Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Ma Griffe

Reading lately John Baxter’s delicious book Immoveable Feast I stumbled upon an interesting idiom ma griffe. In French griffe means a claw. As the author describes it has a new wider meaning of a trace, a signature, impact bestowed on you by favorite spots in the city  or left by you on things you like, used to visiting etc. 

Griffe is a secret intangible inscription which makes certain places so special. In fact la Closerie des Lilas became cultural fenomenon long before Hemingway and other ex-pat luminaries made it legendary as well as Le Dome and La Coupole on Montparnasse, Les Deux Magots and café de Flore in Saint Germain. The griffes, the memory, made these brasseries and cafes a treasured Parisian heritage. These places invariably mentioned in all guidebooks are still glowing with those reflected light.
Free spirited Montmartre of fin de siecle with its cafes and cabarets, brothels, bals de musette and moulins is immortalised by Utrillo and Lotrec changed dramaticaly but still is an enormous magnet  for tourists.

And Notre Dame, the heart of Paris, much earlier became sa griffe for Victor Hugo. (Thanks to Disney every child knows The Hunchback of Notre Dame today).

Legends and myths of Paris are made of griffes and in return your own griffes, an inner circle of preferences,  become a definitive part of your love affair and bonding with the city in a very Parisian way.

Your griffe is an indefinite number of favorite small and big moments and places that make you believe that Paris is yours. It can be a bistro, a square, Jardin de Luxembourg  or boulevard stroll.

For lucky those who live there it can be a book shop frequented for years, florist, hairdresser, gallery, just about anything including the sort of fromage or wine, restaurant and chef who knows your name and greet your friends, a Marché or a bouquinist stall where owner puts aside something interesting for you.

Those legendary bouquinists along the Seine are probably the only ones in the world who still remember what was the long forgotten art of ex-libris about: an artistic graphic stamp for labeling the books from a private library. And this tiny imprints could have been very elaborated designs, unique for being your signage.

It’s a kind of imaginary ex-librises you live on different pages across the city to support your claim that Paris was yours. One of this places for me is atop of Notre Dame. On a clear day you can embrace the most beautiful view in the world.
The eternal vista is so fascinating that it always makes me sing,… well… humming a tune of the moment and wishing a had a powerful voice of Mireille Mathieu to express the overwhelming feelings that could make me fly, well…, almost.

Climbing to the very top on spiral, narrow and steep stairs is not an easy task, and going down is even trickier, but to leave the towers and a catwalk on the roof is the hardest.
I’m always the last one to step down, when security guy tries all the broken languages he knows added to a polite  but persistent Madame….s’il vous plait.

This place along with many others is ma griffe, these images are etched on my heart long time ago.  Can’t help it. Could you?

Thank you for visiting.
All images by Natalie Rapoport

Monday, January 23, 2012

Walking with John Baxter

It’s been a while since I enjoyed a book about Paris that much. Actually three wonderful books published in a last few years by John Baxter  and savoured as a delicious  and soul nourishing course.  With The Most Beautiful Walk in the World for entrée,  We  Always Have Paris for le plat principal, and Immoveable Feast for le dessert.

It’s like having a great walk with the old darling friend who is bursting with stories to share and love Paris  as much as you do.

If you’d like not only look at Paris scratching a guide books surface, but have a conversation with  the city and have a deep feeling that you live there, really live, not just visiting , touch and embrace, then you can have it. You’re few pages away from being invited into non-fiction reality you ‘re craving for.

His writing is what I call 3D, you can walk right into the story following the author, be around the people he meets, or quite colorful characters , artists, writers, personalities long gone, but who added so much to Paris extravagance, uniqueness and charm…. being Paris you love today.

The same feeling  you had watching Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. It’s amazing that the movie, widely loved by audience and critics,  and Baxter’s book The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, largely unnoticed, were released at the same time. What a coincidence! As if the authors worked together in different genres.   In 1998 Baxter being an acclaimed film critic and biographer, published a brilliant book about Allen.

