The events of the past few days in Paris are unfathomable. Attacks on freedom of expression in a nation whose principles are Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Incomprehensible deaths of innocent people. It is difficult to accept and impossible to understand. Having experienced 9/11 in New York, and now this in Paris.
Friend and fellow traveler Lynne Martin, author of Home Sweet Anywhere (a book I highly recommend) and blogger at Home Free Adventures, asked me to describe celebrating Christmas in Paris as an expat. I took a moment to think about what makes the city of lights even brighter during the holidays, and having spent many a holiday season in Paris, here is what I came up with. You an also find this article online at TravelSmith!
What is it about Christmas time in Paris that truly captivates the senses? Where to begin…
The intimacy of the sidewalk cafes with their heat lamps and blankets, beneath which you can indulge in a glass of seasonal mulled wine. The street vendors selling roasted chestnuts on many a corner. The annual holiday markets scattered around the city, revealing an array of artisanal gift ideas. But I suspect it’s the culinary specialties from various regions of France that draw the crowds. My favorites include raclette and the more decadent tartiflette, hailing from the Haute-Savoie.
Known for their pâtisseries, it’s no surprise that the French celebrate Christmas with cake. The bûche de Noël originally represented the yule log, a sponge cake with a bark-like texture made of buttercream. Many variations can be found around Paris, each more decadent than the last. Beginning in late December, pastry shops in Paris fill their windows with galettes des rois, or King Cake, to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6th. A good luck charm called la fève is baked inside this puff pastry filled with frangipane, and whoever’s piece contains la fève is crowned king or queen for the day. The cobbled streets sparkle, each dressed in it’s own string of holiday lights. The Champs Elysées glows the brightest of all, each year in late November a lighting ceremony takes place, with thousands of fairy lights lit along this grand boulevard. Yet another reason why Paris is so often referred to as the City of Lights.
At the grands magasins including Printemps, Galeries Lafayette, Le Bon Marché, and Bazar de l’Hôtel de Ville, the window displays are reminiscent of theatre sets, revealing animated Christmas scenes that leave both young and old marveling. Often a family trip is taken to view these story-telling windows.
We cannot forget the celebrated churches. My first Christmas in Paris was spent at Notre Dame Cathedral. The choir alone was worth braving the crowds, as they filled the 800 year old space with song, a midnight mass never to be forgotten. Even passing by the Notre Dame by night, the majestic sparkling Christmas tree will take your breath away.
Wherever you are in the world, I wish you happy holidays + a bright and happy new year!
Artist Sonia Delaunay is one of the inspirations behind my handbags. Arriving to Paris in 1905, Sonia believed “modernity could be expressed through the primacy of color in art and the dynamic interplay of its dissonances and harmonies”. Due in large part to her beliefs and the quality of her work, Delaunay is responsible for bringing art into daily life.
I was overjoyed to spend an afternoon with my muse at her Musée d’Art Moderne retrospective in Paris, what was once her home. ( I often visit her paintings at Pompidou’s permanent collection.) Over 400 works were on display, including paintings, wall decorations, gouaches, prints, fashion items and textiles. A designer’s paradise!
Art and life became one. “It was my life and I worked the whole time, but I wasn’t working – I was living – and that is the difference.”
I often look at paintings and see them as fabric. That is after all, how I came up with my wearable art designs. For me, there is no better example of this than the work of Delaunay.
“For me there is no gap between my painting and my so-called ‘decorative’ work. I never considered the ‘minor arts’ to be artistically frustrating; on the contrary, it was an extension of my art.”
Sonia’s vision was uniquely vibrant. For her “color is the skin of the world”.
Sonia Delaunay retrospective ends February 22
Paris is a city steeped in history, with rarely a modern structure in sight. This is why the Fondation Louis Vuitton is such an important and monumental museum and cultural center for Paris. It not only houses art, but in my opinion it personifies art. It opened in late October in Paris’s Bois de Boulogne, and soon after that I was lucky enough to experience it. My last trip into the mind and work of Frank Gehry was at Guggenheim Bilbao and more recently NYC’s Guggenheim. This one was perhaps the most impressive of them all!
Frank Gehry’s vision was realized thanks to the generous funding of LVMH, at a cost of no less than $135 million. Within this 43 meter high private foundation of glass, concrete, timber and steel, you can find the art collection of Bernard Arnault, LVMH’s art-collecting owner and France’s wealthiest man. “You don’t put a price tag on a dream,” says Arnault. Eleven galleries provide 3,850 sq meters (41,441 square feet) of exhibition space. Pas mal!
I liked Diana the moment I met her. She possesses strength in her manner, her eyes sparkle with optimism, and her deep voice exudes confidence. We first met at the women’s group we belong to, and soon after we shared thoughts about leaving New York and starting life in Paris, as well as the trials and thrills of running a business. I have yet to join Diana on a Paris workout (but I certainly will) and am a big fan of her book, filled with wise advice on how to live a more healthy, balanced, and yes, sexy life. Her story (and her book) is certain to inspire!
I was scared. Even though I had dreams of living abroad during my lifetime and felt a strong pull towards Paris, I truly never planned any kind of move. I figured marrying a Frenchman would fulfill my French dream, as we would be traveling there at least once a year to visit his family in Normandy.
