Paris Tours: In the Footsteps of Mme Récamier
Mon 16 May 2011
I love Paris trips that follow the footsteps of a character straight from history, and because I am something of a bookworm, it is usually literary history. A day spent visiting cafés that were once the favorite haunts of Hemingway, Colette or Sartre is my idea of heaven. So last week, I was inspired when I crossed one of the newest elegant boutique hotels in Paris, La Belle Juliette.
Juliette? Why, yes, Juliette Récamier (1777–1849), the famous socialite and mistress of one of the most influential literary salons of French Empire society. In addition to her keen literary mind, Juliette was known for her beauty and chastity, which is somewhat ironic because in her later years her name became irrevocably entwined with that of Chateaubriand. Mme Récamier was close friends with Madame de Staël and, as a royalist, she had the courage to snub Joséphine, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, when invited to be a lady in waiting.
If I didn’t already live here, I’d stay at the Belle Juliette, which promises to soon hold harp and piano concerts and literary readings in the spirit of Mme Récamier. But I do live here, so I start my Paris trip at the Denon wing of the Louvre to view the unfinished Jacques-Louis David portrait of this exceptionally beautiful woman.
The gardens where Juliette once strolled.
Eventually prying myself from the other works of people Mme Récamier would have known, all made immortal by the official imperial painter, David, I head out for a lovely stroll across the Seine. I savor my time before reaching 16, rue de Sèvres, where Juliette lived in the Abbaye aux Bois, which had been a convent, then eventually became a prison and is now known as the Square Récamier. I stroll the postage stamp–sized garden at the back of the square, disappointed that the Fondation Electra, an art space run by the local electric company, does not have an expo today.
A light, elegant menu, like the lady herself.
My reward is lunch at La Cigale Récamier (4, rue Récamier, in the 7th Arrondissement, 01 45 48 86 58), under the shade at one of the outdoor tables on Madame’s square. This is one of my favorite restaurants in Paris because of its perfectly balanced soufflés that feature market-fresh ingredients. To repent for my gluttonous ways, I end my afternoon Paris trip with a stroll to the Cimetière de Montmartre, where Mme Récamier now rests, surrounded by literary stars like Feydeau, Stendhal and Dumas fils.