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At Home and In Paris

Updated: Mar 10

Iconic Art, Modern Ballet, Classic Moliere, Russian Music, and a

Visit to L'Assemblée Nationale, all Post-Armoire Apocalypse

I'm positive that this is not the first nor will it be the last time I apologize for being so tardy in finishing writing my post for all those who look forward to reading it. But there were many things that imposed themselves in the past month as well as pleasant adventures that we were able to insert in between and could not be passed up. First on the agenda was our trip to Normandy to visit a very good friend and colleague Professor Didier Houzel. We decided to

take a two-night stay at the Chateau L'Audrieu that stands halfway between the town of Caen (where

our friend lives) and the City of Bayeaux.

The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the supreme achievements of the Norman Romanesque period. Its survival, almost intact over nine centuries, is little short of miraculous. Its exceptional length, nearly 71 meters, the harmony and freshness of its colors, its exquisite workmanship, and the genius of its historical storytelling combine to make it endlessly fascinating. The cloth consists of 58 scenes, many with Latin titles, is embroidered on linen with colored woolen yarns. It was said to have been commissioned by Bishop Odo, William The Conquerer's maternal half-brother, and made in England – not in Bayeux – in the 1070s.

In 1729, the hanging was rediscovered by scholars at a time when it was being displayed annually in Bayeux Cathedral, which we also revisited on our trip. Only the figures and decorations are embroidered on a background left plain, which shows the subject very clearly and was necessary to cover a large area. French legend maintains

the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror's wife. Indeed, in France, it is occasionally known as La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde. However, Apparently, scholarly analysis in the 20th century concluded it was probaWilliam'sssioned by William's half-brother Bishop Odo, who, after the Conquest, became an Earl. The first reference to the tapestry is from 1476 when it was listed in an inventory of the treasures of Bayeux Cathedral. It survived the sack of Bayeux by the Huguenots in 1562, and the next certain reference is from 1724.

During the French Revolution, in 1792, the tapestry was confiscated as public property to be used for covering military wagons. It was rescued from a wagon by a local lawyer who stored it in his house until the troubles were over, whereupon he sent it to the city administrators for safekeeping. Afterward, the Fine Arts Commission, set up to safeguard national treasures in 1803, required it to be removed to Paris for display at the Musée Napoléon. When Napoleon abandoned his invasion of Britain, the tapestry's propaganda value was lost and it was returned to Bayeux where the council

displayed it on a winding apparatus of two cylinders. Despite concern that the tapestry was becoming damaged the council refused to return it to the cathedral. On 27 June 1944, the Gestapo took the tapestry to the Louvre and on 18 August, three days before the Wehrmacht withdrew from Paris, Himmler sent a message (intercepted by Bletchley Park) ordering it to be taken to "a place of safety",

thought to be Berlin. It was only on 22 August that the SS attempted to take possession of the tapestry, by which time the Louvre was again in French hands. After Paris was liberated, the tapestry was again put on public display in the Louvre, and in 1945 it was returned to Bayeux, where it is exhibited at the Musée de la Tapisserie de Bayeux. Our visit there was topped off by the unexpected discovery of the exhibition of David Hockney’s famous “A Year in Normandie.” The original work, presented in the main gallery of the Musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, takes the form of a 90-meter-long frieze

celebrating the arrival of spring in the

Normandy countryside. The exhibition in Bayeux was accompanied by an impressive film depicting the creation of this masterwork, completed within the year 2019, during which Hockney resided in the countryside of Normandy. First sketched in colored pencils as observed from the same place in the garden each day, the sections were assembled and then painted in Hockney's atelier, and only then did he return to the garden to create the finished work on an IPad, a technique he had used for quite some time. The scene, which encompasses the passing of all four seasons, was greatly inspired by the thousand-year-old narrative embroidery. The Bayeux exhibition brought Hockney’s frieze and its muse together in an unprecedented face-to-face, in the form of half-scale reproductions of the monumental works shown on the second floor of the museum. This dialogue between the famous embroidery from the 11th century and

David Hockney’s imposing frieze allowed us to immerse ourselves in the two narratives simultaneously. We were able to observe and compare the stylized representations of trees in the Tapestry with the fruit trees in the artist’s orchard. “If you look closely, the two masterpieces, with admittedly very different artistic techniques, immortalize a specific moment in time. Both freeze-frame a conquest: that of a Norman Duke in England in the 11th century for one, and that of nature in Normandy and its constant renewal regardless of human turmoil" explained Antoine Verney, curator of the Museums of Bayeux. 