I’ve been called the fastest expat transition in Paris. On my second day here, I went to a women’s networking group meeting, the Paris Women of Success. Freshly jet lagged, the group gave me a round of applause for putting myself out there when I hadn’t even been living in my new city for 24 hours.
Ten months have flown by already. I have expanded my online business to an in-person element in Paris doing workouts in the parks and have big plans for an Unleash Your Sexy Experience launch in 2015, online and in-person. Plus, many of the women of Paris (francaise et expatriee!) have been using my book “Unleashed” as their lifestyle bibles. I have made new friends from all over the world. I know my way around the city and actually can get certain places without the Maps app on my phone (big success for me). I have travelled so much of France and was able to take weekend trips to London and Rome. I have a wonderful life in Paris.
My husband works 12-hour days (sometimes more) so I’ve been on my own for most of this. We enjoy weekends together, though he jokes that he knows Paris through my Instagram feed. He’s been incredibly supportive and happy with my transition and luckily shares the same experiences from when he moved to the USA. I took French courses for the first nine weeks I was in Paris and practice with my local boulanger and new family when I see them. I’m proud of myself that I feel comfortable enough with the language to have conversations and get what I want! It’s not always easy living in Paris. I’ve had my fair share of rudeness and bureaucracy. Even being married didn’t make the visa and immigration process facile. But I made a very important decision when I arrived: I always have a choice, and I choose happiness.
One of my favorite French words is chouette which literally means owl, or when used to describe someone or something, means it’s great or cool, as in c’est chouette. A few weeks ago while walking around my neighborhood, I noticed Les Chouettes, what appeared to be a new eatery. Upon entering I was completely taken with the decor and design of this new restaurant which opened on October 4th. Love at first sight!
The restaurant was in fact named for an antique owl that the French owner found at a flea market. Inspired by art and a New York vision, the owner hired Spanish architect Lázaro Rosa-Violán to design the three level interior, what used to house a jewelry factory.
Les Chouettes : 32 Rue de Picardie, 75003 (01 44 61 73 21)
In an attempt to make even a small difference in the world, one that is often fraught with conflict, I designed the United Collection, representing people coming together in freedom, harmony, balance and unity. Twenty percent of all proceeds from sales of the United bags will go towards the global humanitarian organization, International Red Cross. With my mission in place, this was certainly a fun project to work on. Photographer Hélène Loire and I spent a beautiful late afternoon photographing the collection, beginning with that which we are all entitled to, freedom.
freedom (n): The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants.
harmony (n): A pleasing combination of elements in a whole.
balance (v): To bring into or maintain in a state of equilibrium.
united (n): The state of being united or joined as a whole.
More images from the United Collection on Kasia Dietz handbags website.
In addition to donating 20% of United bag sales to International Red Cross, I’m giving away a bag to one of my readers (chosen at random Dec 1st) as an early holiday gift. Just leave a comment below stating which United bag is your favorite, and be sure to join my designing life on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Meanwhile, let’s all try to maintain a sense of freedom, harmony, balance and unity.
I first visited Picasso in Paris ten years ago, stopping to admire the 17th-century mansion known as the Hôtel Salé, on one of my many walks around the Marais. I remember thinking what a shame that so much of his personal work was in storage, as there was scant wall space to display the artwork. Little did I know I would end up living just a stone’s throw from this artist’s legacy, but with only the garden open for viewing. As anyone who is a fan of Picasso’s work knows, the Musée Picasso has been closed for the last 5 years (3 years longer than expected), undergoing extensive renovations.
On Friday morning, October 24th, one day shy of Picasso’s birthday and the official opening, I was invited inside the newly renovated museum, now three times the size and much more impressive.
I walked around the five floors in awe of the renewed space which now boasts over 400 of Picasso’s paintings, drawings and sculptures, as well as works from his personal collection.
Musée Picasso plans to host one major exhibit each year. Next year, in collaboration with New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, it will be a show revolving around Picasso’s sculpture. Until then, I plan to spend many a Paris morning with Picasso.
Even though I haven’t yet met Samantha, (but plan to soon as I’m certain she and I and our passion driven husbands will get along splendidly), I feel like I know her. We became friends via our blogs, and when I heard about her romantic tale, I couldn’t wait for her to share it with the world. Once the book was published just days ago, I could not put it down, as Samantha recounts her love story with her amorous rocket scientist, from the very first meeting. Fiction could not have told a better tale! How happy I am for this couple in love, who were certainly destined for one another. In Samantha’s words, as in my own, “L’amour! Encore l’amour! Toujours l’amour!”
Twenty years, seven letters, and one long-lost love of a lifetime
Thank you Samantha, for living and documenting your love story with such a generous heart!
It’s true that to be truly happy we must appreciate not only who we are and what we have but also where we are. This means to make the most of wherever we call home. There are several places close to my heart, but these last 5 years, it’s Paris that I am lucky to call my home. With all it’s flaws and imperfections (those who have lived here know what I’m talking about), but much like a person, no place is perfect. There are certainly days in which I miss the chaos of New York City, or the calm of Westhampton Beach, but there is certainly no place as beautiful as Paris. And I have seen a lot.
A few days ago, I took a walk along the Seine.
It is here that I often find myself on early evenings.
I had a rendezvous with my Italian, but kept walking and walking…
Captivated by the light on this late summer evening.
And this is when it occurred to me exactly how lucky I am.