Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Nina in Paris/Morocco, Part I of II

The Elle cover that William Connors shot of me in the Parc Monceau in Paris.
Paris/Morocco, Part I of II
by Nina Griscom

On Tuesday, November 10th, I left New York for Paris to a visit a dear friend.

My four days in Paris were to be followed by a three-day trip to Marrakesh, as the guest of my step-brother and two dear friends, who had taken a six-bedroom riad in the medina for a week.

I was dying to see my close friend and spend time with her in Paris. We are like sisters. So I boarded my flight on the All Business Class/Boutique Airline, La Compagnie with a sense of excitement.
La Compagnie business class cabin.
I am a recent frequent flier of La Compagnie, and a huge fan of the man who owns it. He gets how to make his customers happy. His employees are trained to say YES, and find solutions to satisfy their passengers. This is unheard of in the airline industry!
I give La Compagnie a HUGE shout out and a TOP RECOMMENDATION.  

Round Trip Business Class to Paris and London is roughly 1500/1800 USD with a crew that has the best attitude I have yet seen in the air. (I have NO monetary gain from this endorsement!)

Some six and a half smooth hours later, we landed in Paris.

I am a devoted carry on traveler and can live for two weeks with the contents of my Nina Griscom Weekender (www.Ninagriscom.com) and a carry on roller suitcase.
One of my Weekender bags, this one in ivory calfskin leather.
Traveling this way saves a lot of time in immigration and customs!

I was first off the plane and passed through all the French formalities in 5 minutes. La Compagnie gives you a pass which expedites the Immigration line.

Now that I look back, it was November 11th; Armistice Day in France. A day of significance. If only I had known what was to come ...
I arrived in Paris on Armistice Day.
I tapped the Uber App on my phone and smugly assumed I was all set for an equally seamless transport into Paris. WRONG! I now despise UBER with all the venom of a Black Mamba. Without any notice, Uber had disconnected my account. Just like that. Someone had hacked into it, and rather than contact me, Uber just shut me down.

I will spare you the details, but my entire time in Paris was spent trying to re-establish my Uber account. To no avail. NO person to talk to. Countless on-line idiots emailing at cross purposes. And me, in Paris without the service. NICE. I am now officially an UBER HATER.

Anyway ... I finally found a cash machine and grabbed a taxi (taxis in Paris don't take credit cards).

Paris was experiencing the same global warming as New York. November felt like September. I rolled down the windows and sat back; I was in Paris. After all how bad could it be?

I arrived at the 8eme arrondissement home of the dear friend who was hosting me. The glamorous apartment is located very close to the Élysée Palace, the official residence of the President of France.
The block where I stayed in Paris in the 7eme.
I dropped my bags and ran off to meet my dear friend for lunch at Market, 15 Avenue Matignon, off the Champs Élysées. 33156434090 

The Liagre-designed Jean Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant attracts a fashion crowd as well as young Paris establishment.

Signature items are Truffle Pizzas and spicy Ginger Infusion drinks. Pricey but great people watching and delicious food.
Market on avenue Matignon, near the Champs-Élysées.
After a wonderful catch up lunch where we dished a bit and also talked seriously, I walked over to Waring’s gallery: Galerie Hopkins at 2 Avenue Matignon 011 +33 (0) 1 42 25 32 32, www.galleriehopkins.com where one can spend a pretty penny to buy fabulous modern pictures. I could spend hours at Waring’s gallery! Ask him to bring things out of the “warehouse.” He has many incredible paintings stored away that he may not show you if you don't ask.
Galerie Hopkins, one of my favorite galleries in Paris, located at 2 Ave Matignon, where I spent the afternoon looking at beautiful paintings and sculpture.
The distinctly discreet and elegant gallery was designed by François-Joseph Graf, who is decidedly old school and yet so modern in many ways. What a treat to be able to explore the archives of this extraordinary gallery! I put a hold on something and am searching for ways to afford it.
I especially admired Dubuffet's Chapeau à rayures, 1955, at Galerie Hopkins.
Dinner that night involved Waring taking 5 ladies to a popular Asian restaurant that everyone seems to be jonesing about, called Orient Extreme Montaigne, which is more of a harem than a dinner. There is a Left Bank and Right Bank version of this place. I loved the Right Bank version.

Black Cod was THE thing to have and I must say it was as good, if not better, than the one at Nobu in New York. I also had a delicious ceviche.
Orient Extrême Montaigne on Rue Bayard.
My very generous host and I walked from the Rue Gabriel to the restaurant, which route led us across the Champs Élysées.

