Check out this video documenting graffiti artist Tilt‘s recent installation in a Marseilles hotel room. To find out more about the project, there’s a nifty Q & A with Tilt in the New York Times…. To Book a room, contact Au Vieux Panier. Tilt’s ‘Panic Room’ will set you back €135. If bubble letters give you nightmares why not spend the night in purgatory in the ‘Mass Confusion’ room instead? Nuff said, the video speaks for itself.
So, we’ve been meaning to blog about the Hi-Matic Hotel in Paris for a while now… But we’ve just come across this little video (below), and we reckon it pretty much does the job for us, so perhaps it will do for now? The 42 room Hi-Matic Hotel by Matali Crasset, Patrick Elouarghi and Philippe Chatelet in the fashionable 11th district is reasonably priced (think around the €100+ range), is in a cool neighbourhood (bobo central) and promotes a green ethos.
The hotel plays around with interesting ideas, such as rooms that fold away Japanese-style during the day and funny, chopped up living spaces reminiscent of cubby houses or half-built lofts with jewel-like colours. The costs are kept down due to the DIY (auto-’matic’) of the check-in procedure etc – there’s no staff, you simply collect a key and let yourself in. Perks: Vending machine offering snacks, books and toys. A dainty (read well-chosen, if not copious) organic (‘bio’) breakfast served on trays a la ‘in-flight’. Tips: Note that sleeping/bathroom arrangements are small and, for lack of a better word, ‘intimate’. Room to Improve: There do seem to be some issues with clothes/luggage storage and overall practicality of the design. Approach in the spirit of weekend’s living experiment! (And enjoy!)
If you’re staying at the Hi-Hotel, definitely try to book a table at the lovely Septime. If it’s too pricey or you can’t score a table, the tiny Le Mouton Noir (‘Black Sheep’) Mouton on the same street is pretty good and reasonably priced, but do ask for on street level (downstairs is damp,while the mezzanine is claustrophobic).
Booking: Hi-Matic Hotel
One of the hotel’s collaborators, the rather whimsical designer Matali Crasset known for her colourful and playful takes on furniture, is currently responsible for an odd little installation at the Pompidou Centre; Blobterre, a sort of growing greenery installation in the children’s section. We reckon a Hi-Matic Hotel + Blobterre could make a suitable quirky machine-for-living meets the Triffids sort of weekend. (Especially right now with Paris in full art swing with FIAC, and off-events such as Slick Paris and some amazing shows on at the Pompidou etc.)
La Tourette, the monastery designed by Le Corbusier near Lyon in France, offers design fanatics a chance to experience his architectural theories in a spiritual context, without having to take radical vows of chastity and poverty. At La Tourette, guests are welcome to book themselves into a cell for a night – or longer – for a unique and thrifty taste of Modernism with a splash of Catholicism (or the other way around, according to your tastes).
Bearing Le Corbusier’s design trademarks – stilts, a free-floating facade, horizontal windows and a roof-top garden – the concrete structure is grouped around an internal courtyard in the manner of a traditional monastery. Within its walls is a series of interconnected spaces, providing its inhabitants with the opportunity for personal, community and spiritual life; the three pillars of human life. Commissioned by the Dominicans and built between 1956 and 1960, the building was designed to house both novices – who spent several years at the convent – and friars who were life-long inhabitants. Today it also welcomes visitors, such as Le Corbusier fans!
Le Corbusier developed a building scale based on what was then the average size of the average French man – 1.75 metres (5ft8″); but noting that the ‘hero’ in American movies and books of the time, was invariably described as ‘6ft tall’ (1.88m) – he created a secondary, more ‘heroic’ scale that could be applied to international or big budget projects. At La Tourette visitors are housed in the novice cells based on the 1.75cm scale. (The friar’s rooms are based on the larger scale to accommodate the few more modest possessions they may accumulate over the course of their lifetime.)
By contemporary standards, the cells are small and basic, but they are also cosy and efficient. This is the kind of set-up Virginia Woolf was probably imagining when she wrote about having A Room of One’s Own. Each compact room contains four distinct spaces delineated by its unique light source and activity: an entry with hand-basin and clothes storage; a bed with reading light; a desk with chair; and a private balcony with a little nook for candles etc. At opposite ends of the room are louvres to enable cross ventilation. Pared down to its essentials this modest room enables the full gamut of a monk’s day-to-day living: rest, reflection, privacy and contact with the outdoors. This is real minimalism minus the chichi price tag.
