Everywhere we went in the Vercors we were under surveillance by sunflowers. Their large heads seemed to swivel in unison, like Mona Lisa’s eyes following us surreptitiously as we moved through their domain. Their beauty and unnervingly choreographed movement made them a constant source of fascination.
The steep ridges of the Vercors are dramatic and forbidding, especially if, like my husband, you have any issues with vertigo. It’s no wonder the Nazis were kept out for so long during WWII. If you can handle it, the breathtaking views, topped by the lowering clouds that race across the jagged landscape, are not to be missed.
Paris is one of the most photographed cities of the world, so I was intrigued when I found these images, offering a view of the city that I’ve never seen. When he went up on to the roofs of Paris, photographer Michael Wolf realized that “it’s a perspective most people don’t see. If you see Paris from the foot perspective, it’s all polished and perfect, and there’s nothing improvised or broken or damaged. The rooftops are totally different. The people who work up there say, ‘Oh, no one’s going to see this anyway,’ and they dump something, or the chimney is broken. In that sense, it was a Paris that I found very sympathetic.”
For me the images not only offer a rarely seen glimpse of Paris, but they also illustrate that even the most basic, functional structures retain a sense of the grace and beauty of the city.
My step son Adam is bicycling obsessed, to the point where he bought a specially made disassembled bike that fits into a bulky travelling case, which he dutifully lugged around Europe, the payoff being the chance to experience the joys of cycling in the Vercors. The local cycling organization sent him detailed maps which he pored over to plan the day’s outing. Here he and his lady Courtney can be seen exploring the roads—in some cases little more than dirt tracks—in the vicinity of Beaufort-sur-Gervanne.
Here we are on a street in Lyon, marveling once again at the French mania for trompe l’oeil. Construction sites (here) and ugly blank walls simply must be covered in elegant and amusing art that fools the eye. In this case a nondescript sliver of a building is completely covered with architectural details, windows, terraces, storefronts, and all manner of people, from the famous to the infamous to the completely unknown. There must be something in the French DNA that compels them to transform urban eyesores into clever optical illusions. I’m not sure what the Impressionists would think, but there’s no doubt you walk away from your experience with a smile on your face.
I’ve mentioned that the French Resistance used the Vercors region as a hideout from the Nazis in WWII. Well, this stone house we discovered on our trip would be my perfect summer hideaway. I’d ditch the satellite dish just visible on the roof, which is the only change I’d make to the outside. On the inside I’d create a haven full of French country design cues—rich, textured fabrics, thought provoking, weathered antiques and abundant art work. I’ve no doubt the house would be a magnet for friends and family. Our children say that if we spent time in the Vercors they’d move heaven and earth to visit us. And why not. The Vercors is heaven on earth.
We spent a few days in the vibrant city of Lyon, and a highlight was a costume exhibit from the Lyon Opera. I was blown away by both the magnificent costumes and the inventiveness of how they were displayed. One dramatic room with rows of manikins reaching to the 20 foot ceiling showed how three different productions of The Magic Flute were interpreted over the past twenty years. The exhibit also included displays featuring all the disciplines involved in costume design and creation—pattern makers, seamstresses, tailors, embroiderers, boot makers, milliners, hat makers, wig makers, hairdressers and makeup artists. I know something about fabric and how it’s used, and the detail and boldness of these designs were impressive. Even my husband, not a great opera fan, was forced to agree that the exhibit was remarkable.
We visited a medieval French town that’s been rebuilt from a handful of ruined buildings into a brand new 14th century village. Subtle updates include modern conveniences of plumbing and electrical, but walking the cobbled lanes is something of a time machine. You are clearly in an ancient village, and yet everything is pristine. My sister tells me one of the homes has just come on the market. Maybe I’ll put in an offer!!
That’s me in the lower right of the top photo, sitting on the terrace of my sister’s country home in Beaufort-sur-Gervanne, in southeastern France. The terrain is rugged—dramatic mesa’s offer breathtaking views from impossibly narrow roads. The pristine rivers rush forcefully through the scenery, feeding powerful falls gushing from great heights into gleaming pools. The area was home to the Maquis, hardy resistance fighters who hid in terrain inhospitable to the Nazis in WWII. It was extraordinarily hospitable to us.
We spent the vacation with our children and their significant others, hiking, biking, exploring ancient villages, eating and drinking well (the local rose wine was a welcome companion at every meal), and simply taking in the natural beauty of a land that radiates an Eden-like bliss. The weather is dry and without humidity and the windows are without screens because mosquitoes are persona non grata (see view from window in lower photo). I spent two weeks without turning on my phone, going online, or looking at a TV screen. I’ll be posting more highlights of the trip soon.
Fifteen years ago I designed a home in Maplewood for a charming couple in the process of becoming surgeons. Out of the blue they showed up at the shop a month ago, having tracked me down to our current studio in Short Hills. I was out at the time and, since the only well-dressed visitors we tend to get without appointments are salespeople, my husband asked which firm they represented. To his embarrassment they explained that they were both surgeons who had traveled from their home in Galveston Texas to a medical conference in Rutgers, and hoped to see me. They had enjoyed our project in Maplewood fifteen years ago, and hoped to talk to me about helping them in their 110-year-old historic home in Galveston.
Fast-forward to this week, and I’ve just returned from a trip to Galveston, energized by the project we’re embarking on. The home is captivating, built by one of Galveston’s leading families, when the city was one of the busiest ports in the country. I’m busy researching Galveston’s rich historical and cultural history.
The style of the home is eclectic, with elements of Mission and Art Deco. Zuber hand painted panels were commissioned specially for the dining room, there are glittering French crystal chandeliers, massive arched sliding doors, and stained glass panels are featured in several rooms. The house has tremendous character, full of fascinating detail, with a wonderful floor plan. My clients have eclectic tastes, including an impressive collection of 1940s American abstract art. The result will be anything but conventional.