Every time I visit Paris, I think about the way Hemingway referred to the City of Light as a "Moveable Feast." But I have to admit that I like the Russian translation of the title even more, "A Holiday That is Always with You." When a few weeks ago I returned from a trip to Paris, a surprise package was waiting at my door with the book, Why LA? Porquoi Paris? An Artistic Pairing of Two Iconic Cities, by Diane Ratican. And, if that was not enough of a coincidence, the next day, I went to Paramount Studios to attend the third annual Paris Photo LA, the prestigious international photo fair with its home base at the Grand Palais in Paris.
So, let me share with you my recent adventures in and around the City of Light, where I was a guest of the Paris Region Tourist Board at the Grand hotel du Palais Royal, across from the Museé de Louvre, an ideal place to stay for any art aficionado. My hosts also arranged my first ever trip to Chateau de Fontainebleau, the imperial residence which Napoleon considered to be "the real home of kings, a house of centuries." I was especially intrigued to see there the relatively modest -- by size -- private apartment of Napoleon himself. With its sprawling parks and gardens, the Chateau was the splendid home to French royalty from the 12th century until the abdication of Napoleon III in 1870. There is so much to see and to experience in Fontainebleau; one should plan to spend at least a whole day there.
The same day, we drove to resplendent Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, which is only one hour away from Paris. In 1641, it was purchased by Nicolas Fouquet, who, several years later, became the Minister of Finance for Louis XIV. Fouquet had grandiose plans for his estate. At one time, it was said that Fouquet employed 18,000 workers to maintain his gardens and rebuild his castle. Among them were the famous architect Le Vau, the landscape designer le Notre, and artist Le Brun.
In a tragic turn of events, after lavish festivities to celebrate the opening of his estate, Fouquet -- the richest man in France after the King -- was arrested under a false accusation of misappropriation of public funds. Voltaire famously said, "On 17 August , at 6 in the evening, Fouquet was the King of France; at two in the morning, he was nobody." In 1875, after many years of neglect, the Chateau was sold to Alfred Sommier, and today, it is administered by his descendants and regularly opens to the public.
Back in Paris, I spent a good amount of time getting familiar with two new major cultural projects, Jean Nouvel's Philharmonie de Paris and Frank Gehry's Fondation Louis Vuitton. Even four months after its official opening, the Philharmonie building is still 20 percent incomplete. The building is impressive, but not particularly likeable. But, what's important is that it has become a big success with the public from Day One, mostly due to its splendid acoustics and reasonably priced tickets. On the ground floor, there is an exhibition space, currently devoted to David Bowie; the next exhibition will feature the art of Marc Chagall.
My visit to Fondation Louis Vuitton, the translucent glass fantasy by Frank Gehry in Boulogne Forest, made me forget the splendor of Fontainebleau and Chateau de Vaux. At the age of 86, Gehry has delivered his most adventurous, most ambitious architectural project. There is a seamless interaction between the outdoor and indoor spaces, which makes one think about the influence of Los Angeles modernist architecture.
One climbs up several levels of the building, discovering numerous terraces and patios. And, with every twist and turn, yet another view of Boulogne Forest with Paris in the distance is revealed. And, for the first time in his practice, Gehry chose to reveal the architectural and engineering structure of his building, the structure that made me think about the gorgeous skeleton of a gigantic dinosaur. Even compared to his celebrated Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and his Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, Fondation Louis Vuitton shines as Gehry's absolute best.
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