The hallways circulating the living space are designed to accommodate meditational pacing. Small blocks of strategically placed concrete, and ‘concrete flowers’ that obscure the windows at the end of the corridor, enable light to enter but block external views; this allows the thinker to walk without having their thoughts interrupted by the view. The end windows are positioned off-centre to draw walkers (who subconsciously follow their axis) to orient themselves closer to the internal courtyard and away from the living cells, thus assisting with noise and privacy. As our guide said, “It’s not symmetrical, but it is balanced.”
Staying at the Convent: From an accommodation perspective, the Convent’s sleeping arrangements are evidently basic: each cell is equipped with bed linen, a blanket and a single bed. (You do have to make your own bed and no, you cannot share it.). It’s no thrills, but it’s clean and somehow pleasing. Showers and toilets are taken in a communal ablutions room – one for men another for women. Meals are taken in the large communal dining room with beautiful verdant views through windows that were designed in conjunction with the mathematically-minded composer Xenakis. The building is heated but we suspect it could be brisk in the cooler months.
This is supposed to be a place of spiritual and intellectual reflection so there is a rule of silence throughout the convent. However, the hard concrete surfaces and old-fashioned door sealants mean that the convent is far from sound-proof and with some visitors going to bed at midnight and others getting up at 6am, and couples accustomed to sharing a room, whispering urgently to each other through their cell doors “Have you got the toothpaste!?”…well, it’s not exactly silent. (For the sake of your own peace and others, it’s best to leave small children at home). Despite all that, the intention of silence was enough to create a meditative atmosphere and after 24 hours of quiet and a good walk in the adjoining forest we felt calm and refreshed.
The crowd: there are three main groups: the actual residents, the Friars; groups, such as volunteer gardeners preening the grounds, or writers attending a workshop; and tourists – primarily of the archi-fanatic variety and easily spotted by their trademark hipster glasses and manic photo taking! Dining tables are organised according to the purpose of your visit – a group of unwitting Japanese tourists created quite a stir among the grey-haired green-thumbs by going free-style and accidentally breakfasting at the Gardener’s table.
Perks: First up, don’t miss the guided tour! Also, we don’t want to over-hype it, but the church at La Tourette is something really special, make sure you enter it from inside the monastery so you get the full effect (i.e: not from the external side door that takes you directly into the church). If you take the tour you can also access the magical Crypt. We were amused to see that Le Corbusier wasn’t satisfied with merely designing the entire building; he also felt compelled to sign his hand-drawn crucifixes. (Not that he had an ego issue or anything.) The smaller chapel with its avant garde fluorescent lights is also delightful. Note that the tours are open to everyone – you don’t have to be a guest.
Tariffs: €35 per night, per person with breakfast. You can also have diner there, but you will need to pre-order at the time of the booking or significantly in advance. Alternatively, come prepared to picnic on the grounds. Failing that, Lyon is a half an hour drive away, or you can eat at the neighbouring villages such as L’Arbresle.
The ominously named Hotel Terminus (Place de la Gare, in L’Arbresle) has some retro charm, we enjoyed the trout with almond sauce, but locals were raving about the house speciality: frogs. We were also recommended the cute-as-a-button Le Capucin in an old, quaint part of town.
Booking: if La Tourette’s official website is still under construction, you’ll find them listed on the Dominicians site here. Practical information is listed here. Note, there is a train that connects from Lyon, but the walk to the monastery from the station is definitely uphill and there are no taxis, not advised for non-minimalist packers.
Alternatives: If you’d like to visit Couvent de La Tourette, but not to sleep there, we can suggest the following alternatives in nearby Lyon: the quirky and cosy College Hotel which has a slightly scholastic meets gentlemen’s club feel. If you haven’t had enough architecture, you can try Renzo Piano in a slightly corporate mood at Hotel de la Cité. If you feel the need for sumptuous digs fit for a Pope, book yourself into Cour des Loges.
Sleeping with Le Corbusier: you might also like our story about Hotel Le Corbusier in Marseilles.
