Wednesday, October 14, 2009
by Barbara Barton Sloane
The sky, as we deplaned in Ireland, was deep gray and portending rain at any moment but the guide who met us allayed our weather worries by saying that it only rained twice last year. – once for five months and once for seven months. Alrighty then. But just think: if Ireland weren’t so rainy it wouldn’t be so green. And green is good! Whatever the weather – fair or foul - one is warmed just basking in the hospitality, friendliness, and good cheer that is a trademark of the Irish. Erin go Braugh!
Our trip concentrated on the West of Ireland as we traveled from the stunning Ring of Kerry and up along the coast to the exciting city of Galway. We began our journey on the Dingle Peninsula, the most westerly point in Europe and an area with a wealth of historical monuments, Gaelic culture and literature. The mountains here are lofty and brooding, and the Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in all Ireland. On the morning of our drive to the Gallarus Oratory, the atmosphere was dreamlike. A fine, milky mist enveloped all and the landscape, divided by 400 year old hedgerows, gave the fields a look of giant green checkerboards. Cheerful yellow grouse grew everywhere and all was covered by fat, white clumps which, on closer inspection, turned out to be hundreds of sheep.
SEARCHING FOR FAIRIES
Perched on a windswept hill covered with wildflowers, we arrived at the awe-inspiring Gallarus Oratory, a 1300-year old stone building still in perfect condition and one of the finest examples of an early-Christian church. As we gazed at this monument with its intricate stonework, our guide explained that a Neolithic technique called “corbelling” was used to lay the 4-foot thick, dry-stone walls that stand firm without mortar and which are still waterproof after several centuries of buffeting by Atlantic gales. That fact alone was enough to put us in the mood to offer our own personal oration to the master builders of the Gallarus. The most common feature of the Irish landscape, and which we saw in abundance, was the ring forts, or human settlements. Irish folklore tells us that the fairies were believed to inhabit the forts. After their defeat by the Milesians, the people of the Goddess Danu went underground in the many ring forts and became fairies. I peered into a fort but sorry to disappoint - I saw no fairies.
GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
On the blustery and chilly tip of the Dingle Peninsula we toured the Blasket Center which celebrates the story of the Blasket Islanders and here a stone fort still stands, proof of its possible occupation 2,000 years ago. After the Great Famine (1845-48), the young people left, mostly for America, and by 1953, the once vibrant population had vanished. Today, on a visit to the deserted Great Blasket, you will see stunning scenery and if lucky, maybe even glimpse a dolphin or whale. The profoundly moving photographs, artifacts, documents and utensils preserved at the Center are a true testament to these unbelievably hearty people and the unique literary achievement of the island writers who have preserved a lifestyle that is no more. We dined that evening at The Chart House, Jim McCarthy’s attractive, stone-built restaurant that has been a Dingle favorite for over 10 years. A particular hit with our group that night was a specialty of the house, the Black Pudding; another, the lamb, totally organic and so fresh we could taste the heather from it. After dinner, bowing to an old Irish saying: Luigh leis an uan agus eirigh leis an ean: Lie with the lamb, and rise with the bird, we did precisely that at the cozy Dingle Benners Hotel.
INTO THE WOODS
Waking to birdsong, we were off to Killarney to visit the Killarney National Park in County Kerry. Driving to the town of Killarney we passed scores of fresh and tidy pastel colored gingerbread-style houses which gave the villages a rainbow-hued effect. The towns looked like they belonged in Disneyland, but in a good way – happy, peaceful, a place where you’d like to hang out. Killarney National Park is 10,236 glorious woodland acres replete with mountains, lakes and waterfalls. Once in the park, we engaged the services of a horse-drawn jaunting cart whose driver, Billy, embodied droll and hilarious Irish humor, keeping us in stitches the entire ride. He asked, “What do you call an Irishman buried 2,000 years?” Dunno. “Peat!”
