Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Dans le Pont...

Amidst all the preparations to winter holiday season, Christmas and New Year , there's always one tiny special day. It's happening today, my birthday. Friends are catching up by e-mails, junior gave me a loving hug in the morning, husband returning from business trip on Friday. Today is a usual mid week day with work to do, school and after school programs.

Everyone is busy and getting busier check marking the long lists To Do, hurrying up, wrapping up, anticipating joyous gatherings, slimming up to fit into a new gown, etc... etc... etc...
But if only a girl could have a wish for Santa it would be being there now, tonight...
I love les ponts de Paris so much...
Image by Natalie Rapoport
OK, to lighten while decorating, driving for errands or working in my studio I'm  hooked up on Peter Mayle's audio book  The Vintage Caper. Light and delicious as a fine gateau. Whatever is savoured with delight in this detective tale set in Bordeaux and Marseille, and brilliantly read by Erik Davies, you get the flavour too. The writer is a proven master of relishing the simple pleasures of life. Very inspirational for all the festive cooking to come.
Bon appetit!

Best wishes and Merry Christmas to all my new friends!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas in NY

As the author of the  Stuff Parisians Like Olivier Magny in his brilliant and hilarious satirical homage to Parisians put it : “Asking any Parisian where in the world he’d like to live, you will get the same systematic answer : New York.
It is every Parisian’s dream to live in New York”.
I wasn’t fortunate enough to be in Paris around Christmas time to have any pictures, I decided it would be almost natural to jump back over the pond to NY and to take you on a 5th  Avenue window shopping stroll like Parisians would do.     
One of the best things to do in New York in December is to go window-shopping as leading stores are revealing their Christmas displays.
It’s a competition not to be missed. As there is US Open, it could be NY Open as well. As if  Manhattan is trying to make it up for you for gray and naked Central Park waiting for a snow to wrap itself in a white fur.
From 42nd Str./5th avenue up north it’s getting better and better. Mingle with crowds at Rockefeller Center , watch the skaters, magnificent giant Christmas tree, enjoy the festive lights  and slowly approach the block 57th/58th Str where Bergdorf  Goodman flagman ship anchored. This is a real treat! You’ll pause transfixed in admiration.

Couple of years ago I was carried away by this winter fairy tale.
Windows on 5th Avenue are always beyond comparison especially at Christmas time. But  Bergdorf Goodman is  at the very top of the chart for the last decade or so. The revealing of his windows is anxiously anticipated as a Broadway premiere night. It’s an event in itself, hardly a 3D installation, but a theatrical performance with theme and story and a brilliant cast, and set design,  and a melody of lights.

 If the title and brand DreamWorks wasn’t already taken, it could righteously belong to this immensely  talented designers team of Linda Fargo and David Hoey and their small artistic army. Their creative fantasy  and daring sense of humor is unstoppable. Add to this obviously an unlimited budget and a team of unique artists and craftsmen, and you’ll get the apotheosis of  glamour, opulence and decadent visual feast.
The team is working with ultrasonic speed  creating  35 windows  about every 2-3 weeks. Absolutely unbelievable! So these windows of December 2008  can be well considered vintage.
Beside tremendous artistic talent and exuberant energy their signature is in meticulous and uncompromising  interest to the tiniest detail and unprecedented sense of humor.  No matter how dramatic or glamorous scene is there’s always room for a smile.
Whatever scenario they  choose it’s always unpredictable.
So if you’re up to a huge surprise or craving an opulence on a big scale you can’t miss this attraction.
 At the Rockefeller Center
The Lunar Bird by Joan Miro. 
Love the name of this enchanted and huggable creature. It exudes happiness.

PS. For the night shots were I was sort of an artistic director  I have to give equal credits to my husband for being a chief technical adviser. And I was holding umbrella over the camera too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Blois. The Regal City.

Loire valley is not the place that needs any introduction to Francophiles. As long as you’ve red the fairy tales by Charles Perrault, and you certainly did, you’ve already been there at least in your dreams.
Its numerous and fabulous chateaux  are the main tourist attraction in France beside Paris. Some are more crowded over the top like Chambord and Chenonceau. They are glorious loners surrounded  by fields and forests, or gardens and parks. Others like Azay-le-Rideau have a tiny village nearby, or like Amboise dominate a cute town.

