working on the paris apartment
allo and happy tuesday! the last week of january…i hope your year is off to a great start. it’s good and quiet here, still early with the day is full of potential and for the first time in a while i’ve felt like blogging. don’t get me wrong, i always want to blog, but sometimes life gets in the way and it’s the last desire that gets indulged. i apologize cause i was supposed to announce the winner of the macarons over a week ago. so here goes…the random number generator says…#4, sandra chapin. congratulations and i hope you enjoy them!
so what’s been going on? a lot around here, but not the frenzy it was. i’m trying to hone in and get down to basics. home life is pretty and minimal, but for the business of business, i’m refining the brand, the logo, the packaging, the company mission and mantra! 2014 already feels different. does it for you?
one of the new adventures i’m looking forward to is a collaboration with great photographers and vendors. my goal is to focus on curating ‘the paris apartment’s’ boutique and enjoying lots of eye candy while doing it. my first new photographer captures all the sparkling facets of paris and i find her photos magically delicious. please help me welcome the one and only, GeorgiannaLane!
we’ll upload her tpa collection over the next few weeks. she’s in france now and i can’t wait to see what she’s shooting. one of the topics we’re both obsessed with are the mansions, apartments, hôtel particuliers and townhouses all around paris; the once grand homes that have been preserved to this day. thank god the french care enough to preserve them!
i didn’t go to paris this month for the maison objet (january is so cold there)! but in a reasonable fasimilie, we took a trip right here in florida and had a fantastic experience, close to one we’d have in france. we went to viscaya, a mansion that was inspired by paris and venice and it was just what we hoped. built in the last century, it’s a perfect time capsule/jewel from the last century. (i’ll take you on a tour of it, i got lots of shots)!
today is the first i’ve been at home relaxing and enjoying my laptop. a vignette is still set up from last week’s party and we keep adding to it, kind of like a sculpture. one of the components is a painting, you can see it on the far right. it’s whimsical and wonderful. you remember madame de florian, the woman whose apartment was discovered a few years ago in paris that had been untouched for decades? it’s another one of those time capsule apartments. i hope they keep it as a museum.
all week long i kept hearing about madame de florian and she seemed to be showing up everywhere, even on my desk. i got the painting (above) last month and have a feeling it’s the madame herself. i’m not sure how but a combination of stars aligned and prompted me to write a story about her. below is the first chapter (my first novel)? it’s my daydream of what may have happened to her and her heirs. and i’ll keep following up on where we are with the real story and in the meantime i posted the first chapter below. if you’re interested you can pre-order in the comments.
i’d love to incorporate georgiana’s shot and was playing around with ideas. below is the title page of my first book. i didn’t realize how similar they were till just now!
speaking of that, the original book is getting a facelift and re-release this spring. we still have a few first editions and today’s giveaway is the original book, “The Paris Apartment”. if you’d like a copy let me know and we’ll draw two names this week. (i swear)! in the meantime, if you have any ideas on what may have happend with the mystery , leave them in the comments and we’ll wind it in!
Madame de Florian’s Paris Apartment
Colette clutched the silver skeleton key in her hand. It was cold and heavy and she knew it was the only one in the world. It had a smooth, polished feel as though it had been touched by many hands. It was on an old ring along with four other keys. They must have once been of great importance to their caretaker but now just hung rusty and long forgotten. Yet this one had stayed smooth and shiny. The set had been handed to her reverently by the guardian of the building. The lock drew the key like a magnet and the two fit perfectly together as soon as she inserted it. The sound of the latch turning excited her and she felt her heart race at the prospect of what lay behind the door of her very own Parisian apartment.
Colette had received a strange registered letter the week before. The postman had actually come to her apartment and knocked on the door. He said it was very important and needed to be hand delivered. For a moment she thought he bowed when he handed it to her and backed out of the doorway slowly. She was surprised but sometimes odd things happen in New York. She turned the envelope over and over again, not wanting to open it right away. It was a beautiful envelope of blue paper, with a black wax stamped seal on the back. The handwriting was an old fashioned, careful and deliberate, script:
It has taken me quite some time to locate you and I pray I have found the right girl. If it were not for modern technology, perhaps I would still be looking. The conveniences of our century certainly move fast. We searched for many years and I believe we have finally found you through the internet. However, I’m handwriting this letter because I do not trust computers and I wanted to make sure this was delivered to you personally. My grandmother says that the postal service connects people, electronics push them away. Oh, but I digress. Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Sylvie Montaigne. Our family is humble yet we live in the grandest of Parisian mansions. I am the youngest in a line of four generations who have cared for what is known as ‘Villa Belle Époque’. I work hard but my life has been one of reflection and allows me to write and paint in my spare time. In moments of calm I often contemplate the good fortune of having been born in this magnificent city which I do hope you will visit soon. We are situated in the heart of Paris near the quarter called Pigalle. Mother and grandmother could regale you all day with stories of our home, of those who’ve come and gone, lived and died, and those who’ve just passed through and made changes throughout the years. But today it stands proud and majestic, with grand walls silently watching the drama that comes and goes as Paris changes. No one really notices us but we are always here, making sure the courtyard’s garden is tended, that the stained-glass windows sparkle, the brass railings are polished, and the garbage unseen. We hold doors for the beautifully dressed mesdames as they glide in and out and nod our heads in their honor.
