Arc de Triomphe, Les Invaldies and the Emperor

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Arc de Triomphe, Les Invaldies and the Emperor

This is a tale of two historic structures in Paris and an Emperor, the Arc de Triomphe and Les Invalides. It starts back in 1806 when Napoleon Bonaparte fresh off his victory at Austerlitz and wanted to erect a monument as "men are only as great as the monuments they leave behind". He had promised his soldiers on 2 December 1805, "you will return home under triumphal arches".  Upon his return to Paris he instructed a grand arc to be built. It was originally going to be placed where the Bastille prison was torn down, but was later decided to build it on top of what was once the muddy hill of Chaillot just outside of Paris but looking down the Champs Elysees toward the Palais des Tuileries. Thanks to the great garden designer Andre Le Notre It would later be known as the Place l'Etoile (star) for the 12 avenues that radiate out. 

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After a 15-year break, it would take until 1836 to finish after the urging of King Louis-Philippe, and long after Napoleon would die in 1821.  Upon his death on 5 May 1821, he would be buried on the island of St Helena where he had been held captive, but had stated 3 weeks before that he wanted to be buried "On the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I loved so much".

Engraving "On the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I loved so much" above the entry to his crypt.

Engraving "On the banks of the Seine, in the midst of the French people whom I loved so much" above the entry to his crypt.

 In 1830 as Louis-Philippe came to power he vowed to return "all the glories of France", and requested the return of the Emperor from the British government.  It was approved on the 10 May, and 7 months later on the 15 December with much fanfare, "les retour des cendres" was underway.  A funeral carriage draped in fabric pulled by sixteen black horses carrying a mausoleum designed by Henri Labrouste. Complete with 14 caryatids, one for each of his victories held up the coffin that was topped with an imperial mantle complete with crown, sword and scepter and weighed 14 tons and stood more than 32 feet high.

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The hospital built in 1671 by Louis XIV for injured soldiers and take over 30 years to finish. His architect Louvois put a special focus on the royal chapel where the King and soldiers could attend mass but in separate areas. It would be later separated for the creation of the tomb of Napoleon, but the beautiful Eglise des Soldats can still be seen today.  It would take many years for the final construction of his crypt to be completed and would be finally interred into his final resting place  in 1861. 

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As you enter the crypt a huge gate greets you at the entrance, with two bronze statues representing Justice on the left holding a crown and sword and on the right Imperial Power,  with a sword and sphere topped with a crowd, an emblem of the world. Above it is inscribed in French his final wishes of being buried on the edge of the Seine.  

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He is watched over by the twelve allegories representing his many victories standing tall. Along the outer walls are ten bas-reliefs that depict his many achievements including civil peace, the Civil Code and the Legion of Honour. Complete with scrolls listing all the things he implemented in France. As you make your way back up the stairs you can stand in the center and look back down at his tomb, it really is an amazing place.

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Today Les Invalides is still a hospital and retirement home for veterans but it also includes the Musée de l'Armée and the Musée des Plans-Relief. It is an incredible museum that spans from the 13th century with armor worn by Francois I to the tent used by Napoleon and even his horse, that is now stuffed and on display.  Everything is done chronologically including a wing dedicated to WW I & II. This isn’t your normal museum dedicated to fighting forces, it incorporates amazing pieces of art, multimedia displays, memorabilia and even vehicles.  Every trip my grandfather made to Paris would include a few days in this vast museum. As a lover of French history and fascination of Napoleon I also had to  follow his footsteps and see it all for myself. It took two separate trips and multiple visits to finally see it all. As I am continuing to learn even more about French history I can’t wait to go back again to this museum and see the living items that tell the story.









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The Regalia of le Sacre de Napoleon

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The Regalia of le Sacre de Napoleon

Not exactly hidden, but away from the key moments within Jacques-Louis David’s monumental tableaux “The Consecration of the Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Joséphine on December 2, 1804” are a few pieces you can find today.  The royal regalia used on this day and depicted in this painting include the Crown of Charlemagne, Scepter of Charles V and the Sword of Charlemagne all of which can be seen in the Musée du Louvre.  It’s the living breathing pieces of history that are my very favorite parts of Paris. to unwrap and explore.

The Crown of Charlemagne was the name given to the coronation crown of the Kings of France dating back to 1237. Named for the great medieval King of the Franks and Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne was first used to crown his grandson, Charles the Bald. A simple band topped with fleur-de-lis was added onto over time with jewels and velvet cap.  A matching open worked crown was made for the coronation of the queens, but only one would survive the 1590 Siege of Paris. The surviving crown would be used all the way until the last King of France was crowned in Reims, Louis XVI.  The crown would then be destroyed during the French Revolution, never to be seen again.

When it was time for Napoleon to take his throne of power over France he of course needed a crown. Martin-Guillaume Biennais was given the task. Using drawings from the 15th C of Charlemagne and a bust Napoleon had once seen in Aix-la-Chapelle showing the Emperor topped with a crown covered with cameos and carnelian jewels the design was born.  Eight cameo covered arches attached to a band, come together at the top and are met with a gold cross. In the painting the crown can be faintly seen on the left in the hands of le marechal Kellerman. (seen between the two men in the dark hats) At the actual event, Napoleon, being Napoleon picked up the crown and placed it on his head over his laurel wreath, crowning himself Emperor of France

.The scepter of Charles V dates back to the 14th century and is one the few remaining pieces left of the medieval French reliquary. Created for the coronation of the son of Charles V in 1380, it would then be used by every ruling sovereign up until the very last, Charles X in 1825.  Sitting on a lily, that was originally enameled white, is Charlemagne on a throne. In his left hand, he holds an orb that represents the world, topped with a cross. In the large painting, David depicted the scepter in the hands of Le marechal Perignon just to the right above the Crown of Charlemagne.

