Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here on Roaming By Design and there’s a reason for my absence. My writing life has changed since I began this effort four years ago next month, and rather than letting this blog, which once thrilled me as a place for a means of expression, languish without explanation I thought I’d let you know what I’m up to now and to direct you to the place where I feel I’ve finally created my online writing home. You can now find me blogging about literary adventures on the Improvateur blog and on Sharktooth Press, an indie publishing imprint I have recently co-founded with Gerard McLean. I hope you will stop in one or the other (or both) and have a read!
Here are a few links to a few of my most recent favorite posts:
I’d like to take this moment to express deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me in my writing career over the years, both in print and in the virtual world. I truly enjoyed all the subjects and cities I covered here for the four years I posted. I had the privilege of staying in some of the world’s most incredible hotels, including the Hotel Principe di Savoia (right in the midst of the area that would soon host the World Expo 2015 when I was there), the Hotel Plaza Athenee, Le Meurice (covering their coveted Le Meurice Prize), a number of W Hotels and The Betsy Hotel. I’ve experienced wine tastings in Buenos Aires and interviewed Chef Gordon Ramsay in Tuscany. I walked through the Centre Pompidou with hot French designer Patrick Jouin and saw original Gibson Girl drawings by Charles Dana Gibson at the Bethel Inn in Bethel, Maine (though I still have yet to hear a loon in person)! Thanks to the Dorchester Collection during a trip to London, I had the great privilege to see the Paul Gauguin show at the Tate Modern. I had a profound moment standing alone in the study of Honore de Balzac and walked the same streets as Madame de Pompadour while in Paris!
It was the rare moment when I didn’t have my writer’s notebook with me (and it travels with me always so I feel there are many more adventures to come)!
Geolocation is integrated into Fodor's City Guide apps.
Six cities have updated wanderlusting apps from Fodor’s Travel, who has announced the re-launch of their City Guide apps for iPhone and iPad (Nook and Android versions are in the works). The free apps now integrate partner functionality from Expedia, OpenTable and Ticketmaster, and are available for New York City, Paris, London, Rome, Barcelona and San Francisco. They offer geolocation features and interactive offline maps, which are powered by developer Red Foundry’s new Fusion Platform, the world’s first network uniting app developers and publishers with service providers.
Travelers can book hotels through the Expedia Affiliate Network, make dinner plans with OpenTable, and buy show and concert tickets through TicketsNow, Ticketmaster’s resale marketplace. The geolocation features allow sojourners to see what is nearby by interest—categories include what to see, what to eat, shopping, nightlife/arts, and where to stay.
Arthur Avenue in the Bronx is a trendsetter's alternative to Little Italy in Manhattan. Photo by Paul Clemence.
I decided to take the New York City app for a test drive on my iPad, and it nailed my location quickly. I agreed with many of the “what to see” listings it put up, several of which I would recommend for tourists visiting NYC who want more than the usual suspects of places to see. One of which was Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which my pal and architectural photographer Paul Clemence has photographed so eloquently, as the above photo proves.
Fodor's City Guide Apps Offer OpenTable Reservations.
The “what to eat” suggestions were a bit all over the place but I did ask for the best recommendations in New York City without determining a culinary style, and the fact that they could narrow it down as tightly as they did impressed me! Shopping brought up everything from Betsey Johnson in SoHo to Beads of Paradise in the Flatiron District and the Bedford Cheese Shop in Brooklyn, which I have frequented (and give the app a high five for referencing).
The oh-so-edgy tiki bar Painkiller wasn’t listed under “Nightlife & the Arts” (though I’ll admit, it would probably cause anyone who is less than an intrepid traveler to freak out when standing on the street in front of the bar’s address and see no discernable sign of a party until someone entering or exiting opened the graffiti panel serving as the venue’s door)-steamy! Pegu Club is there—excellent sourcing by featuring this mixology-driven venue, Fodor’s.
The Lower East Side has its own version of a hip, Parisian cafe for writers and filmmakers to hang.
