Thursday, August 09, 2012

Our Apartment in Paris

We just got back from a trip to Paris where we met my son, daughter-in-law, and 3 year old grand-daughter who were on their way home from 2 years living in Mozambique. We decided to rent an apartment there for all of us, and thanks to my wonderful daughter-in-law, found a great one in a great location close to the Bastille and the Paris Opera. While we went to museums, for me (she who could live in an art museum) the great attraction of the trip was getting to be with my family in Paris, and especially with my grand-daughter, whom I had not seen since we were in Mozambique at Christmas. We arrived at the front door of the apartment building at about the same time (they had already been in Paris for a few days)and she greeted me from her stroller with the biggest smile ever saying, "It's not easy to be this glamorous!"
We loved the apartment which had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths and plenty of room for us to roam around in - a full length balcony overlooking a small street below and a large boulevard to the right. Every room was complete with a chandelier and sconces for lighting. The living room had a French marble fireplace with a large mirror over it.

Photobucket Below is the combination tv room/dining room.  The only reason the tv was ever turned on was because we needed to catch up with the Tour de France. Chris and family would go to see the riders finish on the last day.



Below is the bedroom Jeff and I had.  No closets, of course, just a large armoire. Jeff's stuff filled it almost entirely (he still hasn't learned totally about downsizing and packing light).

Our bathroom was smallish, but the tub/shower area was very large.
Photobucket Below, the master bedroom.

Below, the master bath which also featured a clear shower.
Photobucket The Musee d'Orsay was a highlight, though far too crowded for my taste. A crowded art museum is awful; museums should carefully monitor the number of people allowed in at one time (and I know that they do for fire codes, but having more than 3 other people in one of the gallery rooms at one time distresses me, especially when they are not true art lovers, but people who know that they are "supposed" to visit the museum). We also went to EuroDisney (I can hardly believe I did it), but it was all totally worthwhile when we saw the large Goofy in the distance getting off the special Disney train and A. started screaming and laughing at the same time. I swooped her up and ran with her to get as close to Goofy as we could as he flapped his ears up and down; A still laughs when I remind her about Goofy. She also got her picture taken with Mickey (wait in line was approximately 45 minutes) and still talks about how his hand touched her! And I would be terribly remiss if I did not mention this: I have dealt with the French (whom I love) and know that they have a terrible reputation for being unfriendly, unhelpful, and even downright rude. I have experienced it myself. But on this trip, EVERYONE was wonderful. I don't know if it was having the 3 year old A. or if something has drastically changed, but every French person we dealt with was absolutely charming, helpful, and lovely to us, even suffering through my terrible French without being the least condescending or patronizing. I ADORE the French!

Saturday, June 09, 2012


Maybe it's being 61 years old, but I have a really low tolerance for certain trends in all things (the "bubble" dress? Didn't bother to buy one!).  Where decorating is concerned, I have noticed several trends that I think people will look at in 10 years the way they do the avocado green shag rugs of the '70s.  These trends won't really make it to classic because they have major flaws of some sort: they are impractical, silly, uncomfortable or sometimes just downright ugly. Any one of these marks the trend as something that in 10 years will seem ludicrous.

1.  Burlap: Uncomfortable, scratchy, and overpriced, this humble textile belongs around feedbags, not in your living room.  It's just ugly.

2.  "Deconstructed" furniture - very popular at Restoration Hardware - the new Pottery Barn.  These pieces are quite expensive when you consider that they are upholstered pieces that are not upholstered. Do you really want this (below) in one of your rooms?

3.  The use of animal skins, especially zebra.  Not fond of being reminded of dead animals.  I like my animals alive, and if you've been to Africa and seen zebras in the wild as I have, there's no way you really want them on your floors.  Animals are living beings that live in family groups quite often (yes, I am a vegetarian).  In this country, not many people need to kill animals for food, so the animal skins are not a byproduct of necessity. And even the faux ones bother me.  There's just something callous about using them.

