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Posts Tagged ‘Sielle and Mills’

Since the villa is now almost completely renovated we have decided as a family to take a trip down to the Riviera to enjoy a summer break for a few weeks. So Mama, Papa, Aunt Mimi, Sir Oliver, Millie and Henri and I take the overnight train and then drive to Cap d’Antibes in two cars that we have rented.

The Villa, Cap d'Antibes

When we arrive the lorry with masses of furnishings has also arrived from Paris and there is also Lorenzo who has been persuaded to come and join us from Italy and keep me company. We have a wonderful day emptying the lorry and placing all the furniture. I am thrilled to be able to hang all the paintings that I bought from Montparnasse. They cause a bit of a debate of course but I prevail. We have employed several local people as cook, housekeeper and gardener but they do not arrive until tomorrow. It is lucky Lorenzo is here because he had the good sense to bring with him in his car boxes of Italian delicacies and he cooks us the most amazing supper. He is such a resounding success that even Papa says “well my boy I suggest you get to London and open a restaurant.”

We take a few days to sort ourselves out, and Lorenzo and the cook argue in the kitchen each night. Papa and I discuss the landscaping of the garden and grounds and the building of a swimming pool with the gardener who will arrange and organise everything for us.

Interestingly, the older generation are not good at simply relaxing and doing nothing. Despite excellent food, brilliant sunshine, amazing surroundings, the gramophone, Mah Jong and charades, they miss the hustle and bustle of big city life and start complaining. I on the other hand have got Lorenzo, so I am perfectly content with doing very little. I have enough of a distraction. Millie and I also spend a lot of time teaching Lorenzo new dance steps and generally improving our own dancing technique. However, to ease the discontent, during the day, we start taking a few trips and take leisurely visits to Juan Le Pins and Antibes. But since most places are closed there are more outbursts.

One day we head for the sandy Plage Garoupe shaded by umbrella pines. We meet the American family of Gerald and Sara Murphy. Millie reminds me that Yvette, Henri’s sister, had told us that the Murphy’s had been here last summer with Cole Porter.

‘We are staying at the Hotel du Cap, Eden Roc’ Gerald tells us.

‘The hotel is usually closed from May to September but we persuaded the owner Antoine Sella to keep the place open with a skeleton staff this summer.’

He is thrilled when we tell him that we have bought and renovated the villa near to the hotel and suggests we join them for dinner, which we graciously accept.

We spend a pleasant afternoon swimming and lounging around and the Murphy’s extol the virtues of sunbathing. Lorenzo, Millie, Henri and I are appreciative but Mama and aunt Mimi huddle under a vast umbrella afraid of the sun. Gerald and Sir Oliver have a lot in common as they are both artists and converse for ages.

We have a delightful dinner at the Hotel du Cap. I had forgotten what a beautiful place and setting it is. This is where we came to sign the contracts for the villa back in February.  However, as the pleasantness of the dinner recedes, the grumbling gets too much and we are forced to leave early. Lorenzo comes with us. On our way back to Paris we take a detour to the luxurious surroundings of Aix-Le-Bains, or as all us Brits say ‘Aches and Pains’.

Poster for Aix-le-Bains

We arrive and check into the Splendid-Royal on the Rue Georges, just up above the main centre of the town next to the Excelsior. The more salubrious first-class hotels occupy commanding ledges that give sweeping views and a fresh mountain breeze that comes down from the pine covered peaks above. The Splendid-Royal is a model of architectural perfection and gets Aix’s smart summer crowd. It has a richly carpeted lobby, lined with heavy, blue marble columns, showcases from the best Paris shops and double-sized elevators, originally built to accommodate handicapped guests.

Splendide-Royal Hotel

Aunt Mimi tells Lorenzo ‘this hotel has become a favorite with Americans, because they find the usual match-box French elevators claustrophobic.’  I share a room with Lorenzo which is vast with big windows and a balcony, roomy enough for a cozy breakfast in the morning that opens onto a white alabaster terrace with a fabulous view. We congregate for lunch in the splendid dining room with impeccable service on metropolitan standards, which is full and lively and rather like being in a fashionable Parisian café.