Kudos to the travel experts for listing the Pink Pony on the Lower East Side. Any café with a mural of Arthur Rimbaud on the wall and a tagline like “Café Littéraire & Ciné Club” is high on my “kicky and quirky venues” list, which we locals pride ourselves in compiling for those times we want something out-of-the-ordinary. The Field Notes section is great—the perfect place for accumulating the lists you’d like to share with friends who will be visitng the same city or for resourcing your highlights the next time Hērmēs, the god of travel, wings you to the same town.
Sax in the City has only one request of the developers: I would like to have seen an easier search function for places by name. Those of us who travel frequently, especially travel journalists who are writing about cities, often go armed with recommendations for venues to experience. This app only allows search by previously determined categories unless it’s not obvious and if it’s not obvious to me someone using this level of technology for the first time wouldn’t likely find it. That said, these apps are definitely well worth the time it takes to download them. Off I go to Paris (if only)!
During my last trip to Paris, I spent an afternoon sipping wine in Les Caves du Paradis, the former private wine cellar of Louis XV, at Ô Chateau. Our charming sommelier, Lionel Médoc, took a group of us through the in’s and out’s of identifying a wine’s clarity. He was a charming host, very knowledgeable about the French wines he was pouring that day. After obtaining a degree in oenology from Toulouse, Lionel told us he traveled the globe studying New World wines, trekking to Sonoma, Mendoza, and Australia. Even though his last name could pin him as a pure Bordeaux man, Lionel is actually the son of a Burgundian mother and he grew up on Reunion Island, near Mauritius. His charm during the several hours we spent swirling and sipping in the cellar with its graceful stone archways is evident in this video. Owner Olivier Magny has just opened a new wine bar, so be sure to stop in if you are in Paris anytime soon! Details are on the web site. À votre santé on this #WineWednesday, everyone!
By the Table; Verlaine is far left and a young Rimbaud is seated facing him.
During my time in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay, drinking in the architecture of the former railway station from blocks away (and understanding why the museum bills the building, which was erected for the Universal Exhibition of 1900, as its first work of art). The locale on the banks of the Seine opposite the Tuileries Gardens is its second triumph. And its art collections, spanning from 1848 to 1914, is its pièce de résistance.
One painting in particular was pilgrimage-worthy for me: Henri Fantin-Latour’s By the Table. I’ve been fascinated with it since I can remember because the subjects in the composition are men gathered at the Salon of 1872, including Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud—an almost cherubic Rimbaud sitting facing his friend at the time. It was Verlaine, a more mature poet, who would eventually contribute to Rimbaud’s disillusionment, causing him to put down his pen at the age of 20. What a loss for poetry! One of my favorite quotes has been attributed to Rimbaud, though I have never managed to track down the source: “I’d rather be the poem than the poet,” he was reported to have said. I feel that sums up the level of dedication a true poet would have to his or her craft.
If you’ve never read Rimbaud’s story, it’s worthwhile. He didn’t have an easy life, and he wrote what he produced at such a young age, I can only imagine the quality of work he would have produced had he been writing as a mature poet. A great place to start if you also happen to like rock-n-roll is Wallace Fowlie’s bookRimbaud and Jim Morrison: The Rebel as Poet. He compares the two renegades who did share a passion for stirring things up. I give you Rimbaud’s “Sensation,” a poem he wrote in March of 1870, nearly a century and a half ago:
Through blue summer nights I will pass along paths,
Pricked by wheat, trampling short grass:
Dreaming, I will feel coolness underfoot,
Will let breezes bathe my bare head.
Not a word, not a thought:
Boundless love will surge through my soul,
And I will wander far away, a vagabond
In Nature—as happily as with a woman.
And Morrison’s “L.A. Woman”: …Midnight alleys roam…
Was it just two weeks ago I was flitting around Paris with Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva? Uh-huh, and what a blast we had combing the Marche aux Puces and sifting through floor-upon-floor of goodies at Bazaar Hotel de Ville (She even cooked a sumptuous Parisian-inspired meal!) One of my favorite souvenirs from Paris is the tote bag she had made for me. Get a load of the close-up below and you’ll understand why!
About to Embark on a Diva-fied Day of Shopping (note the tote)!
