travel

La Vie Est Belle…Paris in Instagrams

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It’s been 15 years almost to the day since I was last in Paris, undoubtably my favorite city in the world. I can’t say if it is the beauty of the Haussmann designed neighborhoods, the variety of world-class and intimate museums, the incredible shopping, in particular the antiques, or simply the butter and the croissants. It just doesn’t matter. Even when gray and rainy, life is beautiful in Paris. While my husband had long been in agreement with me, my girls had only fantasized about Paris and I was looking forward to sharing it with them. I wanted to be sure to do Paris right, because it can be done wrong – endless lines, endless tramping through museums coupled with bad cafe food. The key to doing Paris well with kids (and by default other cities too) is to break things down into small pieces, small tastes and acknowledge that only what is directly interesting in that moment needs to be experienced. Find the sublime, because it is out there.

Obviously museums are the baguette and butter of a trip to Paris. Some of the greatest hits should not be missed including Monet’s masterpiece Les Nymphéas at Musee de l’Orangerie, Winged Victory at the Louvre, and for my girls, Degas’ Blue Dancers at the Musée d’Orsay. But we arrived at l’Orangerie at opening to view the space empty and only went to the Louvre during the relatively uncrowded evening hours – it is open until 9:45 Wednesday and Friday – which made all the difference. Beyond the biggies are some magical places – the Musée Rodin Museum, Le Petit Palais, The Musée Jacquemart-André to name a few – but those are the ones that appeal to me. There are endless choices, but but be sure to pick only a few.

orangerie louvre dorsay museums

Ironically enough, at the moment I was uploading what I though was a very funny selfie of us crammed in at the Mona Lisa (with the actually much more interesting The Wedding Feast at Cana directly behind us), The New York Times was publishing its own version of the photo as a companion to their article “The Art of Slowing Down in a Museum” which makes a strong case for doing just what we did.

view at the louvre nytimes

My small but very exciting moment was seeing Jaques-Louis David’s unfinished portrait of Madame Récamier (although I was probably supposed to be looking at the gargantuan The Coronation of Napoleon in Notre Dame across the room). You all know I am a sucker for a daybed of any type, but I’ve never been lucky enough to have one named for me. And in one of those moments of synchronicity that could only happen at the Louvre (or perhaps the Met), we stumbled across her actual chaise made by Jacob Frères.

Madame_Récamier_by_Jacques-Louis_David and her recamier by Jacob Freres in the Louvre

As the ballet obsession continues unabated in our house, a trip to the Palais Garnier was called for. Alas, there were no performances to be had during our visit, but the tour of the opulent and over the top Beaux-Arts theater did not disappoint. To make the space more digestible we focussed on the ornate ceilings.

opera palais garnier ceilings

Autumn had not quite yet come to Paris, but after a couple of months in the desert we were bewitched by the green and eager to be outside. We did a bike tour, a boat ride and played HintHunt, which has nothing at all to do with Paris, but trust me, if you are traveling with bigger kids its is one of the most enjoyable hours they will have.

tuilleries green

We had numerous memorable meals and one particularly magical night at Chez Julien just over the Ile St. Louis bridge on the right bank. My husband and I had eaten there 20 years ago and never forgot the prettiest Belle Époque interior. There happened to be a small wedding party – just 4 people – there that night and the candlelight and mirrors combined with her dress and headpiece made us feel as if we were in a Degas painting.

chez julien and degas

Where’s the shopping, you may be asking yourself? I did, of course, mention antiques. But that needs a Paris puces post of it own, later this week.

On another note, I forgot to announce the winner of Frederick Harris’s book Ukiyo-e: The Art of the Japanese Print, although I did notify the winners in Singapore and Israel. One of the most enjoyable things about the giveaway was seeing the truly global span of my readership. 

Holidays in the Holy Land…Israel and Jordan in Instagrams

Dome of the Rock Wailing Western Wall

This year we took the dream trip of a lifetime – visiting Israel and Jordan at the holidays. We gazed out at the sites sacred to three of the world’s great religions, from the golden Dome of the Rock, Islam’s third most holy site which happens to directly abut the Western Wall, all that remains of the destroyed Jewish Second Temple. On Christmas Eve we walked the Via Dolorosa to arrive at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just as the priests began their procession to the spot upon which it is believed (by the Catholics at least) that Jesus was crucified.

Church of the holy sepulcher

The Old City of Jerusalem was truly magical, both weighted by its incredible history and bustling and real with residents at the same time. The tightly knit Armenian Quarter yielded up a few treasures, like this massive crystal chandelier spied up a hidden staircase.

