Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A Fall Trip to Paris

Hard to believe these two ladies were busted watching 4th of July festivities on the rooftop of the American Ambassador's Residence in Paris. And I don't mean a roof terrace, I mean the actual roof!
by Nina Griscom

Paris in the Fall is always a sensual soup (soupçon) for me; the visceral smell of desiccated leaves along the Avenue Gabriel, shopping for suede and velvets in Left Bank boutiques, and savoring the seasonal Fall menus in (of) my favorite restaurants. The excitement of Autumn book parties, art exhibitions and gallery openings in Paris has an electricity I crave.

Paris lives in real time, unlike New York which thrusts forward at least 3 months.
Call me crazy, but I prefer a lifestyle based in real time.
Fall foliage on the Avenue Gabriel.
Depending on the number of days I’m staying in Paris, I usually have a fairly soft landing; unpack, make local calls to friends, and then head out to do a bit of light shopping. Not much of a lunch plan on my first day.

Late afternoon includes a cat nap, a langorous cup of tea, and utterly enjoying being in this beautiful city. In other words; behaving more like a Parisienne than a New Yorker.

Dining en plein air at the Bristol Hotel.
After another comfortable flight on La Compagnie to Paris, I settled into my room at the beautiful residence of a dear friend and went about my Paris life.

This visit, I departed from my rule of no lunch on the first day, and accepted an invitation to dine in the garden at the Bristol Hotel. Only an idiot would resist that!

The French invented dining en plein air ... and whenever possible, I love to dine outdoors while in Paris. The beautiful garden at the Bristol Hotel is top notch in every sense; formal service, elegant cuisine, and always an interesting crowd; art world eminences, vulgar fashionistas and jaded locals.

The Bristol garden often mounts a contemporary art installation. I was not big on the current one. Too modern and disconsonant with the classic garden setting.

I had a delicious lunch and even gleaned a bit of art world gossip involving three of Paris’ most important dealers of 18th century furniture. The term "Fake” was bandied about. I leave it to journalists in the art world to carry on this conversation.
Daniel Buren's all-too-colorful pergolas at Le Bristol Paris Jardin français.
After a totally louche lunch, I ventured out to the Avenue Faubourg, and walked towards my old adopted home, The Residence of the American Ambassador.

So much has changed since my days there; monumental physical and structural security in place, evidenced by the closure of the Faubourg extending from the Elysees Palace right on to the American Ambassador’s Residence.

In my parent’s time, the avenue was open for traffic. And YES, there was serious security upon entering the gates of the Residence. I recall looking out from my bedroom window and seeing our security detail passing a mirrored stake under the belly of a car in the driveway. We had PLENTY of security and all manner of protection.

I walked on, past the gendarmes, down the street that held so many memories, and took a picture of the Residence with the American flag flying high. For my mother.
My old adopted home, the Residence of the American Ambassador on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.
As I passed by, I glanced up at the building and remembered the night my mother and I climbed to the actual top of the roof, and sat there together, legs dangling down, holding hands, watching the US fighter jets fly the skies of Paris on the 4th of July.  It was fabulous!

Her security detail was hysterical about this breach of conduct, as was the Ambassador, her husband. Needless to say, I was blamed for this errant behavior, and “extreme lack of judgement” but I had no problem to taking the hit as it was really outrageously good fun.

But she winked at me, and I knew it was a night she would never forget. Me either.
Security has been heightened since the November 2015 attacks and you must now take a detour at this part of the Ave Faubourg St. Honore.
I just Love the sign DEVIATION. What a wonderful double entendre! Some tourists may get less than they were hoping for when following this sign.
An American friend who’s a make-up artist insisted I go to the cult status City-Pharma, located at 26 rue du Four, for discounted French skin care products. I wasn’t prepared for the mob scene I encountered at 3 p.m. The narrow aisles were packed with locals and tourists, equally whipped into a frenzy at the sight of all these brand name beauty products at discounted prices. Think an Hermes sample sale and you’ve got the picture.

The checkout lanes resembled a Delta counter on a  holiday weekend at Kennedy airport. It took me half an hour to reach the cashier. But I did come away with a lot of great new products and spent slightly less than $200.
Facade of City-Pharma on rue du Four.
An aisle of products at La Pharmacie.
Mr. Charm was not thrilled I was taking pictures. He asked me to leave, but fortunately AFTER I had checked out and gotten my shots. Security in drugstores was unheard of as recently as a year ago.
My advice: go at 9:00 am when it’s slightly less hysterical. And don’t enter with a large hand bag. You’ll be side swiping all the shelves and will likely be smacked by one of the frenzied shoppers.

Though I was hot and tired after this exercise, I figured I’d push ahead and pop into some of the small moderately priced boutiques along the nearby rue de Sevres, rue de Rennes, and rue du Cherche-Midi. I always shop around here for my daughter Lily.