This is the second year I’ve had the delight of touring Paris flea markets with Toma and I thought I’d pass along news about one of her newest offerings, customized Diva City Tours. I asked her to explains to RBD readers what inspired her to create seven-day gallivants chock full of more fun than the faint at heart could endure! She has a great group of Divas lined up for her Paris tour from March 7 through 13 and she will be posting news on her blog so be sure to stop in for a bit of voyeuristic pleasure Diva style! The Diva Dishes on Her New Explorations: The concept behind The Antiques Diva® & Co European Shopping Tours is simple: we combine the jet-setting lifestyle of a diva with antique shopping in favorite European cities, including Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin and beyond. Our one-day tours have been wildly successful due to this formula of carrying a shopping sack in one hand and a champagne glass in the other! What differentiates us from most antique shopping tour companies is that we do not arrange group tours, shoving a bunch of strangers together for an inflexible, pre-set period of days. Instead, we cater to our clients travel dates, taking them by the hand on one-day tours that maximize their time with a private, one-on-one customized shopping experience.
While we do offer a variety of services for antique dealers and interior designers, we also offer shopping tours to mere mortals…letting our clients source European antiques and vintage pieces at addresses usually only known to the trade. We recognize that most clients don’t antique shop in a vacuum: while they want to shop les puce they are also visiting these cities to tour the destinations. All our Diva Guides are well versed on what’s hot in their city and thus we’re always making recommendations to clients on where to eat, drink, shop and tour; our Diva Guides are your best friend abroad. With our new multi-day Diva City Tours, we’re taking those tips a step further and offering clients a chance to see Europe through our mascara-laden eyes.
Frames at the Marche aux Puces
These Diva City Tours are usually four-day packaged trips whereby the Diva Guide takes the clients to a variety of must-see addresses in the city. In our popular Paris Diva City Tour we do cooking classes at the Ritz, dine at Michelin-starred restaurants and tucked-away bistros a tourist hasn’t touched. We shop both vintage and haute couture, see where Coco became Chanel, but then turn around and surprise clients by hitting the local grocery store where they can load up on innovative European products they’d never find in America or the UK. We visit out-of-the-way museums and when the day is done, we pop over to a friend’s apartment to have champagne and macaroons in a grand salon. The multi-day Diva City Tours are designed to show clients what their lives might look like if they lived in one of these international cities, as the next best thing to living in Paris, Antwerp, Berlin or Amsterdam is touring with someone who does! This tour comes with a WARNING, though: 3 of our last 10 clients decided to move abroad after doing the Diva City Tours!
Some of My Loot from BHV
Insiders Tip: Tourists traveling in Paris might be surprised to know that some of the best souvenirs in Paris come from the local hardware store. The department store BHV, or Bazaar Hotel de Ville, has a basement level bricolage store that serves up everything from those charming blue & white Parisian house numbers to gorgeous fleur-de-lys picture hooks to upscale Parisian tea towels, copper pots and a variety of accessories for the home.
Gordon Ramsay (left) and chef Alessandro Delfanti in Contrada at Castel Monastero
One of my favorite trips of 2010 was a jaunt to Italy in late September/early October. During my tour of the beautiful country I had two amazing days at Castel Monastero near Sienna where I caught up with the renowned chef and television bad boy Gordon Ramsay, who heads up the cookery program at the resort and is the visionary behind the restaurants there. I was impressed with the refreshing honesty the Hell’s Kitchen host brought to the interview and enjoyed getting a glimpse behind the scenes of the rocking-and-rolling life of this intrepid adventurer.
RBD: Has anything surprised you about your career?
GR: Yeah, all the crap I get! Behind all the shouting, aggression and swearing is a passionate individual who is very focused on getting it right. I think I’m the luckiest chef in the world and I love food so much that I never stop; I literally never stop. I went out last night in Sienna and I tasted rabbit prepared in a way that I thought was inspirational, and I will use that. I suppose I’m like a magpie: I love traveling all over the world and picking up these shiny little bits of magic that are put out in restaurants—not just food but service as well.
RBD: Is there anything you are particularly excited about right now?
