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Paris and Kisses

France

“Yes, the encounter of lips is the most perfect, the most divine sensation that can be afforded to human beings, the ultimate and furthest limit of happiness…” Guy de Maupassant, Stories and Novella, “The Kiss,” 1882

“Paris in the springtime—“ there is a reason Maurice Chevalier begins with that season–not fall, winter, nor summer.

But it’s not summer, it’s spring–the season when it sizzles. Paris blooms early with tulips, later with Iris, soon to welcome roses. Paris is the perfect walking city and spring is the season to promenade. With a decent pair of sneakers (“trainers” if you are on the continent) you can walk from Champ de Mars (Eiffel Tower) to Gare du Nord and spend eight hours as if it were no time at all. Left Bank or Right, North or South. The choice is yours.1

By the fountain of Place Vendome, a teenage boy gazes into the eyes of his young girlfriend, lying on the grass, schoolbooks remain unopened as she looks up into his face and a sly smile appears. Their faces move closer with gentleness and humor in their eyes. Closer, their lips join for a moment’s touch. Her hand moves behind his head to pull him even closer and their embrace explodes in intensity. DNA is singing to accompany the birds on the wing. The young suitors disappear from the public sun into a private space the entire their own as the world around vanishes and all that remains is embrace. Ahhhh — All the world must love Paris, and aspire to be young lovers within its fold.

From the terrace at Sacre Coeur as tourists behold the late sunset, a woman turns and would rather view her lover than the mansard roofs and turrets of the city below. Her hands circle the waist of her partner and the panorama of Paris disappears as eyes close.

The dollar may be weak and the Euro strong or vice versa, but there are things to save for and life to savor. Get a window seat on the Bateaux Parisien as it takes you for a boat tour. The sky darkens and the lights sing the drama and joy of the Paris evening. Pont Neuf, the Eiffel Tower, The Louvre, Musee d’Orsay…all are awash in color and movement as you dine and drink, accompanied by well-timed chanteuse songs made to swell your heart as it drains your wallet. The bill of 133 Euros ($170) seems almost reasonable when you add the delightful small, elegant, memorable dishes accompanied by abundant wine and desserts.2

If you are a fan of the best seller The Da Vinci Code, visit St. Sulpice and check out the brass line, one of the important architectural elements in the book?If you want to theme your tour around a page-turner, be cautious around the Ritz Hotel. The security guards are distinctly inhospitable if you don’t have a thousand dollar bill in your pocket for even the most modest room. Try and take a picture from the public plaza across the way and you will find your viewfinder filled with a distinctly unfriendly face. Thankfully, this is not the normal demeanor of most other French people these days.

In spite of political differences between the US and French governments, there is a diplomatic willingness among the French people to engage in discussing current affairs with visitors. Politically, the times seem as charged as the air. Iraq—“oui or non?” European Union? Sarcosy or Obama? Keep walking; keep talking to people. It springtime, Parisians are friendly and reasonable to engage over a cup of espresso.4

Head North toward Boulevard Poissoinere and drop in on the Rex, a classic deco theater that hosts the latest Star Wars. Two thousand seats and a screen to host a forty-foot Darth Vader made of light, breathing heavily in French.

Depending on how hungry you are, try cruising down Rue Montogueil, where the pedestrian street is parenthetically lined with tiers of outdoor round tables each embraced by two cane chairs.5

Or treat yourself to the indoor Auburge de Nicolas Flamel (Rue Montmorency). The chef here was lured from a two star Michelin restaurant. When I lamented that I don’t have the capacity to eat a classic French meal in earnest, he simply suggested, “Just order a dish or two.” Such simple logic. Hard to keep that philosophy in mind as dessert of chocolate garnished with gold leaf is offered. Leadeth me not into temptation. But, by remaining devoted to walking across the city, the calories seem at least a necessity—sort of…or at least justifiable—sort of…..

