Letter From Paris


The trip was mostly a tribute to Monet because the destination was GIVERNY. We had also submitted the name and the work of an Italian artist we knew who lived in London and did lyrical, surreal floral paintings to their “Fellowship Program”… and she won! Thus the journey to visit her in situ. Cristina Melotti was a “happy camper” indeed.

An hour-plus out of Paris along one of the smoothest, well-engineered highways on the planet are the gardens of Monet, called Giverny. Even in early October, they were in full flower, planned so expertly that the morning sun shines each day on soft to cool blue blooms, then brightens throughout the day into the hot colors at the lower levels as the sun sets. There are no “accidents” here; this was planned by “the master.” Ancient trees around the lake famous for its water lilies are huge and craggy giants that create mighty shadows as dusk settles in.

We bought a ridiculous number of scarves, ties, calendars, books, etc., at The Shop to bring home to friends who could then at least get a glimpse of the bounty of the place. Walked for several hours through the garden paths and enjoyed a stop in the local restaurant with Jan Huntley, head of the artist programs who greeted us and helped us learn more about the history of The Great Man and his Garden.

Paris itself is always a treat, whether walking, driving, sitting in a café or crossing a bridge. It’s dirty and full of construction materials, fences, wires… all the same impediments to beauty one sees in New York, Rome, London. The buildings are glorious always, and improvements in the way of brilliant gilding catches the sun intermittently at the top of pediments, statues, etc., even when the structure itself needs a slight facelift. The overall impression is: an old city, but who cares?

We ate well, but adventurously… a sort of “Adria meets the Middle East” assortment of restaurants, among which were La Dame de Pic on the Rue du Louvre, where slow cooked carrots with an aromatic sauce or goat cheese leaves surrounded the John Dory or salmon. At Les Tablettes de Jean-Louis Nomicos black truffles, duck foie gras and veal juice enriched the macaroni, Red Mullet was cooked with an olive/anchovy condiment, Sea Bass was offered in Aioli sauce with green anise. Dessert was always Chocolate – in various forms: a soufflé, a soft cookie with fruit…always something a little “off.”

Our first night at the Plaza Athénée we dived down to Le Relais, where a perfectly lovely salad of rocket, chopped cepes and thinly sliced ham complimented the Chablis. The meat/fish course was more banal, but their Paris-Brest with Pecans was worth the dive. And then, of course, there was a Brasserie! Balzar recommended to us by a Francophile. Complete with a waxed mustache Maître d’, ordinary chicken and calves liver, then profiteroles lavishly sauces with Valhrona chocolate. It was “authentic,” I’ll say that for it. One can actually live on chocolate desserts alone in Paris.

Lots of walking, exploring the Passages de Panoramas (where coin, stamp and other oddity collectors gather), Michel Chaudun sculpted chocolates, a visit to the Club “Cercle de l’Union Interalliée” on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré which is reciprocal to many clubs in New York. (You can’t stay there, but meals and drinks are lovely in their gardens adjacent to the Palace, and they have a gym).

Dior was at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs and Irving Penn left the Met for the Grand Palais. And if there were more time: Rubens at the Musée du Luxembourg, David Hockney then André Derain at Pompidou; Balthus and Giacometti at the Musée d’art Moderne. A feast if there ever was one.

Near the hotel are the shops of Avenue Montaigne where one can find treasures not exported to the U.S.… even by the same brands we have here. The fun is finding one and bringing it and perhaps some dried morels, etc., home to enjoy, while you’re remembering your trip… to the incomparable PARIS!

Barbara Tober

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