Both the crown and the scepter can be seen today in the Musee du Louvre, in the Richelieu Wing on the 1st floor in salle 504, it’s rarely crowded and something you must see.

In the Notre Dame de Paris, the site of this monumental event sits in the chevet behind the choir in the Chapel of Saint George a mostly unnoticed set of candlesticks and a crucifix.  At the time the cathedral was falling into disrepair and needed a lot of work to be ready for the coronation. Tapestries with the eagles, the royal bees, crowns, laurel wreaths and N’s were hung to cover the pillars that were falling apart. Galleries and raised seating was built to hold the royal onlookers and even a new altar would be built.

In addition, placed on the new altar would be a set of large candlesticks and a crucifix brought from the Arras Cathedral. Today in the Chapel of Saint George against the stained glass windows depicting the life of Saint Stephen those same candlesticks can be seen.  Jacques-Louis David did an amazing job representing them in his large piece that would commemorate the day. The altar they sit upon is a recreation in 1976 of the one that was in the cathedral at that time of le sacre de Napoleon.

There are countless more amazing things to notice in this painting, the true moments of that historic day and some that were added in to alter is along the way. I hope the day never comes that I actually learn every one of those small elements that make this one of my favorites works of art.

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Le Sacre de Napoleon

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Le Sacre de Napoleon

On December 2nd a very very long time ago, 214 years to be exact Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Napoleon wanting to set his own rules and traditions and not wanting to "descend from anyone" he bucked the old ways of  French rulers being crowned in the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims and set his sites on the historic cathedral in the birthplace of Paris on the Ile de la Cite. Napoleon was so adamant to have Pope Pius VII in attendance but as the ceremony started he grasped the crown out of the Papal hands and placed it on his own head. 

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Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantes was in attendance on this historical day and had kept very detailed diaries. Later when she became the lover of the Honore de Balzac, lucky for us,  he convinced her to complete and publish her 18 volume memoirs. She had said " But just as the Pope was about to take the crown, called the crown of Charlemagne, from the altar, Napoleon seized it and placed it on his own head! At that moment he was really handsome, and his countenance was lighted up with an expression of which no words can convey an idea. "

It was now Josephine's turn, the great love and first wife of Napoleon and the devoted subject to his hundreds of love letters. She ascended to the throne, with his sisters reluctantly behind her. Junot stated  "One of the chief beauties of the Empress Josephine was not merely her fine figure, but the elegant turn of her neck, and the way in which she carried her head ; indeed, her deportment, altogether, was conspicuous for dignity and grace. I have had the honor of being presented to many real princesses, but I never saw one who, to my eyes, presented so perfect a personification of elegance and majesty." Josephine clasped her hands, lowered her head as tears fell down her face and just then he placed the crown on her head, over her tiara.

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All of this is so perfectly captured in one of my favorite works of art inside the walls of the Musée du Louvre. The Coronation of Napoleon (Le Sacre de Napoléon) is the immense painting that stretches 33 feet across room 75 of the Denon wing. Jacques-Louis David was commissioned by Napoleon himself a few months before the big day. He didn't start the actual piece until a year later, with Napoleon making a few specific changes and additions to the painting that were a bit different from the actual event. The biggest being his mother, sitting in the balcony above him. She was not the biggest fan of Josephine, and she was still in Rome and refused to attend, Napoleon had her added in. The original drawing of the Pope had him sitting and looking on and the little Emperor said "I didn't bring him her to do nothing" so he was altered in the final piece to be anointing the ceremony.  Also looking down from above is the artist himself, David added himself into the balcony over the Emperor's mother. There are many other little secrets hidden in this painting, more on that tomorrow and where you can find the living pieces seen in this amazing painting

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Seeing this vast amazing work of art filled with symbolism, history and all the regal touches makes it one of the many must sees every time I am in Paris. I could never get tired of sitting on the bench so perfectly placed in front of this for an hour every time and just take in every single face and detail and every time I find something new.  As the hundreds of people walk in front, snap a selfie and walk on by to the next must see item on the list. It always makes me sad, that they truly don't SEE anything or the beauty that is in front of them.

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Mucha at the Musée du Luxembourg

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Mucha at the Musée du Luxembourg

Czech artist Alphone Mucha moved to Paris in 1888, but it was a matter of being in the right place at the right time in 1894 that would change his life.  The great French stage actress Sarah Bernhardt wanted a new poster for her hit play Gismonda. On the night of 26 December, St Stephen's Day she made a call to her publisher Lemercier, and asked for a new poster to be created and ready by 1 January. Mucha happened to be in the office that day and was familiar with the actress as he had illustrated her when she performed as Cleopatra. He created a poster that was more than life size, towering to over 6.5 feet tall and was in muted pastel colors and depicting her as a Byzantine noblewoman, with  a headdress of orchids and an arch halo behind her to highlight her face. The curves and use of flowers was reminiscent of the Art Nouveau movement taking root at the time and what he will be remembered for to this day.  The poster was so popular it was being cut down and stolen at night, Bernhardt was so impressed she signed him to a 5 year exclusive contract.

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He would go on  to produce posters for her plays depicting her as Hamlet, Lorenzo de Medici and her staring roll in Alexandre Dumas' La Dame aux Camelias among many others all in the  Art Nouveau theme. Their continued partnership would make him just as famous as the greatest French stage actress of the time.

