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 men, 2017

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For this year’s gift guide, I’ve not only included a few suggestions of my own but also asked some stylish men for advice. Thanks to them for giving me ideas and for making this a fun post to put together. Presents range from the very affordable to objects of dreams but I hope you’ll find something desirable and inspiring, even if it’s just window shopping. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful blogs by my friends Jan and Kenneth for more style ideas and inspiring writing.

George Jensen elephant bottle opener, £35. I personally could never give this to a man unless I lived with him because it’s definitely something I want for myself.

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Le Creuset The Waiter’s Corkscrew, £25.60.

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Laguiole Olivewood Three Piece Cheese Set, £289 – the ultimate set to bring out with the cheeseboard.

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A classic leather hip flask in deep brown croc, £45, Aspinal of London (currently 15% off as well). Can also be engraved. The perfect accessory for long winter walks.

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Bucks Fizz Orange Marmalade from Fortnum’s to add a touch of elegance on Christmas morning, £7.95

Two of my favourite fragrances for men which I also love to wear:

Chanel pour Monsieur Eau de Toilette, from £52

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Sycomore by Les Exclusifs de Chanel, from £140

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The finest handmade combs by Kent, starting at £3.85

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An Abbeyhorn shoehorn which really is beautifully made and designed to last. Prices start from £13.88.

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A cashmere tie to keep warm and look elegant in the winter months, Emma Willis, £140

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Hermès passport holder, £155, sadly no longer available in red but vert Titien is still gorgeous.

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A beautiful dark red wool twill scarf from Loro Piana, £360

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And another in blue cashmere and silk, £635

A double-breasted topcoat in camel hair, £1246, J.Crew.

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Bugatti Sports Coat in black watch tartan, currently in the sale for £155 from Peter Hahn

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A vintage Daytona Paul Newman watch from antique stores and Ebay among others. From £325,000 – good luck with that!

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Or perhaps you’d rather have the Todd Snyder Military Watch in black, $138

The Military Watch in Black

Steve McQueen by William Claxton, £8.99 because he was just the epitome of style and cool

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James Dean by Dennis Stock, £24.95. Handsome coffee table book of one of the ultimate screen icons.

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And finally some Dorothy Thorope style 1960s roly poly Mad Men whisky glasses because what man doesn’t want to be Don Draper? £125 on Etsy (set of six)

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The fragrance of summers past

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Impressions of my first trip abroad are still vivid in my mind. Our departure in the early hours of the morning, sitting in the back seat of the car in between my two older half-brothers and spending the long journey to Dover listening to cassettes on my Walkman (though whether it was the Beatles or ’80s pop, I couldn’t possibly tell you). And then after so long on the road, suddenly catching sight of the sea, that mass of blue with the seagulls squawking overhead. It never ceases to astonish me. Travelling by ferry really makes you feel you’re going somewhere, watching the boat pull away from those famous white cliffs while strangers on the quay wave you off. And then just under an hour later, seeing the French coast emerge. We drove with our caravan to a campsite on the coast of Brittany. Every morning, my parents took me for walks along the seemingly endless and beautiful beaches.

I recall the taste of galettes with cheese and of crêpes with ice cream. And most vividly of all, I remember trying to look in through the gap in a circus tent on our campsite to catch a glimpse of a magician and his glamorous assistant doing a show before getting caught by one of the staff and told off in incomprehensible French.

If summer had a particular scent back then, it was probably my mother’s Mitsouko which I secretly used to spritz and later on my eldest half brother’s bottle of YSL Kouros until he complained about me using too much. Or perhaps my American aunt who rented a house in Brighton where we spent one summer. She always smelled of Giorgio Beverly Hills which made me think of those striped yellow awnings I had seen in my favourite TV show back then, Beverly Hills 90210.

The first summer scents of my own were Ô de Lancôme, Clarins Eau Dynamisante, Prescriptives Calyx and Estée Lauder’s Pleasures. The last one was a particular favourite, worn the summer I finished high school when spent the long holidays in the garden, reading under the apple tree. I was reminded of this after finding a bottle the other day in a discount store and felt inspired to recommend some of my other current favourite summer fragrances paired with books for summer I love. Alongside Pleasures in the first shot. I chose a delightful Moomin book which never fails to lift my spirits and will make you long for adventures.

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I love the greenness of this Diptyque fragrance which counters the sweetness of the figs. There are many other fig fragrances out there but for me, this is the best. This classic book transports you back to Greece before mass tourism and is a delightful account of childhood discovery and English eccentricities. Frequently adapted for television but none have the charm or magic of the original.

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The first time I tried this classic fragrance, I found it rather intimidating but with a little patience, I’ve become addicted to its green sharpness which comes into its own in summer. Heartless but utterly brilliant, rather like this Evelyn Waugh masterpiece.

