March 29, 2014

An often overlooked museum

Having tasted the Musée Jacquemart-André by night, my curiosity was peaked and I wanted more. I signed up for one of Mona's tours with Paris Walks and joined Cherise for an outstanding tour of the history and the gossip of this Parisian mansion.

Long terrace steps and a pair of stone lions usher visitors into this grand 19th-century mansion, home to a collection of objets d'art and fine paintings.This is a sumptuous townhouse with a collection made by wealthy art lovers, the banker Edouard André, and his wife, the painter Nelie Jacquemart.

The collection includes priceless 18th C furnishings: tapestries, furniture, all displayed in family rooms,  and superb paintings by some of the great artists such as Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Fragonard, David, Vigée Lebrun and Reynolds. In the upper galleries you can admire the works they amassed from the early Italian Renaissance, which are a testimony to the charm of this period. Uccello, Donatello, Botticelli just to mention a few. The house itself is spectacular in it’s own right with ballroom, minstrels’ gallery, Nelie’s studio, a breathtaking double spiral staircase, and the family dining room.

On the opening of the Hôtel André in 1876, an article in the magazine L'Illustration reported: “amazement at the enchanting ball given by Mr André. There is no more admirable setting. All the famous names from the world of fashion and elegance were there. They all shone with the same brilliance."
“Nothing was lacking to make Mr André’s ball one of those sensational events whose magnificence marks our era. The walls of the two entrance rooms, the cloakroom and the vestibule, disappeared under a scented curtain of violets and camellias. The gold decorations of the double ballroom flowed, sparkling under the blaze of a thousand candles."

Need I add more, it is definately worth a detour off the all too trodden Champs Elysées.

March 27, 2014

Never a quiet moment...

People ask me how I come up with something to post every day. Well, I've got news for you. I live in Paris, there is ALWAYS something to write home about.

Take today, instead of undertaking my usual jog through the Bois de Boulogne, I decided to take a break and run some errands instead, unfortunately the Chinese president had decided on the same route as I.

After dropping off Expat girl at school, I hopped onto the metro towards the Champs Elysées. Upon emerging from underground with millions of other Parisians who were on their way to work, I realized Paris' most famous avenue had been cut off to all traffic. Not even pedestrians were allowed to cross the road.

Lots of French flags were waiving up and down the eight lanes, each one flanked by a Chinese flag. Yes, the French are real good at waving flags.

Well, commuters in Paris were left furious today when authorities closed no less than 13 Metro stations during the morning rush hour for citing security reasons for the state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Paris’s transport authority provided almost no advance notice of the closures, and needless to say Parisians were NOT happy.

I, on the other hand - strolling along the sidewalk - was struck by one thing: the silence! It was a serene feeling to walk along la plus belle avenue du monde (as the French like to call it) and take in the stillness of the moment.

It might be ironic that Paris transport authorities close Metro stations on a day when pollution levels are rising again but I would like to say thank you for this delicate moment of serenity. How do you say thank you in Chinese?

March 25, 2014

Paris is our home

So, it looks like we're in it for the long haul, meaning it seems that my husband will continue to be based in Paris for a few more years. This is the third time we have settled in the city of lights and the last two times we couldn't get away fast enough, to the point where my hubby changed company some years back in order NOT to move back to Paris.

They say everything good comes in threes. We got lured into coming back to Paris and left Switzerland three years ago to face the music. And here we are, not only singing with the music but dancing to it as well.

I admit this assignment has been one of the easier ones. We had lived here before, we both speak French, we know the system (which doesn't mean we always understand it) and most of all we are familiar with the French. Actually, upon my arrival I was positively surprised, the Parisian have become more approachable over the past ten years, I would not go as far as to use the word friendly, however.

In any case, with pre-adolecent children, the city does have a great deal to offer. No more lugging strollers down the staircases into the metro, no more prams being stolen in the inner courtyard, no more groceries being lugged up to the top floor because we now live in a building with an elevator! We DO hear the neighbours above us stomp across the floor, we KNOW which TV programme our neighbour below is watching (because we can hear it!) and when we switch on our WiFi we need to triple check which one on the list of 20 servers is ours.

All in all, Paris has become home. I never thought I'd say - let alone write - this, but we HAVE settled in. A few days ago I came across a family calendar from when we first moved to France. Needless to say all four of us were smiling on every single shot but somehow you could tell the smiles were tense and in no way natural. We were so determined to make this move work and so preoccupied with digging a new nest that we could call home, knowing that nothing could ever fill the void we all felt when leaving Switzerland.

