Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Recent Trip to Paris

The view from Joy Hendricks's terrace. A lovely beaux arts building across the street. What a beautiful spectacle to see every morning and in the twilight hours.
by Nina Griscom

Recently, I made a split second decision to take a hedonistic trip to Paris for 5 days in pursuit of simple pleasures. Meaning: spending time with a close girl friend, walking around the city streets, and being completely sans reason d’etre. No business meetings, no social schedule, just a driving desire to be in Paris fancy free, so to speak.

It has been a long and grinding winter in New York, and when I mentioned to my dear husband that I would love to visit Joy Hendricks (who is akin to a sister to me) in Paris for a few days, he was in full support.

Walking home from the Place Vendome, I thought of my mother and grandmother who used to hole up at the Ritz Hotel after the war. My mother once dropped a pearl necklace from her balcony at the Ritz, and my grandmother paid a staff member to pick them up, one by one. She was furious when my mother informed her they were faux pearls.
So I booked a flight (using miles) and set off for this beautiful city without a dash of guilt.

As a young girl, I attended school in Switzerland, and came to Paris on a regular basis. When my stepfather, Felix Rohatyn, was the U.S. Ambassador to France under President Clinton, I visited my mother and Felix at the
U.S. Residence countless times, with my young daughter, Lily. I speak what passes for fluent French, albeit of a conversational manner, best left in secular realms rather than in discussions of politics! In other words I feel totally at home in this wonderful city.

This trip was about spontaneity and the enjoyment of Paris. I had read Edmund White’s book The Flaneur (one who leisurely perambulates with the sole intent of observing and enjoying street life in all its forms), and I determined to be a flâneuse.

Normally when I go to Paris, I have lists of restaurants, shops, art shows etc., TO DO, not to mention the friends I call in advance to see.

This time, I called NO ONE! I stayed with Joy in her beautiful, light filled apartment on the Avenue Foch, and as such my days were spent not as a tourist, but rather as a Francaise of sorts.

Upon getting out of CDG airport on Thursday morning, I hopped into a taxi and told the driver the address in French, employing a sufficiently surly tone which indicated “I may be a foreigner, but I know what I am doing here." We arrived at L’Avenue Foch sans problems.
View from a bridge ... so divinely Parisienne in every way!
The dollar is a heinous instrument when employed against the Euro, and I determined to forgo all concerns about currency exchanges whilst here. It was pointless and only made me furious! I don’t even recall what the taxi cost, but it was beaucoup.

Paris residences can be annoying with the layers of codes required to pass through gates and doors leading into to a given home. You need to be sure to have them in advance of arrival to avoid a meltdown.

Once I had successfully accessed Joy’s apartment I immediately felt that I was in Paris. The yogurt she offered me for breakfast did not have the usual decals professing LOW FAT, and it tasted sublime.

Though Joy has a high profile job at HSBC, she had taken a “time off” day to be with me. I was thrilled at the prospect of kicking back and spending time with her.
Joy Hendricks's terrace. I took this image as a photo note to myself. I am planting my NYC terrace and found this worthy of replication (stealing!). Nina trying to be a coquette, and looking too silly on the terrace of Joy's apartment.
Life in Paris is less harried and compulsive than in New York. Paris is about quality of life; not about money. Friends spend time together and are not always consumed with work concerns.

After unpacking and kissing and hugging her 3 adorable Maine Coon cats, we sat down in her beautiful sunny living room with a café crème and caught up.

After lots of girl talk, we decided to take a drive around Paris in her new car, just to see the beauty of the city and to giggle together which is our norm. Parisiennes always have fabulous sound tracks in their cars (which they spend lots of time in going here and there).
The divine Charlie, the alpha cat (Maine Coon) in Joy's life! He gave me the honor of hanging out on my bed one day. And leaving his fur all over my clothes ... better than another kind of marking ...
So with a great sound track (Melody Gardot "My One and Only Thrill"), a sunny warm day, and free time on our hands, we set out to see the town. I wanted to buy Joy some rosé wine as a small house present, so we stopped off at Nicholas and bought a case. The salesperson was most agreeable in bringing it out to the car. Next we drove to Matsuri (2 rue de Passy), a small Japanese sushi place where the dishes come round on a conveyor belt. It was a quick lunch, and not the best sushi in town, but fun all the same.