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I cannot wear Acqua di Parma without thinking of Venice. I wore it every day on my trip there last year and saw it in almost every shop window. Although I recognise that the Colonia Intensa is probably a more complex and interesting fragrance, this is still my favourite. I cannot get enough of it citrussy opening and sexy woodiness, warmed by the sun. It’s the essence of summer for me. The Brodsky is probably the best book ever written about Venice by a Russian poet in exile who loved the city as much as I do.

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I love No 5 and wear it all year but on hot days, it’s nice to have something lighter. I consider all the fragrances here unisex but this one smells especially nice on men with more vetiver than in the original. I also much prefer it to last year’s lighter version of the classic. Paired with a lovely Folio edition of a wonderful book which inevitably makes you think of No 5’s most famous wearer.

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Created for the Duke of Marlborough in 1902 and worn by Winston Churchill, this is an invigorating  blend of citrus, woods and spices and goes perfectly with Tove Jansson’s stories of summer on an island which has to be one of the best holiday reads ever which its quirkiness, humour and poignancy.

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Cristalle was created to remind us of the dazzling structure of a crystal. It’s a citrus chypre and its crisp opening makes me think of the dazzling California sunshine and beauty described in Ross Macdonald’s crime novels which mask a bitter heart. This is the reason why I love reading noirs in summer. I bought the Eau de Parfum which is a little softer and was developed much later but next time will try the Eau de Toilette which is closer to the original by Henri Robert from 1974.

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Acqua di Parma has always been my favourite cologne. Until I tried this one from Les Exclusifs. It’s the kind of fragrance you want to drown yourself in all day which explains why the large bottle is always sold out and its dazzling, polished beauty goes perfectly with the magnificent prose of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic masterpiece set in the South of France.

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I was inspired to buy this thoroughly delicious Guerlain scent after reading how much my friends Jan and Patricia love it. Depending on your point of view, it may make you think of sherbet lemons or freshly pressed lemon juice but the fact that it reminds me of them makes it extra special. Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is my absolute favourite summer book, best read around midsummer. It’s full of the dreams and heartbreak of youth. Quintessentially English.

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My current summer read. It’s the perfect companion for a long journey – compelling, beautifully written and moving. Guerlain’s Après l’Ondée is a very old and magical scent which is like a soft blanket and reminds you of flowers in the garden after the rain with violets, irises  and carnations.

Summer things

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Big Sur, 1946, by Ansel Adams

I never long for my school days and would hate to be 17 again, but I look back with more than a touch of nostalgia at the school holidays. Six whole weeks, free from from any worries or obligations.  There were family holidays abroad in Spain, France and Switzerland, lazy days in the garden and hours of television – trashy MTV, and plenty of American shows like Saved by the Bell, My So-Called Life and Beverly Hills 90210. While summer generally doesn’t live up to expectations – British ones are generally a wash-out, Roger Federer doesn’t win Wimbledon, people ask my constantly why I’m so white and mosquitoes drain the blood from my arms and legs whenever I go abroad – I still feel excited around this time of year thinking about it. Long evenings, dinner in the garden while listening to birdsong, the chance to wear summer dresses and go out without a jacket, picnics and cool drinks. So I thought I’d put together some of my favoute summer things for inspiration. I’d love to hear what your essentials are.

Aperol Spritz

My favourite summer drink along with Bellini which reminds me of being in Venice last year, sitting on the terrace watching the sunset. Although I must admit to also enjoying a large glass of Pimm’s whenever Wimbledon is on.

The perfect summer dresses

This one, with a pattern inspired by the Royal Porcelain collection, is for me the essence of the perfect English summer and ideal for tea in the garden.

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Royal Worcester Jacquard dress, £78, Oasis

And I can’t resist polka dots

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Navy spotted ruffle sundress, £22, Dorothy Perkins

 

Red shoes to brighten up any outfit

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Lily suede flats, £198, J.Crew

 

The best facial sunscreen to wear under makeup

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Murad Luminous Shield, SPF 50, £55

A perfect orange red lipstick

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Nars Audacious Lipstick in Lana, £25

A straw shopper for that Jane Birkin feelinghmprodStraw shopper, £17.99, H&M

A cute hat for protection from the sun

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Marl Scarf Summer Hat, £17.50, Marks and Spencer

The perfect tea

This delicious blend can be served hot or cold as according to the Fortnum and Mason website, it’s also excellent for iced tea.

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Afternoon blend tea, from £5.25, Fortnum and Mason

The most delicious summer scent, as worn by Cary Grant, David Niven, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn

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Acqua di Parma, from £66

And of course, books for summer

It goes without saying that I’ll be reading the blog written by my friend Jan over the summer.

As for books, this year, I’ve got my eye on The Riviera Set about all the glamourous people who spent time at the Château de l’Horizon near Cannes, from Coco Chanel to Rita Hayworth. There’s also Dolce Vita Confidential about 1950s Rome and I’m dying to read The Unfinished Palazzo which tells the story of the three women who lived in the Palazzo Venier in Venice – Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

Or if you prefer fiction, can I recommend something by Patricia Highsmith or Ross Macdonald (I love gripping books in summer), some John Cheever short stories, My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell about his eccentric childhood in Greece or The Great Gatsby which is the perfect choice at any time of year.