Soon after we returned from Normandy, we attended a ballet performance at The Opera Bastille which was choreographed by Maurice Béjarta, a French-born dancer, choreographer, and opera director who ran the Béjart Ballet Lausanne in Switzerland. He developed a popular expressionistic form of modern ballet, expressing vastly emotional themes like those depicted in the music of Ravel and Stravinsky in Bolero and The FirebirdMahler'sl as Mahler's Last Six Songs.

He was such a treasure that he was awarded Swiss citizenship posthumously. As the weather had turned partly sunny again, we decided to walk along the Elysee Gardens, through the Place de la Concorde, and down the ramp to the river toward the East and enjoyed the stray swans and ducks from the ponds in the Tuileries aD'OrsayMusee D'Orsay across the river, where we to visit the next day.

At one point I was tired and made it down the few stairs to sit anhang my feet over the river, shaded by the bridge upon which there was a busker playing typical French melodies on his accordion. Ted was so I'dried that I'd fall that he could only take photos of the iconic buildings, like the Assemblée Nationale without a handrail to help myself with, I was still able to discover a position that would allow me to ascend the stairs without any help from all of the young strong men that passed by and offered this old lady a hand. A couple of days later, we attended a play, The Miser, by Jean-Baptiste Moliere.

The play was performed in French only, so this challenge required some intensive study of this French classic.The Miser was written in 1668 and although we attended the performance at The Theatre Ranelagh was first performed at the theatre of the Palais-Royal in Paris on September 9th, 1668. The five-act play, which gains much of its inspiration from Platos’ Latin comedy Aulularia (or The Pot of Gold), is a comedy centered on a penny-pinching old miser, Harpagon, who schemes to make more money by arranging marriages for himself and his two grown children, Elise and Cleante.

The characters deal with intergenerational conflict, love, misunderstandings, and flattery gone wrong, as each of them works to end up with the lover they have chosen for themselves. The play, often deemed one of the greatest comedies of all time, is notable not only for its classic money versus love conflict but also for its unapologetic mockery of the traditional asides in drama, which in Elizabethan times were a popular method of "breaking the fourth wall” and addressing the audience. Typically, asides are made without the other characters taking notice. However, that is not the case in The Miser. Whenever an aside is made, the other characters demand to know who that person is addressing. The play quickly became a classic and

continues to be frequently performed and adapted all over the world. Following all of these delightful experiences, I entered into what I now refer to as my 'Armoire Apocalypse', and since I am now post-apocalyptic, I can write about it with a smile. Those of you who do not appreciate my personal sufferings can skip this part. Others who get a kick out of my trivial pursuits may wish to read on. When we moved into this apartment in Paris, Ted had a skinny walk-in closet that'they cal' a 'dressing' in France. I was the proud owner of a 20-yr-old IKEA armoire that was only big enough to hold half my wardrobe. I gave away the other half when we moved in, after having already given away 2/3 of it before we even packed up everything to be shipped from Los Angeles in 2016. Over these seven years in Paris, those three mirrored doors, which were heavy enough to

kill someone if they fell off their rails. So this last time the handyman warned us the next time they would be beyond repair we decided that it was time to be proactive. The atelier that made Ted's dressing a dream 'man-cave' were unavailable, so we contacted another. Two men met with us and assessed the needs and the decor. They had some good ideas, and we felt we could trust them. Since they had drawn up plans to the centimeter, we signed on the bottom line. Curiously, this outfit also had their custom-made furniture and elements of custom closets produced in Portuga.. I don't have to tell you why. And surprisingly, three months later as promised, we were notified that in two days, the armoire would be ready, shipped by truck, delivered, and assembled, and the old decrepit IKEA armoire would be dismantled and carted off in the price. I was thrilled to death that I was finally going to have something that would be made to suit my clothing and my height, and would also have an adjacent portion like a crown on the head of a king, that could house all my winter coats when needed and my summer clothes after the few weeks that we called summer here in Paris have passed. The only thing I wasn't so thrilled about was the one day that I had to remove

