Farewell, summer.

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Something has changed. You don’t get a sunburn when you sip your lemonade in the garden at noon without any sunscreen, you don’t even get a tan any longer, the ice cubes in your lemonade aren’t killed by the sun either, and later in the day, at dinner, when you can rarely see what’s on your plate, it’s not your eyesight that has gone, it’s the sunlight, vanished, at half past eight, of course nobody thought of candles, who thinks of candles in summer (apart from Diptyque’s scented Figuier candles to make up for the missing fig trees in your garden that smell so much like summer in the Mediterranean), so you manage without, facing the fact that summer is gone, autumn is ante portas, you can’t ignore it any longer, you have had proof, the garden’s been full of spider webs, for days (or weeks?), the roses are moribund, their petals have turned from shocking pink to some sort of beige, from Schiaparelli to Chanel so to speak, the hydrangeas have changed from a bright white to a mossy green, leaves have started to come down, so did the ripe walnuts, they’re falling on your head or in your tea, sometimes you hear some squirrels laugh about that, mocking you and your inappropriate need to have breakfast outside, however cold and grey the morning is, your coughing might turn into pneumonia, if you don’t start to wear a pullover, no white after Labour Day, they say, what utter nonsense, your t-shirt’s blue, a dark, intense blue, quite to the black side, not navy, more a Chanel blue, a bleu Chanel, definitely not white, do you hear me, it’s not white at all, why can’t I wear a blue t-shirt after Labour Day?

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Destination: Art.

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Do I ever shop for clothes in Paris? Actually, only very rarely, once some cardinal pink socks in the tiniest sock shop with the handsomest of sock shop owners on Boulevard Haussmann, because I hadn’t dared to in Rome, at a shop specialized in dressing nuns and priests, as well as bishops and cardinals, like first floor brands and couture brands at the floors way up, I thought it would be blasphemy to buy stuff for the clergy when you’re, well, not part of the clergy, Fellini’s fashion ideas for nuns now come to mind, anyway, some shirts at Charvet, but other than that I have always come to Paris rather for the exhibitions than for new collections, Picasso et les maîtres at the Grand Palais, Picasso’s pictures of his wife Olga at the Picasso museum, Cy Twombly at Centre Pompidou, Modigliani at some musée (des arts modernes?) close to the Madeleine, totally forgot its name but recall how hot it was that day, Balenciaga at Musée Bourdelle and so on and on, catalogues have been schlepped afterwards all through town, forcing me to have even more coffees to recover and reflect on what I just saw. Perfect combination, art and Paris! Absolutely wonderful. But then there’s Winterthur, Stuttgart and Coblenz, Max Liebermann in Winterthur, Oskar Schlemmer in Stuttgart, Edgar Degas in Coblenz, great art, for some odd reasons displayed at places that nobody ever wants to go to. Horrid experiences, once you have left the museum you have to schlepp your catalogue through provincial uglyness, you’re lost in the architectural equivalent of Nescafé with condensed milk. This year, I was spared such agony: Emily has sent me catalogues from London. Russian art after the revolution at the Royal Academy of Arts, Balenciaga at the V&A and just a few days ago Matisse in the studio, also at the Royal Academy of Arts. Splendid exhibitions, all of them. So glad I didn’t have to travel to London this year. Who would need that?

Living on Memory Lane.

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There are a few pics I keep posting and re-posting on Instagram: a certain photo of Coco Chanel, taken in the 1930s at La Pausa by Roger Schall, Mademoiselle wearing trousers and a ravishing custom-fit little nothing of a cashmere sweater, very près du corps, some paintings, Vermeer, Franz Kline and a certain Picasso, with Marie-Thérèse Walter on it, you surely know it, it’s very popular, my Royal Copenhagen china, and then there’s a photo of my mother, taken by my father in 1977, in the little front garden of our townhouse in Luxembourg, at a place I dearly loved, we spent nothing but happy times there, my mother’s wearing Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche on it, you can see the prêt-à-porter after-effects of his iconic Russian haute couture collection from 1976, on the other side of the street is the house of my friends Laurence and Françoise, you can’t see it, but I know it’s there, just opposite, on the right you would see an apartment building, a big brutal concrete cube, with another cube inside as an entrance hall, this one in posh marble, that’s where Anne and Bob lived, Bob had his room painted in dark blue, with white furniture as a contrast, I loved that, and we had the same shirt, checked, in different sizes though as he was way younger than I, two or three years, when you’re nine years old that matters a lot, my best friend Daniel lived on the same street, too, but a bit off, more to the side of avenue du X septembre, we lived closer to avenue Guillaume. Our house doesn’t exist anymore, after we moved out it was torn down, together with most of our direct neighbours’ houses, to make room for some résidence, some of those apartment buildings named after Napoleon or whoever they thought appropriate, so sad, it was so lovely, the balcony on the first floor was all covered with wine, the grapes were edible but tiny and very sour, loved them anyway, the wallpaper in the hall and all up the staircase to the second floor was black, with huge white roses, not totally white, some of the petals were pale pink, the leaves and stalks were celadon green, a very Marie-Antoinette-ish colour combination, the tiles on the floor were beautiful, a typical Belle Époque pattern, the house was built in the 1910s, the banisters were somewhat gothic, some dark wood, can’t quite recall it, at least not exactly, nobody ever took a photo of the stairs, not of these details, but I somehow captured them in my mind, I must haven taken thousands of mental pictures, it’s all there in my mind, all of it, although I couldn’t quite make a sketch of it. As you might have guessed by now, this photo does not only show my beautifully dressed mother, it represents the happiest years of my childhood, it triggers all kind of happy memories, and I will post it over and over again when I feel like it. I hope you won’t mind.

