Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Buying a House in France ... For A Pittance

A few years ago, I sat next to a lovely woman on the Eurostar from Paris to London. She was Scottish but worked as a French/English translator in Paris. We were the same age and had shared similar lives. I liked her immediately. I liked her even more when she told me where she lived. She and her French husband had just purchased a castle in Normandy, she said. They'd bought it three months before, for the same price as their two-bedroom apartment in the Bastille area of Paris. She was still incredulous. "May I ask how much?" I politely enquired. €300,000, she replied, still delighted by the price. Then she told me the extras. A carriage house, a gate house, a grand estate of 10 acres, stables, a parterre garden and river frontage too. Okay, so it was a little run-down, but they'd bought a hammer and drill too. All this for the equivalent of $380,000 Australian dollars. You can't buy a smart apartment in Melbourne for $380,000, let alone a chateau with a charming carriage house.

As the train rumbled along, I thought of the A$400,000 I'd sold my one-bedroom apartment in South Yarra for the year before. I thought of the building, and how a prostitute had moved in next door. And then I thought of the chateau, with the gatehouse and estate. Thinking of these stark difference in property prices between France and Australia made me sick for the rest of the trip.

I would have forgotten this amazing story but for a couple we met the other day. They own a store in High Street, Glen Iris. My partner and I were window-shopping for an investment property in the area when I noticed they'd arranged their window display around one of my French books. So I thought I'd pop in to thank them and say hello. We chatted for almost half an hour. They revealed they were only doing "the retail thing" for another year, and then they were off to France to buy a little chateau. "You can pick them up for a pittance!" said the gentleman. The sentence was starting to have a familiar ring.

I'm not going to tell you the conversation my partner and I had in the car on the way home, but I think it had the word 'pittance' in it about ten times. And there were exclamation marks too. Lots of them. "French chateau' and "pittance" in the same sentence has a lovely ring to it, don't you think?

Intrigued, I trawled the Internet tonight, looking for chateaux of my own. I have a little money. I thought I'd see what I could buy.  This is what I found. I tell you, it was lust at first shutter. Even if it's derelict, it still beats a call girl yelling out her clients' names at half-hourly intervals right next door.

Now my partner's already set his heart on relocating elsewhere. He hadn't thought of France as a potential home.  He doesn't even like wine. So it might be an uphill climb to get him to reconsider a little chateau. But looking at these makes me wonder if we're looking for property in all the wrong places?

(PS The manor above, which is also described / pictured below, has had a price reduction from 492,900 Euros to 430,000 Euros. Bargain, I say.)

Manor house / mini chateau set in mature grounds, also suitable for business such as a boutique hotel. 5 bedrooms, 8 acres of land, views over the valley, landscaped gardens, bluebell wood, stables, heated swimming pool. Price reduction from €492,900 to €430,000 (Euros). (A$547,000)

Historic 18th century priory set in its own 8,000m2 (2 acres) park in a small village. 8 bedrooms, each with ensuite, large kitchen, scullery and landry room, and 2 salons with views over the garden. Also comes with attractive outbuildings, including stone built barns, two of which have recently been re-roofed, which could provide further development potential. €655,500 Euros / $A830,000.

Historic 18th Century Priory, built on the site of a 14th-century monastery, located on an elevated position overlooking its outbuildings, houses and land. Also comes with a 3 bedroom detached house, formal gardens, and agricultural land, which is rented to a local farmer. €659,000.

And a few more, all of them within "a pittance" budget. I like the middle one. But I'd be happy with the last one too.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Why We're Suddenly Lusting After Sex Novels

Remember the novel The Bride Stripped Bare? It was Nikki Gemmell' literary tour de force, originally published under the nom de plume 'Anonymous' because its chapters were too scandalous for the author to admit to.

Bride was a huge bestseller. Huge. Women read it under their duvet covers. Men read it on commuter trains, where they hid it behind a big hard Hemingway hardback. Even grandmothers were seen sneaking into libraries and borrowing it out with their copies of Danielle Steel. It was dubbed as "an intelligent and accomplished exploration of female sexuality". Exploration was right. There was a scene with taxi drivers that was so revelatory, it made me question what cabbies do when they're not, er, picking up rides.

