For today’s post, I’m going back to 2015 and reflecting on our Christmas arrangements. TBH, not much has changed though we did have a wee pre-Xmas break in Austria – more of which later!
Our festive period tends to follow a pattern. We entertain friends the week-end before and then spend the entire period cycling plenty of kilometres, to wear off the additional calories, returning to work in the New Year, batteries recharged.
I’m not, and never have been, a fan of Christmases en famille. As children we never had table busting family Christmases. Frankly, not enough relatives. My father was an orphan and while my mother had living relatives, her older sister and mother whom we saw at least once a week, so there was no need to spend Christmas Day with them. Though we would, of course, see them over the festive period.
Initially, we spent Christmas with friends of my parents but, once they had children of their own, we spent the day chez nous. First as a foursome and then, after the arrival of my youngest sister Jane, a quintet. Occasionally, I recall, we’d have Christmas Day lunch at a hotel or restaurant. But with a Mum who was a fantastic cook and hostess, and a father in the food trade, why would you?
In all our many, many years of marriage (44 now), we’ve had a total of eight family Christmases, only one of which was with the outlaw (mother-in-law). A few of you may be wondering, somewhat enviously, how I managed this. I cannot claim any real credit. Rather it was all down to my mother-in-law’s lack of ability in the kitchen. Her cooking carried a government health warning. Would you want to spend Christmas with her? No, me neither! Given half a chance my beloved would have spent every Christmas with my family – my mother used to dote on him – with whom we’ve spent seven Christmases, the last one here in France back in 2005.
It was memorable for a number of reasons. We finally persuaded my father that my mother’s forgetfulness and sudden-found shy reticence was the result of Alzheimer’s not a personality change. The newly installed dishwasher in the new kitchen sprang a leak on Christmas Eve and I had to wash up by hand throughout the entire festive season. My parents spent three weeks with us, my sisters and my one brother-in-law only stayed a week but, at the end of those three weeks, I was exhausted from waiting on everyone hand and foot. I still recall my beloved cuddling up to me in bed, the day my parents left, saying: “Haven’t we had a wonderful Christmas and New Year?” My response was unrepeatable!
I have spent a number of Christmases working – one of the perils of being in Finance. But we’ve enjoyed more abroad, skiing in either Austria, Germany or Switzerland or relaxing in warmer climates such as Spain, Dubai and Arizona.
Since moving to France, in recent years, we’ve settled into a bit of a routine with the bikes. Christmas Eve we indulge in our usual oysters and champagne – very French! Christmas Day we dine at a local restaurant. This year we ate warm, home-made, cinnamon buns for breakfast and enjoyed a ride in the bracing air which gave us a good appetite for lunch, followed by a brisk walk along the sea-front in the sunshine. Pretty much all according to plan.
Boxing Day, my beloved and I both went down with a gastric-flu type of bug. We were laid low for several days which left us far too weak to cycle or indeed do much of anything. It was only on New Year’s Eve that we once more felt almost back to normal, though we didn’t see in the New Year. New Year’s Day, we enjoyed afternoon tea at a hotel overlooking the sea. It was afternoon tea French style, teeny-weeny pastries with tea, not a scone in sight. We had planned to stay and watch the fireworks but after enjoying the sunshine, felt chilled as soon as the sun set. We hurried back home to a bowl of hot soup.
We may not have logged the hoped for kilometres but we’ve gotten an early start with the New Year detox and reorganised a lot of drawers and cupboards. The late Wallis Simpson allegedly said “You can never be too rich, or too thin.” To which I would like to add, “or ever have enough storage space.” I’m going to be busy recycling this coming week, which will leave me with a warm, self-satisfied glow.
This week I’ve still been talking about our recent visit to Paris so here’s a few more French doors.
Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Dan’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).
In yesterday’s post, I mentioned we’d lunched at the newly opened Le Cheval Blanc which fronts the recently refurbished La Samaritaine department store. I’d spotted the iconic decoration of the store down a side street as we’d headed for the Seine and took a detour to admire its facade. Having then seen he hotel, we decided it would make an excellent place for lunch. We were not wrong!
