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.”

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.

A Russian in the closet.

I think, actually, I’m pretty sure, I am Russian. How else could you explain all these traces of my Russian, how should we put it, homeland? Mother country? Native land? Everything in my kitchen, and there lives the soul, not in the living room, not in the drawing room (if you have so many rooms to pick a drawing room), no, these are only for showing off your good taste and status, but the soul of one’s home is to be found in the kitchen, there you find the things that define you, in my case, Russian teas. Admittedly, I bought most of the boxes not in Moscow but in Paris at La Grande Épicerie de Paris or, quite a tinier shopping experience, at the little Kusmi shop on rue de Seine, but who cares. The varieties are called St.Petersburg, Prince Vladimir or Russian Morning No. 24. Does it get any more Russian? I think not. Then there’s my Russian tea glass, ancient and hoary, from the time we still had the Czar. And everything’s red, red!, the most Russian colour of them all: the toaster, plain red, my salad cutlery (okay, it’s more to the lobster side of red, but still red), my cheese cleaver, my chopsticks (agreed, these are oxblood, a blue-ish oxblood, but still, they’re red) and even my detergent’s red. Have I given enough evidence? If only I spoke Russian to wish you a nice day in my mother language…

True blue.

A year ago, I left Zurich. On a very cold day’s afternoon, I took my last walk through this beautiful town that sometimes would appear to me as a tiny village, a high-toned and exquisite one, with a splendid opera house and ballet of great reputation whose posters are just fantastic, but still, it always will be a village to me, you see, Zurich’s not very big, there are some arrondissements in Paris that are bigger, or at least they seem to be, I‘ve never compared the square metres they’re entitled to, the appearances do count, don’t they? Anyway, on this very last day, Zurich was mesmerizingly beautiful, it looked so serene, an ice palace, the sky turned into a wonderful blue as the night was falling, the lights of the shops windows and the lanterns shone warm and bright, embracing you like a hug, and although the temperatures were way below zero on that day, I didn’t feel cold at all, to the contrary, I felt warm, loved and blessed. Berlin doesn’t do that, but at least, central heating is way cheaper over here in good old Germany.

 

A bridge in the middle of nowhere.

Picture it, Berlin, some many years ago, twelve or sixteen or so, I and Frédérique are at a wedding, the wedding of our mutual friend Miriam, we enjoy ourselves, eat a lot, drink a lot, dance a lot, drink some more, and the next morning, we miss the boat, the boat to take a cruise on Berlin’s Wannsee with the rest of the wedding party, we just managed to come in time to see them floating away, to scream “wait! wait for us”, all in vain of course, nobody would wait for us, we had turned into pariahs, traitors at the very least, who oversleeps on such a bright and lovely summer’s day, who loses control over time and your best friend’s wedding agenda, who does that? So, miserable and full of remorse, we took the S-Bahn back, back to Berlin and instead of seing the lakes, we saw some of the sights, at least we tried. Berlin cathedral, Unter den Linden, Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, all that was very fine, but then, all of a sudden, nothing, wasteland, abandoned chaos, nothing but fallow ground, a left-over apartment building from the GDR, all alone in this emptiness that was once dominated by the Berlin Wall, somewhere the beginnings of the new railway station, like a meteorite in a desert, some grass, a street, and then, just as Frédérique was saying as a Parisian she were missing at least some kind of architectural ensemble, a bridge, out of nowhere, like a theatre backdrop, like some kind of setting, but for what? It seemed to be mocking us and the entire scenery, but it had survived the Allied bombing and the country’s division, stood alone for so many years, just to pave the way for us on that day. How very brave a bridge.

Today, the scenery looks different, after all these years, the fallow land has gone, there are new buildings all over the place, it has lost some of its absurdity, the architectural ensemble, however, remains destroyed, it will never be cured. But whenever I come back, I’m glad to find this gem of a bridge still there. A constant reminder of the importance of peace – and of properly setting your alarm.

My life’s travels.

Books. Love them. They are the only thing capable of transporting you anwhere you want to go, or rather not, where they take you is your own responsability, they took me from cover to cover, the journey was always the true destination, I was unstoppable, I left Berlin in a hurry for Zurich when Hitler stole pink rabbit, I never returned, I can’t forget the living wallpaper design in Zurich either, it’s stuck in my mind forever, I still feel the fever, too, and the icy rejection of Paris’ avenue Foch residents, I lost my trust in relatives that day, haven’t changed my mind since, that dislike of kinfolk was cemented when I went to Brideshead, I often returned happily, nonetheless, to Charles Ryder’s Brideshead, that is, to Sebastian Flyte’s not so much, many years later, I injected morphine, through my trousers, in a taxi in Zurich, just in time before complete break down, the relief was ever so painful, in rehab, I spent time in the GDR, in Dresden’s Weißer Hirsch, a residential area whose villas overlook the town, the tower, we called it, political resentments ex cathedra, always followed by the Staatssicherheit, some pale blue ink in a lady’s hand brought me back to early 1900’s Vienna, waltzing while turning to the left as well as to the right, ever so elegantly, my experiences are vast, I’m proud to say, I know what snow and war feels like, never lost a limb, though, but hell, I know what that feels like, too, or a broken heart, my Russian soul found itself described, so well, and, for once, understood, what a comfort, over the years, I became a close friend of Coco Chanel’s friends, and foes, and an even more intimate one of Thomas Mann, I know all about his wet dreams and sudden fears, which I happily forget about when being stuck again in an endless stream of my truth’s consciousness.

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.