Friday, November 5, 2010

The Makers - Artoria Limoges

One of my personal favorites and easily distinguishable by bright, vivid paint colors is Artoria Limoges. Artoria has aquired exclusive licenses to retail some Disney and other copyrighted icons. Most Artoria Limoges boxes are numbered, limited editions in lots of 1000 or 2000. Artoria Limoges is the largest manufacturer of porcelain giftware in Limoges, France, located on the banks of the Vienne River. It has been a family-owned business for generations, and has become known for the outstanding quality and fine craftsmanship of its hand-painted Limoges boxes and other collectibles. Artoria performs all aspects of porcelain manufacture - sculpting, molding, finishing, decorating and accessorizing. Its artisans are among the finest in Limoges, and many are the sons and daughters of Artoria craftsmen. They also offer tours of their factory in Limoges.

The name Artoria was adopted in 1990. The factory was founded in 1957 by Robert de Merindol as Manufacture Nouvelle de Porcelaines. Merindol had been director for Camille Tharaud. The factory was expanded in 1959 (architect J. and J.L. Picot) and again in 1973 (by G. Boineau). R. de Merindol's son Thierry inherited the company in 1983, incorporated it in 1985, and changed the name to Artoria in 1990. The number of employees was 22 in 1965, 75 in 1988, 110 in 1990, 55 in 2003.

Artoria expanded to the USA in 1982 and opened a showroom in New York City in 1995. In 2005 American operations relocated to Northern New Jersey, actually five minutes from me in Morris County, to stop in and check them out is definitely on my 'to do'  list!.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The World's Most Famous Bookshop - Shakespeare & Co.

For half a century, a crowded bookshop set on the Left Bank opposite Notre-Dame, has offered food and a bed to penniless authors - the only rule is that they read a book a day. "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise" is the revered bookshop's motto. 

In 1951 after World War II , George Whitman a demobbed GI,  had decided not to return to America, had chosen Paris as his home and decided to open a bookstore. George opened his doors midday to midnight, and the deal then is the deal now: sleep in the shop, on tiny beds hidden among the bookstacks; work for two hours a day helping out with the running of the place; and, crucially, read a book a day, whatever you like, but all the way through, unless maybe it's War and Peace, in which case you can take two days.

George took in the beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso. Henry Miller ate from the stewpot, but was too grand to sleep in the tiny writers' room. Anaïs Nin left her will under George's bed. There are signed photos from Rudolf Nureyev and Jackie Kennedy, signed copies of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs.

Thousands of people have come through his doors, slept in his shop, eaten at his table, and many of them still write to him, or return.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Empire Bee

Napoleon I, Napoleon Bonaparte, has become a worldwide cultural icon who symbolises military genius and political power. The golden bee became the symbol of this iconic French Emperor.

There are several theories of how this came about. One interesting theory is when he overthrew the French government and took up residence in the Royal Palace at Tuileries he refused to spend money on new decor. However, he could not allow the curtains - with their embroidered fleur-de-lis (the French Royal emblem) - to continue to hang in the windows of the palace. His solution was to have the rich and elegant velvet drapes turned upside down. The inverted symbol of the overthrown monarchy looked like a bee.

Symbol of immortality and resurrection, the bee was chosen so as to link the new dynasty to the very origins of France. Bees have been featured in royal coats of arms in France since the Merovingian era. They were considered as the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Boulangeries in Paris

A Baguette, croissant, a pain au chocolat - are all a part of daily French life. Purchased in the morning before breakfast, and again in the evening before dinner. Often placed on Paris street corners, the city abounds with boulangerie - baker shops - of all different types and styles.
In America, most bakeries sell both bread and pastries. But in France, the two specialties aren’t always combined. Pastries are sold at pastry shops or patisseries, and bread is sold at bakeries or boulangeries.
Many of France’s best bakers are fourth or fifth generation, and baking is a well-respected craft in France. In fact, the French government confers a special designation – Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF) – on the most skilled practitioners.
The most revered bakery in Paris is Poilâne. Established in 1932 by Pierre Poilane, they still use a wood-burning oven that dates from 1789. Poilâne's bread has won him famous fans over the years: Frank Sinatra and Lauren Bacall used to enjoy a loaf from time to time, and Robert De Niro is a customer. The most devoted patron, however, is a gentleman in New York who wants to remain anonymous. In 1997, he agreed to pay Poilâne $100,000, asking that his children and grandchildren receive a loaf a week for the rest of their lives. "Can you imagine?" Poilâne says, with obvious pride. "In 50 years, he'll be dead, but his grandchildren will be feeding our bread to their children and explaining how they are eating the bread of their great-grandfather!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Perigord Walnut

