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Archive for May, 2009

Casino de Paris (En Douce), Café de Paris, Perroquet, Palace Theatre (Toutes Les Femmes), Marguerry, Le Canari and Abbaye de Theleme.

Friday 2nd March

On route from the Riviera back to London we stop in Paris. I love springtime in Paris! The city always looks radiant, full of life and so glorious. We all settle into Mimi’s house with ease. Monty and Dolly have decamped to Claridge’s just down the road. Almost immediately we are off out, minus Mimi, who has already disappeared in a cloud of furs, diamonds and perfume with Sir Oliver.

We meet Cécile, Monty and Dolly for drinks at Fouquet’s and on Mama’s insistance we all go to see Mistinguett in the second version of En Douce at the Casino de Paris, 16 Rue de Clichy. ‘Miss’ as she is known affectionately is fast becoming a national institution, even more so since the demise of Gabys Deslys. She is a lithe dancer and is amazingly glamorous in her array of costumes designed by Gesmar and Zig. She wears some astounding hats and one is a mountainous affair composed entirely of flower petals.

Mistinguett

Mistinguett

“She might look delectable my dears.” Says Mama with some force. “But it is well known that she is obsessive and ruthless, has huge tantrums, and fights like a cat.”

“Yes, apparently Miss was not amused at the contest last week for the shapeliest legs in Paris.” Monty tells us. “She lost to one of the dancers in her show, an American called Marion Forde, who is delightful by the way. Marion won two pairs of stocking daily for a year.”

The show was magnificent and also featured the talent of Dorville, Magnard, Jane Myro, the Tiller Girls and the Polish dancer Jan Oyra who also acted as choreographer. Two spectacular scenes stood out including ‘Les Pierres Precieuses’ that featured showgirls dressed as Coral, Topaz, Pearl, Ruby, Turquiose, Sapphire and black diamond and the fancy ‘Le Palais du French Can Can.’ The finale was spectacular. It opened with a series of semi-naked girls made to represent ebony, onyx, marble and jade statues on a  revolve. When the theatre was plunged into darkness the figures lit up in the dark due to the application of an amazing luminous flesh paint that had come from New York. When the light came back up and they moved aside and a vast glass talk containing thousands of gallons of water rose up and Mistinguett and the troupe dived in!

We have booked a large table to have supper at the incomparable Café de Paris at 11 Avenue de L’Opera, underneath the Cecle Militaire. Rich and famous Parisians and foreign visitors come here not just to eat well but to be seen and amuse themselves. It is a place of the highest luxury, quality and price with one of the best wine cellars in the city.

Monty is thrilled since he has not eaten here before and says “What Delmonico’s once was to New York and America, the Café de Paris is to Paris and France. It is legendary.”

“ I am told that if you dine here regularly you must have been born with a golden spoon in your mouth, but not just any spoon, a spoon filled with caviare.” Says Papa. “And I love caviare.”

“You may be sure that nearly everyone here is interesting either on account of what he or she has done or what he or she possesses.” Says Henri.

We all laugh when Millie says “Of course this place is essentially the resort of men who think in millions or of women who have no need to think about such matters at all.”

At any rate, the most beautiful clothes, the loveliest arms and shoulders and the costliest diamonds vie with the expensive food and sparkling champagne to make the Café de Paris one of the most attractive places in the world. But it is not a big place. In fact it is quite small. When you enter, in front of you is a large table laden with a buffet of delicacies and guests are ushered into the soft velvet seats against the walls to the right or left. The very manners of the waiters are calculated to soften the asperities of life. We eat well and sample the famous cold Poularde de Café de Paris and Homard Thermidor. We send our appreciation to the notable chef and proprietor M.Mourier, who also owns the Armenonville, and Fouquet’s, before we dance on the tiny dance floor to an appropriately small group of musicians.

Mama and Papa retire, but we all dash back to the Casino de Paris to visit Le Perroquet the elaborate nightclub and cabaret de luxe which is over the foyer. Cecile has been determined to get me here and says “It opened almost two years ago and  is regarded as the smartest dancing in Paris now.” She  sniggers and adds “This is where  la Femme du Monde in jewels and wraps, like me like to be seen.”