After a particularly memorable, restoring sleep at The Killarney Park Hotel, sinking into deep down up to our ears, we set off for County Clare and the Cliffs of Moher. The Cliffs are perhaps Ireland’s most renowned attraction. They face out onto the Aran Islands, and stand 5 miles long, towering above the wild and roaring Atlantic below. Live, traditional Irish music played as we hiked pathways with heart-stopping views over the 700 foot tall cliffs. There’s a very good, award-winning exhibition at the Moher Visitor’s Center called The Atlantic Edge. It’s a virtual reality, cliff-face journey which allowed us to experience a Birdseye view of life on the cliffs, both above and below sea level.
MAKE WAY FOR GALWAY!
Though not the largest city in Ireland, Galway may be its most interesting. It is medieval and intimate with narrow streets and lanes bulging with shops, pubs and restaurants. Here is where the Irish language is the strongest with bilingual signs on all shops and roads. It’s also home to the striking G Hotel designed by Philip Treacy. The public rooms are wildly glamorous and evoke old Hollywood. It is like no other hotel I’ve ever experienced and has been designated as one of the top three hotels in the world by Conde Nast Traveler. That evening we enjoyed dinner at the well-known Kirwan’s Restaurant and I topped off the evening with a visit to the hotel’s G Spa, contemporary, elegant, a place where absolutely nothing has been spared in design and quality. I enjoyed a massage that kneaded away all my bodily knots acquired from days of site-walking. A spring was restored to my step and I was once again ready for whatever was to come.
THE CASTLE ROCKS
What was to come was the sprawling and spectacular Ashford Castle! Located in County Mayo just a half hour from Galway, it dates back to 1228 when monks set an evolving building process in motion. Later, the Castle became a summer home of the Guinness family until it opened as a hotel just before the start of World War II. Ever since, guests have delighted in rooms tucked away in turrets, two restaurants and a range of country sports including falconry, horseback riding, golf and clay pigeon shooting.
Falconry…. hummm…. it sounded exotic and intriguing. I thought it would be fun to watch but noooo, that wasn’t in the cards. I was cajoled and shamed into joining in, donning a thick, weird looking leather glove and yes, allowing a falcon to rest on said glove. When it flew off to a faraway tree, a bit of meat was placed on my glove (euww), and the dear bird, with phenomenal vision, zoomed back onto my arm and whoosh! both meat and bird were gone. This was a completely memorable experience, one that wimpy me was ultimately glad I had.
We had high tea in one of the glorious castle rooms amid towering ceilings, glorious boisirie, cascading red velvet draperies, suits of armor and period furniture. Make no mistake about it, we were in an honest-to-goodness, real-life castle whose lifestyle I could quickly get used to. Ashford Castle is one of the most luxurious resort hotels in the world – a legacy 700 years in the making.
LAST STOP, LASTING MEMORY
We ended our Ireland fantasy at Adare Manor in the county of Limerick. Uh oh, just now I feel a limerick of my own coming on:
In Ireland a Manor called Adare
Has charm that’s unmatched, I swear.
An estate that has 5 stars,
If you searched from here to Mars
You’d nary find a spot that’s quite as fair!
Sorry. However, Adare Manor is, indeed, a singularly special place consisting of 840 acres of sweeping parklands, cultivated gardens, mature trees and the river Maigue, one of Ireland’s finest trout rivers. The Manor House was once owned by the Earl of Dunraven and was built in the 1830s. Among the many eccentricities of the house: there are 52 chimneys (one to commemorate each week of the year, 75 fireplaces and 365 leaded glass windows (one for each day of the year). Adare Manor offers world class facilities including two top restaurants, an equestrian center, fitness room, indoor heated swimming pool, a spa, fishing, clay pigeon shooting, and a Robert Trent Jones designed golf course.
All good things must come to an end, and ending with two of Ireland’s most famous and beloved castles is as good a way as any. In closing, let me pass along to you some old Irish advice: to ward off those cute but mischievous fairies when visiting, take a bit of the foxglove flower, aka Dead Man’s Bells or Fairy Fingers and rub some of the sap on your clothing. Guaranteed, you’ll see nary a Fairy! What you will see, however, is this magical, mystical land, and that alone is worth the trip!
