Thursday, October 23, 2008

Paris, Part 2


I said below that I wanted to visit Dries Van Noten's store on the Left Bank, so we hoofed it over. The little shop is on the bank of the Seine in kind of a funny spot with no stores around it. It's a beautiful interior glowing with colors and velvets and Oriental rugs. No menswear, so the shop girls were a little cool, but no matter, we plunged in.

The women's clothes were amazing -- jewel-tone silks and prints with flourishes of tiny colored sequins embroidered on in swirls. Really beautiful clothes -- clothes as art. Dries goes his own way and doesn't follow trends. A guy appeared from upstairs - tall, dark, thin, wearing a white shirt, black v-neck sweater and black kind of pantaloon pants -- they fanned out in the middle. He said the Dries Van Noten men's clothes was sold in the department stores, Le Printemps and Le Bon Marche.

Time for lunch. We walked down the busy Ste. Germain to Les Deux Magots, the great cafe where Oscar Wilde and Ernest Hemingway hung out. Delicious food and fantastic people-watching on the street.

Fortified by a ham and cheese omelet and a little pot of coffee, I decided to head to Le Bon Marche to see the menswear. TD opted out of this expedition. It's a beautiful old Belle Epoque store with an open center atrium that soars up for three floors. I walked through the men's department and passed a guy at a counter wearing a beautiful silk scarf, gold and brown and blue, and I thought, "The French have such great style. Where would you ever find a scarf like that?" I turned the corner into the Dries Van Noten collection, and there was the scarf, hanging on the wall. It was by Dries. And, dear reader, I bought it. I love it and I haven't taken it off since.

The next day we went to the Musee d"Orsay, a tremendous museum in an old train station. Ted and I have been there before. I like it even more than the Louvre. If you go, start at the top because that floor has the most amazing Impressionist paintings, one after the other. In the afternoon, we had a drink at the Hotel Costes, a fashion crowd hang-out. The ground floor is one big bar area made up of little rooms and an outdoor atrium. The rooms are decorated with velvet furnishings, oil portraits, and on each table a tall candle stick and candle, very deluxe Edwardian. It must be magical and seductive at night.

One morning we met up with our New York friends Bunny and Dan Gabel for coffee and a croissant. Every time they are in Paris they go to Sainte Chappelle, the royal chapel on the Ile de la Cite in the center of Paris completed in 1248. We had tried to get in but it's very small and the line was too long.

We went back. The line wasn't so bad; all the bags have to go through the x-ray machine. You go in single file and climb up this tiny spiral staircase round and round until you come to the open doorway at the top and enter into this:

Holy moly. Unbelievably beautiful. The chapel is really all stained glass windows that fly up. It's called the "door way to heaven," and it's hard to believe that this was built in 1248. Only the royal family attended mass here, and I guess that's why they had the French Revolution? Fortunately it still stands. On a sunny day it's like being inside a jewel box. The vibrant colors -- blue, red, green, yellow -- are deep and rich. You could sit there all day. A Vivaldi concert was scheduled for that night so we bought tickets -- Bunny and Dan had done that too. When we returned that night it was dusk so light was still coming through the colored windows but as the concert got under way, they faded to black. The concert was wonderful, lively, intimate. It was such a great pleasure to hear the music in such a beautiful space.

Ted and I were on the Metro a lot in Paris; I love the Metro. It's so easy to get around. You don't even have to understand a language because the signs are so clear. The stations are clean, bright, and big, and trains are quiet, fast and frequent. They come every few minutes so there are never the crowded, pushing New York situations. In general, in Europe, I found the people to be very polite. No one is cutting you off or cursing at you, as can happen in New York. Sometimes in New York you take your life in your hands just crossing the street when turning cars are coming at you. In New York I recently had the experience of walking from the curb to the door of the bank and within that space not one but two people, a man and a woman, rushed ahead of me to cut me off at the door and get into the ATM line first. I didn't see that in Europe. In fact, I saw the opposite a couple of times when someone was being cut off, and they said to the offender, "Apres vous," "after you," as if to say, "If you want want to be lowly go right ahead because I have higher manners." With all of the people riding bicycles in Amsterdam, I did not see one confrontation. Europe was not hard and mean. I am not a big fan of hard and mean. Polly Mellen once said to me, "You have to be a good person." Yes. Good and kind is better. You bring back a certain grace, and that's what Europe meant to me.

Here are more pictures of Paris:

1 comment:

Mary Ann said...

Hi Bart - I love reading your blog and, while I think the European way of life is exponentially more satisfying than ours, I have always found that they have a much smaller ring of "personal space". Probably because we have a much larger country, we have created for ourselves a substantial space requirement: no one dares to voluntarily invade that three feet we all feel comfortable with. In Europe, however, and especially the larger cities, that space is down to one foot, maybe less. The tables in a cafe are tight up on one another, the cars in traffic allow no room for error, one sits thigh to thigh or stands armpit to armpit on the metro. I would live in Paris in a heartbeat but would always crave just a little more privacy in a restaurant.