in Paris, there is ALWAYS something to write home about.

Take today, instead of undertaking my usual jog through the Bois de Boulogne, I decided to take a break and run some errands instead, unfortunately the Chinese president had decided on the same route as I.

After dropping off Expat girl at school, I hopped onto the metro towards the Champs Elysées. Upon emerging from underground with millions of other Parisians who were on their way to work, I realized Paris' most famous avenue had been cut off to all traffic. Not even pedestrians were allowed to cross the road.

Lots of French flags were waiving up and down the eight lanes, each one flanked by a Chinese flag. Yes, the French are real good at waving flags.

Well, commuters in Paris were left furious today when authorities closed no less than 13 Metro stations during the morning rush hour for citing security reasons for the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Paris’s transport authority provided almost no advance notice of the closures, and needless to say Parisians were NOT happy.

I, on the other hand - strolling along the sidewalk - was struck by one thing: the silence! It was a serene feeling to walk along la plus belle avenue du monde (as the French like to call it) and take in the stillness of the moment.

It might be ironic that Paris transport authorities close Metro stations on a day when pollution levels are rising again but I would like to say thank you for this delicate moment of serenity. How do you say thank you in Chinese?

March 25, 2014

Paris is our home

So, it looks like we're in it for the long haul, meaning it seems that my husband will continue to be based in Paris for a few more years. This is the third time we have settled in the city of lights and the last two times we couldn't get away fast enough, to the point where my hubby changed company some years back in order NOT to move back to Paris.

They say everything good comes in threes. We got lured into coming back to Paris and left Switzerland three years ago to face the music. And here we are, not only singing with the music but dancing to it as well.

I admit this assignment has been one of the easier ones. We had lived here before, we both speak French, we know the system (which doesn't mean we always understand it) and most of all we are familiar with the French. Actually, upon my arrival I was positively surprised, the Parisian have become more approachable over the past ten years, I would not go as far as to use the word friendly, however.

In any case, with pre-adolecent children, the city does have a great deal to offer. No more lugging strollers down the staircases into the metro, no more prams being stolen in the inner courtyard, no more groceries being lugged up to the top floor because we now live in a building with an elevator! We DO hear the neighbours above us stomp across the floor, we KNOW which TV programme our neighbour below is watching (because we can hear it!) and when we switch on our WiFi we need to triple check which one on the list of 20 servers is ours.

All in all, Paris has become home. I never thought I'd say - let alone write - this, but we HAVE settled in. A few days ago I came across a family calendar from when we first moved to France. Needless to say all four of us were smiling on every single shot but somehow you could tell the smiles were tense and in no way natural. We were so determined to make this move work and so preoccupied with digging a new nest that we could call home, knowing that nothing could ever fill the void we all felt when leaving Switzerland.

Comparing it to this year's family calendar (yes, I do make one every year and send it to all our relatives!) where we all look totally relaxed and at ease with our environment, it is a big relief to see that even the kids have come around to the point were - in some ways - Paris is even better than Lugano.

It took a long time but - as always - we have forged ourselves a home. It's a cliché but after all: "Home is where your heart is"... and mine is right here with my family!

March 20, 2014

A 90 minute fashion treat

What do you do when you drop your daughter off at drama class and the lesson is too long to hang around and wait but too short to go home and return? Hey, living in Paris you pop into a museum, of course!

I had been invited to join a guided tour of Musée Galliera's exhibition "Papier glacé" tonight, but the event organizer called me three times yesterday just to let me know all the spaces had been filled. I guess organization is not his forte.

This was not to stop me, however. I took the short walk through the fancy 8th arrondissement after dropping off Expat girl and strode into the the 'Beaux-Arts' style building constructed by nobody lesser than the company belonging to Gustave Eiffel.

The exhibit drew on the archives of Condé Nast New York, Paris, Milan and London, bringing together some 150 mostly original prints from leading fashion photographers from 1918 through to the present day.

I came across the guided tour and meandered around the group to hear what the lady had to say. Frankly, I learned more from the explanatory texts on the walls. It made me realize how briliant my friend Mona's tours are and makes me appreciate them even more.

The best part? This fashion treat came at the cost of only 8 Euros entrance fee!

My absolute favourite picture was Norman Parkinson's shot for British Vogue 1957 showing the bumper-to-bumper portrait of a Rover 105 S especially sprayed for Vogue in fuchsia.

No matter where you turn, you'll always spot he Eiffel Tower

The streetside facade gives onto a paved courtyard bordered by a semicircular Ionic peristyle
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