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May 21 - Tree woman April 02 - Gardening in a Warmer World July 24 - La Boucherie J.-C. Malavard June 13 - The Unsung Muse of Istanbul May 02 - Potager passion 2013 January 30 - Wounds and Wildflowers September 27 - Coq Story March 29 - The joyous lavender farmer March 27 - Consulting the oracle February 15 - Abdullah's olives November 10 - The living willow fence--one year later October 25 - Ode to crème fraîche September 08 - Le Grand Mechoui at Revest-des-Brousses May 10 - An island of serenity March 23 - Blood and guts February 10 - Birdie! January 13 - Planting a living fence November 25 - The clay connection June 09 - Bee story April 21 - Of dandelions and Camembert March 12 - The secret shops of the Palais Royale. February 01 - The pleasures of winter September 30 - Pigeon September 10 - Health care à la française June 11 - La Ferme aux Escargots June 04 - Nest of flowers April 10 - Potager passion March 25 - Pépette II--The sequel January 27 - Meditations on mustard January 14 - Provence wears it well...snow, that is. November 20 - Our part-time dog November 11 - A new university for the 21st century October 14 - Mushroom madness September 04 - Road trip with Paula Wolfert June 18 - The Pottery of Sampigny June 02 - Le Temps des Cerises May 20 - It's that intoxicating time again... April 23 - Where la vigne is queen March 27 - The joys of la cueillette February 14 - Bringing in the blue January 16 - Bonne année 2008! November 07 - Fire at the heart of the home October 19 - Manna from heaven... September 19 - My neighbor's lamb July 26 - The way to a woman's heart... June 18 - Guinée rocks the rue de Logelbach May 15 - A passion for farigoule April 16 - Sowing the seeds of content April 04 - Bruno's world March 14 - Putting down roots February 14 - La Fête de la Truffe December 20 - An olive branch November 30 - Happiness is a hot chestnut. October 31 - Uncovering the soul of a mas October 02 - High horsepower September 21 - The magic of Moustiers June 21 - The cencibelles of Cliousclat May 22 - In possession of a potager... April 26 - A spring morning amble through Aix-en-Provence March 20 - The staff of life en pays Berbère March 08 - Why I love my quincaillerie February 22 - Le pays de Forcalquier February 14 - Valentine surprise in Verona February 06 - La Truffe December 20 - 12/20/2005. La Source December 01 - 12/01/2005. The pool at the Club Waou November 26 - 11/26/2005. Fall Trilogy III--Le Chemin de Randonnée November 23 - 11/23/2005. Fall trilogy II November 21 - 11/21/2005. Fall Trilogy I November 15 - 11/15/2005. Jammin' November 09 - 11/09/2005. Civil unrest in France October 31 - 10/31/2005. Flu season October 10 - 10/10/2005. Our own little piece of Provence October 04 - 10/04/2005. China--a window on the future? July 26 - 7/26/2005. Elegy for a potager July 07 - 7/7/2005. La Bonne Etape June 27 - 6/27/2005. Our royal tourne-broche June 22 - 6/22/2005. La dermite des prés June 13 - 6/13/2005. A spring foray in the Pyrenees May 16 - 5/16/2005. Lights, camera, action! April 28 - 4/28/2005. April in Paris April 06 - 4/6/2005. Vinegar porn March 06 - 3/6/2005. The miraculous monarch February 16 - 2/16/2005. Valise de rêve December 15 - 12/15/2004. Diversity for all December 09 - 12/9/2004. Fécamp--Destination gourmande November 24 - L'Ostau de Baumanière November 16 - Rice, bulls, and gypsy caravans November 15 - 11/15/2004. And the winner is... October 27 - 10/27/2004. Lunch heaven October 13 - 10/13/2004. Oh-so-French pharmacies October 05 - 10/5/2004. Vézelay--la colline éternelle September 07 - 9/7/2004. Where in the world... July 15 - 7/15/2004. Road trip through Auvergne June 02 - 6/2/2004. La fête du pain normand April 26 - 4/26/2004. A sun-drenched weekend in Collioure April 14 - 4/14/2004. Denis' Easter card April 01 - Lights, camera, action! March 29 - My life as an enzyme March 18 - Life in a food-crazed nation March 05 - Marabout February 26 - Tale of two towers February 23 - La Fête des Violettes February 05 - My precious levain January 28 - Surviving the salon January 13 - La Poste and I December 01 - Home alone November 19 - Those dirty French! November 03 - Three years at 10 rue de Logelbach October 20 - A Paris weekend September 16 - Paris on wheels September 03 - The sleepy magic of the marais Poitevin July 29 - Dejeuner sur la (mauvaise) herbe July 23 - Blue is the color... July 10 - My famous hat June 10 - 06/10/2003. Dr. Death and the Giant Lobster June 04 - 6/4/2003. Summer in a skillet May 13 - 5/12/2003. Oysters for Breakfast. April 29 - 4/29/2003 Dateline Dakar March 27 - 3/27/2003. Le Moulin d'Arbalète March 17 - 3/17/2003. A spring day in the Pays de Caux February 26 - 2/26/2003. Residents of Nice take to the streets... February 14 - Some winter violets for turbulent times February 03 - Ramblings on the week's news from l'Hôtel de Ville January 20 - The mother of all vinegars January 07 - "Brrrrr...Il fait froid!" December 11 - La crise de foie November 20 - War of the waters November 13 - The weekend of three tails October 30 - Gender issues September 18 - Figs, green walnuts, and pêches de vigne September 18 - La rentrée August 01 - Paris in August July 25 - The Gymnase Club July 15 - French ads June 27 - Sojourn to Ardèche May 23 - France ushers in spring with muguet des bois. May 23 - The Concours Lépine--or the French at their most eccentric April 19 - Going to the polls in Paris April 08 - The bounty of Belleville March 28 - First the poubelle, now the tri... March 15 - For women only March 07 - French Country comes to Paris February 21 - Paris underground February 15 - Everything's on soldes! January 31 - A breath of spring January 25 - Paris...the soul of discretion January 16 - Winter rolling toward spring January 03 - Bonne Année!! December 10 - Christmas roses November 28 - Wild mushroom season in Paris November 16 - Leaving home November 06 - The Camondo cuisine October 23 - Paris, Post-September 11 October 17 - 10/17/2001. Paris Mayor Says NO to Doggie Turds October 05 - 10/05/2001. What am I doing here? October 05 - Why I love my butcher October 04 - A dog's life in Paris.