Some are well known but further afield and therefore a bit less invaded by us, the tourist nomads. They are as beautiful as they might be and worth every effort to get there.

Regal city of Blois. Regal, because kings actually lived there, and the hilly city surrounding well preserved chateau is absolutely at par with royal headquarters. It’s simply and divinely beautiful! As you can see.
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Image by  Natalie Rapoport

Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Le Chateau de Blois has probably the most turbulent history including  the assassination of  Henri I, duke de Guise, and the most eclectic architectural ensemble built subsequently for 5 centuries. The first castle was built as early as 13th century. King Louis XII added a beautiful gothic wing in red bricks and stone in 15th. Later in  early 16th century Francois I   added a Renaissance wing with magnificent spiral staircase. After that in late 17th    architect Mansart built the fourth and last wing of this ensemble which remained unfinished inside. 
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
This red brick style is so quintessential French, it’s not ginger bread English gothic, which has many marvelous examples of its own too. It  touches me deeply as my favorite places  in Paris are built in this style: Place des Vosges and Place Dauphine, and a part of Place Furstenberg. And my modest house is a far cry echo of this utterly sophisticated style. Each wing in Blois is a palace in its own right. The red brick with its towers, gables, lacy balustrades, elaborate cornices and mansards, arched gallery and white stone pattern is deliciously excessive, perfect in proportions and scale.

The Renaissance wing built in Italian style by an art connoisseur  and patron of the arts Francois I . It is almost similar to the gorgeous spiral staircase he built in magnificent Chateau de Chambord.
Image by  Natalie Rapoport     
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
During the French revolution the castle was brutally vandalized and by 19th century fell in such disrepair that it was scheduled to be demolished. Quel cauchemar! But was given to the  military instead to place barracks in there. It caused further damage but at least saved from vanishing.
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Massive restoration started only in mid 19th  when it was recognized as a national monument  and continued well into the 1960-s as the guide told us. Painstaking venture. The wall paintings were brought back in original patterns, the furnishings and tapestries made a triumphant return to some rooms. Not original ones ofcourse, but the authentic period pieces to create an atmosphere. The Salle des Etats Generoux was the biggest hall at the medieval time.
Image by  Natalie Rapoport
The Chateau as seen from the courtyard is an illustration of four vividly different architectural styles and together they create a beautiful ensemble.

There  was a sward fight staged so much to my boys delight. Two bad guys dressed in 16th century costumes attacked one good guy and all of them ended tragically followed by drumbeat of a mourning lady.

Another clever touch included restored short silent movie dubbed with out of tune piano reviving this horrible scene of betrayal and assassination of de Guise. It was playing right beside the room where it actually happened. Uberdramatic performance as in silent movie should be, but a very vivid pick into the bloody historical moment.
Today the glorious courtyard and the castle as a whole massive ensemble is open to be admired. The panoramic view from the ramparts over the lower town and far away to horizon is breathtaking, beautiful and so peaceful in the morning.

Image by  Natalie Rapoport
Parisians consider everything beyond the Boulevard Peripherique a province.
This is hardly applied to vibrant and lively Blois. Anyway it’s less then a couple of hours away. There are several university departments so probably youth makes it so… waken up. The city is not flooded with tourists, but it’s not feel deserted ether. Blois definitely has a character of its own. Very elegant and sophisticated city which offers pleasurable walks and eager to share all its charms. On some instances Blois reminds a miniature Paris.

Image by  Natalie Rapoport
People are walking along the picturesque Loire riverbank with long arched 300 year old bridge over the wide river, wandering the winding hilly streets enjoying beautiful perspectives, climbing numerous stairs to catch the beautiful view from above.

On one of the squares Place Louis XII a fully equipped stage was set up under canopy and Latino jazz quartet was playing. They were terrific and audience applauded happily. Great concert late at night, fabulous entourage, day heat retreated, surrounding restaurants expanded under the leafy trees were open, what better could travellers wish at the end of the day?


