There’s a peculiar thing I like to do in Paris. As I walk around, I peer up into the windows of apartments along the boulevards and wonder what beautiful spaces are hidden inside. Little glimpses of chandeliers, fireplaces, or art set off my imagination. Sometimes, I even run to catch a peek inside private courtyards before the doors close behind someone on their way out. Perhaps you’ll think I’m nosy. However, I fancy myself more of a Grace Kelly type in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” — curious. Something tells me I’m not the only one.
So you won’t be surprised that I, and others like me, look forward to the semiannual
Journées du Patrimoine in France. On these exceptional weekends, spectacular places across the country, normally closed to the general public, open their doors for what we call in French ouverture exceptionelle. The Journées du Patrimoine bring a sense of community and celebration of national history, heritage, and citizenship.
Last weekend I woke up early to take full advantage of exploring these otherwise off limits locations in Paris. I applied a bit of my new Teint Idole Ultra Cushion, Définicils, and L'Absolu Rouge and was out the door. I visited three new places in just one day and wondered, if these walls could talk, what would they say? Here are some stories I heard...
Villa des Arts in Montmartre, only forty or so artists lucky enough to call this place home have the key. Most are still unknown, but someday they may be household names like Cézanne, Dufy, or Signac, all of whom once worked and lived in the Villa des Arts since its construction in 1888. Passing through the entrée des artistes, an art deco staircase from the historic World Expo of 1900, joins the three floors of ateliers where artists work. One such painter let us inside his workshop, Didier Lambert, who has lived and worked at the Villa des Arts for more than 50 years!
Down the road, I was welcomed by La Sauvegarde de l’Art Français, whose offices are inside the apartments of Michel-Victor Cruchet. Cruchet is the most instrumental Rococo architect and decorator in French history. A master of the ornate moldings we sometimes call “wedding cake” interiors, he is responsible for some of the most beautiful rooms in France. Some of his greatest architectural achievements have been destroyed by time, and so his apartment here in the
same style, perfectly preserved, serves as an important reference to historians for his body of work.
And in central Paris, I made one last stop at the Banque de France. The bankers and finance ministers were gone for the day, and as we passed through the meeting rooms and private offices of the Minister of the Treasury himself, I had to wonder what paramount economic decisions have been made here throughout the centuries. The bank’s “Hall of Mirrors” can be outdone only by Versailles, but the frescos are every bit as beautiful. The gold moldings here hint at a little secret I’ll let you in on. Somewhere in the bank is a secret passage leading to a vault beneath the Seine river where the entire gold reserves of France are kept and guarded. One can only wonder where exactly...
Now, as I walk past these otherwise secret places on an ordinary day, I know a little bit more about what lies inside. Paris is truly a museum though, and there is still so much to see and learn. That’s why I am already looking forward to the next Journées du Patrimoine.