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The secret shops of the Palais Royale.

For about a month now, I've been reading the complete novels of Colette, in French.  At around 1700 finely printed pages, this is quite an undertaking.  But unlike some folks who groan or simply shy away from so many pages, I have the opposite reaction.  If I find I like the author's writing, I feel a shiver of anticipation that I still have 1700 pages worth of discovery ahead of me.  Plus, I feel a warm rush of 'being provided for,' akin to what you might feel if you were socked in by a blizzard with a well-stocked larder and the firewood piled high and dry.  A feeling of coziness, and closeness--because nothng is going to come between me and that author for several weeks.

As part of my recent Colette obsession, I've recently spent a couple of afternoons drifting around the Palais Royale.  Colette--born Sidonie Gabrielle Colette--lived in a number of houses during her life, as many as 15 by some counts, almost all of them relatively humbled dwellings chosen by the author for the beauty of their settings or gardens.  When a journalist pointed out to her how many times she had moved, she replied that if she could only have an apartment in the Palais Royale, she would never move again.  When a fan of hers read this article, he gave up his apartment in the Palais Royale to Colette, who stayed there until her death.

For me, Colette has always been an almost mystical figure of French literature.  And now that I'm reading her in French, my fascination has only grown.  So on my recent visits to the Palais Royale, I imagined Colette leaning out her window--as she so often describes in her novels--and observing the quiet ambience that is so particular to the gardens and arcades of the Palais Royale.  And I imagine seeing the vast courtyard that is the garden of the Palais Royale through her great, wise, grey eyes.

But it's only relatively recently in its long history that the Palais Royal became tranquil.  It was conceived tranquilly enough, between the years 1634-1639 by then-minister Cardinal Richelieu, who wanted a residence near the Louvre where he could easily (by simply crossing is vast garden) minister to the royal family.  The Cardinal also had a pronounced taste for theatre, and an entire wing of the palace was dedicated to theatrical productions.  Louis IV, whose father inherited the palace from the Cardinal, opened this theater to the public.  It was in this theatre that Moliere acted all his plays, and in a sense, where he died, subsequent to losing consciousness while playing, ironically, Le Malade Imaginaire.  Today, the Theatre du Palais Royal continues the tradition.

Subsequently, the palace was inhabited by various branches of the royal family and was the scene of many famously decadent parties.  It was Philippe Egalité, the grandson of Philippe II of Orléans (regent after the death of Louis XIV), who gave the Palais Royal the atmosphere it still retains today.  He lined the arcades with elite shops, which enraged the inhabitants of the palace who no longer had a direct view of the gardens.  He also, from 1786 to 1790, built the theatre which became today's Theatre du Palais Royal.

