Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Paris Jour et Nuit

Moving into dinner at the new musée des Arts décoratifs in the Palais de Louvre for a preview dinner gala benefitting the museum. Photo: JH.
9.13.06 - Jour: It was another hot summer day in Paris although a beautiful one. I read somewhere in the past few days that this time of year exemplified the “light” that distinguishes Paris in the eyes of the artists. Whether that is true or not, the grandeur of the city’s architecture has been somehow more apparent to me on this trip.

Eager to absorb as much as possible, JH and the Digital and I decided yesterday afternoon to take a look. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a book I’d bought called “Literary Paris” about where a number of famous authors had lived in the City of Light. Yesterday afternoon we went hunting for some of those houses focusing on those that were either closeby or within proximity to each other. For example, Scott Fitzgerald, Honore de Balzac, and Marcel Proust all lived within a few blocks of each other’s addresses although at different times.

Our first stop was 22 rue de Balzac (“rue’d Balzac” was how our cabdriver pronounced it), which in Balzac’s day was called the rue Fortunee, its name changed after the prolific novelist died. Rue de Balzac is off the Champs Elysee and, on the map, only a few minutes from our hotel. The cabdriver chose to take via the Champs Elysee which on a very hot weekday midafternoon is no different from Fifth Avenue or Sunset Boulevard: bumper-to-bumper traffic crawl. About halfway there we got out to walk, clearly a quicker way of reaching our destination.
The site of Balzac's last home at the time of his death in 1850.
Several minutes later, walking in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe, we turned down rue de Balzac looking for number 22. The house, whose address at the time was, according to the book a large wreck that Balzac had acquired in 1846 to encourage his lover, a wealthy woman named Madame Hanska who lived in Russia, to want to live there with him. Evidently those plans never worked out well and four years later the master was dead at 51.

However, not long after, the house at number 22, according to the sequence of numbers on the street, was replaced by a large mansion which occupied the whole block and was owned by Saloman de Rothschild. I imagined that Balzac would have approved: the house was so impressive it was hard to believe that any writer would have once owned it. The only sign of the great man was a plaque on a retaining wall referring to the author of La Comedie Humaine.
No. 14 rue Tilsitt, where Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived in the spring of 1925.
From the site of Balzac’s last residence, we walked up the Avenue de Friedland in the direction of the Arc de Triomphe toward the rue de Tilsitt and the site where Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald lived when they first moved to Paris in the spring of 1925 after completing “The Great Gatsby.” Number 14 rue de Tilsitt on the corner of Avenue de Friedland is still intact. There is a brass plaque by the door for a kinesiologist and otherwise no references to any residents.

The Fitzgeralds didn’t remain there for long, moving to Luxembourg Gardens with its abundance of galleries, cafes, writers and wealthy Americans. Fitzgerald, whose “Gatsby” was not a great financial success (although it was in the decades after his death), was working on “Tender Is the Night” but always up for a visit to a jazz club or a party on the Left Bank. It was a time, he wrote, “of 1000 parties and no work” and a pathway on which his own great success would elude him for the rest of his short life.
The Arc de Triomphe — head on, terrace views, reliefs, and in profile.
From rue de Tilsitt, we moved up to the Arc de Triomph which we’d never seen up close in its monumental splendor. JH’s Digital tells the story better than I can. We crossed the avenues shooting off the rotary around the Arc to Avenue Kleber, walking a few blocks down to 44 rue Hamelin where Marcel Proust lived his last days. Before that Proust had lived in an apartment with his famous cork-lined walls on 102 Boulevard Haussman which he had to vacate when the building was sold (he sold his walls to a cork manufacturer). He moved briefly to rue Laurent-Pichat and then to rue Hamelin, a typically narrow street that ran between Avenue Kleber and the Trocadero. It was here that he finished his final volume “La Prisonierre,” making sundry edits and revisions on scraps of paper just hours before he died at age 51 on November 19, 1922. The building is now the Hotel Elysee, a modestly presented small three-star rated hotel that has good visitor reviews on Yahoo.com. Only one review mentioned the fact that M. Proust lived there.
The last residence of Marcel Proust at 44 rue Hamelin, now Hotel Elysee Union.
Walking along rue Hamelin towards the Seine.
Hot dogs: on the terrace and peeking out from the passenger seat of a car.
General Washington
Graffiti artists at work
From Proust’s last home, we walked down to the Seine and over to the Pont de l’Alma and the entrance to the very short tunnel where Diana, the Princess of Wales lost her life. There is a gold memorial torch just across the road from the entrance, its base strewn with bouquets of flowers, with visitors’s messages written in indelible ink on the surrounding concrete walls (“We will never forget you Diana”) and photographs of the fabled ill-fated beauty. The entire drama comes back to mind immediately, emotionally charged and sorrowful. I thought of the new book that has been published about her childhood self and what (according to the author) it indicated about her mentality as an adult. I thought also of the husband who married her with something and someone else quite in mind and her cynical critics who continue to argue that she “should have known” what she was in for (at 18 or 19), and how little any of us ever know what we are in for when we leave the effects of the guile of others out of the equation.
The "unofficial" memorial for Princess Diana at the Pont de l'Alma.
We crossed the Pont de l’Alma bridge and found a taxi to take us down to the Quai Voltaire which runs along the Seine to number 27, the last home of Voltaire himself who died there on May 30, 1778. It was that same year that the great man had recently returned to Paris after 23 years of exile from a hostile royal court and Catholic church, having written scores of pamphlets to “eraser l’infame ...” namely superstition and the church, and writing his immortal “Candide.”

