Thursday, June 3, 2010

La Vie Francaise

La belle France has been on my mind the last few days. I finally watched "Coco Before Chanel" on Netflix this past weekend, The Style Saloniste is visiting Paris right now and my friend Belinda Carlisle called me yesterday from New York in the middle of her press tour for her new memoir, Lips Unsealed.

Belinda has made her home in the South of France for the last 12 years and after my son Luca was born, I would take a solo trip every year to stay with her for a week and relax, unwind and catch up that most precious of commodities for a new mother: sleep.
(My guest room at Belinda's home, South of France)

I haven't been back there in about three years and I miss it. There is such a distinctive style to the French Riviera. Life there is so intimately connected with the outdoors, especially in summer, when the fertile seductiveness of the landscape and soft caresses of the sun bathe everything in an intoxicating charm. The word "langour" is derived from Old French, for obvious reasons. You just want to sit outside under an orange tree, feel the warm marine wind on your body and sip something iced and nectar-y.
(Belinda and me by her pool, circa 2004?
I had just arrived, hence my NYC pallor.)

Belinda and her husband and son have lived in a variety of houses in the South of France and now happily reside in the hills of Provence. Here's a photo I took of their downstairs salon on one of my trips there.

To me, it's a perfect example of Riviera Style. A massive sleigh daybed festooned with silk pillows anchors the center of the room and local flea market treasures rub shoulders with family heirlooms: the vintage hand-painted screen in the back (it's hard to see, but the style is very Ludwig Bemelsman), the Venetian mirror, the harp, and the wonderfully odd blue, green and white multi-lanterned lamp reveal Belinda's passion for color, history and the dolce vita lifestyle. Vivid pieces like the yellow armchair, the vintage 1950's painting overhead and all those jewel-toned pillows (silkscreened with the faces of French aristocrats) make it both personal and approachable.

In every house she lives in, there is always a leopard print somewhere (note the armchair). Her son James was about ten here and heading off to school; now he's a lovely and self-possessed 17 year old (and 6 feet tall!) and heading off to college in the fall.
(James Mason, 2003)

During my stays there, we would hike, explore local towns, spend a beachy afternoon at the Belles Rives Hotel at Juan-les-Pins, do some shopping...
(Belinda in the markets of Vieux Nice, 2007)

...and spend a lot of time discussing what we were going to eat. We would visit the local farmer's markets in the morning and stock up on all the incredible fruits and vegetables...

...and then go back home where Belinda would waltz around the kitchen, barefoot and braceleted, with Bird, her parrot, offering vociferous comments from his safe perch on her shoulder. Afterwards we'd sit at the table and chew over the usual subjects: friends, books, travel and trying to live a meaningful life.
(Belinda with Bird, her beloved parrot, and dog Bingo)

Even taking a trip to to the local Géant supermarket was fun: it's so enormous that the sales staff wear roller skates! I wish I had taken a picture of the cheese aisle -- it's the length of a football field. I will next time.

Belinda is an intrepid road warrior, so my visits usually included a girls' road trip somewhere. One year, we both became fascinated with the Knights Templar and went on a three day trip to Languedoc-Roussillon to explore a few of history's unsolved mysteries.
(Somewhere on the way to Carcassonne)

Okay, we also went to some fun parties. I took the photo below at Johnny Pigozzi's yearly luncheon during the Cannes Film Festival. We were all aflutter because Bono had just arrived. Even Belinda was moved to strike a pose.
(View from Cap d'Antibes)

But no stay chez Carlisle/Mason was complete without a trip to the most enchanting restaurant on earth, La Columbe d'Or.

Situated in the crazy charming medieval village of St. Paul de Vence...
(photo via here)

...La Columbe d'Or combines traditional gastronomy with a glamorous history, wonderful service and chic people-watching in one of the most romantic locales ever.

Every artist, movie star and luminary from the last sixty years has eaten here. It's also a small luxury hotel; in fact, Picasso and Matisse lived here for a time and settled their bills in paintings (that worked out well for the owners, as you can imagine). As a result of this barter agreement, the artwork everywhere is astounding.
(Simone Signoret and Yves Montand at the Columbe d'Or, via their website)

(Picasso at the Columbe d'Or, via their website)

I scanned a brochure from the restaurant to show you because the photographs do a wonderful job of capturing the magical feel of the place.

Last night, dipping into Dirk Bogarde's book of letters, "Ever Dirk", which has a permanent spot on my nightstand, I came across this memory of La Columbe d'Or. It says it all.

From a letter dated February 15, 1970:

Angela and Robin Fox [parents of English actors James and Edward Fox] came down to the Columbe d'Or with us...and at lunch on the terrace, the sun blazing, the mimosa great golden plumes, the almond blossom drifting in the soft wind...and the doves scattering in an arc of blue sky, Antonia said, "I think this is as near as I will ever get to Heaven." Which was rather nice.

Here we are, all dressed up and on our way to one of our dinners there.
(Belinda and yours truly)

(Morgan and James Mason)


JafaBrit's Art said...