Perigord is the ancient name of the area that is also known as Dordogne in the Aquitaine region in the southwest corner of France. Drive through the valleys of the Perigord and you cannot help but be struck by the majestic groves of walnut trees that grace the landscape. Although the trees you see today are newer, there is evidence that the walnut has existed in this corner of the world for 17,000 years or more.

Denizens of the Perigord have the second-lowest rate of heart disease in the world despite living on a diet most would consider rich, and they ascribe their health and longevity in no small measure to the walnut, which is known to have cholesterol-lowering properties. High in potassium, zinc, and copper, walnuts impart energy, and rich in magnesium, they fight stress.

There is an old Perigordian axiom that nothing is lost of the walnut but the sound of its shell being cracked. Regional furniture has long been made from the hard, beautiful wood. Whole walnuts go to fine restaurants, where chefs combine them with butter and Roquefort and serve them as appetizers on thin slices of artisanal breads, tuck them into stuffings for baby duckling, and whip them into frozen mousses. Whole nuts are also used to make the delicious chocolate-dusted walnuts displayed in confectionary stores region-wide. Broken nuts head to the walnut mills and are pressed  into the sweet oil used in Perigord cooking and salad dressings; to distilleries like La Distillerie Roques in Souillac, where they metamorphose into aperitifs, digestifs, and liqueurs; and to small producers who turn them into delectable jams and spreads, often combined with local honeys. Nuts not good enough for these applications are ground and used in making walnut bread (a favorite accompaniment of pate de foie gras) and other confections.

And what to do with the mountains of shells when all the kernels have been picked? The locals grind them to use as kitty litter. You can pick up a sack at the Saturday market in Sarlat.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chocolat de Paris

The art of chocolat is a high calling in Paris, with chic boutique chocolate shops all around town catering to the chocophile in search of new sensations. The best Paris chocolate shops are still generally small, family affairs, where techniques and recipes have been handed down through generations - and sometimes over the centuries. Their secret is simple: quality ingredients and painstaking workmanship. Shortcuts and easy methods are shunned.

Robert Linxe, proprietor of the Maison du Chocolate on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg St. Honore, is Paris's undisputed king of chocolate. His wares are very fine chocolates by which one may easily judge the others. All are made by hand, by Linxe and his assistants, in the basement of this former wine and spirits shop.

Taste them and you know what the French demand in chocolates: They are dark and strong, but not overwhelming, and neither bitter nor sweet, but a perfect compromise of flavors, shining with the glow of extra cocoa butter. They are unfussy and neat, and, best of all, they are smooth, with no hint of grit or grain.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Faberge Imperial Pansy Egg

The House of Faberge produced it's most famous eggs for Alexander III and Nicolas II of Russia. These eggs are made of precious metals or hard stones decorated with combinations of enamel and gem stones. Of the 50 made, 42 have survived.

The 1899 Pansy Egg pictured here is formerly known as the "Spinach Jade Egg", is made of nephrite, silver-gilt, diamonds and enamels. This egg stands on golden twisted leaves from which five enameled pansy flowers and buds emerge. The top part of the egg can be opened to reveal the surprise, a gold tripod on which is located an heart lined in diamonds and surmonted by the imperial crown with eleven scarlet medallions decorated with monograms. By pressing a button the tiny medallions are all opened, and portraits of each member of imperial family become visible.

Originally presented by Nicholas II to Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1899, this egg was one of the ten Eggs sold by the Antikvariat to the Hammer Galleries, New York in 1930.  In 1947, Matilda Geddings Gray, oil heiress, from New Orleans, Louisiana purchased this egg for her neice, Mrs. Matilda Gray Stream as a wedding anniversary present. The Pansy Egg is one of the few significant Imperial Eggs to remain in a private collection.