Few photographic expos incite excitement like Les Rencontres d’Arles…the heavyweight of Europe’s photographic scene. It’s not too late to catch the final weeks of the 2011 show – or too early to start thinking about 2012… So here are two great accommodation ideas (listed in order of budget). If you are intending to visit Arles during the opening week of the exhibition book accommodation way in advance – and keep in mind that the atmosphere will be buzzy with a distinctly work vibe with a frantic flurry of blackberrying and i-phoning and restaurants booked out. Outside of this a more chilled atmos.will prevail.
LA MAISON D’ARLES
Run by a young and extremely energetic, er, podiatrist (!) La Maison d’Arles is a four bedroom B&B in an old Hotel Particulaire in the centre of Arles. (Stick your head out the window far enough and you’ll see the city’s impressive Roman Amphitheatre at the end of the street.)
B&B’s are a balancing act, with a less than welcoming host it’s all too easy to feel like a space invader. But Sabrina, the host of La Maison d’Arles, is so easy-going and friendly that you quickly feel at home. The house has been recently renovated and while the make-over is incredibly modern, the house retains the essence of its historic appeal in details, such as mosaic tile flooring, and its timeless and elegant proportions. Each room is stylishly decked out with sparkling new bathrooms; in several instances, these are hidden from view with sheer curtains enabling a degree but not total privacy.
One of the real pluses of this place are the communal spaces – an outdoor sitting area in the terrace garden downstairs, a good-sized balcony for breakfasting plus an indoor lounge and dining area. There’s none of that excruciating B&B palava involving rigid and early breakfast times with the ‘Man of the House’ in a novelty apron asking how you’d like your eggs against a backdrop of cheesy classical music and awkward breakfast conversation with fellow-guests before you’ve woken-up. Instead, a French-style breakfast is laid out until noon – just serve yourself (you can take it back to bed on a tray if you like). During the day you can also help yourself to drinks from the fridge and the coffee machine – a welcome innovation in a French B&B where access to hot caffeinated beverages is not usually the norm.
Sabrina also lets out an additional five rooms in the equally lovely Hotel Particulaire next door. It has a small but perfectly adequate swimming pool for cooling off in the summer months, an elegant lounging area and offers kitchen access. If you are travelling in a group you may be able to rent out the whole house.
Tips: ‘Reglisse’ is the smallest and cheapest room in the house but be warned that it adjoins the lounge and terrace – not recommended for light sleepers travelling without ear plugs. If the swimming pool is a must, request a room in that house or confirm access to it at the time of booking (usually it is open to all guests). There’s a tiny house at the end of the garden with a small bedroom upstairs (‘Guimauve’) and a tiny kitchen downstairs with a private garden area – this is a good option if you’re intending to cook during a longer stay, but be warned that the stairs to the bedroom are perilous (!) and storage is almost non-existent.
Room to Improve: Clothes/luggage storage is a bit on the minimalist end – even light packers will struggle to store to put their things away!
Rates: depending on room and season, approx €50–€100.
Contact: La Maison d’Arles
Back in the day this atmospheric hotel in the heart of Arles was the kind of joint where you could expect to run into Jean Cocteau mooning over the dreamy toreador, Dominguin, who in turn was bedding fellow-guest Ava Gardner. (Doh!) Throw in Hemingway, Picasso, Piaf and the usual suspects and well; you know the drill – testosterone, booze and sequins flying. (And that’s just the matadors.)
This historic address (formerly owned by a clown, and most famously by former cabaret singer known as Germaine) used to be the hotel of choice for toreadors who came (and still do) to take their turn in the Roman amphitheatre-turned-bullfighting ring of Arles. Since its artful renovation in 1989 it continues to lure an artistic-slash-glitterati crowd and is a favourite with local-lad-made-good Christian Lacroix. (Obviously the occasional weighty tourist bemusingly decked out in multi-pocketed camouflage and over-sized camera may also be in-situ. Hey, nothing is perfect!)
The hotel’s decor is one of a kind – downstairs the lobby has a gentlemen’s lounge feel with a dash of Moroccan spice, vintage bullfighting posters, and evocative black and white wildlife photography by the environmentally inclined Peter Beard. Each room varies in decoration, what you can be sure of is an element of surprise and a unique aesthetic that creates the right balance of beauty and eccentricity.
Bullfighters traditionally slept in room 10, as did Napoleon, a room so flamboyantly exquisite we could have cried. (Pictured above.) Strangely enough, it also has two beds, convenient if you have a lover’s spat in the middle of the night – or get extra lucky.