Armenian chandelier

Chandeliers were a highlight of this trip – maybe they always are for me and I just hadn’t realized pre-Instagram? Spied this massive Dale Chihuly, a sister to the one I saw at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London this summer, at the Aish HaTorah Center in the Jewish Quarter. From their rooftop I took the “money shot” photo that starts the post. The view was incredible.

Dale chihuly chandelier

In the Arab Quarter we saw this amazing graffiti on the walls around a residential door. It’s a celebration and advertisement that someone in the home had done the Hajj, meaning they had made their pilgrimage to Mecca. Before moving to Doha, I would not have known was it was, but now I do, as here people put out flags and decorations for the same reason.

Hajj return grafitti

We went to Bethlehem for the graffiti as well. Our friends that we travelled with have been following the career of graffiti artist Banksy who has numerous pieces up along the walls in Bethlehem, including this one called Armored Vest Peace Dove.

Banksy armored vest peace dove

But the real reason for going to Bethlehem was obviously the Church of the Nativity, although honestly it was so crowded I found it nowhere near as interesting as the Holy Sepulchre, except of course for the chandeliers…

Church of the holy nativity

… and not to get ahead of myself, but I must mention the amazing lavender Murano glass chandelier I found in the flea markets of Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv. But more about that in my next post.

lavender murano chandelier

We caught the Herod’s Tomb exhibition at the Israel Museum along with the Dead Sea Scrolls and a few other “old” things. Personally I was obsessed with his bathroom!

Herod's bathtub

Tiles and mosaics always grab me and this trip was no different. There were Roman and Byzantine bits to be found all over, some out in the open, protected only by sand. My girls loved playing archaeologist and sweeping to make discoveries. We also worked on a real dig one day and found pottery shards, bones and other detritus of the ancient Edomites.

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The old crusader fortress and UNESCO World Heritage City of Akko (Acre) was fascinating. It is one of the oldest continually occupied cities in the region and felt as impregnable as it looked. Napoleon lay siege to it for two unsuccessful months as did many other potential conquerors. It truly felt like we stepped back in history.

Akko

My favorite takeaway from Akko was these hexagon tiles in the old Turkish Hammam. I’d like to order some for a kitchen backsplash, wouldn’t you?

Tiles in Turkish bath hammam

We hiked up Masada on New Years Day after an extremely tame Eve.

Masada

Our outdoor activities continued into Jordan where we slept (froze!) in a bedouin camp one night in Wadi Rum. My camera wasn’t good enough to photograph the incredible stars and confetti of the Milky Way, but let me tell you I have never seen the likes of it. We awoke in the morning to a red desert and scenery that seemed as if it had been painted by Hollywood. We hiked, we climbed, our guide cooked us lunch from scratch over an open flame and basically we had the entire place to ourselves.

Wadi Rum

From Wadi Rum we went on to the pièce de résistance of the trip – Petra! We had lowered our expectations, thinking to find it crowded and full of hawkers and simply unable to live up to the spectacular emptiness of the previous day. Instead, it was full of surprises and majesty.

Treasury peek at Petra

Coming out from the narrow canyons to the sight of the Treasury was every bit as exciting as we had hoped.

Treasury at Petra

Even more amazing was the huge Monastery, reached after a long hike. The scale and the location left us speechless – be sure to notice how tiny the two people are in comparison to the structure. These two buildings are the highlights of Petra but everywhere you turned there was something to see.

The Monastery at Petra

We had passed all opportunities to take donkeys or horse carriages preferring to walk the whole way. But the youngest amongst us was determined to at least get a camel ride in. It was a pleasure to grant that wish.

Miss P on a camel

Of course the most pressing thing on my mind was where to buy one of those gorgeous camel blankets, but unfortunately, I couldn’t get that answer. Oh well, an excuse to go back!

For more photos from our trip and to keep up with my day to day finds, check out my Instagram feed. And from my family to yours, we wish you all health and happiness in 2014!

Ancient Patterns and Pathways…Rome in Instagrams

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We have just come back from a glorious family holiday week in Rome, which explains my lack of posts. Obviously as first time Rome visitors we hit all the biggies from the Coliseum to the Vatican to a day trip in Pompeii. We never use tour guides as a general rule (the thought of being in one of those large groups of sheep being led about with headphones on makes me shudder), but we made an exception this time and booked in-depth walks with Context Travel. Context is an amazing network of scholars and specialists in archaeology, art history, food etc. that lead small group tours with specific agendas. We were able to customize for our family of four – catacombs and bones were what the girls wanted, my husband likes lots of history and the technical bricks and mortar of it all while I wanted an elucidated vision of the past 2000 years laid out for me. It allowed us to go deep without tremendous work on our part (I’m still unpacking here so no time for trip planning) and we loved it. They do walks in almost every European city, big US cities and have launched Asia fairly recently as well. I think they could use a shrine sale shopping tour for visitors, don’t you?