Tea with Brigitte Macron.

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This gate to the Palais de l’Élysée’s spacious garden was of no great interest to my when I was last in Paris early this year, in late March, I think, by then, François Hollande was still residing there and I never cared much for him, I only really cared for Giscard d’Estaing who was in charge of France when I was a child, but now, a few months later, somebody else lives there, at 55, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, now it’s the garden of Monsieur and Madame Emmanuel Macron and my feelings have totally changed, now I want to trespass, forcing the guards to let me in, invite myself in to have tea in the shade with Brigitte while chit-chatting and advising her on what to wear, I think there is still Platz nach oben, as one would put it in German, some room left for improvement, idioms never translate well but you know what I mean, she’s not Melania Trump, is she? Melania Trump is so well dressed, some outfits are real stunners, let’s be honest, she’s a stunner herself, and her red Dior suit, worn in Paris on Christian Dior’s birthday (or was it the day of his passing?) was just as brilliantly chosen as her pale blue Ralph Lauren ensemble on inauguration day or the black lace by Dolce & Gabbana she was wearing when meeting the Pope in the Vatican. But then again, Melania’s still Melania, however well dressed she might be, the woman is married to Trump, the petulant seventh-grader inhibiting the White House, I despise them both with every fibre of my being, so no, I better not tell Brigitte Macron what to wear, I’d rather ask her what I should wear, she definitely makes perfect choices as far as men and their style are concerned.

Irresistible horses.

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Picture it, The Hague, summer of 1982. Of a holiday that my family and I spent mostly on the nearby beach in Scheveningen, I just recall one particular day, the day we went to The Hague to see architecture for a change, shops, museums, I guess, and restaurants with dressed people, this I recall intensely, I like dressed people, anyway, The Hague has a lot of beautiful places, we had tea and sandwiches at the most stylish café, Germany had absolutely nothing of the kind these years, I really like The Hague, I actually prefer it to Amsterdam, but don’t ask me why, anyway, on this day we passed, quite by chance, The Hague’s Hermès boutique, and as nobody in my family was particularly interested in their display, I was left behind in front of one of its windows, a window in which there was an ashtray, an ashtray, yes, the most beautiful ashtray with a horse in some sort of gala outfit, and no, I did not smoke at this age, I didn’t smoke for five more years, I was a late bloomer, anyway, this ashtray was so beautiful that I didn’t get it out of my mind, a few hours later I would schlepp my mother back to the store just to show her that ashtray, my mother going once again “What?” as she did not get the beauty of the depicted horse in that or any other ashtrays, hers were purer, simpler, but she can’t ride either, I can, very well even, and so, as my monthly allowance didn’t cover an Hermès ashtray at that time, I had to go without – until I moved to Zurich some years ago. There they had almost the same ashtray, and at the age of fortysomething my cash flow was almost positive, and I even was allowed to smoke, I was in heaven – needless to say, I bought it right away – and a new pack of Dunhills to go with it. The only thing that bothers me, it doesn’t look good with ash in it. Maybe I should quit.

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Life, from my mother’s point of view.

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This photo of my grandmother with my mother on her lap was taken in Berlin in 1942 or 1943, during the war, right in the middle of it, so the date tells us, but not the expression on the faces we see. My grandmother looks serene and happy, elegant, filled with love for her firstborn child, and I find my mother’s all-time sovereign expression already there, ready to master anything, wartimes and everything there was to master after that, kindergarten, school yard and first boyfriends, first in postwar Germany, then in the Russian sector, situations you didn’t choose, that you were just born into, forcing you to leave everything behind (a beautiful villa by the river) when fleeing from the GDR, much later she faced marriage and divorce, her job and my puberty, fate and luck, summers and winters, sickness and health, rain and shine, Christmas and wakes, new countries, new opportunities, and new problems, new houses and new gardens, filled with old friends and new decor, and whatever was lying ahead on this day in 1942 or 1943, she was already sure of herself to master it, overcome it, celebrate it, decorate it. She still has this adorable expression on her face: let it come, all of it, I’m happy to deal with it. I’m glad to have this photo as an inspiration in my new apartment, and by that at the place where it was taken: in Berlin. 75 years later.

 

Paris birthday dinner.

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When I turned 35, 38 or 42, actually I can’t remember which year it happened exactly, 2003, 2006 or 2010, I was frolicking through the food halls of La Grande Épicerie de Paris on Rue de Sèvres, in Paris’ stylish 7th arrondissement, to get some tea from Kusmi, I was in desperate need of new supplies of Prince Vladimir and St. Petersburg, my two favourite blends (and boxes, because who am I kidding, I buy it mostly for the boxes), but then I got sidetracked, sidetracked by a salami that looked so yummy as any salami ever could, the sign said “saucisson des Abruzzes”, and although I didn’t know where the Abruzzo are, Italy, I guess, have to look it up these days, I was sure that they produced the best salami in the whole world, it just looked so yummy, perfection, absolute perfection, I bought 500 gr of it, a baguette, a bottle of red wine, can’t remember what kind but I guess St.Émilion as I usually have St.Émilion, and however Italian that salami was, I was still in Paris, France, wasn’t I? I made it happily to my hotel nearby to meet my mother who was waiting in her hotel room, you see, after dropping my tea in my room, I was supposed to pick her up to go to a nice place to celebrate my birthday, kind of a family tradition to dine in Paris on our birthdays, but I had just made a change of plans: I was planning on having a picnic in my hotel room! Baguette, salami and Bordeaux while looking out of the window. How swell, I thought, how very swell – but my mother’s reply was “What? Are you crazy?” – an hour later I had Bœuf Bourguignon at a nice place on Île St. Louis. Mothers! But I kept the box. I’m a romantic.