Then began a long period of upheavals and even violence, during which the Palais Royale witnessed three revolutions and was even partially burned.  Poor Philippe Egaliteé was beheaded in the Palais Royale, and its elegant quarters became a mixture of gambling dens and brothels.  It was then seized by the state and harbored for a time the tribunal of commerce and stock exchange.  When King Louis XVIII was restored to power, he gave the Palais Royal to his cousin, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orléans, who was also the eldest son of Philippe Egalité.  The work he did on the palace gave it the façade we know today.  In 1830, he became Louis-Philippe I, king of the French (a supposedly more democratic king, as distinguished from the former kings of France), and promptly moved to the Tuileries.  Eighteen years later, the revolution of February 1848 sacked the Palais Royal and partly burned it.    Finally, in 1854, Napoleon III claimed the Palais Royal, and installed his uncle Jérome in residence.  After his death, Jérome's son, Prince Napoléon (known as 'Plon-Plon') lived in the palace with his wife the Princess Clothilde.  That practically brings us up to the present day!

In 1986, Mitterand's minister of culture hired Daniel Buren to create a 3000 square meter sculpture of black and white columns in the courtyard of honor of the Palais Royale (at the south end of the gardens).  The superposition of this highly contemporary work against such a traditional backdrop still generates controversy today.  I don't mind it, actually, and children love playing among the columns (see main photo above). 

Au Duc de ChartresSo why have I bored you with this history lesson?  Because I feel it is essential, as you walk under the arcades lining the gardens, to have a sense of the turbulent history of the place.  And because it's probably the one place in Paris where you can get a sense of what that quintessential Paris experience--shopping--was like a couple of hundred years ago.

Okay, so let's stroll under these arcades, beginning with the entrance at the southwest end of the gardens.  medaillesOne of the first shops you'll find is 'Au Duc de Chartres,' which carries antique heraldry, medals, and coins. 

A very appropriate shop for the Palais Royal, don't you think?  Just because its contents don't interest me very much doesn't mean this shop isn't heaven for fanatics of such things.  I for one still enjoy peering through its windows and imagining the sort of people who are passionate about medals from bygone wars!

Perhaps instead of heraldry, you are fascinated by amber--that ancient tree sap Maison d'Ambremetamorphosed into shimmeringly transparent golden yellow stone that sometimes contains insects or other fragments of past life trapped in the sticky millenia ago.  La Maison de l'Ambre is a shop devoted exclusively to amber jewelry, with many pieces at affordable prices.  So don't hesitate; walk right in!

Not long after La Maison de l'Ambre, you'll find the first of several shops on both sides of the garden belonging to Didier Ludot, Paris' number one purveyor of vintage Didier Ludot

designer clothing, shoes, bags, and other accessories.  This isn't just any old secondhand store, believe me!  If you're looking for a Chanel suit from the 30's or 40's,. this is your store.  Or, visit Ludot's shop on the other side of the garden dedicated uniquely to the "little black dress."  You'll see examples of the genre from every decade.

All of the Palais Royal shops have a secretive air about them.  First, they're inside a garden that is almost completely sealed off from the bustling Paris outside.  Second, they're all under the arcades, with big windows just made for peering through.  But perhaps one shop carries this confidential theme a bit far:  A sign in the curtained window just says 'Très Confidentiel' and lists a phone number.  I haven't called it.

Escalier d'ArgentJust beyond it is a charming shop called 'L'Escalier d'Argent'--the Silver Staircase.  Now, just the  name of this shop is enough to enchant me.  The Silver Staircase offers small antiques and curios, as well as...vests for men.  Very unusual, colorful vests, I might add.  Now this is my idea of the perfect Palais Royal shop.

I also passed a shop specializing in antique pipes (restoration and sale of).  Now of course I don't smoke, but I can't help but appreciate that such an unusual shop exists.

The north end of the Palais Royal rectangle contains some jewels, the best known of which is Le Grand Véfour (apparently there used to be a Petit Véfour as well).  Who can resist a restaurant that goes back to the late 1700's?  Where Colette and Jean Cocteau rubbed elbows, Grand Vefourwhere Sartre smoked and held forth, and before them, Bonaparte and Josephine?  The restaurant has one of the most beautiful interiors of any restaurant in Paris, resplendant with Belle Epoque mosaics and frescosHowever many stars Chef Guy Martin may or may not have, according to the whims of the Seigneurs Michelin at the moment, the restaurant is worth an evening simply to soak in the ambience.

Continue along the northern boundary of the garden and you'll come to a narrow passage leading to the street outside where you'll find two of my favorite three shops of the Palais Royal.  First, there's a boutique dedicated to musicboxes--nothing but musicboxes.  I had a couple of musicboxes as a child.  Just catching the delicate strains of their music as someone entered the shop was enough to transport me back to my fascination with them.