Le Perroquet, above the foyer of the Casino de Paris

Le Perroquet, above the foyer of the Casino de Paris

Leon and  Albert Volterra have created a delightful palace with incredible décor executed by Paul Poiret featuring walls painted with brightly coloured parrots hence the name of the place and fabulous hanging lanterns. Two negro Jazz bands – Louis Mitchell’s Jazz Kings and the Brune orchestra – play and Cecile tells me there is usually an excellent cabaret show that  comprises international dancers.

“Louis Mitchell is a tour de force.” Says Monty. “He was famous before the war of course in New York and he even played at the Piccadilly hotel, London in the summer of 1914. He has been the resident band at the Casino since 1918 but there are rumours that he is going to open his own rendezvous.”

“Oh look is that Pearl White?” Says Millie pointing discretely.

“Oh yes so it is.” Monty replies. “I have just done a story on her.”

“Do you mean the serial queen, Perils of Pauline and all that?” I ask.

“Yes indeed. She spent part of last year in Paris and starred in the show La Revue des Etoiles at the Casino de Paris but only for a few weeks before the theatre was burnt down. She is now back in Paris after a trip back to America. It is rumoured that she is going into a convent, the purpose of which is not entirely devotional, but to contemplate studying the language and to acquire a cultural etiquette and polish. You see the gossip is that she is engaged to the recently divorced Duke of Valombrosa, one of the wealthiest and most blue-blooded Italians who is a banker in Paris.”

We stay very late and by 2am it became so unbearably crowded it was difficult to dance and we decided to call it a night. Each lady receives a beautifully dressed poupee (doll) as a souvenir which is a charming touch as we leave.

Saturday 3rd March

After a leisurely day we go to see Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre at 8 Rue Faubourg. The theatre had been the Eden but was renovated and expanded by Oscar Dufrenne and Henri Varna and is now sumptuously appointed. This was their first show and it was making a big noise in Paris and was as spectacular and impressive as the Casino de Paris show. It stars Harry Pilcer who dances with Marcelle Rahna and Wyn Richmond, Mlle Polaire, Peggy Vere (who is married to the cabaret proprietor Oscar Mouvet) and Nina Myral.

Programme for Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre, Paris

Programme for Toutes Les Femmes at the Palace Theatre, Paris

The costumes by Guy Arnoux, Aumond, Zinoview, Jose Zamora and Vilpelle are stunning and the scenes include L’Eventail Magique (the magic fan) with a magnificent display of showgirls with fans,  a Mexican scene, a Roof Garden in New York, the exquisite  Murano Collection and the quirky ‘A Fine Meal’ where two diners – Pilcer and Richmond- are fed by showgirls dressed in creations by Paul Poiret as oysters, crayfish, salad with truffles, Foie Gras, La Bombe glacee, fruits, coffee and Benedictine.

“It is interesting that since Cannes, Wyn Richmond is being described as the second Gaby Deslys. Her dresess by Jeanne Lanvin were delightful. I think Cecile, Dolly and I should go shopping.” Says Millie.

For dinner we decide to visit the nearby Marguery Restaurant at 34 Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle, sited beside the Theatre du Gymnase in one of the busiest parts of the boulevards where the Boulevard du Temple joins the Boulevard Poissoniere. Rich and elegant with a wealth of ornamentation, sculpture, ironwork and mosaics and a glass terrace flowered like a conservatory, Marguery is divine. The cuisine is perfect and the wine good.  Of course, the world-wide fame of the sole Marguery, which is the most famous way for serving this fish, attests to the prestige of this ancient place. Henri tells us that the real gourmets have never deserted this excellent house and they are frequenting it even more.  All good comment for my restaurant column.

Like the Casino de Paris, the Palace Theatre also hosts an elegant night club called Le Canari, which, since the finale of Toutes Les Femmes featured the establishment, we are persuaded to visit and have a pleasant time dancing to the Continental Six.