everything that was in the old armoire and to place it all on the dining room table, which had to be pushed to the side of the room, and its chairs all cleared away into the living room. After achieving this feat in the single day allotted, both Ted and I waited excitedly for the arrival of the new armoire or at least all of the pieces that were to be assembled to make up the new armoire. The workmen came not too far behind schedule, took down the old wardrobe and hauled it away, cleaned up the space on the wall-to-wall carpeting that hadn't been touched since we moved in, and began to bring in, piece by piece, the new armoire. They were very efficient, professional, and equipped with everything they needed in well-organized, rolling cases, and looked like they could complete the job in a timely way. I was thrilled to just sit at my computer and begin to write this blog post. However, in the early afternoon, I decided to make up an excuse to walk through the bedroom so that I could get a peak at what it looked like. My first experience was love at first sight. My second, was OMG! They had varnished the cedar on the inside of everything, the cedar wood that was to be left raw as protection against voracious wool and cashmere-eating insects. After taking a big, deep breath, I drew the attention of the head Honcho ( who had designed the armoire and was there to supervise its assembly) to the fact that we could smell nothing of the cedar due to the beautiful varnish coating the interior of this fine piece of furniture. He shook his head and fessed up to the error that the workmen had made, flawlessly finishing the raw, solid cedar and taking an entire three days in order to make sure it dried. It was gorgeous but not functional. Honcho didn't even blink."You're right it's not" and he ordered his Portuguese compadres to start to disassemble and cart off the entire armoire to truck it back to Portugal. In fact, he said he did not The thought of having my clothes strewn all over the dining room, and unable to be sorted out to wear for another three months was daunting. However, I was somewhat reassured when Honcho brought in three clothes racks to set along that wall and promised that the whole crew plus one would be back within three weeks, not three months. So now we were faced with reinstalling all of

my clothing, short and long, on these two squat clothing racks, trying to figure out how we were going to manage all the things that don'thang on hangers. Luckily, because the former armoire was impossible to manage, and it had nothing that rolled out, pulled out, slid out, or any other kind of transportation, I had purchased some Zara Home white wicker baskets with brown wooden handles when we first moved in that were perfect for each of the cubby holes in the original closet. These now came in very handy for shoes and anything that wouldn't go on a hanger, and we were content to put the dining room back together again, full well, knowing that we would be going through the same thing all over again in three weeks.

So three weeks came this Easter holiday weekend and we were prepared on Good Friday with everything in the dining room, pushed to the side once more, ready for armoire number two to arrive and to be assembled by the Portuguese crew. It was amazing how quickly and deftly they worked to put everything together the way it should've been the first time around. But when they were all done, they were missing one piece: the large slab of solid cedar that was to be the back of the armoire. After a couple of phone calls it was determined that it was still in Portugal. I wasn't at all sure that I was ready to go through three more weeks of this, but Honcho reassured me that they would be back the following Friday, Good Friday, with the piece that was still sitting in the atelier in Porto. Now you would think that I couldn't have been happier, but it was Friday again, and as we began to put things in place we realized that we would be lucky if we finished by Monday night, the holiday known as the Ascension of Christ, the same holiday that marked the date purchase of our Paris home.

The day afterward was the seventh anniversary of our residence in Paris. We decided to walk from home to the gardens of

the Tuileries where we had a leisurely lunch in one of the cafés in the park and walked all over admiring the brilliant flowers and the

lush green trees in bloom. A couple around our age offered to take a photo of us together and we enthusiastically accepted their gentillesse. Now we truly feeling a part of the landscape -- truly French.

It seemed fitting that on the next day, I went on my iPhone while Ted was away from the table to see if individuals were able to obtain entrance

inside the newly renovated Assemblee Nationale de France, the building which almost appears to mirror our l'Eglise de la Madeleine on the other side of the Place de la Concorde on the left bank of the Seine. I was pleasantly surprised when I received an answer to my email the very next day, asking for a few details about who we were, and explaining that there would have to be a security check after which we would be confirmed as guests on the following Friday at five in the afternoon. When the confirmation arrived I felt like I had when we received our tickets from our congressman in LA to visit the capitol building and the White House in Washington DC many years ago.

