An afternoon in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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“Il n’y a plus d’après à Saint-Germain-des-Prés” (There is nothing after Saint-Germain-des-Prés) sang Juliette Gréco in Guy Béart’s wonderful song. It’s hard to visualise her today in front of this church below in Robert Doisneau’s famous photo, or Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir strolling around, despite renaming the square after them, and it’s even more difficult to imagine Maurice Ronet’s anguish accompanied by Satie’s music on the terrace of the Café de Flore. All that went long ago – what remains is a very chic district with a vulgar Louis Vuitton boutique where it shouldn’t be instead of existentialist inspiration, full of hipsters and tourists.

But before I’m too harsh, let me say that I’m still extremely fond of this area and spent the most wonderful afternoon there. First, a coffee at the Flore in an almost deserted room (I never sit outside) where I almost convinced myself the waiter was in Sartrean bad faith. The coffee is certainly overpriced and not very good but I go there for the history and atmosphere which are hard to beat. Then a browse at my favourite bookshop, L’Écume des Pages, where I set foot all those years ago on my first trip to Paris. It hasn’t changed at all and my eye was instantly drawn to a huge volume of correspondence between Albert Camus and Maria Casarès which I had no idea about. Part of me questioned the wisdom of buying a 1300 page book weighing over a kilo but hell, this is Paris and if I want independent bookshops like this to still be around in the future, Amazon really isn’t an option. My heart skipped a beat and I had to buy it.

I called in the beautiful old church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés which was even lovelier than I remembered, then made my way over to a restaurant called Aux Vieux Garçons where I was meeting a friend for a delicious lunch, strolling first down to see the fresh graffiti on Serge Gainsbourg’s house and wondering if it will ever become a museum. Afterwards, I walked over to the Musée Rodin where the heat of the day finally hit me and I took out my new book. There are fewer places lovelier to read though in the shade of the trees and close to those wonderful sculptures. The words written by Albert Camus and Maria Casarès were so fresh and poignant and I imagined their time together in this very area.

I had only the energy left for Le Bon Marché department store where I finally bought the shoes of my dreams like those worn by Catherine Deneuve in Belle de Jour and afterwards stopped at La Grande Épicerie for one of the best millefeuilles I have ever eaten, thinking always of the director Jean-Pierre Melville who declared that his films were like a millefeuille. Some would enjoy the cream while the more discerning would appreciate the pastry. What an afternoon!

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I also called in the fabulous Pâtisserie des Rêves to see their cakes and think about what to choose. I finally bought a Saint Honoré a couple of days later which was incredible.

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Gift guide for women, 2017

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So here we are, just a few weeks from Christmas. Soon the lights will be switched on and the festive tunes will be playing wherever you go. As usual, I’ve put together a guide but this year, I’ve decided to do one for women and then a separate one for men by popular request, although of course there are many gifts in both which are unisex. I’ve tried to include a range of desirable things for all budgets but I’m also not afraid to include some seriously expensive ones either because there is no better time to dream of luxury than on those cold, dark nights. My selection is also makeup heavy, reflecting my own personal obsession, but when I contacted several female friends, looking for more inspiration, they requested makeup, perfume and accessories. Your wish is my command. Enjoy! P.S. A final note – all items were in stock at the time of writing but as some are limited edition, certain links may expire.

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Chanel No 5 Fragments d’Or body oil, £70. No other fragrance quite suits Christmas like No 5. The sparkling gold makes is perfect for party season. Limited Edition so hurry!

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A saying from the 1920s stated that no respectable woman should smoke, dance the tango or wear Shalimar. I suggest you at least try the third. Deliciously spicy and comforting for winter. From £51.

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Red lipstick is my great passion as you know and I always have it on my Christmas list. Chanel lipstick is always beautiful and the stunning pillar box shades inside the red casing this year makes them the ultimate object of desire as far as I’m concerned. Limited edition of four red lipsticks, two satin, two matte. But hurry! £30 each.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t really wear nude lipstick very often. But I know many women love them and if I do, it’s always one by Charlotte Tilbury. This year, she has created three limited edition matte shades – two nude, one deep red. English beauty (£24) is particularly lovely. There’s also a lip masterclass kit with all three lipsticks, plus liner and gloss, packaged in a stunning box for £130.

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Beautiful quality brushes to take with you everywhere. Magical mini brush set, £45, Charlotte Tilbury

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The year’s most stunning palettes by Nars, inspired by Man Ray (the glass tears one is currently on offer at John Lewis for £27.50)

Buy NARS Man Ray Glass Tears Eyeshadow Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

The Veil Cheek Palette is £29.50

Buy NARS Man Ray The Veil Cheek Palette, Multi Online at johnlewis.com

Overexposed Glow Highlighter, £23.80

Buy NARS Man Ray Overexposed Glow Highlighter, Double Take Online at johnlewis.com

A perfect kit for cat eyes on the move. Eyeko Eye Travel Wardrobe, £20

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The best nail polish around in a seasonal sparky shade (you can’t go wrong with Pop Art either if you don’t want glitter). YSL La Laque Couture Dazzling Lights Nail Polish, £19.50.

