Under the influence.

When I was 43, it was a very good year, I can’t actually remember what I was doing that year, but the vineyards of Château Haut-Batailley seem to have been enjoying some very fine weather, just the right amount of rain and sunshine, right enough to make me forget all about my favourite St.Émilions and to switch to Pauillac, to this property precisely. The fact that I like the label’s design helps as much, I guess, as the fact that I am easily influenced by anything that says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, it really gives the impression these people know what they are doing and it sounds so, well, classy. If I were to describe it, the wine, I mean, its taste, or better yet, its structure, they always talk about a wine’s good structure, don’t they, I wouldn’t be of much help, I just remember an earthy impression, a hint of black currants, too, but I might confuse it with the dessert, chocolate ice cream with cassis, I had a lot, especially of that gorgeous cassis liqueur my parents brought from France, it brings out the flavour of the cocoa so well, so I might be afflicted a little, but I do remember it as ever so pleasant, just like my company, we really had so much fun, okay, I might be compromised by this, too, I really am no authority on wine and most definitely not on this particular Pauillac, but as I said, the label looks smart and it says Grand Cru Classé en 1855, anyway, you just enjoy, cheers, santé and stuff…

Marlene in Paris.

In 1936, Marlene Dietrich entered a jeweller’s shop in Paris and uttered some unforgettable words to me: “I would like to see some pearls”. Some pearls. Not to necessarily buy any, just to see some, in a tone that left no doubt about having some infinite riches on her hands, while suavely smiling, with that ironic twinkle of hers, not in her eye, but in her lips, unmatched sophistication and wit, the sort of smile that demands an IQ way above average, quite Einsteinesque a brain, just with a much better hair-do, or, in that particular case, a hat by Travis Banton, of course, later in that movie it turns out she’s utterly broke, anyway, I was deeply impressed. Deeply. In 1999, I entered the Hermès shop in Cologne, uttering the words “I would like to see some cufflinks.”, but it just wasn’t the same. I had aimed too high. But now that you know about my connection to Marlene Dietrich, I give you Flammarion’s edition of Pierre Passebon’s collection of some of the best photographs ever taken of her, the collection’s still on display in Paris, until February 25th at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. But if you can’t make it to 5-7, rue de Fourcy in the Marais within the next 48 hours, you just enter a bookshop and repeat after me: “I would like to see some photographs of Marlene Dietrich.”

From Rioja with love.

My grandmother used to travel and bake a lot after retiring, she had all this time on her hands and filled it with some culinary creativity, and as she was fond of red wine and Spain, she ended up baking but one cake only, her masterpiece, her Rioja cake, commonly and less specifically known as her red wine cake, as in the 1970s, Rioja was quite uncommon a beverage in Germany and she didn’t feel the urge to explain her extravagances to just anybody she had over for tea and sympathy, she was a teacher, the most loved one of her village, her funeral was crowded with former students, she must have been a hell of a teacher, anyway, I, being more into France than into Spain, have always replaced Rioja with some Bordeaux when I made that cake, but now, just to cherish her memory, I opened a bottle of Rioja, the batter takes a quarter of a litre, as well as vast amounts of cocoa, chopped dark chocolate, this one is from Venezuela, quite fitting an origin, it’s a Spanish speaking country after all, anyway, the cake‘s obviously soaked with flavonoids from all that red wine and cocoa, kind of an anti-ageing approach to baking. I think, I’ll have another slice just now.

Having coffee with F. Scott Fitzgerald.

This is 14, rue de Tilsitt. Tilsitt, by the way, is that place in East Prussia where Napoleon signed a peace treaty in 1807 with the Russian Czar Alexander I and Prussian king Friedrich-Wilhelm III after winning the battle of Friedland – of course, there is an avenue de Friedland, too, quite next to it actually, as both streets belong to the architectural ensemble of Paris’ star-shaped Place Charles de Gaulle, with the Arc de Triomphe in its very middle. Anyway, numéro 14 of rue de Tilsitt was the address of none other than F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Zelda’s, of course. It was quite fine an address, some embassies around, avenue Foch as well, Paris’ most exclusive démeure, though at that time still called avenue du Bois, as Maréchal Foch, whom it was named after, a French héros of WWI, had only died in 1929, quite fitting for this fine couple, and especially for an author who has always felt so much at home with the rich and famous. Hemingway, ha!, Hemingway not so much, he and Hadley lived on the other bank, in the quartier latin on Rive Droite, the area intellectually dominated by the Sorbonne and fine old schools, their first apartment was on rue du Cardinal Lemoine, far less elegant, ever so far less, his tiny apartment had its loo in the staircase, to be shared with others, Gertrude Stein came for tea nonetheless. It was so small a place, Hemingway had to rent a room close-by, on rue Descartes, to have some space, or more precisely, some peace and quiet to write his stories, including the ones Hadley lost when traveling to Switzerland, they were never found, they’re lost forever, the lost generation, however, stays on, having me for coffee at the café downstairs on 14, rue de Tilsitt.

Paris for breakfast.

There are days when you don’t wake up in Paris, those normal days at home, in your very fine yet so very ordinary sheets, when you suffer from the same old view from your bedroom windows, the same old soap in the shower, that same old boring Diptyque soap instead of the hotel branded stuff that screams you’re abroad, far away from home, on the loose, free, it’s not so much branded with some hotel logo, but with the far more prestigious emblem of your very own liberty, whether it’s a place in the Himalayas, the Australian outback or, in my case, Paris, Rome, Helsinki, St.Petersburg or Edinburgh, as, with me, nature is almost always replaced with architecture, preferably from before 1900 AD, that late massive Finnish art nouveau and the exuberance of Brussels art deco are an exception, anyway, thank heavens there are days when your parents return from France, bringing you Proustian madeleines in form of Paulian croissants, those real ones, with that inimitable taste, au beurre, crispy as hell, as if they just came out of the boulangerie on rue de Rennes, not your father’s suitcase, and however German your homemade Sunday coffee is, you’re transported to the streets of Saint-Germain immediately. This way, thanks to fine parenting and modern transportation, your life in exile from any place abroad is worth living after all.