One of Paris’ most luxurious hotels yet, located a short distance from Notre Dame Cathedral and the Arc de Triomphe, and overlooking the river Seine, the LMVH-owned Cheval Blanc opened its doors in early September, last year.
It’s opposite Pont Neuf and is set within the historic premises of La Samaritaine, an iconic store that had been shut for 16 years and recently reopened after a massive renovation.
French architect Edouard François, known for creating environmentally-friendly buildings, worked on the hotel’s exterior while American designer Peter Marino designed the interiors which are a visual feast. Cheval Blanc Paris features the works of around 600 painters, sculptors, furniture makers, lantern makers, ceramic artisans and textile designers.
A team from the Louis Vuitton Foundation (an art museum and cultural centre sponsored by the LMVH group, owner of both the hotel and store) curated the artwork, and artistic director Guillaume Henry designed the distinctive staff uniforms.
The entrance lobby of the 72-roomed hotel bedazzles with LVMH brands such as Tiffany, Chaumet, Bulgari, Fendi, Chanel and Dior. The hotel has a classy pastel-hued Dior-branded spa though we were more impressed with the curved infinity pool and the fitness club’s 30-metre pool.
Culinary matters are the responsibility of triple-starred Michelin star Arnaud Donckele and pastry chef Maxime Frédéric. We can attest that they do a sterling job! The cellars are stocked with bottles from LVMH’s Cheval Blanc, Château d’Yquem, Dom Pérignon and Hennessy.
The new hotel, opened at a difficult time for tourism but it gives a glimpse into how the luxury conglomerate is appealing to high-net worth clients interested in “experiential luxury,” and leveraging its existing brands to do so. More Cheval Blanc hotels are planned, and sitting under the same umbrella of the Belmond Hotels, they could be a signifier of LVMH’s plans for the acquisition of the luxury hotel group it made in 2019. Its other brands will also benefit from having direct-to-consumer relationships through the hotel, something beauty, wine and spirit brands tend to lack.
As for us, we’ll be back to sample the Paris hotel’s food and beverage offerings, plus we’ll be popping into our local Le Cheval Blanc in Saint Tropez when it reopens in April.
Here’s yet another photo from my many #adventuresdownunder where there is so much wonderful scenery.
I’d so been looking forward to the opening of this museum ever since I spotted its renovation on an earlier trip to Paris. I’m firstly going to cover the building itself, before talking about the exhibits.
The Bourse de Commerce – the former commodities exchange – is a Roman-style incongruity situated in the heart of Paris between the Louvre and Les Halles, with a history closely entwined with that of the French royal family. Its five-year restoration has preserved the feel of the monument to a remarkable degree.
While using his vocabulary of gray tones bathed in zenithal lighting, architect Tadao Ando has proved his talent for inserting ambitious architecture into an existing envelope. He has put a concrete cylinder inside the building, lowering its rotunda so that one can see clearly in the round. Visible from every angle, the glass vault is encircled by a restored and freshly-cleaned panorama depicting global trades.
All around, repurposed 19th century shop windows from the Voillereau company, between the twenty-four arcades of the inner façade, host installations. A 284-seat modular auditorium in the basement is used for lectures, performances and dance shows. A total of ten exhibition spaces enable a permanent rotation of exhibits. The complex is overlooked by a restaurant with a view of the Paris rooftops, designed by the Bouroullec brothers and run by Michel Bras. We had wanted to dine there but couldn’t get a table but, no matter, we ate instead at the recently opened Le Cheval Blanc.
The site’s story began when Jean II de Clermont-Nesle built a mansion that was later given by French King Louis IX (ruled 1226-1270) to his mother, Blanche of Castile. It bore a series of names that changed with the various owners’ noble titles: Hôtel de Nesle, Hôtel d’Orléans, Hôtel de Bohême and Hôtel de Soissons. In 1498, part of the property was taken over by the Augustinian nuns and used as a convent for “reformed girls” in Paris.
