A Passion for Paris

With his new book  “A Passion for Paris” David Downie looks at how Paris got the reputation of being the world’s number one romantic city. The author informs the reader straight away that it will be a personal journey “I wonder if I knew on that first April morning that this would be it” says Downie. “I was stuck and could not leave, indeed would spend decades prowling the streets seeking Félix Nadar’s gallery of images… Did I realize I would lose myself in libraries, house museums and administrative offices…attempting to penetrate the secrets of what might well be the world’s most enigmatic, compelling, paradoxical, maddening yet seductive city?” “I must have had some inkling the first time I climbed the seven stories to my maid’s room…” Continue reading “A Passion for Paris”

The Glow of Paris

With stunning black and white photos in the Ansel Adams tradition and stories about Paris’ legendary bridges, “The Glow of Paris, The Bridges of Paris at Night” is a real Paris book gem.  Shooting in the venerable film tradition Gary Zuercher’s considerable camera skills bring to life the city’s storied bridges and their sculptural elements such as those by Dalou found on the Pont Alexandre III.  “I thought this would be a one-year project” says Zuercher. “In fact, it took more than five years to complete. And in reality it may never end because there is always another inspiring view to be found and photographed.”

Almost all the photos in the book were shot during the winter months, primarily because Paris isn’t fully dark in the summer until around 11pm. In the winter dark arrives early. As with mid-nineteenth-century photography in which the exposure time is by necessity long, Zuercher’s night pictures become hauntingly people-less placing them outside of time. Says Zuercher  “Winter is an enchanting time to be alone, along the Seine. It is a time of serenity and emotion. It has been a moving experience to spend cold winter nights communicating with the river and the bridges.”

Many times —as with his photograph of the Pont Royal— the surfaces of sky and water play important roles. Here the bridge, the Musée d’Orsay, and the Eiffel Tower are sandwiched between a cloud-ridden sky and an icy river on which the lights of the three structures reverberate, producing opposing textures that evoke turmoil on the one hand and calm on the other

“The bridges are certainly alluring during the daytime,” says Zuercher. ” but at night they become majestic. They transform, with a luminescence that cannot be seen in the light of day. They glow.”

Paris Années Folles

The “Roaring Twenties” known in France as “Les Années Folles” was a golden period (1919-1929) with unprecedented economic prosperity, technological progress (automobiles, telephones, motion pictures, electricity) and creativity.  Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound had established themselves in Paris where they rubbed shoulders with Montparnasses’ high flyers. Picasso, Modigliani, Soutine, Brancusi and Chagall all frequented the same cafes.

Paris was on a roll as one of the major entertainment capitals of the world with its jazz music, charleston dances and performers such as the legendary Josephine Baker, Kiki and Mistinquett. Baker shot to fame in Paris in 1925 at the Theatre de Champs-Elysees in “La Revue Negre” including “La Danse Sauvage” in which she thrilled Parisians by performing topless to music by Sidney Bechet.

A new book of photos “Paris Années Folles” published by Parigramme captures the magic of these years with 100 black and white photographs. It includes some classic iconic photos —Lartigue, Kertész, Branger, Boyer, Savitry, Atget, Harlingue—and many  pictures taken by anonymous photo journalists who were busy documenting what Hemingway called  “a moveable feast.”

Paris Années Folles, 100 Photos de Legende. Bilingual. Parigramme, 9E90.

On Becoming French

A “tres fun” book “90+ Ways You Know You’re Becoming French” delightfully captures some of the quirky things that make the French… French. People who have lived here awhile will get a chuckle recognizing themselves and how living in France has changed them.

This cute little book that fits in the palm of your hand was inspired by an article “20 Ways You Know You’re Becoming French” that originally appeared in FUSAC Magazine. The article was a big hit and inspired the author Shari Leslie Segal to make it into a book teaming up with publisher Lisa Vanden Bos and illustrator Judit Halász.

After you are here awhile says Segal you find yourself saying such things as: “I’m going to close the light,” “I have to get down from the bus at the next stop,” “I am here since three years” And then there are things like “no longer ordering coffee with the main course (as opposed to with – or after – dessert) and  “knowing what a “preservative” is truly used for…” Segal says “We had a lot of fun making this little book. It’s a great idea for a gift for your “French” friends.”

Segal and Vanden Bos will be at the AAWE Holiday Bazaar Nov 22nd signing copies at the American Church in Paris, 65 quai d’Orsay, 75007 Paris.