When he returned to Paris he was lionized once again (as he had been before the reign of Louis XV) by everyone from Marie Antoinette to Benjamin Franklin. The street at the time of his return was known as quai des Theatins but on his arrival the street’s plaque was replaced by a fan with quai de Voltaire. The name stuck and it was officially changed in 1791, thirteen years after his death.

From there we went around the corner, where we ran into our American friends Tony Ingrao and Randy Kemper who were shopping with clients from New York. Leaving them, we headed over to 44 rue Jacob and the hotel Jacob et d’Angleterre. It was here at the end of the 18th century that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay negotiated a treaty with the British for American independence. It was also here that Ernest Hemingway, on assignment for the Toronto Star in 1921 to write about Paris first stayed with his (first) wife Hadley. The Hemingways soon after rented an apartment in the Latin Quarter. “There was never a part of Paris that he loved like that,” he wrote in “The Snows of Kilmanjaro.” Hemingway then wrote about the French and their culture, “all without speaking to the people and knowing any French,” reported Jessica Powell, author of the book “Literary Paris; A Guide.”
Above: The last residence of Voltaire, on 27 quai Voltaire. Left: Across the street from Voltaire's house and a view of the Seine.
Sunbathing on the Right Bank
Above: Max Ernst was born here on April 2, 1891.

Right:
Hotel Jacob et d’Angleterre, 44 rue Jacob. It was here at the end of the 18th century where John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay negotiated a treaty with the British for American independence. It is also where Ernest Hemingway stayed while on assignment for the Toronto Star in 1921 to write about Paris.
A mid-afternoon snack on the Left Bank
A post-lunch manicure at the table next door
Nuit: Last night at the new musée des Arts décoratifs in the Palais de Louvre, Madame Helene David-Weill (pronounced Dah-veed-Vay), president of musée des Arts décoratifs, in the presence of Madame Jacques Chirac, hosted a preview dinner gala benefitting the museum. It was a guest list of collectors, interior designers, antiquaires, art dealers, journalists and society figures mainly from US, France, and England. There were several hundred present including a number of New Yorkers. We were guests of Margaret Russell, the editor-in-chief of Elle Decor. The evening began with cocktails and champagne in the courtyard of the museum. In the distance, the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle in the dusk of the setting sun.

It was still very warm and this was very much on people’s minds, especially as they entered the museum from the rue de Rivoli, moving immediately from the cavernous un-air conditioned space into the courtyard. The invitation called for 8 o’clock arrivals (“Robe du soir - Cravate noir”)