View of Aix-le-Bains towards Lake Bourget

‘Ah this is much better’ says aunt Mimi glancing around nodding to people she thinks she knows.

‘I have no idea why you like that dreary spot on the Riviera at this time of the year’ says Mama. ‘This is where we should be. It is a perfect mix of elegance, good weather and correct company.’

‘Well’ says Millie with a sly smile ‘looks like you and Lorenzo will be spending the summer down there all alone next year.’

 

One of three Aixes in France, Aix-le-Bains of Savoy in the lower ranges of the French Alps is delightful and picturesque and I love being here. Perched on the banks of the beautiful Lac Bourget, which is eleven miles long and therefore the longest lake in France, it has become most fashionable mountain resort in Europe full of rugged crags hovering over deep wooded valleys.

View of mountains, Aix-le-Bains

In the afternoon we take a short stroll down into the town through some quaint streets that wind down the hill with some scenic views and the alpine rooflines behind us. Since Lorenzo has never been here before Mama and Aunt Mimi have taken it upon themselves to introduce him to Aix and I tag along. We reach the thermal establishment which is a veritable palace appropriately designed with a classic Roman façade but fitted with every modern up-to-date device to aid the natural powers of the waters.

Thermal establishment, Aix-le-Bains

Mama steps into guide mode as we wander around and says, as if we haven’t noticed…. ‘the Romans founded this health resort because of the spa and the natural powers of the waters in 122B.C. More recently, the King of Sardinia laid the foundations for another thermal spa in 1776. This new structure was created in 1857.’

She continues Over a million gallons of water pour from Aix’s spring every day, hitting the surface at nearly 115 degrees. It provides the foundation for all treatments which vary according to the condition being treated from gout, nervous disorders, rheumatism, faulty blood circulation or arthritis.’

‘Of course all the ‘cure towns’ including Evian and Vichy have been made so luxurious, expensive and fashionable that many think ‘How can I be chic though sick?’ offers Aunt Mimi.

‘So you have to have the right kind of ‘chic’ malady?’ asks Lorenzo.

‘Of course. Overeating, overdrinking, insufficient use of the legs and too much wear and tear of the grey matter are chic’ replies Aunt Mimi with a laugh.

‘You see Lorenzo’ I say ‘ all the hotels are filled during the season with more or less perfect cases of overindulgence.’

In the centre of the town, just below the thermal establishment and opposite the town hall or Hotel de Ville, stands the arch of Campanus commemorating that illustrious Roman general’s soujourn here.

Place de Ville, Aix-le-Bains

Clustered around the sources, the park and the fountains are other hotels including the Villa Victoria. We walk further and wander around the delightful gardens and terraces associated with the entertainment centres of the Casino and the Villa des Fleurs. The Casino also called Le Grand Cercle was built in 1824 and is a large comfortable, rambling building with a multitude of rooms inside.

The Villa de Fleurs is an equally sumptuous building. Both host excellent restaurants, a theatre, ballrooms and salons. We sit and take tea on the terrace at the Casino listening to a concert which is given daily and browse the programme of events for both venues.

Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains

Mama continues her lecture ‘Not only is it a cure town but Aix offers the most amazing array of entertainment since there are always many notable quests staying here. Of course Aix has many royal connections. Queen Victoria was a frequent visitor as was Victor Emmanuel II, Napoleon III, Wilhelmina, George of Greece and Leopold of Belgium. There will be fetes, galas and many dancing opportunities for you boys all with the right kind of girls.’

That night we have cocktails at the hotel and then make out way to the Casino for dinner. I am hugely delighted to see that Sielle and Mills, who we caught at L’Ours cabaret in Paris a few weeks ago, are the cabaret and they are once again magnificent. As the older generation drift off, we dance the night away in wonderful surroundings. Our earlier polishing of our dance routines in the villa, pays dividends and we are highly sought after as dancing partners for  a succession of charming ladies. It is very early in the morning and almost breakfast time when we walk up the hill to our hotel and we notice other people walking down the hill.

