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At Home and In Paris

Updated: Oct 11, 2023


 

New and Old, Fair and Fearfull



It’s hard to believe that in one brief week, we found and visited one new museum in the Marais, met a couple of thirty-somethings from Los Angeles and had a three hour lunch with them in a cafe terrace around the corner from the museum. We four witnessed smoke billowing up from a fire across the street and the arrival of the heroes of Paris, the Pompiers. After we parted from our new young friends, Ted and I strolled the streets of the former-swampland that, when drained, was the place of religious orders in the Middle Ages, became the heart of Paris Nobility in the 17th Century, fell in and out of fashion , and in the seventies rose from a low rent area for immigrant Eastern Jews, gays, and starving artists, to it's present state as a touristic favorite filled with museums, galleries, restaurants, cafes and regentrified homes. We had dinner with our now old-young-friend Antoine at his favorite friendly and funky Petit Bistro Vendome, and the next day we visited the historic ,Hotel de Sully after which we had supper in one of the terrace bistros surrounding Place Louis XIII, these days better known as the Place de Voges. Finally, we ended the week with a day-trip to Provins, which remains one of the most well preserved towns from the Middle Ages.

And that’s just a summary. Stand by for the details in words and images.

It was not that we hadn’t heard of the Musee Cognacq-Jay, but we hadn’t yet taken advantage of all that it had to offer.

The history of the museum is linked with the history of La Samaritaine, the department store, founded by Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jay. As early as 1925, Ernest Cognacq began holding temporary exhibitions of works from his private collection at the Samaritaine de Luxe, an offshoot of the original store launched in 1917 at 25-29 Boulevard des Capucines. Built in the Opéra district by architect Frantz Jourdain, this building was devoted to luxury goods for the homes of Paris’ haute bourgeoisie.

In 1927, Cognacq found the eighteenth-century wooden panels with which he intended to adorn the walls of his new museum, to be housed in the building next door to the Samaritaine de Luxe. After his death in 1928, this project was brought to fruition by Edouard Jonas, an antiques expert and adviser to Cognacq in partnership with the beneficiary of the collector’s will -- the City of Paris. Officially inaugurated by President Gaston Doumergue in 1929, the museum spread over three floors, displaying the Cognacq collection in its entirety in rooms intended to replicate the style of an eighteenth-century townhouse. Cogacq's

concept of this new museum wasn't to compete with the capital’s great museums. He never lived in a palace, and his ambition for his collections was to provide a setting whose moderate dimensions would complement the works while preserving a cherished sense of intimacy. Over the three average-sized floors of the Musée Cognacq-Jay, visitors can discover a collection where the vast canvases and sumptuous furnishings which adorn the immense galleries of the Louvre and Versailles are conspicuous by their absence. Instead visitors are invited to share in the charm of harmonious surroundings which, to borrow an expression which is particularly apt here, formed the artistic backdrop to French life in the eighteenth century. In this respect the Musée Cognacq-Jay is a welcome counterpart to the great Parisian museums, following the example set by the Musée Carnavalet, recently re-opened, and the current visiting exhibition follows this theme perfectly as it is dedicated to the work of one

Louis-Leopold Boilly The self-portrait on the cover of the booklet introducing the exhibit was what attracted us to this painter that we had not been aware of. His artistry and personality shined through and gave us a sense of urgency to be sure not to miss this promise of something quite special. Boilly was definitely a lover of Paris. Born in the North of France, he set out at the age of twenty-four for Paris on the eve of the Revolution in 1785 and thereafter, never left it. There was something that resonated with my own story in that of Boilly. I too fell in love with Paris as a young woman, and since

making our move here in 2016, I have never been in doubt that I would remain here for the rest of my life.

Although self-taught, this remarkable artist was incredibly talented, skilled, and a prolific chronicler of Parisian life. For roughly sixty years, between the two revolutions, Boilly was a sort of visual of 'bard' of Paris, telling stories in paint of everyday life, portraits of the common and the uncommon, caricatures of every imaginable type, and the creator of some amazing tromp l’oeil. He was a master of

the self-portrait and often hid representations of himself for the viewer to try to find in many a crowd. In these numerous self characterizations

one can see the countless facets of Boilly's playful personality. Although he painted a portrait of a Paris, it was not the historical Paris filled with royalty and monuments, but his vision of the Paris in which he liked to stroll, the cafes, theaters, and salons, and the Grande Boulevards where he felt that the real spectacle took place. He enjoyed observing faces as well as places and became a sought after portrait painter. Every expression was captured with respect for each line, wrinkle, grimace and smile. Portraits and caricatures numbered over five thousand, of which 1,000 are well known today.