The House of Faberge recreated this exquisite egg in Limoges porcelain which retails today for an affordable $4000.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Ronsard's Rose

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585) was one of the stars of the Pléiade, French humanists who were inspired by classical culture. His poetry is wonderfully musical, sensuous, pagan and romantic. His most famous sonnet, "Mignonne, allons voir si la rose", set to music, sung and recited by generations of schoolchildren, is an ode to Cassandra, the daughter of a wealthy Italian merchant. The theme is basically to enjoy your youth, as your life and youth is as ephemeral as the rose. Hence, live life today - Carpe Diem.         
This most diverse, accomplished, and influential poet of Renaissance France is the inspiration for the Ronsard Limoges pattern painted on porcelain as well as the Eden Ronsard Rose, a climbing, large old fashioned  double rose in pastel pink, cream and yellow.                       

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Sevres porcelain is widely known to be both the French porcelain of royalty and the royal porcelain of France. King Louis XV, known as the most notable art patron in modern history, became the major customer and joined as a shareholder of the factory in 1745. The factory had a goal to deliver a superior product in order to compete with the early Meissen, Berlin, and other continental porcelains. By 1752, the king became the major shareholder. He deemed that this porcelain to be designated as royal, or Manufacturer Royale du Porcelaine. He conducted annual sales from his palace grounds at Versailles, encouraged his court and other royalty to buy his product, and even restricted other porcelain factories from using gilding or colored grounds on their porcelains.

When the operation ran into financial troubles in 1759, King Louis XV acquired the factory as royal property. The king took over the manufacturing operations, and considered himself the principal client and salesperson of these extraordinary porcelain creations. The factory was moved to the village of Sevres southwest of Paris; a location near to the palace of Versailles and close to the home of Madame de Pompadour at the Chateau de Bellevue. From that time the porcelain became officially known as Sevres porcelain.

The earliest Sevres had graceful shapes and soft colors. Sevres pieces produced from 1750 to 1770 were decorated with brilliant colors and heavy gilding. Many of these pieces had richly colored backgrounds and white panels painted with birds, flowers, landscapes, or people. Sevres is also noted for its fine figurines of biscuit (unglazed porcelain). The Sevres factory introduced hard-paste porcelain in the 1770s and soft-paste porcelain production ended in 1804.

The artists decorating many modern day Limoges boxes were inspired by the early intricate patterns and elaborate gilding of the Sevres era, thus the creation of pattern commonly known as Sevres. Pictured  is a modern example of a Limoges box from Limoges Imports - a footed urn. Also pictured is an example of what may have inspired the pattern: a Sevres Beau Bleu Dejeuner c1780, which sold for $6000 at Christies, New York in May 2008.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Glamorous Game of Roulette

There are many theories as to the origin of roulette. There are rumors that the game was invented in China and popularized in Europe by traders who were trading with the Chinese. However, most agree that the game did begin in France. In French, the word roulette means "small wheel". The idea of a spinning wheel with numbers may be old but evidence suggests that the first Roulette wheel was invented by the mathematician Blaine Pascal in 1655, who was supposedly inspired by his fascination with perpetual-motion devices. In 1842, fellow Frenchmen Francois and Louis Blanc added the "0" to the roulette wheel in order to increase house odds. Some call roulette the "King of Casino Games", probably because it was associated with the glamour of the casinos in Monte Carlo.

During the 20th century, roulette has remained a hugely popular casino game. From Las Vegas to France, roulette has retained its mystique as a glamorous game for high rollers.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grab the Brass Ring

The beginning of the carousel as we know it today most likely had its origin in France about 300 years ago. During that time, the French built a device to train young noblemen in the art of ring-spearing. The device consisted of carved horses and chariots suspended by chains from arms radiating from a centerpole. The object was to spear the ring. This is also the source of the phrase "grab the brass ring."

By the late 1700's there were numerous carousels built solely for amusement throughout Europe. It was apparent that other members of nobility, particularly ladies and children, and the general public were both eager to climb aboard this new "carrousel,'' (the device having taken the name of the royal pageants which inspired its creation.)  The advent of steam power made possible the more elaborate machines we now associate with carousels.

