Sunday, September 27, 2015

If You Can't Go To Versailles … Go Here

Photo: colincowieweddings.com.

On my lunch break one day this week, I dove into a little-known museum called the Jacquemart-André in the 8th arrondissement. (If my boss happens to be reading, I did in fact accomplish this feat and eat a salad at Jour within my 1.25 hour official Paris lunchtime.) 

I felt victorious, because I vowed (oh so many years ago) to become a member of the museum, just so I could pop in and out for a short visit. Without buying a 12 euro ticket and feeling that strange need to ''get my money's worth'' and stay the whole day.

You see, this Versailles-like mansion is just two blocks from work. There's no reason in Paris why I should whine about not having time to enjoy the city's treasures, with this museum on my office's doorstep.

To see why I say it's like Versailles, just look at milady’s bedroom. The lady was artist Nélie Jacquemart, who married French banker Edouard André, and together they built this home, and traveled the world collecting art to fill it. To decorate her room, Mme. Jacquement took inspiration from the rococo style of Louis XV, who was born and reigned at Versailles in the previous century.






It's a style we Americans think as “typically French.” And yet, the French were heavily influenced by Italian culture.

I clearly saw that influence in the museum's latest exhibition, “Florence, Portraits of the Court of Médicis,” that just opened Sept. 11. It was my first just glance at this exquisite exhibit spanning from 1492 to about 1600.

Most of the portraits in the first room were like Mona Lisas: They were Italians dressed in black, eyes staring at the onlooker, thin hints of smiles. (Eerily, the ID photo on my museum pass looks a lot like that.) The exhibit is not all like that. One hundred years later, the Medicis are definitely into wearing their wealth.

The Florentines commissioned portraits of themselves to basically tell others (and remind themselves) of their superior place in the world. Their family bred dukes, kings, and popes—and a lot of rivalry and war. The Medicis would've loved today's selfies.

Mr. and Mrs. Jacquemart-André continued the tradition of pomp and circumstance, but it ended with them. They had no children. Faithful to the plan agreed with her husband, Mrs. Jacquemart bequeathed the mansion and its collections to the Institut de France as a museum, and it opened to the public in 1913.

I hope you'll get to enjoy this gift from Mr. and Mrs. Jacquemart-André. Especially if you don't manage to get to Versailles. You'll also appreciate this: no lines at the door, and a restaurant with some of the lightest lunches and densest desserts in town in a lavish, gilt setting. You'll eat like royalty.
Photo: Jacquemart-André Museum.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Mighty Joe: Faketale or Folktale?




Ever since I spent a summer working at J&L Steel Co. in Pittsburgh, I've wanted to find out more about steelworker Joe Magarac. He's to Pittsburgh what Paul Bunyan was to the American West. Faketale or folktale, the story of Mighty Joe tells you a lot about my native city's pride, work ethic, and ethos. Here's my take on the tall tale:

Now Joe was a real saint, the saint of all steelworkers in Pittsburgh, born in the old country, deep in the mountains of Croatia. Well, he wasn't an official saint, because he never went to mass on Sunday. He worked all the time, triple shifts--morning, afternoon, and night turn--didn't even stop to sleep.

He did stop to eat, though. Mrs. Horkey's daughter, who still has the boarding house in the South Side, says he ate 6 meals a day there, but never laid his head down to rest! He had to eat that much, especially because he was about 7 feet tall, and biceps as big as my waist. Yes you believe me, he was the strongest, fastest, kindest of them all.