Saturday, December 10, 2011

Bourges. The hidden gem in the center of France. Part 2.

Bourges is traditionally focused on two noble names de Berry and Jacques Coeur. The latter is remembered as a Renaissance Self-made Man and got a heroic monument in front of his  Maison de Jacques Coeur which miraculously survived  to our days and is considered the rear example of urban gothic stone dwelling, not a chateau or cathedral, that made it to our time.

Built in 1446 it changed hands so many times, being damaged by additions, partitions and fire and neglected for a long time or used for purposes not deserved such a magnificent edifice. Finally it was recognized as a national heritage site and restored to all its golden splendor and glory.

Bourges was a city where Charles VII took the refuge and held his court during the  Hundred Years War with England while he escaped from occupied Paris.

A miserable joke of a king, a disgraceful greedy sovereign who betrayed  a fearless patriotic girl Joan of Arc who made him a king and freed his country. That’s how he is remembered in history.

That’s not all this unpleasant character did. He had another faithful servant who helped him rise to power and glamour. The extraordinary man who solemnly supported French army against English, who established trading network far and beyond, especially with Italy, who was  one of the influential figures of the time in trade and politics. His name was Jacques Coeur – l’Argentier de Roi, King’s minter and financier, ambassador to Pope’s court , and much much more. He was a successful merchant, talented entrepreneur, businessmen and adventurer who did for glory and prosperity of France way more than the king.

There’s not much information about his life, even no mistresses names, but what is known makes him look exceptional and honest and unforgivingly rich. And his miserable Majesty Charles VII  didn’t forgive. Kings are known to be prone to short memory loss when it comes to gratitude, and being envious and vindictive instead. Therefore history deems Jacques Coeur as a tragic victim of kings ingratitude.
I liked this impressionist view from the palace.
Judging from his achievements and all that sculptural fun the craftsmen had expressing themselves in decorating his house one can tell Jacques Coeur had a zest for life. And he celebrated the fruits of his labor, and family, and life. And this certainly turned many faces green with envy at the time.

Soon after his beautiful palace was completed and on peak of his endeavors Jacques Coeur was wrongfully  charged with treason. Was disgraced in 1451, imprisoned and tortured.

Fortunate enough he had not only loyal enemies but really loyal friends too who stood by him risking their lives. They helped him to escape and nurtured him back to feet. He found his new home in Italy as Pope had a great respect to him and highly regarded his achievements.

He tirelessly travelled the land and sailed the seas establishing trade network. He build galleases of France and established Mediterranean Merchant Fleet for Charles VII. He lived in full an adventurous life true to his motto “Nothing is impossible for a brave heart” and ended it as a hero wounded in the naval expedition for Pope against Turks. What a life!

I’m wondering how Hollywood could overlook such an outstanding figure of Joan of Arc contemporary? His life had more than enough drama  to create  an epic scale movie in Brave Heart / Robin Hood magnitude. Whom would you see to play a lead in this biopic?
Everything bears Coeur’s Coat of Arms – the Heart and the scallop.
His motto “Nothing is impossible for a brave heart”
What an elaborate work of blacksmiths.

Isn’t it gorgeous? The central stairwell, arched galleries, elegant windows, lacy gables, beautiful mansards and cornices. Everyday scenes carved in stone, musicians, merchants, servants and exotic creatures, scary gargoyles and funny ones. The chronicles of time.

Jacques Coeur had a great taste in and out. The grand reception hall with giant fireplace  and musicians balcony is a masterpiece.  Sadly all interiors and furnishings and wall décor vanished long ago and only a  small part open for visitors, but this hall and the stairwell could be enough to imagine the  grandeur of Palais.
What we see from the small square is an asymmetrical gatehouse, an entrance to the inner courtyard and galleries.

This beautiful façade absolutely fascinated me since when I was a little girl and used to go through fathers architectural books. I’ve seen many beautiful palaces there but this particular one I imagined to be exactly the place where Cinderella and Prince could live happily ever after. This sepia image was imprinted in girls dreams. And ages later I was about to see it.
The light-and-sound  show at  Palais de Jacques Coeur

Beautiful scenes of the past, pictures captured from Renaissance tapestries, paintings, illustrations  and frescoes  projected onto facade with flute and strings music on the background, accentuated gothic architectural details, windows, lacy towers and bas-reliefs . 

