The Coming of Spring

While photos have the ability to make almost anything look beautiful, the corollary is that there is beauty to be found in most everything.

Of course some things may be more obviously beautiful than others, but the trick to recognizing beauty is in allowing yourself to feel it—the calm in the morning before the sky has fully brightened, the smile that stretches across your lips when you notice that the cherry trees have precociously started blooming though it’s not yet the end of February.

This time last year I couldn’t wait for spring to come. It was my first winter, by way of which I mean that as a California girl, I grew up spoiled with full blooms in February and year-round flora. I got through the cold all right, kept warm most of the time by my stylish wool coat and in the times I wasn’t, knowing I’d live. That experience of my first winter, joined with my newly acquired skill of artfully wrapping a scarf, turned out to be quite useful when this year I ended up in DC, a city in urban design and architecture Paris’ (arguably less classically beautiful) twin.

By mid-February I was growing depressed by the barren limbs of the trees and feeling resentfully undercompensated in snow. I hadn’t learned to appreciate the quiet of the city, the way my breaths froze in air and time. But this absence of liveliness made it such that when the flowers did start to bloom, it was exquisite—a slow reprise that, having all but disappeared, was all the more anticipated.

The flowers bloomed slowly and in turns. For weeks I passed buds on my walk to school, and though day after day they did not seem to grow, in a few weeks’ time they had blossomed. The first to do so were the cherry blossoms; then it was the wildflowers and tulips, and finally the magnolias.

On the first of May, the florist above which I lived sold sprigs of muguet de mai, or Lily of the Valley, to give to close friends and family, as is the custom.

In Paris, the magnolias were the first to bloom. Having visited the third weekend in March, I’ve yet to truly see Paris in the springtime, but the magnolias in the Jardin du Palais Royal were spectacular, their thick pink petals reaching up into an overcast sky. 

Only the bravest of cherry trees near the Petit Palais had blossomed. The Grand Palais, however, had opened a temporary exhibition called, appositely, “Jardins,” which I adored: analog photography and silver bromide gelatin prints, cut paper, watercolors of crumpled irises with edges like eyelash lace. My favorite work was one of two botanical drawings from Conrad Gessner, Orlaya grandiflora, a sketch of the white lace flower from between 1555 and 1565.

Last year taught me to find beauty all around. Perhaps it was in part my environment that taught me this—Europe, a continent of history, where an old beauty is literally in the details of its palaces, its opera houses, its bridges, an homage to opulence. This year I look forward to the blooming of the cherry blossoms—to the Yoshinos and peony-like Kwanzans, with their layers of tulle, to the paper flowers of ancient Sakura—to the anticipation.

Close-up of the anemone from Eugène Delacroix’s Étude de fleurs: pavot, pensée et anémone (Study of Flowers: Poppy, Pansy, and Anemone).

In the final space of “Jardins,” René Magritte’s Le Grand Style (1951) took a room to itself, depicting a dark stalk growing upwards into a star-filled sky, planting there a strange flower: Earth, iridescent like the moon. This year I will appreciate spring as it comes, one of the gentle workings of the Earth.


Day Trippin’ to Chantilly

As much as I appreciate Paris for its history as an artist’s haven and for the opportunities with which it pulses to educate oneself culturally, it is a big city and, like any big city, can leave one longing for nature. Chantilly, a small town only half an hour outside of Paris by train, offers a refreshingly grassy landscape, a château with bluish gray roofs that sparkle, and horses and is the perfect day trip destination from Paris!

From the train station, one can walk to the château through the town via Avenue du Maréchal Joffre, turning right at Rue de Connétable. I’d recommend taking a detour via the side street Boulevard de la Libération Maurice Schumann for a lovely first glimpse of the château.

Having arrived at the château, I was turned around, so what I’d meant to do last I did first: I walked to the Anglo-Chinese garden, alongside a line of daffodils that paralleled a stream, to Le Hameau, a white and dark-wood cottage restaurant with a water wheel on its side said to serve the best Chantilly cream.