Across from Anna Joliet's musicboxes is a store called simply the Boutique du Palais Royal--and which is nothing less than the toy store of your--or at least my--dreams.  Not one electronic battery-Boutique du Palais Royaleoperated toy mars the array of French-made children's playthings.  Surely this is where Santa Claus does his shopping!  The back of the store is crammed with beautiful dolls.  I found just the baby doll to assuage my granddaughter Charlotte at the arrival of her new sibling, for example.  (I'm just waiting to find out whether it's going to be a brother or a sister to buy the appropriate doll!)

But while I'm waiting for that momentous news, I saw no reason not to send Charlotte some of the other fabulous toys from this store, particularly some of the wondrously imaginative wooden playthings (again, made in France).  I bought her two sets of wooden magnets, one of which consists of different flower parts--many-colored petals, stamens, leaves--so she can compose her own French garden.

Turn the corner to descend the east arcade of the Palais Royal, and you'll come across at least two glove shops.  I particularly love these shops because they hark back to a time when gloves were worn for elegance--and sex appeal.  They were an intrinsic part of feminine mystique, and removing those beautiful, clinging gloves was more sensuous than any strip tease. Gants Mary Beyer The first of these shops is the Maison Mary Beyer/Ganterie Lavabre Cadet.  Here you'll find gloves that are literally haute couture.  For instance, check out the fingerless glove, its wrist cloaked in plumes, in the photo at right.  Clearly, we're talking gloves as pure fantasy here.  And sorry, guys, this shop has only feminine gloves (although the fantasies are all yours).

A bit further along the arcade is the shop of the French glove manufacturer Fabre.  While you can find Fabre gloves in the big Paris department stores, you'll never find the full selection of this, their flagship boutique.  Fabre makes gloves that are a bit more practical than Mary Beyer, but still very sexy and oh-so-French.  No wooly mittens here, but sleek, supple leathers, each model with its own quixotic touch of French fantasy.  The design diversity of Fabre gloves is such a relief from the shopping mall-ified sameness of 'designer labels,' whose gloves--like their eyeglasses--are probably all made by the same manufacturer in some Asian country.  In contrast, each pair of Fabre gloves seems to beckon to you, whispering, "Go on...express yourself!"

Now--drumroll...I've saved the best for last.  Like most gardener/cooks, I have a very Serge Lugenssensitive nose, and I love fragrances.  That said, I find it nearly impossible to find a perfume that pleases me.  The synthetic ingredients of today's perfumes are far too aggressive and cloying for me, and my reaction to department store perfume counters is to gag and run away.  But, in the Palais Royale is the perfume shop of Serge Lutens.  Shiseido, which bought the line, has had the wisdom not to interfere with it.  These are perfumes as you would have been able to buy more than 200 years ago--or almost.  Rich, subtle blends of natural fragrances, with an accent on the vegetal.  Names like Bois de Violette, Chene ("oak" and my favorite, evocative of leaves and moss), Mandarin/Mandarine--these are fragrances that even I love to wear.  They are sold in a single formulation--a glass-stoppered flacon priced at €110.

A couple of modern designer lines--Stella McCartney is one of them--have trampled on the tradition of the Palais Royal's intimate shops by buying up several of them and converting them into one large space.  But with those exceptions, the shops of the Palais Royale are a sort of living museum of the past.  They evoke an era when 'artisan' wasn't a catchy marketing term but simply the norm, an era when refinement, elegance, subtlety, and even idiosyncracy were the predominant values of commerce. 

Then, after you've made your round of the shops, take a stroll out into the garden itself, sit down on a sunny bench, and look up at the blank windows of the apartments lining the garden.  Try to imagine the lives past and present within them.  Think what it would have been like to inhabit the gardened landscapes so carefully traced and everpresent in the novels of Colette.  And let your mind take wing on this quote from the period of her life when she lived in the Palais Royal and no longer had a garden of her own:  "Vous n'avez pas de jardin?  Moi non plus.  Aimons celui que nous inventons."  ("You don't have a garden?  Me either.  So let's love the one we imagine.")Colette


About Paris Postcard
Here's where I share the frustrations, humor, and sometimes almost heartbreaking beauty of daily life from the perspective of an American expatriate living in Paris. I'm writing to you exactly as I write to my family and friends, so what you read here is usually not about gardening. Rather, these weekly postcards are a way for you to get to know me, and I hope, to occasionally laugh out loud--both with me, and sometimes at me. Barbara Wilde
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