The WWI Meuse-Argonne American Cemetary in France. A remote and solitary monument to the human cost of war. Photographed by Clay Doyle in 2006.
In the late 1950s film jukeboxes were all the rage in France. These jukeboxes, called Scopitones, were supposedly made from surplus WWII airplane parts and played 16mm film reels. The Scopitones made it across the pond in 1964 and made their U.S. debut in the late lamented Ambassador Hotel.
This early French Scopitone from 1958 takes us to the Porte des Lilas Metro Station in 1958 and Serge Gainsbourg acts as the poinçonneur or ticket puncher.
It’s lots of fun and even shows the first and second class cars that are no longer in service. —Eric See
A truly wonderful way to experience the Loire Valley is to stay in one of the magnificent Chateaux. Fortunately, a number of these take overnight guests, and one of the best is the Chateau de La Verrerie. Located on the easternmost edge of the Loire near the small village of Aubigny-sur-Nere, it’s a gem. You drive deeper into the countryside until you reach a private road with a gatehouse. And there, at the end of a long road, sitting in splendid isolation at the edge of large lake, stands this ancient chateau.
The chateau is quite magnificent and the bedrooms rather grand. The rooms are large and elegant, but also quirky—seeming very much like bedrooms in a grand manor house rather than hotel rooms. Most of the second floor is given over to large high-ceilinged guestrooms with expansive views, while the main floor contains the historic rooms and art treasures. The owners live in a wing connecting the main house with the chapel. The chateau is mainly of a renaissance style, with some bits of leftover gothic—a grand gothic private chapel and fortified front wall with gate. There’s a large lake to one side, and the fortified wall on the lakeside collapsed some time ago and was not rebuilt—affording the courtyard a charming view. Your hosts are the Comte and Comtesse de Vogüé. You may see the count out strolling with his black Lab behind the family wing of the house. He might even host a pre-dinner cocktail.
While at the Chateau you can stroll the grounds, or borrow a bicycle, or even take a rowboat out on the lake. You can drive to Sancerre and sample the famous wines and spectacular views from this hilltop town. There are also charming villages quite nearby, or you can enjoy a game of Cluedo in the one of the comfortable lounges filled with books and board games (TV reception is non-existent and although wifi has been installed, it’s no match for the chateau’s thick stone walls.)
Dinner is at La Maison d’ Hélene, the little restaurant in a cottage on the chateau grounds. They serve quite good, seasonal, regional fare, and dinner gives one an opportunity for a look at the other guests of the chateau, where those with a flair for the imaginative may get the feeling of having been cast as minor characters in a gothic murder mystery!
Nighttime brings total darkness and silence to the Chateau. It is remote enough that there are no lights on the horizon and the stars are incredible–the brightest stars are dazzling and you can even see the bands of the milky way.
Morning brings croissants and homemade jam amid the antiques of the breakfast room while the resident black lab begs for scraps. You can also opt to take the guided tour of the Chateau’s main rooms and treasures.
We’ve stayed at the Chateau de La Verrerie several times over the past decade, and never failed to be enchanted each time.
Some things never change and other things change quite a bit!
We’ve found a cache of vintage slides at the Cayucos Antique & Collectibles Street Fair. We plan to bring you some scans of these vivid slides in the months to come.
To start here’s a picture of Notre Dame. Scaffolding: that’s something that belongs in the things never change category.
However, what are all those cute cars doing parked right in front? … and wow, the whole cathedral needs a good scrubbing! (Stay tuned for a “scrubbed up” version.)
Île de la Cité, Notre Dame de Paris, 1954.
Please click on the picture for a larger version.
I like finding places or stores that have vintage things that are either great fun to experience or realtively easy on the pocket book. A New York Times blog pointed me to a fantastic looking little bicycle shop in Paris that is run by “two childhood friends who decided to open a totally awesome vintage bike shop.”
I’d love to check out their store in the 18th arrondissement next time I’m in Paris and maybe “test drive all or any of our [Velo Vintage’s] old school bikes.”
Enjoy their colorful website with all the “charm retro des années 70/80”: www.velo-vintage.com/
Sometimes the whole concept is just wrong.
I snapped this picture at Bofinger, the classic French brasserie, on my last visit to Paris, where this brochure seemed starkly out of place.
Bofinger is more than a century old, with leather banquettes, polished brass, white linen, well-used silver, and a stunning stained-glass dome. The menu is limited and classic, the service precise, perfect and very accommodating. Part of the pleasure of Bofinger, and places like it, is the feeling that you have stepped back in time—into a romanticized, literary or cinematic Parisian fantasy.
All this is prelude to my dismay at finding this glossy, 4-color promotional brochure dominating our otherwise impeccably set table. This photo-adorned shiny brochure—so very aggressive, so very American, so expected at your local chain eatery—gave the impression of a very loud, uninvited guest.
I suppose the corporation that owns Bofinger (along with numerous other well-known Paris brasseries) would like you to know they have some special “value meals” as well as, apparently, a marketing arrangement with Guinness—but isn’t there a way to do it in a manner more in keeping with the Bofinger atmosphere, or I could even say, brand?
