Maison By Day and Hammam By Night
Part I: Maison et Objet by Day
Twice a year I make a concerted effort to spend some time at the Maison et Objet trade fair. It takes place every January and September (September 4-8, 2015), this being it’s 20th year. About 3200 exhibitors make up a massive display of homewares and furnishings in the enormous halls of the Parc des Expositions de Paris — almost incomprehensible and decidedly overwhelming.
Usually, Interior Architect Martine di Mattéo and I hit the aisles of furnishing specialists, but this time was a different experience. Instead, I tagged along with house and kitchenware marketing ‘guru,’ Barb Westfield, in a completely different part of the show than the usual — Hall 3 for “Cook & Design” first before moving on to Halls 4 and 5 for “Côté déco” — interior design. There are eight halls pivoting from a semi-circular core filled with a cornucopia of products for everything and anything that relates to creating your own ‘nest’ including textiles and accessories of all kinds.
The Cook & Design hall offered gadgets and ideas that were way beyond my own experience as a cook — many years ago before virtually giving it up entirely when all I needed was an iron skillet and a wooden spoon. Barb’s latest project is “SousVide Supreme®” — “the world’s first water oven designed specifically to bring the gourmet ‘sous vide’ cooking method into home and small restaurant kitchens.”
Sous-vide is French for “under vacuum.” It’s a “method of cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath or in a temperature-controlled steam environment for longer than normal cooking times — 96 hours or more, in some cases -— at an accurately regulated temperature much lower than normally used for cooking, typically around 55°C (131°F) to 60°C (140°F) for meats and higher for vegetables. The intention is to cook the item evenly, ensuring that the inside is properly cooked without overcooking the outside, and retain moisture.” (Wikipedia.org)
All this is certainly new to me, but Barb clearly stays up on the latest state-of-the-art cookware and gadgetry. She took me from one stand to another where I learned about all sorts of things — like the fact that “Laguiole” is not ONE knife manufacturer, but many, all located in the commune of Laguiole in the Aveyron, known for cheese and as the birthplace of this particular style of knife.
Italian designer and manufacturer Marioluca Giusti had a show-stopping stand of a magnificent array of colored ‘glassware’…except that it wasn’t glass at all. It was what he calls “synthetic crystal” — a kind of non-breakable acrylic. You would have sworn it was crystal, but solid, unbreakable and beautiful. Brilliant!
A favorite stand for many, and certainly for me, was Desigual’s “Living Collection.” This Barcelona-based manufacturer has taken its Ibiza style and branched out with the hottest line of textiles on the market. As an ‘addict’ of their clothing lines, the bed linens and other accessories had me and everyone else at the show going wild for the color and frivolity of the spirit of the line. It was getting more attention than any other manufacturer in Hall 5 and it was evident that the visitors in the stand were enjoying the atmosphere as much as we were.
Desigual was intelligently handing out their large cloth-like sacs of equally bright colors so that (it seemed) everyone at the fair was floating down the aisles sporting Desigual style. I am personally so addicted that I wear it daily! (Special note: it’s pronounced “desiwal” — the “g” is silent!)
Part II: Les Bains du Marais by Night
For my birthday last year, my daughter presented me with a gift certificate to Les Bains du Marais for a “Journée Beauté et Soin du Corps”…badly needed and greatly appreciated. When ready to make an appointment, I couldn’t find the certificate anywhere and thought it must have been lost.
You might not think that would be a problem, since they would have a record of the purchase, both the name of the purchaser and the name to whom it was gifted…but this is France where things just aren’t so simple: I was told by phone that without the certificate itself, I had nothing! They refused to honor it without that precious piece of paper.
That began the battle. First, I sent a registered letter to the “Gerant” (president) of the company demanding it be honored or a refund. No reply.
Then, my daughter called from New York and after quite a heated discussion, they agreed that if I came there with an I.D., they would ‘see what they could do.’ Months went by without making a special trip there for such a task and then fortunately, I discovered the precious certificate in the closet of my Nice apartment where apparently it had been left behind.
After all this, I wasn’t keen on going to Les Bains du Marais, but the money had already been spent and I was well overdue for that “Journée Beauté et Soin du Corps” once dreamed about. Barb agreed to accompany me, so we went directly there from the fair for about three hours of self-indulgence.
In spite of my negative feelings about their poor customer service attitude, we entered with an open mind and bathing suits in our bag. During the hours when the spa is “mixed” (men and women), bathing suits are required. (One time many years ago, the first time I ventured there, I came unprepared, then refused to don a suit when they confronted me in all my naked glory. (Most spas I’ve been to are “au naturel!”) They didn’t make much of a fuss then, perhaps thinking it was better to let it slide than create an unpleasant scene!)
It’s a good thing we gave them a chance to redeem themselves, because I’d have to say it was a heavenly and glorious experience. Everyone was as nice and helpful and pleasant as could be. The facility is beautiful and comfortable on two levels appointed in tiles and rich woods. The large main hammam was steamingly relaxing and heavenly scented. About 10 to 15 minutes is all one handle, but cool showers in the corners help re-enliven your wilted body. Mint tea is served at every turn — both aromatic and sweet. The “gommage” (scrubbing) with a course glove and scrubbing clay scaled us to silky perfection. The deep tissue massage turned our muscles to butter. By the time we redressed and prepared ourselves for the cold clammy weather outside and a short walk to dinner in the neighborhood, we were like new-born stress-free babies ready to fall asleep and dream pleasant thoughts.
If I had any complaint, it would be to say that there were not enough lounge chairs next to the hammam since it was so busy at the evening hours on a Sunday and the women’s dressing room should have been better equipped with sundries to make for a more luxurious experience. Other than that…it was a delightful experience. It surprised me, considering the bad introduction!
A la prochaine,
(at the Desigual stand)
Respond to Adrian
P.S. For those of you in the New York City area, who would like to know more about investing in France, I will be available for private consultations on March 13th through 18th. Consultations are typically two hours, and I will be offering my usual euro fee at the same fee in U.S. dollars. Email me personally to make your appointment: [email protected]
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