Paris in D.C.
“Gil: I’m from a different time. Another era: the future, okay? I come from two thousandth millennium to here. I get in a car and I slide through time.
Man Ray: Exactly correct. You inhabit two worlds. So far, I see nothing strange.
Gil: Well, yeah, you’re surrealists. But I’m a normal guy.”
- Midnight in Paris, Owen Wilson’s character Gil trying to makes sense of what is going on in his life.. A feeling I am all to familiar with.
Alright, big news, Netflix added Midnight in Paris! I may have spent last Saturday watching it, twice. I just love seeing Owen Wilson straight chilling with great artist and writers like it is no big deal. By Saturday night, I was inspired to take my own Paris journey. To drink Champaign and critique art critiquing society while letting my creative side run free. So, my sister and I set out on the adventure of Paris in D.C.!
Brunch: La Jambe
Culture: The National Gallery of Art
History: The National Mall and L’Enfant’s Legacy
Luxury: Parisian Sweets and Fashion at City Center
Libations: Le Diplomate
Brunch: Le Jambé
1550 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
“Sans pain ni vin, l’amour n’est rien.” Without bread and wine, love is nothing. This truth is the centerpiece of the mural at our first stop: La Jambe.
To get our right brain thinking, we start with some good old café society. The image of impeccable dressed ladies drinking coffee, people watching, and engaging in philosophical conversation comes to mind. And La Jambe offers the perfect setting to experience. The owner is actually from Paris and baguettes are authentically French (seriously there is a group of French people in Bethesda that make these baguettes served here the traditionally way).
Our first priority was to order a round of Almond Sparkling Lemonade, a drink handcrafted in house. Second priority, cheese board. La Jambe carefully curates their cheese and prosciutto broads, which is awesome because instead of debating the cheeses and pretending we know the difference between them, we got right to our café society experience: people, well mainly puppy, watching and culture discussing.
Inspired by the mural, we decided to get wine and more baguettes. I know, I know, it’s breakfast time, but we are basically in Paris right and Parisians love wine. Plus La Jambe’s wine list is exclusively French wines which adds to the reasons why it is ok to have some wine at this hour, we are getting cultured!
To wrap up our brunch, we had some coffee and crepes. Our next stop is checking out some art, so we starting talking about French artists and movements. My sister, who majored in Fine Arts for a few years, had considerably more to contribute to the conversation. But, as I am learning, art and society are reflected in each other, so as members of society we too can get in on the art discussion. And when I ran out of things to say in that line of thought, I just started throwing out some art terms until they made sense.
6th & Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20565
From our brunch conversation, we were ready to be inspired by the French art collection at the National Gallery of Art. There are a couple options to exploring the collection:
Option 1: Take the free tours offered daily at 12:30 PM that meet at the Rotunda.
Option 2: Pick up the audio tour from the info table next to the gallery entrance from the mall.
Option 3: Go to the gallery with your friend that took Art History class at some point in their life.
Whatever option you go with, there is a painting titled “Mound of Butter” in the French collection, it is a challenge to find, but definitely worth it for the snap chat.
I went with a mix of option 2 and 3. Here are our recommendations from the gallery, scavenger hunt style. Each number corresponds to the painting descripted below.
1. The Emperor Napoleon in the Study at Tuileries
Jacques-Louis David, 1812
Based off the audio tour, I learned that this work is actually a political piece filled with symbolism.
Alright, thinking back to high school history, what I remember about Napoleon is he was a short dude that lead France in some major military wins. Thinking back to high school literature class, I remember symbolism is the way to a show more than what is depicted. Alright, thank you high school, I can use this information to analyze some art.
Everything showed with Napoleon symbolizes a facet of his leadership. Napoleon is kindof disheveled in the painting; his cuffs are unbutton, his stockings are winkled, and his hair slightly out of place. These indicators, along with the clock set at 4:13 AM show Napoleon just pulled an all nighter working for the betterment of France. Second, he is in between papers and swords. On the desk the word “Code” is prominent on the papers displaying Napoleon’s commitment to transform to a civil leader. However, the swords on the chairs serve as a reminder of his military accomplishments.
Also, if you are wondering why Napoleon has his hand tucked into his shirt. It is because trousers at the time did not have pockets. It is alright Napoleon, sometimes I don’t know what to do with my hands in photos or in this case paintings either.
2. Soap Bubbles
Jean Simeon Chardin, 1733 – 1735
Now that we are thinking of symbolism, this work takes you a step further. Jean Simeon Chardin, is known as a down to earth painter as his work featured subject matter of everyday life in Paris. The soap bubble prominently displayed represents the brevity of life because at any time the bubble can burst. That is pretty deep.
3. The Japanese Footbridge
Claude Monet, 1899
Monet built his famous water gardens right outside of Paris out of swamp land… sound like any other place we know. After completed, he painted the gardens over 250 times.
The Japanese Footbridge stands out because of its absence of the horizon. Instead of focusing on the horizon, Monet is focused on the reflections of the lush landscape on the water. I got you Monet, focus on what is in front of you, the present. Solid life lesson.