I‘ll have Paris with coffee.

If you’re suffering from an architecture deficiency, there’s only one cure: Paris. You better take the next plane to Paris, store your luggage at the hotel, don’t waste time unpacking, there’s really no time to be wasted at all, you may re-spritz your cologne though, and make it to the nearest bar-tabac, café, brasserie, restaurant or whatever place with a table on the sidewalk, install yourself, order coffee, p’tit noir or au lait, and there you go. Enjoy your view. Paris. Haussmann. The Middle Ages. Renaissance. Louis XVI. Empire. Belle Époque. Art Nouveau. Art Déco. Everything. You have it all in front of you. You can even touch it. You can breathe again. The agony is gone. You will smile again. You’re cured. Isn’t it great? By the way: Any additional coffee deficiency will be cured as a side effect.

Moving to Paris.

One day, that is, if one day I win the lottery, I’ll move to this place on Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, it’s not too big nor too small, quite manly, elegant, it screams old money, it’s not Monceau at all, only close by, nobody will suspect you bought it from your lottery win, the house next door has a beautiful red door, not Elizabeth Arden’s though, a little more to the oxblood side of red, it’s near to Miromesnil and Rue La Boétie, Boulevard Malesherbes and Saint-Augustin isn’t far away either, I’ve practically spent days watching these crossroads while having an endless series of cafés au lait, also a highly recommandable salade norvégienne at Saint-Augustin’s, I call that area my natural habitat, including the Starbucks on Boulevard Haussmann, I’m not a snob, I like to have my soy caffè latte when ever I feel like it, and an iced americano in summer, venti, always venti, and once they had that matcha cake, so good, so green, anyway, whoever lives there now, will have to move out, at once, sorry, but it’s beyond my control, ainsi va le monde, ce n’est pas ma faute, I’m just hoping I picked the winning numbers.

How I lost my peace of mind in Paris.

Walls, ladies and gentlemen, I need more walls. Ever since I saw the Cy Twombly exhibition at Centre Pompidou, I have been brutally aware of my wall-missing existence. Large walls, I mean. Spacious. Huge rooms and high ceilings. Very high ceilings. You see, I‘ve never had a problem with not having enough space for a Picasso, the classical period in particular, the one Olga was around, I love that portrait of Olga in that armchair, so beautiful, that serene expression of hers, and she’s so much more beautiful than in real life, he must have been so very deeply in love with her, anyway, getting Olga is so minor a challenge, it’s just about money, the non-existent millions, but I could hang her anywhere, easily, she’d be great in my bedroom, what a soothing idea, makes me want to retire, have a last look at her, and happily fall into the arms of Morpheus, but these large Twombly canvases, these splendid works of art, every single detail is a work of art on its own, they’re driving me insane, where am I to hang them? Where? I am quite serious, this is not a laughing matter, this March in Paris, I have lost my peace of mind forever.

Paris from dusk till dawn.

When I walked through Paris in the good old days before the iPhone, I was a much happier person, I just didn’t care that in winter when you walk on whatever street or avenue you’re walking on, the instagrammability of this walk will stop at around four, tea time is deadline, at the very latest, you might still enjoy walking, but what’s the use of it, you won’t be able to take one good postable picture, it’s madness, we’ve been to the moon and conquered it, but the sun is still playing dirty tricks on us, and not only from the moment on when it decides to set, no, that would be far to easy a situation to cope with, no, it starts way earlier, all day long it’s “watch the shades”, “it’s too bright now”, “wait, the sun’s shining towards the camera”, “it’s too cloudy now”, “you won’t take a good picture now, let’s have a coffee some place”, “hey, where’s all the light gone?”, it’s no use, you won’t make it, you’re a disgrace to photography, but one can’t capture every single moment, or building, or church, can one? So, you better order a glass of Bordeaux and baguette rillettes and forget about it all, there still will be enough good shots left (not perfect, alright, but you’re not working on assignment anyway, are you?), but, truth be told, even when that Bordeaux kicks in, you will never be as satisfied with your day again, believe you me.

Walking through Paris.

I really can’t say I’m getting much exercise in life. I don’t play tennis, I don’t play golf, I ride a little (but haven’t seen a horse in years), I don’t do marathons, hey, no, that’s not true, I do marathons, but not the speedy ones, I walk, a gentleman will always walk but never run. I’ve walked my most successful marathons in Paris, in somewhat 14 hours, coffee breaks included. One time, I bought a carnet, that’s ten métro tickets, and in a week I only used four of them, worst deal of my life, but the weather was great and I couldn’t stop marathoning, although I do love the métro, there’s nothing more seductive than being told “Palais Royal Musée du Louvre” or “Saint Paul” on my favourite métro line, ligne 1, always twice, the second time a little pushier, a little less charming, make up your mind, go and see the place, that voice is right, get up and get a life, walking is the thing, don’t ever give up, arrondissement after arrondissement, from one bank to the other, from the Marais to Quartier Latin, from St.Germain-des-Prés to Place de la Concorde, those bridges do make sense, and, truth be told, you want to earn all these cafés au lait and buttery croissants you have all day. They’re awfully fattening.