Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Secrets of Paris, from the Lux to the Lovely

It's midnight here in Melbourne. Autumn has come to the hills. The garden outside is invisible under a cloak of mist and the heater is fighting to keep the first frost of the year at bay.

I have spent the past few hours at my desk – overcrowded with the debris of research – writing my novel The Picnic, which is the fictionalised version of the real story behind Joan Lindsay's gothic tale. Those of you who read the last post on Picnic at Hanging Rock, back on Valentine's Day, will know that much of this story – the strange tale of of a group of Edwardian schoolgirls who disappear one summer's day – is, in fact, true. As I've discovered through months of research. I can't reveal too much here (although I promise to, in posts to come), but what I will say is that writing this book – the story behind the story – is giving me the chills! I'm beginning to feel like Mrs de Winter at Manderley, being watched by the omnipresent dark shadow of Mrs Danvers.

So as a little light relief on this freezing, finger-numbing night, I thought I'd post about Paris. What better way to ward off the chills (physical and psychological) than a lovely, langorous walk along the Seine?

Now many of you have been to Paris, so, fearful of telling you what you already know, I thought I'd write about some of the wonderful secrets I've discovered about this city. Several kind readers (thank you) have already emailed me their insights, which I'll include here over the next few weeks, and if you know any more, do please drop a comment when you have time. That's the thing about Paris. We may think we know the city like the back of our Chanel No 5s, but there's always something new to discover. Like a lady, Paris never reveals everything at once. She doesn't even reveal it after 500 years...

I adore this corner of the Luxembourg Gardens. I've pointed this quirky, curious sight out to many friends and (like me) they've been surprised that they've never noticed it before. This is the Medici Fountain in the eastern side of the gardens, commissioned around 1630 by Marie de Medici. Notice how the water looks like it's on an angle? Clever, isn't it. It's the sly design. Those nifty Parisians... Always got an aesthetic trick up their sleeve...

The Cour de Rohan must be one of the most fascinating courtyards of Paris. It's certainly one of my favourites. It's actually a series of three enchanting, interconnecting cobblestoned medieval courtyards set off the Cour de Commerce Saint-Andre in the 6th. (Near Cafe Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris, which is another fascinating place.) Normally closed to tourists, its gates are left open each Wednesday (I think it's some kind of Body Corporate law?), so if you time your walk right you'll be able to wander right through. Otherwise, try early morning. The lanes date from 1600, and have barely changed since then. You can even still see part of the original city wall that protected Paris. And the ancient wooden doors are enthralling. It's so authentic, it's where they filmed Gigi. Balthus also had his atelier here. Oh – and the 'gentleman' who invented the guillotine created his gruesome machine here too. Entrance at 128 Blvd. St. Germain or on Rue St. Andre des Arts. Metro: Odeon. Note: The Gigi scene featuring Madame Alvarez's apartment where Gigi, or Leslie Caron, lived with her Grandmamma, was filmed in the first courtyard at No 9.

Want a great view of Paris? Forget the queues of the Sacre Coeur and head across the river to L'Institut du Monde Arabe. Not only does this building feature one of the most incredible facades in the city – truly innovative architecture that reacts to the sun (see Wikipedia for full details) – it also commands a prime position for photography. And it has created a rooftop terrace just for happy snappers. Entry is free. But it's better if you grab a coffee or lunch from the restaurant while you're up there. Its exhibitions are great too. I saw a fabulous Hermés one here one year.

Okay, so it's not so secret, but I think it's still lovely. Every time you walk across the pretty pedestrian-only Pont des Arts bridge over the Seine, pause and consider all the locks. The Parisian authorities hate this because it creates a mess (SO undignified in Paris!), but it's rather romantic all the same. Lovers leave locks here, you see, signed with their names, in the hope it will bring them love and good luck. It's a touching gesture, I think, even if it does mess up the bridge. (Don't you love the cutie I shot? Uh-hem, honey if you're reading this, he's not as handsome as you.)

Spotting Karl is a game that a fashion-loving, Paris-based friend of mine likes to play. "I caught Karl today!" he often texts me, much to my dismay. (I'd love to see him too!) This is because the famous Chanel designer is easier to spot that you might think. He tends to linger around the same places in the city, so if you're lucky you might just glimpse him. Here's the secret – he reportedly lives in the upper two floors of the building on the corner of Rues des Saint-Peres and Quais Malaquais, where he loves looking out over the river and the Louvre. His bookshop, 7L, is also just around the corner on Rue de Lille (much of the stock is suggested by him), and his other favourite haunt is Librarie Galignani bookstore at 224 Rue de Rivoli. You could say hello but perhaps don't pester him. It must be painful being so famous. (As if I'd know.)

