The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

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That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

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Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

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Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

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Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

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This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
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Paris Angels Thursday, Dec 20 2012 

Tis the season of angels – angels on Christmas trees, in the Nativity, in holiday carols and films. So it is a perfect moment to write about the newest addition to the large repertoire of books on Paris: Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour Through the City of Paris. This beautiful volume by Rosemary Flannery has just been published and provides an unexpected and fascinating look at les anges visible throughout the French capital.

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Rosemary is an American art historian and writer who has lived in Paris since 1989. Over lunch recently, she shared with me the story behind the book. For the past several years, she had begun to notice angels depicted on buildings, signs, fountains and monuments everywhere in the city. “At first I had thought of doing a series of cards with photos of various angels," she said, "but I became more and more intrigued by the history behind them, and how they expressed the various art currents of their times, and why there were so many angels all throughout Paris. I thought about it for a while, and wrote a first chapter to test the idea. The chapter on the Angel of the rue de Turbigo was posted in a popular Parisian blog in December 2009, and the positive response encouraged me to move forward. I wrote the book proposal in 2010.”

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The book is arranged by arrondissement and covers 70 sacred and secular representations of angels on architecture throughout Paris. Each entry includes several paragraphs describing the location, the angel(s)’ story and even the neighborhood. Gorgeous photos complement the text – all were taken by Rosemary herself in various lights of day.

I asked her which angel she likes best from all the ones in the book. She responded, “My favorite angel is one engraved on the facade of a 15th century house in the Marais. Most likely carved by Nicolas Flamel, a prosperous entrepreneur who lodged gratis poor laborers who came from the provinces to work the nearby fields, this smiling angel musician – as well as the three others which together flank the entrance doorway – is finely drawn, with a lot of humor and love. It is perfectly authentic, wearing the cowled clerical robe of its time, and holding a mandolin. I also love the architectural detail of the bevelled columns which frame it.”

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I was also curious about which angels proved to be most difficult to research and to photograph. According to Rosemary, the most difficult part of the book project was the adorable duo atop the Théâtre du Châtelet. "How I would have loved to give credit to the ornamentalist sculptor who made them!," she said. "They are so charming and expressive. But no luck, even after inquiring at the theatre itself, researching in the Archives de Paris, at the Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, la Commission du Vieux Paris, and every other possible source. I could only obtain confirmation as to the year they were put there – 1862 – and that they were indeed made of lead and holding a lightening rod. I also was very curious as to why this theatre, and not the Théâtre de la Ville, directly across from it – constructed in exactly the same style, in the same year, by the same architect, Gabriel Davioud – did not also have a duo of lightening rod angels. Maybe one day these secrets will be revealed to me!"

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In terms of photography, she noted that the Armed Peace Angel of the Parc Montsouris presented the most challenges. "It is located in the 14th arrondissement, on the other side of Paris from where I live (it took a while to get there!) but I returned again and again, at various hours of the morning and afternoon, in a quest for the perfect shot. This sculpture dominates the entrance to the park, and faces mainly north west. In the early morning I hoped to get a close-up of the face which turns toward the east, but because of the way she is designed, it is impossible to get the entire face. I shot it a various times of year as well, and realized that this statue, with its imaginative pose and movement, requires several views to be really understood."

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In my opinion, Angels of Paris is an enchanting new look at a very old city. First-time tourists, seasoned visitors and permanent residents alike will discover something fresh about Paris while meeting these angelic personages from centuries gone by. Reading this ‘guidebook’ made me realize that angels are indeed everywhere in Paris, both outdoors as Rosemary so wonderfully illustrates, and also indoors. Perhaps the interior versions could be the subject of  a new book? The Chapelle des Saints Anges (Chapel of the Holy Angels) in the church of Saint Sulpice featuring paintings by Delacroix might be a interesting place to start…

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Angels of Paris is available at local booksellers and also online at amazon.com (ISBN 978-1-936941-01-8). It is published by The Little Bookroom, New York.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

During the recent "Christmas in France" class at SMU in Dallas, we listened to several Christmas carols in French. For a bit of holiday angels à la française, the Christmas carol "Angels We Have Heard On High" has a French version as well ("Les Anges dans nos campagnes"). Here are the French lyrics that accompany the familiar tune:

Les anges dans nos campagnes
Ont entonné l’hymne des cieux,
Et l’écho de nos montagnes
Redit ce chant mélodieux :
Gloria in excelsis Deo (2x)

Bergers, pour qui cette fête ?
Quel est l’objet de tous ces chants ?
Quel vainqueur, quelle conquête
Mérite ces cris triomphants :
Gloria…

Ils annoncent la naissance
Du libérateur d’Israël
Et pleins de reconnaissance
Chantent en ce jour solennel :
Gloria …

Cherchons tous l’heureux village
Qui l’a vu naître sous ses toits
Offrons-lui le tendre hommage
Et de nos coeurs et de nos voix :
Gloria …

Bergers, quittez vos retraites,
Unissez-vous à leurs concerts,
Et que vos tendres musettes
Fassent retenir les airs :
Gloria …

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Mary and the angel Gabriel from the Annunciation at the Cluny Museum in Paris (stained glass from Alsace, 15th century)

Joyeux Noël to you and yours this holiday season. Thank you for being part of French Affaires – I look forward to seeing you in 2013! Elizabeth New Seitz

L’Art du livre – New French Books for Your Summer Reading List Thursday, Jun 16 2011 

Summer is here and with it a host of new books starring France. From style to fashion to novels to murder mystery to history to social commentary to gardens to things culinary, there are plenty of offerings to add to your summer reading pleasure. Check out these latest additions to the French book scene—and bonne lecture (happy reading)!

93641507small“You don’t need to be born in Paris to have Parisian style. Parisian style is an attitude, a state of mind…” Author, former face of Chanel, ex-runway model, designer, illustrator and business woman, Inès de la Fressange describes the secrets of the chic Parisian woman in Parisian Chic: A Style Guide by Ines de la Fressange. She shares her best advice and tips on how to dress and develop one’s own beauty—French-style. She also includes her favorite resources in Paris for shopping, hotels, restaurants, excursions and more. This is our French Bookclub pick for June–we’ll have a great discussion of it over French wine, cheese & chocolates at the French-inspired Dallas boutique Paper & Chocolate. Click here for more details on this event. 

100056044smallOlivier Magny, the genius behind the O Château  wine tasting company in Paris, has pulled together some of his best blog entries on Paris and Parisians and published them in his upcoming book Stuff Parisians Like: Discovering the Quoi in ‘Je ne sais quoi’. The French original came out last fall in France under the title of “Dessine-moi un Parisien” and was the runaway book hit of the French Christmas season. Magny has just opened the first “high end” wine bar in Paris where you can get top, top wines by the glass. This guy is just full of great ideas. His book will be available in July in the U.S.–I can’t wait to pick up this witty and entertaining take on the French in Paris! 

 

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 The Paris Wife: A Novel  by Paula McLain is a fictional account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife Hadley and their life in Paris in the heady 1920’s. Written in Hadley’s voice, the story recounts the whirlwind courtship of the 28-year old Hadley and the 21-year old (as yet unpublished) Hemingway and their expat life in Paris surrounded by the likes of Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Though their marriage slowly dissolves, this is a poignant portrayal of love at remarkable time in France.

 

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Move over Agatha Christie! France had its own 1930’s murder mystery–a true tale to boot. The new book, Violette Nozière: A Story of Murder in 1930’s Paris, is a captivating account of a young French woman who poisoned and killed her parents in 1933. The crime and subsequent trial caused a huge sensation in France–particularly when Violette’s reason for killing her parents became known. She was condemned to death but then freed in 1945. Word has it that this is a well-written book and an enlightening portrayal of France between the Wars.

 

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France has been shaken to the core by the recent scandal involving Frenchman and former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the allegations of sexual assault against him during a recent trip to New York City. So former NY Times journalist Elaine Sciolino’s new book La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life is especially timely. Extensively researched, her book explores the ways in which France runs off of sexual energy–whether in social settings, in intellectual debate, in the workplace or in politics. This is a fascinating read and a key to understanding the French mindset. And given the DSK affair, it will be mesmerizing to see if French society changes its ways and attitudes towards women in the next few years.