They have so much in common especially remarkable ability to float freely and seamlessly between times as if it’s completely normal just to open the door and voila, you’re there meeting  Hemingway with Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein or Sylvia Beach, Dali and Picasso, Marlene Dietrich, Sartre. Paris is known for magic stunts like this.
Allen and Baxter are both about the same age and share the fondness of Paris jazz era of 20-s, it’s just Baxter has no nostalgia. Sweet melancholy isn’t his trait. He is contagiously happy here and now and thrilled to become first time father (in1990) to a beautiful daughter Louise. He isn’t on philosophical quest , he is just walking and enjoying Paris.

And what Diane Johnson, author of Le Divorce , wrote on the cover about Baxter is completely applicable to Allen,  as they both have great and very special sense of humor mixed with delicate self irony: “ John Baxter is so erudite while being so funny. He’s much more than a tourist – he’s got it all”.  He did indeed.

You can’t say you know Woody Allen though you certainly can like him as a writer/director/actor. I do.  The clumsy, nervous, intelligent, hilariously witty old chap. I love him and not all but many of his movies.

John Baxter reveals enough personal thoughts and experiences, memories and reminiscences to give you feeling you know this big vivacious teddy bear gourmand with a  kind heart and profound knowledge of  movie history  and literature, lively writer very curious to the world and full of joi de vivre.
His  descriptions are so vivid that from now on you won’t just pass by a building, a passage, a door or a square. You will pass THE building, The door, The alley, or The bench in the garden, or raise your eyes to look at THE window.

Stories and anecdotes are weaved into very cinematic montage from boulevards to markets, from metro to squares, from Montparnasse to Saint Germain, from artists to chefs, from literary walks to movie moments. Myths and legends are inseparable from pulsing reality and the writer feels equally comfortable recalling past, depicting present and taking us to his world trotting discoveries. 

And Paris isn’t always flowers, coffee and baguettes. It can be harsh and oblivious but majestic nevertheless. An intellectual treat,  poetic essay full of fondness and admiration to the city where his heart belongs, where he is at home. Even his morning market shopping list sounds like a poem.

Baxter is an extraordinary personality himself. Born in a small town in Australia he became a journalist and worked in movie industry shooting documentaries. As soon as he could, he spread his wings to Europe, lived in London for several years before moving to States  and settling down in LA. Was married and divorced.

At age 50 an established movie critic and biographer leaves behind a sunny city with many friends and starts afresh a completely new life no less than in Paris , with  no language or career connections . He married a Parisienne, radio journalist and documentary film maker Marie-Dominique, that was the happy ending of their 15 years romantic affair and the beginning of  a wonderful adventure – family, French family, family in Paris dans la Rue d’Odeon no.18 on the 6-th floor.

I love the last picture in the book. (Couldn’t help but scanned it, though not sharp enough, sorry).
It says it all.

What a delightful journey it was.

You close the book and you’ve just returned from The Most Beautiful  Walk in World.

Thank you for coming.

*  All images except the last one are by Natalie Rapoport.
**The last image is from  The Most Beautiful Walk in the World by John Baxter here

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Today 10 turns 11 !!!

Today my precious junior is 11 !!!
Adrian was travelling with us last August in France and created quite a collection of memorable images. It was only at home when I realized how good he is at this new métier.

I wish his older brother Alex, my firstborn, could join us too, but in a week he’ll be 20 and of course no vocations with ma and pa oldies any more.
How fast they grow !

I’m proud to share with you 11 pictures we’ve chosen together with Adrian for  this post and hope you like them.

Boulmich at night. One of my favorite spots.

Touch the Notre Dame

                                                   Louvre. Pool around the Pyramid 

Shooting to the stars.

 Window at a music shop in the city of Tour.

Monaco perched on the cliffs.


Provencal pottery at St.Paul-de-Vence 

Montmartre. Marcel Ayme. Man in the Wall.

Street ice cream vendor in Saint Germain

Le Chateau sur la Cher. Chenonceau.

Please meet the photographer
Happy birthday, my sweet boy!

Have a wonderful Sunday my friends and thank you for visiting.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Paris. La Grisaille.

When it’s snowing and the temperature above zero it’s getting slippery. Driver’s nightmare in poor visibility  when  there’s no one to pull up the snowing/raining curtain. Who might that be? The gray sky is low and heavy.
Just snowing would be great, it’s January after all.  Don’t like melting puree, mushy-mooshy roads. I prefer rain or snow.