To celebrate Ireland’s famed painter son, Francis Bacon, on exhibit now through March 7, 2010 there’s an immense archive of Bacon’s studio material as well as selected paintings dating from 1944, many of which have been rarely shown. Dublin City Gallery, The Hugh Lane, Parnell Square, Dublin, email@example.com
Saturday, October 3, 2009
by Barbara Barton Sloane
An elegant, bearded man swaddled in pure white robes, wearing a kefiyeh headdress encircled with a black rope band and surrounded by four large, no-nonsense bodyguards walks through the Four Seasons Cairo lobby. When my waiter brings me tea, I ask him who that very important looking man is and he explains it’s a sheik from Saudi Arabia. “You’ll see lots of them here. This is, after all, The Four Seasons,” he says with a proud smile. Yes, that says it all. Whether in Boston, Washington or Cairo, Egypt, this hotel chain with its demanding high standards frequently hosts celebs, heads of state, and occasionally a lucky travel writer like me.
Known to locals as Umm al-Dunya, “Mother of the World,” Cairo is a city of 18 Million which swells to over 20 Million daily counting the workforce. I swear I can see many of those millions right below my hotel window, a virtual feast for the eyes: streets teeming with people, a cacophony of bleating car horns, tall pastel-colored apartment buildings, their balconies alive with clothes flapping in the breeze. Tiny, shadowed alleyways almost obscure men sitting around tables eating, smoking, visiting. A colorful profusion of veggies, fruit, nuts, flowers, perfumes and handicrafts are displayed in front of the shops as hawkers implore you to taste, smell, buy or at least join them for a glass of tea. Oh yes, I am, indeed, in Cairo, Egypt and anticipating the exotic adventure that’s about to unfold.
After resting for a few hours, our group was driven to The Citadel, an open-air amphitheatre on high where exhibitions, artistic events and concerts are held. The view from there gives onto the entire city below and as the lights of all Cairo came up, it was magic. We dined on spicy, traditional Egyptian fare while musicians played tunes on ancient instruments, singers sang with seductive, mournful voices and whirling dervishes in long white gallabiyas twirled trance-like for what seemed like hours. They never get dizzy, I’m told, because their dance is divinely inspired. After my long flight and feeling somewhat dizzy myself from the mesmerizing performance, I was glad to return to my hotel and prepare for a big day ahead.
A visit to the Egyptian Museum began with what was one of the highlights of the trip: a lecture by the one and only Dr. Zahi Hawas, the world’s foremost Egyptologist and the head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. Dr. Hawas discussed some of the museum’s 2,500 artifacts culled over 5,000 years. The treasures of the museum were heart-stopping and it is said that to see the entire collection it would take 9 full months, every day, from 9 to 5. The Tutankhamen exhibit was my favorite, with the 18k gold mask of Tut, his chariots, sarcophagus, and including golden jewelry enclosed in his tomb for over 3,500 years. I longed to have the time to just gaze into each and every splendid vitrine and simply let the heady atmosphere envelop me. Sadly, t’was not to be as the plan was to spend the evening at the Sofitel Hotel. Boarding a wooden felucca docked at the foot of our hotel, we had a leisurely 10 minute sail across the Nile to the hotel’s Buddha Bar where we sampled Egyptian hors d’oeuvres and inventive cocktails. With lights glistening on this mythical river, good company and great drinks, it was, in all, a fine Cairo evening.
The next day we crossed over one of the 11 bridges from Cairo to the section called Giza on our way to the Pyramids and Sphinx. Though the three Great Pyramids are the most famous monuments, the site has actually been a Necropolis since the beginning of Pharaonic Egypt. Shortly after we arrived, a sand storm kicked up turning the sky from blue to milky white, the wind whipping sand particles into every possible crevice of our bodies. It made picture-taking difficult, as did the hoards of tourists. But, intrepid travelers that we were, we got our shots and bragging rights about enduring a sandstorm at the Pyramids and living to tell it!