One of the things that struck me most about Rome is the way in which we interpret the iconic grandeur of it all – squeezed in amongst everyday life. And while it is all ruins now, it was squeezed in the same way back in the ancient days – even more so – with buildings like the coliseum just being workaday structures.

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We stayed in the heart of old Rome, just around the corner from the Pantheon, which had always seemed like an almost magical building to me. More recently I’ve been obsessed with seeing the Pantheon from reading Ben Pentreath‘s amazing post on it – be sure to click over and savor his spectacular photos and writing which really do justice to it. The only photo lacking from his post was the Pantheon at night, so here it is in the moonlight.

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At the Vatican Museum I know I was supposed to be looking at the big picture but you’ll have to forgive me as it was the details that captured my attention. None of the scenes in the tapestries interested me, but the borders…

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and the flowers around the margins had me entranced.

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The floors were riveting too. I am truly tempted to try to recreate this mosaic – basket weave bordered by ribbon guilloche pattern – in a modern-day project.

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It was the same at Pompeii. I was just fascinated by the details – chariot ruts in the old Roman roads, small images in the frescoes. I think the flower in this ancient fresco may very well be the same one as in the Vatican tapestry, just thousands of years older. I wonder what local bloom it is meant to be? But honestly, I just want someone out there to turn this one into a fabric design – wouldn’t it be gorgeous?

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The well-preserved mosaic floors at Pompeii and Domus Romane at Palazzo Valentini (another must do recommendation!) were my favorite things of all. Dating to the 1st century AD or older in Pompeii, they believe many of these amazing mosaics were the work of Greek artists. Greek key and wave border are utterly timeless – it just doesn’t get better than that.

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One of the absolute highlights of our trip was bicycling out on the Appia Antica, the ancient consular road that has been turned into a public park. It is lined with tombs and catacombs (more graves and bones for the girls – who knew they would be so into the gruesome?) and has whole sections of preserved original Roman road (which makes for bumpy cycling). The day was glorious, nobody else was there and as we rode along I could imagine that we had been transported back in time.

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Our picnic spot was just outside the tomb of Cecilia Metella, built for the daughter of a wealthy Roman patrician. We  lunched on arancini and suppli, rice balls stuffed with mozzarella cheese – basically the Italian version of onigiri – that were by far our favorite foodstuff in Rome. We ate them whenever we could and the girls have insisted I learn how to make them.

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The tombs signified the power and importance of different families to visitors entering the city along the road. Many are in ruins now, but these gentlemen were resting in peace.

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And this being Rome, I need to get back to the most important part of the trip – the food! While we picnicked on our rice balls earlier in the day, the return ride left us peckish. We pulled over at a small grocery and just told the proprietor we were hungry. He even made a special kid friendly plate for the girls.  Mangia!

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Oh and the pizza – all the different kinds of pizza. Pizza bianco that was more like a delicious thin focaccia, the divine traditional pizza and calzone we ate in Naples after Pompeii, all of it. We just pointed at what we wanted and used our hands to show how much. Then they cut it and weighed it and we inhaled it.

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We wandered the Prati – a real Roman neighborhood with some of the best food shops in town – with a knowledgeable chef, tasting and trying everything. The colors and shapes of the vegetables in the market were inspiring!

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There was unfortunately very little time for shopping. The old city in Naples was full of gorgeous large case pieces from the 19th century at excellent prices but no way to get them home. Rome had fancier antiquarians along the Via dei Coronari and we walked by them every day, not for the antiques, but for the best gelato to be had anywhere in the world at Gelateria del Teatro. No photos – I was too busy eating – but imagine flavors like Lavender and White Peach or Ricotta, Almond and Fig. The girls had at least 5 different chocolates to choose from and we went every day.

I did squeeze in a little shopping time. There were two branches of Il Papiro near the Pantheon (and they can also be found in NYC and Palm Beach) and I went searching for marbelized paper for making lampshades. I didn’t find what I needed…

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…but I ended up taking some things home anyway. If you want to know more about how these papers were made, take a look at this fabulous post on BibliOdyssey. And ironically enough, “The history of marbling is fairly obscure. It is thought that the decoration first appeared in Japan by at least the early 12th century, from a process known (still) as Suminagashi (‘sumi’means ink and ‘nagashi’ means floating, thus ‘a pattern formed by floating ink’).”

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We came back exhausted but replete. And upon my return to Doha, look what I found at the supermarket. Not quite as gorgeous, but nonetheless, the Romanesco broccoli!

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One of the things I continue to love about Instagram is the way in which the filters visually allow you to add feeling and emotions to ordinary photographs, especially true when taking travel photos. Don’t you agree?

