Dispatch From Paris
Just back from a memorable diversion in Paris where I decided to stop over en route home this week. With all that has happened I wanted to reconnect with the city that we all love and visit some of my favorite friends and places albeit in just a few short hours. Three weeks after tragedy plagued this city I wanted to see first-hand what the situation was really like, absent the influence of exaggerated sensationalist media. And boy am I glad I did.
For some strange reason I had not been to Paris in 5 years and like so many things you love, you forget how amazing they are until you encounter them; Paris being no different. From the minute I entered the city’s outskirts I was smitten with its utter beauty and elegance. From the stately blue mansard roofs and intricate stone facades, I was instantly struck with elation of returning to something special. The city is just beautiful inside and out. From a random corner to a small trash dispenser, it’s no wonder Paris is the world’s muse. Even in the rain (and boy did it rain) Paris is gorgeous -- the shimmer on the cobblestone streets, the glimmer of the lights on towering iconic monuments and the twinkle of the drops on the windows of endless elegant buildings lining the street. Indeed, Paris is like our second home – our escape for a dose of all things fabulous.
I felt just as safe and easy going walking down Rue St. Honoré as I do Fifth Avenue. Any fears were instantly diffused as soon as I stepped on the pavement. There were no barracks, no army men with rifles, nothing was closed or in lockdown mode. There was a heightened sense of security but nothing at all frightening. It felt like an ordinary day in Paris. Of course, anything can happen anywhere at any time, and no place is too far off the map to be a target (like who’da thunk San Bernardino, CA?); but the way I see it we all have two options -- retreat or move on. It is clear Parisians chose the latter. As so many have declared to me in classic French tone “are we going to let them defeat our entire life and crawl under our mattress or will we defy them as move on with life!?!” But the French, whose DNA emerged from the endless defiance of the French Revolution, don’t just move on with life. They savor it. Joie di Vivre – the “Joy of Life” -- as they say… and so it is. Just three weeks after the terrorist attacks, Paris removed its shrouds of morning, brushed off its ashes, and picked itself up – out of respect for those who perished and defiance for those who did it. Surprisingly, Paris was abuzz. Bars were full and there wasn’t an empty seat at any restaurant I passed on an ordinary Tuesday night. Indeed, Parisians were all out and about living their life. The sprawling Christmas market (marché) was bustling and the streets were alive with locals. The Tour Eiffel was illuminated with all its pomp and glory boasting its glittering flashbulbs and bold searchlights heralding the city with an air of freedom and defiance as if so say “F-U….we are still here; we shine. We win. You Lose.”
Walking through the streets and seeing so many friends gave me a sense of ownership and pride, as though that were my flag flying everywhere. And then it occurred to me that Paris was indeed my city and that attack was on me like everyone else walking through the streets. That’s why I think we all feel like this hit home so much and so frightened. I don’t see as many people fretting over the recent incident in Mali as they did in Paris. Just as so many felt connected with New York after 9/11, I feel connected to this global “sister” city that has claimed a piece of so many of our hearts. It seems while we sprang from the British, we have always identified with the French. From fashion to food, the French lead our trends and our values. And though our flags are different, they have the same colors representing the same values of freedom, equality and liberty. From the time they salvaged us from the British during to the American Revolution to our rescue on the shores of Normandy our connection to this country has never dissipated.
Even if you don’t live there, anyone who has been to Paris has a favorite random corner, a favorite café or bistro and most of all, a favorite memory. Just walking down any alley feels like stepping through an epic novel or movie set, whether Les Miserablés or Midnight in Paris. It is the City of Love and a city we all love in one way or another. Indeed, there is a piece of Paris in all of us.