Advert for Canari night-spot

Advert for Canari night-spot

However, we are all keen to get to the Abbaye de Theleme in Montmartre. The  Trix Sisters have established themselves as ‘the Blues Room’ with a cabaret featuring them singing and a numerous other guests particularly dancers. They are as wonderful as they were in London in Jack Hylton’s Cabaret Follies and the dancing of Flora Lea and Simonne Mirat  was also good. We remember Flora Lea from the Cabaret Follies as well.
Interestingly, the entire place is full of Americans.

“My oh my Monty. What is going on?” I ask in jest.

“The exchange rate I guess Fynes. But it is also a well known fact that Paris has become a wet suburb of a dry New York. One has to ask: what would happen to Paris and Montmartre in particular, if it were not for the foreigners who patronise it nightly?”

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The Ambassadeurs Restaurant and the Casino

Saturday 3rd February

The week has flown by. We are now three sets of couples. Cécile and I , Monty and Dolly and Lorenzo and Gabrielle. At first Monty was a little frosty with Lorenzo but they now appear to be getting on. One day we visit Lorenzo’s family villa which is delightful and other days we play tennis, take delightful walks around the Crossiette, the Casino gardens and the town and harbour, watch horse racing, polo and dance each night. We even spot Winston Churchill being chased by photographers as he tried to play golf.

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Jean Gabriel Domergue has transformed the Ambassadeurs Restaurant into a courtyard of an old inn in Seville, decorated with whitewashed and pink walls under a blue sky for the Gala Seville sprinkled liberally everywhere with flowers. He implored all the diners in a neat little invitation booklet to wear appropriate dress for each gala occasion but let’s face it who could ever get self-conscious British aristocrats to wear anything but ultramodern raiment? However, some dress up in Spanish colours of yellow, red and gold, including Dolly and Cécile.

For the entertainment, musicians who looked as if they had just come back from a bull fight, play popular Spanish songs of the 18th century as a background for the Spanish artist Argentinita whose castanets gave point and rhythm to her excellent dances.

“She is known as the Flamenco Pavlova and the Queen of Castanets”
says Monty.

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The Spanish dancer Argentinita

That night when we are on our own, Lorenzo says “Gabrielle tells me that she and Cecile are rather hoping they might become sister-in-laws.”

Saturday 10th February

The next gala at the Casino is the Enchanted Garden fete and the Ambassadeurs has become a garden festooned in flowers and fruits of every hue. The roof is covered with interwoven leaves and branches and huge dragonflies of all colours are suspended from the ceiling. The walls have been transformed with panels of climbing white roses and pergolas of red jasmine.

As we take our seats, Mama, pointing to a rather excitable group says “Prince George is over there. He motored over from Beaulieu just for the night!”

Argentina provides a wonderful new set of dances and the cabaret is augmented by an hilarious interlude when members of Billy Arnold’s orchestra appear dressed in rather airy costumes and perform a dance of the wood nymphs. This is followed by Chris Lee dressed as a Spanish dancer doing a burlesque of Argentina..

After Papa returns from the Casino itself he says “Our royal guest is causing quite a stir. He tried to get entry to the Casino but was refused because of his age and it has not got down very well!”

I danced the night away, predominately with Cecile, who like all the girls had been propelled into a world of gushiness by the enchanted garden and was becoming rather lovey-dovey.

Monday 12th February

I spend the day with Papa exploring land and properties for sale first in Cap Ferrat and then Cap d’Antibes. The latter looks more promising because it is nearer Cannes which we all prefer.

Tuesday 13th February

It is a good job we are not superstitious and thank God it is not a Friday. Just south of the sleepy little port of Antibes amongst the pine clad slopes of the peninsula, we find and buy a rather magnificent, large plot of land with a run-down villa and its own bit of coastline. There was a sense of remote tranquillity at this spot that will be a welcome relief to the usual hustle and bustle of city life and yet even here, Cannes and Nice are very accessible.