Though the menu lists many attractive options, among them a plate of fresh strawberries topped with Chantilly cream, I chose the simplest, a scoop of Chantilly cream served by itself. Chantilly cream is many things at once without being any of those things: it looks like whipped cream, has the consistency of frosting, and tastes like ice cream, a subtle sweet with a hint of vanilla. It is not something to be skipped when visiting Chantilly!
The château itself is a museum, the Musée Condée. It is home to Nicolas Poussin’s Le massacre des innocents and Raphael’s La Vierge de Lorette but comprises many rooms, one of which holds black lace—including a piece sewn into the shape of a butterfly—and many of which contain paintings by Bellini, Dulac, Girardet, Gudin, Mazzoluno, and d’Orleans, to name some of the artists. There is Delacroix and Delaroche, too, but look for L’amour désarmé, by Jean Antoine Watteau, in a rotunda with a skylight and paintings of French cities hung just below the windows. I loved this painting for its artistic style—soft and blurred, but not as in Impressionist works—but more so for the beauty of the emotion it evokes with its name, once one connects it to the painting’s subject: Venus steals Cupid’s bow, but as Venus is the mother of Cupid, the painting is also simply of a mother and her child, and so the name might be interpreted literally as Cupid, disarmed, but also as Venus, Goddess of Love, disarmed by her small child, whom she loves.

Worth seeing is the Cabinet des Livres, a library of beautiful books collected by a bibliophile and organized by format, intellectual movement, and binding period. It contains over 700 incunabula, or books printed before 1500. The prettiest book on display, I think, is a beaded one with an “M” on it for Marie de Médicis.

Additionally, there are the grands appartements and Le Chambre de Monsieur Le Prince, full of things glittering, upholstered, and gold; La Grande Gallerie des Batailles, on the walls of which hang a floor-to-ceiling canvas of a scene from battle and another, skinnier, canvas like a map; and Le Salon de Musique, which contains only a harp but looks out onto the French garden.

After doing a lap around the English garden, I said hello to the horses in the grand stables and walked through Le Musée du Cheval, which contains statues of horses from Asia, drawings of horses from the Middle East, and European portraits of champion racehorses, before walking back into town along a racetrack and rows of trees.

Le songe d’une nuit d’été – March 18, 2017

The Paris Opera Ballet is idolized as one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world, yet for some reason—perhaps because I had never observed dancers who had nurtured such finesse—I was not expecting its dancers to move as beautifully as they did and to be as effervescent with magic as the story they told: Le songe d’une nuit d’été (A Midsummer Night’s Dream). They had me literally sitting on the edge of my seat (they and my insistence, as a twenty-something, upon purchasing a ticket for one of the least expensive and worst seats in the Opéra Bastille); they were enchanting, and I was enchanted.

Choreographed by Balanchine and set to music by Mendelssohn, the ballerinas’ dance was the apogee of whatever notions of feminine fragility captured America’s heart half a century ago. In the first act, Hermia jumped into the palladium of Lysander’s arms, both legs folded under her body like a caterpillar’s newly formed wings, still too immature to spread and resting just below its protective chrysalis. Upon his catching her, she descended into an arabesque—one leg pointed straight below her, the other straight behind—with languid elegance, as if she were suspended in water, and finally, Lysander assisting her in performing various extensions en pointe, she wrapped a single leg around his torso to give life and shape to a series of movements across the floor.

The quiescent power of the male dancers was most exhibited during one of Obéron’s solos—the dancer had leviathan thighs, pure muscle, which made me long for the idea of having lots of muscle, all for a purpose, and nothing else besides. It’s an idea that applies not only to the male dancers but to the ballerinas, too; for them to be able to lift themselves by a string from their center of gravity and to lift their legs so high above their swan’s necks into the air requires immense strength. Obéron masterfully executed quick coups-de-pied that ended in little extensions, all within the span of a few seconds and in the air.

The couple who opened the second act controlled the ballerina’s movements together. She trembled as she leaned on her partner for support as if at any moment she could deliquesce into him, but rather than making her seem unfit for her role, this made the things they made together all the more beautiful because it was obvious that they needed each other.

There was beauty also in the production of the ballet. I thought the fairies’ costumes strange, but a part of me liked them for their whimsicality. The three lead ballerinas’ wedding tutus were speckled with gold; the others’ were all white. The court costumes—blue dresses for the girls, billowing white shirts for the men—were charming. I quite liked one of the sets, pink blossoms protruding from the wings, and then there was the aesthetic of the choreography, not only that of the soloists’ and couples’ dances but that of the company, their formations as they wove in lines and formed semicircles in the backstage. The dances had a contrived softness to them, a worked-for illusion of sweetness that expressed physically what we all crave from love, much as people express their thoughts and feelings through language. It’s more difficult, in a way, to communicate through ballet, because there are no words, but the dance is itself a language that has us all sitting on the edge of our seats to watch unfold stories of love.