Henri says  ‘You see one half of Aix-les-Bains goes to bed about the time that the other half ventures to be parboiled and massaged.’

The next night we have dinner in the Villa des Fleurs and spend a great evening dancing in their ballroom. But in Aix-Le-Bains the dance craze doesn’t let up. Besides the casino and the villa there are always dances every night at each of the hotels and at La Polonaire and the Castel Bisolet.

Interior of Villa des Fleurs, Aix-le-Bains, during a gala night

We have a busy and pleasurable stay taking in the air, walks, boat rides on the lake, frolicking on the landscaped sandy beach and enjoying all the evening entertainment, not to mention a steady flow of impromptu invites to private cocktail parties and soirees. Obviously we do not make the regular early morning trek of mountain climbers with their knapsacks, spiked canes and long alpenstocks but do partake of some light tennis in the afternoon and watch boule. But, all too soon, it is time to leave and return to London via Paris.

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The Ritz Hotel, Ouistiti Roof Garden, New York Bar, L’Ours and Champs Elysees Restaurant

Sunday 1st July

Like any good visitor to Paris who is in the know, the only place to be on a Sunday night at this time of the year is the Ritz. Well, this is the official statement from Papa, hence his insistance that we all go. Instead of Fouquet’s all the family, along with Cecile, meet up in the Ritz bar for cocktails situated on the discreet side of the Ritz Hotel on the Rue Cambon. However, the ladies are not admitted into the main the bar, and have to sip their drinks in an adjoining annex. This of course is not appreciated by our lady-folk who are of the more strident kind. Without doubt, the bar we are in is one of the most select watering holes in the world and Frank Meyer who is in charge is the best-known drink shaker anywhere.

We collect the disgruntled ladies. “It is the last time I do that” says Mama indignantly.

We make our way into the stupendous Grill Room with its restaurant, gallery and dance floor for over 400 covers. The world that counts gathers here and it is regarded as the place for diplomats, foreign princes, newspaper proprietors, great dressmakers and American millionaires. Indeed, tonight there is a reigning King and Queen, the heir to a famous throne, the richest banker in the world, a once famous beauty who has just divorced a steel magnate, the head of the greatest jewellery house in the world, a dowdy old dowager, a French newspaper baron and a string of American woman who have married into French artistocracy including Princess de Polignac.

Papa tells Cecile “this is the habitat of international society. They talk a common language, wear a common livery, and they are as much at home here in Paris as in London or New York. But, they will only gather here together under this roof.” Cecile is looking a little uncomfortable. I do not blame her and squeeze her hand under the table.

It is a rarified atmosphere of polite extremes that I find very tedious. In fact it is rather stuffy. But our dinner is exceptional. Under M. Elles, the manager, the chefs have gained a great reputation and the cuisine features the best French dishes that include Poularde sauté au champagne, Caneton la bigarade (a succulent duck served cold with orange and porto jelly), Poularde Vendome (a stuffed bird with foie gras served with tarragon jelly) and vol-au-vont de sole Marquise.

Between courses we dance but there is no real excitement. I am relieved when we retire for coffee and cognac in the long narrow lounge. Afterward, Cecile and I, along with Millie and Henri, pop into the Ouistiti Roof Garden above the Marigny Theatre, Champs Elysees. This is our second visit to see the elegant dancing of Florence Walton and her husband Leo Leitrim, who have been dancing here for what seems like a long season. Their popularity is undiminished. Equally, this is a lovely venue and we have a marvellous time in an atmosphere much more to our liking.

Monday 2nd July

In light of poor Cecile’s ordeal at the Ritz, Millie and Henri and I decide to take her out to the Rue Daunou for a lighter, more enjoyable evening. We start by having a delightful informal dinner at Ciro’s (6 Rue Daunou). Like the Ritz this is also a society rendezvous but Millie says “this is the place where anybody who is anybody goes to see what everybody who is anybody is wearing. Far more interesting than the Ritz.”

