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By Jacqueline Swartz
Can-can at the Moulin Rouge, Toulouse-Lautrec’s absinthe drinkers and Renoir’s plump-armed women – Montmartre is synonymous with La Vie Boheme, a fin-de-siecle time when the arts burst open on the streets of Paris. Now there is a revitalized museum to showcase this Belle Epoque brilliance.
The Musee de Montmartre, housed in what was a l7th century monastery, was opened in l960 to display the art and preserve the traditions of the glory days of Montmartre. But it remained in the shadows and never made it as one of Paris’ major museums. This year it has gotten more than a facelift – it now has a future as a collection of historic buildings and gardens that will express the flavor of Montmartre through permanent and temporary exhibits, and liberate many pieces of art from storage.
Opened in September of this year, the temporary exhibit is themed around the Chat Noir Cabaret. From l891 it was a place of innovation and improvisation. Evenings were filled with stories and songs. Eric Satie was the house pianist, Debussy composed there. Someone would recite poetry or sing songs. There were various groups – one called itself the Incoherents,
The current exhibit includes over 200 paintings, watercolors, drawings, prints, posters and shadow-theatre cutouts, many never before displayed in France. Photographs make this magic time real. Through visual images and music, the exhibit captures the fin-se-siecle time that made Paris’ reputation as the center of the arts and bohemian life.
Before you enter the museum you come across gardens designed to reproduce those found in the paintings of Auguste Renoir. If you look up, you can see the studio of model-turned-artist Suzanne Valledon, who lived there with her artist son, Maurice Utrillo.
After entering the museum through the gardens, you come across a room with prints and drawings that evoke the Chat Noir cabaret. The second room contains photographs of the cabaret. There are illustrations for the Arts Incoherents and notebooks.
Other rooms show now-famous works like Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Ball at the Moulin Rouge and dreamy symbolist paintings. Not every artist’s name is known, but that’s part of the pleasure of discovery.
There’s a room dedicated to the circus, with prints drawings and posters showing the importance of the circus as a theme for artists of the time. Another room is devoted to the Café-concerts, with prints, posters, paintings and drawing showing popular entertainers such as Loie Fuller and La Belle Otero, one of the grandest courtesans of the time.
Montmartre was the backdrop, of course. It was a village until l860, with its own vineyards (several still exist); its summit is the highest point in what is now Paris. But all was not pastoral calm. In the Spring of 1871, the Paris Commune ruled. It called for separation of church and state, employee rights and equality for women. It was brutally put down, and thousands died. The famous Sacre Coeur Church, at the pinnacle of the mountain, was built, it is said, as a gesture of reconciliation. Began in 1875, it was not finished until l914.
A century later, in 2014, the project will be completed, with a building for permanent exhibits, one for temporary exhibits and a cafe. The heritage of this former village will be preserved, and along with Montmartre’s connections to the artists inspired by it.
The museum, at 10 rue Cortot, is open every day from 10am to 6pm. It is accessible through the Metro stop, Lamarck-Caulaincourt, Line 12. Or you can take Autobus 80 and then the funicular. The phone is 01 49 25 89 39, email email@example.com.
The theme of Paris’ Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, is love – or rather passion, expressed by celebrated French writers, singers and actors caught in the tumultuous grip of extreme feelings. But this isn’t some cheesy hotel with afternoon bookings – it’s a four star boutique hotel, re-opened in the spring of 2012. It has been redone with the sheen of modern amenities, the background of literary tradition and the chic ambiance that comes from artfully created decor.
Sandrine Alouf, the designer, has created an ode to passion, artistically expressed through brilliant color, lighting, photos and print. She calls herself an “atmospheriste”, which seems to describe the spell she casts. The hotel’s atmosphere begins on the street, for it is perched on a hill below the famed Sacre Coeur Church, in the fabled district of Montmartre. Until l860, Montmartre was to be a village with its own vineyeards. Then it became home or hangout to artists ranging from Maurice Utrillo to Eric Satie. Today there are many sidewalk artists as well as casual restaurants.
“From the moment they walk in, I want to immerse the guests, to put them in a different state”, Alouf continues. Throughout the hotel her paeon to passion continues. It can be passion for the neighborhood, for Paris, for art.
The colors hit you first: the entranceway done in pink and brown gives way to dramatic red and black – the red, seen throughout, has been carefully chosen. The small lobby extends to a library that includes books by some the famous writers depicted in the hotel: Baudelaire, Verlaine, Hugo, Rimbaud. On the library wall you get the first glimpse of the print theme that will continue in the rooms.
“First to love, then to say it, then to write it, then to kiss… on the mouth, the eyes and elsewhere,” wrote Victor Hugo to Juliette Drouet the woman he loved for 50 years without ever living with her.
