Modern Art and Design at Fondation Louis Vuitton

I went to the recently-opened Fondation Louis Vuitton, in the Bois de Boulogne, primarily to see the building—a ship of concrete and glass designed by Frank Gehry.

The building is well worth a visit, and engineers will delight in the technologies perfected for its creation. But the highlight was the temporary art show.

“Keys to a Passion” is a stellar collection of modern art, arranged thematically in six intimate spaces.

The first room holds portraits by Giacometti and Francis Bacon, and—new to me—Finnish artist Helene Schjerfbeck. Her series of realistic self-portraits spanning the years 1915-1944 is remarkable for its continuity and emotional weight.

Schjerfbeck’s work has been compared to that of Edvard Munch, and “The Scream” hangs nearby. The juxtaposition of similar works is a strong point of the show.

A room of waterscapes invites meditation, and included my favorite painting: “Dune Sketch in Bright Stripes,” a soft abstract by Mondrian, very different from his grids.

Matisse cutouts, “La Danse” and “La Tristesse du Roi”, Rothko’s “#46”, and “Endless Column” by Brancusi, plus portraits by Picasso and Bonnard are set apart with plenty of space and seating.

My one quibble with the show is that the titles of works are hung in a corner of each room, where only 2 people can read at a time. But otherwise, it was a perfect afternoon.

Paris Credit Card Update

Much of Europe uses a chip and pin system for credit cards, rather than the magnetic swipe system we use in the US. Most French credit card readers still accommodate US cards—but the post office does not, nor do train station or other automatic kiosques, gas stations, and increasingly, small stores.

US banks and credit card companies have begun to roll out chip and signature cards, which should work in most French restaurants and stores. Insert the chip into the reader, and you’ll be asked for a signature.

Citi Bank, Capitol One, and Amex all supply this type of card. Capital One doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees for purchases in euros or other currencies.

But for automatic kiosques, you’ll need a card designed for the system. Cards contain a chip, which is inserted into the credit card machine; instead of signing for the purchase, you provide a pin number.

Barclays is a good source for a chip and pin card. The annual $89 fee is waved for the first year, and accumulated points can be used to redeem travel expenses, such as airline tickets, hotel, train, etc, you’ve charged on the card. This means no black out dates for upgraded flights.

Barclay’s also charges no foreign transaction fees.

What’s been your experience traveling in France with credit cards?

 

Les Berges, Paris Park along the Seine

Move over, Jardins des Tuileries, look out Parc de Monceau. Parisians are flocking to the city’s newest park, Les Berges, a sprawling green space on the Left Bank.

In 2013, Paris mayor Bernard Delanoê inaugurated Les Berges — a 2 kilometer stretch of the Seine between Pont Royal and Pont de l’Alma — for art installations, seasonal sports, picnics, strolling, and relaxing.

Tucked into the river near Pont de l’Alma are small islands with fruit trees, lounge chairs, picnic tables. There is a “zen space” for yoga and tai chi, and bike rentals (bikes are free for children).

Bars and cafés along the route, in the form of food trucks, umbrella-clad enclaves, and moored péniches, are filled on weekends and evenings at sunset.

Modular wooden structures offer picnic spots with views of the gilded statues atop Pont Alexandre III, and the curving iron and glass roof of the Grand Palais.

If you need to totally chill, an orange pod is available for half-hour naps.

For families, there are 100 meter dashes, double Dutch jump rope, climbing walls, and a flat stretch of pavement to walk together.

In a city already rich in parks, pleasure, and inspiration, Les Berges is a lovely addition.

Paris Behind the Scenes – Palais Royal Photo Shoot

It’s 10am on a Wednesday morning, and I’m shivering in the pale spring sun as I follow photographer Jérôme Treize through the Palais Royal Gardens. With its double rows of box-clipped lime trees, cozy rose-scented reading rooms, and elegant, 18th century arcades, this is one of my favorite places on earth.

I’m lucky to spend lots of time in Paris; I bring visitors to these gardens, and I often record their experiences.

Now it’s my turn. I’ve come to document my love of Paris with a talented young photographer.

