Monday, December 14, 2009

This is not your grandmother's strip mall.

I was in a weekly conversation group with a bunch of classy middle-aged French and Anglo ladies-who-lunch.  I was easily one of the youngest there (and I'm not so young), but no matter, the conversation was always topical. We'd spend the first hour speaking French, the second English. Often, we'd have a field trip planned, the first of which was a tour of the passages couverts of Paris.  I was enchanted.

The passages couverts, or covered walkways, were early day shopping malls, developed in the early 19th century, just as Haussman was seriously overhauling the design of the city and before the development of the department store.  This was also at the time when strolling and people watching (the French word flâneur, as Baudelaire defined it: "a person who walks the city in order to experience it") became a national pastime, and importantly, before the sewer system was put underground.   These are the origins of the downtown arcades you'd likely find in your old hometown.  We had one in Schenectady, NY.
So these walkways were a glorious respite for walk-about Parisians. In the day, there were over 150 of them, today there remain under 20.  I've visited a handful of them, and rejoice when I accidentally stumble upon one of them.  The walkways are typically marble-paneled corridors with glorious glass ceilings, allowing for natural light from above, and dotted with high end boutiques.  But not always.  Some are seeing a real resurgence like Galerie Vivienne, abetted by Jean Paul Gautier establishing his flagship store nearby, while others remain in disrepair.

A New York Times travel section article provides a good primer on these civic jewels. Above is a photo of friend Miki preparing to do some damage outside Galerie Vivienne.
Friend Fiona outside Christian Louboutin in Galerie Véro-Dodat 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In the day.

Several years ago I rented a weekend summer house in the Hamptons with friends. We'd stay up late playing games wearing summer sweaters and drinking any-season beer. The first game was called "Hump or Die." The premise was that you'd either have to sleep with someone completely revolting or, you know, die. Most of us value our life too much to forfeit it completely versus sleep with someone repulsive, so we quickly exhausted that game and graduated to a celebrity face-off. It was similarly fashioned, in that you'd have to choose the celebrity based on the assumption that you'd imagine yourself having sex with that person. Generally speaking, we'd pit similarly branded celebs against one another, low-brow or high-brow, loathsome or lovable. So, for example, Oprah or Rosie? Redford or Newman? Stewart or Colbert?

For a select number of celebrants, the ones whom never really aged very well or their career was seriously in the toilet, you'd be allowed to qualify your choice by saying "in the day..." So, think: Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, or hell, even a Shelly Winters. (Granted, no matter of qualification can save some, and you're just as happy reverting back to "Hump or Die." So, think: Limbaugh or Beck.)

Years later, it's this "in the day" that defines my all-time celebrity crush. His name is Alain Delon, and although he is one of the most renowned of French actors and alive and kickin', I discovered him rather late in life via my Netflix queue. I feel silly mentioning him here as he's so damn ubiquitous in France, but he never made it big in Hollywood (not for want of trying), so I'm forgiven if this Yankee arrived late to the party.

I say "in the day," not so much because he hasn't aged well, but he's gotten rather cheesy. Early on he knew the value of brand and so started a company selling everything from perfume to watches to sunglasses ('famously' worn by Chow Yun Fat in one three of his movies). His smoking shows, and he's made bad role choices. But in the day he was simply ga-ga gorgeous, dark and brooding, rebellious and unapologetic. This working class boy made it big time. Moreover, Monsieur Delon has a lot of one degree associations of stuff I like:
  • he was the face of The Smiths' album "The Queen is Dead"
  • he starred in the original film version of Patricia Highsmiths' The Talented Mr. Ripley (called Plein Soleil)
  • he's alleged to have a love child with tragic singer/Warholian Nico (he's consistently denied paternity, although his parents raised the kid)
And as if luxury brand Dior had the same "in the day" qualifier in mind, they recently launched a campaign for Eau Savage, using a photo taken of Delon in 1966, the year the perfume was first launched. "In the day"- oh for sure.

photo courtesy images de parfums