Among the 24 rooms, eight (deluxe) pay homage to mythic couples including Edith Piaf and the boxer Marcel Cedran, her greatest love who died in a a plane crash. Imbedded in the wallpaper, specially designed by a British company, are retro black and white photos of Cedran and of Piaf, each alone.. Other such rooms depict Sartre and de Beauvoir, Charles Beaudelaire and Jeanne Duval and Apollinaire and Lou. She was indifferent to him, but his passion gave rise to great work – 220 letters and 75 poems. Indeed, a long domestic life is not the hallmark of these couples.
The four “superior” rooms are all about Montmartre at night, with it’s history of the Moulin Rouge..
The twelve “classic” rooms are designed around the themes: Secrets of Love, Stolen Kisses and Paris My Love. But you can’t survive on romance alone, and all rooms have free wifi and flat screen televisions with 50 international channels. The bathrooms, which are in a separate room from the toilets, have both hand held and rain showers, and small glittering tiles.
The rooms, like the hotel and the neighborhood itself are small.
Not so the buffet breakfast, which includes high quality cheeses and cold cuts, eggs and cereal, buttery croissants and very French coffee with steamed milk. A special touch is the heart-shaped waffles.
Among the thirty-something staff, there’s no “attitude”. They are eager to help, whether that means carrying your suitcase up in the tiny lift, printing out a map of the neighborhood or suggesting a restaurant or calling a taxi.
Hotel Montmartre Mon Amour, 7 rue Paul Albert, Paris 75008. phone +33 01 46 06 03 03.
by Jacqueline Swartz
In Paris’ Right Bank, around the corner from the high fashion Place de Vendome, is the Hotel Edouard7, a four-star “couture hotel”. It was built in 1877 and named after Edward VII, the Prince of Wales who later ruled England. He was a francophone with huge appetites – for food, theatre, and most of all, for women.
Five years ago, the hotel, then down at the heels, was sold by a French family and bought by another. Last year, the little-known classic was redecorated by hat designer Marina Besse, who transformed it into a chic, 70-room hotel that both honors and plays with its history.
There are boutique hotels, design hotels, and now a couture hotel. Designer Besse has “dressed” each room in lush fabrics and striking colour combinations. While everything – the furniture, the fabrics, the floors – is new, you won’t find sparseness or minimalism here. Some rooms have geometric art deco furniture, while others offer a fanciful take on the Edwardian Age.
Edward was known for his trend-setting male attire of top hats and morning suits. His many mistresses, some of the most famous actresses, singers and courtesans of their day, included Sarah Bernhardt and Nellie Melba. Their vivid, seductive qualities inspired Besse’s decor. In one of the suites, for instance, a thick velvet curtain is used instead of a door to the bath. The wc is separate, and many of the rooms have stall showers and deep tubs, high tech luxury that can still evoke a more opulent time. Materials are velvet, silk and leather signed by Lelievre, Pierre Frey and Carlucci. Purple, red, chocolate and gold are some of the palettes.
“Each room should be read like an opera or a concert performance”, remarks general manager Laurence Guinebretiere. In the bar, she points out, the small square tables stand for Edouard’s cufflinks, while the lamps signify hats. Of course, you don’t need to know this to enjoy the artful ambiance of the hotel.
The atelier-sized lobby is dotted with chairs, from purple leather to a high, red velvet seat in oversized, Alice-in-Wonderland proportions.
In a small salon off the lobby, there are computers with free internet access; wifi in the rooms is also offered gratis.
On the top floor, the rooms have their own terraces and view of the Opera Garnier, Sacre Coeur or the Louvre. The feeling is one of a chic Paris apartment where you might want to carry out a secret assignation.
For more information contact Barbara3@rogers.com
By Barbara Kingstone
Travelling on the Eurostar from London to Paris, in just over 3 hours, is one convenient way to get to the City of Light. But on most occasions getting a taxi at the Gare de Nord may take a time, patience and endurance. However, the driver glowed with enthusiasm, when the mention of the destination was Hotel le Bristol, s’il vous plait. Paris isn’t known for friendly cabbies but so impressed was he that for the 15 minute drive, he talked about the history of the renowned hotel. It’s a legend, a place that has had extreme highs and lows.
At the beginning, it was “a big house on a large marsh, a house with a thatched roof” and interestingly it was purchased with a 13,000 square foot garden which still exists. (It is considered one of the most beautiful in Paris.) Then a magnificent intimate palace- residence was built in the mid 1800s by the stylish patron of the arts, Jules De Castellane. In another persona, it became a cloister of the sisters of Hope, and then the decline, becoming a deteriorating building. But salvaged it was and like a phoenix rising out of the ashes it became the famous bijou of a hotel. Vraiment, Hotel Le Bristol is everything it’s cracked up to be.