4. Animal heads and antlers - see #3.

5.  Ugly lighting: includes metal fixtures that look as though they belong in an old-fashioned general store.  Lights with the bulb as a focal point.

images from Restoration Hardware
6.  Sunburst mirrors: I can remember when these were in everyone's living room in the '60s (sometimes clocks instead of mirrors).  Everyone has one; don't succumb unless you want your home to look like everyone else's.

7.  Chalkboards and chalkboard paint - except in children's rooms.  One woman actually put little chalkboards in front of decorative items in her living room naming the decorative item.  Chalkboards can be useful if you use them to write messages to your family - otherwise, are they really that decorative? (I spent 25 years writing on chalkboards and lecturing to students.  I have chalkdust in my lungs; chalkboards are for information, not decor.)

8.  Flaking and peeling paint: not attractive when the paint is coming off in huge flakes or barely there to begin with.  This furniture looks as though it came from the houses of the poor of rural Arkansas or Mississippi.  I just don't see the appeal. It's not the same as the gold leaf flaking off a Louis XV.  Often these are pieces that when new would not ever have been welcome in the house.
image from Hoosier Homemade

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Townhouse: Working on the Living Room

Above are the flowers my kitties (yes, kitties, not kiddies) got me for Mother's Day! They were a wonderfully pleasant surprise on Saturday morning. Those thoughtful cats,Cluny and Cuervo, included a box of chocolates with the flowers. Needless to say, the flowers are still here, but the chocolates are gone!
 Now I've been working on the living room. Our grand piano is in Arkansas so anything I do now will be temporary since we will probably have to put it in the living room eventually. In our family, while we do buy furniture, we are also very conscious of keeping pieces that have been in our families. The living room is proof of that. Most of the living room furniture that is in the townhouse came from my mother's-in-law house. The sofa was in her formal living room as was the rug, the coffee table that you see here, and the two chairs that are upholstered in the same lampas fabric.  The French chair to the left is one we bought some time ago; the ottoman that goes with it is under the table so that it will be out of the way. The pretty table that sits in the bay window was also in my in-law's house behind the white sofa that you see here.  It opens and one of the four legs swings back to make it into a square table.  Although I hadn't used it that way before, I decided that it would look better in the bay if it were open. Sitting on it are figures of saints, a wooden angel, and another tin retablo, this one of St. Michael, who is the patron saint of lawyers.Photobucket Photobucket
I love the coral colour of the walls, and chose it especially to go with my collection of icons and religious paintings.  The largest painting on the wall is of St. Barbara; I found it in Brazil and my husband bought it for me for my birthday.  To the left is a tin retablo (framed for protection) of the Madonna and child, one of the first retablos I ever bought, from Mesilla, New Mexico.  The other icons were gifts (the one with open wings from my son and daughter-in-law when they were living in Portugal) or I bought them while travelling in Greece,  Mexico, and India as well as other countries (I have figures upstairs of the Holy Family that are African - gifts from my son and daughter-in-law).  The coral colour is a perfect foil for the paintings and icons since some of them are rather dark.Photobucket
I also collect landscapes; here are three on a small wall separating the living room and formal dining area. We also have a collection of cut glass. Photobucket Photobucket
The small entryway is basically part of the living room (ah, downsizing), but there is still a place for a chest and a large mirror so that I can check my face before going out or before someone comes in.  There is also a small powder room to the left (you can barely see the white door frame).  On the chest is a small metal sculpture and a large gold leafed figure of the Madonna that is quite beautiful.  I've meant to replace the light fixture here with a different type of lantern or a small chandelier. However, not being bothered by bright brass, I rather like the way the bright gold of the lantern enhances the gold leaf of the nice mirror (this mirror from my in-law's French guest-room; the chest is ours). The mirror to the right is rather high, necessary because it has to be above the electricals and because I want it to reflect the crystal chandelier.
  I decorate slowly over time, so I will have to live with this arrangement to see if it works.  We still have cut glass, paintings, and sculpture that is currently in our house, so everything will eventually change a bit.  While I have tons of framed photos of family, I tend not to put those in the formal rooms.
 If you have any ideas, please be sure to share!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Bedroom Decorating: The Latest Incarnation

