Of course I didn’t go to Giverny, but I got the next best thing by going to the Musée de l’Orangerie, a place I’ve wanted to visit since I saw it featured in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris.
In reality, it’s nothing like the private tour Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams get – there are plenty of people taking selfies or posing in front of the canvas and the sound of a phone ringing occasionally. It’s still a fabulous place though – the canvases are so huge and magnificent that it’s impossible not to feel moved and astonished by the changing colours and light Monet observed so late in life. You realise that it isn’t about travelling to see as many places as possible but rather we need to open our eyes and observe what’s around us time and again.
As there was a partial strike of museum staff, I sadly wasn’t able to see that fabulous Picasso which also features in Midnight in Paris (the one with Adriana dripping with sexuality!) and I could only gaze through gaps longingly at the marvellous collection off limits. Unfortunately, the Renoir gallery remained open – I say unfortunate as he’s not a great favourite of mine but I did see a couple of paintings I rather liked. That’s what an afternoon with Monet will do for you!
Afterwards, there was only one thing to do – brave the heat and crowds and head for Guerlain on the Champs-Élysées.
You know you are a true taphophile when it’s your first morning in Paris and you’re already at the cemetery before 9am. But then Parisian cemeteries are the best. I visited the one in Montparnasse many years ago during my first trip to the city on a freezing cold but bright Sunday with my father who couldn’t have imagined anything less appealing. I remember seeing the graves of Serge Gainsbourg with its cabbages and metro tickets, Jean Seberg’s and that of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir to whom I made my first point of call this time too which seemed quite logical as I had just walked past La Rotonde on my way from the metro, above which which she was born.
If you decide to go to Montparnasse cemetery, pick up a laminated plan close to the entrance which will help you find the graves you’re looking for and I also recommend the book Stories in Stone, full of great photos and fascinating anecdotes. But let yourself just wander too. I love coming across wonderful surprises such as a giant cat sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle, the little dog on Philippe Noiret’s grave which makes me love him even more and many more interesting graves of ordinary people which allowed me a glimpse of their lives.
You encounter such interesting people in cemeteries too – a Japanese couple called out to me to help them find the grave of painter Chaim Soutine, later on the woman called me over again and shouted something unintelligible. “Coco Chanel, fashion designer!”, I finally understood. No, I told her. She’s buried in Switzerland, this is the grave of Paul Deschanel, a former French President. I have never found cemeteries depressing places – for me, they are wonderful spaces to walk and reflect, havens for nature and art and an opportunity to pay homage to those I admire. I left after three hours, feeling hungry and a little tired but so happy to have spent a morning in such illustrious company, only regretting later that I had failed to visit Delphine Seyrig. If you go there, please pay your respects on my behalf.
I love the Musée d’Orsay for many reasons. First of all because it’s in a former train station, the Gare d’Orsay, an architectural masterpiece which reminds us of the golden age of steam. An age when travel could be elegant and railway stations weren’t just shopping centres. There’s a fabulous story of how Jeanne Moreau went to visit Orson Welles in his suite at the Hôtel Meurice overlooking the Tuileries gardens (how I envy him!) and he spotted two twin moons across the river which she explained were the railway clocks. Captivated, they rushed out in the night for a closer look and the station was later brilliantly used in his adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. But back to me. I have been going there so long that this place almost feels like home. It helps that I feel like I belong in 19th and early 20th Century France – many of the works of art even feel like old friends. Daumier’s Célèbrités du Juste Milieu, paintings of Scapin and Don Quixote with the dead mule, Millet’s The Gleaners, Manet’s portrait of Zola, Olympia and that astonishing asparagus, Robert de Montesquieu by Boldini, Proust by Jacques-Émile Blanche (although this wasn’t on display last time which is outrageous), the Gates of Hell and that sculpture of Balzac by Rodin, Courbet’s Burial at Ornans and The Artist’s Studio (last time I visited the museum I bought a book about Proust, only to discover an inadvertently stolen postcard of Courbet’s Origin of the World which is my least favourite painting there, surely hidden away by a schoolboy), Pompon’s Polar Bear and Owl, all that Art Nouveau furniture and glass. It’s torture trying to see everything until overcome by exhaustion, I must accept defeat and head for the exit. Until next time.
I must admit that leaving the house just after 7am in the dark and the freezing rain made me almost call the whole thing off. By the time I boarded the train for London, my hands and feet were so cold that I spent the entire train journey bundled up in my coat, scarf and gloves, trying to warm my fingers with lots of tea. But then the sight of the magnificent St. Pancras station never fails to lift my spirits and I hurried down the platform to meet Amanda and Sharly by the statue of the great Sir John Betjamin. The first time I met Amanda it was in the same spot but during one of the hottest weeks ever. This time, the contrast in the weather couldn’t have been greater but we still had a wonderful day in spite of the rain. The Winnie the Pooh exhibition at the V&A was sold out but we went to the new Ocean Liners: Speed and Style instead which was just fabulous. I’ve always had a soft spot for vintage photos and posters from the golden age of travel and there were plenty here, along with gems such as The Duke of Windsor’s Goyard trunks which straight away made me think of my friend Jan, Marlene Dietrich’s suit, socialite Emilie Grigsby’s Paul Poiret satin trousers and dresses, a Louis Vuitton vanity set, plus beautiful furniture, panelling and music by Fred Astaire and clips from classic films like Gentlemen Prefer Blondes to enjoy.
After lunch, we headed for Harrod’s, then Fortnum’s, then Hatchard’s where my energy flagged and I collapsed on a sofa in the art section with my bags full of exhibition merchandise, makeup and tea around me. We said our goodbyes in Burberry where Amanda was trying on a beautiful coat. It’s a shame we don’t live closer but I’m already looking forward to our next meeting in Berlin, Paris, London, New York or somewhere different.
I have always had a love/hate relationship with the Louvre. On the one hand, it’s an undeniably magnificent collection in a beautiful building with such a remarkable history. On the other hand, the collection is so vast that I never manage to see more than 0.0001% of what they have on display. There are parts of the museum I have never yet ventured into and at the end of every visit, I retire defeated, certain that I could stay there for months, years even, and still not see everything. Perhaps I should find two friends and just run through the whole thing in record time like in Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande à Part.
To be fair, it was 16 years (!) since my last visit and returning there last December brought back nothing but happy memories. On a rainy winter’s afternoon, I decided to make my way to the famous pyramid entrance after killing time dodging puddles in the Tuileries before my timed ticket was valid. I needn’t have worried – to my astonishment, there was no queue at all to get in and I descended the familiar spiral staircase, happy to discover that everything was pretty much the same. Part of my trouble at the Louvre comes from the French Romantics – I can never resist going to those galleries first to see those vast canvases by Géricault, David, Delacroix and the rest, and end up spending far too long there but this at least time I avoided the crowds in front of the Mona Lisa after the disappointment of my first ever visit when I couldn’t believe that such a famous painting was so small and protected behind glass.
After that I only had the energy to visit the sumptuous Napoleon III apartments which made me want to have the rooms of my home decorated in red and gold and invest in a chandelier and fabulous plants. But I’m already planning my next visit to the Louvre when I won’t head straight for the French Romantics. Since my last visit, they have opened an Angélina’s close the Second Empire apartments where you can sit on chairs upholstered in gris montaigne and savour one of their ridiculously thick hot chocolates before trying to see another 1% of the Louvre’s collection instead of an indifferent coffee and a macaron at the regular café. I can’t wait.