I was shocked to see a tacky, ultra-commercial, Christmas set-up of attached stalls, running down the length of the boulevard, displaying all kinds of supposedly local crafts harking from Strasbourg but in fact, hailing from China.

I’ve never seen the likes of these stalls on the Champs Élysées and I found them to be quite vile! They looked like a Russian circus; and totally lacking in charm or genuine holiday spirit. A bit of retail prostitution has entered the boulevard.
Sadly, the Christmas displays and booths on the Champs Élysées have become very commercial and tacky.
A beautiful window display of macaroons. Paris was decorated for The holidays much earlier than ever. I was very surprised to see this.
Home to bed and a good nights sleep.

Thursday seemed to be the day for shopping. For me, shopping in Paris is always on the Left Bank. So much more relaxed, and cooler stores to look in.

Though this trip was not about shopping. I did pick up a few new booties with rounded toes and laced up fronts, on the left bank near the Rue de Cherche Midi and the Rue de Bac ... And a few presents for my mother (suede gloves) as well as wonderful, exotic oils for my face from Japan, Africa, and Columbia at Buly, 6 Rue Bonaparte.
Buly, where I bought several wonderful oils for the face. I love the old apothecary look of this store.
The afternoon brought me to the Grand Palais and the world renowned Photo Show. I spent 2 hours or so looking around and particularly liked some of the black and white images of the Vietnam War that the Gagosian Gallery had, as well as some of the African artists that were on display.

There were huge crowds of people there and I elected to walk home, as I was tired. I did look around at the security at hand. It was “polite” as opposed to hard core.
The Grand Palais was mobbed during the Photo Show. I visited the day before the bombing and noticed a reasonable amount of security.
One of my favorite images at the Photography show. Vietnam War.
A photo I loved from the Stevenson Gallery of South Africa.
This evening, my host and I remained at home and dined quietly together. A delicious, home cooked dinner was followed by a movie in the library and then an early bed time. I was still tired. Extremely appreciative of being in a beautiful Parisian home.

Friday the 13th is a date that somehow resonates with everyone. You put it aside and continue through the day. But it is there.

Despite having had a healthy amount of sleep, I simply could not wake up on Friday, and slept until an obscene hour.

I had been invited by a friend of many years to have lunch at Laurent, along with my close friend that I was visiting at 1:00 p.m. Laurent is the Le Cirque of Paris, and If I raced, I could make it on time.
The culinary temple, Laurent.
Laurent is always a TREAT. The most beautiful natural light, in the most gracious and grandly proportioned dining room. Perfect old school service and impeccable up to date cuisine, that hovers over the top, but never falls over the edge. Hard to beat. 

It was a delightful luncheon in every sense of the word. One always sees Old World Paris here. Teased hair and family jewels.

As a first course, I had a delicate dish of tiny scallops bathed in a frothy nage of lemon and sweet and sour radish. My hostess had a dish comprising fricassee of wild mushrooms and slivers of ham. An unexpected pairing, and utterly delicious.
A view of the dining room at Laurent.
The rest of our meal was equally refined and adventurous. You need to dine at Laurent to see what I mean. But the other luxury of the meal was the history of the friendship between the three of us, and the conversation that went forth ... better than any nage on earth.

I spent the afternoon on the left bank looking at galleries; specifically those that specialize in African art; my passion. Paris is a great place/city for collectors of African art.

Like most people who visit Paris, I love to walk the streets and admire the classic architecture and take in the beautiful light that informs everything.
The Left Bank is full of galleries selling excellent African pieces.
I have so many memories involving Paris; Some tough childhood times, young love, time spent working as model where I shot my first Elle cover. Also the epoch when my step-father Felix Rohatyn served as the US Ambassador to France under Bill Clinton. Those were good days; visiting my mother Elizabeth, and Felix at the American Ambassador’s Residence.

The night of the attacks, I dined with my dear friend at Caviar Kaspia, located at 17, Place Madeleine, +33(0)1 42 65 33 32. It was a special treat.
The entrance to the Parisian gastronomic institution where I dined the night of the bombing.
Infinite temptation.....
The fact that the establishment only serves decadent/luxurious fare such as foie gras, caviar and smoked salmon is perversely off set by the fact that it resembles an old ladies tea room, somewhat like those I used to frequent in Lausanne where I attended school at the age of 12. We all have our issues ...
The dining room at Caviar Kaspia resembles a Swiss tearoom. You expect to see your headmistress coming out the front door.
I did not keep my cell phone on the table, so I missed all the calls and texts coming in from my husband Leo in New York, desperately trying to reach me to see if I was safe; having seen on CNN reports of the horror unfolding in Paris.