From the Boulevards to the Boudoir, Boilly portrayed his subjects with detail and dignity, no matter how common or complex the subject.


Boilly created theatre from his representation of real life, and both Ted and I delighted in his delightful palate and his mise en scene.

After we'd our fill of this extraordinary exhibit, we had barely enough space of mind for the permanent collection of paintings, sculptures and decorative arts and were in awe of what good taste and great wealth can produce for the public eye. We decided to turn the corner and have some coffee, perhaps a light lunch. We found ourself sitting on the terrace next to a young couple who were clearly Americans. I asked where they hailed from and they said Los Angeles!

She was a native and he had been born in New Delhi In Santa Monica he began as a modest restauranteur off Main Street in Santa Monica where they lived above their eclectic eatery.

Our quick bite turned into a lovely long l in our lives and how we came to retire in this city that they clearly loved was touching. But just before we asked for the check, we suddenly smelled and then spied the billowing black smoke coming from the courtyard of a large stone building just a couple of doors down across the street. As we were about to call 112 for urgent attention to the situation, we realized that many others were already on the spot. We waited for what seemed an unusually long time, realizing that the traffic in the Marais, with its narrow and crowded streets filled with cars and pedestrians was a rough route.

The Pompiers finally arrived with trucks and equipment and quelled our concerns that the fire might spread. They dragged out what appeared to be a soggy pile of previously burning insulation, and they set their shiney helmets in rows all together and went about finishing their job. These heroes of Paris can always be counted upon to keep our city and its people safe and sound. After we said our goodbyes, we sent or new friends to see what we had seen at the Cognacq Jay, and we took the opposite direction to window shop and then home to our Mickey.


Walking the streets of Paris are a never ending treasure trove of un-expectables, like the sight of two very large Teddy bears gazing down at the fire truck as if in awe of their services, and this street sign indicating that a small square was named after and dedicated to a certain lawyer and early militant feminist who lived from 1933-2015.



The following day we returned to this same quarter to visit -- with our guide Thierry Heil -- the famed Hôtel de Sully, an enormous private mansion with a even larger history. Built at the beginning of the 17th century, it is now the seat of the Centre des monuments nationaux, an organization

responsible for national heritage sites.It has been listed since 1862 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.The hôtel de Sully was built between 1624 and 1630, with

gardens and an orangery where delicate plants could be sheltered in winter for the wealthy financier Mesme Gallet. The building is usually attributed to the architect Jean Androuet du Cerceau. We learned that in the right-hand corner of the back of the property is a ‘secret’ entrance leading into the renowned Place des Voges.More on that further on.

Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully and former Superintendent of Finances to King Henri IV, purchased the hôtel completed and fully furnished in 1634. He put the final touches on the the redecoration of the building, and spent his last years living there. His grandson, Maximilien commissioned architects to build an additional wing to the west of the garden in 1660. The Hôtel de Sully still bears the name of this family, who owned the building into the 18th century. The Place des Voges passed through the hands of various owners, becoming an investment property in the 19th century. Several additions and alterations

were made, to accommodate trades, craftsmen and other tenants. In 1862 it was classified as a monument historique, and new owners more concerned with conservation, gradually restored the building. It became a state-owned property in 1944. A long restoration program was then undertaken, which was completed with the repair of the orangery and a gorgeous grassy square filled with flowers and fountains and surrounded by topiary Linden trees in 1973. The beautiful arcades are home to antiques stores, art shops, and restaurants, and the famed persons who have lived there in the exquisite homes surrounding the park are countless. In the past the King Henry IV and Queen Anne each had their own apartments, as did Victor Hugo, and Cardinal Richelieu just to name a few. Place des Vosges is a 10' walk from Picasso Museum Paris, 15' walk from Centre Pompidou, 20' from Notre-Dame Cathedral. We had supper in one of the many quaint and well-maintained bistros on the terraces under the arcades, and walked out of wonderland to return to our own cozy home on our little modest rue.

This was a particularly busy week for us as we also had planned to meet with our friend Antoine for dinner at one of his favorite bistros. La Petite Vendome was was within easy walking distance of our home. We so enjoy Antoine’s company and were as always honored that he likes to spend time with a couple who are a decade older than his parents in Chartres.