Of course there is: the decidedly old fashioned menus, when presented, contain a decidedly old fashioned card providing the same information as on the glossy brochure. Neither made me want to order a Guinness, but the card did not offend.
Lest you think I’m being over sensitive, the very correct waiters at Bofinger made no attempt to hide their contempt for these intruders on their “theater” of the table. They set each vacant table with the offending brochure and then—immediately upon seating the guests and handing out the menus—whisked them away, never to be seen again.
If only the waiters ran the company.
In the main room at Bofinger, Paris: it’s not Au Courant, it’s not trendy, it’s certainly not undiscovered, but I love it. As do many Parisians and visitors alike.
“It would be easier,” I remark, “To have lunch with Jacques Chirac.” We are standing outside the Pilier Sud, at the entrance to private elevator to Restaurant Jules Verne. Our way is blocked by a pleasant but stern young man, clad in all black, with a radio headset. It is a near impossibility to make a reservation at Jules Verne, the luxury restaurant on the second tier of the Tour Eiffel.
“Three months in advance” is their standard reply…and even then…I finally had a friend who works for the French Tourist Office in LA make the reservation…to her slight annoyance, as even for her it required multiple phone calls and faxes. It’s somewhat ridiculous…Le Grand Véfour, Le Cinq—great, three star restaurants—booked with a simple fax on our last trip to Paris. Anyway, even after going to such great lengths to extract a reservation, and a fax from the restaurant confirming such reservation, the Jules Verne insists that you reconfirm the reservation the day before. OK, slightly annoying, but not unheard of. Except that they never answer their telephone. Call, call, and call again, and all you get is a multi-lingual message telling you that all lines are busy and please try again in a few minutes. At the prices they charge, you’d think they could hire someone to answer the phones…or outsource it to a call center in India or something. Finally we sent them a fax. But, of course something has gone astray…our table has been canceled (and given to who I wonder, considering the difficulty of making a reservation and the impossibility of reaching them by phone. Have they a list of stand-ins at the ready?) Calls are made from the elevator desk to the restaurant upstairs; someone comes to confer with us…I wave my confirmation fax (bearing the imprint of the French Tourist Office) and Logan explains the multiple unanswered phone calls. Still the young man in black bars our entry to the private elevator lobby, snicker though he did at my comment about lunch with Jacques Chirac. Clearly this is a commonplace occurrence. Someone in authority explains that they had tried to call our hotel, unsuccessfully, that morning, and then—finally behaving in the manner one expects from such a restaurant—says, but of course we will take care of everything, please come up…
From that point on, all is pleasant. A sweet boy lifts us to the second étage in one of the tower’s uniquely slanted elevators; we can see the young and the vigorous clambering up and down the stairs as views of Paris flash in and out of sight between the steel girders. We are offered an aperitif in the bar, but already they have a table ready for us. It’s a small table…too small really for the theater of food the restaurant requires, but it is right at the window, on the best side of restaurant. All of Paris is below our table: Sacre-Coeur on its hill, the Place de la Concorde, the Arc de Triomphe, the roofs of the Madeleine and the Opera, the expanse of the Louvre, and, in the distance, the distinctive towers of Notre Dame and the brightly colored tubes of the Pompidou Center. Directly under us, on the platform below the restaurant, tourists admire the view. It is spectacular, as promised. Inside, the restaurant is all black and grey and leather—very eighties. It seems a bit, well, too eighties, though in mint condition. Logan admires the china, white with black geometric accents, eighties too, but handsome. I find the black stemmed wineglasses less successful. We have glasses of Veuve Cliquot vintage rose (€29 a glass!) Logan promptly knocks his over—25 euros spilling into my plate and lap—fortunately protected by my napkin. Fortunately our only mishap. Service is efficient, professional, but no better than most Paris restaurants. Food is fairly excellent. The à la carte menu is shockingly expensive—50 starters, €90 entrees, and up. But there is a very nice “businessman’s” lunch menu for 55 (the only thing not translated into English—Logan finds this very cunning). He and I have a starter of haddock prepared three ways: a soup that is almost entirely fish flavored air—really good; haddock tartare, and a little spinach and haddock tartlet. Abbie has a terrine of foie gras and oxtail—terrific. They have lamb for the main course—they proclaim it excellent. I have quail—deboned for the most part, and stuffed with foie gras. It is excellent. We drink two bottles of wine, a white and a Bordeaux, neither particularly expensive. Dessert is a sablé with strawberries, with custard and ice cream; and a lemon thing that Abbie had. Various little candies and cookies and truffles are brought to the table, of course. The wine waiter is cute. After lunch, we wander downstairs and out amid the milling crowds for the view of Paris from the open platform. Logan buys another cheap souvenir Tour Eiffel to add to his odd little collection. We make a waiter open the back door to the Jules Verne for us, so we can take the private elevator down. We are about the last lunch guests to leave the restaurant. The crowd was largely American; a few French people. What can I say? The view: extraordinary. The decor: fair. The service: good but not outstanding. The food: very good. The price: the prix fix lunch is a good value. Otherwise for the money, I’d go to Le Cinq, hands down.
Excerpted from Clay Doyle’s Journal, Anecdotes from a French Spring, 2005
Online booking, now available via their website may make getting a table easier…. Clay, 2009