When I reached into my bag for my credit card, I saw the blinking light on my phone and called home. Leo told me what was happening and of course it was a huge shock and total surprise. I paid the bill and we immediately left the restaurant.

My friend dropped me off at the Ave. Gabriel and then drove straight home. Getting off the streets was paramount at this point, though when we left the restaurant, nobody seemed aware of the horror unfolding in the city, and traffic and street life was yet unaffected.

I stayed up for several hours devouring CNN, with an increasing sadness and almost familiar sense of having been there before. It was the same obsession to get news updates that I had felt at the time of 9/11.
I was glued to CNN for hours watching the terrible story unfold.
President Hollande declared a state of emergency. The first time this had happened in Paris since WWII.

Immediately I began to consider the political ramifications of these events on the upcoming regional elections. Immigration policies were most obviously at stake, as were civil liberties, free trade, border controls, dress codes and many many other issues. One thing seems to be certain; Europe is facing a huge crisis and needs to consolidate in order to fight an encroaching threat to its basic security. Hopefully Europe will not lose its humanity in the process of regaining its security.

As the night wore on, the streets resembled a ghost town. The apartment I was visiting, located around the corner from the Élysée Palace, had a virtual back seat view of ministerial comings and goings. Every time a meeting was convened our street was blocked off and heavily guarded by all manner of serious military personnel.

All I heard was the sound of police vans and that high pitched wail of sirens. People were terrified of what might come next. More attacks?

I went to sleep LATE on Friday night. Stunned and horrified. Feeling scared and disconnected from my husband and my daughter and family in the USA. Up early on Saturday morning after a very fragmented night’s sleep. CNN all morning. More tragic news unfolding. So much at stake here.

The attacks really hit at the heart of secular life; young people dining in cafés, going to a concert, enjoying the warm weather with friends in the streets of La République. Normal young people, doing normal things.

These were not corporate nor military symbols. They were innocents and civilians!

Saturday at 11 a.m. found me with my friend on the Boulevard Saint-Germain, normally a well-traveled artery on a weekend. This morning it was a virtual parking lot. Soldiers were out, fully armed with what looked like AK47’s. Parisians were conspicuously missing.
November 14th, Saturday morning: Paris streets were virtually empty and soldiers patrolled with machine guns.
I had a salad with my friend at a local café frequented by left bank university students. The TV was on and the few young customers were glancing up at the revolving news stories while talking softly together. My friend spent most of lunch speaking on her cell with her office, checking on the whereabouts of various employees and that of their spouses. Very tense atmosphere.

She dropped me back at my host’s apartment in the early afternoon. The streets of the 3rd and 8th arrondissement’s were completely empty. It looked like a war zone.

Sunday the 15th was my departure date for Marrakesh where I was meant to meet my step-brother Pierre and his wife, and two other dear friends.

Given the declared State of Emergency and the fact I flying to Morocco instead of, lets say Sweden, I was a tad concerned that I might never get out of France on Sunday.

Royal Air Maroc insisted that flights were departing, but that I needed to be at the airport THREE hours in advance of my departure time (7:05 a.m.) That resulted in a 4:05 a.m. check-in time for me. And a 3:15 a.m. departure time from the apartment to get to Orly Sud.

I sucked it up and dragged my bags down the street to the tête de station, as my Uber account was frozen yet again. Luckily for me, there was ONE, sole taxi available and I projected myself into the back seat like a force of nature.

I felt both sad and relieved to be leaving Paris. But I knew that I would be back in a few days time. The streets were empty except for the police cars, undercover vehicles, and hunkered down soldiers humping backpacks and machine guns; looking glum and sad. There was a dank scent in the air.  
At 4:00 am in the morning, Orly airport was fairly deserted. But there was a heightened sense of anxiety among passengers. I expected a huge tidal wave of security at the airport and was quite surprised when it appeared to be somewhat normal.
I checked in at Royal Air Maroc and then proceeded to security. A very good looking young officer asking me to put all of my liquids into a plastic bag. I looked at him somewhat askance, and then complied and was rewarded with a very flirtatious smile. Not indicative of a HIGH state of alert. No other special security measures were taken. I had two carry-on bags.

Immigration lines were quite long, even at this hour of the morning, and I did sense a slightly more intense scrutiny of my passport. At least I hope so. But all in all, Paris/Orly did NOT visibly seem on a high alert Sunday morning, November 15th.

Though I was quite nervous about boarding this flight, I tried to keep my imagination under wraps.
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