Basically, the plot is about a lonely housewife with a desultory sex life. The new hubbie is lovely, but boring. And his bed skills are less than satisfactory. That's the thing when you marry Boy-Next-Door types. You sacrifice the erotic for the safe; the dangerous risk-taker for the trustworthy do-gooder. Anyhow, The Housewife grows bored with vanilla sex and sets out to find something pulsier. That's when she meets The Spanish Guy Who's Still A Virgin. (There's an oxymoron right there). From then on, she proceeds to educate him  in – you guessed it – the art of pleasure. To use a ladylike word. There are hotel rooms, orgies, taxi drivers and what one critic described as "erotic, Houellebecqean-style encounters". (I'm not sure what that means but I think I'll have some if they're on special, thanks.)

Now I have to confess that I liked the book. I did. It was entertaining. Fresh. And clever. (Although I still can't look taxi drivers in the eye.)

Basically the novel was a watered-down Catherine Millet. Sex for respectable readers, if you like. And because of it, the book sold hundreds of thousands of copies. It also spawned a whole new genre. Whose name I won't reveal here. (Just think of the nickname for knee-high boots and then insert 'books' where the word 'boots' should go.)

Unbelievably, it's been 9 years since Bride was published, and even more curiously, it's been a while since a good, old-fashioned sex novel hit the bookshelves. So it was only a matter of time before one was thrust into the bestseller lists. So to speak.

Enter Fifty Shades of Grey. Written by E.L. James,  this book is everywhere at the moment. EVERYWHERE. If you haven't seen it advertised, you've perhaps been hiding under that 1000-thread-count sheet too long. Tantilized by the marketing I bought a copy on the weekend. I read 252 pages in one evening. The prose was so dense though, that at 2AM I had to put it down and go find a Nurofen.

The writing isn't on a level with F.Scott Fitzgerald – it's probably not even on a par with Playboy. In fact, some of the sentences are so breathy and overwrought, it made me feel 16 years old again. Also, if you're going to write a book about sex – an adult books about sex – for goodness sakes use some proper words. Using the word 'sex' for a woman's private parts is about as amateurish as you can get.  I mean, we're no longer eight years old. I think we can handle a dirty word or two.

In saying this, it's interesting that this book has caused such a storm. Like Bride, it's hit a nerve with women everywhere. Female readers are devouring it, and only coming up for air when they've turned the last page. It says a lot for the sad state of our collective sex lives that we have to get our kicks from literature rather than real life!

The thing is, I like a good debate. And I love it when literature prompts it. I'm particularly excited that the current debate is over sex, and how much it really does mean to women. But what I don't get excited about, so to speak, is a book where the main female protagonist is forced to be submissive. I know it's a fantasy of many, but this book takes it a whole new level. And it's not one I care to go down to.

I finished the book dear readers, but only just. And then I had to go and have a cold shower. Not to calm the palpitating heart, but to feel clean and 'normal' again. Fifty Shades of Grey is certainly grey. In fact, it's as grubby as a dirty, thumb-stained girlie magazine in the communal toilets of an all-boys' boarding school.

There are apparently two more books in the Grey series. But I think I'll pass thanks. If you've read it, do drop me a line to let me know what you thought. I'd be interested to hear!

{Images of brides stripping bare by by Renam Christofoletti for Vogue Brazil Brides}

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Hermés School of Decorating

Remember a few years ago when everybody was painting their walls Tiffany Blue? (Which Tiffany trademarked by the way.) So many people became obsessed with the delicate turquoise colour of the famous New York jewellery house that Tiffany Blue was EVERYWHERE. There were even weddings that were themed according to the colour scheme, complete with Tiffany Blue table decorations and Tiffany Blue bridesmaids.

Well the trend for Tiffany has finally abated. And in its place is a new school of colour thought. One inspired by the House of Hermés. Yes, that's right. We are all heading towards an Orange Horizon.

The always-gorgeous Faux Fuchsia emailed me recently to tell me she has just painted a buffet in bright orange. And you know that if Miss Fuchsia is doing it, the rest of us will soon follow. (I can imagine how glam it looks. FF could make a hard rubbish find look like a treasure from a Sotheby's sale.)

So, inspired by the creatives who are heading up The Orange Brigade, I thought I'd post some images of this vibrant and lovely summer colour, so redolent of Hermés' signature shade. Personally, I've become a paid-up convert to The Tangerine Gang. I bought an orange handbag from Sambag the other day. I tell you, it was love at first handle.

My new handbag by Sambag. So pretty, I'm almost afraid to use it. NB I would have loved to have bought an Hermés Kelly. But sadly, I don't believe in spending more than $300 on a handbag. Which rules me out of purchasing anything with 'Kelly' in the name. And I don't have the courage to buy one of those perfect counterfeits from China either. (Shhh – who said that word??!)