That evening, dinner was at the Robayat El Khayam, the historic restaurant of the Mena House Oberoi Hotel. Lavish, over-the-top, a true Hollywood set, this is not to be-missed. An ethnic-inspired show of dancers and singers was a fun accompaniment to our meal.
After checking out of our hotel, we took an hour-long flight to Luxor where we boarded a Nile cruise ship for a four-night trip to Aswan. The first stop on our cruise was the Temple of Karnak. Although badly ruined, no site in Egypt is more impressive. It is the largest temple complex ever built by man; in fact it’s a city of temples built over 2000 years for the Theben triad of Amon, Mut and Khonsu. The Great Temple at the heart of Karnak is so big, at 54,000 square feet and 134 columns, it is the largest room of any religious building in the world and its grandeur is incomparable.
The Temple of Luxor is in the renowned city of Thebes, the city of a hundred gates, close to the Nile and parallel with the riverbank. Inside, one is in the midst of a multitude of columns which seem to rise to the sky, bearing intricate designs and painted in reds, blues and greens, colors that today are as vivid as when they were first painted. Two statues - huge, strong and handsome guards - stand on either side of the entrance to this Temple. Since it has been in almost continuous use as a place of worship right up to the present day, one can conclude that these guards have done their job exceedingly well.
The following day we toured the Valley of the Kings with its best-preserved hieroglyphs and home to at least sixty-two New Kingdom pharaohs and ranking officials. There is an Egyptian belief that “to speak the name of the dead is to make him live again.” Thus, all the kings’ tombs are inscribed with names and titles, along with images and statues – so that they will live again. A sweet and comforting thought. That evening back on our cruise ship, I pulled a chair up to the rail and literally watched Egypt float by before my eyes, a spectacular end to the day.
A quick breakfast on board, and we’re off to the Aswan airport to fly to Abu Simbel. The two temples at Abu Simbel are among the most magnificent monuments in the world. Even more extraordinary was their removal and reconstruction to keep them from being lost forever under the waters of Lake Nasser when the Aswan High Dam was completed in the late 1960’s. Gazing up at the four gargantuan Pharaohs carved into the mountain, and knowing that heaven and earth were moved to save it, was a touching and poignant experience.
“The Nile does not change. Indeed, I don’t know of another place in which everything changes as much and yet nothing is ever changed. You feel quite at home.” ( Henry Adams, 1898). Eternal Egypt - exciting, enriching - an experience whose memories will last forever.
A Magical Master’s Tour from the Riviera to Provence
by Barbara Barton Sloane
The light shimmers bright and golden on a cerulean sea. A soft, warm breeze stirs the palm trees and threatens to take my napkin off into the blue. I’m sitting at a terrace café on the Cote d’Azur, drinking a cappuccino and asking my friend Karen to pinch me to prove I’m not dreaming. Since the beginning of the 20th century, many of the world’s greatest artists have made this the birthplace of modern art. Painters have long celebrated the sensational light, the sensual climate, the diversity of the landscape and the beauty of the Mediterranean.
Both on the Riviera and in Provence, France was paying homage to Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and we saw important exhibits of Picasso’s work including some paintings never seen before. My group of five women had the lucky opportunity to view exhibits, studios and homes of Picasso, as well as those of Matisse and Cezanne – two painters that had a profound impact on the artist.
Southern France played an essential role in Picasso’s life and the soul of this great Spanish artist continues to be felt here, so we began our sojourn in Nice, a city that has inspired artists for centuries. In fact, it prompted Matisse, upon moving here to exclaim: “When I realized I would see this light every morning, I could not believe my good fortune and I decided to live here for the rest of my life.” Nice is elegant and trendy, cheerful and bustling, and when the sea spray meets the fragrance of the tall Aleppo pines, this town is downright bewitching!
We visited the Matisse Museum (www.musee-matisse-nice.org), a Genovese-style villa filled with his masterpieces and personal possessions. After the museum, walking around the town, we experienced a deeper level of appreciation for Nice as we saw it now through the eyes of Matisse. Our hotel, the Beau Rivage (www.hotel-nicebeaurivage.com) just happens to be where Matisse himself lived till the end of his life. Sadly, my room there was not the one he occupied, but from my window the view of the sea and the special Nicoise light was exactly what the artist saw and that alone sufficed.