With his new found fame he began creating a series of decorative panels focusing on the heavy themes of Art Nouveau, his two or four panels always focused on one central image of a woman.  The Arts in 1898, depicting Dance, Painting, Poetry and Music. The Flowers in 1898; Rose, Carnation, Iris and Lily. The Times of the Day in 1899; Morning Awakening, Brightness of the Day, Evening Contemplation and Night's Rest.The Precious Stones in 1900; Topaz, Ruby, Amethyst and Emerald. And the amazing collection of The Seasons created in 1896; Spring with her innocence and blossoms, sultry Summer dangling her feet in the water, Autumn surrounded by the grapes of harvest and frosty Winter hiding behind the snow covered branches.

In 1896 he began creating posters for commercial purposes for well know brands such as Job cigarette papers, Savon Notre Dame, Champagne Ruinart  and Moet et Chandon. His partnership with Moet et Chandon would result in many pieces ranging from menus to postcards.

Mucha's use of jewelry in his posters caught the eye of the son of the French jeweler Alphonse Fouquet. Georges Fouquet was looking to make his mark under the shadow of his father. Fouquet and Mucha collaborated for the 1900 Paris International Exhibition with pieces inspired by his art. The decorated chain with pendants made with pearls, semi-precious stones, gold, enamel and mother-of-pearl are heavily influenced by his Moet et Chandon Grand Cremant Imperial poster. Through their partnership Mucha was asked to design Fouquet's new boutique, both the interior and exterior. His goal was to create a space that was just as much a piece of art as the pieces Fouquet was selling. In 1923 Fouquet remodeled his store, but he had Mucha's monumental works carefully removed and stored in a warehouse, until the 1980's when it was installed in the museum of Paris, the Musee Carnavalet.  (currently closed for renovation and set to open in late 2019, beginning of 2020)

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In 1910 he returned to his homeland with the intentions of expressing the ideals of his fellow Czech people. A new theme emerged from Mucha, one of iconography, folklore and even at times political. Under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Czechs were forbidden to organize and had to come up with other outlets to get out their message. Sokol is the Czech word for falcon, and used as the emblem to hold national sporting events for gymnastics. In truth at its root it was to unite the youth of the country. The 6th Sokol Festival poster is heavy with symbols, the red cloak being a Sokol color and epitome of Prague, her staff holds the emblem of Praque and her crown the ramparts. In 1925 the 8th Sokol Festival poster was now after the republic of Czechoslovakia was formed now shows one of celebration and exudes an outright a national pride. Mucha would die in 1939 in Prague, having never returned to Paris

The Mucha exhibit at the Musee du Luxembourg is amazing, and there is much more than I even mentioned here. Running until 27 January, 2019 and open every day of the week from 10:30am - 7pm, but grab your tickets online before you go to beat the line. It being a smaller museum they control closely how many people are in at one time, which makes it nice for you as a museum goer.  You can also download the audioguide before you go, which I highly recommend only a few dollars on  Apple or Google play, less expensive then the audio guide and exactly the same, available in French, English, Spanish and Dutch

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Marie Antoinette and her final days

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Marie Antoinette and her final days

Marie Antoinette, the last Queen of France met her final fate on this day, 16 October, 225 years ago.  Imprisoned with the rest of the royal family at the Temple Prison since 13 August 1792, she was moved to the Conciergerie under the cover of darkness on 1 August 1793 and would remain for her last 76 days. Held in a small cell and watched by two guards every second of the day until her quick trial on the 14 of October.

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Today in that same spot where she would spend her final days is a chapel dedicated to her. In 1816 Louis XVIII wanted to bring back the glory of the Bourbons and to re-establish the name of his brother Louis XVI and his Queen Marie Antoinette ordered that a chapel be built in the Conciergerie to honor her. The small chapel is painted dark navy blue with silver tears painted on the wall, artwork hangs depicting those last days of her life and an altar to the memory of the fallen king and queen is built in the place where her bed once lay and she spent her final night alive.

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On the morning of 16 of October she was sentenced to death, and just a few hours later she was lead up the steps into the Cour Mai of the Tribunal and placed on a cart while hundreds gathered to watch the once glamours queen be carted off by horses.  More than 30,000 people stood in silence along the short route to Place de la Republic, now Place de la Concorde and gathered below the stage.  At 12:15 she was lead up the steps to the guillotine, and well you know what happens next.

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Her body was tossed into an unmarked grave at the nearby cemetery  of the Madeline church until the start of the 19th century. In 1802 the land was sold to Pierre-Louis Desclozeaux who had lived next to the cemetery since 1789 and kept track of the location of the remains of the king and queen and planted trees and weeping willows to mark the spot. In 1815 he sold the land to Louis XVIII who then had them exhumed and taken to the Basilica Saint-Denis. On 21 January 1815, they would reach their last destination in the  final resting place of the long line of the French monarchy before them. 

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In 1816 he had the Chapelle Expiatoire built in the spot their remains were location and dedicated to the memory of his brother and sister in law. It is a somber and beautiful place with statues to both Marie and Louis and a black marble altar marks the spot where the remains and the weeping willow once stood. In a time that anything that belonged too or had any link to royalty was destroyed, it's nice a small part of it was saved to see today.