If you are somebody who judges a hotel according to the size of its plasma screen the Hotel Nord-Pinus is not for you. But if you like your glamour with a worn-in patina, a hint of by-gone glory then give it a try but be prepared for an all-out seduction of the senses and the possibility of encountering the larger-than-life character that is owner Anne Igou. Our verdict: Genius.
Tips: The basic rooms are smaller and simpler but still perfectly adequate. The Place du Forum is tourist central so don’t expect to have it to yourself, and if your windows are open you’ll certainly hear nosie from the diners downstairs. Breakfast isn’t a bargain, but there are loads of alternative cafes on your doorstop that’ll do you a cafe au lait.
Rates: depending on room and season, approx €145–€300.
Contact: Hotel Nord Pinus
Get into the mood: He [the matador] must have a spiritual enjoyment of the moment of killing. Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you aesthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race,” – the world according to an intense (and arguably peculiar) Hemingway in Death in the Afternoon. Dip into Hemingway’s weighty tome on bullfighting in the lobby bar of the Hotel Nord-Pinus…
Home to Europe’s most high profile photographic expo, an impressive scattering of Roman ruins, and a goodly number of gastronomic haunts, UNESCO-heritage listed Arles packs a punch that belies its cartographic impact. And as the famed photography festival, Les Rencontres d’Arles 2011, reaches its final month, visitors can enjoy the show – dispersed in exhibition spaces across the city – minus the frenzy of the opening weeks and the crush of summer tourists.
This year’s show, which puts a spotlight on the work of Mexican photographers, also provided a timely reminder of the relationship and relevance of photography to political upheaval and revolution – from recently unearthed negatives (‘The Capa Suitcase’) of the Spanish Civil War by legendary photographers Robert Capa, Chim (aka David Seymour) and Gerda Taro to digital images taken at the recent Tunisian uprising that kicked-off the so-called Arab Spring.
For us, the exhibition devoted to Gabriel Figueroa (1907-1997) was the surprise stand-out hit. Figueroa, a Mexican cinematographer to directors including John Ford, Luis Buñuel and John Huston may not be a photographer in the strictest sense but there is no denying his masterful eye. This multi-screened video installation in the atmospheric Eglise des Frères Prêcheurs church, features skilfully edited extracts of his career spanning 50 years of Mexican cinema. Full credit must go to curator Alfonso Morales for his selection and treatment of Figueroa’s sumptuous and amazingly diverse images grouped thematically eg: religion, death, film noir. Shot largely in black and white these cinemagraphic-tasters are a treasure trove of Mexican imagery. Each film, composed from multiple sources, creates a surreal sort of narrative but seen en masse, odd couplings emerge – a grim and hairy Jesus suffering in the desert plays adjacent to an apparently frenzied cannibal king playing the drums. All up an apt love letter to the poetic weirdness of this dream-world we call film and a master of the trade.
Another highlight was the rather unimaginatively titled if immaculately branded headliner show New York Times Magazine Photographs. Curated by its chief photo editor Kathy Ryan, the exhibition encompasses an emotional rollercoaster of subject matter that included portraiture, reportage and fine art on topics ranging from the September 11 attacks and the current war in Afghanistan to Sebastião Salgado’s documentiation of Kuwait oil fields and Nan Goldin’s intimate portraits of James King, a then 16-year-old super model. The show also highlights the production process, a seemingly dry concept which proved surprisingly engaging in execution, encompassing editorial briefs, the photographer’s impressions and ambitions, writer/photographer working relationships and the hazards and challenges of the field, whether seducing celebrities or surviving as an embedded war photographer.
A roll of Kodak paper is 1.25 x 42 meters and Chinese artist Wang Quinsong used the whole 42 metre metres to create The History of Monuments that is impressively installed in the Eglise Trinitaire. Writing about the work on his website, Quinsong says: “Actually I don’t care about history. I am only interested in the extreme length of a photo. If there is a 100-meter-long photo paper, I will be able to put in a lot more “valuable” stuff and create a 100-meter long photo. The historical figures and contents in this photo work are not that important. …I put in some famous people recorded in the official history of many civilizations, and also some small potatoes in the unofficial history. There is a lot of rubbish as well as some useful daily goods.” Do stay to watch the short film documenting the creation process of its creation which included covering 200 nude photographic models entirely in mud.