Next, we went to the Riviera town of Vence. There’s an Old Town of quirky houses showing the patina of time and a walk through its colorful market captivated us with the scent of delicious herbs and bouquets of lavender. Here we found the Villa Le Reve (www.villalerevevence.com) where Matisse lived and worked from 1943 to 1949. Today it’s a charming house that can be rented by groups of artists. After touring the studio, we descended upon the garden where a small group of Swedish women were attending to their easels on the vast sloping lawn, all the while taking their inspiration from the grand master. Matisse named this place The Dream, a name that is, quite literally, spot-on!
The enchanting Picasso Museum,(www.antibesjuanlespins.com) in the Grimaldi Castle lies amid the calm beauty of pine groves and is located in the town of Antibes. This is the first museum to be dedicated to the painter, and it is home to some 245 of his works. The exceptional exhibit includes his gay and lyrical work “La Joie de Vivre” – the joy of living – with flute playing fauns, dancing goats and a female nude modeled on his then love, Francoise Gilot. Our hotel, the Garden Beach Hotel, (www.garden-beach-hotel.com) afforded us smashing views of the sea. Antibes has grand estates, dense vegetation and park-like settings. F. Scott Fitzgerald, staying here wrote: “We’ve found a splendid location – a big house, the seaside, and the casino is hardly 100 m. away.” Apparently the Fitzgeralds were enchanted by Antibes, as were we.
The town of Vallauris is where Picasso discovered the art of ceramics. From the summer of 1948 until 1955 when he left, he created 4,000 ceramic works. In the town square rests his iconic bronze “Man with a Sheep” which he gave to Vallauris in 1950 when he was made an honorary citizen. One of the artist’s most famous works “War & Peace,” his last great political composition, was installed in the 12th century chapel of the Vallauris chateau in 1959. It is a powerful work that takes the viewer from the horrors of war to peaceful times. Picasso depicts his belief that all is possible through peace with images of a boy plowing the sea, fish swimming in a bird cage, and birds happily existing in a fish tank. Through peace, all is possible.
Leaving the Riviera and driving to Provence, the landscape began to change dramatically, from exotic plants and palm trees to purple mountains and fields filled with yellow rape flowers. Aix-en-Provence has always been associated with water. Springs and fountains abound in squares and along streets lined with centuries-old plane and olive trees. This was once a Roman city, and it is thoroughly Mediterranean. Artists’ studios, artisan shops, restaurants, cafes and market stalls today make this ancient city modern and lively.
In Aix at the Granet Museum (www.museegranet.com) we viewed an exhibit which brought together a hundred works by Cezanne and Picasso and saw the significant influence Cezanne had on Picasso throughout his life. Of Cezanne, Picasso said “He was my one and only master.” I discvered first-hand how the paint colors Cezanne favored were used again and again in Picasso’s works. It was interesting to compare the artists’ works, and two in particular were most revealing: Cezanne’s “Man with a Pipe” and Picasso’s “The Smoker.” Picasso once said “I don’t paint what I see but what I feel.” In these two paintings one observes how Picasso, inspired by the Cezanne work, painted essentially the same subject but in abstract form. We also visited the Chateau Vauvenargues, which lies at the foot of the Sainte-Victoire Mountain, and is where Picasso worked and died. In this austere castle he now rests alongside his wife Jacqueline.
Picasso was deeply attracted to the city of Arles whose extravagant atmosphere, climate, and bullfights reminded him of his birthplace, Spain. The town is known as “the daughter of the South” and cultivates a way of life that cries out to be sampled – on terraces, in shaded alleyways or beneath trees in tiny village squares, and boasts seven UNESCO-ranked World Heritage monuments. We visited the Reattu Museum (www.museereattu.arles.fr) which has 57 drawings and two paintings by Picasso, including the charming “Portrait of Maria,” Picasso’s mother.