Les fleurs de Monet

The allure of Monet began, for me, with les nymphéas. For too long I’d wanted to go to Musée de l’Orangerie, a museum in Paris famed for its two elliptical rooms in which long canvases of water lilies conform to the walls, providing almost the experience Monet intended the viewer to have—that of being encircled by one continuous landscape of flowers.

My grandparents (visiting for the holidays) and I had sought out the museum and found ourselves in the place of the viewer, in the middle of one oval room, then the other, each lit in muted natural light. The French have a word, feutré, meaning felt-like, and that’s exactly what this light was like. One end of the room to the other transformed light into shadow, warm, late-afternoon radiance into nightfall on the depths of a lake.

My favorite painting was in itself like three paintings, the way it progressed in color. From left to right, it comprised gentle lily pads of sage, olive, and emerald; clouds of powder pink, apricot, and mauve blended into lilac and forget-me-not; and water, jet with but a touch of aubergine. Four little red lilies like roses floated in the top right corner like tutus lifted en pointe; below, strokes meticulously applied so as to look haphazard swirled into faintly pink flowers—pink mixed with red with violet—and messy swishes of light and dark blue.

My second favorite was a mess of dark colors, all black and grays and violets and blues with lily pads so obscure as to be almost indistinct and delicate blush blossoms, single and in pairs, a tiny lonesome green blossom up and away to the right.

My third characterized clusters of lilies at the bottom and some in the background, a sky of pink mist descended amongst willow branches. It’s all pinks and blues, as if captured just before dusk or just after sunrise.

In every painting, the lilies were different: dark blue pads with the slightest touches of dark purple, and blooms light green as if memories of light blue; rough, rosy magenta and cream brushed into more cream, peach, and lightest green; vibrant, thickly painted light pink, bright red, dark pink, stone blue, passionflower, periwinkle, honey tulip, and lemon green, all smudged into fields of floating flowers.

At the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, was Le bassin aux nymphéas, one of 17 paintings of the Japanese bridge draped in willows; another, and I liked this one more, for its cooler tones, is held at the National Gallery in London.

Though it’s not strictly a painting of water lilies, Le jardin de l’artiste à Giverny, also at the Musée d’Orsay, I found beautiful, with its beds of lavender flowers speckled in places with dark violet and white and patches of bright turquoise and red that give the illusion of reflections of lilies on a pond in the background.

Then there was the Musée Marmottan Monet, a charming little museum tucked away in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, a calm, slightly more upscale neighborhood removed from the city center. Behind a long park with a tree that, when I visited, was like cotton, covered in white blossoms, the museum proved misleading at first, seemingly dedicated as much to its décor—mirrors, chandeliers, and statuettes, all of which were art—as it was to its paintings. Though charmed by the pink and sage rotunda that is the first room and the blue and cream elegance of the second, delighted at finding a second Antonio Canova statue, L’Amour et Psyche, (I love Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour, at the Louvre), and more educated about Berthe Morisot and Camille Pissarro (there was a Pissarro special exhibition on) than I’d ever imagined I’d be after going to a museum named for Monet, I began to think that perhaps the museum was only named after the artist and I’d misunderstood what I’d read about its housing 100 of his masterpieces.

They were hidden in the basement, like coveted bottles of aged wine in a cellar. Across from a biography of the artist printed on a dark red wall was a painting of Charing Cross Bridge, in London, all white and touched with the faintest silver blue. In addition there was Londres, Le Parlement, reflets sur la Tamise, a cool, misty image, mainly teal. Impression, soleil levant was plainly the highlighted attraction, set into a wall away from the other paintings: a neon (it actually looked neon) poppy sun illumined wisps of nectarine clouds while ships like watercolor shadows faded into the water, struck definitively with teal strokes contrasting with the reflections of the sun.

Yet, I preferred the flowers. I saw another of the tulips in the Netherlands like one I’d seen at the Musée d’Orsay, Champ de tulipes en Hollande, but I liked this one more than the other. It was brighter, the yellow sunnier. Bras de Seine à Giverny was puffs of pink and white clouds; pink, navy, and blue water striped with lavender, berry, and violet; blues and greens in at least four shades each composing the trees. I quite liked Champ d’iris jaunes à Giverny, a happy field of yellow irises tilted to appear as though swaying in the wind, and of course, there were nymphéas—canvases of vivid purple blossoms and bright lime green in the leaves; light yellow, daffodil yellow, and orchid; and blue, yellow, and baby green with red flowers.

A Le bassin spoke in red with aqua, orange, pink, and purple accents, while the most beautiful Le bassin promised incandescent blue blossoms smoothed into purple and trimmed in wine. In Reflets de saule, pensive pale and deep pinks combined with ruby and cornflower blue on a midnight background. Lily of the Nile added another kind of lily to Nymphéas et agapanthes.

