I just finished reading Elizabeth Kostova’s The Swan Thieves. Excellent read! LOVED it! As a former art student (and briefly, art teacher – early career misstep), I was particularly enthralled by the parallel story lines: a contemporary artist in the U.S., and a woman Impressionist painter in 19th century France.
In a chapter late in the book, one of the characters travels to Paris to question an elderly man about the woman artist’s background. He enters the apartment on a steep street in Montparnasse, and describes the room as having rose-colored drapes at the windows and walls of “palest jade.” Can you picture it? I can see it as clearly as if I’m peeking into the room myself, and as I imagine it, it only could be in an historic building in Paris. There are high ceilings, elaborate moldings, and if you cross the room to gaze beyond the rosy draperies, you’ll see shops and a cafe or patisserie marching along the opposite side of the street topped with the curtained windows of the other apartments and small offices of your neighbors.
I was so fortunate to visit Paris briefly in October. It had been 24 years since my previous, and first, visit there in 1986. It struck me this time how very feminine Paris is, if one were to assign a gender to an entire city.
In the rain, street after street was inhabited by stately gray buildings that seemed clad in smoky silk or satin, decorated with black lace balconies half hiding pots of pink or red geraniums, and topped with curlicues and furbelows like rooftop haberdashery.
If Paris is feminine, a city of lace, satin and pearls, then it strikes me that Rome is masculine. As manly as a heavy, gold signet ring and as warm as a lover’s bronzed chest. Perhaps even newlyweds rest after lunch, faded green shutters drawn to block the midday sun.
And Paris is a coquette, with a sideways glance and half smile. Rome is an ardent embrace, back against a toasted stuccoed wall. Paris’s soft green parks are as perfectly manicured as a Brazilian wax; Rome’s umbrella trees and palms are a jaunty surprise and counterpoint to its piles of ruins and stony fountains.
The colors in my home remind me more of Italy, or of the south of France, rather than Paris. The living room’s walls are a kind of sunflower yellow, and the furniture is blue and white striped. I have some Italian ceramic pieces here and there, as well as photos I’ve taken in Venice, Pisa and at the Vatican.
The warm colors cheer me on the many overcast days we have here at home. And it cheers me just to think of beautiful Italy – my favorite place to visit in this world. It’s such a pleasure to return to favorite places, and a thrill to discover and fall in love with new spots there.
But I’m so happy to have returned to Paris, finally, and I want to place Paris and the rest of France much higher on my travel priority list. In the meantime, I’m thinking of buying a set of pale pink sheets to make me think of La Belle Francais as I float into sleep in my cool, green bedroom. Though these walls aren’t quite “palest jade,” the restful shade is perhaps near enough to inspire occasional dreams of that exquisite city.