I’m back in Bucharest and there are red tulips in every room of the house. They smell like spring. It wasn’t a very long journey, but I feel tired. I’m in the room facing the street, where I can hear the streetcars. I love the streetcars. My dad warned that they start up at 4:30 in the morning, but tangled up in my dreams, their sound is very sweet to me. The tulips on the credenza are so unbelievably beautiful and the whole room smells like them. I think I’ll sleep very well tonight.
My day started with coffee at the Plaza Athénée. It’s a special place for any serious Sex and the City fan, and one of my collectors actually got to spend her honeymoon there! How fabulous is that? Of course I had to go investigate, take pictures, stock up on inspiration, and paint.
After this lovely incursion into a world of glamour I had myself a little lunch at a nearby restaurant, then set out for the Fondation Louis Vuitton – a state of the art museum in the Bois de Boulogne, designed by Frank Gehry, housing an impressive modern art collection and currently hosting an exhibit of some of the most famous impressionist paintings. The building itself is spectacular, and the art was quite fabulous. Having spent so much time in New York, back in the good old days when the Met was free, I’ve seen a lot of great art in my life. But I’m pretty sure this was my first encounter with a real life Gerhard Richter piece, and it was so very amazing. I could see flakes of paint doing all these amazing texture things and it made me so very happy.
The evening held something special too: Dinner at Chez Françoise. Hidden in the old Air France building, this restaurant is known as a hangout of Members of Parliament. In fact, I deduced from the conversation he was having with the waiter, that the gentleman at the table next to me, with whom I was sharing a bench, and who, like me, ordered the mackerel, was an MP. The restaurant got crowded, with people I might have recognized had I been more familiar with the French Legislature, and the atmosphere was abuzz with energy. It was definitely an interesting place to be, and one I shall return to perhaps. Especially since the restaurant offers very reasonable prices for Paris – and especially for a locale with such a special atmosphere.
Today I got to cross this beautiful bridge several times. First, to go to the Musée de L’Orangerie to see Monet’s water lilies, which were so breathtakingly amazing I take back my statement about how he should have lived in Paris instead of Giverny. The man needed uninterrupted water lily access and his own sizable pond! Here’s a situation where inspiration is more important than parties, and I’m thankful to Claude Monet that he chose country life.
Later in the evening, after painting and resting and feasting on the most amazing strawberries in the comfort of my own room, I crossed Pont Alexandre again to go to the Champs Elysées on a secret mission. While there, I ended up checking out the outfits of the Chanel girls, then having quite a lovely little dinner in a restaurant with street view, where it was fun to hang out for a while and people watch.
All in all, it’s been a beautiful day, and a lot of its beauty resided in little details: the peach tissue with subtle glitter they wrapped my new dress in in my favorite store (Des Petits Hauts), the strawberries from Southern France I ate in my room this afternoon, even the umbrella I borrowed from my hotel, and the way the pavement shone after the rain. Everything here is so very beautiful.
There is no oatmeal at the Ritz, but their basket of freshly baked breakfast breads is pretty good. Among its offerings, I found this tiny round brioche that was perfectly heavenly. I wish they had two, and still regret not asking for more. Would that have been a faux pas? Luxury hotels always make me think of Liliana, one of the protagonists in my first novel, Dogs with Bagels. So, breakfasting alone in one of the world’s top hotels, what would Liliana do? I figured she’d hang out for a while and check the place out. It’s most important, for example, to go to the restroom. That’s where the swans are! Seriously, each bathroom stall contains a Villeroy & Boch porcelain sink with a faucet shaped like a golden swan. Now isn’t that something? The other magical thing about the Ritz is the scent. It smells so wonderful in there! Also, the gift shop is stocked with all kinds of goodies, and I found something perfectly magical that I needed to buy for someone special. By the afternoon, once I’d walked back to my hotel, through the beautiful Jardins des Tuileries, past the Louvre, and across the Seine, by the time I painted my daily watercolor, John, who’d been unable to join me for breakfast, was texting me about getting together. We decided to go have drinks at the Bar Hemingway, also at the Ritz – an adventure we’d anticipated with much enthusiasm. After all, a luxury breakfast is a lovely thing, but bars are where the stories are. Bar Hemingway is small and cozy, smaller than I’d imagined, which makes it feel even more exclusive. John had champagne. I had mini-burgers – one of the two snack options available. At some point I excused myself to go to the swan room. There I examined myself from all angles wrapped in my John Ross Palmer Landscapes scarf, and not wearing much else. When I returned, one of the older servers, dressed in an elegant white suit, stopped me at the entrance to Bar Hemingway.
“Who are you with?” he asked.
I said: “I’m with John Ross Palmer, the artist.”
“Oh, but you are an artist too,” he said.
I assented, and he told me I was perfect. I enjoyed that exchange a lot.
Sometimes I act like a total stalker, taking pictures of people in cafés and restaurants in order to paint them later. I loved this woman I spied enjoying some bread earlier today in Berlin. She looked perfectly happy.