Finally, two wisteria, two Glycines, painted from 1919–20, echoed the water lilies at l’Orangerie, hanging from long canvases stretching the length of a wall. Both were pretty; my favored one between the two was pale yellow flowers cascading from green leaves the color of limes and seaglass, spots of pistachio and turquoise, and navy and orange trails faded into hints of pink, all set on soft, feathery lavender.

A Morning in Montmartre

When one goes to Paris, one is compelled to visit Montmartre. Its name short for Montaigne des martyrs, or “Mountain of Martyrs,” Montmartre is a charming bohemian town rich in artistic history. During the Belle Époque, many artists, including Degas, Renoir, Van Gogh, and Toulouse-Lautrec as well as Les Nabis, a group of Post-Impressionist avant-garde painters, lived here or derived inspiration from the town. Separate from the rest of Paris both geographically and atmospherically, it has its own characteristic charm and is not to be missed.


Start your day with breakfast or brunch at Coquelicot. This bakery offers the option of either taking things to go—there’s a queue out the door around peak breakfast- and lunchtimes—or sitting to order from the menu. If there’s room, sit at one of the petite wooden tables outside.

café au lait

It’s here that I drank the best coffee I have in Paris, a perfect glass cup of café au lait (I ordered the café crème on the menu, but when the waitress brought it out she said “café au lait,” and it tasted more like milk than it did cream. If you order food, you’ll receive a basket of freshly baked bread that you can dip in the coffee as the French do—so good!

For food you can choose one of the predetermined meals, some combination of bread, jams, orange juice, and other items, or order à la carte. I opted for the latter and chose the tartine rustique, toast with yummy applesauce (America doesn’t do applesauce right. There, it’s that disappointing dessert you find at the bottom of your lunchbox at school; here, it’s delicious and often mixed with other fruits!), camembert half-melted, and raisins, accompanied by an impressively fresh mix of greens.

tartineYou can’t leave without ordering goodies to go. You can order them at the table, of course, but you may as well order them at the counter and take them to have them as a midday snack, as I did with this blueberry tart, because as at many bakeries in France, you pay more for the same thing sur place compared to à emporter; it’s like you’re renting the table at which you’d eat. If you choose to only stop for a minute and queue rather than sit, the brioche au sucre (it has pearls of sugar on top) is fantastic.

tarte aux myrtilles

When you’re through with breakfast, make your way to Place du Tertre, a square full of painters selling small canvases and caricaturists who aren’t afraid to vie for your business by telling you you’re pretty and they simply must draw you. When you reach the top of the steps, look down! (This works best when there are leaves on the trees and in the morning, when the light filters through the leaves.)

A short distance from here is the Sacré-Cœur, a beautiful basilica. As the name implies, it’s dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a Roman Catholic devotion that takes Jesus’ physical heart as the representation of his love. Designed by architect Paul Abadie, who is considered a key figure of French historicism, the basilica was consecrated in 1919.

The walk up to it is very pretty; stairs on either side lead to a plot of grass with two long staircases side by side in the middle and one final staircase above that, overlooking the city from the top of the Butte of Montmartre. The dome paradoxically looks smoothly etched; the stone looks bright from afar, aged up close.

I believe everyone ought to see the Sacré-Cœur at least once in his or her lifetime. I myself have been three times: the first time, my jaw dropped as I walked inside; the third time, I was still noticing details I hadn’t the previous two.

sacré-cœur inside

The Chancel
Likely the first thing you’ll notice upon walking into the basilica is the monstrance, in which is located the Body of Christ, at the front of the church. It’s carried by two silver angels, the Angels of the Adoration. White in the middle, red and rose gold around, and sparkly like a star, it has its own little shrine, in which a white curtain falls behind it.


Carved into the platform on which this piece rests are the twelve apostles; the gold altar contains statues of them. Around the back of the chancel are wooden boxes with pointed tops, again with the apostles inside. To either side of the chancel are Stars of David.

In the middle of the striking mosaic of the apse,  Christ’s heart shines out of his chest. At the base of the mosaic is written in Latin, “Sacratissimo Cordi Jesu Gallia poenitens et devota et gratia”—in French, “Au Cœur très saint de Jésus, la France fervente, pénitente et reconnaissante” or, in English, “At the saintly Heart of Jesus, France—fervent, penitent, and grateful.”