Arrivederci bella Roma!

Shrine Sale Stories…Yamamoto’s Steamer Trunk

First there was Yamamura’s suitcase, now there is Yamamoto’s trunk. With its bottle green leather exterior, fine strap work, brass fittings and nailhead detail, it is a handsome example of that species better known as a steamer trunk.

My estimate on date as I bought it was 1920s or 1930s based on its style and materials. Thanks to reader Mary Doveton, who had helped me decipher the hotel labels on Yamamura’s suitcase, we seem to be confirming that date. A quick search of the names on the label – Tajimaya 但馬屋 (Tajima which is the family name and ya which means shop) and Hiroshima 広島 – yields a shop of that name specialising in luggage and bags that has been around since 1919. Keijo was the name for Seoul when it was under Japanese occupation from 1910-1945, so it seems as if they had a branch there as well and that further confirms the time period. I have actually written to Tajimaya and attached photos of the trunk, so we will see if we get a reply!

The roots of modern trunks lie in the ancient forms of Asian travel boxes which had iron handles on either end in which to thread a carrying pole, in contrast to Europe and America, where chests were made for storage and kept in the house, such as a trousseau or hope chest a bride would take with her to marriage. It was only later, in the romantic age of travel and with the success of a young Frenchman named Louis Vuitton (and all his copycats even then) in the second half of the 19th century that trunks took on such a Western form and association.

While I have only recently discovered Yamamoto’s trunk at the Kawagoe shrine sale, I had already saved some screen shots of the huge curated sale of vintage and antique steamer trunks on One Kings Lane in November. The pictures are fascinating in their variety of shape, color, material and price.

Obviously few people travel with trunks anymore these days, but they have taken on a popular new life as coffee tables. Their boxy shape fits with different decor, the simple flat top is easy to style and perhaps, best of all, they offer spare storage space.

Scott Currie creates a gorgeously elegant room with a fantastic nailhead edged ship captains chest. Make sure to look at that coral aquarium atop the Dorothy Draper style chest (it is a beach house after all) and the bottle lamp in the corner.

In contrast to the vibrantly colored beach house above is Victoria Hagan‘s study in white, again punctuated by a fantastic trunk rimmed in nailheads.

And another similar one in this wood-paneled library, also by Victoria Hagan.

The combination of trunk, clock, industrial lamp, along with the needlepoint pillow (more on those soon) and Union Jack on the velvet Chesterfield strikes a perfect eclectic mix. I love how casual but interesting this room is.

On the other hand, a vintage trunk can soften even the most formal of rooms.

If you know me and my obsessions, I am sure you’ll realize that I am as captivated by those glass bottles atop the secretary as the creamy trunk.

There were numerous metal clad chests in the OKL photos above. Here Emily Henderson from Secrets of a Stylist uses a similar one in this light filled LA living room.

She also uses another trunk, this time in rich aged leather, to anchor the den in the same house.

For the most part I have avoided the whole luxury trunk market (i.e. Louis Vuitton) in this post as there are lots of images out there on other blogs and websites, but I couldn’t resist this one doing double duty as storage in the small NYC studio apartment of Nausheen Shah as this 1890s LV trunk has labels from Japan and Singapore. If you do want to see more images with Louis Vuitton trunks, take a look at my Vintage Luggage board on Pinterest.

In terms of trends, you can’t imagine how many of the images featuring trunks are laid across zebra or other animal hide rugs like the ones above. I think the trunks bring up romantic images of 19th century travel to far-flung exotic places, so I get the combination, but I actually prefer the perfect global mix below. That canopy is amazing!

Coincidentally, in terms of Japanese influence on the world, did you know that the Louis Vuitton monogram was a Victorian invention derived from the Japanese motifs so popular in Europe at that time? Think about it – kamon anyone?

I hope you enjoyed this week of shrine sale stories, featuring something high-end (the French bar cart), something low-brow (the laundry hangers) and now something in between!

Related Posts:
If Only This Suitcase Could Talk
Research From a Reader…More On Yamamura-San’s Suitcase
Yamamura Really Got Around…More Details on His Suitcase Travels

Image credits; 1-2. me, 3-5. screenshots via One Kings Lane, 6. via The Meadows Antiques and Interiors, 7. Elle Decor July 2009, photo credit: Roger Davies, 8. House Beautiful June 1999, photo credit: William Waldron, 9. via Victoria Hagan, 10. via style-edition.com, 11. House Beautiful June 2002, photo credit: Carlos Emilio, 12. Country Living October 2010, 13-14. via HGTV, 15. via A Shah’s Life, 16. House Beautiful October 1993, photo credit: Richard Felber, 17. via louisvuittonaddicted.com.

Tokyo Jinja

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