Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Ambassador's Life in Paris

My weekend of peeking into beautiful buildings of Paris which are typically closed to the public continued with a glimpse into three embassy buildings. All historical buildings with their own stories, they come alive in this century with the festivities that go along with embassy life. The first I visited was l'Hôtel de Charost, currently the residence of the British ambassador, located on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Built between 1722-25 for the duc de Charost, it was later sold to Pauline Leclerc, the sister of Napoleon.

Seen here is the Salon Pauline with her bed. When Napoleon's empire was established, Pauline became an imperial princess and her home was the center of a small court who attended to her.

In 1814, the Duke of Wellington was the newly appointed British ambassador to France, and he purchased the home and all its contents from Pauline to be the new embassy building for his country. The throne room is still used for investiture ceremonies.

Queen Victoria still oversees the activities there.

Dinner was set for 60 guests in the dining room decorated in the Louis XVI style. The table is 15 meters long with  28 leaves, and one single linen cloth made in Northern Ireland covers the length of the table. Wouldn't you just hate to be the guest to spill a drop of wine on that??

The grounds behind the house are expansive, stretching all the way to a back gate to the Champs Elysées which Napoleon would use to access the property.

Next we stood in a short line to visit l'Hôtel de la Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville, the embassy of Italy. Located along the rue de Varenne with many other 18th century hôtels particuliers, the Italian Embassy acquired it in 1937. The best translation for hôtel particulier is a grand, private, usually free standing house, which is located between the entrance court at the street and a back garden. Seen here is the front entrance, behind which is a courtyard where the carriages could pull in and unload, and then the house would be behind the courtyard. 

Once again, the interior was dazzling,

with many rooms decorated in the Louis XV style. Beautiful!

The Théatre Sicilien was unique. This 18th century theater was transported from the Palais Butera de Palerme in Sicily and installed in this location in the early 20th century. Do you think they might could use someone on staff to straighten the candles? Why do little things like that drive me crazy!!

Behind the house are the beautiful gardens, perfect for strolling.

We also had time to see l'Hôtel d'Estrées, nearby on the rue de Grenelle, which is the home of the Ambassador of Russia. You get a feel here of standing in the courtyard after you have entered through the street entrance.

Dazzling interiors were somewhat obscured by an exhibit about Russian art and tradition,

so that you would tour the exhibit and then step back and take in the grandeur of the rooms. Having been to Russia in the spring, I found the exhibit fascinating, as well as the website advertising it with its photos of the Russian embassy.

Lunch was ready to be served,

as well as tea.

And every "proper" hôtel particulier had its lovely garden for entertaining and enjoying.

Here's a souvenir I really wanted to take home with me for my princess of a granddaughter-- a tiara created in 1911 by Cartier, in the style of a diadème kokochnik, a popular Russian style. Not for sale in the gift shop at the end of the tour though--too bad.
Believe it or not, there are more buildings to come in my next post--so many open doors. Hope you'll come back for the tour.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Paris weekend

About a week ago, I hopped on the Eurostar at St. Pancras Station in London, and two and a half hours later, I found myself in Paris ready for an extended weekend.

A friend had rented an apartment in Paris for a couple of months, and I jumped at the chance to visit both her and the city I adore. Lucky for me, it was the weekend of the Journées du Patrimoine, or Heritage Days as it is translated, when hundreds of buildings not usually open to the public, throw open their doors for the weekend.

I started out early Saturday morning at the Luxembourg Palace.

The palace was built for Marie de Médecis, the mother of Louis XIII. She lived there from 1625-1631, and then she was forced out by her son. 

The opulence and the luxury were almost overwhelming.

I could have stayed all day in just one room of the enormous palace, taking in every detail, but there were other buildings on my list for the day.

Before moving on though, there was time to peek into the Senate room. The palace has been the scene of  many fascinating events through the centuries, including serving as a museum from 1750 until the French Revolution, a prison during the Revolution, the home of Napoleon, headquarters for Goring during the Nazi occupation of France, and finally serving as the seat for the French Senate until the present time.

Next stop--Hôtel de Ville. L'Hôtel de Ville houses the city's administration, including the mayor's office. King Francis I decided to build the original building in the Renaissance style, but it was burned by the revolting Commune in the late nineteenth century, leaving only a shell of the building.

It was rebuilt in the original style during the years of 1873-92, and at that time the interiors were decorated in a lavish Third Empire style.

Views from the window show the Seine river flowing by, and who do you think takes care of these beautiful locks and latches through the building?