We are not far from the Hotel du Cap at Eden Roc where we take afternoon tea to finalise the deal. Although it will take a while to finalise everything we see a variety of people over the next few days to plan the renovation work.

Thursday 15th February

We have a family day out to show everyone the villa and there is much excitement and discussion about décor, furnishing and the garden as we have a picnic on the Plage de la Garoupe. Aunt Mimi has bought Sir Oliver.

“I have an announcement” she says “Sir Oliver and I are engaged. We are planning the wedding for late April.”

We all burst into guffaws of congratulations and hugs as Sir Oliver says “and I have arranged a special dinner party on Friday evening at the Carlton in celebration.”

Friday 16th February

I am having a quiet lunch in the Carlton with Cecile, Monty and Dolly when suddenly I hear familiar voices and in come the Dolly Sisters accompanied by a very tall and handsome young man. When Dolly waves they come over to our table and introduce us to their brother Edward, or as they call him Eddie.

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The Dolly Sisters

“We have been in America since we saw you last in Deauville.”
“We have done a long vaudeville tour with Eddie and a great singer called Harry Richman.”
“And, now we are here for our debut on the Riviera tomorrow night.”
“We hope we will see you.”

Saturday 17th February

The gala at the Ambassadeurs has a winter theme as “The Kingdom of the Queen of Winter’. The huge chandeliers were half covered in cotton wool cut out in shapes of large holly leaves. There was a giant snowman in one corner and little leafless trees covered in crystallised imitation snow dotted around the room. The lights were turned down for the entry of the Dolly Sisters who appeared in white tulle frocks. At the same time waiters handed out paper bags filled with imitation snowballs and everyone pelted each other while the Dollies skipped daintily out. They returned dressed as jet black ponies with high head-plumes and other jingling equine paraphernalia driven by their brother Eddie with a cracking whip and hard bowler hat as he directed them at a gallop round and round till the entry of a reindeer, more snowballs and a walking snowman drew their prancing pony trot to a close.

The evening was a huge hit. The Dollies are unique and amazing and their dancing so different from anything ever seen before. We dance all night and the rather dashing Eddie monopolises Dolly who looks as if she is being swept off her feet. I of course have several dances with each of the Dolly Sisters.

Saturday 24th February

The Dolly Sisters have been such a success at the Ambassadeurs that dancing managers along the coast are offering large sums of money to lure them away.

The gala evening tonight has the theme of ‘The Venice of Casanova.’ The Dolly Sisters dressed identically in Venetian gowns are once again escorted by their brother Eddie and give another unbelievable performance.

I am still quite alarmed when I overhear embarrassing comments at a nearby table.
“The Riviera is not what it was. It is different and it is not better. I am not concerned to maintain that is less attractive than the Spring of 1914, say, but it is certainly a very much less attractive, less amusing and less intimate place than it used to be 20 or more years ago. It has become democratic, for one thing and full of these Americans.” Says a very pompous older English lady in a very loud voice to other members of her table “Take these dancers, for example: they are brash in a new and rather disconcerting way. They are far too modern and indiscreet and quite unbearably nouveau rich.”

Monty is not amused and says equally loudly “It is interesting that with the Russians banished, it is us Americans that are keeping the Riviera afloat you know.”

Dolly is clearly enamoured with Eddie and I say to Monty “So are you or are you not together?”

“We are not” he says gruffly.

I dance again with Jenny and Rosie and they both tell me that they have accepted a very lucrative offer to dance at the new Casino in Juan-les-Pins. Apparently Édouard Baudoin a restauranteur from Nice purchased a dilapidated and almost bankrupt casino there and rebuilt it believing that this area, mid-way between Cannes and Nice, had great potential. The Dollies were going to star in his opening-night gala to be held in early March in an attempt to put his casino and Juan-les-Pins on the map.

I am really amused given that we have just purchased a villa nearby. I think we might have chosen wisely.

Wednesday 28th February

Monty and Dolly have already left for Paris. All too soon our soujourn on the Riviera also comes to an end and are forced to leave and return home. I have an emotional farewell with Lorenzo, who promises to visit London and Paris soon.

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