Though I am still not finished with the little master bedroom, here is an update. The headboard is a lighter cream colour (I'm still not sure if I will replace it) and still needs to be higher.  Eventually we will have nightstands that are now in our Arkansas house.
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I have had the painting over the bed for almost 30 years; I still like it.   Above, the plaster icon is one that I bought on the Greek island of Patmos several years ago.Photobucket Photobucket
Outside the bedroom is a print that features a lot of peach, a cat, goldfish, and my favorite peonies.Photobucket Photobucket

Monday, April 23, 2012

Maputo, Mozambique: In Africa

Photobucket This Christmas (their summer) I was in Maputo, Mozambique. In some ways, Mozambique is what many people think of when they think of Africa: there are wild animals, the direst poverty, great wealth, jungles, and great beauty as well as people living in all sorts of circumstances. My friend's stepfather, long ago, once told me, 95% of the world goes barefoot. I had to think about that, and frankly, I didn't really believe him, this man who had grown up in a rather elite atmosphere, gone to Harvard, and who had had a chauffeur. But now, after traveling everywhere from India, Brazil, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Mexico, and Africa, I know that he knew what he was talking about.  Mozambique,  a country whose civil war ended in 1992 after a war for liberation from the Portuguese who had colonized the area (Angola was also a Portuguese colony) is a country that probably reflects the 95% rule closely. During the war over one million people died of starvation and conflict, and as you can imagine, there are still many problems today.  Mozambique lies on the southeastern coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean.  The country is naturally beautiful. The city of Maputo, in the southern tip of the country, rises up from the sea so that houses built here have a beautiful sea vista.  Needless to say, most of these homes are quite nice.

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The nicest hotel in Maputo is the Polana, seen in the pictures above and below.
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Most of the nice houses in Maputo have high walls around them, or at least high fences. Robbery is a problem because poverty is a problem, and many people have guards outside their homes 24 hours.  The Mozambiqans are generally shy and friendly; robbery is more of a problem than violence. Mozambique imports almost all of its food and the government has to subsidize it all for anyone to be able to afford it. Protests occurred last year when the government lowered the subsidies. Although there appears to be good farmland, apparently ownership is questionable and lack of equipment and knowledge are probably also problems.Photobucket Below is the old train station in Maputo, designed by Gustave Eiffel of Eiffel Tower fame.
Photobucket Photobucket Below is a cathedral in Maputo which resembles a giant juicer.
Photobucket Photobucket Above is an apartment building working people live in. Below, here is how the majority of the population of Maputo live. The picture directly below shows what is a community garden; other places are not as lucky.
  When it rains (and there is a rainy season), the dirt turns to mud, the streets flood and are often underwater.  Potholes are everywhere throughout the city.
Photobucket Photobucket   Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket Photobucket    Litter is everywhere. I don't think there is actually a sanitation system city-wide.Photobucket Photobucket What these pictures don't show is hunger, disease (malaria is very common in Mozambique and even the city of Maputo; AIDS is a big problem), and the despair that comes from poor education, lack of any work, and physical problems. On Sunday afternoons and evenings however, families will cluster along the beach and the main road that runs along the waterfront of Maputo, cooking out, visiting, laughing - the old, young -whole families all together - everyone. Traffic almost comes to a standstill and the mood is joyful and relaxed.
  I showed these pictures of poverty because there are so many pictures of beautiful rooms and homes on the internet that people here in the US begin to think that their own homes need to be redecorated, that they look terrible. I am sometimes one of those people, so I wanted a reminder that just because our own homes don't look like the covers of House Beautiful, we are still some of the luckiest people in the world. And 30 years later, the majority of the world still goes barefoot.