Keep walking, linger in the market at Saint Quentin (no relation to the California penal institution). Sample the cheeses, view the rabbits (dressed in the butcher stall), smell the cut flowers as you walk through to Boulevard Magenta.8

Then head for Gare du Nord.The visit to one of the classic rail station of Europe, expansive in its steel and glass, is not simply for the pleasure of visiting the architecture. It is also the terminal of Eurostar, the luxury train that offers Chunnel passage from Paris to Waterloo Station in London.

At Gare du Nord I wait for the arrival of my wife.It is springtime in Paris. I may be on assignment, working, photographing and writing but…..it is springtime and Gare du Nord has just been rated by this one author as the best place to kiss in Paris!

10

If you go….

Hotel Villa Beaumarchais

5, rue des Arquebusier, 3rd

33.1.40.29.14.00

Hotel St-Beuve

9, rue Sainte-Beuve, Paris, 6th

Metro Vavin

http://www.hotel-sainte-beuve.fr/

Rest:

L’Auberge Nicolas Flamel

51, rue de Montmorency, 3rd

Metro Rambuteau

www.nicholasflamel.parisbistro.net

tel: 01 42 71 77 78

Le Petite Bofinger

8 rue de la Bastille

01 42 72 87 82

across the street from the more formal Bofinger

Brasserie

Metro Bastille

Bateaux Parisiens

Port de la Bourdonnais, Paris 7th

M°: Bir Hakeim

Tel: 33.825.01.01.01


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Gardens of Normandy

France

Giverny and the classic gardens of Monet. At the southeast corner of Normandy, only a one-and-a-half hour trip from Paris, Giverny has always been the most visited, famous and accessible of contemporary French gardens. The casualness here stands in marked contrast to the bristling organization of Versailles. Giverny is the home of artists and Impressionism. Water-lilies, teal green Japanese bridges bracketed by willows, and the artist himself in a waistcoat and beard…all these images resonate in the paintings of Monet himself and souvenir calendars, note-cards and even umbrellas. Voila!—Giverny, a Mecca of 19th century art.2

There are three distinct seasons to visit– the gardens are quiet and inaccessible from October 31 through April.May 1 is opening day. and red, yellow, white and blue tulips greet the French sky. The exterior of Monet’s home is painted a distinct bubble gum pink, and many of the rooms are dedicated colors to bring the exterior floral palette into the rooms themselves. The brilliant yellow dining room and the blue kitchen, all have the natural wood of the furniture painted over to match the walls and ceiling. The effect is saturated and stunning.

But there’s a rub. The gardens are tended by flocks of gardeners who meticulously care for each individual plant. No spent rose is left to die on the stem; no iris lingers beyond its prime. Each flower inspires the appreciation of countless tourists, and then it is discretely whisked from the stage by the gardener’s deft fingers. No bloom overstays its welcome. There is a lavishness of attention for each bed of color; every cluster of cycads, every gaggle of geranium. This is the Yankees of gardens–a garden without a salary cap.

The spectacle of Giverny encourages the traveler to view some of the other gardens of Normandy. Get on the road. Hit the A13.3

First stop is the park and Rosary of Chateau de Mesnil Geoffroy in Ermenouville. Your hostess will be Princess Kayali. “Do I call you Princess?”I ask. “No, your Highness will do.” The wife of a Syrian Prince explains that she cannot compete with Giverny for scale: “Ours is a more modest affair. Our housekeeper is the one who must give out the tickets.” The highlight of the lovely garden is two modest wire chairs that allow viewers to await the onslaught of some 2.000 varieties of roses. Even though we are a little too early for the full rose parade, it is delightful to turn the chairs, view the chateau and dream about the “modest” residence. Seemingly on cue, the last of several Rolls Royces, a touring automotive cavalcade, crunch past the gravel drive as they exit.

