Monday, October 19, 2015

Le Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves --Taking you there with words and images...

The experience of walking a Paris flea market is a cultural revelation, an historical journey and a treasure hunt all in one.  The Vanves market begins quite early on the weekends and I start with my car dropping me at the perfect entrance on the Avenue Georges Lafenestre (a poet and critique of French art in the 1800's).  It is there from a little stand that I have my coffee and chocolate croissant hot from the oven! If I prefer to just get started looking, there are always little ladies who stroll the walkways with a cart full of coffee and baked goodies.  The Vanves still feels like an old-fashioned market because of these ladies, the street pianists and the vendors that set up and take down each day. There are no permanent stands like there are in the larger Cligancourt Puces.  
The market is full of snarly vendors who yell back and forth to each other and who most often object to being photographed. (This guy yelled at me just as I was shooting!) There are nice vendors too but the grumpy ones make it interesting! They bark but they don't bite... 

The dogs, however, are much more friendly!

Everything you could ever imagine and more is for sale here.  I will always be drawn to the old textiles with the hand woven tassels... gorgeous!

 The people watching is wonderful too-- Stars like Catherine Deneuve frequent the market as well as a well-dressed dandy! Parisians don't often fail to give you something to look at!

Even tap shoes make an appearance!

An antique school merit board!

And When I find an amazing portrait or bust, I am in my treasure heaven!  These moments are only for the early risers!  

 The  well-loved book on Louis XV and an antique flag topper came home with me recently...

And books beautifully bound in leather are another joy here. If you are lucky to find some with orginal engravings, you can walk away with a smile and a heavy bag!  Many buyers come with a small cart on wheels or a suitcase just for these occasions.

There is humor to be found here too!  I smiled a good-bye to these "partcipants" as I drove away for the last time this visit.  Rain or shine, this is where you'll find me Saturday mornings during my stay... 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Les Talons Louis XV / The Heels of Louis XV

Do I need another reason to love Paris? Mais non! But Paris, the world's greatest lover, keeps trying to please and please it does! On my walk home from the Right Bank, I spotted this sign in the most elegant of shoe repair shops. Actually, to call it a "repair" shop doesn't do it justice-- more a restoration/artisanal atelier of the highest standards. I stood staring at the beautiful red leather banquette sofas in the showroom, the polished marble floors, the gilded antique mirrors, and the perfectly appointed chandelier lighting. The shoes that had been restored were displayed in the window along with a series of Louis XV heels --their specialty.  How could I help myself from falling in love with Paris a little bit more?

Louis XV reigned from 1715-1774.  He loved heels, especially red ones (it was very expensive to get the leather colored this perfect red)  and only he or those men in good standing with him were allowed to wear them.  He was especially fond of paste buckle ornamentation and embroidery.  The large paste buckles were considered important enough to be sold separately and in beautiful velvet boxes like jewelry.   He insisted on the highest of heels and demanded that everyone else in the court wear heels lower than his.  While men generally abandoned heels around 1730, Louis' shoe style continues to influence us today as seen in the Manolo Blahnik and Marc Jacob shoes below.  

 As a note of personal history, when I married Alain, I chose a beige silk hand-made shoe with a Louis XV heel. When I turned 40, I had a pair of Louis XV leather shoes made in England for Alain for our 18th century party complete with buckle and red heel. When the Marc Jacob's shoe came out (he called it the Pilgrim shoe), I had to own a pair.  And my love for paste buckles, well, that list goes on and on.... Without knowing much about this shoe style early on, I have been drawn to it since I can remember.  Maybe the clairvoyant was right when she told me that in another life I was a popular French politician who was known for strolling the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris to greet his people. If this is true, then everything makes sense!  Merci Louis for the perfect heel and another reason to love Paris!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Le Déjeuner à Paris! Lunch in Paris!

