Have You Ever Found a Hidden Shop in Paris?

About three years ago, I was wandering up the Rue de L’Odeon in Paris and this tiny little shop caught my eye.  It was called SérieRare and in the shop window, there were door knobs, door knockers, and one brass gold-plated bracelet that I fell in love with.  Not really wanting a door knob or a brass knocker, but looking for presents for Christmas, I wandered in.

A lovely lady was in there and we exchanged a “bonjour” when I inquired about the bracelet.  In my terrible French, I asked her if she had any others.  “Bien sur,” she said, and she proceeded to open a hidden cabinet filled with bracelets, bangles, and earrings.  All of the items are beautifully crafted by an artist called Daniel Podva.  He also is a great photographer.

What I love about this place is that you would never have guessed it.  It has become a regular stop for me when I am passing through Paris; a secret treasure trove of beautiful jewelry.  I have even upgraded my haul to include an occasional candelabra.  Probably the nicest thing about the store is that it’s near everything.  When you come out, you can take a right to the Odéon-Théâtre de l’Europe, one of France’s six national theaters, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, or a left down to St. Germain and the bustle of the mainstream Latin Quarter.  There is also a fabulous restaurant, one of my favorites, at the top by the Odeon called La Méditerranée.  Who would have thought?

A Parisian Exhibition Unlike Any Other

I had never been to the Fondation Louis Vuitton before.  It is such an amazing sight as you approach it through the Bois de Boulogne.  Constructed around a cascading stairway of water, it’s an assemblage of huge glass sails and blocks known as “icebergs.”  Because of the glass, the trees that surround it, and the constant movement of water, it creates a continuous impression of movement depending on the time of the day and night.  It is quite a sight to behold.

We had booked tickets for an extraordinary exhibition based around the artworks of a Russian textile magnet named Sergei Shchukin.  One of the richest guys in Russia at the turn of the 20th century, his house, or more likely palace, in St. Petersburg, held the most extensive collection of Matisse’s in the world.  He bought them when nobody was buying pieces by Matisse.  As one collector of the time said of him and his collection of Matisse’s, “One mad man painted them, another bought them!”  He had 37 Matisse’s in all and Matisse, who visited him in Moscow several times, commented that he was a strange guy with a heavy stutter who was crazy about art and had a vision and an eye for the unfashionable.

Matisse offered to introduce Sergei to a mate of his who was doing very unorthodox things at the time.  The introduction went well.  Even though Sergei did not much enjoy the paintings from his friend, he bought them, and lots of them.  He figured that Matisse and his friend were probably smarter than he was, and one day his investment may even make him some money.  The friend’s name was Pablo Picasso.

At the end of the first World War, as the Russian Revolution loomed, Sergei fled both his country and his collection of art.  His art was scattered – not just the Picasso and Matisse pieces, but Cezanne, Gauguin, you name it, he had it.  Much of it thankfully ended up at the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. Although during the Stalin years – and there were lots of them – the viewing of his paintings were forbidden because Stalin thought that both Matisse and Picasso were seditious counter-revolutionaries.  Oh dear.

This exhibition in Paris was the first time that Sergei’s entire collection could be viewed and the first time his collection had ever been out of Russia.  Paintings that had been seen by most only on postcards were staring at you from across the room.  It was a two-and-a-half-hour romp through a madman’s house to view the great artists of the 20th century at the beginning of their careers.


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