During the late 1800's, many skilled European carvers immigrated to the United States to produce carousels. The carvings of these immigrants were a great improvement over the first efforts of unskilled carvers. Usually the side of the carousel horse facing the audience, the "Romance" side, was adorned with carved decorations, while the inner side received little attention. The golden age of carousels only lasted 25 years, but still brings back wonderful childhood memories today.

Today, a number of charming carousels may be found in Paris.  Carousels may be found in the Jardin Des Tuileries, in the Parc du Champ de Mars, at bottom of the hill of Sacre Coeur in Montmartre, and in the Luxembourg Gardens.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Daudet's Windmill

Ribet or St Pierre wind-mill, as it was formally called, was built in 1814 in Provence, France and ground wheat during one century. In 1935, the association "Alphonse Daudet's Friends" , decided to restore it and create a museum dedicated to "Les Lettres de mon Moulin", Daudet's most famous work which is a collection of wryly humorous stories admired by Flaubert, Dickens, and Henry James. It evokes the vital rhythms of Provençal life and Daudet’s youth in the mid–nineteenth century. The building is a symbol of the writer and his work.

Daudet is as important to the French as the windmills of Cervantes' Don Quixote are to the Spanish. The stories won French hearts, and they have now become an essential part of French cultural heritage. The tower windmill is typical of those found throughout southern France. Unlike windmills in northern Europe, those of southern France use a sharply peaked conical cap and blades with sails of equal dimensions on either side of the stock or blade spar.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Bar Hemingway

The hotel Ritz has always been a favorite of many of the world's wealthiest people and famous people that include King Edward VII, Elton John, Princess Diana, Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin. Luxurious suites have been named after some of its previous guests such as Coco Chanel who made the Ritz her home for more than thirty years and Ernest Hemingway who had a bar named after him.

The Bar Hemingway that was named after Ernest Hemingway, as it was his best loved bar, has been restored to its original appearance, with rich wood panelling on the walls and deep leather arm chairs. Adorning the walls there are original photographs that were taken by the author and they provide a record of places that inspired this famous writer.

The Bar Hemingway at the Ritz has been ranked as the best bar in the world by Forbes magazine, plus it is situated right in the heart of Paris near place de la Concorde square.

Under a sweeping decree in 2006, smoking has been banned in every commercial corner of “entertainment and conviviality” — from the toniest Parisian nightclub to the humblest village cafe.

No matter that cigarette is a French word. Or that the great icons of French creativity — Colette to Cocteau, Camus to Coco Chanel — all smoked. Or that Paris boasts a Museum of Smoking.

“We are not taking sides,” said Colin Peter Field, the head bartender at Bar Hemingway who was voted the world's best barman in 2001. The bar will continue to sell 40 to 50 types of upscale cigars and is studying plans to renovate its outdoor spaces to accommodate smokers.

To date there is no ban in effect on porcelain cigars....

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Sunday, January 10, 2010

Apricot Confiture

Fresh apricots are plentiful and at the their peak in June in France. Apricot jam is one of the easiest jams to make because apricots have a medium amount of pectin so they do not tend to underset or overset. Jam making is a tradition well worth keeping when produce is in season to extend a little bit of summer all year long.

Apricot Confiture [kawn-fee-TYOOR] French for “jam” or “preserves”

2 1/2 pounds apricots, just ripe
3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup of water
1 lemon, juiced

Place a few small saucers in the freezer to use to check the setting point.
Cut the apricots in half and remove the pits. Reserve four or five pits, and discard the rest. Cut the apricots into 1-inch pieces. Wrap the pits in a kitchen towel, and hit them with a hammer to break the hard outer shell, but keep the soft inner seed, which resembles an almond, intact.

Note: In France, the apricot pits are used in confections and confiture for flavoring. Remove them from the jam before ladling them into the jars, however, as they are poisonous if eaten.

In a large heavy-bottomed pot or jam pan, combine the apricots, sugar, soft inner seeds and water. Stir to combine.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Cook, stirring occasionally with a long wooden spoon skimming foam as necessary, until reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice. Test the jam when the juice has thickened and the bubbles are large. The setting point has been reached when a drop placed on a chilled saucer forms a skin that is visible when lightly pushed. Remove from the heat and ladle into dry, warm jars and process as normal.