Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Paris 2011

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it….Paris was always worth it.   
                                                                                           Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There may be no end to Paris, but the end of our stay here is in sight. The time passed quickly and there were so many things I wanted to write about that will have to wait until next time. I'm in good company though. Hemingway didn't begin writing The Moveable Feast - a book about his year in Paris in the 1920s - until 1957. 

I'm always sad to leave Paris, but never sorry to leave behind the grey Paris winter. In his opening lines of The Moveable Feast, Hemingway describes it this way: 

Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day when the fall was over. We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe.

Ahead of us is Pisa, but on the way we'll be stopping for a week in Nice, where the sun shines 300 days a year. JR will be at a conference, but I'll have plenty to do. I'm going to tag along with a friend who is looking for an apartment to buy in Nice's Old Town. It's the beginning of Carnival so there'll be lots of festivities and, if the weather cooperates, I'm also planning to take the wonderful "Train des Pignes" up into the mountains. We have reservations for Saturday lunch at Mirazur, a restaurant in nearby Menton that a recent New York Times article said is "worth a plane trip."  I'm feeling better already.  

It's been a great two months in Paris and like Hemingway, we're planning our return. In the meantime, here are some visual souvenirs of our stay. Click here to see the photos. 

A bientôt,

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


At some point in my childhood, my father became enamored of antiques and began searching for bargains at local auction houses. Without my mother's compliance, he set about transforming our house. Soon, our suitable, kid-worn living room couch and chairs disappeared, replaced by a suite of "French Provincial" furniture, whose main attribute was that it made the floor seem comfortable. Side tables with delicate spindly legs, which tipped over at the slightest provocation, completed the ensemble.

Our vocabulary changed too. A couch was now a divan; light fixtures became chandeliers and sconces; the bureau a commode; and the cabinet that held our dishes in the dining room a credenza. Our mantle, previously a repository for keys and stray items, began to fill up with a collection of vases (now pronounced vāzs) made of what my father assured us was authentic Venetian glass. If she had embraced our new, elevated vocabulary, my mother would have called these vases, ramasse-poussière. Instead, somewhat irreverently and much to my father's annoyance, she called his prized collection "nothing but a bunch of goddamn dust collectors." 

I thought of all this recently when I visited the Drouot auction house at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris, the firm's headquarters since 1852. Drouot has four auction locations in the city, 100 auctioneers, 70 independent auction firms, and 21 exposition halls, where 3,000 auctions are held every year. According to its website, "Drouot is the oldest public auction house in the world, a crossroads of the art market, an inexhaustible reservoir of paintings, furniture and art objects of every epoch and price…a magical and ephemeral museum open to all."

Drouot is also a place to see and be seen by le tout Paris. Experienced art and antique dealers, mink-clad matrons and hip young designers stand elbow to elbow with hopeful, first-time bargain hunters and grey-haired retirees. When bidding starts, everyone has a chance. If your bid is the highest, the auctioneer's gavel will slam down, the word adjugé will ring out, and you will be the proud owner of one of the innumerable items sold at Drouot each year. It could be a famous painting for a million euros or a 10-euro box of uncatalogued bibelots and bric-a-brac. 

A novice to auctions might find Drouot a bit intimating. There are experts in the halls who bid with just a raised eyebrow while other bids come in, fast and furiously, over the telephone and the internet. The competition can be fierce and all the discussion, of course, is conducted in French. 

You don't have to buy anything, however, to have a good time. Drouot does have a museum-like quality and there's great people watching. On sale days, all the auction rooms are alive with the sing-song of bids, the buzz of conversation and the sometimes satisfied, sometimes disappointed sighs of the bidders. And a day at Drouot obviously brings back memories. Over and over again, people point to any one of hundreds and hundreds of objects on display and exclaim: "Mamie had one of those."

I saw lots of divans, chandeliers and Venetian vases that my father would have loved. On the other hand, I know exactly what my mother would have said.

For more photos, click here.

A bientôt,

Wednesday, February 2, 2011


As Valentine's Day approaches, locksmiths in Paris may see an increase in business as lovers of all ages seek out the perfect Love Lock. What better day than February 14 for lovers to attach their locks, a symbol of their eternal love, to the bridges of Paris? The preferred bridges are the Pont des Arts, which crosses the Seine near the Louvre, and the Pont de l'Archevêché behind Notre Dame. An endearing romantic custom or an eyesore, as I see it, love locks now cover bridges all over the world.

We first saw them a few years ago in Florence on the Ponte Vecchio, a romantic bridge that needs no embellishment. There, the railing around the bust of Benvenuto Cellini  - who, as luck or love would have it, died on February 14, 1571 in Florence - practically sagged under the weight of the locks. Florence has since banned the practice, but love, accustomed to obstacles, continues to win out and the locks seem as numerous as ever.

On a recent Sunday, we watched as a couple of a certain age glided on roller blades on to the Pont des Arts. Colorfully dressed and sporting bracelets of small bells, they jingled their way to the middle of the bridge, bent down and attached a small brass lock. Then they stood up, kissed and together threw the key to the lock into the Seine. Thus, their love is sealed forever - unless they part before then or until the City of Paris comes and removes the lock. 

The history of love locks is somewhat obscure. Everything from a Pagan custom to an Italian novel have been put forth as the origin of the practice. Whatever the truth, cities all over the world are debating about leaving or removing the locks. Paris, the City of Love, but also the city of order and beauty, is in a particularly difficult  position. 

In the beginning of May 2010, Paris City Hall announced that although they found the phenomenon of love locks "pleasant, likable and spontaneous," eventually the locks would have to be removed to preserve national heritage. Then on May 13, pedestrians crossing the Pont des Arts found that all but a handful of the approximately 2,000 locks adorning the bridge had been removed sometime during the night. According to City officials, "the municipal services did not intervene."* The mystery of who was responsible for removing the locks has not been solved, but no matter, the removal just provided a clean slate for a whole new group of lovers. Once again, locks on the bridge are declaring the eternal love of couples such as Laurent and Agnes, Meredith and Drew, and Shelly and Franz.

City Hall has not called me yet, but I have a great idea. Paris should commission a large, hollow, translucent statue - a copy of Venus de Milo or if that offends artistic sensibilities, a huge lock, a heart, a key? The French love debate so a public discussion on the matter could be launched. Then the City could convene a commission of artists and intellectuals to study the matter and select the winning form. If I'm asked to be on the committee, I'll suggest that the Hommage à l'amour, as I'm calling it, be placed in the sculpture garden on the Quai St. Bernard with its unparalleled view of Notre Dame. 

When hopeful lovers placed their love locks among thousands of others on a Paris bridge, they would know that at some point, the city would remove them, recycle some and put a randomly-chosen few into the statue.  I think it would meet with general acceptance because even the most ardent lover knows that you need to be lucky to survive in love.

To see more photos, click here.

A bientôt,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor
*The Telegraph
  May 13, 2010