Paris is a city where people drive their cars to and from all aspects of their life and even though there is a paucity of parking spots, there is an unspoken culture about cramming ones car into any and all spaces which are basically illegal. No one seems to mind, and rarely does one get a ticket ... Go figure. If you move to Paris, you bloody well better know how to put a square peg into a round hole when it comes to parking.

At lunch, I managed to spill some soy sauce on my scarf. Joy insisted that she take me to her dry cleaner to have the offending spot removed, claiming that it could be done in 2 seconds while we waited. She told me it is the dry cleaner frequented by the ateliers of Chanel and Saint Laurent, where Joy used to work in past years. I was extremely dubious about it being such a quick fix, and tried to beg off, saying cold water would be fine. Not to be deterred, she drove me to La Teinture de L’Etoile, located at 18 rue Jean Giraudoux, next to the Champs Elysee. I was stunned to find that she was 100% correct. A kind lady (who knew and loved Joy) took my scarf and in 5 minutes it looked better than new. Only in Paris!!
A lazy afternoon view. I loved the narrowness of this street and the subtle coloration of the buildings. So typically Left Bank! Whilst Flanneurating on the Left Bank.The buildings take on a beautiful color which varies from "Shades of Mouse" to "Cream of Clam," depending on what time of day you are there.
After our stop at the cleaners, Joy went back to her office for a few hours, and I went off on foot to enjoy myself. It was a sunny afternoon and I had no agenda. Pure manna from heaven!! I decided to hail a taxi and go over to the Left Bank, where I love to walk around. It is filled with wonderful winding streets and I have spent many years enjoying this side of town in my past.

By now it was 3:30 pm and I was feeling the effects of jet lag, so after 2 hours of ambling along, I returned home to finish unpacking and get ready for dinner.

This evening we had a plan to have dinner with Carolyne Roehm, who had rented an atelier in the Marais for the month of April. I had asked Joy to book a table at La Voltaire (27, Quai Voltaire) as it is one of my favorite places to dine.

Thursday night outside of La Voltaire. Carolyne Roehm and Joy Hendricks. Still looking well after a major feast. It is not an accident that I am absent from this image!!
I have frequented La Voltaire for several decades, and the head waiter Thierry is the glue! He is the repository of all gossip in Paris and never forgets a face (unless he elects to). To know Thierry (and more importantly to have Thierry know YOU) is a feather in your cap. I do not discuss people’s personal lives, and as Thierry is a happily married man by all reports, I blush to say that all that is missing in his overall presentation is a good pair of roller skates ...

I was delighted when Thierry gave me a smack on the cheek and escorted us to a table. We dined on white asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, and I had sweet breads. Can’t remember what the girls ordered. When I am at Voltaire, I always opt for their organs: brains with capers and black butter, kidneys with a mustard sauce, or my favorite: sweet breads. Most of you in New York are getting sick just reading this, but ...

This particular evening, the restaurant was filled with mostly Americans who looked somewhat askance at our boisterous table. So be it!

Joy and I drove CR back to her atelier in the Marais, and then shot home for some much needed sleep!

Friday was a working day for Joy, so after a breakfast together of coffee and fruit, she left the apartment and I was free to loll about and plot my day.
The rue Visconti; where African art galleries are to be found. This image was all I could afford!
I collect African art, and Paris has many wonderful dealers in that realm. So I strolled around the Left Bank, down the rue Visconti which is the center of African art, and all the adjacent streets, crammed with art galleries, antiqueres, home décor boutiques, and side walk cafés. Usually I do a bit of recon, and then return to do the damage. Well when I saw the prices (converted to USD) I was so shocked I retreated with my head down! So much for not being concerned about currency conversions ...

A small, ordinary shop selling fresh flowers near the rue de Bac. I bought a bunch of blooms for Joy, and was delighted by the effort which the owner put into the wrapping and presentation of this simple bouquet. Presentation is everything in Paris no matter how cheap or chère!! I would have been ashamed to hurry him along as one would have done in New York!
I walked for hours. Looking at the beautiful presentation of wares that the French are so brilliant at, and I felt filled up and happy just to be observing. Be it a small stall with fresh flowers, or a vendeur selling fruit, the seductive packaging was sublime and filled my head with a new sense of creativity that New York cannot provide.