Our last stop: Les Baux, a pearl of Provence. The town is ranked as one of France’s most beautiful villages and is home to a most wondrous thing: the Cathedrale d’Images (www.cathedrale-d’images.com),an audio-visual center carved out of a quarry featuring, until January 3, 2010, Picasso! You will gorge on his beguiling images shown 50 feet high on thousands of feet of rock face used as screens. The works appear in unrestrained profusion of colors, curves and shapes which swirl around you and are set to some great music, including Nino Rota’s haunting theme from The Godfather and his circus music from 8 ½. This is an immense retrospective from every period of the artist’s work and I believe it could be considered, truly, something new under the sun. It’s fabulous!
Picasso did not paint what he saw but what he felt. “We need to get to the bottom of the story,” he said “and see all the pictures underneath a picture. I have tried, by destructuring, to illustrate and help reveal the hidden picture.” On this magical romp through Picasso-Land, we felt what he felt and, as his feelings were revealed through his work, we gained a profound and lasting insight into his world.
If You Go:
By Barbara Barton Sloane
“We’ll always have Paris.” Those iconic words uttered by Bogart to Bergman in Casablanca so many years ago are just as true and meaningful today. Maybe even more so. You see, recently Bertrand Delanoe, the Mayor of Paris, has created something called Paris Tourist Day, meant to encourage Parisians to adopt a more cordial view of tourists. Launched two years ago – and acknowledging that an estimated two million jobs here are linked to tourism - this project looks to become a regular fixture. This lesson in Parisian etiquette includes the vow to take the time to give information to visitors and to attempt to reply to them in their own language. Merci!
A Cemetery Extraordinaire
On a recent visit to Paris, I came with a check list of all the “must-dos” that I hadn’t done in the past. At the top of this list my first day in town was to visit a cemetery. No, not just any cemetery - the Pere Lachaise Cemetery with its starry lineup of illustrious corpses - indeed the celebrity resting place in Paris. Hopping on the Metro to the far reaches of Belleville in the northeast part of the city, I visited the graves of old-timers such as Delecroix, Proust and Bizet, as well as the more recent dearly departed Jim Morrison, Simone Signoret and Yves Montand. Opened since the 1790s, Pere Lachaise was designed as a public park and still today is a green and pleasant, albeit somewhat somber place to wander. With the help of a map supplied upon entering, one can check out the sites of almost anyone French, talented and dead. They’re all here.
Bubbles in a Glass of Champagne
That evening, local friends, knowing my love for glamour, luxe and the great American songbook, suggested we visit the very elegant Georges V Hotel (www.fourseasons.com/paris). An acquaintance of theirs, Flavien Compagnon, sings and plays piano in the Georges V cocktail lounge, and, turns out, the entertainer’s love of Cole Porter and George Gershwin matched mine exactly. Sitting on a burgundy velvet banquet, sipping some bubbly, the room low-lit by crystal chandeliers and fragrant votives, and with floor to ceiling windows giving onto a perfect formal garden in the distance, it was a pinch-me moment. My companions gladly obliged.
Twinkle, Twinkle Eiffel Tower
Departing this grand hotel, my friends had a perfect nightcap idea to end the evening: a visit to La Tour Eiffel. We timed it just right. Moments after we arrived at this most iconic symbol of Paris, the Tower began to do its thing - The Great Eiffel Tower Light-Up! Back on New Year’s Eve 1999 to mark the new millennium, 20,000 light bulbs were added to the tower and illuminated. And because we all like things that sparkle, the tower continues to be lit up every night for 10 minutes. We watched as this grand structure came alive, twinkling and dancing before our eyes! The Eiffel Tower, symbolic and special, became something magical to behold. Ever since its appearance on the Parisian skyline in 1889, the Eiffel Tower has drawn both criticism and praise aplenty. Guy de Maupassant called it a giant and disgraceful skeleton while Paul Gaugin hailed it as a “triumph of iron.” I second old Paul’s sentiment. What a kick-off to my first day in Paris! Bonne Nuit.
