Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Romantic Life Museum and Lavinia

One of our goals for our trip was to visit some of the lesser known museums of Paris, and one of them, "The Romantic Life Museum", is just around the corner from our apartment.  It belonged to Ary Scheffer, an artist of the 1800's who painted pictures of royalty (mostly).  Our neighborhood here in Montmartre was once known as "Nouvelle Athens" (the new Athens) because so many romantics who idealized the Greeks lived here. 

The museum is housed in a building that was a favorite meeting place for romantic artists like Franz Liszt and the famous lovers - Frederic Chopin and George Sand, the female novelist; in fact, Chopin and Sand lived here together for many years.  Aurore Dupin (alias George Sand), had taken a man's name in order to become published.  

We slipped through the gate and into the courtyard for a peek at life behind the walls that keep French life so private, even today.  We discovered the pretty house that looks like it belongs in a country village.

The museum was dedicated primarily to George Sand, seen below in a famous painting.  She was quite notorious in her day, flaunting a Bohemian lifestyle that included numerous lovers.  George even dressed like a man so that she could enter libraries and museums that were off limits for women.  An early proponent of women's rights, she wrote, "I solemnly vow-- and this is the first glimmer of courage and ambition in my life! -- that I shall raise women from her abject position, both through my self and my writing."

The small museum contained lots of George Sand memorabilia including jewelry and the last pages of the novel she was working on when she died.  We would have liked to see more information on her relationship with Chopin, but he was not well represented here.  The most touching sight in the museum was these plaster casts side-by-side:  George Sand's right arm (the one she wrote with) and Chopin's left hand (it was cast from his real hand just hours after his death.)

After all that museum exploration and romance, we were in the mood for something sweet, so we wandered south along the streets of Paris toward Place du Madeleine, and ventured into "La Maison du Chocolate."  Paris is filled with chocolate shops like this one, beautifully decorated, like mini-temples to the goddess of chocolate.

The Place du Madeleine area is known for fabulous treats, and one of the most famous places in all of Paris for specialties like this is "Fauchon" with its offerings of gourmet foods from all over the world.

We actually found Fauchon overrated and overpriced, although we got some cerise noir (black cherry) jam that is heavenly.  More to our liking was "Lavinia," reputedly the largest wine store in Europe.  Now this was no store like our "Total Wine" store back in the states, but given that most European wine shops are tiny, hole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop places, Lavinia was indeed immense.

And Lavinia carries some extraordinarily expensive wines like this one on the left that, when you do the conversion of euros to dollars, goes for about $8400!

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