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The Chapelle Expiatoire, Chapel Expiatory of the Conciergerie and Basilica Saint Denis can be visited and is mostly shielded from crowds of tourists. And if like me you are a lover of French history, Marie Antoinette and the architecture of Paris, it's all places you must see. At all of these places it was not hard to be overcome by emotions, especially when you are standing in the footsteps of history and Marie Antoinette. Oh and also she NEVER said "let them eat cake" 

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La Fête Nationale du 14 juillet

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La Fête Nationale du 14 juillet

first things first, if you said "Happy Bastille Day" to a Frenchmen, they wouldn't know what you were talking about. In France it is know as La Fête Nationale du 14 juillet, where every corner is decorated in bleu, blanc et rouge, the ball at the local fire station is the hottest ticket in town (then again when wouldn't it be) and Champagne flows like water. 

You can walk through most of the museums in Paris and come across at least one painting that is depicting a tricolour, waving in the air. Delacroix and his Liberty Leading the People, Van Gogh hoisting the bleu, blanc, rouge on top of Le Moulin de Blute-Fin but one of my favorites can be found inside the Musée d'Orsay by Claude Monet.

La Rue Montorgueil à Paris fête du 30 juin 1878.  Like Delacroix's  Liberty, Monet's painting also is not depicting La Fête Nationale. In June 1878 the state declared 30 June a holiday to celebrate "work and peace" and the renaissance of France after the war of 1870. In the midst of the Universal Exhibition in Paris, Parisians were asked to decorate their houses with flags and bunting.  Claude Monet was walking the streets of Paris and said to his friend and art dealer René Gimpel "The first 30th of June national holiday, I was walking with the tools of my trade in the Rue Montorgueil; the street was bedecked with flags and there were huge crowds; I spotted a balcony, asked if I could paint from it. I could. Later, I came down incognito!"

How quickly did he paint this and how long did he stay on the residents balcony? Could you even imagine sitting there watching Claude Monet paint? He was very well known by 1878 and the Impressionist exhibitions were in full swing and six years after his Impression, Sunrise  gave the movement it's name. Did he finish the painting in one day, that is not known. But he did paint a second one from a balcony on the nearby Rue Saint Denis on the 29th or 30th.  The Rue Saint Denis 30th juin 1878 is quite similar but does show a more of a chaotic scene. It looks like the real party was on Rue Saint Denis.

In 1878 La Fête Nationale du 14 juillet was yet to be a holiday, it was not declared the national holiday until 1880. But the first La Fête Nationale was held in 1790, a year to the day of the Storming of the Bastille. A large party was held on the Champ de Mars in 1790, far outside the city of Paris that lasted for days that included a feast with wine, fireworks which of course leads to people running nude through the streets.  Today there will be the same party on the Champ de Mars, but unlike 1790 it is in the shadow of Madame Eiffel. I am sure there will be a few of those naked folks as well. 

When you are in Paris, the Musee d'Orsay is a must see. And here is a little tip, as soon as you walk in go straight to the very top floor. That is where all the Impressionist are found as well as the amazing clock you can look out and see an amazing view of Paris.

Vive la France! Allez les Bleus

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Eugène Delacroix at Musée du Louvre

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Eugène Delacroix at Musée du Louvre

French artist Eugène Delacroix was the leader of the Romanticism movement of the late 18th and first half of the 19th century. Born in 1798 outside of Paris and an oprhan by the time he reached 16 years old, he found his way to art by the age of 18. Learning at the hand of Pierre-Narcisse Guérin, his fellow classmate was Theodore Gericault, who would have an influence on Delacroix's paintings.  

 

Self portrait- GIlet Vert  1837

Self portrait- GIlet Vert  1837

Through the 23 of July the Musée du Louvre has the most amazing exhibition dedicated to Delacroix. It is the largest collection of his works in one place since 1963 in partnership with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musée Eugène Delacroix. It includes some of his best known works, and one of my very favorite paintings but also his sketchbooks, diaries, working sketches he completed for some of his grandest works  and a few pieces rarely seen.

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Le 28 Juillet 1830 La Liberte Guidant le Peuple  1830

Arguably his most recognized painting is Liberty Leading the People painted in 1830 for the Salon of 1831. Although today is the eve of la Fête Nationale that falls on the anniversary of the Revolution of 1789, this painting commemorates the Paris uprising of 1830, know as the Trois Glorieuses, (Three Glorious Days) that ousted King Charles X.  Liberty is the focal point of the painting, an allegorical figure rich with Greek imagery. Her bare breasts signifies the birth of democracy and her free flowing dress that conveys her movement as she climbs over the cobblestone barricades calling for all to stand up and fight inculuding the school boy.   

Exhibited at the Salon of 1831 it was purchased by the French state the same year to be hung in the Musée du Luxembourg, but was returned to Delacroix in 1839 as the theme was deemed to controversial. By 1848 King Louis-Philippe was the next to go and the painting returned, eventually making it to the Louvre in 1871 where it hangs to this day.   I could talk about this painting and describe it for days, but there is much more to Delacroix and this exhibit.

     sketch of Apollon Vainqueur du Serpent Python

     sketch of Apollon Vainqueur du Serpent Python

One of the most beautiful galleries in the Louvre may be where you can find some of the crown jewels of France, but the the real beauty comes when you tilt your head up. The ceiling of the Galerie d'Apollon was painted by Delacroix. As a artist he loved to spend his days strolling through the Louvre and dreamed of one day seeing his work hanging with the historic walls. At the time an artist would only make it into the Louvre after they had been dead for 10 years. But Delacroix found another way in, when Felix Duban was restoring the famed gallery in the style of Louis XIV, thus the nod to Apollo. He was one of the few artists to live to see his work hanging in the Louvre

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Jeune Orpheline au Cimetiere 1824

Young Girl at the Cemetery painted in 1824, shows Delacroix's affection of Peter Paul Rubens.  The sadness, fear and despair she shows on her face and her eyes glossy with tears, is incredibly moving. When you notice that she is in a cemetery and her great sense of loss as she looks upward for an answer. It constantly amazes me that one person can create that feeling with nothing more than a brush and paint. 

