Monday, June 20, 2011

Paris, Brussels, and Bruges: Part 1: Half of Paris.

American Academy of Bookbinding Trip, 2011 to Paris, Brussels, and Bruges.

Monday, May 16th

I arrived in Paris after much difficulty navigating the metro, because as usual I was entirely unprepared. Thankfully a nice French gentleman gave me some guidance on the train, and I was able to locate our apartment in the Marais. It turned out I was unable to get a key, so I went on my way walking toward Relma to meet up with the group. I had been to Relma before, when I was in Paris with Shannon in January of 2010, so I had a pretty strong memory of where it was located. I set off with my suitcase walking through the streets of Paris, and after a couple of wrong turns, finally found the store full of my bookbinding comrades deep in the selection of fine leathers and papers. It was so wonderful to see everyone again! I knew at least half the group from previous courses taken at AAB in Telluride, CO, and it was wonderful to be reunited with this fantastic group of women. I purchased a couple of scraps of fine goat leather, and a new square that I had been wanting for a long time.

For those of you not in the know, Relma is a fine bookbinding supply house in Paris. They carry leathers in every color imaginable, and all kinds of handmade marbled paper, and fine bookbinding tools. My lovely sister Shannon has purchased several gifts for me from here, including a beautiful navy goat leather with matching marbled paper, and a French backing hammer (all of which I am still waiting to use on my next fine binding).

In the evening we had dinner at the oldest restaurant in Paris, Le Procope. I had a delicious meal of baked fish and a gigantic cinnamon crème brulée for dessert, which was just as good as one would expect to receive in Paris, but amazingly did not trump my friend Loni's lemon lavender crème brulée . Afterward we made it back to our apartment in the Marais that several of us were sharing (thanks to the generosity of one of my mentors, Mr. Del Harvey). It was a cramped situation, but also quite lovely because of the apartment’s location in the heart of Paris. Also, amazingly enough my friends Jeremiah Barber and Ingrid Rojas-Contreras had arrived in the city two weeks prior, and were living in a studio provided by Stanford a mere block away from where we were staying! But that part of the story comes later.

Tuesday was my first full day in Paris, and it began with a visit to HCP, exotic leather house, where the other trip attendees had visited the day prior and ordered leather. My jaw dropped in witness to the exponential amount of different leathers available at this store, which seemed to do a lot of business for handbag manufacturers. The leathers encompassed every species imaginable, from python and alligator, to ostrich and sting ray. I purchased a very small sting ray skin for myself, that had been dyed the most lovely, deep shade of bright orange. It was so beautiful that I felt that I could never relinquish it to place it back on the shelf, that I must purchase it.

We then went to the studio of Monsieur Villeroy, who is a professional leather parer in Paris. His machines are so amazing, that he can pare your leather down for a doublure in mere seconds – something that can take hours to do by hand. He was such a friendly gentleman, and I loved being in his cramped, relatively disorganized studio. I would love to have the capability to work full-time as a leather parer. And his rates are incredibly affordable, all things considered. I really wish we had someone maintaining a similar business here in the states. It would makes things so much simpler on a huge variety of levels.

For lunch we ate at an adorable Parisienne café, that I believe was named La Charrette des Beaux Arts (according to our itinerary). I had confit de canard (duck confit) with roasted potatoes, and it was incredible. The entire meal melted in my mouth, and I proceeded to eat my way through the whole thing, which I can only imagine that most Parisians wouldn’t have done.

The afternoon found us at Sennelier, an old artist shop that carried almost every art medium one could imagine. I spent a lot of time enviously ogling their paper collection, and when asked if I had found something I wanted, I responded with “Je voudrais tout les papiers,” which greatly amused the sales clerk. Sadly I got no digital images of this amazing store, but if I recall I captured a few on film.

Helene then walked us over to an adorable garden that had a couple of benches carved as open books. We took advantage of the photo opportunities there before proceeding on to the book shop Nicaise, to view several of their fine bindings. I didn’t take any photos here, but I know a lot of others did, so perhaps I can post some of theirs later on. They did have a good selection, but I knew the real treat would occur during our visit to La Librairie Blaizot the following day.

In the evening my apartment mates and I traveled to La Grande Épicerie de Paris to purchase some groceries for dinner. It was my second visit there, as I had gone with Shannon in my previous excursion to Paris, but it was my first time to really buy groceries for myself. It was such a treat; we created a delicious meal of sautéed green beans, chicken paté, a blend of delicious cheeses, French bread, and of course, macarons for dessert, including one unbelievable chocolate one that we coined “The Boyfriend”.

Afterward I walked down the block to visit Ingrid and Jeremiah in their studio space supplied by Stanford, and witnessed the unbelievable sight of Jeremiah hanging out the window, calling my name. I suddenly had the realization that here I am, in Paris, and this is my life, and these are my friends, and I get to be here with them, and it made me so unbelievably thankful to be alive, to be who I am as a young artist at 26 having no idea how my life will unfold before me, but suddenly incredibly excited to be along for the ride. They are two of the most brilliant people I know, and spending time with them in Paris talking about life… I could almost understand that it was always meant to happen, that we were always going to find ourselves there together, however briefly.

Wednesday turned out to be one of the most amazing days we spent in Paris, a day so full of unbelievable events that even looking back on it, I can hardly believe that it happened. We began our day at La Librairie Blaizot, which was my second time to visit. They pulled out countless fine bindings for our perusal, and I took a TON of photos. Some of the books were so beautiful that it was difficult to conceive that they were actually constructed with human hands… but that is the power of a successful fine binding! We spent several hours oohing and aahing, both inspired and absolutely intimidated by the talent that was presented to us.

Sadly I cannot remember where we ate lunch… I think it was a fast café that had a lot of fresh morsels, but the name of it is lost to me. In the afternoon we visited a bookbinding/conseration studio owned by Alain Devauchelle, and saw all of his employees at work. They were all lovely ladies, a couple of whom were no older than me, and were adorable and artistic looking. It gave me an idea of what my life could be like, if I were only born French.

Afterward we had a brief interlude at le Musée Rodin, which had the loveliest garden… so lovely that I didn’t even make it into the museum! We sat around outside eating delicious gelato, surrounded by beautiful trees, on one of the warmest days of our trip. After being refreshed by the sweetness of mango and banana, it was time to walk to the home of Monique Mathieu, right down the street. It is still unbelievable to me that I found myself in her house, that we were able to sit down at a table with her as she presented several of her books to us, and told us the amazing story of the love of her and her husband. The first binding she ever completed was a collection of poems by a local poet. Upon completion of this work, she met the poet… and he became her husband for life, and someone with whom she collaborated constantly. I must admit that it gave me hope, and made me excited for the person that I could potentially meet one day, the person who could be my complement in every sense of the word. There was one binding in particular that made me want to cry from its level of sheer beauty… for a few minutes I was unsure how long I would be able to hold it together, being with these women and sharing this experience.

Our day concluded with an unbelievable dinner at Le Pochtron, for which Monique Mathieu joined us. I can hardly remember what I had for the meal, except that it was some kind of fish, I believe, for it was entirely eclipsed by one of the most amazing desserts I’ve ever had in my life, an Ile Flottante. If you have never had one of these (literally translated as Floating Island), then have one at the soonest opportunity. I could eat that every day of my life and be perfectly content.

I have tons of photos to share with you from this part of the trip... but I am still editing, so please be patient!

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