An afternoon in the garden

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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.

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The museum I call home

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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.

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An afternoon at the Louvre

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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.

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Favourite books of 2017

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Nigel Slater’s Christmas Chronicles is just one of my favourite books I read this year. Some are new, some were published a few years ago but all are wonderful. I hope you find something to interest and inspire you on my list.

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One of the greatest living photographers, Fred Lyon, pays homage to his beautiful city of San Francisco and its noir heritage. Stunning and atmospheric photos.

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Two books about the darker side of Hollywood. Piu Eatwell makes a convincing case for finally solving one of the most notorious crimes of all time, that of Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia. Gripping and well told with great compassion for the victim. While in High Noon, Glenn Frankel turns his attention to the blacklist and the making and influence of one the great westerns, High Noon. A revealing portrait of America which still resonates today.

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In Les Parisiennes, historian Anne Sebba looks at the testimonies of both ordinary and well known French women who lived through the German Occupation. So compassionate, fascinating and well researched that I couldn’t stop reading. I’m not a huge fan of contemporary fiction but I loved All The Light We Cannot See which is also set in Occupied France. A heartbreaking and beautiful book which I still can’t stop thinking about.

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Nicholas Ray’s adaptations of In A Lonely Place is one of my favourite noirs but I had never read the book which is actually quite different. One of the greatest books about Los Angeles too along with Slow Days, Fast Company. Eve Babitz was one of my discoveries this year. Her writing is deceptively simple but so good and I laughed out loud many times. Eve’s Hollywood by her is also highly recommended.

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I’ve posted quite a few photos by William Claxton on Instagram and then someone recommended me this book which features his journey across the States and experience of jazz. Brilliant photography as you would expect and such a magnificent and huge volume.

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The Essential Marilyn Monroe by Milton Greene features all the photos from their 50 sessions together, many beautifully restored and quite a few published for the first time. All are remarkable and revealing photos of a woman at her most beautiful by a friend and photographer who knew how to get the best from her.

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Gleb Derujinsky was one of the greatest fashion photographers of all time and this book is both a revelation and a joy. My friend Jan wrote a superb review of it here which I recommend reading.

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Robert Doisneau is one of my very favourite photographers but I had no idea about his work for Vogue in the post-war years. This stunning book is available in English and French and you can see more beautiful photos from it and read Jan’s excellent review on his blog here.

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And finally thanks to Jan’s blog, I discovered two wonderful books on Coco Chanel, including this one which you can read about in more detail here.

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A superb book about remarkable interiors inside the homes of the twentieth century’s most remarkable women with amazing photos and illustrations too.

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A deliciously gossipy book about film, fashion and Rome. Unputdownable and fun.

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The story of the Palazzo Venier and the three women who lived and transformed what is now the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. Beautifully written and endlessly fascinating.

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One of my favourite Instagrammers recommended this book. I can see the influence of John Piper in these remarkable illustrations and drawings which bring Britain’s lost buildings to life. Accompanied by a superb text.

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Extracts from Raymond Chandler’s works accompanied by atmospheric photos of Los Angeles taken in the 1980s which create the perfect mood. A must!

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I never thought I’d get the chance to buy a book of newly published Fitzgerald stories! Not all are masterpieces but some are exceptional and it’s an essential for any fan of his work.

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The story of the Riviera and those who graced it when elegance and sophistication still ruled makes for a fabulous read. At the Existentialist Cafe brings back memories of my own pilgrimage to these famous places and studying philosophy. The author explains the ideas clearly and makes you want to learn more.

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2017 was the year I officially became addicted to Joan Didion and her razor sharp prose. I bought this on a rainy day in Berlin and it was such a tonic to read someone use the English language so well and have a real understanding of the people and issues she encountered.