The exhibition is amazing and I spent over 3 hours taking in every detail and reading every word, it is a must see if you are in Paris in July. After that you can still see many of his works within the Musée du Louvre and also the Musée Eugène Delacroix that is a short walk away. And as a bonus if you go to the Louvre first, hang onto your ticket as it gets you into the Delacroix museum for free within 48 hours.

 

 

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La Chandeleur day, yet another perfect day in Paris

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La Chandeleur day, yet another perfect day in Paris

As with most things I like to celebrate the French way instead of waiting to see the rodent pop out of a hole to tell us we just have more winter coming, and in France February 2nd is La Chandeleur day or Candelmas. A Catholic holiday that dates back to Roman times and was a procession of followers carrying candles to celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the temple and the purification of the Virgin Mary. Now we celebrate with Crêpes, with the Crêpes, being an offering, but... let’s not kid ourselves, they are a pretty tasty way to celebrate a holiday. The ages old belief is that while you are making the crepes, if you can flip the crepe and toss it back into the pan with one hand, and holding a gold coin in your other hand you will become rich that year.

Savory or sweet and filled with Nutella, either way they are amazing. But it would be hard to live up to this amazing Crêpes I had in Paris with Duck prosciutto and Foie Gras, with a glass of Rosé sitting on a Paris sidewalk, it really doesn’t get better than that.

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Coronation of Napoleon

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Coronation of Napoleon

On this day a very very long time ago, 213 years to be exact Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor of France in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Napoleon wanting to set his own rules and traditions and not wanting to "descend from anyone" he bucked the old ways of  French rulers being crowned in the Cathedral Notre-Dame de Reims and set his sites on the historic cathedral in the birthplace of Paris.   Napoleon was so adamant to have Pope Pius VII in attendance but as the ceremony started he grasped the crown out of the Papal hands and placed it on his own head. 

Laure Junot, Duchess of Abrantes was in attendance on this historical day and had kept very detailed diaries. Later when she became the lover of the Honore de Balzac, lucky for us,  he convinced her to complete and publish her 18 volume memoirs. She had said " But just as the Pope was about to take the crown, called the crown of Charlemagne, from the altar, Napoleon seized it and placed it on his own head! At that moment he was really handsome, and his countenance was lighted up with an expression of which no words can convey an idea. "

It was now Josephine's turn, the great love and first wife of Napoleon and the devoted subject to his hundreds of love letters. She ascended to the throne, with his sisters reluctantly behind her. Junot stated  "One of the chief beauties of the Empress Josephine was not merely her fine figure, but the elegant turn of her neck, and the way in which she carried her head ; indeed, her deportment, altogether, was conspicuous for dignity and grace. I have had the honor of being presented to many real princesses, but I never saw one who, to my eyes, presented so perfect a personification of elegance and majesty." Josephine clasped her hands, lowered her head as tears fell down her face and just then he placed the crown on her head, over her tiara.

All of this is so perfectly captured in one of my favorite works of art inside the walls of the Musée du Louvre. The Coronation of Napoleon (Le Sacre de Napoléon) is the immense painting that stretches 33 feet across room 75 of the Denon wing. Jacques-Louis David was commissioned by Napoleon himself a few months before the big day. He didn't start the actual piece until a year later, with Napoleon making a few specific changes and additions to the painting that were a bit different from the actual event. The biggest being his mother, sitting in the balcony above him. She was not the biggest fan of Josephine, and she was still in Rome and refused to attend, Napoleon had her added in. The original drawing of the Pope had him sitting and looking on and the little Emperor said "I didn't bring him her to do nothing" so he was altered in the final piece to be anointing the ceremony.  Also looking down from above is the artist himself, David added himself into the balcony over the Emperor's mother. There are many other little secrets hidden in this painting, more on that later. 

Seeing this vast amazing work of art filled with symbolism, history and all the regal touches makes it one of the many must sees every time I am in Paris. I could never get tired of sitting on the bench so perfectly placed in front of this for an hour every time and just take in every single face and detail and every time I find something new.  As the hundreds of people walk in front, snap a selfie and walk on by to the next must see item on the list. It always makes me sad, that they truly don't SEE anything or the beauty that is in front of them.

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The Griffon and the oldest graffiti in Paris

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The Griffon and the oldest graffiti in Paris

Hidden on a pillar amongst the many Parisian sunbathers at the Place des Vosges hides the oldest graffiti in Paris. You won't find this in the pages of Rick Steve's guidebooks, and you would be hard pressed to find a tourists with a selfie stick waiting their turn for a pictures and thousands walk right past it everyday and never notice.

Just outside No 11 Place de Vosges halfway up the pillar the faintest of markings can still be found. For it was here on this stone pillar that in 1764 a man from Bourgoun,  Nicolas Restif de la Bretonneleft a little something behind. Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806) was a printmaker and typographer that moved to Paris and later became a controversial  author who would stroll the city streets for inspiration leaving behind hundreds of markings on the city walls.  He was given the very fitting nickname "the griffon" (the scribbler) but the residents of Paris. Today only one marking remains and it is here in the beautiful Place des Vosges.  .  

1764 NICOLA is etched just as clear today and can still be seen 253 years later in the very same place. Today many corners of Paris are covered with graffiti from the amazing street artists like Invader, Banksy, Blek le Rat and so many more. But they all owe a little something to old Nicola and his midnight Paris strolls.