I so enjoyed exploring your visits to your friend, what a joy and I LOVE the decor.

pve design said...

My husband and daughter are there now, visiting les Grandparents! They will drive to le Luc demain to visit with his Taunte!
I wish I were
Your memories and times in France, vivre le France!

Lisa Borgnes Giramonti said...

JafaBrit's Art: She really does have incredible style in all aspects of her life.

pve design: What an incredible trip -- I'm more than slightly jealous. But wait...why aren't you there too? I can just see you in some vintage gossamer dress, palette in hand, painting in plein air on the Cote d'Azur...! xx

Laura [What I Like] said...

Oh how timely! I have four days unplanned in Europe coming up and have been toying with France. Now after reading this I'm absolutely set on France but just need to figure out where exactly. Thoughts on what might be fun?

little augury said...

I saw her on one of the morning shows, she seems very kind and open- I liked her thoughtful, non pat answers about her ongoing self evolution, if we all could be so forthcoming. What a nice friend you have, all perks aside. pgt
(saw her quoted at a hint someone made of getting an invite there- as it being very hard!, quite amusing and here you are on the inside)

flwrjane said...

Wow. Enough said, wow.

Debra said...

I just picked up Belinda's book today at Barnes and Noble. I was a huge fan back then and knowing that she was a good friend- I wanted to read more. I cannot wait to dig in. It sure sounds like Belinda is enjoying life and her family. What a wonderful personality! I good snippit in People as well. Those wistful days in France sound fabulous right now!
I would guess that you are two lucky ladies to have one another to call friend.

Terra said...

I enjoyed this glimpse into your visits to the south of France, and y
Belinda's lovely home.
I need to know, did you solve any of history's mysteries about the Knights Templar?
Smile, Terra.

Daniel-Halifax said...

I know the south of France is big and all, but I was there in 04 too! What if we crossed paths!? Oh what fun!

A Gift Wrapped Life said...

That was just he most fun trip to transport any of us. Wonder if she needs new friends to laze around the pool with? Always inspiring to be with people of incredible personal style. They either inspire you to copy them completely (I will have what she is having!) or try harder to create your own. Obviously, you have developed your own as well. Great post. XO

ArchitectDesign™ said...

oh how lovely -i want to go even more now! I just received a copy of her book as an early birthday gift so I'd have something to read on the plane (as if I'd run out!!). Can't wait to read it :-)

Lou said...

Wow, Belinda's cheekbones....

Beautiful picures, makes me want croissant and hot chocolate...immediatment! Tout suite!

The Hausfrau said...

Well, I can't get over all the wonderfulness encapsulated in this one post! Belinda, Bono, La Colombe d'Or?! Love Belinda's salon--very cool...

jules @ The Diversion Project said...

fabulous post, loved every minute of it.

belinda seems just as i imagine her, a lot of fun, spirit and style. always admired her.

too cool, too cool!

Anonymous said...

I'm off there in a few weeks for my annual 2 weeks of glorious sunshine - you've just made me wish I were leaving tomorrow!

VictoriaArt said...

A charmed life... Wonderful Tour de Provence!

Coco and Emma said...

Thank you for sharing such lovely photos. I feel like they, along with your prose, fully capture magical memories.

Belinda C oozes style - as seen in her art and in her fashion choices. She is the reason I bobbed my hair in 1986! Nice to see her beautiful home and cannot wait to read the book. Enjoyed the article in yesterday's LA Times.

Suze Yalof Schwartz said...

Le Colombe D'or is my favorite restaurant in france - love the salad at lunch beyond. I live for your posts - they are toooooo fab!

Cheryl said...

Love the nostalgic slant to this...and I like how you've combined a personal sort of memory-blog with a travel post - the photos are amazing.

I want to go France NOW!!!

Emily said...

I already had her book down as one to read this summer! Love memoirs, and I have always loved her. Lucky you to know her! Beautiful pictures as always!

Angie Muresan said...

Oh how gorgeous those photos and your memories, Lisa.

Acanthus and Acorn said...

Such a beautiful setting indeed for some R&R!

Enjoyed this peek into the house and surroundings of your friend, Belinda! Thanks for sharing it in your usual richly detailed, stylish and generous way.

Reggie Darling said...

Great post, what fun. Thank you for your history lesson and introduction to such an iconic restaurant. Reggie

Karena said...

What fabulous images of a life very close to heaven!!

Art by Karena

24 Corners said...

How fun that we got to hang out with you and Belinda for a bit...what charmed lives!
Thank you for sharing your friendship...I'm looking forward to a nice bit of reading time in the very near future with her new book in hand!

Ann said...

Oddly enough I bought Summer Rain today on iTunes... how funny to then sit down and read your lovely post. It has lifted a rather ordinary grey day in NZ. Thanks!

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ge said...

Girl said...

Fantastic. I met my french hubby 5 yrs agi and whilst we live in the alps.... we holiday in juans les pins where his grqan owns a wee studio. I love antibes... and Belinda Carlisle. Thanks for the post. Hope you have been back since.


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