We took photos of each other, ate hearty food with wine and beer, and spoke about mutual friends still here in Paris and overseas. It was a delight to be together as always, and we parted with a reassuring reminder from Antoine that his shower is always available.What better friend could we hope to have! As for our Friday’s

day-trip, we chose one of the most well preserved towns from the middle-ages. Provins is a town in north-central France near Paris. Its medieval architecture includes high ramparts with fortified gates, and the stone Tithe Barn. The barn was used as a market when Provins was a medieval trading hub and host of a major annual trade fair.

With views over Provins, the hilltop César tower dates from the 12th century. The town's underground tunnels feature centuries-old wall inscriptions. The St. Quiriace Collegiate Catholic Church had an interesting story, told to us with humor when Ted asked a man— who appeared to be the Deacon of the Church—about the significance of the three crosses in the wrought iron design placed near the entrance. The story had to do with the three crosses that had been lost in the centuries after the crucifiction of Jesus and the two thieves that died with him. As the story goes, a few hundred years later Constantine had a dream in which the sign of the cross appeared and said, “by this sign you shall win”. HeHe prevailedHe prevailed over hisHe prevailed over his adversariHe prevailed over his adversarieHe prevailed over his adversariesHe prevailed over his adversaries He prevailed over his adversaries aHe prevailed over his adversaries anHe prevailed over his adversaries andHe prevailed over his adversaries and becameHe prevailed over his adversaries and became theHe prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperorHe prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperor of RomeHe prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperor of Rome.He prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperor of Rome. SubsequentlHe prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperor of Rome. Subsequentlyhe prevailed over his adversaries and became the emperor of Rome. Subsequently, He converted to Christianity, and so did his mother Helen . Helen then traveled to Jerusalem in search of the true cross. While there she established the Church of the nativity in Bethlehem.

She also consulted with a rabbi about the whereabouts of this cross. Although he doesn't know where it can be found, he refers her to a man named Judah who can tell her of the whereabouts of the cross. She goes to visit Judah and he is not very cooperative, so he is thrown into a dungeon and held there without food or water until he gives in to Constantine's mother's request and they go with him to the location of not one, but all three crosses. Since no one can tell the difference between the crosses, they find a woman who is deathly ill and they lay her down on each one of the crosses, until bodily contact with the third cross results in a complete healing of her maladies. Constantine's mother takes this to be a sign that this third cross is indeed the holy one

on which Jesus had been crucified. She takes a segment of the cross back to Rome from the port of Jaffa. One might think this would be the end of the story. However, there seems to have been some value attached to the head of Judah, which had disappeared. But, lo and behold, his head winds up during the first crusade in the town of Provins. And so with Judah's shrunken head in their possession, it was decided that a church would be constructed to house this holy relic in perpetuity in Provins in the 12th Century. At some point, Judah's head dissappeared, and as the Deacon put it "the members of the church lose their head during repetitive wars over the loss of the head of Judah." (with a smile on his face). After leaving the church we found the street upon which were the ruins of a medieval synagogue.

By this time we were both ready for lunch. We had a reservation at a lovely restaurant outside of town in the countryside. It was named Once Upon A Time (in French, Il Etait Une Fois).The garden, the blue skies, and the birdsong were dreamy, but the food was so-so, and the parents of the crying child at the table next to ours were a nightmare. Needless to say, as pleasant as the greenery was, the fairytale being written by the family of four whose drama did not have a happy ending aided us in our decision to continue on our way to find the rose garden that had quite a reputation in this small and storied town. But, although there were beautiful flowers to be seen, we were about two weeks early for the main event which promised to be spectacular.

Still, we enjoyed the walk through this lush garden with its tall trees and sparkling streams and every so often place to sit and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere we had missed Once Upon A Time! We hoped we could return later in the Spring, knowing full well that these do-overs rarely ever come to pass.


Next on the agenda was a tour of Les Souterrains, where those farmers and tradespersons from all over -- not just France but other parts of Europe -- came to participate in the Fairs and Markets and stored their goods in these subterranean caverns that ran under most of the town of Provins.

We joined a group of at least a dozen more curious travelers and made our way through the caverns, and up and down precarious, ancient stone staircases as we heard the tales of those times when this town was a very important place for commercial exchanges. By the time we emerged into the sunshine after having spent an hour or more in these chilly and damp caves, we were ready for some hot coffee, and a smooth ride with Evie under beautiful Magritte skies all the way home, a happy ending after all!



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