This man does, as you see him exhibiting the "hardware" used throughout. For the weekend, l'Hôtel de Ville took a novel approach. They decided to feature the employees of the magnificent building who keep it looking as beautiful as it is.

The cleaning crew showed off its cleaning tools, along with the cleaning supplies and even its toilet paper.

The awesome Salle des Fêtes is a ceremonial room with elaborate murals and decor. Can you imagine a party here?

There you could watch the in-house florists in all their creativity,

and wouldn't you like this gentleman to clean your chandeliers for you?

In addition to all the beautiful formal rooms, serious business takes place in the City Council room.

A last minute choice for the day was a big surprise. I went into the Hôtel de la Marine on the Place de la Concorde, not knowing what to expect. Originally built between 1757- 1774, it was used as the garde-meuble, which was a storage house for the furniture belonging to the Crown. At the time, the public was allowed in to view the furniture on selected days. 

When Louis XVI was brought back to Paris from Versailles in the final days of the Revolution, the Naval Secretary was housed there, 

and since that time is has functioned as the home of the Ministry of Naval Affairs. Can you imagine having your meetings in this room,

or in here?

Do you think they are ever distracted by all the opulence?

The location is historical--overlooking the Place de la Concorde as it is known today, but formerly known at the Place Louis XV. It was during the dark days of the French Revolution that is was also called the Place de la Révolution when the guillotine was erected in this square. Many were executed here, and I wonder who watched from this very window as King Louis XVI, and then later Marie Antoinette lost their lives. In one of the darkest months of the summer of 1794, 1300 people were beheaded here. Truly a dark period in France's history.
Hope this post wasn't more history than you enjoyed, but the history, art and architecture of Paris are my passions. Stay tuned for more to come in future posts about some beautiful embassy buildings.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Da Mario's

Looking for a casual place for dinner this week, Cristen searched her NFT (Not for Tourists)  iPhone app, and found us a delightful little Italian restaurant in the Kensington area named Da Mario's. Approaching the restaurant, we were delighted to find a building that was both interesting and a little unusual. A little homework on my part revealed that the building is 120 years old, specifically commissioned by Queen Victoria and is a blend of two styles--Venetian and Gothic.

Inside we were pleased to find a cozy family restaurant popular with the locals.  We were warmly greeted by the waitstaff and we immediately set about perusing the menus.

At our table, we tried their delicious pizza bread and buffalo mozzarella as starters, and then we moved on to some delicious pizza and rigatoni pasta. Everyone was very happy with their selection.

As you enter the restaurant, you are reminded on the steps leading to the door that this location was a favorite of Princess Diana and her boys.

Even the painting above our table of Diana and Mario was reminiscent of those days. Interestingly enough, there is also a lower floor seating area with a disco--music starting at 10:30. 
Be ready all my London friends--there's a disco night in our future, so polish those dance steps and be ready to hustle and slip into the electric slide!!!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When You Wish Upon a Star

Once upon a time, a little girl of two, almost three, began to have dreams of princesses and castles.

Her mommy and daddy waved their magic wand and made her dream come true. Grandparents received royal invitations too.

Everywhere she turned there was magic.

Most fun of all were the horses,

the elephants,

and the teacups all ready to give her a ride.

Almost as much fun for her was shopping in candy castles, and gift shops that amazingly appeared at every turn.

But the most special part of it all was meeting the princesses, like Pocahontas,  who had jumped straight out of the movies and books that she adored.

And you know, if you just barely cut your eyes up to look at them, they are really not so big,

but you should always keep your guard up.

Sleeping Beauty was truly beautiful,

Cinderella, her favorite, brought tears to her eyes,

and Belle was fascinating.

Sweet Jordan was really impressed with Jasmine's jewelry, and

when it was time to greet the last princess, Jordan was even brave enough to give a smile. Probably because Snow White was really impressed that Jordan wore a bow in her hair just like she did.

It's often hard work meeting all that royalty,

and "hot" does not begin to describe the early September day,

but a girl catches a few ZZZZ's when she can,

and wakes up the next morning after a hard night's sleep, all refreshed from her beauty sleep and ready to go again.

Some parts of the kingdom were a little "scary" so you just hide your eyes, 

until the princesses return in all their beauty.

All good things must come to an end, with hugs and kisses for all, 

and a girl has to kiss a few frogs along the way

before she finds her true prince. And they lived happily ever after....sweet Jordan, her mommy and daddy and her grandparents who relived the magic all over again.