Walking between spring-green lime trees, I put one sling-backed foot directly in front of the other. A blue vintage Chanel bag swings lightly at my side. It’s 50º, colder than normal for May, and the morning light casts few shadows.

Jérôme directs me. “Chin up…now this way…” We stop and start. Walking backwards, shutter clicking, he urges me past the vigorously splashing fountain at one end of the garden, guides me onto the worn mosaic floors beneath the arcades.

Behind me is Daniel Buren’s controversial modern sculpture park, with its vertical striped columns and neon-lit grates. Didier Ludot’s shop of little black dresses is to my right.

The first stirrings of the French Revolution took place here; where there used to be cafés and brothels now you can buy red-soled stilettos and antique military medals. Jerome says that in the early 1900s, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson worked in an atelier above us.

Onto the magnificent restaurant Le Grand Véfour, where Napoléon and French presidents have eaten. Famed chef Guy Martin stands in the foyer when we enter.

We pop into Galerie Vivienne, where I stroll beneath an historic glass roof, and read Colette’s “La Vagabonde” in silence, under soft light. A short walk from the Louvre, this covered passageway is one of the city’s best kept secrets.

Our final stop is Bistrot Vivienne, where the polished wooden chairs and red velvet banquettes will be filled in an hour with business people lunching on entrecôte à la fleur de sel de Guérande with sauce béarnaise.

But now we sip espresso from tiny white cups, and have the place to ourselves.

No matter how often I come to this part of town, the pleasure radiates to my toes. History is palpable, and discoveries, like architectural details, abound. Guided by the past and the present, I feel as if I’ve walked into the soul of Paris.

And soon I’ll have the pictures to prove it.
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Paris via Film, Dior and YSL

Merci beaucoup to regular contributor Betty Guernsey for her reviews of two new films on Paris couture:

Two lavish films on Paris couture, recently released, offer behind-the-scene glimpses of how things work, and the creative process – not all of it pretty.

The first, Dior and I, is a lush documentary based on the House of Dior’s most recent artistic director, Belgian-born Raf Simons, in which Simons and his atelier play themselves, and in which the designer has only eight weeks to create his very first couture collection. (The legendary Christian Dior himself appears in archival footage.)

The second, Saint-Laurent, is a biographical film in which French actor Gaspard Ulliel portrays Yves Saint-Laurent with scrupulous, often painful, authenticity. One is left wondering what Dior, who died in 1957, would have made of the freewheeling 70’s lifestyle, or of the digital technology used today in virtually every aspect of haute couture.

Have you seen these films? What did you think?

Paris Lodging — onefinestay Apartment Rental

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I recently booked an apartment for a client who will celebrate her 70th birthday in Paris on July 14 — Bastille Day, La Fête Nationale.

Finding the right place was a daunting task. None of the apartment search engines I normally use could filter all the conditions we needed: central location, two apartments in the same neighborhood, beds for 10 people, air conditioning, elevator.

And an owner who would allow a catered dinner party for 20 people.

So I contacted onefinstay.com, the British version of airbnb.com, via their on-line contact form, and asked if they could help.

In the end, they didn’t have everything we needed. But Naza, the manager of the Paris branch, responded toute de suite, on a weekend, with several possibilities. I was so impressed with the apartments and the service that I decided to write about onefinestay here, and share their points forts.

The company call themselves pioneers of handmade hospitality, purveyors of the unhotel. They launched in London in May, 2010, expanded to New York in 2012, and to Paris the following year.

Their business model is similar to the on-line apartment rental agency airbnb. It allows travelers to save money by renting directly from apartment owners.

But it’s different from airbnb in that the home owners aren’t present during stays. There are no single room rentals, or shared accommodations.

But most interestingly, the company curates lodging selections, choosing homes with interesting architectural details, histories, and appointment. No shoddy decor, no chance of sub-standard accommodation.

Every chance of finding a fantasy nest for your Paris stay.

The website photos are large, and descriptions are detailed; they even specify the size of beds, which is key in accommodating different sleeping configurations.

If you’re looking for an Eiffel Tower neighborhood, this rue Sheffer apartment is spacious and lovely,

Prefer to be across town? Here is a list of moderately priced apartments around the city. Plug in your travel dates and see what you can find!

Have you rented an apartment in Paris? What did you like most about it?