We saw Hilary and Wilbur Ross (Wilbur had flown in from China and Hilary had flown in from New York), Bernard Selz, Larry Lazlo, Alex Papachristidis, Kirat Young with the Marquis de Dampiere, Scott Nelson, Paola Schulhof, Debbie Black, Henry and Marie-Josee Kravis, Cecile David-Weill, Robert Couturier, Sabine, the Countess de la Rochefoucauld, Veronica Hearst, Robin Hambro, Ahmet Ertegun (Mica was in Brazil with clients and flying in today for tonight’s preview of the Biennale Antiquaire at the Grand Palais), Lynn Nesbit, Linda Wachner, Alexis Gregory, Elisabeth de Beauveau Craon, Susan Gutfreund, Stanislas de Quercize whom New Yorkers know from his position at Cartier (and is now with Van Cleef in Paris), Charlotte Moss, Michael Smith in from Los Angeles, from Chicago, Lee Mindel from New York; Tom Scherrer, Princess Firyal of Jordan, Harriet Weintraub, Christopher Mason, Richard Mishaan, Peter Marino, John Yunis, Beatrice and Julio Santo-Domingo, Benjamin Steinitz, Bruce Bierman, William Secord, Christine Schwartz Hartley, Anita Sarcidi, Tracey Al-Hejailan, Suzanne Kasler.
Paola Schulhof and Debbie Black
Larry Laslo, Holly Hunt, Tom Scheerer, and Richard Mishaan
Bernard Selz and Wilbur Ross
John Yunis and Christine Schwartz Hartley
Alexis Gregory and Laure de Beauvau Craon
Catherine Cahill and Hilary Ross
Viscountess Rothemere and Juan Pablo Molyneux (center, right) amongst friends
Robert Couturier and Cecile David-Weill
Farida and Kirat Young
Marquis de Dampierre and Kirat Young
Charlotte Moss and Margaret Russell
Everyone moved into dinner about nine. The museum was very warm. A number of men removed their dinner jackets and put them over the backs of their chairs. The menu was printed on a series of cards that fanned out and were immediately turned into fans for many of the guests who were immediately complaining about the heat. I was thinking of all of those individuals who once occupied the palace in the 17th and 18th centuries with their layers of garments and wigs and what have you. This kind of heat must have seemed like a killer to them. We have become so used to air-conditioning that it hardly ever occurs to people that the human race has existed without it for millions of years.

Being at Margaret Russell’s table, I was perhaps the only non-interior designer amongst them. There was inevitable shop talk. Michael Smith who is doing a house in Eaton Square in London for some American clients said that rich Russians are buying everything, including the best staff. His American clients had thought of hiring a chef in London rather than transporting their American chef over when they are in residence. However, he learned that the Russians who will pay top dollar were paying as much as $450,000 a year for a good chef. So he advised his clients to stick with what/whom they have.

I led that conversation about cost and price into how designers know whether or not they’re going to like a prospective client. Both Moss and Smith agreed that when a potential client says “money is no object,” they know it is someone to avoid. “Nobody, especially those who have made it themselves, likes to throw money away.” if they say “money is no object,” it usually means trouble ahead, or trouble behind -- which usually leads to some kind of debacle or an unhappy ending. Both Moss and Smith agreed that ALL clients want value for their money no matter how much they are budgeted for spending.

Before the dinner began, Mme. David-Weill spoke, as did Mme. Chirac. But the tables set up in two adjoining rooms made it impossible to hear anyone clearly and so there was little attention paid, just as it is in unsupervised school rooms. After the speeches came the courses which were delicious and every morsel a tribute to French cuisine. All served with Moet et Chandon champagne and red wine.
Joseph Singer, Bruce Bierman, and William Secord
Chris Connor and Tom Scheerer
Holly Hunt, Peter Dunham, and Tom Beeton
Richard Mishaan and Steven Gambrill
Alex Papachristidis and Suzanne Kasler
Scott Nelson and Tracey Al-Hejailan
Ben Hartley and John Bossard
Susan Gutfreund and friends
Mish Tworkowski
Margaret Russell and Lee Mindel
Larry Laslo and Anita Sarsidi
Sabine de la Rochefoucauld and Robert Couturier
Susan Gutfreund and Nathalie Brunel
Stanislas de Quercize and Sophie Sarkozy
These massive dinners, black tie or no, have a sameness, no matter where they occur. The temperature also did not encourage or enchant. But the difference, at least to this American, was the location, behind the ancient walls of the palace where Louis XIV spent his childhood and from which he fled and created the massive chateau of Versailles as an antidote to his early palatial living. It should also be said that the creative energy abounding in the rooms lent itself to much conversation, convivality and a sense of something very special to counter the prevailing atmosphere in our world of threat and danger and fear.
Furthermore the women are stylish in Paris, be they French, English, American, Russian, Arab or any other nationality. The place calls for it. The men too are stylish and often look like bankers bound for glory like the character on the cards in a monopoly game or the suave sophisticated gents you imagine might be riding around town in their Bentleys and Rollses. No Hollywood casting agent could have made up a better mix of the world of the Haves. And you know they will all be attending the opening at the Grand Palais tonight, celebrating the rewards of their ambitions and hearts’ desires, all of which lends a special aura to the brilliant evening.

The party broke up about quarter to eleven.
Outside the limousines (often smaller those we see in the US) were waiting. JH and I made our way up the Avenue de l’Opera for one last look in the night at the great opera house designed by Garnier, all aglow and splendid. At the corner of the Boulevard des Capucines, we hailed a cab and within minutes were back at the hotel, ready for work, for this which you are reading and looking at right now.
Opera Garnier (opera house). 11:00 PM.