The Hotel on Place Vendome

The subtitle “Life, Death and Betrayal at the Hotel Ritz in Paris” sets the tone for Tilar Mazzeo’s new book, “The Hôtel on Place Vendôme.” Written in a breezy, gossipy style this book is a fun read. Her previous books include “The Widow Clicquot” and “The Secret of Chanel No. 5.” Set against the backdrop of the Nazi occupation of World War II, the book is the captivating history of Paris’s world-famous Hôtel Ritz—a tale of glamour, opulence, and celebrity; dangerous liaisons, espionage and resistance

When France fell to the Germans in June 1940, the legendary Hôtel Ritz on the Place Vendôme—an icon of Paris frequented by film stars and celebrity writers, American heiresses and risqué flappers, playboys, and princes—was the only luxury hotel of its kind allowed in the occupied city by order of Adolf Hitler.

Tilar J. Mazzeo traces the history of this cultural landmark from its opening in fin de siècle Paris.  “The Hotel on Place Vendôme” is an extraordinary chronicle of life at the Ritz during wartime, when the Hôtel was simultaneously headquarters to the highest-ranking German officers, such as Reichsmarshal Hermann Göring, and home to exclusive patrons, including Coco Chanel. Mazzeo takes us into the grand palace’s suites, bars, dining rooms, and wine cellars, revealing a hotbed of illicit affairs and deadly intrigue, as well as stunning acts of defiance and treachery.

David Poe’s French Kisses

A new book of short stories “French Kisses” by David Poe draws on his thirty years living the expatriate life in France. His well crafted stories have the taste of a mature wine. He is clearly someone who knows the culture here and is a man who knows what you get living a life abroad… and also what one gives up with such a life.

Twelve stories depicting Americans in France, a broad array of characters and situations —a boozy basketball player colliding with bigotry; a vet at Omaha Beach confronting a memory; a boy sent abroad while his parents divorce; a jealous sister coveting one last heirloom; a killer seeking peace at Lake Geneva; a pharmacist shielding his suspect wife… All seek the enchantment, refuge or even forgiveness France might offer. But they can’t quite discard the baggage they carry. It is weaving stories around this conflict where Poe is at his strongest while providing us tales from the heart.


Paris Terrasses, Outdoor Dining in Paris

One of the summer pleasures of Paris is having a drink at an outdoor cafe terrace. “Paris Terrasses, Outdoor Dining in Paris” published just in time for the season is a new 2014 updated bilingual guide to Paris’ outdoor dining gems ranging from terraces on rooftops such as “Les Ombres” decorated by the archtect Jean Nouvel at the Musee Branly with its stunning view of the Eiffel Tower to more intimate settings such as the inner terrace at the Entrepot, a multicultural venue with live music, theater and home of Paris’ legendary art movie house.

The Entrepot’s terrace with only forty tables is not especial big, but it benefits from the shade of the plane trees lining an old alley which once lead to a presbytery. In the evening the atmosphere is magical, when the mysterious cone-shaped sculptures illuminate the garden.

Author Simon Roger (Le Monde journalist) and photographer Sylvain Ageorges include in this edition one of my favorites, Le Bal Café, which is part chic cafe, part photography exhibition space and part photo bookstore. Sitting on their terrace thumbing a photo book is a true Paris pleasure.

Le Bal’s Sunday brunch gets top reviews. Says café manager Anselme Blayney “Our brunch is a real breakfast and lunch, with sausages, scones, bacon and eggs Welsh rarebit or banana bread.” The people who frequent the place are a delightful mix of photo aficionados and Parisian hipsters recalling Le Bal’s colorful past. In the Roaring Twenties the building housed a dance hall, Chez Isis.

“Paris Terrasses, Outdoor Dinning in Paris;” (2014) Simon Roger and Sylvain Ageorges, Parigramme. Price:14 Euros.

The Lighter Side of Paris

I once asked the French photographer Boubat if he was a romantic. He responded saying no “I’m a humanist. I’m interested in photographing people. There’s enough bad to be seen in the world.  I like to photograph and show what is good.”

French Humanist Photographers were among the best at portraying poetic moments and showing what was good about life after WWII.  Now a new book “The Lighter Side of Paris” (Paris qui rit!) brings together such photographers as Boubat, Doisneau and Kertesz, who not only captured the poetry of daily life but the funny moments too. This book features a collection of humorous pictures of Paris that bring a smile. The photographs include work by such stars as Henri Cartier Bresson and less known pictures by a very funny René Maltete as well as many remarkable anonymous photographers. Although most of the photos date from the post WWII period, several were taken in the 20’s and 30’s with a few capturing drole moments in the Belle Epoque.

French Humanist Photography was popular from the mid 40’s to the early 60’s.  Sometimes called poetic realism this photography celebrated the extraordinary in ordinary lives. One of the most famous pictures from this time was Doisneau’s “Kiss by the Hotel de Ville” (1950). The humanist movement was known in the U.S with the  “Family of Man” exhibition and subsequent book (1955).