I passed a gypsy lady on the street who was selling small bouquets of Mougets (lily of the valley). I asked how much they were and she replied “5 Euros Madame." I bought one and tucked it in the corner of my bag, where its delicate scent wafted around me all day.

I had lunch at a small bistro and sat outdoors under an umbrella, blissfully alone, undisturbed by anyone. Just what I yearned for. I alternated between reading on my iPad and looking up at the people walking by.

I must have walked 20 miles that day! Hours of Flanneurating (my word).
When I left the café, I strolled along the streets and shot images of buildings, people and dogs. Totally alone and free to just be in Paris. My idea of hedonism!

On my walk home, I picked up some provisions for dinner: smoked salmon from the Caviar Caspia (sold at extortionist rates), salad and fresh vegetables at a local food stand, and fresh dairy products. I had decided to make dinner for us at home that night.

So we put on a Mozart disc and fired up the tele to see the Euro news, and after a hot shower, I retired to her kitchen to make dinner. The fact of not feeling compelled to rush off to a new hip restaurant was another hedonistic moment in Paris.
Ah ... the brilliant blooms of Paris in Spring time. Ranunculus at Moulie Savart, my favorite florist in Paris.
The most beautiful flowers in the world! Sweet Peas, Lilac, Violets and Ranunculus in the window of Moulie Savart (where Carolyne Roehm did a stage in flower arrangement years ago).
The next day was Saturday, and Joy and I deemed it a girls shopping expedition, with the proviso that it would not involve the usual haunts of Hermes, Lanvin, and Colette! I wanted her to take me to the places where real French girls visit to fill in their wardrobes.

We got up at a civilized hour (10 am) and had fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and a fat-filled yogurt, before we hopped into her car to shop up a storm.

Another gorgeous Paris day. Dry and sunny. In other words a good mood day for spending not much money and having fun!! Joy is an expert at parking her fancy car in spaces that only a mouse could fit in!!

Rapacious dogs in heat. Actually two silly Poodles on the rue Cambon. Thought they were soooo over the top!
So we parked in an illegal and impossibly tight space, and went into my now favorite new store, COS, located on the rue de Passy. Cos is akin to H&M, an emporium which gives great bang for the buck!! I was onto a NAVY color scheme, and bought tons of stuff which were cut in a classic way, and were cheaply produced. We all need to put this on our Paris list. Great for mothers and daughters! I shopped up a storm, and bought a few things for my 18-year-old daughter Lily who is very particular. She adored her presents, and I recommend this place to all of you.

This block had several great shops that Joy took me into. Victoire, at 16, rue de Passy has an enticing selection of cashmere sweaters, chic dresses, cool belts and the odd one offs ... I came out being thrilled with my finds, which were special in that they were unique to that shop, and could not be found elsewhere. In other words, a great FIND

Across the street I found a small shoe shop which had the most lovely, supple leather ballet slippers ... just as good as Repetto, maybe better, and less pricey.

These stores were well priced and are under the radar of even the most experienced visitor to Paris. So I felt quite smug about my new discoveries.

I had promised Lily that I would buy her a pair of Repettos. As I said, she is very picky!! So when Joy drove me to one of their many stores, I went in and took images on my cell phone to see if Lily approved of the stock. As it happened, she did NOT, so we went all over town in the name of nailing the pair my daughter desired. THAT took some time ...

The lunch hour approached, and we decided to dine close by to the Musée Guimet which had an exhibition on Lucknow. Now I cannot explain to you why I spent a precious hour in Paris visiting this particular show, but we thought it was a good idea at the time. We visited the exhibition before lunch, which was a good idea, given the consumption of wine during our meal.
Le Petit Marius, the place where old school Paris goes for coquillages. Joy and I dined here twice during my visit.
We had a leisurely lunch at Le Petit Marius, a classic and beloved Parisian restaurant which specializes in coquillage. As it was a beautiful day, we sat outside and dined on periwinkles (which you extract from their shells with a straight pin) and fresh fish, washed down with a bottle of white wine. Luckily, we were sober enough to find the car and go home for a post prandial nap!

My nap did not go as smoothly as I had hoped, as Joy’s three cats were fascinated by the new guest (me), and alternately pounced upon my face as I tried to get some rest. But I could hardly complain, as the door to her lovely terrace was ajar, and I could smell the flowers she had planted and was comforted by the breeze which wafted up to my bed. The sound of snoring and purring soon came about ...

