29 October, 2009

Bonjour de Paris.

Say you have a few days of perfect fall weather, some time off, a little bit of money to burn. And a ticket to Paris (by train, plane, whatever). Where do you set down your bag? There's a strong argument to be made for the quieter bits of the Latin Quarter/Left Bank, specifically in the sixth arondissement, or district, around the ample charms of the intimate Place Saint Sulpice neighborhood. There, you will find the 24-room boutique Hotel Recamier, which just opened in July after a sumptuous renovation led by Jean-Louis Deniot. (Book through one of the online agencies for the best rates, as I did.)
The hotel is across from the St. Sulpice church, which is perpetually undergoing renovation (it seems) but manages to maintain its serene grace even with partial scaffolding and a big yellow crane. Beyond the notoriety brought on by Dan Brown's rather liberally innaccurate Da Vinci Code thriller (and the fact that the Marquis de Sade was baptized there...), the church features a lovely fountain in front and serves as a local meeting point. In the morning, the street cleaners stride with purpose and seeming good cheer, sweeping up stray leaves and litter. The professionals clutch their dose of expresse and the paper, and resignedly wait for the bus. True to pre-conceived notions, the women inevitably wear immaculate heels. Lovers twine hands and hair and doze in the slanting afternoon sun, and teenaged boys start up lively ad-hoc street soccer in the early evenings. Those of us with time and patience queue just up the street for Pierre Hermé's remarkable macarons. It really doesn't matter what time you come--even twenty minutes before the shop opens. There's always a queue. Believe me.Bring that copy of War and Peace you always meant to finish. And get an extra box for me, because for once I just couldn't be bothered, and instead set off to explore the rest of Paris, sans Pierre Hermé. I know, I know, his pastries qualify him as one of the leading lights of French cuisine, and I do regret not waiting. But Paris was calling.
The painter Marc Chagall was invited to design his own edition of Vogue magazine in 1977. He opened the issue with a poem of his own:

Je marche sur ton âme, sur ton ventre, je bois le restant de tes années, j'ai avalé ta lune, le rêve de ton innocence, pour devenir ton ange et te proteger à nouveau.

I step on your soul, on your belly, I drink the rest of your years, I've swallowed your moon, the dream of your innocence, to become your angel and to protect you once again.

I am fairly certain he was describing what Paris can do to you.


The December 2009 issue of the French edition of Elle Decoration has a six page piece on the Hotel Recamier, pretty pictures galore.

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