Americans in Paris
Looking along Avenue Montaigne towards the Eiffel Tower. 11:45 PM. Photo: JH.
We arrived at Paris Nord about 1:30. Outside the station a man asked us: “taxi?” Yes. He took JH’s bag (although not mine) and was leading us to his taxi. When we arrived at the taxi, it wasn’t his — he was a self-styled porter. I offered him 3 euros tip. He waved it away with a look of disdain. I then asked him if he had change of a twenty. No. He then said he wanted ten euros. (for wheeling JH’s bag for 150 yards.) But he had no change for a twenty. I asked the cabdriver. He had no change. JH had no change and said: get in the car and forget it.

I offered the man four American dollars. He wanted ten. Finally I told him that was all I could do, take it or leave it. He took it. In the taxi, the driver told me he did have change but that he wouldn’t help the “porter” because that was just a scam for tourists like me.

The Tourists were driven to the Hotel Plaza Athénée on the Avenue Montaigne. The beautiful Plaza Athénée. At the Reservations desk, one of the staff, a man, asked if I were Mr. Columbia. Surprised, I asked how he knew. “Ahh, we know these things,” he said with a smile as if an inside jest. “Madame Bloch is waiting for you,” he added.

Madame Bloch, Laurence
(Lo-rahnz) Bloch is the hotel’s manager and daughter of Marie-Beatrice Lavau whom we met at the buffet dinner at the castle of Robert Noortmann our first night in Maastricht.

The man behind the desk made a call. We were told Madame Bloch would call us shortly but we should first settle in our room. Another member of the staff, an attractive young woman took us to our room — what is called a junior suite, a very large bedroom-sitting room with two bathrooms and all the amenities of a luxury hotel in Paris.
A few minutes later we were called to meet Laurence Bloch whom we found waiting for us with the Director of Communication Isabelle Maurin in the Galerie des Gobelins just off the lobby (pictured left). The manager is a very young woman. She looks far too young you might think to be the manager of this great hotel. She is one of only two women in Paris managing a major hotel, and at 38, by far the youngest. Blonde, pretty, very relaxed, we immediately fell into conversation about her vivacious mother whom we’d met just a few nights before. Then she told us she’d grown up here in Paris, was married with two young children, and had been in the hotel business since she graduated from college.
Then I asked her about this hotel where I’ve never stayed before but has played host for the past century to some of the most famous people in the world from movie stars to statesmen such as Josephine Baker, Rudolph Valentino, Clint Eastwood, Grace Kelly, Gary Cooper, Jackie Kennedy, Sophia Loren, King Farouk, Alfred Hitchcock, Daryl Zanuck, Cary Grant, J. Paul Getty, Stavros Niarchos, Aristotle Onassis, Charles Lindbergh, David Rockefeller, Estee Lauder, Oscar de la Renta, Nancy and Ronald Reagan, and King Hussein of Jordan. She told me that besides the visiting guests, the hotel is a hub in Paris for luncheon, dinner and nighttime activity. The very gallery where we were sitting was full with people having drinks, tea, etc., many of whom were Parisians congregating at the tea hour. After a too brief conversation because business was pulling her away, we made a date with Laurence Bloch to see the newly refurbished Tower Suite. Not that we would be booking the space — which rents for 6700 euros a day — but because it’s always interesting to see (and for JH to photograph) the very grand rooms of great European hotels.
Our junior suite, which is a very large bedroom/sitting room with two bathrooms and all the amenities of a luxury hotel in Paris.
Wednesday morning we went to breakfast in the Alain Ducasse restaurant just off the lobby. It’s a very grand room glittering with gilt and three fantastic gold and crystal chandeliers. This is obviously an early morning meeting place for businessmen and women in Paris. We had gone down to breakfast without a jacket only to see we were the only “tourists” in the elegantly appointed room.
As you might expect, the staff is as elegantly turned out as the clientele and the room. I ordered the typical (although hardly typically presented) bacon and eggs, starting with grapefruit and grapefruit juice. JH had the morning’s special — two soft boiled eggs presented in the shell mixed with a celery puree and truffle shavings. Just so happened Mr. Ducasse (pictured above) was eating breakfast at the table next to ours.
At noon we went over to meet Sarah Wolfe, our friend from New York who keeps a charming apartment on the rue de Lille which she visits for a few weeks two or three times a year. As it happens, we know several Americans, all passionate francophiles, who have apartments here. Sarah’s apartment is on the top floor of her building which dates back to the 18th century. It was interesting for me to see the blooming daffodils in the pots outside on the balcony.