The Opera Garnier, which is also known as the Paris Opera House, is one of the most thrilling interiors you can see in this city. Astonishingly opulent, it will make you giddy with delight. Personally, I love a bit of Beaux Arts, but that's not just why I like to visit. No. I love it because it's built over a subterranean lake. I love that it has a 7-ton bronze and crystal chandelier (so heavy that one just one of its parts fell, it killed an audience member below). I love it that when it was built it became one of the most inspirational architectural prototypes for the following thirty years. And I love it that it was the setting for Phantom of the Opera. If you haven't see it yet, do pay a visit. You'll be similarly enthralled.

And a few more images to convey the magic of Paris...


  1. Janelle, I always adore your Paris posts...I've started planning a day-trip to Paris for my next birthday (one of those 'milestone' ones!) - thinking of how fun a day it would be to gather a group of girlfriends, glam up in suitable frocks, imbibe in some celebratory bubbles on the train, and then enjoy a beautiful lunch in Paris. I'll be sure to be reviewing your various Parisian posts (and books!) before the trip so as to add a few other lovely elements to the day.

    So glad to hear The Picnic book is progressing. I watched the anniversary dvd just before Easter - it was the first time I had seen the film in probably ten years - and I have to admit to watching the original version. Now having watched the documentary that accompanied the dvd, and realising that some of the key scenes were removed from Weir's director's cut version I'm not sure I can bring myself to watch it - I think I'm too loyal to the ephemeral nature of the original...I was yet again amazed at how this film could be equally beautiful and unsettling at the same time.

    Will love to keep reading your posts whenever you have a chance to post them!

    1. Thank you Annie. So lovely to read your lengthy post. And I'm tickled pink that these Parisian insights are useful! I do hope you have a wonderful time there. Let me know how it goes, won't you?

    2. PS And I agree about Picnic - I haven't seen The Director's Cut either.

  2. Hi Janelle - thanks so much for another wonderful and very evocative blog post! Apologies that I haven't posted any comments lately but I always check your blog every day. Keep warm - I hope that Coco is sitting at your feet, and is behaving! Best, E

    1. That's perfectly fine E! It's just lovely that you pop by. And yes, Coco is back to her cheeky self. Only now she's taught Cooper to be naughty too! He hides behind the car tyres when she's walking down the drive and when she reaches the car he jumps out and surprises her! So funny to watch when I'm in the garden.
      All the very best. J x

  3. Now I am wishing that I was going to Paris!
    Do not worry about not posting daily, remember it is quality over quantity, and you always deliver a beautiful and informative post.

  4. Thank you Claire. You always write such beautiful things! I still have a book here on our hall to send you. Forgive me for my tardiness. Will do it soon!

  5. When I finally get to Paris I know now that the Paris I see will be totally different to the Paris that most tourists see and I will have you to thank for that! I will find all these beautiful little secret places and share each moment quietly with my dear friend Janelle! Thank you
    Yes he is a cutie and I am so pleased Coco is passing on his delightful habits tell me does Cooper peer under the car to see where Coco is? Souki does that and then surprises the other dogs by knowing where they are!!!!! xx J

  6. Thank you for giving us a peek at your "Secret Paris"!

  7. Swooning in Hobart, Janelle. Is that a moodboard up the top - I adore it. And 'Rebecca' is one of my all time favourite books. My Mum and her best friend will soon be spending a week in Paris - I'll send this link to them to whet their appetite! J x

  8. So funny, every time I go into one particular book store, I can't remember it's name, I bump into Karl Lagerfeld! I am dying to go to Paris but I think our next and last trip for the year, will be for my birthday in June to the Hotel du Cap and then we'll be saving for mega house repairs - it's always the way.

  9. Most intrigued by this book of yours. I want to read it, but maybe I don't in case it is too scary! Then again, I probably will have to be brave and read it anyhow because it just sounds so interesting!

    Which all reminds me, about time I fish "Rebecca" down from my own library shelf. A truly fabulous book.

  10. How wonderful this secret look at Paris is! You are the best Janelle! I particularly love the idea of the secret courtyards. Now I want to go back to Paris again.. and SOON! Wishing you a wonderful weekend. And if I miss a post I always go back to check them out! You are far better at posting regularly than I am .....X

  11. Oh and forgot to say, can't wait till your Picnic book is out!! Sarah x

  12. Oh I adore Paris, but it's been far too long since my last visit. You've inspired me to book a Eurostar ticket and hop over to reintroduce myself - it's ridiculously easy for me to do now, but it never seems to be the right time! I love the idea of your book - can't wait to be amongst the first in line when it comes out. x

  13. Hi i'm hoping to go and stay in Paris for a month, just me myslef and i, looking at apartments, i shall be studying whilst out there, from home. Any recommendations of day to day things???


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