In 1572, having decided to leave the Tuileries Palace, Catherine de Medici bought the Hôtel d’Albret to build a palace with a park, integrating the adjacent properties, and asked the nuns to carry out their work nearby on Rue Saint-Denis. This project occupied architect Jean Bullant (1515-1578) for the last six years of his life. The architect built a tower with 147 steps, accessible from the queen’s residence, which her Florentine astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri could climb to look at the stars.
The Queen’s Tower
This icon, now connected to the Bourse de Commerce, has miraculously survived the capital’s various vicissitudes. In 1748, the column was one of the first-ever heritage monuments to be saved when the writer Louis Petit de Bachaumont bought it to save it from destruction, before giving it to the provost of Paris. It was classified in 1862 (for its part, the Bourse de Commerce had to wait until the threat of collapse in 1975, a few years after the shocking destruction of the Baltard pavilions.)
The Grain Exchange
In 1741, after the building’s last occupant suffered bankruptcy, the “Queen’s mansion” was demolished to build a grain exchange, accessible from the quays of the Seine. Its purpose was to stock flour for a city with over half a million inhabitants often afflicted by famine. Its construction in the 1760s was overseen by Nicolas Le Camus de Mézières (1721-1789), who designed a circular building on a pentagonal plot. As architect of the Monuments Historiques, Pierre-Antoine Gatier points out, this direct reference to Roman architecture was in line with a commonly admired style.
The open courtyard was subsequently covered by a wooden dome by carpenter André-Jacob Roubo, who was inspired by the work of French architect Philibert Delorme to build a tangled mass of thousands of beams, with no pillars. In his Travels in France, Arthur Young (1741-1820) said he was dazzled by this:
…..immense rotunda; by far the most beautiful thing I have seen in Paris—so light you would think it had been hung there by fairies.
After it burned down, it was replaced in 1811 by a cast-iron structure covered with tin-plated copper which took five years to complete by architect François Bélanger. In addition to Bélanger’s drawings in the National Archives, researchers have been able to study a collection of 240 sheets in the Wallfraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne, whose delicate restoration François Pinault has assumed.
In 1873, the grain exchange was closed and the architect Henri Blondel (1821-1897) commissioned to transform the structure into a commodities exchange, which opened in 1889 during the Universal Exhibition. Blondel had the building demolished, leaving only the inner circular arcade and an 18th century double helix staircase, surmounted by the metal dome, over which he placed a glass roof. This was the version the new occupants decided to restore, with a new roof in slate, replacing the copper.
In his letters from Paris during the Consulate, the British journalist Francis William Blagdon (1778-1819) describes the “noble simplicity” of this exchange, with “granaries supported by Tuscan order pillars.” He particularly admired the “dome 120 feet in diameter [nearly 40 metres], with a center 44 feet [some 15 metres] above the ground,” which he compared with the Pantheon in Rome. The author tells us that its construction was:
….considered so dangerous that the entrepreneur could not find anyone brave enough to remove the supports, and had to do this himself. The workmen were amazed at its stability once the supports had gone.
Many futures markets functioned at the Commodities Exchange from its inception but the collapse of wheat prices in 1929 led to market reform in 1935. It wasn’t until after WWII that futures trading in commodities recommenced.
With the computerisation of futures markets, all market activity concluded in 1998 with the exchange continuing as an electronic market within Euronext. Consequently, in 2013 the building became a sort of chamber of commerce acting as an advocate for business in Paris.
In 2016, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, offered François Pinault a 50-year lease on the Bourse de Commerce for a lump sum of €15 million, plus yearly fees. Shortly after, the Paris City Council approved the project to transform the building into an exhibition space for contemporary art, including pieces from his private collection of more than 3,500 works.