The Nave
angels of the passion
In each of the four corners where a column meets the ceiling is an Angel of the Passion. These angels carry the instruments of the Passion of the Christ: a cross, a lance, a crown of thorns, vinegar, etc. Delicately patterned stained glass windows encircle the top of the dome and allow a soft light, which contrasts sharply with the shadows around, to filter in.

The Side Aisles
Walk through the aisles and around the back of the church, stopping at each of the chapels. You can learn a lot from reading their dedications; for example, I learned that Saint Genevieve is the patron saint of Paris.

At the top of the walls to the sides of the nave are flower-shaped windows, small but daintily beautiful. One carries the image of a bird, one an apple, one a snake.

The Chapels

The windows in the chapels in the back of the church are lovely too—brightly colored and patterned in squares and rectangles. They say things, though I’m not entirely sure what. The panel on the right in the picture shows what looks like a small ghost but I would suppose is actually an angel.

sacré-cœur stained glass

In the chapel directly to the back of the basilica is a chandelier with what I think look like four-petalled flower cutouts, through which shine pink candles. In this chapel is also a golden tree of life with a cross in the middle and, on the stone just below it, a dark floral design. In another of the chapels are shield shapes in which are written the names of French cities, including Paris and Lyon.

After you’ve spent some minutes sitting in the pews or standing and staring in the back of the basilica, wander a little back down the hill to La Maison Rose, on the corner of rue de l’Abreuvoir and rue des Saules. Once an artist’s studio, it was made famous by Maurice Utrillo’s painting of it.

As it will likely be afternoon by this point, stop for a glass at Le Carrousel, a café that serves my favorite Bourgogne Pinot Noir. It’s this Pinot Noir that began my obsession with finding good Pinot Noirs (I haven’t found anything comparable). It has notes of cherry! Snag a table outside so you can people-watch as you sip your wine in the afternoon air.

Breakfast at Angelina


For a proper Parisian breakfast, there is no place to go but the Angelina tearoom. No matter how long your stay, set aside one morning to stroll along the famous rue de Rivoli in the First, the sky freshly lit and not quite bright. Stop in front of the Angelina windows to gaze desirously at displays of daintily crafted confections, but instead of taking big bites of what looks like a croissant and washing them down with coffee out of a paper cup, queue outside; you’ll soon be nibbling on mini croissants and pains au chocolat fait à maison and sipping signature Angelina hot chocolate, so divine that once you’ve tasted it, no other hot chocolate will ever compare!

Angelina is to breakfast what Laduree is to tea and macarons the color of powder puffs. Sumptuous but less posh than Laduree, it’s a place where refinement meets modernity, breathing sophistication as one can only find in cosmopolitan Paris. Founded in 1903 and fashioned in the style of the contemporaneous Belle Époque, the tearoom in fact comprises two rooms, but it’s the front one in which you want to sit. Lavish embellishments trim walls colored chiffon, lace, and pearl and decorated with golden frames and landscape paintings, while mirrors give the illusion that the room is twice its size. As you engage in lively chatter with family and friends, it’s possible to imagine that you are at the same moment listening intimately to the conversations of the writers and designers, including Coco Chanel, who favored it over a century ago!


Go starving and order the Angelina breakfast. First you’ll be served the renowned hot chocolate, so rich it fills you up before you’ve eaten anything and served with a pot of whipped cream. With this you can choose a juice (I ordered the lemon, which turned out to be incredibly tart but yummy; it tasted like pure lemon juice, crushed ice, and water). To eat you’ll be given an assortment of viennoiseries and bread with butter, apricot jam, and honey, arranged on a silver tiered serving tray, along with a cup of delicious fresh fruits (pineapple, mango, kiwi, melon) and eggs prepared as you like (I ordered them soft-boiled and they were delicious!).


Though the incomparable hot chocolate and extravagant quantity of food might leave you feeling intoxicated, don’t forget to stop in the boutique on your way out! The case of pâtisseries to your left holds creations classic (such as the Choc africain, a dark chocolate mousse cake with notes of the same spices in the hot chocolate and covered in satiny chocolate cream) and seasonal; my favorite in this year’s fall and winter collection was the Flore, an amorous red, rose-shaped treat made of meringue, raspberry jam, and vanilla white chocolate mousse. Like any salon de thé, Angelina also sells macarons, including an Earl Grey flavor, which has flecks of tea leaves baked into the cookies! For products that will last longer, choose from chocolate bars and tea in boxes colored like springtime (I’ve been eyeing the linden and mint in pistachio) that line the shelves on the wall.


angelina pâtisserie