Let me explain the French Lunch the way I see it.
One day I was dining in the Bistro Valois just outside the Palais Royal. It was raining and a motorcycle pulled up underneath this lovely awning. The cycle was a nice one and the driver was dressed beautifully all the way down to his Berlutti shoes with the perfect patina. He reached into his small compartment and pulled out his lunch. While I couldn't see exactly everything he was eating, he took his time enjoying his sandwich and a small side dish of something he brought a fork for. I was intrigued.  Then he brought out a small glass for a splash of wine poured from his flask.  When the rain started coming down harder, he wasn't deterred from continuing his lunch... he simply moved his motorcycle closer to the building. Next came dessert, a tarte au citron (lemon tart)!  Just unbelievable and he made it look so good I had to order one later....  I smiled and said to myself, "Let's just see now if he has his petit café." If so, I will be thoroughly impressed. He stood up after his dessert was finished and put all of his utensils, napkin, and  glassware back in his compartment. Then, much to my delight, out came his small thermos and cup for his coffee!  So impressive!  Finished, he returned his thermos, dusted himself off and drove away.   In that moment, I realized I had just witnessed the live definition of the French lunch!  

What I find interesting for myself is that in California, I rarely have lunch out.  Lunch is more just a moment to refuel to get through the day. But once I am in Paris, a whole different me appears. From the moment I awake, I start to dream about where I want to eat that day, which of my favorite foods I hope will be on the "plat du jour" menu (blanquette de veau, tomate farçi, pâte fraiche.....), and what I  might want for dessert-- that list is endless! Even when I plan to shop in a neighborhood or visit a garden or museum, I think about which restaurants are close by for me to try. When I lunch, I enjoy every bite including dessert without any guilt...ever! And I always have wine... sometimes two glasses!  Daytime drinking is a quiet kind of drinking.. the sun is out and dreams are encouraged.  There is not an ounce of hurry in my body and I know that I will enjoy walking through the rest of my day.  

 For the French, a great lunch is anticipated and expected. For everyone else it is a moment of perfection!

Enjoy these photos of lunchtime moments! Bon Appétite!
 Cauliflower puree-- Cafe Bras
 Stuffed tomato-- Chez Nenesse
 Pizza Margarita-- Tavola di Gio

Steak Frites-- Bistro Les Ambassades
 Ile Flottant or boule de neige-- Cafe Bras
 Tarte Citron and its meringue-- Cafe la Varenne
 Chocolate tart with caramel-- Le Gevaudan
Old fashioned (and the BEST ever) Rice pudding! The whole bowl is placed in front of you and you take as much as you like. Carmel sauce on the side.... Bistro Les Ambassades

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Montparnasse Frame

 Each time I'm in Paris, something different catches my eye and I learn something. Most everthing in France has an historical reference as does the Montparnasse frame.  I first saw a frame like this in the smaller flea market called the Puces de Vanves.  The seller tossed out the name "Montparnasse" like we were sure to know what it was.  I had never heard of this frame and was instantly interested in its history. While I didn't learn much that day about it, I noted that while it was ornate in its carving, it lacked the gold gild of  most of the French frames we are used to seeing. I needed to find out more!
 Today I went to the larger flea market the Puces de St. Ouen (Cligancourt) and to Lucien Pineau's stand in the Marché Serpette.  He specializes in the Montparnasse frame and we had a wonderful conversation about their history and how difficult they are becoming to find.  First of all, the interior part of the frame that is the moulding is called the Marie-Louise.  Marie-Louise was the 2nd wife of Napoleon and I am still trying to discover why it is named after her.  When the moulding is made of wood and is fabric covered, it is referred to as the Marie-Louise. If it is cardboard, it is called the passe-partout (something that passes everywhere).  Evidently, Marie-Louise was not someone who was passed about! These frames are from the 20th century and were supposedly designed by the many Russian painters who had begun to congregate in the Montparnasse area between 1908-1914. Since they were artists with very little means, they carved the frames themselves from modest pine and left them ungilded. The Patinas are all different and quite beautiful with the traditional frames being creme or grey. The carving itself is ornate and in the style of Louis XIV  and Louis XV. They are all beautiful!
Many of the painters from the Ecole de Montparnasse ( Marie Vassillieff's painting above) and the Ecole de Paris, framed their Post-Impressionist and cubist paintings with the Montparnasse frame.  While I wish I could see their paintings in the Montparnasse Museum,  it was closed down this year for reasons unknown.  What I can do since our apartment is so close by, is walk to the Montparnasse area and dine in one of the many legendary cafés that are still fabulous today such as: Le Dôme, La Closerie de Lilas, La Rotunde, Le Select and La Coupole. Painters such as Picasso, Matisse, and Modigliani chose these spots as their hang out  and paid with their paintings when they had no money for food. I can only imagine the colorful conversations that must have gone on amongst them daily.

I have always been fascinated by beautiful frames.. they are the jewel that enhances the work of art!