Comparing it to this year's family calendar (yes, I do make one every year and send it to all our relatives!) where we all look totally relaxed and at ease with our environment, it is a big relief to see that even the kids have come around to the point were - in some ways - Paris is even better than Lugano.

It took a long time but - as always - we have forged ourselves a home. It's a cliché but after all: "Home is where your heart is"... and mine is right here with my family!

March 20, 2014

A 90 minute fashion treat

What do you do when you drop your daughter off at drama class and the lesson is too long to hang around and wait but too short to go home and return? Hey, living in Paris you pop into a museum, of course!

I had been invited to join a guided tour of Musée Galliera's exhibition "Papier glacé" tonight, but the event organizer called me three times yesterday just to let me know all the spaces had been filled. I guess organization is not his forte.

This was not to stop me, however. I took the short walk through the fancy 8th arrondissement after dropping off Expat girl and strode into the the 'Beaux-Arts' style building constructed by nobody lesser than the company belonging to Gustave Eiffel.

The exhibit drew on the archives of Condé Nast New York, Paris, Milan and London, bringing together some 150 mostly original prints from leading fashion photographers from 1918 through to the present day.

I came across the guided tour and meandered around the group to hear what the lady had to say. Frankly, I learned more from the explanatory texts on the walls. It made me realize how briliant my friend Mona's tours are and makes me appreciate them even more.

The best part? This fashion treat came at the cost of only 8 Euros entrance fee!

My absolute favourite picture was Norman Parkinson's shot for British Vogue 1957 showing the bumper-to-bumper portrait of a Rover 105 S especially sprayed for Vogue in fuchsia.

No matter where you turn, you'll always spot he Eiffel Tower

The streetside facade gives onto a paved courtyard bordered by a semicircular Ionic peristyle

March 19, 2014

Vive la Journée internationale de la francophonie!

Enrolled in an International school and therefore honouring diversity, my kids celebrate everything from the Chinese New Year to the Diwali, from Purim to Halloween, from St.Patrick's Day to Santa Lucia. However, working closer with the French department lately, it struck me that we were not celebrating our host country. We are all on vacation during France's National Day July 14th and I wonder how many kids would know what the La Marseillaise is.

Trying to raise more French awareness, I had a brainwave during a meeting and suggested a French Day. Not expecting much reaction, but nevertheless, always the obtrusive mum ready to come up with ideas and suggestions.

Sitting at my desk a while later that day, what do I read on one of the French news blogs? The following week was to be "La semaine de la langue françaises" with the March 20th marking La Journée internationale de la francophonie. I couldn't have planned it better myself!

A quick e-mail to the school's language coordinator and tomorrow all the Primary kids will be marching to school dressed in red, white and blue showing off their best French skills throughout the day.

A big bravo to the school for having taken the initiative onboard so rapidly and marked it in their scholastic's calendar as a yearly institution. We are after all living in Paris.

One teacher actually wrote back to me and called me an Eclaireur. To be honest, I had to google that and thereby have learnt a new word today. Merci Madame. A free translation I have come across is: “L’Eclaireur, is to go ahead, to be in what will come, to dare, to dis­turb, it is the duty always to seduce, always to sur­prise”.

This is just the beginning towards a more focused and active French department, I hope!

March 16, 2014

A sunny Sunday in Paris

Today was the perfect day. Mild temperatures, blue skies and splendid sunshine. Living in Paris, however, you need to learn how to share with the millions of tourists - 29 million each year to be precise - who gather from across the globe and invade the city no matter what the season.

March 14, 2014

Think, foncionnaire, think!!!

Why is it that the French foncionnaires (civil servants) can never get it right? Is that they don't care, they don't think or they just simply cannot manage their job task? By definition a foncionnaire does not need to do a whole load of thinking but please DO bring your brains to work.

The latest episode has me up in arms again. A simple transaction, a click on the new revolutionary public health internet site and the ordering of a simple card. What could possibly go wrong? So why have I received only three European medical cards rather than four? Going back online to order a fourth for my daughter, the system - needless to say - denies my request since I have already ordered one in her name. Yes.....but did I receive it!?! Nooooooo.

Just to mention a few past hick-ups:
When ordering our French public health card (Carte Vitale) we received three rather than four. Am I surprised? They forgot to issue my hubby's card. After all, HE is the one who is working and therefore registered as head of family and paying the bills. How they excpect to get their money if they don't enroll the employer, I have no clue?