Yes they can be arrogant, but they are also oh so elegant. There is this incredible ambiance in the air whether you are on Ave Montaigne, San Germain-des-Prés or the sprawling Champs. It is a sanctuary for all of our passions, our indulgences and senses. From the fragrances radiating from its luxury hotels, to the opulent edifices, to the sensual fabrics in its boutiques to the orgasmic flavors of its gastronomic temples, Paris inspires something in everyone. Just walking through each hotel and noticing the attentive attention to detail with every random cup of coffee accompanied by a symphony of endless accessories including dainty delights that can be framed as art anywhere else. No one does luxury hospitality like the French. Not the Americans, not the Asians nor the British. From dainty mainstays like a silver ring holder in a bathroom, a delicate china egg holder at breakfast, or even a thoughtful cushioned floor mats set beside the bed at turndown so your sleepy feet emerge on a cloud of comfort rather than a hard floor. The perfume infused air is standard quo and everything just seems to be done with delightful pomp and circumstance. Yes it is fussy, but it is utterly fabulous.
During my brief stay I visited each of the top 15 luxury hotels in Paris and I fell in love with every hotel again as if it were my first encounter. I wanted to move in to each and each was my favorite for the moment I was there. It is no different that loving every one of your children. The one you are with is your favorite at the moment you are with them but yet you love them all the same when apart…. The glamour of Le Bristol with its local ladies doing lunch in the glorious garden and food worshippers savoring flavors in Epicure. The perfect blend of tradition, vibe and whimsy continues to lure me to the venerable Plaza Atheneé wondering who I will see munching on something wonderful along its arcade or in its ultra-cool bar. And then there is the opulent Le Meurice, a longtime favorite overlooking the Tuilleries in a most enviable location. Oh, and who could overlook the refreshed yet historic Ritz Paris, making a strong comeback specializing in making ladies feel like Parisian princesses stepping past a host of fashion elite soon to flood its halls. Around the corner the slick Mandarin with its dainty butterflies is oh-so-chic and then there is the stately Peninsula with its signature aviator rooftop. Both nod to the Asian influence on French culture while the Art Deco temple of the Prince de Gaulle pays homage to the city’s Art Deco era. It has been perfectly restored by Pierre Yves Rochon who is still orchestrating the refresh at the venerable Four Seasons George V, showroom to Jeff Leighton’s indelible creations and forever a place to see and be seen over a power lunch. But then there is the cozy boutique La Reserve with its private salons and endless options in the middle of everything… and of course the dreamy Shangri La set in a former Napolean home with the most dramatic postcard views of the Tour Eiffel. And who could leave without at least a night cap at Le Royal Monceau, with an elegant vibe epitomizing the new Paris. They are all so amazing that it is hard to decide where to stay next. Anyone who has had the privilege to experience these special places knows that it is not just about the beautiful spaces. It is about the heart and soul -- the people behind them that makes it all so special. It is about the thousands of ladies and gentleman who make memories for everyone, who go above and beyond for us all and are the true ambassadors of this city.
As you would expect though, while locals are filling hotel bars and restaurants, tourists have not yet returned. Thus these palaces remained quite empty (some at 20% occupancy) while many shops were struggling without visitor support. And while some may feel like this is not the time to talk about Paris or try to exploit the situation by promoting amazing values in the wake of the great fallout, there is another side to consider. There are hundreds of thousands of people and families who depend on our visits to put food on their tables and clothe their children. People who could be out of a job without a flow of tourism coming back to support them. With over 83 million visitors to France every year, tourism accounts for over 33% of the income for Parisians and over 7% of the French GDP.
The people behind the hotels, the shops, restaurants, and the bars all need us now more than ever and we all need to step up. Remember, Paris does not just belong to the Parisians. Paris is our city.
So this is not about being insensitive to a tragic situation; it is about rising to the occasion and emerging from a crisis stronger than before. It is about brotherhood. It is about supporting our fellow when he needs you most. It is about uniting the world in peace and freedom. No different than our liberation on the shores of Normandy, it is about Liberté, égalité, Fraternité, It is about YOUR Paris.
Join me in participating in a host of upcoming initiatives we will be rolling out with our partners and feel free to step up with any ideas you may have.