Oh, be still my beating photographer's heart. I think this little Leica could quite possibly be one of the sexiest cameras ever created. Wrapped up in a cute orange cover, it makes me nostalgic for the days when cameras were, un-hem, more retro, and far less complicated. I love it. Imagine whipping this out in Paris? Or Miami? Or the Caribbean? Trust Leica to come up with a covetable little model like this. {Via Leica}

And this is the perfect camera bag to accompany it. It's Proenza Schouler’s Orange Camera Case, a retro-cute homage to 1970's holidays in Key West and Palm Beach. Just don't look at the price. Shhhh. Don't even whisper it. {Via; $1,850}

Have you ever seen a more glamorous ensuite? This image is from Jonathon Adler and Simon Doonan's Park Avenue apartment. {Via Architectural Digest Espana} Look at that ornate shampoo stand. And the tangerine shower curtain! (Although 'curtain' is a bit of a pedestrian word for that operatic number.) Then there's the brass railing at the top of the subway tiles, that fabulous gilt/brass Hermés sign (does anyone know where they picked that up from, because I'd so love one too) and the Parisian railway clock on the wall. And I won't even mention the architecture books. (Okay, I did.) Is that so one can read up on Mies van der Rohe while one is, er, waiting for other inspiration to flow? Who knows? But it's all gorgeous. Just gorgeous. 

Here's another image. {Via Architectural Digest}

And if you want a little more tangerine theatricality, here's a ruffled version of a shower curtain from Urban Outfitters. 

Now I don't know about you, but I think this is taking the Hermés decoration thing a bit far... If you're going to collect boxes, at least display them in an elegant way, don't you think? Then again, what do I know? Perhaps it's artistic? {Via Martha Stewart} 

I love this space, with the industrial-style lamps, the cute church stools, the bright mirror and the tangerine blinds that sit in a very cheeky position halfway down those elegantly arched windows. Even the waste bin matches.  Simple, but so sweet. {Via}

Who could imagine that a simple orange runner could turn an ordinary staircase into a statement piece? But this space really works, mostly because of the crisp white walls and the surprising and somewhat cheeky orange line that runs up the side. Lovely. What a work of art! {Via}

Monte Carlo, as this vintage poster shows, is a place where Hermés orange is really at home. I don't know why, but orange just seems to suit this scene. Must be all those brightly trussed-up Grand Prix cars and those glamorous cruise-collection-from-Chanel wardrobes wandering up and down the esplanade... 

Even Monte Carlo's beach umbrellas take their colour cues from the Tangerine Tango trend.

Dolce and Gabbana's 'hot', chilli-print scarf from D&G's Spring 2012 collection. (Sorry, but the pun was there waiting to be exploited!) This print is so different, I can't help but like it. It almost looks like the little chillies are marching across the scarf. The image may be D&G but the colour is VERY Hermés.

And here's Miss Pixie Geldof and Miss Paloma Faith wearing the fabric in a frock. Love the hat box Paloma. AND the Sophia Loren head scarf! I'd lose the cardi but otherwise it's retro-perfect. 

Penguin's classic orange covers are now collector pieces. I have half a dozen framed in our downstairs bedroom. I just love the simplicity of them. 

Here's how Australian designer Lyn Gardener showcases her beloved Penguins. I've had the good fortune of staying in her beautiful country getaway, The White House at Daylesford. I could have moved into this particular room.

I'm always fascinated by this film whenever it's shown on TV. And my friends, in turn, are always surprised by this. (My other favs include You've Got Mail and Funny Face. You can see why eyebrows are raised.) It's not the violence I like (it has terrible scenes: you've been warned), but the whole, over-the-top set design. It's as if Cecil Beaton took some acid and then teamed up with a bondage queen. The colours and images are extraordinary. One of Stanley Kubrick's best. (I have to warn you again: the violence is appalling. I apologise in advance if you're offended.)

Lastly, I'd like to show you a tiny part of my lovely home town, Melbourne, Australia, which is – along with New York, Boston and Canberra – one of the world's most beautiful cities in autumn. We're being blessed with a particularly glorious season this year, so everybody has been out embracing the leaf-strewn streets and mild sunny days. If you don't think much of orange, just come to Melbourne in May. You'll become a convert too, I promise!
{Image of Fawkner Park by Cliffano Subagio for The Age}

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...