Talking about heavy skies.  They can be depressing or invigorating. It depends on where and when.

A couple of years ago it was at the end of May in Paris. We were walking in Marais in early evening when sudden strong wind started to blow away tourists from the streets. The gray pre-thunder storm sky hovered so low, you could almost touch it.

It threatened with the shower and carried on the promise  as soon as we reached Place des Vosges and escaped under the gallery. 

It was a magnificent tempest! The deafening thunder rocked and roared.  Stores instantly closed the shutters, waiters hurried  patrons inside the restaurants picking up the chairs and tables before wind gusts make everyone soaked wet.
My husband hold me tight and each time I was hiding behind his back with the camera.

We had the whole Place des Vosges  to ourselves!

Lightnings  scared away everyone but this Woody Allen looking shop owner who was sitting beside his boutique smoking and reading as if nothing was happening, calm and poised.
As soon as the shower subsided he decided to close the store, that’s when I asked the permission to take the picture of the pretty store girl and the window.

The air  became fresh and fragrant. The storm was over.  The sky lightened up a bit.
I don’t mind la grisaille as long as this is in Paris.

All images copyright by Natalie Rapoport

Monday, January 9, 2012

Le Chateau Azay-le-Rideau

Of all the many marvels Loire Valley is legendary famous for  Le Chateau Azay-le-Rideau is one of the very best.

It looks like in August the powerful,  eager and unstoppable stream of tourists descends like Niagara Falls on Chambord  and as a powerful mountain river boils up onto Chenonceau and softens somewhere at river Cher.

Leaving crowds behind  we continued further down the picturesque roads, and briefly passing  a  historical city of Tour paying homage to its majestic Cathedral, certainly worth of more prolonged visit, we stopped at Azay le Rideau.
The tiny village surrounding the castle is so beautiful and serene, the views are so bucolic and peaceful, the scented air, the murmur of the  small seething river  covered with water lilies at bay, the narrow bridge and enchanted forest.

You move and breath differently. Everything slows down.  Except for a couple of restaurants and a café fully packed with visitors anticipating night show, there wasn’t a soul around.

Later on when night descended they all came together at the castle court for the Son et Lumiere show traditionally performed around the dreamy castle under the starry sky.  The audience  was  mostly all French as to compare to myriads of foreign tourists in other places.
It  was colorful and simple show as a Sunday market place petit performance  mostly  meant for younger kids and our son surely had fun.

Unfortunately due to lack of language  the jokes addressed to parents slipped away from us, we couldn’t get it but it was completely all right as soon as surroundings were beautiful, the park of centuries old trees  was mysteriously shadowed and the castle coming out in different hues was stunning and a bit surreal.
While after the show the audience pretty fast disappeared in the nearest parking lot, only the rustling of gravel and  chirring of cicadas  among giant trees filled the heavenly soothing air.

There was a bittersweet feeling of time gone with a wind and only castle remained to reach out in all its glorious beauty.
The next morning it opened  the Rideau (Curtain in French).
A stunning picture of a fairy tale castle emerging from the water with all those spiky towers, the court, the decorative staircase, chimneys and gabled windows, the bridge and the best of all the reflection in the still water. It’s a breathtaking view!

At the beginning of the 16th century with the genius of Italian architects it was lovingly rebuilt from medieval fortress into a Renaissance  leisure castle  by the owner of the time  the successful financier Gilles Berthelot. He couldn’t possibly finish such a huge undertaking  as soon as  an accomplishment was obvious he lost his luck.

The king Francois 1st , the usual story, crusaded onto his  most bright and successful subjects with charges, prosecutions and confiscations without any fair trials. What an easy and dreadful way to fill up a treasury.  Hard to say if there were reasonable grounds for those mass accusations but historical pattern is very distinctive. For a while he didn’t know what to do with Azay and entrusted it to his captain of the guards.
It remained in private possession until early 1900s when was purchased by state from financially strained marquis de Biencourt family and gradually restored to its full glory both outside and inside. Beautifully laid out landscaping and interiors with historical furnishings, portraits and tapestries are open for visitors to admire.

In enchanted places like this you have to constantly pinch yourself to make sure you’re not daydreaming.

Sheer admiration.

All images copyright by Natalie Rapoport