There is nothing more fun than “getting ready” with a girlfriend. So we made some strong espresso and tried on clothes for the evening, all the while laughing our brains out at how silly we looked in each other's dresses.
This was taken outside of Le Petit Marius, after lunch with Joy. The man washing his dog struck me as a totally wonderful moment of life in Paris: one who is impervious to all around him, and carries on with due diligence to the task at hand.
Dinner had been planned with Blaine Trump and Steve Simon. Sounds like I flew to Paris to see American friends, but actually, Blaine and Steve were spending the month of April there, and frankly I was dying to see close friends, and not get into the scenario of calling Paris pals who might have felt obligated to put on the dog for me. That could be for a different trip with Leo!

Blaine suggested L’Ami Louis, but I felt that my liver might never recover from the foie gras which is the hallmark of that place. So somehow, we ended up meeting them at Le Petit Marius. We had a delicious and fun dinner together, and spent our time talking about Paris, politics and life at home in New York. A wonderful, relaxed dinner with friends in a classic French restaurant which wasn’t fancy or celebrity-oriented. YES!
Dinner with Blaine Trump, Joy Hendricks, and Steve Simon at Le Petit Marius.
My last full day in Paris was a Sunday, which is a hallowed day of complete inertia for Joy. Were I not visiting her, she would not leave her apartment ... maybe not even her bed! Thankfully I am a great sleeper and a voracious reader, so when I realized it was a “hunker down day," I was fine with that, and content to finish up my book The Invisible Bridge.

I had the option of going on my own to the Puces, which I almost ALWAYS do when I am in Paris. But given that I have already decorated our 2 homes, and no longer have a store, there was no abiding need for me to go there. So I elected to remain in bed and read until Joy saw fit to tell me she was ready to engage ...

Around 2 pm, I called out to Joy and said we needed to get out of the house and DO something (the American in me). So we suited up in our work out clothes and running shoes, and went off to the near by Bois de Boulogne, where we spent an hour fast walking around the beautiful lake. I noticed a dearth of cell phones, which was a delight! Parisians are still well mannered when it comes to cell phone life, and you do NOT see people walking down the street with electronic devices attached to their ears!

Mlle. Hendricks in a rare appearance in the Bois de Boulogne on Sunday morning. I was not far behind her.
I am here to tell you that the Jack Russell Terrier is the favorite dog in Paris. I made a game of counting them along our way, like children counting cows on a long car ride. There were tons of them: short coats, rough coats, long coats, and bastards. But all Jacks in the Bois de Boulogne.

By day, the Bois is totally family oriented, and lovely to behold. By night, it morphs into another terrain ... very rough coat indeed.

I had promised Lily that I would return with a copious supply of Laduree macaroons for her, and as such, we dutifully drove by Laduree to accomplish this mission. When I saw the lines to get in, I decided to heed Joy’s advice and go to Le Drugstore on the Champs Elysee to secure them at Pierre Hermé, located behind the news stand. I admit to being APPALLED when I saw the bill for a box of these delights (60 USD). But Joy and I had a small sampling (the caramel ones are INCREDIBLE), and frankly, though they are the price of a king's ransom, they are well worth the freight!!!

Sunday is Sunday in any city or country, so we returned to Joy’s apartment, happy that we had gotten out and done something, yet still in the spirit of being lazy and having a kitchen dinner of an omelet and smoked salmon on black bread at home that night.

As I packed up and organized myself for the morning trip to the airport, I realized that I had in fact done exactly what I came here for: to enjoy spending time with my friend, to indulge in the beauty of Paris, and to avoid all of the marching orders I have always imposed upon myself when being in Paris.

The mere fact of whiling away hours in bed on a Sunday spoke volumes to me about what it is to simply enjoy being in Paris, and putting down the chattering monkey who normally accompanies me whenever I travel. I was in Paris as a civilian, not a tourist. I did not concern myself with a bucket list, nor feel panicked about hours “wasted doing nothing."

It was one of the richest and most enjoyable times I have spent in this city, with a lifetime of visits to compare it to.

When I landed at JFK, I knew that I was re-entering a fully charged life, and it made me appreciate my days of Flanneurating all the more!!
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