The Bourse’s initial opening date had been set for summer 2020, before it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic in France. Instead, it opened in mid-May 2021. The inaugural exhibition was called “Ouverture,” referring to the introductory piece which is sung at the beginning of an opera. The exhibit presented the works of several international artists including Urs Fischer, Kerry James Marshall, Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans and Cindy Sherman.
I’m continuing to favour tracks from artists I’ve seen in concert more than once. I’m kicking off with something suitably moody. First up, there’s Vienna by Ultravox. I was a big fan of New Romantic music.
Ultravox were a British new wave band, formed in London in April 1974. Until 1979, singer John Foxx was frontman and the main driving force behind the band. Following his departure, Midge Ure officially took over as lead singer, guitarist and frontman after he and keyboardist Billy Currie had worked on the studio project Visage. Ure revitalised the band and steered it to commercial chart success lasting until 1987, at which time the group disbanded.
Vienna was released as the third single from the band’s fourth album of the same name in January 1981. It’s regarded as a staple of the synthpop genre that was popularised in the early 1980s. It remains Ultravox’s signature song, being their most commercially successful release.
The music video, directed by Russell Mulcahy, is particularly evocative of The Third Man and cost £6,000–£7,000 to produce which was footed by the band after their record label (Chrysalis) refused to fund it. Approximately half of it was shot on locations in central London, mainly at Covent Garden and also in the old Kilburn Gaumont Theatre in North London. The rest was shot in Vienna on the cheap with one cameraman and the band.
As mentioned above Ure and Currie had met while collaborating on Visage, a studio-based band fronted by New Romantic icon and nightclub impresario Steve Strange. Ure and Currie were part of the Visage ensemble on a part-time basis while simultaneously being in Ultravox. During Ure and Currie’s tenure, Visage had released two successful albums and had a string of hit singles, the most notable being Fade to Grey.
Well I don’t know about you but the festive period went by in a flash, far too quickly for my liking. I’ve still to regale you with part of our November trip to Paris and, of course, our pre-Christmas trip to Austria – Seefeld, where else? – and Bolzano.
Frankly, we had a great time over the period and I hope you did too!
Here’s a few photos from Xmas to New Year.
Wishing you all a healthy, happy, safe and successful 2022. I’ll be back after Epiphany with my usual ramblings on a variety of topics punctuated by my photos.
Meanwhile many, many thanks to everyone I follow for their fabulous tales, delicious recipes, enchanting musical choices, general wit and wisdom, and wonderful photos.
Wishing you all a very Merry and safe Christmas which I hope you’ll be spending with whomever you want.
I’ll see you once again in the New Year. Yes, I’m taking a week or so’s break from blogging to do some much needed blog housekeeping.
Here’s a photo from our pre-Xmas trip to Seefeld.
My pick for today is Eartha Kitt singing Santa Baby, a song originally released way, way back in 1953, which was written by Joan Javits and Philip Springer. Lyrically, the song is a tongue-in-cheek look at a Christmas list addressed to Santa Claus by a woman who wants extravagant gifts – nothing wrong with that! It was the the best-selling Christmas song that year in US.
Santa Baby has been parodied, referenced, and featured in various films and television series. It has also been covered by many artists, such as Madonna, Kylie Minogue and Taylor Swift.
Back in November we were enjoying a few more days in Alassio – our second home-from-home.
Here’s a mellow, festive song from The Carpenters: Merry Christmas Darling.
Frank Pooler wrote the lyrics in 1946 as a Christmas gift for his girlfriend but their relationship ended before he was able present it to her. Twenty years later, Pooler was the choir director at California State University, when both Karen and Richard Carpenter were members of the choir.
Richard asked Pooler if he had any ideas for different Christmas songs and the latter remembered the one he had written many years before and mentioned it to Richard, adding that he didn’t think much of the melody anymore. Richard said he would try his hand at writing new music for the lyrics. Within about 15 minutes he had finished creating a song, written by two teenagers who were a generation apart, that was destined to become a Christmas classic.