Next, my hubby submits all the certificates requested to transcribe his motorbike license from an Italian to the French version. Again, weren't we all suppose to be one big happy family called the European Union? Three weeks of suspense, whereupon further inquiry, we are told they lost the entire file and my husband needs to retake his motorbike test... after riding a bike for over 30 years? Tell me they are kidding, please!

Last week the checkbook I ordered was registered to the wrong bank account and quite frankly it is a miracle they didn't get my car's numberplate wrong! Having said that, I never actually checked, maybe I should run down to the garage quickly?

March 9, 2014

A not-so-private nightly view

Call me spoilt but having been invited to a private evening viewing of the Musée Jacquemart André I did not expect to walk into a reception of 300 people. The average age, I might add, was, over 65.

Never the one to have my fun spoilt, I decided to make the most of it, by taking some fun pictures. I started moving around the luxurious mansion while the sponsoring host was trying to sell his goods before opening the museum to the crowd.

The small intimate museum was created from the private home of Édouard André (1833–1894) and Nélie Jacquemart (1841-1912) to display the art they collected during their lives. I quickly got ahead to glimpse at the winter garden and headed upstairs through the Sculpture Gallery housing collections of 15th- and 16th-century Italian sculpture, the Venetian Gallery attesting to the Andrés' love of 15th-century Venetian artists and the Florentine Gallery which is a place of worship, containing works on religious themes.

Gliding back down the most fantastic is a staircase of this beautiful place I could imagine how the wealthy of Paris lived in pre-automobile days. On my way out, running down the marble stairs and through the gothic pillars onto the graveled courtyard, I felt like Cinderella. However, there was no prince following me just a huge crowd trying to make their way through the stately rooms without breaking any of the exposed objects.

I have yet to try the sumptuously decorated restaurant within the building, therefore, dear Musée Jacquemart-André I will be back soon to discover your marvels at daylight with the insight of one of my favourite guides, Cerise from Paris Walks.

March 5, 2014

Proud to be Swiss

The day was absolutely picture perfect. We were a gang of 12 enjoying our skiing holidays in the Swiss Alps. It had snowed the night before and today the sun was shining and not a cloud in the blue sky. THIS is why I insist with my husband, that we need to come back to Switzerland every year for a week's skiing. There are few things more beautiful and more satisfying not to mention healthier that you can enjoy as a family, in my opinion.

It all came to a screetching halt when one of the teenagers fell over on the very last decent and hurt his arm. Within 10 minutes the first aid sledge had appeared only to inform us that the injury was such that a helicopter had to be called in. While we were waiting and the sun started turning cold in the late afternoon, there was not a single skier that did not stop to ask us if he could help in any way. One man pulled out some hot green tea - mandarine flavoured no less - to keep the boy warm. A Kinder chocolate bar appeared from somewhere after that.

A short while later, a helicopter performed a superbly precise landing on the slanting snowy slope and a kind, smiling doctor quickly explained what was to happen next. 20 minutes later the perfectly trained 3-person team had handed a very worried-looking boy over to the Kinderspital (children's hospital) in Bern.

The helicopter was not big enough to let a parent accompany the little patient. The Dad therefore was picked up at the bottom of the slope by one of the lift workers who drove him down the valley to where his car was parked. While Dad drove 100km to reach Bern, I was calming the Mum telling her that if there was ANY country I would leave my child fly off by himself in a helicopter, it would be Switzerland, most definitely.

Needless to say, feeling slightly panicky, the Dad could not find the hospital and stopped to ask the single soul on the street - that was not having dinner at 6pm - for the way. Without flinching the pedestrian called his wife to tell her he would be late for dinner, got in his car and led the way straight to the hospital.

The medical staff was most professional and precise, they took time to explain exactly what was wrong and very kindly reassured the father of all his doubts and worries. They comforted the boy and the nurses went out of their way to make their little patient feel as comfy as possible, especially since he did not speak their language.

Three days later we were all reunited again, sipping Swiss hot chocolate around a table with a smiling teenage boy in a cast. This will be a lasting memory not only for him but for all of us that were skiing down the slope that late afternoon.

My foreign friends could not praise the Swiss enough. The professionalism, the precision, the reliability, the organization and the dedication were qualities they had always heard about but experiencing these in a moment of emergency was a unique revelation. Furthermore, what they had not expected was the empathy, the kindness, the warmth, the genuine concern about their son's well-being by complete strangers. They were all looking at me as they kept on praising the Swiss. It seemed I was to take the credit for all the Swiss. Therefore, let me say it loud and clear: I am proud to be Swiss!

Thank you to all of you who made this Swiss experience unique and memorable in every way.

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