Colette turned the key three times before the latch released but it worked as if it were brand new. The hinges of the heavy red door creaked as she pushed it open slowly. Light streamed into the room and filled it with dusty sunbeams. It was so bright and thick she squinted and covered her nose with her scarf. Around the room were floor to ceiling windows. Her first instinct to open them all and send the heavy scent of perfume and musk out right away. With a twist of the locks she was able to release the room’s energy for what seemed like the first time in a hundred years:
So, dear Colette, by now you must be wondering what this is all about. The truth is that it’s difficult to put into words. What seemed like an easy letter to write is proving quite difficult for me now. Perhaps it’s too personal to share for all eternity by putting it to paper and pen. As I write this I realize that I had better not give any further details except to ask you to please come to Paris; there is something quite extraordinary for you at Villa Belle Époque. Perhaps I should be blunt: You have inherited an apartment and it is waiting for you.
Yours very sincerely,
With the cool spring air rushing in and the dust beginning to clear, Colette stood in the center of the room surveying the scene. She felt voyeuristic as she turned around and round, trying to comprehend what she saw and how it felt: surreal. It was familiar somehow, almost a déjà vu, as if she had been there before in a dream. She put down her bags in the center of the room and assessed the situation. It was the quintessential Paris apartment. A grand chandelier hung in the center of a square room which must have been the salon. The walls were a pale green, decorated with heavy moldings and carvings setting the backdrop. It looked like a mini ballroom in a small but opulent palace. A marble fireplace mantle with an enormous gilt mirror above reflected the petite but grand space in its dark glass. In one corner was a decorated vanity table that called her to sit down. It was exquisite even under all the soot. On top sat a tilting mirror with carved roses and garlands around it; a frame that would make any woman feel beautiful. The glass was coated with a thick layer of dust and she used a handkerchief embroidered with the letter F to wipe it off. She pulled out the little velvet boudoir chair and sat down absentmindedly. It poofed an enormous cloud as she sat but she didn’t notice or care. Even beneath the layers of grime it all still sparkled. She picked up a powderpuff that sat on a compact and just as she did. felt a cool breeze behind her, like a silk scarf brushing her neck. She turned to look behind her. Was someone there? No, that would be impossible. She was alone and the apartment had been sealed like a tomb. But why? A single perfume bottle had been left open and was creating the stale scent in the room. She replaced the lid and picked it up. It read Maison Guerlain 1890′. The label had been kissed with red lipstick. She put it down carefully on a little painted tray. In a way the vanity seemed to be something of an altar. There was a dish with ruby earrings, a lock of hair tied with a silk ribbon and a string of pearls. Among the relics scattered on the tabletop was a silver hand mirror. She picked it up and felt a familiarity with the smooth monogrammed handle. It was marked MF. She stared in the mottled glass and wondered who had looked at herself, just as Colette was doing now. She questioned what she was doing here.
Downstairs in the kitchen Sylvie and her mother, Clair, were preparing dinner while her grandmother embroidered a tea towel with a family crest. The aroma of bouillabaisse and a fresh baguette wafted up the spiral stairs at the back of Villa Belle Époque. Residents were returning home from their busy day with baby carriages, packages, groceries, and wood bundles for the fireplaces. In and out, up and down, the door swung and latched to its own rhythm every evening. Each time the door opened Sylvie peeked through the lace curtain to see who it was, closely watching the hall as her parents and grandparents had done for so many years.
“I just can’t understand why you didn’t consult me first!” cried Sylvie’s grandmother. It was my responsibility and I was going to handle it the way I saw fit in my own good time.”