This charming bilingual book published by Parigramme would make a great gift (and at 9.90 Euros pas cher) for lovers of 40s-50’s black and white Paris.

How We Didn’t Buy a House in Besançon

Jon Lewis’ charming book “How We Didn’t Buy a House in Besancon” tells the tale of challenges encountered when buying property in France. Required reading for anyone contemplating retiring here. Finally succeeding at finding his dream home, he and his wife Josée now live in the South of France, eight hours drive from Rome and quite a long way, as it turned out, from Besançon. Following is an excerpt from his book where he provides practical information for buying a house in France:

Buying Property in France
The buyer and the seller sign a document called Le Compromis de Vente (loosely, sales Contract). This defines the property, the price and the conditions suspensives (see below, Point 2). It also sets the date for the Acte Définitive, the completion document. It can be drawn up by a Notaire, but is normally drawn up by the Estate Agent if there is one involved. In this case the Compromis also provides for his considerable Agency fee. The seller declares that the house is his to sell, has been built and if appropriate modified in line with a regular building permit, will be sold free of any mortgage encumbrance, has no tenancy agreement unexpired, and that there are no undeclared servitudes (rights of way) over the property. In the case of any form of copropriété (co-ownership) or multipropriété (multi-ownership) arrangement, the appropriate monthly costs are declared.

Such declarations form part of the conditions suspensives (if any of them turn out to be false, the purchaser can withdraw). Other conditions suspensives are that, after a technical survey, no traces will be found of asbestos, lead or termites. (The French authorities are mightily obsessed with these issues). The purchaser may add any other conditions suspensives that the seller is prepared to accept.

The Compromis de Vente is a binding document. As long as all the conditions suspensives are met, the deal must go through. Even if the purchaser dies in the meantime, his héritiers are obliged to complete the purchase (although this can be insured against). The only case in which the purchaser can withdraw (other than in the point below) is if he does not get the financing for the project. In this case even the Agent loses his commission. The intention of the purchaser to seek financing for the project must be mentioned in the Compromis.

There is however the provision of the “Loi Carrez” whereby the purchaser can withdraw within seven days of receiving his copy of the Compromis by registered post. If the purchaser is a married couple, two identical copies of the Compromis will be sent in separate registered packages. The seller does not have this seven day withdrawal facility.

At this point the purchaser makes a down payment of 5-10% of the agreed purchase price, which is held by the Notaire (or Estate Agent) until the deal is completed.

The file is then passed to the Notaire to make all the necessary searches and collect the documents required for inclusion in the final contract, the Acte Définitive. The Notaire with this responsibility is nominated by the seller; the purchaser can nominate another Notaire to interact with the seller’s Notaire, but there isn’t a lot of point in this.

Between the Compromis and the Acte Définitive the Notaire must trace and document the past ownership of the land on which the property stands, and check that it has been regularly passed to the present owner. This is done through the Service Cadastrale, the Land Ownership Office (a department of the Mairie), which also provides an exact definition of the cadastral reference numbers of the property, together with certified plans and maps for inclusion in the final contract. The Notaire must also check that the house has been built in accordance with the building permit, and get a certificate of conformity to attest to this from the Mairie. He must check and document any rights of way. He must collect from the seller the famous technical reports confirming the absence of asbestos, lead and termites. He must also make enquiries of the Town Planning Office (Service d’Urbanisme, another department of the Mairie) to ensure that the property is not subject to Droits de Préemption, forced purchase by the state or the commune, to confirm that it is not (or is) a classified site within a protected area, to check whether it is in an earthquake area, on a flood plain, or on land subject to subsidence, and to make sure that, for example, a Motorway is not to be built across it nor an underground car-park beneath it.

Before the date agreed for the signing of the Acte Définitive the purchaser transfers to the Notaire the balance (90-95%) of the purchase price agreed, plus the so-called Frais de Notaire or Notaire’s expenses, amounting to around 5% of the purchase price. Little of these actually go to the Notaire, the majority being registration taxes applied by the département and commune.

If requested, the Notaire will make available to the purchaser and seller a draft copy of the Acte Définitive to read through before final signature.

The Acte Définitive is presented by the Notaire at his office on the date already foreseen in the Compromis de Vente. The formal part of the document (who, what, when, where) has already been largely covered in the Compromis de Vente and is reproduced in the Acte Définitive; the Compromis itself remains an Appendix to the Acte Définitive. The Acte is formally read out by the Notaire (who has previously offered the presence of an official translator if required), and is then signed by both parties (and individually by husband and wife in the case of married couples), with each page – there are likely to be about 50 – initialled by everybody. The keys are handed over and deep breaths are taken, particularly by the Estate Agent whose commission is now assured.