Going In Seine
Another day I took a Bateaux Mouches cruise on the Seine at twilight when the sky was pale mauve turning to shell pink. The lights were coming up all over the city, and each monument was bathed in its own special glow. No matter how many times you take this lazy meander down the Seine, slipping silently under Paris’ 37 bridges, gazing up at the Notre Dame Cathedral and gawking at the stately, exclusive residences on the Ile St. Louis, it never fails to thrill.
Yes You Can Can
What is a trip to Paris without visiting the neighborhood of Montmartre and experiencing the touristy but oh so fun show at the Moulin Rouge? This world-famous nightclub opened its doors in 1889, and the show that I saw was not dissimilar from what I might see in Las Vegas with one delightful exception: this is, after all, the place where the French Cancan was born over a hundred years ago, and today the Cancan dance still ends each show. I can report that the, er, end is quite saucy and tres French. The 60 Doriss girls sure Can! Leaving Moulin Rouge and looking forward to some quiet and calm, I retired to my hotel, the innovative Hotel Jules (www.hoteljules.com), a touch of grace in an otherwise frenetic part of town. A homey, timeless ambience was what I was seeking. I found it here.
Field of Dreams
The Champs Elysees remains a symbolic gathering place, from July 14 Bastille Day celebrations to New Year’s Eve displays – not to mention the joy of sitting at one of its sidewalk cafes, aperitif in hand, simply people watching. I stayed around the corner from the Champs at the Hotel Marignan (www.hotelmarignan.fr), a peaceful haven in the heart of this bustling business and fashion center. This property has a cozy, intimate feel, with an added plus: Alain Ducasse’s Restaurant Spoon is on the hotel’s site, serving a light and inspired menu from all corners of the globe.
One of the coolest and most colorful neighborhoods is Montparnasse with its good-time feel which recalls the area’s artistic heyday of the 1920s and 30s. Bars, restaurants and cinemas abound and it was here on August 25, 1944 that the German forces surrendered Paris. My stay in this environ was made all the more pleasant by checking into Hotel Le Littre (www.hotellelittre.com). Consisting of just 90 guest rooms with views of either the charming rue Littre or their quiet courtyard, Le Littre is equipped with all the up-to-date features you’ll need to be totally comfortable.
All too soon, it was time to say Au Revoir. Translation: “Till we meet again.” I feel confident that’s gonna happen. After all, I’ll always have Paris!
If you’re planning to go, be in the know! The most complete Paris Guide: TimeOut Paris. (www.timeout.com). It helps you find all the best spots in Paris – restaurants, landmarks and places only the locals know about. It’s essential!
The Scoop On What The Stylish Are Splurging On Right Now
by Barbara Barton Sloane
This Fall, runways erupted in luxe layering, opulent textures and shiny, sculptural designs. A favorite of the social set, Raul Melgoza of Luca Luca is honing his point of view. “Feminine in look, strong in character” is how he has described his image and for Fall he’s stayed with an understated palette, charcoal and burgundy, with touches of jewel-tone teal from time to time. Melgoza offers up a refined collection with luxurious embellishments and – a first for the designer – fur. One wool-knit vest, shown as a belted dress was layered totally in fox. His collection’s emphasis though, was on suiting with the flat-front silk-wool pants that opened the show being one of the exciting options, worn with a shiny, granite-colored, hip hugging jacket and encircled with a black fur shawl collar. The designer downplayed the glitz and glitter allowing the opulent setting of the Plaza’s Palm Court to make up for that.
Rufus Wainwright was on one side of the aisle, Mischa Barton on the other, but once the lights went down at Miss Sixty’s show, all eyes were on the models stomping down the catwalk in one street-sweet getup after another. Skinny acid-washed jeans, patterned tights, graphic tops and shiny jumpsuits illuminated the looks. One sculptural, cheetah-patterned suit had perky, pointed shoulders, a wide, thrice-closed black cummerbund, the pants streamlined and worn inside short ankle boots.