Sylvie dusted the flour on her apron, and held out her hands. “But chère Grandmere Therese, you’ve had the keys for 60 years. You’ve told me stories over and over; isn’t it time to tell the truth about what’s upstairs?”
She shot back, “It was my story, my key and my wishes! A woman my age is entitled to keep some things private isn’t she? If we don’t have our memory to keep us company then what good is getting old? You’ve ruined my life!”
Sylvie’s mother, chimed in, “I wish you two would stop arguing, it’s been going on for much too long. To tell you the truth I’m relieved that she’s here.”
Therese put her chin in her hand and rested it on the cotton tablecloth. Looking out the window she said wistfully, “Well, I guess my days of youth have come to a close and time marches on.”
“Maybe you can still go up and visit the apartment sometime, Sylvie offered cheerfully. Therese shot her a look. “I will not! I only went in and out to make sure the pipes didn’t freeze and see that things were still in order. But now that she’s here, I guess I won’t be needed any longer.”
Sylvie hugged her from behind and the old chair creaked. Therese patted her hand and said, “I could never really be angry with you Sylvie, I guess my temper got the best of me. It’s hard to watch things that are so familiar suddenly change. But we have each other and that will never change.”
With that, Clair turned around from the stove and carefully placed the final dish of what looked like a feast on the table. “It warms my heart to see my two favorite ladies happy. And now, father will be home any minute.” With that the door flung open and in walked Antoine, a big, cheerful man whose face was flushed from the evening air. Sylvie ran to his arms, with an affectionate “Bonsoir, papa!” and covered his jacket with dusty flour. There was a moment’s pause before they all laughed together as she helped him off with his coat and hung it on the door. “Perfect timing, dinner is served,” announced Clair. They sat down just as they had every night for as far back as they could remember. It was then that Antoine asked, “What about our guest?” The women all looked at one another as Antoine left to go and invite Colette to supper.
Upstairs on the 6th floor, Colette was alone with her thoughts. The room had become pink and orange as dusk fell and the light began to glow. The apartment was taking on a mystical quality and she felt an anticipation yet wasn’t sure why. It was as if something lovely was about to happen but she didn’t know anyone in the city and didn’t have plans. Still, it seemed that there was something in the air, an energy she couldn’t put her finger on. On the street she could hear passersby and car horns. She noticed the clip-clop of the police on horseback and felt a sense of being in two places at once. It suddenly dawned on her that she hadn’t moved. How long had she been sitting there? She looked at her wristwatch. Four hours! Where had the time gone? Since she had nowhere to be and this was home for the next few weeks, she decided to get comfortable and continue to explore.
She took off her coat and scarf. The apartment was dim and now felt comfortable and inviting in the evening light. It had a charm about it and she saw that it had not been disturbed for many years. She lit a candle on the wall sconces and watched the room change into a very romantic setting. She picked up a pink silk robe with feathers around the cuffs hanging over the dressing screen. She shook it off, slid it over her sweater and jeans and tied the sash. Normally pretty conservative, something compelled her to twirl and she started to spin faster and faster feeling true joy. It was as if the robe had a life of its own and was dancing with her. The spinning was making her heady and sending thoughts of bliss, love and freedom through her body and mind! Where was she and what was happening?
She was jolted out of the moment and thrust back to reality by a knock at the door. “Uhhhhhh, oui?”
“Mademoiselle, it is Antoine, the caretaker of the building. I’d like to invite you to join my family and me for dinner downstairs.”
Colette caught a glimpse of herself in a long mirror. Her wavy hair was half in and out of a ponytail and she looked tired and jet lagged. But to her surprise, she also thought the robe was sort of chic. Shook her head, got hold of herself, slipped out of the robe, and laid it carefully on a chair. She straightened her hair and opened the door.
“Bonsoir!” Antoine held out his hand. “My family and I are honored to have you under our roof. It is now your roof as well. I hope you’ll enjoy your time in Paris. Are you finding the accommodations to your liking? Is there anything you need?” He looked past her to the room filled with antiques, toys, taxidermy, clothes and souvenirs from what must have been the 1800s. In the middle of the floor were Colette’s bags and suitcases, fresh and new and striking in contrast with the decor. She stretched out her hand. “Bonsoir, merci. Hmmmm. Do you have an extension cord?” There was a moment’s pause before they burst into laughter at the absurdity of the situation. This apartment had never seen electricity. It sat closed up tight for a century, before the world knew what electricity would bring and how it would change society. Antoine propped the door open and held it for her. “Please bring down anything you’d like and we can charge it while you have dinner.” She instantly realized how hungry she was and grabbed her phone, ipad, laptop with chargers for each and headed down to the apartment under the stairs.