Your next stop might be the bed and breakfast and personal gardens of Monsieur and Mme Leroyerin Longueville. Open the window of this 19th century home and look out onto the countryside and the single table and chair in the garden. This is a labor of love that is built from the ground up, literally. The 19th century home is adorned with the mistresses’ handiwork–pleated bedspreads, matching table clothes, and needlepoint samplers.5

Poor Monsieur Leroyer shrugs his shoulders as Madame chatters endlessly through a tour of their personal garden. Here visitors find fruit trees are espaliered against the garden walls, the present garden is viewed under the critical eye of people who can’t wait to get back to their serious work of gardening. “This side bed is well resolved in terms of color but the height is too even. Next year we shall plant with an eye toward more variety in dimension as well as organization of color.” At this lovely B&B (or is it “Li avec petite dejeuner?” Breakfast is jellies made from the garden’s apples, strawberry and fig. Perfect enough to make the croissant below the jelly jealous of the taste above!6

Drive over to the Jardins du Chateau de Brecy andview the gardens of Monsieur and Madame Wirth. You arrive in the traditional courtyard of the chateau and walk to the rear where you are met with a garden from the 17th century designed by Francois Mansart. Precise boxwoodthat embroiders the passage to the higher terraces greets you. As you walk up three levels in the gardens, a gate that opens to a meadow meets you. Here the meadow has been raised–with the help of some modern grading–some 30 feet to obscure the power lines in the distance. Soldiers of trees face each other and form a line of one-point perspective. It is a single vanishing point embracing the horizon and infinite blue sky of spring.A 15-foot lifeguard chair is hidden in the corner of an upper terrace to allow the discrete viewing of the gardens by their owners. A side garden away from the public’s view is where the owners’ grandchildren play. Even this garden is carefully arranged so the parent can view the children without having to view the nanny seated on the side. Every detail is taken into account to maximize the pleasure of the lords and ladies of privilege. As we leave, Monsieur Didier Wirth, dressed in snappy bright red pants and a striped shirt, master of the domain, lord of the manor, President of the Comite des Parcs et Jardins de France, bids us a gracious adieu. The world’s luckiest golden retriever returns to his post lounging on the marble entrance steps.8

On to the whimsical gardens of the Vendeuvre chateau. Built 1750-52. Here the count (his ownership of the chateau is seven generations and still counting), shows us around a garden full of water surprises. Pass through a gazebo and an overhead sprinkler triggered by a photoelectric eye douses you. Cross a Japanese bridge and metallic doves do their best to soak you. Move close to a tree and it branches explode in a shower. Jump from tile to tile in a pocket garden and five of the tiles erupt with streams from below. A sign offers a nude statue inviting you to touch a breast for the secret of love, and again you are tricked and drenched. Everywhere you turn, the garden is designed with liquid surprises. It is one of the largest gardens in Normandy and certainly one of the most curious.

Inside the chateau, you can view classic period furniture as well as more unusual objects, including one of the largest selection of ornate kennels (dog beds) in Europe an extensive collection of “automatique” mechanical toys. Each room has its share of eccentricities competing for space is a museum of heirloom furniture. The chaos of attractions inside compliments the whimsy and madness of the exterior.9

A visitor to Normandy might start with an interest in Monet and gardens but you are rewarded with much more. If you start with Giverny and enjoy walking, listening and smelling the garden, realize you are on the tip of the iceberg. Impressionism did not awake one morning as the brainchild of one person. Ideas evolve and respond to context and history. When looking at some of these gardens you can see the environment and context that gave birth to the gardens of Monet. A few days in Normandy, punctuated by charcuteries quiche, cheese and lovely wine. This is the kind of research that springtime in Normandy invites. Nice work if you can get it.15

If you go:

Chateau et Roseraie du Mesnil Geoffroy, Emenouville, M. et Mme Kayali

Tel: 02 35 57 12 77. www.chateaux-france.com/mesnilgeoffroy

Jardin de Brecy, Monsieur et Madame Wirth, Tel: 02 31 80 11 48 dwirth@wanadoo.fr

Museum et Jardin du chateau de Vendeuvre,Tel: 02 31 40 93 83. www.vendeuvre.com,chateau@vendeuvre.com

Lodging:

Longueville –West of Bayeaux: Chez Janine et Daniel Leroyer, 02 31 22 03 49—(Highly recommended). dan.leroyer@wanadoo.fr

Fontaine-sous-Jouy (near Vernon and Giverny): Chez Eliane et Michel Philippe Tel 02 32 36 89 05 emi.phillippe@worldonline.fr,www.chambre-fontaine.chez.tiscali.fr