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Historian David McCullough has come out with another fascinating book–this one on Americans in Paris in the 1800’s. The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris is fabulously researched and speaks to the influence of France on multiple aspects of American life in the 19th century. Of course, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson spent a great deal of time in France in the late 1700’s and their stories there are more widely known. But in this book, McCullough tracks the likes of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Mark Twain, Samuel Morse, and Harriet Beecher Stowe who migrated to Paris and then brought back ideas  and experiences that helped shape American history. A must read!

 

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 Not many Americans know that Paris was devastated by a massive flood in January of 1910. Paris Under Water: How the City of Light Survived the Great Flood of 1910 is an informative account of the catastrophic flooding of the Seine River and the coming together of Parisians from all walks of life survive the destruction. For those of you who love history, you won’t want to miss this true story of French courage and community in the face of natural disaster. (And next time you are walking around Paris, keep your eyes open for markers on buildings that note the height of the floodwaters–the cru de la Seine–in 1910. There was one in my Left Bank Paris neighborhood that I used to pass all the time–you can look for it on the rue de Bellechasse near the Musée d’Orsay…)

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 Ina Caro’s The Road from the Past: Traveling Through History in France is one of my favorite travel / history / memoire books on France. And she has created a new gem with her book Paris to the Past: Traveling Through French History by Train. The author chronicles 700 years of French history through the lens of 25 day trips by train from Paris. Caro makes the various epochs of French history come alive–a delightful way to (re)discover Paris and the Paris region.

   

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 Julia Child was an amazing  cook, culinary spirit and downright fun person. As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto shows the personal side of Julia in her letter exchanges with Avis Devoto, Julia’s unofficial literary agent who was instrumental in getting the culinary icon “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” published. A tribute to a deep friendship as well as a lively conversation about all things culinary, this book is a rich read and a must for those who love cooking and Julia Child.

  

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 French Classics Made Easy: More Than 250 Great French Recipes Updated and Simplified for the American Kitchen by Richard Grausman has been updated and revised for the 21st century. First printed in 1988, this book instantly became a classic–and known for its sure-fire ways of making even complex French dishes come out right. Newly updated, this cookbook makes nice addition to the French department of your cooking wardrobe.

 

 

The Provencal Cookbook

First printed under the title of Cooking School Provence: Shop, Cook and Eat Like a Local, this cookbook by Guy Gedda and Marie-Pierre Moine has now been reissued with the more user-friendly title of The Provençal Cookbook: Shop, Cook & Eat Like a Local. This volume is a marvelous journey through southern French cuisine and how to prepare it at home. If cookbooks could smell, we would be transported to small villages in Provence by just reading the recipes. For a rich Provence cooking immersion experience, French Affaires is partnering with Central Market Dallas Cooking School and SMU’s Continuing Studies to offer a combined Provence cooking and culture class in August. Click here for the course details. 

51nnJiG-HWL__SS500_smallElizabeth David is arguably the best food writer of the 20th century. British-born, David brought the lush flavors, colors and tastes of southern French cooking to drab post-war Britain. At Elizabeth David’s Table: Classic Recipes and Timeless Kitchen Wisdom is a compilation of the best of David’s recipes and prose (done by Jill Norman–David died in 1992). What makes this book worth buying is that it’s the first David volume to include photographs of her timeless dishes. Still, David’s original books without photos such as “French Provincial Cooking” or “An Omelette and a Glass of Wine” are essentials for any French foodie’s library. 

Worth mentioning:  Another cooking title is also a new reissue–The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney is a must-have for the French gourmet cook. The recipes as well as the menu recommendations are outstanding. And Escoffier: Le Guide Culinaire has been reprinted — this new volume is a translation of the 1903 original book’s 4th edition. It contains over 5000 recipes and is a classic of French cookery.

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And finally, a garden with a view is our last recommendation for French book summer reading. Nicole de Vesian-Gardens; Modern Design in Provence by French garden guru Louisa Jones is the latest addition to the French garden scene. Nicole de Vésian, the retired fashion stylist at house of Hermès, has spent the last 10 years renovating her garden in the south of France. Owning this book is like having your own small piece of garden in Provence. All that’s missing is the scent of southern France!