Meanwhile, back in Paris, I happened by total chance upon a really special meal in a very fancy restaurant. I stumbled in sans reservation past 9:30 and asked if it was too late to dine. I’d no idea it was such a fine establishment, but it proved to be delightful, and luckily they had room for me. I only took pictures of my asparagus, and the lovely plate with tiny frogs it came on. The rest of the meal was delicious though not necessarily as photogenic. Also, don’t you like it when fine dining establishments serve real portions instead of teeny tiny ones?
Another sunny day in Berlin, though not as warm as yesterday. My ambition for the day was to see the Brandenburg Gate. As anticipated, my favorite part of it were the horses on top. I read yesterday that on New Year’s Eve in 1989, shortly after the fall of the wall, people climbed on top of these horses to celebrate. The guardians of the gate were not pleased – though I secretly think the horses themselves probably were happy to be included in the celebration. Never mind that they’re inanimate objects. It cheered me up tremendously to realize that my most important purpose here was to paint the horses on top of the Brandenburg gate and to speculate on what they might be feeling. Also to text pictures of them to John, and call them “horsies” because that’s a very cute word. I am definitely not a serious person.
Anyway, my favorite moment of this weekend in Berlin, as is the case many times while traveling, and in life in general, occurred unexpectedly due to a little mishap. My hotel’s restaurant was closed this evening, and so I had to find something else. This is how I happened upon Mädchenitaliener, a sweet little Italian restaurant a short walk from my hotel, in an area full of cinemas and cute little cafés that has a very special vibe. The restaurant was very small and very crowded but it felt magical enough for me to want to stay. I drank linden blossom tea, one of my favorite treats, and ate tagliatelle with fig sauce. They were good. But it wasn’t really about that. It was more about sitting in a charming place full of charming people. And also about walking home after dinner, feeling more connected to the city, and more inspired.
Today was very warm, and although my Wonder Woman shoes pinched me, I walked around a great deal. My goal was to see what’s left of the Berlin Wall – though even the briefest entry into a history museum reminded me that Berlin is about so much more than the Cold War, or even World War II. Still the Wall is something people generally have a strong reaction to, and being used to the ease and freedom of a Europe without borders, yet having some vague childhood recollections of life behind the Iron Curtain, I am no exception. The chunk of wall I got to see was small but very ugly. It clashed with the sunny afternoon, the cyclists, and dandelions, the overall feeling of ease of the city. What was more interesting was that I couldn’t quite figure out which side of the wall I was on. It was only much later, when I met an old friend for a walk and dinner, that he explained I’d spent the whole day in East Berlin and have apparently so far not ventured to the Western side of the city. That this would not be obvious, I think, is pretty natural. It’s been 30 years since the reunification of Berlin. It would be weird for the East not to feel contemporary and fresh by now. Despite the omnipresent nostalgia-infused memorabilia of times gone by (Who would have thought a shabby little car like the Trabant would become such an icon?) this place is not a time-warp. It’s alive and fun, and with spring here full blast, it has an almost Mediterranean feel to it which I love.
Waiting for the train to take me to the airport I was reminded of my solo show, The Platform. Note: I actually took the train, something I never do because I’m lazy and prefer the comfort of cabs. I feel like I should get an award!
My very short flight to Berlin got delayed, and so it feels a little like I traveled all day. But once I landed in Berlin and secured a taxi, I realized just wonderful an idea it was to come here. Everyone is so very sweet and they all speak German, and it’s so very lovely! I don’t want to hear arguments to the contrary. It’s a sad fact that those who don’t understand this language are not able to appreciate its beauty. To me it’s so familiar I didn’t even begin to gage the extent to which I’ve missed it until the nice cab driver started showing me landmarks and explaining we were driving through East Berlin, also that the hotel I was going to was brand new, and that spring is definitely here.
The receptionists at my hotel were just as sweet, though they were a bit surprised that the American checking in speaks perfect German (because it turns out I still do!). My room is new and very edgy, full of mirrors and interesting lights. I do, however, miss my teeny tiny room at Le Lapin Blanc in Paris. It was without a doubt my favorite hotel experience in Paris so far – and all my Paris hotel experiences have been great.
Today we took a train to Giverny to visit the home and gardens of Claude Monet. It was a beautiful day, sunny and not too cold. I really enjoyed the bus I took to the train station. It went along the Seine, past the Louvre, then past the Opera Garnier, to finally deposit me safely at Saint Lazare. The train ride was short, and once we got there it was pretty exciting to think we were in Normandy. I wanted to visit the old church and everything else, but of course we went straight to the gardens. There we found that while the water lilies were not blooming it was still interesting and exciting to watch the light, and the ripples on the pond. We also got to visit Monet’s home and studio. All in all, his gardens are a little corner of paradise but me being me, I still concluded that he could have had much better parties had he lived in Paris. Parties are important. And Paris is so very lovely. On the trip back, after sneaking in a solo trek to the old church, buying a pointy loaf of bread, and almost falling asleep on the train, I took the same bus from Saint Lazare and it was once again quite wonderful.