After a quick look around, we embarked with Sarah and her two little dachshunds on a tour of her neighborhood. Our first stop was the bookstore 7L which belongs to designer Karl Lagerfeld where we met its manager Vincent Puede. He told us (because I asked) that M. Lagerfeld often comes by with friends because his photography studio is next door.

The books are almost all coffee table books and all displayed front cover up. There were several Lagerfeld photography books as well many American, French and English books.
Clockwise from top left: Sarah and her dachshunds; The view from her terrace; The apartment building where Jean-Paul Belmondo lives.
Karl Lagerfeld's 7L and the door to his photography studio
A Paris street scene
The wall in front of the former home of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin for whom the Birken bag was named
Leaving the shop, Sarah pointed out that just down the street on the corner was a large apartment building where Jean-Paul Belmondo lives. Farther down the rue des Saints Peres we stopped at the florist shop of Olivier Pitou.
Just walking in the tiny shop one is overwhelmed by the exotic jungle-like flora rich in color and fragrance. In the backroom we found M. Pitou, a young man (whose parents were also florists) making a bouquet of orchid blossoms for a wedding that was taking place that afternoon. Right: Olivier putting the finishing touches on the bouquet before he loaded it into the truck and off to the wedding.
Leaving Pitou, we followed our leader, dogs in tow farther down the street to the Cafe Flore, a longtime brasserie on the Boulevard St. Germain and across the street from the Brasserie Lipp.

After some onion soup and a ham and cheese sandwich and tea, we moved on, led by our guide and her dachshund-y entourage, crossing a bridge over the scene, into the courtyard of the Louvre, across the rue de Rivoli to the Palais Royale. All of these buildings are endlessly astonishing to the imagination of this visitor. Perhaps it is because Paris is still occupied by buildings that date back three, four, and five hundred years, there is a strong sense of what went on before, and especially of its power and grandeur.

Walking through the courtyards of the Louvre and then the Palais Royale, I was reminded again of the days of the Bourbon monarchy and Julie Baumgold’s book The Diamond (written about in these pages a few months ago), and the days of the Regency after the death of Louis XIV and before the coronation of the boy-king Louis XV. The Regent had moved the court back to Paris from Versailles so that he could partake of the wild life of the city. It was here in the early years of the 18th century where he purchased the great cushion-shaped diamond that became known as the Regent and became a centerpiece of the political history of France for the next century down through the time of Napoleon. The legendary stone now resides across the street in the Louvre.
Lunch at Cafe Flore
Crossing the Seine towards the Louvre
Walking through the courtyards of the Louvre and then the Palais Royale
Our first stop was at the shop of Didier Ludot. M. Ludot has one of the most famous collections of vintage haute couture clothes in the city. Reese Witherspoon stopped by here on Christmas Eve Day and bought a vintage Dior (1956) that she wore to the Academy Awards in Los Angeles three weeks ago when she won the Oscar for her performance in “Walk The Line.” M. Ludot’s shop is packed with clothes, and shoes, and handbags. Our guide was carrying a beautiful, shiny brown alligator forty year old Birkin bag that she’d purchased here.
Stopping in the shop of Didier Ludot along Palais Royale
A 1953 Dior
A 1937 Schiaparelli
A 1930 creation
Didier Ludot (top) holding a vintage Balenciaga and his assistant Francois (above) showed us several haute couture pieces from Balenciaga, Jacques Fath, a 1937 Schiaparelli (she was the grandmother of Marisa Berenson), Givenchy, Dior, Dessus, Chanel and many other designers dating back forty, fifty and even more than sixty years. The interesting thing about haute couture vintage is that the clothes (and shoes, and furs, and handbags) were purchased by very rich women who had such extensive wardrobes that they rarely wore a particular garment, if at all. One of the Balenciaga suits from the early 1950s (and priced at 7000 euros) looked like it had never been worn at all (except of course for the fittings).
Leaving Didier Ludot’s shop, we continued on our walking tour to Philippe Model’s house and showroom which Sarah Wolfe described as “nearby” but was about a fifteen minute walk away. M. Model whose hats have graced the heads of several fashionable New York women (especially at the annual Central Park Conservancy luncheon), was not at home. And his home is in the middle of a complete redecoration, refurbishment and/or restoration.
Built in early years of the 18th century, Philippe Model’s house and showroom has an aura that was both funky and historic. Images of Parisian artists’ lives sprung to mind.
Leaving our tour guide, we grabbed a taxi and returned to the Plaza Athénée where we were scheduled to rendezvous with Laurence Bloch and her mother, our new friend, Marie-Beatrice Lavau in the Gallery of the hotel. After some refreshing hot tea with lemon (it was cold in Paris, a damp, penetrating to the bone cold), Laurence took us up to the new Tower Suite. The rooms are all done in the style of authentic Art Deco with an unobstructed view of the Pont de l’Alma, the Seine and the Eiffel Tower. Besides these rooms, indeed the entire floor is done in the Art Deco style and can be rented as one suite, containing therefore several bedrooms, bathrooms, sitting rooms and dining rooms for 17,000 euros a day. Guests who book the suite or suites include movie stars, heads of state and Arab sheiks traveling with entourages, and the rooms have a 65% occupancy rate.