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Giving face cream as a present is a no-no because nobody wants to be reminded of ageing but a luxurious face mask or a beautiful hand cream is always welcome. At £45, the Chanel Crème Main is super expensive but I love the travel friendly, no mess packaging and formula (a cheaper alternative is the gorgeous L’Occitane Shea Butter hand cream).

Buy CHANEL LA CRÈME MAIN Smooth-Soften-Brighten Bottle Online at johnlewis.com

Sadly I’ve run out of the Sisley Black Rose mask (£84.15) and can only dream that someone will give me a tube as a present.

Buy Sisley Black Rose Cream Mask, 60ml Online at johnlewis.com

A yummy Christmas candle by my favourite brand. Diptyque Dragon: Fiery Orange from £28.

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Moomin fans are in for a treat this year with the release of the ‘True to its Origins’ set.  Tove Jansson’s illustrations from her final book, ‘Moominvalley in November’, written just after she had lost her mother, and ‘Moominpappa at Sea’ are incredibly touching and beautiful. The collection comprises a mug, bowl, plate, teapot and cookie jar which can be bought separately. From 24 euros.

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There are also new collectors’ editions of four Moomin books with the original artwork, £9.50 each, published by Profile Books and available here.

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The catalogue from one of the year’s most beautiful exhibitions to make you dream, £50

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The most luxurious vanity case ever to make you feel like a silver screen goddess, even when you travel economy. I’m unlikely ever to own one but have been dreaming of it ever since I saw this in someone’s Instagram gallery. Safari 13″ Vanity Case, £695 from Globetrotter.

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Leather gloves from Madova (from 32 euros) a very old company in Florence, to remind you of the wonderful time you spent there. Marks and Spencer also do an excellent range, starting at £17.

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A beautiful leather bag in a stunning shade of green to enjoy using for many years. £135, And other stories.

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A couple of cosy scarves

John Lewis glitter yarn scarf, £30

Buy John Lewis Glitter Yarn Scarf, Teal Online at johnlewis.com

 

Oasis Jenny chunky knit scarf, £20

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Some Art Deco inspired statement earrings, £20, Accesorize.

Or some sparkly ones for the party season. Monsoon short sparkle teardrop earrings, £8.

 

Some stunning silk pyjamas for that Carole Lombard glamour. Pure silk tie front long sleeve pyjamas, £150 Marks and Spencer (there are also some beautiful black satin ones for £35).

A personal notebook to inspire you to keep a journal. Kate Spade Initial Notebook, £16

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The best marzipan there is in a cake form. Amazon, £6.99

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A selection of Christmas teas, Fortnum and Mason, £13.95.

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And finally some of the finest shortbread biscuits to go with the tea. Traditional shortbread fingers, £5.95 from Fortnum and Mason.

A walk by the Thames

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Dr. Johnson famously declared that, “The man who is tired of London is tired of life,” but I have never really understood the appeal of the city. Much as I love all the things you can do there, it’s too huge, the beautiful buildings are often overwhelmed by modern monstrosities and the crowds make me feel I can’t stop to breathe for a moment. And then there’s the Tube. As a Berlin U-Bahn girl through and through (accessible stations, quick to exit), I dread taking those escalators to the centre of the earth and joining the ranks of sardines. Paris at least has the most beautiful architecture and poetic Métro names to make up for the hoards of tourists.

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But yesterday, I really loved it, even the strangely deserted Tube and can see why my very stylish friend Jan, who writes an equally stylish blog, is always telling me how fabulous it is. I met another very stylish friend, Patricia, at Embankment station which reminded me of trips to the nearby theatres many years ago to see Juliette Binoche in Pirandello’s ‘Naked’ and later Kristin Scott Thomas in Chekhov’s ‘The Three Sisters’.

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We crossed over the Thames to the South Bank and walked past other old haunts of mine – the National Theatre, the Hayward Gallery, the BFI, Festival Hall, Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre. Sunshine and a light spring breeze swept over our faces as we looked down at the footprints in the sand on Ernie’s Beach and listened to the waves breaking. We stopped for the most delicious lunch at one of the restaurants at the wharf, resisting with difficulty one of the beautiful large glasses of gin with grapefruit which the woman at the next table was enjoying.

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IMG_2616   Continuing our walk by the Thames while chatting about everything and anything, the time just evaporated with the fading light. Some tea, coffee and cake, then goodbye after crossing once more over the river. IMG_0865

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Travelling back home on the train speeding into darkness and glimpsing the lights of the windows passing by, I felt torn between people, places and languages and wondered where I belong. But later that evening, curled up with a new book and a pot of Fortnum’s Royal Blend tea, I realised none of that mattered for the moment, that the simple pleasures are the best and that I’m lucky to have such wonderful friends.

