Mother’s Day in Paris…Japanese Style
When you’re an American mother living in France, you have the privilege of celebrating Mother’s Day twice—once based on the U.S. customary day on the second Sunday in May and the other based on France’s, always the last Sunday of May. This year I had the good fortune of my daughter being here to celebrate France’s holiday yesterday.
I wanted the day to be special—to do something together we both would enjoy. Steve McCurry is one of Erica’s favorite photographers, and even though I had already seen the exhibition at the Musée Maillol, I knew that would be the best choice. Yesterday was supposed to be the last day, but good news: the exhibition has since been extended to July 31st (so you don’t have to miss it!).
I wrote about the exhibition in April 4th’s Nouvellettre®, as it was one of the most beautifully curated exhibitions ever. I’ve seen his work in other museums and venues, but never as awe-inspiring as is this one. A few years ago, I had the distinct pleasure of hearing him speak at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie (MEP) and my daughter (a photographer in her own right), visited his studio and lunched with him once. His work is both breathtaking and heart-wrenching.
You likely already know what seriously put him on the map was his photo of an Afghan girl with piercing green eyes which has appeared on the cover of National Geographic several times. He took that photo in 1984, having been smitten by her beautiful eyes, without knowing anything about her. It was the first time she had ever been photographed. Seventeen years later, the National Geographic team ferreted her out and he photographed her again. McCurry said about her, “Her skin is weathered; there are wrinkles now, but she is as striking as she was all those years ago.”
What makes the exhibition even more special is the unique way in which the photos are presented. Each on its own, on a free-standing panel or on the wall; the walls a very dark gray, almost black; one single light shining on each one of the images. The images glow. The somber atmosphere creates a very hushed tone and you hear almost no voices. Either people were speechless or the atmosphere itself creates the feeling that nothing should pierce the silence.
For an extra treat, head to the permanent collection of the museum to see Aristide Bonaventure Jean Maillol’s works. He was fixated on young, nude women, in his paintings and sculptures. “He had an idea about how a nude should be shaped, and he clung to that for life as well. His ideal was a stocky type with a short waist, upstanding breasts and powerful haunches, gently smoothed over with an eye to geometry and stasis: classicism with a rustic accent. Maillol removed her from time and rendered her impersonal, then gave her a neutral expression and calm, imperturbable dreams.” (Source)
One level of the museum is filled with these nudes, to which one might become desensitized. While the Steve McCurry was bumper-to-bumper with visitors stopping to listen to their audio guides and clogging up the flow, the upper floor of Maillol’s works was void of anyone, with the exception of one other curiosity-seeker besides ourselves.
Before going to the museum, we lunched around the corner from home at the new and very avant-garde restaurant, Ogata. Sushi and all Japanese cooking are some of our favorite culinary delights, so that made a choice easier. A friend had insisted on my one day trying Ogata, but he warned me: “Just don’t look at the prices.” Ogata won one Michelin star this year and has been called a “temple of Japanese gastronomy.” A tea room, restaurant, bar, boutique and gallery all rolled into one, in a 17th-century building that once housed a “quincaillerie” (hardware store) on rue Debelleyme (number 16). Long before that, it had been occupied by Henry-Louis Frédy, an advisor to the king.
Shinichiro Ogata is the designer of such a wonderland of Japanese culture and serenity…designed to awaken the five senses. One article wrote about the experience: “On the restaurant side, discerning palates discover a contemporary reinterpretation of Japanese cuisine. Sake kasu, oyster and daikon soup, chicken wings and kinpira lotus root, buri simmered in soy sauce, charcoal-grilled beef binchōtan… In addition to offering a change of scenery, Ogata invites gourmets to a true olfactory and gustatory experience. In the heart of the Sabo tea room, an atmosphere suitable for savoring an exquisite moment around tea is created between the host and his guest.”
The space is stunning from the moment you enter to every inch of the somber, but serene tones. Each item is placed with precision in geometric patterns. Every detail has been attended to in every aspect of the design, decor and then even more so, to the cuisine.
We did not venture into the Sabo tea room, but did instead first wander through the boutique to see the beautiful array of Japanese teas carefully selected by the Ogata tea master, housewares and gifts. There in the boutique, we spotted an acquaintance of Erica’s, an American actor who starred in a film that takes place in Paris, who you would definitely recognize, but who shall remain nameless to protect his privacy. She had bumped into him the day before by chance, and here he was again at the same moment in this very remote spot. It seemed so synchronistic. He being all alone, joined us for lunch. I have to admit, I was star-struck, but had to behave as if it was no big deal at all, trying desperately not to blubber all over him like I’ve been known to do with people I admire!
We were seated at the bar so we could watch the chefs work their magic. Demure and quiet compared to most bustling kitchens, one might not even know that such delicacies could be concocted without the hullabaloo you normally see in other establishments. Ogata has a special lunch “dégustation” for 65€ which made it affordable for our Mother’s Day lunch, and it was well worth the price. Every morsel was meaningful and insanely both precious and delicious.
We started with two special Japanese teas, then a tray of eight different “entrées” (appetizers) was served. We tried not to race through them, but one was better than the next. The main course came next, a choice of three: one fish, one meat and one vegetarian. We each ordered something different so we could taste them all. Rice, miso soup and an assortment of pickled vegetables were served with the main course. Add to that the “Tamagoyaki,” a traditional Japanese prepared omelet, made in a rectangular frying pan, where one creates several layers of cooked eggs that end up with a very soft texture (similar to flan) with a grilled flavor. (It might have been my favorite thing.) Dessert was exceptional—a kind of Macha Panna Cotta.
At the end of our multi-course menu, we just wanted to start over. And I did at dinner, sadly with cookie-cutter sushi from Sushi House…take out in a box. Ugh.
If you want to see what a real Japanese Michelin Star menu looks like, download their menu here.
After the museum, we stumbled into a “Vide-Dressing“—a weekend pop-up at the Salle Raspail where 1,600 m² was turned into a unique second-hand sale. It was 2€ to enter, but worth it. We scored a cool leather jacket, a dress and a scarf, for a whole lot less than they would have been on a retail rack.
All in all, it was a perfect day and a perfect way to celebrate how we feel about each other as mother and daughter. May you all be so lucky as to have such a mutual admiration for one another as we have, Erica and me.
A la prochaine…
The Adrian Leeds Group®
Adrian with daughter, Erica
P.S. Be sure you don’t miss Diana Bishop’s interview with me on Wednesday for Woman of a Certain Age. Read all about it and register here TODAY!