Between the end of dinner and 11.30 when the supper-dancing establishments open there is only one thing doing in Paris and that is the cabaret underneath the famous the New York bar at 5 Rue Daunou.

Henri, who is a regular, tells us “It was first opened by Mrs Milton Henry wife of a well known jockey in 1911 but she sold out. During the war the bar became a favourite meeting place for war correspondents. In 1920 Mrs Henry returned, re-purchased the bar and installed Les Copeland at the piano as the cabaret.”

“Ah, we saw Les Copeland only the other night at the Jockey Club”
says Cecile.

“He is amazing and I used to come and listen to his singing all the time” continues Henri “anyway, in 1922 Maurice and Leonara Hughes arrived and opened the now defunct Clover Club in the Rue Caumartin. They brought with them two singers from New York’s East side – Tommy Lyman and Roy Barton. Lyman was not happy with his treatment by Maurice and so moved to the New York bar when Les Copeland quit. The boxer Jack Dempsey and Damon Runyon, who knew Lyman were then in town and made the place famous.”

“One particular night last year” says Millie “Irving Berlin was playing at the piano and Jenny Dolly was asked to dance. She persuaded Dempsey to join her and they performed a rather spirited jazz dance that they called Chicago’ on top of the piano.”

“I believe Mrs Henry has now sold the bar to a Scottish gentleman called Harry McElthone, who used to be head bartender at Ciro’s in London. I guess it may well be renamed Harry’s Bar.” Says Henri.

Moving on we visit L’Ours cabaret at 4 Rue Daunou. Small and intimate it is nevertheless luxurious and caters for a very ‘Daunou’ smart crowd. Tonight the cabaret features the dancing of a rather wonderful English couple called Sielle and Mills. I have heard of them but Millie knows a little more.

Robert Sielle & Annette Mills

“Robert Sielle is rather fun and cheeky. He had been in the Royal Flying Corps during the war and had also entertained the troops. After being demobbed he found he could dance, met Annette Mills and they formed an act. One of their first sets was at the Criterion Roof Garden in 1921 but since then they have performed on the continent as well as in London. Their great strength is that they can do the usual dances exceptionally well but they introduce an element of humour by clowning around.”

They are very polished and accomplished and their novelty numbers that included a golliwog dance were wonderfully funny. They introduced little bits of fantasy by wearing extra items of clothing over their evening clothes, which was particular effective. They remind me of Fred and Adele Astaire, but actually I think they are better.

Wednesday 4th July

Monty and Dolly Tree are in town and we meet at Fouquet’s. Dolly is very animated and orders champagne “we need to celebrate. I have become sole designer for Peron Couture. My first collection will be unveiled later in the year. I am so excited.”

She kisses both of us and we congratulate her effusively.

I have got tickets for Harry Pilcer’s Independence day fete at the new Champs-Elysees restaurant which opened a few weeks ago on 63 Avenue des Champs-Elysees. An array of French and American stars will appear as the entertainment with the proceeds going to blinded war veterans. So we continue our celebrations. We have drinks first in the bar in the basement which is the largest in Paris, and the most comfortable, before moving upstairs to our table.

The restaurant is owned and run by an American called Jules Ansaldi. Monty tells us “He was well known in New York and was considered to be one of the originators of the cabaret on Broadway. He first operated Louis Martin’s club then the Sans Souci and launched the careers of the dancers Maurice Mouvet, Joan Sawyer, Florence Walton and the Castles. After the First World War he ran the Grande Bretagne Hotel on the Rue Caumartin and in 1920 changed the restaurant into Maurice’s club.”

Dolly Sisters in Paris Sans Viole (Paris, 1923)

We have an amazing dinner and the cabaret is superb, the highlight of which was the dancing of Harry Pilcer and the gorgeous Dolly Sisters, who are still appearing in Paris Sans Viole at the Ambasadeurs. It is delightful to cause such a stir with onlookers when both of them take turns to dance with me afterward. I am indeed very lucky.

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