I was like a little kid as we sat on the stone barriers in front of the building. Actually, it was the rear of the building that sits across from the river, with its grand pillars and numerous monumental sculptures at the foot of and alongside the formal staircase.

The front of the building presides over the Place de Bourbon, with relatively modest sky-blue doors on the level of the ground floor, flanked on both sides by multiple French flags and opening onto the stately gardens.

Just like any other tourists, Ted and I took pictures incessantly, as if this was our first and only time in this marvelous city visiting the lower house of what is equivalent to our Congress. The Library was stupendous and the art, especially on the ceilings, the classical sculptures, and the lush decor with red velvet everywhere. Our guide was very entertaining, energetic, and informative.

At one point as a group moved on in one direction, Ted saw something that caught his eye through the arches in another direction, and he took off to see what appeared to be a beautiful display of tapestries hung on the walls of the hallway. It reminded me again of our visit to Capitol Hill when Ted went off route and took us in an elevator, To a hallway with doors that appeared to house the offices of various congressmen and women. All of a sudden we were confronted with an enormous male figure with a great shock of white hair, and we both recognized him immediately. It was Thomas "Tip" O'Neill, then Speaker of the House. He was very considerate, kind, and understanding of our 'predicament', and personally lead us out of the no-go zone. In this instance, Ted found his own way back to

the group and met up with us in the great amphitheater where the proceedings of the assembly take place. As an American, I was delighted to see that a woman had been chosen to lead this great governing body in France.

After our visit we walked out onto the Place de Bourbon and enjoyed a light supper in The Brasserie Bourbon within sight of those big blue doors.

As the days continued to be sunny and mild, we decided to visit another Parisien institution...

La Samaritaine, a large department store located in the first arrondissement. The nearest métrostation is Pont-Neuf, directly in front of the Quai du Louvre and the rue de la Monnaie. The company was owned by Ernest Cognacq and Marie-Louise Jaÿ (the very same couple who built the museum that bears their names).They hired architect Frantz Jourdain to expand their original store, which had started as a small apparel shop and expanded to what became a series of department store buildings with a total of 90 different departments. It has been a member of the International Association of Department Stores from 1985 to 1992. It is currently owned by LVMH, a luxury-goods maker. The store, which had been operating at a loss since the 1970s, was closed in 2005 purportedly because the building did not meet safety codes.

Plans for re-developing the building involved lengthy complications, as the store's founders argued with new owners. They were not certain if they were building a department store of the future or a mixed-use development. After seven years of renovation, The New Samitaine re-opened to the public on 23 June 2021, having been previewed by French President Macron and journalists days before. Its retail offerings targeted affluent consumers, restaurants, and a boutique hotel that includes a penthouse suite with its own private swimming pool. The Art Nouveau building has been listed since 1990 as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture and was required to be preserved. We strolled in this historic area

including Les Halles, which used to be Paris' central fresh food market. In January 1973, it was left to the demolition men who knocked down the last three of the eight iron-and-glass pavilions and replaced them with an enormous underground shopping mall that housed retail stores, eateries, and restaurants, and a 45-theater multiplex! As you can imagine, this is one really hip quarter, filled with young people and right next door to one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Paris, Saint Eustashe. We had our lunch under the exquisite glass rooftop of the original building La Samaritaine, which is bordered

by brilliant Golden yellow ornamentation in true art nouveau style. Since we had booked a table for 2 PM, the restaurant was quiet and the service and food were superb. And to top off the day, we even spied an elegant memorial plaque over the door of what has been the birthplace of Moliere on our way back to the parking area to pick up our car.

Finally, last Sunday, we were delighted to be able to obtain tickets at the last moment for the Vienna Philharmonic playing a marvelous concert at the

Théâtre des Champs-Elysées of Janacek, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich, led by the marvelous young Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša, who is about to become the newly appointed Director of the

The Covent Gardens Opera House in London. It was a thrilling concert with a depth of sound and energy one rarely hears in these old warhorses. It was an extraordinary end of the week and restored us to life post-apocalypse!

It is my sincere wish that all of my readers can enjoy such beauty of sound and sight. Next stop, Brittany, and my first stay near the Atlantic Ocean from this continent.

À bientôt ❣️

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