4. Four Dancers
Edgar Degas, 1899
Degas, aka the guy who painted a lot of ballerinas, drew inspiration from unscripted and candid movements. Four Dancers, is not only a depiction of an elegant movement, it also holds a mystery.
Ready for it, is this a painting of four ballerinas or a single ballerina taking a final stretch and adjusting her costume before her solo. Those of team one ballerina say that Degas was inspired by photography and wanted to create a movement that photography was not yet ready to capture in a single picture.
5. Self Portrait with Halo and Snake
Paul Gauguin, 1889
Back to symbolism, I know it is a lot of symbolism for one day, but this one is a selfie so that makes it more fun.
The portrait depicts Gauguin both embodying virtue with a halo above his head and his eyes turned away from the apple, while at the same time succumbing to temptation with a snake in his hand.
This work is one of forty self-portraits of Gauguin. I am telling you selfies are timeless. Another fun fact for the day, Gauguin worked alongside Van Gough, another frequenter of the self-portrait, at his Yellow house in the south of France for nine weeks around the time this portrait was completed.
Before leaving the gallery, you can enjoy some campaign in the Garden Café on the ground floor of the museum. Also, if you have some cash to burn, check out the book store there are a lot of life lessons from artists books available!
History: The National Mall
Ever wonder why there is a metro stop called L’Enfant Plaza. I did. But no fear, Google had my back. A couple fun facts about L’Enfant as you stroll on his crowning achievement, the National Mall:
- L’Enfant was a Parisian who served in George Washington’s Revolutionary Army.
- George Washington hired him to design Washington DC, even though most people thought his design was crazy and were in favor of Thomas Jefferson’s plan for a small, simple federal town.
- L’Enfant drew inspiration from Versailles and democracy. He wanted to create a sprawling structure similar to Versailles. But he wanted to promote the idea that every citizen is important which is why the mall is open to all and the house of the people, Congress, is built in the best location of the mall.
- L’Enfant may have been difficult to work with… One year into the design of DC, he was dismissed apparently due to his impatience and tactless nature with clients. I am guessing he did not buy into the theory of the customer is always right.
Regardless, the National Mall is still the center of D.C., so L’Enfant, we thank you for that!
While we are on the mall, another fun fact, when the Washington Monument opened in 1884, it was the tallest structure in the world, until the Eiffel Tower in Paris took the title in 1889.
Luxury: City Center
825 10th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Time to channel our inner Marie Antoinette by, well, eating some cake and doing some shopping. Next stop: City Center.
We first stopped by Rare Sweets for some macaroons. The shop is right next to three major Parisian fashion houses: Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Dior. While having our afternoon snack, I got to take a lead role in the conversation reading off some history of these designers. Turns out the guys that founded these fashion houses are pretty legit in their life philosophies.
Louis Vuitton got his big break when he was hired as a personal box maker and packer for Napoleon’s wife. This got me thinking, when I make it big in life, I too will hire a personal packer. I also wonder what Napoleon’s wife thought of that painting we saw earlier, was she pissed Napoleon was spending all night working on laws while sitting with his swords living the good old days. Did she gossip about this with Vuitton. Who knows? While interesting, I turned my attention back to Vuitton. Apparently, he broke into the fashion industry selling trunks in Paris in 1884.
Still today, Louis Vuitton is killing it in luggage design. And the company takes the functionally of the luggage super seriously. All Louis Vuitton bags and jewelry undergo intense testing including being dropped from a half meter height for four days straight. Additionally the zippers of the bags are tugged open around 5,000 times to ensure their dependence for the customer.
Over 177 years ago, a family got together and decided to start designing harnesses and saddles in Paris. They named their company Hermes.
While they have expanded to selling a wider variety of goods, Hermes is still a family run company. The current artistic director for the company is the 6th generation member of the founding family. However, nepotism did not secure him this role, as his father essentially required him to addition for the role to prove he was the right fit for the position.
Dior’s parents wanted him to be a diplomate. Feeling the pressure, Dior received a degree in politics, but then decided to follow his creative side. For a brief period, Dior operated a gallery called Jean Coctaeu which handled the works of many famous artists, including Picasso.
As you know, he then went on to become an awesome designer. He was inspired by architecture and his designs emphasize the shape of a woman’s body.
Dior, however, was a very superstitious man. Seriously, he always required one model in his shows to carry a bouquet of lilies. And his superstition live on in Dior’s designs today. I absolutely fell in love with the new line of Mitzah reversible scarves featuring scenes from tarot cards.
Libations: Le Diplomate
1601 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
To wrap up our Paris adventure, we took a play from Midnight in Paris and headed out for some more drinks. Le Diplomate is the obvious choice here. The crown jewel of 14th Street.
Steven Starr envisioned the restaurant way back when 14th street was pretty sketchy. I remember walking pass the location when it was still a rundown laundry mat with squatters. But, Steven Starr saw then what we see today, a piece of Paris right around the corner.
Everything in the restaurant was brought in from France. And the cocktail list is creative and inspiring. This is the perfect place knock back some drinks and your right brain lead the discussion!
We end the day with some deep thoughts from the Ernest Hemingway of Midnight in Paris:
“No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.”