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The best staircaise in all of Paris

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The best staircaise in all of Paris

The bends and curves of this amazing staircase in the Musée Gustave Moreau in Paris rivals that of all of the art hanging on the walls. The narrow steps twirl around like a little girl on a summer day, or like me in every given second in Paris.  The museum is located in the house his family lived in the 9th Arr. just below the famed Montmartre and shouldn't be missed.

A French symbolist painter, he spent most of his time painting mythical and biblical figures in the early to late 1800's. In fact he did more than 8000 drawings and paintings, where more than 6000 can be seen within the four floors of his former home. Moreau created an  extensive system of label and naming every piece he created in hopes that they would all be on display together. He turned the upper floors of his house into a gallery and studio and in 1901 it was opened as a museum following his death.  

The museum is off the main tourist tracks of Paris and not as well known so you can roam the small halls and rooms on the first two floors before you arrive to the second floor and see the crown jewel, this staircase.

Musée National Gustave Moreau
14 rue de La Rochefoucauld
75009 Paris

Open everyday but Tuesday and only 5 euros

 

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Mur de la Paix, Wall of Peace

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Mur de la Paix, Wall of Peace

At the far end of the lush green grass in the shadows of le Tour Eiffel sits a glass wall that is known as the Mur de la Paix, the Wall of Peace.  Built in 2000, and very new in the grand scheme of Parisian monuments, the glass walls are covered with Peacewritten in 32 languages and 13 alphabets and inspired by the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.  Much like the grand iron lady at the other end of the Champ de Mars the Mur de la Paix was to be a temporary instillation, 17 years later it is still there.

The Champ de Mars is named after the Mars, the God of War and Champs means field, so a Wall of Peace sitting at the end of the vast space crowned with the most famous monument in the world is pretty iconic.  But the days of the wall may be numbered, in the spring it was fenced off and in disrepair. So you should plan a trip soon to see it before it is gone. The perspective looking back at le Tour Eiffel is breathtaking.

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Le Baiser

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Le Baiser

On this day, 12 June, 1950 Life magazine published what would become one of the  iconic photos of Paris. Le baiser de l'hôtel de ville, (The Kiss by the Hotel de ville) by Robert Doisneau. Taken in front of the Hôtel de Ville in the 4th arrondissement of Paris just over the Pont d'Arcole which will also take you right in front of the Notre Dame de Paris. 

I love this photo, but more for what is around the couple then the couple themselves. The essence of Paris comes so clearly across in this piece.   The people walking by without even a glance toward the couple in a close embrace is what is so very Parisian. It is not uncommon to see this exact scene on one of the many picturesque bridges, in front of the Eiffel Tower or on a sidewalk terrace, it's as common to see as a Frenchman walking down the street with a baguette.

It's the romance of Paris that oozes out of everything that is so easy to be whisked away into, and there is nothing wrong with that at all.  But back to this photo and where I will squash your romantic dreams of what looks like such a candid moment. By 1950 Robert Doiseneu had been documenting the streets of Paris for a few years after working for Vogue as a fashion photographer. He found his inspiration in the everyday life of Parisians and it was on one of these days he saw a couple kissing.  For more than 40 years it was a great mystery who the young couple were, but in 1992 they were revealed.  Jacques Carteaud and Françoise Bornet were dating and walking through Paris kissing away when Doisneau caught a glimpse of them. In 2005 Françoise said that, "He told us we were charming, and asked if we could kiss again for the camera. We didn't mind. We were used to kissing. We were doing it all the time then, it was delicious. Monsieur Doisneau was adorable, very low key, very relaxed."

So he took them to a few famous spots in Paris to recreate their kiss, but it was in front of the Hôtel de Ville that they struck gold and the iconic photo was created.   When you are in Paris, go to this same spot and at the café across the square stand across from the "C" and kiss away and you can make your own version. I can promise you it's not hard to be swept away in the romance of Paris and you too can find out exactly why they call them French Kisses. 

 

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Joyeux anniversaire Tour Eiffel

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Joyeux anniversaire Tour Eiffel

On 15 March, 1889 the last rivet was installed on what has become the grandest lady in all of Paris. Built for the 1889 World's Fair honoring the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille the iron lady was only meant to stay up for twenty years.  As the crowning entrance to the exhibition, the Eiffel Tower was the tallest structure in the world and was a site to behold, just as it is today.. Standing in the center and looking up much like in this picture that I took the first time I stood below the amazing delicate and strong structure it would be almost impossible to imagine the thoughts one would have had 128 years ago.   It took less than two years to complete the structure with most of the pieces being made and assembled at an offsite factory and brought into Paris by horse drawn carts. An amazing 2.7 trillion rivets hold this work of art together that Gustave Eiffel championed to create against all of the criticism from Parisians at the time.  

Today she is the crowning icon of Paris and the most visited paid monument in the world. Of my giant list of things to see in Paris on my first trip she was at the very top of it. From the first time to the tenth time that I have stood there looking at her, if it's in the bright fall sun, the dark of night as she sparkles or standing underneath looking up with a Frenchie, it takes my breath away EVERY SINGLE TIME. I don't think that will ever change. 

Joyeux anniversaire grand dame, may you forever inspire so many near and far and I shall see you soon.  XO

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Serge, Bardot and a Birkin Bag

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Serge, Bardot and a Birkin Bag

The amazing French singer & actor Serge Gainsbourg passed away on March 2, 1991 at 62 years old, one month before his birthday. Born and raised in Paris most of his life, but spent the period of the German occupation of Paris with his family in the town of Limoges. The Ginsburg family were considered  yellow star Jews, they obtained fake papers and were able to safely get out of Paris into the Zone libre, the free zone. The war years effected him greatly and he had a hard time ever getting past what he would learn during that time.