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Le Rouge et le Noir gift guide, 2016

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Christmas Tree Lane in 1953. Courtesy of the USC Libraries – Los Angeles Examiner Collection

I’m going to start with a confession – I enjoy the process of getting ready to go out much more than the night out itself and frequently, after washing and styling my hair, doing my makeup and choosing an outfit, I prefer to simply curl up on the sofa, watch a film noir and order pizza. It’s the same with Christmas presents – I feel the actual buying and requesting presents for myself is less enjoyable than the window shopping, both real and virtual, and also selecting presents for others. This guide is partly based on things I already have and love and partly, on things which have caught my eye, although not everything here is red or black.

Burberry Lip Velvet in Military Red, £26. I always have a new red lipstick to wear on Christmas Day and this is my choice for 2016.

In terms of eyes, my favourite purchases this year were the Victoria Beckham Estée Lauder Eye Ink in Black Myrrh (above) and the Eye Metals in Bitter Clove and Charred Emerald, £36 each. The packaging for all of these is stunning, very Tom Ford and satisfyingly heavy.

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Paul and Joe beauty mirror, £14, from Asos. Every makeup addict needs a beautiful compact and this one comes in a bag with cats on it.

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The cutest hand creams ever by Tony Moly, £10 each, from Cult Beauty.

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The cherry lip balm, £8, is also pretty irresistible too.

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My favourite cleanser in the world by Emma Hardie, from £38, although I much prefer hot cloth cleansing with a flannel to the scratchy muslin cloth that comes with it. Smells divine too.

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My favourite winter scent, from £105, which is both soft and warm and then cool and elegant.

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This new one, Scent of a Dream by Charlotte Tilbury, from £68, is also lovely, very vintage and sexy. Great if you want a change from Chanel No 5, although personally, I can’t get enough of it.

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Diptyque Christmas candle in Le Roi Sapin, £48, so that everywhere can smell woody and festive. There are also two others, Un Encens Étoilé and Épices et Délices, that sound lovely.

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Every year, I buy a new Christmas jumper. I love this one by Boden which is available in white or grey and it currently has 30% off, £69.65 (run, don’t walk!).

A sparkly Fair Isle scarf to brighten up grey winter days, £12, from Tesco

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As a Christmas gift, it’s hard to beat a new pair of pyjamas. I especially like these, £40, from Marks and Spencer’s.

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And some cute thermal socks with wool and silk to go with them, £10 for two pairs, also from Marks and Spencer’s.

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I always look forward to the Moomin winter mug each year, £19. The design for 2016, with the snowhorse, is so beautiful.

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Iittala cranbery kivi, £33, because it looks so festive and pretty. Some of the other colours are much cheaper but not surprisingly, I’m drawn to the red.

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I’ve always wanted one of these iittala Aalto rain vases, £95.

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And I so love this Marimekko teapot, £65.

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Christmas spiced tea, £15, Christmas Coffee, £12.50 and Christmas biscuit tin, £17.50, all from Fortnum and Mason’s.

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A selection of favourite beauty books: Pretty Iconic by Sali Hughes, £12.50, Face by Sam and Nic Chapman, £9.99 and François Nars by François Nars, £42.25.

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And to finish, a selection of non-beauty books. Conclave by Robert Harris, £9.50, The Invention of Angela Carter by Edmund Gordon, £17, Boys in the Trees by Carly Simon, £6.99 and A History of Pictures by David Hockney and Martin Gayford, £20.37.

Apple marzipan cake

There’s something necessary about a cake at this time of year when skies are grey and the days seem short. The other day I went out into the garden and picked some of the large cooking apples from the tree which had turned a beautiful shade of red and decided to make a cake with them for my mother. It turned out really well and was also quite a hit on Instagram so, by popular request, here’s the recipe from an old edition of Brigitte. It’s really a cinch to make and I love how the sweetness of the marzipan is balanced out by the sharpness of the apples.

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Ingredients

200g/9oz. marzipan

100g/ 1/2 cup sugar

200g/ 14 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter

4 eggs

A pinch of salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

150g/ 1 and a quarter cups plain flour

1 heaped teaspoon baking powder

800g/ 1 and three quarters pound apples

30g/1/4 cup cornflour

2 tablespoons apricot jam

50g/1/2 cup amaretti biscuits

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/ 350 degrees F.
Grease and line a 23cm springform tin

1. Roughly grate the marzipan and mix with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and beat everything together in the mixer. Beat in the eggs and almond essence.

2. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, cornflour and baking powder. Fold in the marzipan mixture.

3. Peel, core and chop half the apples into quarters. Cut each quarter into slices.

4. Peel and core the rest of the apples and cut into small pieces.

5. Stir the diced apples into the cake batter. Roughly crumble the amaretti and add half the crumbs to the mixture.

6. Take the remaining apple slices and arrange attractively on top in a circular pattern (you can also make several small circles if you prefer).

7. Bake on the middle shelf in the oven for 1 hour 10 minutes. You may find like I did that after half the baking time is up, the cake is quite brown on top and needs to be covered with tin foil for the remaining time.

8. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack.

9. Immediately warm the apricot jam until bubbling. Brush over the hot cake and sprinkle over the remaining amaretti crumbs.

10. Leave to cool completely before taking out of the tin. The cake keeps very well for a few days at room temperature when wrapped in foil or clingfilm.