In the group show at Atelier Des Forges, we were touched by Maya Goded’s heartrending slide show Welcome to Lipstick, documenting small town prostitutes in the red light zone bordering Mexico and the US; and intrigued by her otherworldly series Land of Witches, detailing women, witchcraft and ritual in rural Mexico.
On an upbeat note, we loved Dulce Pinzon’s The Real Story of Superheros, (pictured top) a warm, humorous and touching testimony to Mexico’s unsung ‘champions’ who undertake difficult and often badly paid jobs in the US in order to support their family’s back home while helping to keep the US economy running. Finally, as you walk around town, keep your eyes peeled for evidence of photographer/street artist JR. Would-be participants for JR’s TED Prize-winning Use Art to Turn the World Inside Out project can queue to have their photos taken at the photo-booth in the Forge des Ateliers. In all, the annual Les Recontres d’Arles is a great excuse to pack a long lens and head to Provence. Stay tuned for our accommodation and eating tips – coming up next!
Information: Les Rencontres d’Arles 2011, open 10am–7 pm daily until September 18th, 2011.
Hotels We Love in Arles: see our story here.
On a rainy day in Paris our thoughts turn to a sunny sojourn on the Cote d’Azur…sigh…and a particularly nice spot for modern art.
A cute-as-a-button medieval village around 20 minutes from Nice seems an unlikely spot for a modernist masterpiece. But in the 1960’s, Saint Paul de Vence was a magnet for glitterati from artists Joan Miró and Marc Chagall to movie stars Simone Signoret, Yves Montand and Roger Moore. Two landmarks still bear witness to those heady times: the elegant Colombe d’Or hotel, which features original artwork by the likes of Pablo Picasso and Alexander Calder, and is still the area’s most covetable hotel, and the Foundation Maeght.
Opened in 1964 on the village outskirts the Foundation Maeght was dreamt up by Parisian art dealers Aimé and Marguerite Maeght. Their mission was to create France’s first privately funded, purpose-built art space to showcase the work of their artists and friends, including Joan Miro, Alexander Calder and Alberto Giacometti. (Oh, how nice to have such friends!)
The Barcelona-born modern architect Josep Lluis Sert was commissioned to design a museum that would complement the Maeght collection, while blending with the local environment. The resulting museum is modernism on an intimate scale which reveals an elegant synergy between the exhibition spaces, collection and charming garden setting. The museum holds a regular programme of rotating exhibitions from the Maeght’s impressive collection and, increasingly, contemporary artists. (Among other projects, Sert later designed the Fundació Joan Miró.)
Regardless of what’s on, take a leisurely stroll through the gardens studded with wonderful outdoor sculptures by Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Georges Braques and Joan Miro’s fantastic Labyrinth.
There is an onsite cafe featuring spindly furniture by Giacometti but we weren’t too impressed with the standard of service nor produce – head into the village instead and enjoy an apero and perhaps a game of petanque, like days of old… We booked a table on the charming terrasse of Le Tilleul Menthe restaurant and ordered the ‘Marseillaise’ fish stew… it was so good we went back the following night and had it again.
For information contact Foundation Maeght.
Guest Review By Caroline Guilleminot
Where: Two hours from Paris, Honfleur is a sea-side town lashed by the spray of the Channel. For years, it was the ugly duckling of Normandy’s coastal resorts, to the point that the Michelin guide used to advise its readers not to waste any time here and head straight to Deauville.
Future explorer Samuel de Champlain didn’t even wait for the reviews, in 1608 he boarded a boat here and went on to found the city of Quebec on the other side of the Atlantic … (“I’m so out of here!”)
Today it attracts 3.5 million visitors a year in pursuit of its a salty seadog atmosphere and artistic history – Honfleur is one of the birthplaces of Impressionism. (Think: Monet, Sisely). A stone’s throw from the bourgoise Deauville and the Proustian Cabourg*, Honfleur is loved by aficionados of the Normandy coast, and is particularly popular with Parisians and les Anglo-Saxons, who meander along the Vieux Bassin (Old Port).
(*Ed – FYI Proust disguised Cabourg as the town of ‘Balbec’ in In Search of Lost Time. Alas we never made it much past the madeleine bit so while we’re fond of sweet baked treats, we can’t supply any further insights.)