His musical career and his love life, both of which intertwine at times have been talked about as much as his music. Serge dated the French bombshell Brigett Bardot for one very hot and steamy year, I am just guessing that but come on, Bardot! They recorded a few songs together including Bonnie and Clyde and Bardot was his first partner on the controversial song. Je t'aime...moi non plus.  The broke up before it could be released, so he enlisted his new partner Jane Birkin. The song made waves with its naughty lyrics and the sounds of what resembles a female orgasm throughout the song and in 1969 it was blocked in many countries from even being played, France even edited for the airwaves. Even the Pope weighed in calling the song "offensive", but the song was a top 10 hit across the world.

Largely remembered for his song, Le Poinçonneur des Lilas, which was about a Metro ticket taker, to this day people leave their Metro tickets on his grave. Buried in the Montparnasse cemetery in a pretty humble grave lays Serge along with his parents. There is no statue or monument, just a sheet of marble with his name on it in gold. Potted plants. notes and hundreds of metro tickets cover his gravesite.

On a small side street in the 7th arrondissement just a few blocks from the Seine is, 5 bis Rue de Verneuil. the final address and home he lived in from the mid 60's on. His daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, had plans to turn his house into a museum but has left it the same exact way it was the last day he was alive. The wall outside has become an ever changing shrine to him from his fans. From time to time they paint over it to appease the neighbors, only to have his faithful back with stencils and spray paint. 

On my first trip to Paris this was a must see stop, of course I love Serge and his music and made sure on this day I was listening to him as I walked my way through the 7eme until I came upon the colorful wall. Covered with love notes to him, stenciled images of him or just some random tagging it is pretty amazing in all it's chaos. I can't wait to see what it looks like in 41 days.

Another fun fact about Serge is that his partner Jane Birkin was THAT Birkin. She used a large opened straw bag as her purse and on a flight from Paris to London she happen to be sitting next to the Hermès head honcho. Her bag spilled out and she expressed how hard it had been for her to find the perfect leather bag. He then created a bag for her, today it is known as a Birkin Bag. A handbag that can take years to obtain from the multi year waitlist. and most cost more than a car, a few cars at that and is quite possibly the most infamous item in fashion there is.  

 

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The cutest great grandmother....ever

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The cutest great grandmother....ever

This cute little thing is my Great-Grandmother Adeline McCormick Pearson, born on leap day 1896..... She lived to the ripe old age of 103 or as she liked to tell us 24..... She only had 24 real birthdays and once I was 24 she would tell me how we were the same age, but I think my grandma may still be going with 29 and I foresee I will play this same game someday. She was the cutest thing ever, just look at those pearls. I wish I knew where my grandpa took this picture, it looks like it could be a street in Paris. She would tell me all the time how she had been engaged a whopping 8 times. She was married only once, to my great grandpa Nick who traveled the world as an engineer and his favorite place to visit was, you guessed it Paris! I thought her 8 engagements were so exciting and scandalous but she never liked to talk about it. But I did later get it out of her, she was a nurse for the army and would meet many solders and before they went off to war, they would ask her to marry them, she would say "well how could I say no."  I still like the idea that she was quite the catch to all these men way back when, I mean look at her!

Her name was Adeline but we called her Mickey, recently I asked my grandmother why we called her Mickey, her maiden name was McCormick  so Mickey evolved from there and it was pretty adorable and fitting for her. Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents and Mickey for which I thank my lucky stars every single day.  I recall times at the beach with Mickey and she would tell me when she was a little girl she didn't have paper dolls like we did at that time and they had to cut them out of the newspaper and she would have to make clothes out of paper. Thinking this was the strangest idea as a 7 year old,  she and I sat there cutting out ladies from magazines and making them clothes.  

Mickey was an excellent cook and would make the best clam chowder and it had to be so hot you would burn your mouth on it, and always top it with a pat of butter. But her mac and cheese was the stuff of dreams, but as a 8 year old visiting her great grandmother you want the mac and cheese out of the blue box and the package of powder cheese.  What I would give for her macaroni and cheese today. The closest thing I have ever found is the Martha's Mac & Cheese

She lived in an apartment until she was 100 years old, and on one occasion she made dinner and my grandparents and I went, because you never missed a chance to have her cooking. As we ate the mac and cheese we wondered what the new addition of the little dark spots were. My grandpa looked at me and said, they are bugs from the flour, don't say anything just eat it, they won't kill you. It is one of my most vivid memories as a kid and one of the last times I think we had her amazing mac and cheese. I would go back to that moment to have her and my grandpa here today, bugs in the mac and cheese and all! 

Happy birthday Mickey! We miss you every single day

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Arc de Triomphe & Victor Hugo

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Arc de Triomphe & Victor Hugo

Today holds two milestones in the realms of Parisian history, both of which are held in such high regards they are both thought of as national treasures and they both have a portion of their history that crosses paths The Arc de Triomphe and Victor Hugo.

211 years ago today, February 26, 1806Emperor Napoleon decreed that the Arc de Triomphe would be built in Paris after his victory in Austerlitz, he wanted a grand arch dedicated to his military achievements, because he was of course, Napoleon. It took over two years for the first stone to be laid and construction to be started. In 1810 after the marriage of his second wife. Marie-Louise of Austria he had a wooden replica built from the original plans and as he and his new bride entered onto the Champs Elysees they passed under Arc to much fan fair. Sadly he never saw it once it was completed in 1836, for he had been exiled by that point out of France.  But in fitting fashion when his King of France Louis-Philippe I was in power he decreed that Napoleon return to France for a proper burial. And on 15 December 1840 Napoleon made his way again into Paris and this time under the completed Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees and to his final resting place at Les Invalides.