Paul Valery once said, “He who will do great things must pay careful attention to detail”. In 1925 when Hippolyte Jammet opened the hotel, these words must have echoed in this mind and continued with the current owner, the Oetker Group. It’s a perfect hotel, in a great location with an atmosphere of elegant times past yet improved and renovated to suit contemporary taste and temperaments. Even ‘arrivistes’ who may have learned from “manners for dummies’- those with big bucks in the nifty nineties and were lucky to hang onto their cash flow, are seen strutting, quietly, through the muted hallways with signature shopping bags.
Joie de vivre, is an apt description of life under the roof of the Bristol so the ever pervasive feeling of being transported to this magnificent mid 1800s is not unexpected.
Even the French stay here- royalty, celebs and big biz types. The management won’t say who visits now, but Ava Gardner, Marilyn Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Grace Kelly, Charlie Chaplin are on the roster of those who did. The occupancy rate is high, even in these economic strapped times and many are repeat guests. The prices are somewhat lofty but for a special occasion, the once in a lifetime treat, a great expense account, (if those still exist), it’s well worth it for the experience.
First impressions count and the lobby says it all. Hanging from a wall are 18th century Gobelin tapestries, then there’s the collection of fine antique furniture, paintings purchased pre World War II from the Louvre Museum, shimmering chandeliers, bold but graceful pink marble columns, a gilded wrought iron cage elevator ( two modern ones are over to the left).. The style is described as Eiffel but the hotel has been constantly refurbished losing some of the original architecture virtues. Ionic columns, Corinthian pilasters, garlands and much more architectural detailing are featured on the facade. Even the bow windows and polished white stone demurely states “temple of Parisian high style”. Inside, le dernier cri is the hand carved oak wood panel oval room, once the in-house theatre of the original owner Jules de Castellane. It remains intact.
The subtle colour of the rooms is a nice departure from the eye-blinking bouquets of chintz and dusty canopied beds that seem to be rooted in many European hotel’s decor. This is like having a potpourri without the petals. The bathrooms, the largest in Paris, are something to write home about. Carrara marble floors, double sinks set in a large vanity, heated town racks, oversized tub, separate shower and amenities by Hermes complete the inventory of luxe. Most of the rooms and suites in the hotel, they overlook the mammoth camellia treed manicured garden with the symbol of the Bristol, the 19th century Love Fountain, which once took over 300 hours to repair and revive. It still spouts water adding to the already ample ambiance.
It seems there’s nothing the concierge staff can’t do. The head concierge, Wolf Ganzel has stood behind the desk for 38 years. His team includes ten of the most co-operative people. Ask for a reservation at one of the ‘it’ eateries and they manage somehow to procure seating. Anything in the hotel itself, seems like child’s play to this team. And if that isn’t enough, think of a swimming pool which looks like an ocean liner sailing over the Parisian rooftops all glass enclosed. It’s designed by the same architect who created yachts for the two modern day Greek billionaires, Onassis and Niarchos. Also on the 6th floor is a fully equipped Fitness Centre, again with large windows and a view of Paris, non pareil. On the treadmill, forget the TV and just look at the stunning scene. As with most five star hotels these days, there is a spa. Atelier de Beaute Anne Semonin, has a full range of treatments with the entrance next door. What better credentials than it is frequented by Parisians and again, getting an appointment can be a bit difficult. – that is until you speak with the concierge and voila, you’ve got it.
The Salons- Rambouillet, Marly, Malmaison and Elysee, are great for conferences and banquets with the added bonus of overlooking the garden. Moveable partitions, exhibition and audio- visual materials are all available.
The Restaurant Le Bristol, one of the ‘best tables in France’, has a two star Michelin rating and a young chef who recently was voted Chef of the Year. It’s hard to avoid mentioning the Haviland de Limoges porcelain, Christofle silver flatware and the 31,000 bottles of premier wine in the cellar. Just in case you have a penchant for a 75 year old cognac or a bottle of Champagne circa 1865 or perhaps a bottle of 1958 Mouton Rothschild, you’ll find it here.
In the summer, (from May to September), the Restaurant d’Ete, overlooking the garden, is the perfect spot for meals however, weather permitting tables are set outdoors. From October to April, Le Restaurant D’Hiver (the oval oak room), although large, feels cozy. And the large tradition Bar Le Bristol serves tea and light meals along with the great martinis.
Things to Do
Just walk outside and there’s Paris at your feet. Near the Tour Eiffel, the Champs Elysee, Arc de Triomphe, walking distance to the Louvre Museum and Tuillerie Gardens. Posh boutiques and some of the best shopping in France is within a stone’s throw. A 5 minute walk takes you to The Market, a trendy and a gastronomic treat in sharp, minimalism décor.