I was curious to know about the background of this attractive young woman who runs this great hotel. She has a very friendly, seemingly unflappable, unassuming personality. Our visit was interrupted several times by business calls coming through her cellphone. Her mother told me that she was an excellent student, getting the highest grades throughout her school years from the first to the last, and yet always maintaining a serene attitude, unimpressed by her own stellar abilities. Now she is a young mother and wife (living only a five-minute walk from the hotel) who is also devoted to her business from the moment she arrives at the hotel in the morning until about eight-thirty at night. Then she returns to her home life with the same focus and devotion.

Although she is very welcoming, she claims that she likes the administrative aspect of her job the most and does not regard herself a “sales person.” When asked what she thought were the greatest qualities of the hotel she runs, she immediately said: the staff. The staff is as devoted and enthusiastic as she is. The head concierge is about to retire after 46 years and guests will be coming from as far away as South America (about 25% of the clientele is South American) to bid him adieu because of their long family-like relationship with him. This, she said, is characteristic of the entire staff. She also loves the activity within the hotel which has no meeting rooms — for it is a center of social life in Paris where people meet for drinks, for tea, for lunch or dinner.
Mother/daughter Marie-Beatrice Lavau and Laurence Bloch in the newly refurbished Tower Suite of the Plaza Athénée
The master bedroom
The corner of the living room
The bar
The sitting room
Soaking up the view
The staircase outside of the suite
Wednesday night we were invited by Raul Suarez to a dinner at Mathys, a very hot Paris restaurant which is not far away, just across the Champs-Elysees on the rue Ponthieu. Raul, who is an old friend from New York and a former vice-president of Sotheby’s, is now residing in Zurich where he is working for Galerie Gmurzynska, a major art gallery dealing in Contemporary Art in Zurich. He was in Paris for the ParisArt show which opened yesterday at the newly restored Grand Palais. Mathys is a funky little restaurant patronized by fashion, art and social figures, not to mention well-informed tourists. It’s tiny, so tiny that Raul’s guest list of 32 took up almost the entire room.
Mathas Rastorfer and Francois Gallimard
Roman Plutschou and Liana Mauromatis
Daniel Moguay, Karen, and Jean Claude Meyer
Jean Claude Meyer with Karen
Daniella Di Martino and Krystyna Gmurzynska
Stephanie Cauchoix and DPC
Marc Landau and Hubert Michard-Pellisier
Homero Machry, Countess Georgina Brandolini, and friend
Betty Catroux
Raul Suarez and Florence Michard-Pellisier
Isabelle Bscher-Gmurzynska
Raul Suarez and Florence Grinda
The dinner broke up about midnight. JH and I walked back to the hotel (about ten minutes) and decided to visit the bar for a nightcap. The place was jumping although its director, a very congenial hail-fellow-well-met white haired young man named Thierry Hernandez, told us that this was a fairly quiet night. For some people maybe. We chatted with Hernandez about nightlife in Paris and New York where he likes to visit two or three times a year and soak up our frenetic energy. Then it was off to the land of nod. Long day, long night; Paris under the full moon.
Thierry Hernandez, Directeur du Bar at the Plaza Athénée

March 16, 2006, Volume VI, Number 45
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


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© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/