The owners: Antoine and Liliane, both originally of Le Havre (the great trading port nearby), worked in Paris before returning to their native Normandy to open a guesthouse. Travellers at heart, and self-confessed fans of the United States, they introduced the concept of the ‘B&B’ to Honfleur. Antoine also runs an association of visual artists, particularly graffiti artists, whose works are displayed throughout the house.
The neighbourhood: Trail up the cobbled streets, where art galleries have clustered – for better and often for worse – and beyond the rattle and hum of the port. Here, in an old fishing neighbourhood is La Cour Sainte-Catherine, cloistered in a quiet spot behind thick stone walls.
The House: A former convent of Augustinian nuns dating from the 17th century that has been converted into contemporary guest rooms. At night, the guesthouse’s porch light glows like a beating heart; an invitation to enter the courtyard boasting a pretty Vicar’s garden.
The rooms: There are five bedrooms and four über-comfortable apartments. Features include: sea-grass flooring, antique furniture and my favourite kind of beds (firm, but with a soft spot for dreamers) and comfy linen. The decor: think slate gray and faded denim blue. Nuances that go with the ever changing sky…
What we loved: The art of receiving guests; the hosts really go out of their way for you….the cosy-chic atmosphere, nothing too over-the-top; the pile of DVDs in the living-room for rainy days… The hearty breakfast: home-made crepes, fresh crunchy bread, cereal, fresh fruit juices and endless tea and coffee. It’s all served in the old cider press converted into a dining room with a fireplace that roars in winter. (Note: check out the vintage barber sets and antique fans for sale.)
Perks: The owners have opened a ‘Coffee Shop’ in the adjoining house, it’s run by an Englishwoman who fell in love with the area. On the walls: stencils by French street artist Miss.Tic. On your plate: quiches, omelettes with eggs from the farm, daily specials and cheesecakes. (Miam!)
Tips: No need to bring your own books, Antoine and Liliane have divided their library among the guest rooms. Very good thrillers – Dennis Lehanne, James Ellroy, Fred Vargas – not to mention their ample collection of comic books, with classics including Lucky Luke, Asterix and the entire series of Bilal. For English-speakers, a book exchange is available.
Get in the Sainte-Catherine Court mood: Listen to Gnossienne also known as Flabby Preludes for a Dog by musician and composer Erik Satie.
Born in Honfleur in 1866, the eccentric Satie is cited as an influence on modern composers ranging from Claude Debussy and Francis Poulenc to John Cage. Among his foibles was giving his compositions absurd names and providing unusual playing instructions to accompany the score: eg: “Play in the morning, on an empty stomach”. When Satie died it is rumoured his friends discovered his house was filled with umbrellas. Among other things he collaboarated with artists such as Picasso and Cocteau and ate only white foods.
Rates: Start at 80 €, including breakfast. For a top-notch guesthouse in this region, it’s a total bargain.
Contact: La Cour Sainte-Catherine
About Caroline Guilleminot: Caroline is a French travel editor and journalist with a speciality in eco-tourism (see her latest guide here) and a fondness for lemurs.
She is also an occasional children’s author (check out her cute book about a hungry wolf) and an expert on just about everything tasty and bobo in Paris.
She is a frequent visitor to La Cour Sainte-Catherine, in Honfleur, which is one of her favourite B&Bs in France. You can also see her review of Kaguyara House in Kyoto for HWL.
Skip the mummy exhibits! The world’s first fair devoted to Death was opened to the public on the weekend of April 8 at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris. Initially conceived as tradefair veteran Jessie Westenholz’s last hurrah, the Salon could prove too popular to allow Westenholz’s retirement! We spoke to Salon de la Mort (Salon of Death) organiser and Paris man-about-town, Alban de la Fontaine about death, art and life at this bonfire of the vanitas! (See end of story for our little Death Guide to Paris.)
HWL: What was the inspiration for the Salon?
Alban, Salon of Death: The Salon is the brainchild of Jessie Westenholz. As always it was a mix of his personal and professional experience to firstly imagine, and then put into motion the ambitious challenge of organising a large public salon to talk about death – and how to live better! The world’s first! Westenholz has organised dozens of trade fairs over the last 30 years with his partner in crime, Jean-Pierre Jouet, including the internationally reknown FIAC and the Paris Book Fair.
HWL: What reaction have you received to the Salon so far? Given death is a taboo in our society and trade fairs are usually quite commercial, is there a bit of a tension between the two?
