The Wandering Eye Does April In Paris
I got an email from Lisa de Rural Intelligence asking for a blog a week before we were booked to go to Paris for a busman’s holiday of client shopping and celebrating a birthday.
I’d been putting her off. I only like doing these blogs if I can be snarky. And I can’t be snarky about our locale. That would be dumb… and what could I possibly find to criticize?
So then I think: France! And the French!!! Parfait. Fair game. And foreign tourists. Certainment fair game…
We are off.
OK, we can all wax eloquent on the indignities of air travel. So I won’t. Like shooting fish in a barrel. (Note to old barefoot Earth Man splayed across three seats in the terminal: “Drop dead.”)
We safely arrive at our sweet little Rive Gauche home away from home – a friend’s duplex apartment in the 5th in an ancient building with views of Notre Dame from the terrace. We’ve stayed so many times its chez nous. Post Charlie Hebdo, “home” is now sporting 24/7 armed Parisian police posted right by the front door. After our initial “Huh!?” and a day of guiltily dodging in and out, we evolved to a chirpy “Bon jour!” and “Bon soir!” They were consistently charming and consistently gooooood looking. But the rifles scared us.
Travelling with Hermes is a cultural forced march. He has his agenda and he is going see it through to completion. I am part of the march, whether I like it or not.
He’s figured out the way to keep me in line and moving forward. Culture is bookended by shopping and eating. We walk/Metro/cab to Museum #1. We view and we exit and he then feeds me or dangles a retail carrot — “Look! Le Bonne Marche!! BHV’s pet store! Claude Nature!” Then he tricks me into Museum #2. “We’re so close!” Then lunch. Then Museum #3 and I crawl home for a long nap followed by an espresso and lots of pate and cheese and bread. (He’s good at buying that stuff. He hablos! So smart.) That effectively ruins dinner — but we go out to dinner. Home to watch BBC News and in bed by midnight.
Repeat, and repeat. And repeat. I’m generally complacent. Sometimes I throw in the towel. “You go to the damn Louvre. I am going home.” And he looks hurt. Or relieved?
The Fondation Louis Vuitton.
This April 2015 all the travel press was about two things — the new Fondation Louis Vuitton in the Bois de Boulogne and the reopened Musee’ Picasso Paris in Hotel Sale’ in the Marais.
Let’s start with the Louis Vuitton Gehry building. A wonderful gift to the city of Paris. A sculptural triumph. Hermes compared it to the Eiffel Tower. A new landmark. Bravo.
But the inside. And the function. Damn. We hated it. Grim. Painted concrete floors, battleship gray, and the walls a dead bad white. It was like a well-maintained Manhattan co-op basement. I just wanted to escape the underground gallery spaces — depressing, foggily lit rooms. Mr. Gehry’s interior let us down big time.
Then you get outside in the bones and start trekking up. And up. You wander the warren of levels without any idea of where you are or will end up. There are a few areas for plantings. And, from someone who always admires the public gardens of France, they were cray cray bad. Sad and messy.
It wasn’t designed for the throngs that will come this summer. M. Gehry incorporated two of my least favorite Parisian design elements — tiny elevators and dangerously narrow sidewalks — throughout his building. It’ll be hell.
This stock photo conveys none of the chaos I experienced.
So after an hour there we slogged back to the Metro through the dusty Bois (typically ill shod in dark brown suede. Hermes says that is one of my “talents”) and a bit of Neuilly (bet the swells hate the added foot traffic) and proceed to the Louvre — open on Monday.
We use the Porte des Lions. It spares us the pyramid entrance (which we admire but we don’t enjoy) and feeds us right into the Oceanic/Pre Columbian/Primary Art galleries. The main collection is at the Musee Quai Branly (a great museum — go!) so the Louvre stuff is slightly “Greatest Hits,” which I love. Walk upstairs and you are at the end of the Italian Gallery (it never disappoints) and you just walk and walk.
This self portrait stopped me. If every picture tells a story, what was Sr. Melendez telling us with his blue hair bow and c’est example of his oeuvre? The gaydar is off the charts.
OK — today’s museum experience, to be blunt, sucks. The buildings are often great, but not so the teeming masses of shockingly dressed/undressed cretins taking selfies and talking loudly and listening to audio tours that result in big roadblocks of the unaware. No one is paying attention to anything as far as I could tell. Just wandering vaguely.
I freak. I race through, glancing at the art and trying to avoid any physical and sensory contact. If the galleries are crowded, Hermes knows where to find me: at the exit within minutes of entering.
Love the sphinxes of the Hôtel Salé — crenellated castles for crowns.
We started Day 2 at the Musee Picasso Paris. Since we never buy tickets in advance (or make one reservation for any meal) we take it as it comes — or we leave. There was a line — but He Who Must Be Obeyed made me reconsider bolting (“No. Stay. Staaaay. Good boy.”) and it was worth the endless (20 minute) wait. All that Picasso in an amazing 18th-century hotel particulaire, the Hôtel Salé, beautifully restored and hung with tons of amazing work.
What’s not to love? To return to our theme — how about our fellow visitors? The crowd was still pretty lame — and loud. Dressed a bit better. Or maybe it was just early in the day.
By Day 3 we were hitting the less obvious museums and the “tone” improved exponentially. “Jeanne Lanvin” at the Palais Galliera was fantastic and the crowd was informed and polite and focused.
The Palais Galliera was a treat.
Move two blocks to the Fondation Pierre Berge/Yves St Laurent — and again, the crowd was there for the exhibition, not their Bucket List.
“1971: Le Collection du Scandale” was a fun little show. “Saint-Laurent: Truly Hideous” read the headline of Eugenia Sheppard’s review in the Herald Tribune. YSL was inspired by his buddy Paloma Picasso’s thrift shop aesthetic. His collection was reviled and changed the course of fashion in the 1970s. Vintage became acceptable. The exhibition was saved by a large video playing film coverage of the day — brutal! The Supremes’ soundtrack kept us tapping our toes.
So besides culture, we shop and eat. We are not foodies. And because we are teetotalers, nothing is less fun than a long “tasting” without the “pairing.” We just wander — at hours later than the normal person — and jump in. “Monsieur, the kitchen is about to close,” doesn’t scare us.
Hermes was happier than he looks at Le Voltaire. And there were four pups at the next table. Four!
We order French stuff. Old-fashioned French stuff. Steak tartare is my lunch of choice, followed by #2, Croque Madame, or #3, a Salad Nicoise with canned tuna. Nothing nouvelle, vaporized or masticated.
We love Le Voltaire – close to the antiques dealers and wonderful food. We always hit Le Rotisserie, the “petite soeur” of the Tour D’Argent, about 3 blocks from the apartment.
OMG. It just occurred to me we missed Collette this trip. How strange not to have walked by. Collette is de rigueur. Not that we ever buy anything. (Now I remember… it was the afternoon I told him to stuff the Louvre — that’s when we would have passed Collette. Sad Face…)
Pickin’ out some new critters at Claude Nature.
Claude Nature is our favorite taxidermist. (Doesn’t everyone have a favorite taxidermist?) Hermes got a handsome little hawk this time.
And the BHV. I love the BHV, le Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville. It’s a huge old school store in the Macy’s/Alexander’s vein. The store isn’t fashionable or fancy — it is very French. The basement is a famous hardware store. And the pet department is heaven.
An uneventful flight back and the stuffed bird cleared customs. After five days we were done. Fed and rested. A few treasures scouted and headed for New York. French friends reconnected with. As they say, à la prochaine.
Our blogger, interior designer Carey Maloney, and his partner Hermes Mallea, an architect, are principals in the M (Group).