What’s a Neo-bistro?

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My favorite Paris restaurants these days are Neo-bistros: small places, run by chefs with vision.

These chefs are classically trained, and gained recognition at grand, Michelin starred venues, in France and abroad. Then they stepped away from the constraints of the star system, to forge their own culinary paths.

Their restaurants are tiny; some fill with as few as 16 diners. And they’re affordable, with lunch formules costing as little as 24€, dinners a bit more.

Market-driven tasting menus change daily, and their originality and precision outweigh the lack of choice when ordering. I’ve come to look forward to letting the menu lead the way.

I’ve tried ingredients like Japanese dandelion and pouce-pieds, a mollusk hand-picked from the cliffs of Spain—which I might not have ordered if I’d had more choice.

I’ve also been delighted by surprising combinations of taste and texture, like white chocolate & parsnip purée, and wild mushroom soup with a hint of espresso, in the form of cappuccino.

Here is good article on the Neo-bistro trend, featuring 3 chefs — Greg Marchand, Yves Cambdeborde, and Bernard Doucet — who continue to dazzle.

Are you a Neo-bistro fan? What’s your favorite Paris Neo-bistro?

May Travel Tip – Best Upgrade

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image_paris_restoMy loyalty to Air France was cemented last year when I discovered their upper deck upgrade on flights to and from Paris.

The upgrade offers more leg room, better service, and a second floor seating area with 60 passengers instead of 200+. It costs an additional $60 each way.

I’ve been blissfully shuttling back and forth to Paris.

Then I discovered the moustique in the mousse.

Booking a flight for May, I learned that not all Air France planes have an upper deck. Only the Boeing 747 models have that feature; they were originally configured for a second floor, first class lounge.

Unfortunately, my dates weren’t flexible. I could get a seat with extra leg room on the main deck, or upgrade to business class.

I took the first option, dusted off my disappointment, and shifted my attention to where I would use the money I saved to eat well in Paris. (Stay tuned for details.)

Lesson learned: perfection is fleeting, and it pays to be flexible.

AF has the best-value upgrade. Consider alternative configurations when scheduling your trip. If the flight date you want doesn’t use a 747, try a different day.

Care to share your favorite Paris travel upgrade? I’d love to hear…

Restaurant Les Deserteurs in the 11th

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At Les Déserteurs, chef Daniel Baratier’s modern French fare changes daily, and his tasting menus (3 courses at lunch, 4 and 6 at night) are elegant and inventive.

We started lunch with sashimi: thinly sliced raw mullet with grated black radish, watercress, lime and angelica vinegar. Sweet and sour, crunchy and smooth, this starter was invigorating and comforting at once, a pleasure to behold and to eat.

The braised pork belly that followed was succulent, and accompanied by a horseradish sauce flavored with Japanese dandelion. The last was a new experience for me, and was one of the adventurous details that made Les Déserteurs so much fun—and sets it apart from traditional French bistros.

I would have been happy to end the meal with a slice of cheesecake made with vanilla and Earl Gray tea OR a quenelle of mandarin sorbet with a side of crumble. Mais non. The day’s dessert contained both. Like the previous courses, it was a study in subtle flavors, surprising combinations, and beautiful presentation.

Gracious hosts, sophisticated food, and an excellent value: I will return. Reservations advised, as it’s a small place,

46 rue Trousseau, 11th, Métro: Ledru Rollin, tel: 01 48 06 95 85. Closed Sat, Sun, Mon noon.

Pierre Bonnard at Musee d’Orsay

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The plum, taupe, violet, and lime green walls at Musée d’Orsay are perfect backdrops to the light- and color-filled paintings in the current Pierre Bonnard retrospective, “Pierre Bonnard, Painting Arcadia“, on view until July 19.

Paintings, prints and photographs trace Bonnard’s inspirations (Gauguin and Japanese prints among them) over 60 years.

The show contains some of his most successful work, including patterned and sunlit interiors, gardens populated with friends and family members, portraits, nudes, street scenes, and still lives.

An exquisite show, rich in color, atmosphere, and humor.

Tickets are on sale through the museum website (though they can’t be picked up at the museum) and at the museum.

See a short video of the show here.