A Little Thank You From The Assistant Librarian and I

Dear Library Readers,

I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all those who take the time to drop by this little site. I know most of us don't have as much time to meander through the Netscape as we used to do (I, for one, have cut back considerably), and so I do understand if you pop by and then fly off again. It's just lovely to see you when you can pay a visit, and I hope the information is of some use. Or at least entertainment value.

Surprisingly, the stats keep increasing (I'm always surprised by this, I must admit!), and so, encouraged by the interest – and the wonderful comments (always so very touched by these) – I'll try to keep posting. The only thing is, it may not be every day, so I do hope you can forgive me if it's a little sporadic some weeks. Then again, you probably don't want to be overloaded anyway!

Cheyenne – Thank you so much for that incredibly long email of wonderful Parisian places to visit. I will write a note of reply but wanted to say how touched I was. (And I have actually heard of you too! In fact, I wrote an article about you when I was editor of 'Wealth Creator' magazine. How serendipitous that you wrote.)

Pamela – Could you please email me? (Details to the left.) I'd love to chat to you about your story of screening 'Picnic at Hanging Rock' to the diplomats in Colombo! And perhaps help you with your book pitch too.

Fiona Meyers – Thank you so much for your kind thoughts. They really meant a lot. We are sad sometimes but on the upside we get to spend our money on travel and other things. It's not really the same as having a baby, but I'm trying to be grateful and gracious. That's all any of us can do.

All the very best to you all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Floor Plan Porn, Part 2: The Sherry Netherland

Floor plan porn seems to be a popular post on this blog. Now I don't know whether it's the floor plan part that's attracting all the hits, or the 'porn'? (But if it's the latter, shame on you! The only wickedness around here was the post on The Queen.) Whatever it is, it's prompted me to do another post about the, er, voyeuristic appeal of good lines and a great layout. So to speak.

Today, we're going to peek our noses into one of my favourite New York buildings, the Sherry Netherland. The Sherry, if you're not familiar with it, is that fabulously grand, chateau-style building on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, opposite The Plaza. Its neighbour, The Pierre, tends to gets more attention (its penthouse was once owned by Lady Mary Fairfax, the Australian wife of the newspaper proprietor), but I think the Sherry is far more interesting. Current and past residents include Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Francis Ford Coppola, George Burns and Jack Warner. And you just know they wouldn't live anywhere boring.

The hotel's architect is recognisable for its high-peaked roof topped with an elaborate Gothic minaret, or fleche – a roofline that distinguishes the building as one of the most well-known in New York. The spire top houses the water tank and even has an observation balcony. If you wish to stay there – and it does have some of the best views in New York – part of the building is a hotel. The rest of the 97 residences are  co-op apartments, but even these are privileged to receive the full services of the five-star hotel – including hotel maid service twice a day. Imagine that? We'd love a bit of turn-down around here...

Here's a look at one of the suites. This is Diana Ross's, by the way.

Ms Ross had it on the market for $9 million at one stage. Which seems a lot considering there's no kitchen? Then again, the wee cooking space is probably all you'd need for a few pots of Beluga caviar and some bottles of Rothschild. It's also one of only the few tower units that comprises a full floor. These suites offer grand scaled rooms – the living room is almost 29 feet long – plus stunning views of the city and Central Park in all four directions. There's also a tiny maid's room, so you can have your butler to hand. I'd use it for the guests who would no doubt drop on your doorstep all the time. I wonder if Michael Jackson was given this room when he slept over?

Personally, I prefer the Dressing Room Penthouses (above). Which are so named because the extraordinarily large dressing rooms are the size of most New York studios. In fact, this one appears to be the same size as the bedroom AND the living room.

Yes, this would suit me fine. It's just a pity my clothes would only fill one-tenth of it.

Here's another one. This dressing room has pride of place in the apartment, right off the foyer. It's about ten times the size of the kitchen. I suspect the Carrie Bradshaws of New York would be delighted at this little number.

And here's a proposed floor plan for an empty floor. Of course, this residence hasn't been built yet. That's for you to do. You just need to pay the $22 million for the space first. Oh - and another $30,000 a month for the maintenance fees. (I don't know about you, but I'm thinking that janitor's doing okay on his Sherry wage...)

The large room has been dubbed 'The Great Room'. There's a gallery to the left. And a library, media room and staff rooms along the side. It does need a little work. As one humorous New York commenter said: "What's with all the sliding doors? Enough already!"

Oh – and if you're interested in property, Diana Ross's apartment still seems to be on the market. Yours for $9 million. Plus $18,000 a month for the building maintenance. Yep, that janitor again...

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...