It was absolutely fantastic journey right into 15th century, unforgettable  one!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bourges. The hidden gem in the center of France. Part 1.

The first  thing I’d like to do is to say HUGE Thank You! To my dear talented friend Virginia , whose blog Paris Through My Lens I admire, for introducing me  so generously to you.
Merci beaucoup dear Virginia.

And thank you very much to everyone for visiting my blog and leaving such encouraging comments. Your support means a world to me and I’m thrilled to meet new friends and discover new blogs!

We’ll travel together. I’d love to share with you whatever jewel I find.

Welcome to my blog.

City of Bourges is right in the center of France  and on the crossroads of history. A stronghold once conquered by Romans, whose presence you still can see, and a prosperous city of the 16-th century where exactly we found ourselves today.

We got there at the dusk when everything gets a marvelous golden glow. Magic!

But nothing was as incredibly beautiful as wandering these peaceful streets at night.
With soft light from windows above, the streets in historic center are lit with those famous French lanterns which are nowadays such a hit on all antique markets.

Beautiful, lovingly preserved mostly medieval city of Bourges with rows of authentic maisons de bois - half-timber houses and narrow cobble stone streets, gorgeous little squares and tiny babbling fountains,  breathtaking Palais de Jacques Coeur and world known St. Etienne Cathedral, secret alleys, hidden passages behind the  ramparts, lanterns and cute courtyards, grand Hotels particuliers and XVIII century townhouses. 

This entire block is actually a colourful trompe-l'oeil painted on the side wall.

The historical center is a pedestrian zone and is a part of proudly restored national heritage. It’s kind of a miracle that people haven’t abandon this tiny dwellings in favor of more comfortable contemporary housing at outskirts, where traffic allowed and most of the businesses located. But they stay there for many generations, and judging from how every detail is attended with care, they love their city and it certainly shows.

For some unexplainable reason Bourges is largely overlooked by tourists, no crowds at all where they likely should be.  There’s so much to see and  learn and the city is very inventive and generous in showing off all  its treasures to attract the visitors. 

One of them is Route de Lumiere, an array of historical streets nicely lit with lanterns  and leading you into the Nuit de Lumiere.  Spotlights on the most significant architectural landmarks like Palais de Jaques Coer. They are highlighted in the dark with a lights-and-sounds show, when colors, pictures or ornaments projected onto façade and surroundings. Accompanied by  string and flute Renaissance music it creates magic feeling, transporting you through times. Brilliant idea and absolutely free and only a handful of people to see…

Surprisingly there were very few tourists, calm and quiet like having this magic city to ourselves.  An intimate experience. We started to whisper as even a quiet talk echoed.  Wouldn’t you hear a clatter of horses’ hoofs on paving stones? I’d better step aside to let a carriage  pass by.

Stores with modern, design-y windows are closed. The city looks asleep and it’s not 9pm yet. Somewhere at the end of the street you can hear those unmistakable tinkling of the glassware, light murmuring and it smells really good – the restaurant, means we’re  approaching the main hub Place Gordaine surrounded with gorgeous medieval 4 stories skyscrapers. It was a long day and a nice dinner at such a beautiful setting is a travelers dream. 

Oh this eau de vivre, a bottle of cool Badoit on a hot day and a glass of wine and I’m pretty much content. My husband and son look in awe around while waiting for a meal to come. Unbelievable. Isn’t it a movie set? Nope, it’s for real.

Place Gordaine.
Steep roofs, wrought iron doors, unexpected passages around the corner and people actually still live there for the last 500 years.
It's not a decoration though sometimes it feels like someone shouted "Action!" and in minute , as soon as we turn, it may disappear after the sharp  “Cut!” No, it won't. People LOVE their city and it shows at every step and any direction you go.

I wish we had there a full day from early morning till late night . If there are cities walkable and huggable, this is the one.

Sweet dreams. See you in the morning.

Stay tuned for Part 2.