GR: I recently came back from Vietnam where I was filming for my new show called Gordon Ramsay’s Great Escape—it’s almost like Tony Bourdain meets Planet Earth. I thought about the gloabal domination of supermarkets because here I was in Vietnam living with the locals, and buying fresh vegetables and meat twice a day—in the morning for lunch and in the afternoon for dinner, spending 75 cents to a dollar per person per day. I cooked with no dairy—no cream and no butter—and everything was fantastically fresh. The experience was a huge eye opener. Sometimes when you’re traveling at this pace, you don’t take anything for granted but you forget what it’s like right when you’re at the very beginning of your career. I had a limited budget. It was a fascinating time because I was stripped of everything—from my exemplary knives to my chef’s jacket—and I was just there in tee shirts and shorts in 100 degrees, living locally, which I recommend to every chef in the world.
I always get asked about striving for the highest level of perfection and I say to other chefs, “Come out of your comfort zones. Become vulnerable. With the base of knowledge and excitement you’ve got about food, the level of creativity multiplies ten-fold the minute you become vulnerable because you act on instincts.” There’s a huge soul-searching dilemma going on when you haven’t got the most amazing chopping board, you haven’t got fresh ingredients arriving on your doorstep delivered by artisan producers, you haven’t got the most amazing baked bread twice a day, and nobody is making ravioli and tortellini for you: get out of your comfort zone and become self-sufficient!
After Vietnam, I went straight to Cambodia and that was seriously mind-blowing. It had nothing to do with Michelin Stars, Zagat, the Good Food Guide or food critics, and yet some of what was served in these villages was better than you could get in Cambodian and Vietnamese restaurants anywhere in the world—it was exquisite, I mean really exquisite.
RBD: Speaking of Michelin Stars: you have what is becoming an embarrassment of riches, no?
GR: I’m very lucky to have an amazing team. I suppose the criticism we come under is that I can’t be everywhere at once. Well, I’ve never portrayed that I cook in all of these restaurants. There are two restaurants bearing my name: Gordan Ramsay at Claridges, which means an awful lot to me, and Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. Next year we celebrate ten years at Claridges and we have so much talent behind it: from Angela Harnett to Mark Sargeant to Marcus Waring to Mark Askew to Claire Smith to Jake Hamilton—these are thoroughbreds who’ve been with me for ten years. When they leave the nest, it’s a natural level of progression where it becomes a rite of succession. It’s almost like in government in that you’re roosting the nest with food, and you’ve got peers and prodigies that are coming back to stamp out their own sort of uniqueness. What’s wrong with them going further afield? This level of succession has always been my forte: always, always.
RBD: Do you think it’s your passion that allows you to foster people to this level? I ask because I would think some chefs would be a little more selfish than you’ve been in supporting people to go out on their own?
GR: I’m an over-generous guy and so when you’re in the fold it’s anything and everything. I’ve always believed in sharing and the level of manners that my mum taught me from an early age. It makes no sense to compare chefs for their styles: I love Joel Robuchon; love what he’s done for formulaic menus, but I’ve got a different style of setting up a business and my menus are different. Clearly Robuchon has the same menu in Paris as in Tokyo as in New York as in London. What I want to do is to support the chefs that are driving my restaurants behind the scenes, backing me up for years. At some point, they’ve got to go out and take the next step on their own. I enjoy financially backing them—personally but quietly—and unfortunately that always gets misconstrued in the press because it’s said that another chef leaves Ramsay, but we know what goes on “hand on heart” behind the scenes. I know how important it is for these guys to strike out and become individual, and I’ve never been anything less than caring as a father figure to push them to the extreme. And I’m not done yet. That’s what I constantly tell myself. It’s not that I want to spend 16 hours a day behind a stove; I’ve done that! I’ve served my apprenticeship and I have the fascination of that next new discovery.
I have a series of new restaurants opening—the new Savoy Grill, which we’re all incredibly excited about; the Bread Street Kitchen in St. Paul’s Cathedral; and the restaurant in Borough Market opening up in September 2011 ahead of the Olympics.
RBD: Your energy is quite remarkable. To what do you attribute your verve?
GR: It’s a vibe for me: I’m more nervous when I stand still.
RBD: How has being a Scotsman made an impact on your sensibilities as a chef?