  • Also on this day the great French poet, author and statesmen Victor Hugo was born.  In 1802 in Besancon France, Victor Marie Hugo was born in Eastern France. Outside of France he is mostly recognized as the author of Les Misérables and the Hunchback of Notre-Dame but in Paris and France his an icon that is still as relevant today as he was when he was alive. His novel Hunchback of Notre-Dame saved the church from demolition and for that we should be eternally grateful and Les Misérables has been on the stage and screen many times over the years. But it was his voice regarding political and social issues that also add to his legacy. A supporter of the royalist party when he was younger he moved away and against all they stood for and began a fight for those who didn't have a voice. In 1849 he made a series of speeches asking for the end of poverty and to supply free education to all and to end the death penalty. Upon the election of Napoleon III as Emperor of France in 1851 he declared him a traitor of France and moved to Brussels and was later exiled from Jersey until 1870 when he finally returned to his beloved country.

On 22 May 1885 Victor Hugo died of pneumonia at the age of 83 into what became a national day of mourning, not only for his amazing works of literature but also for everything he did to define the Third republic and life in France. He was paraded through Paris and rested overnight under the grand arch of the Arc de Triomphe for all to pay their respects. More than a few million people followed the procession from the Arc de Triomphe to his final resting place at the Pantheon where only those held in the highest regards in France are laid to rest.

 

 

The Arc de Triomphe has been the focal point of many historic moments in Paris. From Napoleon, to Victor Hugo, to the famous walk of Charles de Gaulle, Hitler driving around and admiring it and you can't forget the final stop of the Tour de France. A parade every year on Bastille Day as well as Armistice day which I was lucky enough to see last year and the beautiful giant tri-color flag hanging in the center of the historic arch.

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Auguste Renoir, one of the Impressionist greats

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Auguste Renoir, one of the Impressionist greats

On this day in 1841 Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born in Limoges, France, (yeah, the same place the amazing enamel and porcelain comes from.) Moving to Paris as a child he later found singing and not painting to be his calling and took up with a teacher until his family could no longer afford it so he decided to become an apprentice to a porcelain master.  His family lived close to the Musée du Louvre, where he would spend most of his time and he discovered he had a higher calling. In 1862 he began to study art and met Sisley, Bazille and one Claude Monet. The famed Paris Salon began to fight back against the Impressionist of the time and in response the banded together to create their own show, the Impressionist Exhibition of 1874.

In 1876 he painted the Bal du Moulin de la Galette one of his most famous works that can be see at the Musée d'Orsay. The Dance at the Cake Mill, was painted at his studio in Montmartre that he created from an abandoned building on the Rue Cortot. At the time most of the artists living and working in Paris moved to the Montmartre area as it was less expensive. Together they would live, work and create some of the Impressionists masterpieces of the time. 

Seeing this piece in person is amazing, the movement and the realness of the dancers and the people sitting back talking and taking in the Paris life is a perfect example of what it is like in Paris even today.  

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The guardians of the French language

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The guardians of the French language

On the left bank overlooking the River Seine is a beautiful domed building that sits at the end of the Pont des Arts, my favorite bridge in Paris.  The building never has long lines of backpacked tourists waiting to get in, and if you watch for a bit you won't even see many people coming and going and sits rather lonely with a view of the Louvre, Pont des Arts and the end of the Ile de la Cite.   It may look familiar to fans of Sex and the City, for it was on this bridge with this majestic building with a tint of gold on it that was in the background as Mr. Big and Carrie had their final moment in the city of love.

This building is the home of the Académie Française,  the keeper of the French language that was founded 382 years ago today by Cardinal Richelieu "to labor with all the care and diligence possible, to give exact rules to our language, to render it capable of treating the arts and sciences".  To this day the forty members hold close the French language and admonish the usage of Englishin official documents, advertisements and daily use.

One of the many things that makes Paris and France so amazing is how they hold their culture so tightly. They cherish their buildings, history, art and language in a way that America never has. America is too busy or to care to type out entire words in a text, they shorten words when speaking and even the leader of the country can barely speak English. 

 Bon Anniversaire Académie Française

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The most romantic spot in all of Paris

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The most romantic spot in all of Paris

The most romantic spot in Paris is not the top of the Eiffel Tower or on a Bateaux-Mouches on the river Seine at twilight when all of Paris is lit up or a tiny café over many glasses of perfect French wine with the perfect Paris sky above you, it is in fact in  front of the Fontaine Saint-Michel, on the edge of the Quartier Latin overlooking Notre Dame de Paris.  But first things first....

I became fascinated by this very statue over 10 years ago, when writing my yearly Tour de French Cuisine project as the riders would go right past it before hitting the Champs Elysees and just the short glance of it had me hooked. The grand statue sits high above the confluence of  Pont-St-Michel and Boulevard St-Michel just down from Notre Dame de Paris. It depicts the patron saint of France the archangel Michel slaying the devil along side the statues of Prudence, Power, Justice and Temperance. St Michel can be seen many places in France from the walls of the Musée du Louvre to the gold gilded statue high atop Mont-St-Michel in Normandy.

 Although Sacre Ceour and standing together to watch the Eiffel Tower light up or the street corner in l'Odeon at three in the morning under the perfectly clear Paris sky with nobody around and just the two of us as we tried to say goodbye, well that one is pretty amazing as well. 

 

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