Old masters

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My devotion to my cultural icons has always bordered on the extreme – once I even visited a museum devoted to the socialist politician Jean Jaurès, just because Jacques Brel wrote a song about him. So when my (then) long-term boyfriend suggested a trip to Austria, all I could think of was getting to Ohlsdorf, former home of one of my favourite authors, Thomas Bernhard. I had read his work practically non-stop since discovering the brilliant Alte Meister (Old Masters) some years before. I loved the musical structure of his sentences which makes him surprisingly easy to read in German with frequent repetition of phrases, his black humour and contempt for humanity.

My boyfriend’s idea of a great trip were days devoted to hiking for 8 hours, kayaking and rock climbing, camping in the wild at night as it was free, whereas all I wanted to do was visit museums, take pictures and sit in cafes which didn’t go down well as these things normally involve spending money. However, he did agree to take me to Ohlsdorf. I remember we set off on our trip at Easter and that I was astonished to find all shops open on Good Friday, unlike in Germany. That though was my mistake as the house was only open at Bank Holidays and weekends so as everything else was open, it was completely closed. My boyfriend was absolutely furious with me and refused to stay until the following day and waste another day’s kayaking. Sad and frustrated, I tried to make the best of things by peeking in through all the windows and exploring the countryside around to get an impression of Thomas Bernhard’s world.

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I did get to speak to his former neighbour though, a man who unsurprisingly wasn’t much liked by the author. The feeling was mutual as he explained what a misanthrope Thomas Bernhard really was and how he exaggerated everything.  I forget the exact details in Karl Ignaz Hennetmair’s ‘My Year with Thomas Bernhard’, but distinctly remember that this same neighbour figured in the infamous episode where TB almost cut off his own leg with a chainsaw. The man was deeply suspicious of all these literary tourists, especially of me as I had read so much of his work, yet was not an academic, although he did pay me the greatest compliment of my life by asking if I was German so obviously, I spoke quite well that day. I made a serious gaffe, however, when I asked where he was from. His eyes narrowed as my boyfriend whispered that he was a farmer and his family must have lived there for generations.

I won’t deny that I didn’t feel a pang of regret on leaving the village as it seemed unlikely I would get there again anytime soon. Strangely, I haven’t read any Thomas Bernhard novels for several years since finishing the autobiography. The man I found so funny turned out to have had the saddest life. Reading about his illegitimacy, his hatred for his stepfather, the death of his beloved grandfather, his own stay in a hospital for a serious lung condition from which he never fully recovered and then the death and destruction in Salzburg during the Second World War was truly harrowing. Opening one of his other books later, the laughter simply stuck in my throat. But he remains my favourite German language author and I hope to return to his books anew very soon. In the meantime, I’ll always have Ohlsdorf.

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A bookish Resolution

Loretta Young’s private library, 1943:

Loretta Young with her library

So first of all, Happy New Year! I can’t deny I was glad to see the back of 2016, even though I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends which outweighs all the bad stuff for me. There is something a little daunting, as well as exciting, about being at the start of a fresh new year, wondering what it will bring.  Do you ever make New Year’s Resolutions? Mine have been the same for years – to be tidier, to throw things away I don’t use, to keep my papers in good order, to stop biting my nails, to buy fewer red lipsticks, to keep in touch with my friends regularly instead of just thinking about them often and then writing apologetic emails once or twice a year. I fail miserably with most or all of them, so this year have decided to make just one main resolution which is to read more.  I’m a slow reader but intend to take advantage of every opportunity available to open a book which means having one with me at all times whenever I leave the house, reading while the dinner is cooking and most of all, trying to stay awake for more than 10 minutes in bed each night to get through at least 1-2 pages. I don’t have a set list of things I wish to read this year because my book choice depends on my mood but here are some I’m hoping to get around to:

‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley

‘Put out more Flags’ by Evelyn Waugh

‘Hunters in the Dark’ by Lawrence Osborne

‘Stoner’ by John Williams

‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen

‘Eugénie Grandet’ and ‘Le Père Goriot’ by Balzac

‘Les Trois Mousquetaires’ by Dumas

‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann

‘Ungeduld des Herzens’ by Stefan Zweig

Let me know if there are any books you have your heart set on this year. To finish off this post, I thought I’d include some Old Hollywood stars enjoying some reading for inspiration.

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James Stewart who rightly understood the need of a comfortable place to read.

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Rita Hayworth

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The famous photo of Marilyn Monroe reading ‘Ulysses’ by Eve Arnold, 1955.

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Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint on the set of ‘North by Northwest.’

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Bette Davis with the morning papers in 1939

Fred Astaire via the tumblr Old Hollywood Stars Reading:

Fred Astaire

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Sophia Loren

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Marlon Brando by Cecil Beaton, 1946

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Clark Gable

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Barbara Stanwyck – I dream that one day someone will bring me breakfast in bed.

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Gene Tierney in ‘Leave Her to Heaven.’

Happy reading!