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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Postcards from Paris: Part Deux!

Les Ambassadeurs at Hôtel de Crillon
We began our second day in Paris with breakfast at the hotel in the legendary Les Ambassadeurs dining room. The sumptuous space, formerly the Count of Crillon's ballroom, is replete with gorgeous Baccarat crystal chandeliers, ornate frescoes and polished marble that beautifully embody the Rococo aesthetic. Built in 1758, Les Ambassadeurs has operated as a restaurant within the Hôtel de Crillon since the 19th century. It reached the height of its popularity as a restaurant and night club in the 1870's when it was frequented by the aristocracy and some of the best known figures of the art world. As a result, it has been portrayed in works of art by Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and was also featured in Ernest Hemingway's memoir "A Moveable Feast." In 2011, the restaurant was re-awarded a Michelin star after losing its two star status in 2010 following the departure of Chef Jean-Francois Piege. The very talented Chef Christopher Hache and his team are dedicated to restoring Les Ambassadeurs to its former culinary glory. I have to say they're doing a pretty fabulous job!

L'eglise de la Madeleine
After breakfast we wandered around the city and came across L'eglise de la Madeleine (Church of the Madeleine), a Roman Catholic Church with a long and complicated history. Razed to the ground at three different points during its construction, it was finally built in the Neo-Classical style envisioned by Napoleon who was inspired by the Maison Carée at Nimes, one of the best-preserved Roman temples. Despite Napoleon's plan to have the structure serve as a memorial to the French Army, King Louis XVIII ultimately decided it would serve as a church dedicated to Mary Magdalene which was finally consecrated in 1842.

Beautiful Produce at Hediard & Fresh Red Currants
Further down the street on Place de la Madeleine was Hédiard, a fabulous gourmet grocery store featuring beautiful displays of produce, teas, spices and other gourmet specialties. This Parisian gastronomic institution was founded in 1850 by Ferdinand Hédiard and was born out of his love for exotic produce such as lychee, guava and bananas - the likes of which Paris had never seen! This location is Hediard's flagship store and it was from this very place that Hédiard first sold his fabulous produce to the finest restaurants in Paris as well as his loyal customers. He is even credited with providing celebrated artist Eugene Delacroix, a longtime fan, with his first pineapple. The day we were there was actually the first time I had ever seen fresh red currants which looked like beautiful, shiny, ruby red jewels - thanks, Ferdinand!

Chanel Boutique at 31 Rue Cambon
Of course, a trip to Paris just wouldn't be complete without a trip to the mecca of fashion: Chanel! While there are quite a few Chanel stores in Paris, the one located at 31 Rue Cambon holds special meaning because it is also the address of Coco Chanel's apartment which is located directly above the boutique. Mademoiselle Chanel didn't actually live in the apartment (in fact, it doesn't even have a bedroom) choosing instead to live at the nearby Ritz Hotel. Every morning before she crossed Place Vendôme on her way to the Rue Cambon boutique she would call to inform them of her imminent arrival so the staircase of her apartment (pictured above) could be misted with Chanel No. 5 to herald her arrival. I've been trying to get Steve to do that ever since we've been back but so far no luck. What a way to start the day!

John Travolta & Kelly Preston at Chanel, Avenue Montaigne
The biggest Chanel buzz during our stay in Paris was the brand new 6,500 square foot Chanel boutique at 51 Avenue Montaigne. This store makes a total of three Chanel boutiques on this revered street alone! The new store was inspired by Coco Chanel's apartment and echoed similar elements including textured screens, sumptuous fabrics and a gorgeous stairway with gilded railings and a cascade of pearls dripping from the ceiling onto the white marble floor below. When we arrived there was a crowd of paparazzi out front (no not for us!) who were hoping to catch a glimpse of some other shoppers getting their "Chanel on" that day: John Travolta and Kelly Preston. A flurry of activity surrounded their private fitting room while Chanel associates buzzed in and out with armfuls of stunning merchandise. When the couple left, Kelly was wearing a few beautiful new Chanel necklaces and clutching multiple black bags of fabulousness. If John's trying to make up for something I'd say he's definitely headed in the right direction!

After our Tour de Chanel we visited the Musee de L'Orangerie located in the western end of the Tuileries Gardens. This museum is home to a treasure trove of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by artists including Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, Modigliani and many more. The museum also represents another Midnight in Paris filming location. If you're familiar with the movie, this is where Gil and Inez accompany Paul and Carol for the private showing of Monet's "Water Lilies." Paul, being the pedantic, pseudo-intellectual, Monet expert that he is, proceeds to school the group on the historical significance of Monet's work.

Auguste Rodin's "Le Baiser"
Eight panels of Monet's "Water Lilies", or "Nymphéas" as they are known in France, do reside at L'Orangerie. In 1922 Monet agreed to donate the pieces to the French government with the understanding they would be displayed in specially designed rooms at the museum. However, due to his reluctance to part with them, it wasn't until after his death in 1926 that they were finally installed and displayed for the public. A major renovation took place from 2000-2006 that enabled these historic works to be viewed as Monet had originally intended: under direct diffused natural light. While I was too busy enjoying to take photos of them (sorry!) I did take one of Auguste Rodin's beautiful bronze sculpture "Le Baiser" located on the terrace of the museum. 

After a busy day exploring Paris we had an early dinner and called it a night before an early train to Champagne the following morning...


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