Losco, at 5 rue du Sevres, has a large selection of classic belts in different leathers and colors, along with a chic array of buckles to choose from. I bought a grey belt with a brushed silver buckle and got out of there for only $80. Note to self: good Xmas shopping place.
Rue du Cherche-Midi, one of my favorite shopping streets.
That particular block has several well priced shops carrying the latest styles in shoes. And a wonderful glove shop that I always visit. So old world in a way. I always buy gloves for my mother here.

Right around the corner is the rue du Cherche-Midi, one of my favorite shopping streets. You’ll find the latest trends (reasonably priced) in fashion, accessories and footwear, on a quiet unpretentious block. Eres is located here, along with the iconic, irresistable Poilaine Bakery, and a charming lunch spot, Le Cherche Midi (22 rue du Cherche-Midi) serving Italian/Mediterranean fare.
Eres on rue du Cherche-Midi.
The irresistable Poilaine Bakery.
On to Le Cherche Midi for lunch.
Before returning home, I headed over to 57 rue des Saint-Peres to one of my go-to shops: Mes Demoiselles. I always find beautiful BoHo fashion here and this visit I bought a sensuous, long golden velvet skirt and a thin silk paisley print blouse.
Mes Demoiselles for some BoHo fashion.
Uber is my chosen form of transportation in Paris, other than my own two feet. Yes, I know; I’ve been eviscerating about them in recent times. And I still loathe the way they elect to communicate with their clients. However, unless you have a private driver, there really isn’t a better solution at the moment.

Available taxis are little more than a random occurrence; almost as rare as a telephone booth. Word to the Wise: check that your Uber account is in order before travelling anywhere.
A rare sight in Paris these days.
I seem to have a propensity for visiting Paris at the exact time of terrorist acts. I was there during the tragic November 2105 bombings, in Provence at the time of the July 2016 bombing in Nice, and on the night of my arrival in Paris this September, I dined at the wonderful rotisserie restaurant Atelier Maitre Albert, located on a block near to the cathedral of Notre Dame, where a car was found with a trunkload of explosive devices intended to bomb the cathedral and the Gare de Nord train station.

Do I feel safe in Paris? Yes and No. In a way, really no different from New York or any other capital of the West. The world has changed. And so has Paris.

Clearly western Europe is the target of escalating home grown terrorism. I do not imagine that horrific pattern to be abating any time soon. However, I believe the French Surete, along with the elite counter-terrorism units are quickly upping their game in the name of highly effective counter measures.
Street view of where I had dinner near to Notre Dame.
One of the largest impediments towards combatting homeland terrorists in France is budgetary constraints. Few nations have voted to approve the huge appropriation of funds required to fight this scourge, and to put the necessary boots on the ground to track the constant stream of impending disaster.

Security is heard all over Paris in the constant high pitched Hee Haw, Hee Haw of screeching sirens emanating from police vehicles, racing through the small streets of neighborhood communities and down the elegant tree-lined avenues of Paris’ elegant inner arrondisements.

It seems a haunting sound, harking from World War II (No, I was NOT alive then) and now, as an aural totem of this city’s State of Emergency, proclaimed after the November 2015 bombings.
Security yelling at me not to take pictures outside the American Embassy.
Though Paris has had multiple terrorist attacks in the past two years, just like New Yorkers post 911, Parisians are steadfast in their determination to go ahead with their normal daily lives.

The Biennale, held at the iconic Grand Palais, is an event which brings out all of the art world in Paris; dealers, collectors, and those who simply like to eat foie gras, sip champagne, and gaze at the spectacular scene.

My great pal, the well respected gallerist Waring Hopkins (Galerie Hopkins at 2 Avenue Matignon) kindly invited me to come along as his date to the 2nd night cocktail party for a select few hundred ...
View of the Grand Palais from the Petit Palais Biennale.
The elegantly staged Biennale.
The first thing I saw upon walking in (having passed many security checks) was a food station with a chef serving top notch foie gras. Heaven! Not to downplay the art, but the hors d’oeuvres and wines were sublime (as they say in Paris).

The show was elegantly staged and well vetted. Unfortunately, it would have taken four hours to see it all and we only had an hour. I managed to stuff my face at multiple foie gras stations and lust after several beautiful works of art.
Chef serving foie gras at Biennale.
As we left the Grand Palais and walked towards the Champs-Élysées on our way to dinner in the garden at Laurent, I was once again, for the millionth time, knocked out by the magnificent illumination of the timeless architecture, grand boulevards and erect bronze statues that define Paris.

For a moment, I was transported back to the time when my parents were there, in the late 1990s and I felt such a deep longing for them and those wonderful days, before security barriers informed every event and Paris became a city in the scope of Isis’ guns.
The Avenue des Champs-Élysées at night.