Paris Journal 2014 – Barbara Joy Cooley Home: barbarajoycooley.com
As we walked arm-in-arm down the boulevard Saint Germain, we noticed a couple familiar faces. Neal and Sherry sat at a little table in the window of Le Mondrian, practically on the terrasse. We waved and paused to chat with them. We hovered over a terrasse table to be out of the way of the scores of pedestrians passing by. What a great place for people watching!
Neal and Sherry were doing that and having a casual little supper before going on an evening sightseeing boat ride on the Seine. What a good idea!
We did not have occasion to eat at Le Mondrian this season, but we have in the past. As we told our friends, it is an excellent place to know about because it is open from 7AM to 2AM every day, serving food continuously.
Two summers ago, when our granddaughters were with us in Paris, we dined at Le Mondrian several times. When kids are hungry, you’ve got to feed them NOW, as any grandparent knows. Several times we had “linner” (lunch/dinner) with the girls at Le Mondrian. The servers there made a fuss over our twins; they were utterly charmed by the girls.
For those who prefer breakfast at lunchtime, Le Mondrian serves breakfast up until 1 or 2PM, I think. Tom used to want to eat a late breakfast there; this year, he’s been too busy with work on the latest book.
When we saw Sherry and Neal, we were on our way to dinner at Vagenende. There we both had Chateaubriand steak dinners and shared a baba au rhum for dessert. The service was amazing, and dinner was really good. Most of all, we love Vagenende for its gorgeous Art Nouveau décor.
Earlier in the day, we walked down the boulevard Raspail to the Place Denfert-Rochereau, where we saw an incredibly long line of people waiting to tour the Catacombs. As we learned later, Neal and Sherry were in that line. They decided to wait patiently, and they did take the tour, which is time-consuming but fascinating.
On the way back along the boulevard, we paid more attention to the modern structure with a big glass and steel wall separating its garden from the sidewalk. This turned out to be the Fondation Cartier, as well as the grounds of the big Saint Vincent de Paul institution that we’d always experienced from the other side, the avenue Denfert Rochereau.
The Fondation Cartier is celebrating its 30th anniversary this next month (October). Twenty of those 30 years have been in this Paris location, in the modern structure designed by Jean Nouvel. The purpose of the fondation is, of course, to promote modern art and help talented young artists.
I am interested in the grounds of the old Saint Vincent de Paul hospital, which are extensive, wooded, and full of wildflowers. According to an article published last spring in LeMonde, the Fondation Cartier would like to expand, and would like to use some of that Saint Vincent de Paul land to do so.
The proposal, as you can imagine, is controversial.
The expansion would include an exhibition hall, café, boutique, reception area, and parking garage. It would include the area now called the Theatrum Botanicum, designed by the Austrian artist Lothar Baumgarten. It is a native plant garden, or a garden “without bad herbs,” in the words of its gardener.
The Theatrum Botanicum is an arboretum of 35 different species of trees, including the Cedars of Lebanon plated by Chateaubriand in 1825, and 200 species of other plants. The diplomat Chateaubriand and his wife owned land here from 1826 to 1829, and then created a modest “infirmary” there; it was a refuge for older people who’d fallen from high rank, to keep them from living in misery. It was named the Infirmerie Marie-Therese. From 1838 on, the archbishop designated the 32-bed facility for older, handicapped priests.
That facility took up most of the former Chateaubriand property. The St. Vincent de Paul charity also used some of the land for an institution for young, blind girls. It was an interesting institution in which each young, blind girl was paired with a non-blind nun, who became a virtual “mother” to the girl. Madame de Chateaubriand’s former salon became the modest chapel for the institution.
Right across the street from this institution was another institution for girls – for what we’d call “troubled girls” these days. But that’s another story.
The City of Paris helped negotiate the acquisition of 3.4 hectares of former Chateaubriand property from the Public Assistance Hospitals agency, which is the current owner of the land.
The expansion of the fondation facilities would negate the possibility of creating a cross-road connecting the boulevard Denfert-Rochereau and the rue Boissonade – a future road that has been included in the master plan for that area.
Before we leave Chateaubriand land, I want to mention that this famous diplomat’s father, René de Chateaubriand (1718-86) was a former sea captain and ship owner who became a slave trader.
Tom and I often remind ourselves that much of the evidence of 17th and 18th century wealth that we see in Paris was built with money that originated from the fruits of slave labor, and that the French were particularly brutal practitioners of slavery (e.g., Haiti). It is a nefarious history that should not be forgotten or denied.
Chateaubriand the diplomat (1768-1848) was known for, among other things, writing Genie du Christianisme, a defense of the Catholic faith. He grew up in the family castle in Brittany, and had a hard time deciding whether to be a priest or a military man. What a dichotomy!
As we know from history, he decided on the military career. When the violence of the Revolution became too much for him, he left France to go to America (1791-92). There, he wrote about nature.
When he returned to France, he fought on the Royalist side, and so was exiled to Jersey, then England, where most of the time he lived in misery. His writings in America and England helped to spark the romantic movement in France. His Catholic faith returned in 1798, and in 1802, he published that defense of Catholicism. The Russian Tsarina liked that book so much that she gave him money – lots of money.
No longer poor, Chateaubriand set about touring the world. And yes, he was a foodie. He loved a particular cut of beef tenderloin so much that it is named after him. It is one of our favorites, too: the Chateaubriand steak.
Monday, September 29, 2014
The vineyard on Montmartre.
Flowers alongside the steps leading up to Sacre Cœur.
This lucky cat has a perch high atop Montmartre. His staff have installed adequate protection from falls, so he can play around as much as he likes.
Chateaubriand au poivre.