GR: Scotland, as you know, is not renowned for its phenomenal food! Great produce but sadly enough we don’t keep any of it for ourselves—we send it all abroad, which doesn’t make sense! I remember my early days in Paris when I was working for Guy Savoy and I’d see these amazing Scottish Langostines come through the door. The French were so arrogant they would be ripping the Scottish flag off the side of the box because they couldn’t quite believe all this produce was coming out of Scotland. I get it, because here was our country with a reputation for deep-fried Mars Bars and deep-fried pizza: it didn’t make sense. But think about it: hand-dived scallops from the west coast of Scotland were being shipped out to Paris. It was frustrating. Then when the venison arrived, it was like another stake in the ground. With fingers up to the French, I’d say, “Here we go—that’s three, four, five amazing kilos of produce that you haven’t got in your country.” So, yeah; I love that battle!
RBD: Do you think the drama of your career prepared you well for television?
GR: That’s a very good question. When you’re cooking at this stake and it’s under this level of pressure, you push the boundaries and, no disrespect, but there’s never going to be a time when you politely say, “Please be so kind as to pass me the bass!” When the shit hits the fan, it’s going to hit the fan or I’d be flipping burgers or dressing Caesar Salads while high-fiving everybody and running a chain of TGI’s! I’m not. I decided to go to the very, very top so I demand the best. In terms of the genre unfolding, there’s no script. If I give you seven identical ingredients, myself seven and Chloe seven, we’d come up with three different dishes: that’s the exciting thing about food. So chefs are notorious self-motivated insecure little fuckers: we’re always looking to please; looking for that big hug because we’re constantly striving to be the best! But when we are the best, we never realize we’re the best so we continue to be incredibly insecure!
RBD: People are always surprised at how nice you are in person compared to your television personae; is that something you set out to do or is it a natural process of the show?
GR: I’ve been in Marco White’s kitchen and Guy Savoy’s kitchen and Daniel Boulud’s kitchen, and I’ve seen the shit hit the fan. I have seen them rip somebody’s head off and absolutely cane someone and then 30 seconds later, I’ve seen them glide through the dining room to shake hands with their amazing customers—like a swan with such character, and amazing elegance and grace. Then they walk back through that door and if there’s something wrong with a dish—the ribeye is overcooked or the scallops are like rubber—then they blow off. I’ve learned from the best!
So if anyone tells you any different when they get to a certain age and condemn that level of ambitiousness by 35- or 40-year-old chefs, you must remember it’s how they made their names. God bless him, Daniel Boulud—one of the most amazing chefs in the world—I would not like to ever get on the wrong side of him. But very few chefs have that brutal honesty, whether they do it in front of the customer or in front of the camera. With me there’s no agenda. My biggest problem is the brutal honesty because if there’s something wrong there and then, I’m not going to wait to see if the cameras have stopped rolling before I let go: I let go. The unfortunate thing when you get into your 60’s and 70’s, these chefs then start to feel guilty about how mean they’ve been so they start philosophizing. I’m 43 years of age; I’m not going to start thinking, “You know what: we really shouldn’t get upset at sending an overcooked pigeon to the head inspector of Michelin! We should just relax and open a bottle of Bordeaux!” Uh, no! That doesn’t quite work out, now does it?
RBD: It feels to me like one of your greatest talents is nurturing people; does that come out of your nature, maybe your upbringing?
GR: From the early days when I was playing soccer, I was always the captain of the team so today’s role I play is a coach because I’m not done with cooking. I’m certainly not bored with it but I just need that level of stimulant to keep me excited about it and nothing gets me more excited than raw ingredients still, even though I look for the experience that will hit all of those notes on the back of the experience—exposure, what I’ve done for food, how many kings and queens I’ve cooked for and the amazing dinners I’ve prepared during my life. Last year was a seminal year cooking for Nelson Mandela twice in one year—once for his 90th birthday. That said, I never started cooking to become rich and famous in the first place. God forbid, if it all stops tomorrow, you’re still going to see me in my restaurant.
RBD: You’re fascinating to interview!