As Antoine opened the door, Colette was greeted by the warm and smiling faces of three generations of women. “Welcome, bienvenue, s’il vous plait, entree! Please sit down; you must be hungry. You arrived this morning and haven’t left the building. It’s 8pm. Please, won’t you join us for supper?” Antoine uncorked a bottle of wine. “Château Lafite!” He pronounced proudly. “I’ve been waiting for a special occasion to open this bottle. It’s from a very old family estate here in France. Have you heard of the King’s wine? Well this is it!”
He poured it carefully into a glass, swirling it gently, looking at the color and holding the bottle. He rubbed the label with his thumb. “This is a very special wine. It’s been in our family for decades. We didn’t want to open it until you were here.” “Until I was here?” Colette was surprised and unsure how to react. She didn’t know this family, lovely though they were, until this very moment.
Sylvie jumped up and took the glass from her father and handed it to Colette. “What my father means is that we were waiting for a special occasion. We hope it is as special for you as it is for us.
By now Antoine had poured glasses of wine for the ladies and his own as well. They all raised their glasses to Colette. “Welcome, Colette. Salut!” They all stood and touched glasses above her head. Colette was not sure what was happening but was glad to have the wine. She took a long gulp and they all laughed at her voracious spirit. “Please now, sit. You have traveled a long way and we have lots to tell you. But, first, let’s enjoy our meal.
After the stew and the haricots vert, the bread, the sauce and wine, Colette was feeling relaxed and happy. This family welcomed her with open arms and made her feel at home.
Dinner was winding down when Therese brought out an apple jalousie pie. The scent was intoxicating and Colette couldn’t help but take a small piece. By now she was feeling drowsy and a little lightheaded. As much as she wanted to learn more about the apartment, she knew it was best that she keep that discussion for tomorrow. The group said their good nights and Antoine led her into the old elevator and sent her up. He took the stairs two at a time and helped with the keys as she fumbled at the door. Inside the curtains were blowing. The dust had settled and night had come. Moonlight was streaming in the open windwos and violin music wafted up from cafe below. It was as though time was physically passing through the apartment. Maybe it was the wine but suddenly she felt old and young at the same time, both here and far away, familiar and unusual. It was all too much and she fell to the floor in a thud. Antoine picked her up. He was about to put her on the bed but realized it was dusty and stood there with her in his arms. As she came to he put her on the chaise lounge and handed her the water bottle she had on the plane. There was a knock on the door. It creaked open and Sylvie walked in with two pillows and a blanket. “Mother thought you might need these.”
Antoine opened a large, creaky trunk in the back closet of the bedroom. It was filled with embroidered linens that were perfectly preserved and folded. While they made the bed, Colette rubbed her eyes.
It was getting chilly and Sylvie closed the windows. She left the one at the foot of the bed open and moonbeams danced on the fresh sheets. “There’s nothing like a moon bath is there?”
Colette thanked them both and they silently closed the door behind them. She peeled off her jeans and sweater and climbed into the bed. It felt like a cloud. The white linens felt smooth and soft from her cheeks to her feet. As her head sank into the pillow she could feel herself drifting away. Again she was having conflicting feelings, this time fighting to stay awake and enjoy the beautiful night while knowing she needed a very much needed, deep sleep. Finally she gave in and slipped away and began to have a night of very lucid dreams that felt very real.
A faint ray of sunlight began around 6 a.m. When Colette woke she felt as if she’d been on a whirlwind trip through the night. Paris was silent for the first time since she arrived. The quiet was stronger than all the noise of the day before. The silence was deafening but allowed her to think. She tried to recall her dreams and vaguely remembered dancing. She took a deep breath and sighed. Who had lived here, had woken up here, just like this? What had Her life been like?
The quiet room put Colette in a state somewhere between sleep and meditation. She had always tried to practice it but found it hard to shut her mind off. As she drifted in and out she allowed herself to feel the energy of the apartment. It had a life of its own and something in the air was electric, alive. She saw a party in the living room. She reached her hand out to a man inviting her to dance. She felt his hand and it brought her back to the moment. That’s insane, she thought. It was then she looked around and some things seemed different. Was there a gentleman’s top hat and cane on the chair yesterday? She didn’t remember that hat. It was then she realized that inanimate objects might have their own stories to tell. But til then she would have to get her information from the source; the guardiens.