Alban: To my great surprise, the reaction has been good overall… The provocative title, people advised us against it, has turned out well – if you hope to tackle a taboo, you need to be able to name it! With the Salon we are tackling two particularly French taboos: death, money, and death and money!
HWL: Which exhibits do you personally find the most interesting (and why?)
Alban : Personally, speaking as a photographer, In case we die, Palerme (an art series based on the catacombs of Palermo, Sicily) by Sophie Zénon is remarkable; and an funerary urn called Une (One) by artist and ceramicist Emilie Pedron. The Paris gallery Galerie Baudoin Lebon is exhibiting a series of Vanitas photos, among the works you’ll find the photographs of American veteran artist Joel Peter Witkin (pictured above), and photos by a 30-something Madagascan photographer, Malala Andrialavidrazan (pictured below).
HWL: Has organising the salon influenced your perception of death?
Alban : Yes, and no…since I was small my father always said: “Talking about death doesn’t make you die.” I’ve also heard my mother say she’d like to have Gospel singers at her funeral. I grew up between Africa and Brazil, the approach to death in those societies is perhaps a little more natural.
HWL: If you were offered eternal life, would you take it?
Alban: And if death went on strike? I believe humanity would find it very bothersome. [Ed – only in France, would death actually go on strike! ] Personally, I think that death gives meaning to life, and I’m not sure I would like to be immortal. I would be too frightened of losing my taste for life, which ‘passes in an instant, like a rose wilts’… Continue reading
The pleasingly eccentric French artist Sophie Calle once got to spend the night sleeping at the top of the Eiffel Tower, but it seems safe to assume you’ll need to find a more conventional alternative. More extensive individual hotel reviews will come when we get around to it. In the meantime, a grab bag of ideas to get you started. (If you have a cheap and chic Paris hotel up your sleeve, please let us know!)
Hotel L’Amour: cute, romantic and winsome at the, ahem, tail end of Montmartre’s red light district. A love hotel that starts with a reasonable price tag. At one end of the street you’ll find the foodie haunt Rose Bakery (46 rue des Martyrs), at the other Gals Rock music store dedicated to chic(k) rock, where you can hang on the couch, drink tea and listen to your requests.
Mama Shelter: a French take on an Anglo art hotel concept in a *bobo-friendly but non-touristic area – great communal spaces, lots of art and ironic board games are ubiquitous. Great roof top in summer. Good for meetings too as you can bet clients will be happy to meet you here for a drink. Try flirting. (Nb: ‘bobo’ = bourgeois bohemian, a French take on a ‘chardonnay socialist’. While it has similarily negative connotations, can be good for the restaurant scene! A handy term to know.) Continue reading
Just an hour from Paris you’ll find a most photogenic masterpiece of the international style: Villa Savoye. The ‘box in the air’ was designed by the Swiss-born architect Le Corbusier and built between 1928 and 1931 for his wealthy and forward-thinking clients, the Savoye family. The house is both a manifestation and articulation of the architect’s Five Points of Architecture ‘manifesto’ to combine stilts, a free-floating facade, open-plan interiors, horizontal windows and a roof-top garden. (Why elements such as ‘stilts’ require an actual ‘manifesto’ is bemusing to us, but these were back in the days when manifesto-writing was all the rage.) The 80-year-old country house with a startlingly contemporary feel is lauded by architecture fans who are willing to brave the RER suburban train line for a distinctly un-scenic pilgrimage to this modernist icon. The day we visited it was popular with a tour group of enthusiastic Chinese students (each of whom averaged 200 photos during the visit, admittedly, some of our party managed about the same). However, if your visit doesn’t coincide with a tour, you can expect to have the house pretty much to yourself.
The lines of the house are as achingly pure and beautiful as they always were – as Le Corbusier said, “the house sits on the grass like an object, without disturbing anything’. The fact that it survived the German occupation during WWII, decades of neglect and some really great parties by French youth groups during the 1960’s is testimony to both the integrity of the design and solidity of the materials. At one point, the Villa Savoye was nearly in ruins, and it’s great that it’s been pulled back from the void and opened to the public. Of course, it’s not in perfect nick – it is in need of maintenance and perhaps a greater degree of diligence with some cleaning materials. (Hint, hint.) On the upside, as a visitor you are free to roam around as you like, test out the rather worn Le Corbusier furnishings and fantasize about hiring it for your next do. (Those built-in outdoor tables are perfect for DJ decks.)