GR: I suppose I keep it real; unfortunately, the bigger you become in this industry, the more you get baby-sat because they see me as too fucking dangerous! I’ll admit I’m a naughty boy so I just watch as they crap themselves when they are afraid I’ll say something detrimental! I’m not that stupid! Also, you’ve made an effort to be here so if I can’t talk to you in an open and honest way, then I’d rather not do the interview!
RBD: Do you have a favorite dish? If so, why and who cooked it?
GR: There’s never been one dish on my agenda—there are thousands because I think there’s no such thing as the greatest soccer player in the world; there’s no such thing as the greatest chef in the world because it depends upon that particular time and temperament, and I never liked things to be set in stone—I like to keep on moving the goal post. One of the most sought-after dishes I’ve ever had in my entire life was when I sat with this family of eight on the river in Vietnam on this houseboat. It was braised pork belly done with fenugreek and star anise, and it was this amazing broth I just couldn’t, couldn’t stop eating. It was done with noodles, braised pork, their equivalent to sea spinach picked from the side of the river—it was mind blowing!
I’ve come across nothing along those lines in the last four months. In six-month’s time you ask me that and it will be something completely different. But, if I wanted to take something to bed, it would be my mum’s bread and butter pudding. When we grew up, she made it with plain bread, but as we became a little more successful, she changed to baguettes. Now she makes it with croissants—Mum’s gone up in life! She changes her recipe every decade! How cool is that? She went from bread to baguettes and now in the 21st-century she finally makes it with croissants. She volunteers for the WI, the Women’s Institute, which is an organization against domestic violence. Now when she makes it, she glazes it. We had no glaze in the first phase, then she went to brown sugar, now she has an apricot glaze! Isn’t it great that she makes it with croissants and an apricot glaze for these houses of single parents?
RBD: She’s been inspired by her boy?
GR: Oh yes! It’s traveling down; food is going back down!
RBD: Is she proud of you?
GR: Yeah! Well, she never, uh, overindulges. She comes to Claridges once every 18 months or so with her neighbors but it’s tough to get her out on the town because she’s obsessed with bingo! It’s nice in that she looked after me for twenty years of my life so now I look after her—I mean, I try! We bought her a house, I try to send her on holidays or on cruises, but she’s not easy to manage! She passed her driving test five years ago on the eleventh time! I said, “Mother, it would be a lot easier if I just get a driver for you!” She said no, so god bless her that she passed it! I got her a mini for Christmas, but I think it’s so terrific that she’s real and completely unspoiled.
GR: I suppose no matter what happens after me, after you, this place is still going to remain the same—it’s unchanged, it’s steeped in history and it’s something that’s being brought back and put on the map but it’s still part of the local village. What I love is that it’s not a hotel, it’s a retreat; this is a gem, ever involved as part of the community where they make those who live here as important as the visitors. They hold onto that ritual; they hold onto that service on Sunday. The village is part of them. That’s not fake or any sort of put-on; that’s real. I don’t know if you heard the church bells this morning? God bless them I was sleeping above those bells! No need for an alarm clock or for any of my three daughters to ring me this morning at 8 o’clock! I’m teasing, of course; that’s what’s so beautiful here. The personality of place is being nurtured and preserved. (For Ramsay’s three choices for rock-star chefs of the future, see my piece in Delta Sky magazine this month.)
When traveling, I’m often fascinated by how a sense of place pervades nearly every aspect of life in the best cities in the world. I call New York home and have come to see Paris as the city in which I’d most like to live if I weren’t fortunate enough to reside in my favorite town. I just returned from the French capital where I spent 2 1/2 weeks tasting all that the City of Light had to offer, including the ultra chic sensibilities the French have in spades.
New York is gritty and a bit worn around the edges compared to Paris’ polished, refined exterior (if you’ve ever taken the Metro in Paris and compared it to the Subway in NYC, you know what I mean, as the Parisian underground is as buttoned-up as its beautiful Neoclassic facades!). On my way to France and when I was returning to the states, I had the opportunity to check out the designs of the American AirlinesAdmirals Club Lounges at JFK and Charles de Gaulle. I loved the black and white photography in the JFK lounge, the iconic buildings and panoramas that help to define our city such a pleasure to study; and in Paris, I felt as if I were being swept along in a luxe ocean liner back in the day when traveling by ship was glamorous and de rigueur.
Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva, and Remy Lemoine (who was recently featured on one of my favorite sites, The Curated Object) with his passemanterie in Le Dome in Paris. Loving all this inspiring design after a day at the Marche aux Puces. So many great ideas, so little room in my suitcase!
I’ve been blazing around Paris soaking in a schizophrenic mix of historically significant writerly inspiration and modern-day Parisian glitz: it’s quite a paradoxical melange! Even the eye candy cuts its own broad swath, from beautifully dressed men and women to a luscious piece of iconic architecture at every turn (I will admit to being a sucker for the Neoclassical French style–the ubiquitous mansard roofs alone are enough to make me swoon)! I generally shy away from overtly touristy experiences when I travel but I’ve put them in the mix during this pilgrimage to the City of Light. They’ve been important points of inspiration sprinkled amongst the hours spent journaling in the cafes that once drew some of the most dedicated writers of all time. What I’ve done with each exploit is to dig deeper; to make each overtly obvious tourist escapade my own in some way.
Oscar Wilde’s Tomb
At the Pere Lachaise cemetery, seeing the tomb of Heloise & Abelard was as exciting as I thought it would be. I’ve been inspired by their story for ages. But seeing Oscar Wilde’s tomb was a surprise, as it taught me something important as an avid reader. Words in a book, regardless how well crafted they are, do not always do the thing they are describing justice if there is significant emotionality attached. I’d read in a number of books, including one of my favorites that I recommend to anyone before they travel to Paris, Metrostop Paris, that Wilde’s grave was one of the most popular in the massive cemetery, and that it had to be cleaned regularly because fans of his literature could not help but write on or kiss the slabs surrounding the writer’s remains. It was a sight to behold and one of the most moving outpourings of emotion I’ve ever seen–in as many different languages as you can imagine.
Kisses Gone Wilde
This limitation of description was brought home to me again as I stood in the study of La Maison de Balzac, the museum dedicated to the famous French novelist and playwright Honore de Balzac. His petite writing table and roomy upholstered chair were placed in the center of the intimately-scaled room where the writer spent hours creating his novels and plays, nearly 100 of which make up La Comedie Humaine. He retreated to the tiny home that was an outbuilding of a larger residence, or a folly, to escape creditors during a low point in his life. He lived in the one-story dwelling nestled into a lush garden between 1840 to 1847. “Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o’clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working till five o’clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting all over again the next day,” Balzac wrote. The writing table, which remains exactly where he had placed it, is where he proofread the entire La Comedie. He said that the desk was “the witness of my worries, my miseries, my distress, my joys, everything. My arm has almost worn it out with rubbing as I write.”
As I stood trying to imagine the mammoth creative energy that must have been unleashed in that room (before I had read this quote, mind you), the thing that struck me was how the table top had been worn down to the point that it had a significant indention in it where the writer had repeatedly run his arms over the wood as he drew wildly flailing lines to the margins of the pages he edited then scribbled in the updated text he wanted to include in the pages he had written. He had done so time and time again as the exhaustive display of edited pages proved. I stood in awe of this tiny table with sturdy turned legs, which had acted as the foundation of such great literary works. It is a memory I will treasure forever.
The door to Honore de Balzac’s study in Passy
Forgive me if I seem overly sentimental in this post: I really do dig this type of exploration so much! It’s like manna from heaven for this writer, who has been making a living as a journalist and author for the past 15 years, to let some of the chaos go and drop down into a deeper place. I hope that if you are roaming somewhere soon, you’ll be sure to find a way to make your experiences heartfelt. There’s nothing like it no matter where you are in the world! And, it just so happens to be #TravelTuesday so we should all be roaming where we want to!
I’m in Paris, as many of you know, spending lots of time in the cafes where some of the greatest writers of all time have people-watched, scribbled into journals and/or edited manuscripts. I’m about to take my writer’s notebook from my purse and make some notes about the magnificent day I’ve had, bopping between Cafe de Flore, Shakespeare & Company, and my current locale, a seat on the sidewalk at Cafe Les Deux Magots. Tomorrow is a writing day. Wish me luck that the sonnets will start coming together in this fantastic city!