Elie Tahari couldn’t help bringing a little fun to his creations, and so for Fall, even a sober tweed jacket and skinny black knit pants were finished off with an embellished obi belt for a hint of shine. Continuing the animal-print theme, Tahari showed a trim burgundy top and skirt encircled with a wide, patterned belt and topped with a short leopard print coat. You might be headed to the office, the look said, but that doesn’t mean you have to be glum.
At Ralph Lauren, the show opened with a little black dress but he soon moved into taupe-y tweed suiting, soft pastel knits and rich velvet dresses. Along the way he showcased his great-looking outerwear while referencing such treasured motifs as haberdashery, the equestrian world, and a spot of Anglophilia for good measure. Lauren made a point of showing plenty of cozy coats and jackets. One of the highlights, a toast colored, fitted jacket glammed up with sumptuous Mongolian lamb, was paired with Jodhpur pants tucked into sleek brown leather boots. The look fairly glowed and, for 15 minutes at least, Lauren had you believing that everything is going to be just fine.
Donna Karen may not have invented uniform dressing in the eighties but she went a very long way toward making the idea a sexy one. In these financially troubled times, she’s now brought the clever, potentially budget-saving concept back for Fall, resulting in one of her strongest looking collections in years. It starts with a jacket or draped jersey top with major sculptured shoulders and a wrapped or belted waist. It ends with either a long, lean skirt or tapered trousers. That powerful, triangular silhouette cruised down the runway in all sorts of arrangements, and a favorite was a coffee-colored, floppy shawl-collar jacket, tightly belted in brown leather, paired with an espresso-hued pencil skirt ending just at the knee. This look was ready to be pulled apart and reconfigured with any number of different pieces. Karen’s design has been battle-tested not only for sex appeal but also for ease. Now that’s a uniform we’d all like to slip into.
Since Phoebe Philo departed, which is a rather long time ago, Chloe has been struggling to get its mojo back. Hannah MacGibbon is now at the desk and after a rather rushed debut last season, she’s now showing signs of getting a grip. She has offered up for Fall a soft version of the early eighties, all high-waisted, fluid pants, wrapped belts and big blanket coats, a much-needed dose of the easy glamour Chloe was once known for. MacGibbon’s green velvet pants cuffed with crystal hit a nice casual note for the girls who have the confidence to walk into a party in flats (albeit very special ones). Sauntering down the runway was a model in a slouchy, soft, sand-colored jumpsuit, harem legs stuffed inside ankle boots, a self-belt tied at the waist and long sleeves worn unbuttoned. The designer was hitting a spot that evoked something of Saint Laurent and generally this show put Chloe back on firm footing, just like the old days.
From the first look out, a taupe suede trench coat worn with a big fur stole, it was evident that Derek Lam would be giving the ladies what they wanted. With superluxe versions of the sportswear that his girls know and love him for, Lam touched on more than a few of what has shaped up to be Fall’s key items, including skinny black leather trousers, an oversized tuxedo jacket, and draped, wrapped jersey dresses. Giving the long sweater and tights a super cool, modern twist, Lam scored with a dove gray knit, mock-turtle top and below, super tight pants in a slightly paler shade of the same color palette, polishing it off with the knees done up in shiny satin for a little sixties spin.
A full squadron of female flying aces took off at Hermes. Soundtracks from Casablanca and propellers turning in the background accompanied the models just in case some dullard in the house didn’t quickly get the meaning of the Amelia Earhart headgear and bomber jackets. An adorable gal in a russet leather suit, again fur-collared and belted, continued the flight theme, wearing an insouciant aviator cap topped with goggles. With this show, Jean Paul Gautier winged it with aplomb. It’s a season for leather, after all, and since Hermes is the ultimate venue for luxurious skins, the conceit gave full vent to the house expertise.
Overall, Fall 2009 has a somewhat forties mood floating around. Styling is at its furthest distance from seasonal trendiness. That’s especially the case in an era when even the very rich are hunkering down and extremely costly purchases should come with a lifetime guarantee of utility.