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When I was not writing about Monaco these past few weeks, I was putting together the 7th edition of LUXE Paris. My world has become limited to words. By the time my family comes home at the end of the day, I have a hard time putting two of them together to start a sentence. It has become something of an obsession lately. And not just for me, but the whole country was talking about some choice words last week. The words : Madame le président.

Those were the words used by an Assemblyman when addressing the president of a meeting in the French congress last week and the masculinization of her title was so shocking it resulted in a formal reprimand. A rather serious one that included the loss of 1/4 month’s pay. There were regular blurbs reminding us about the slur on every channel. When I asked Em what the fuss was about, she asked what fuss I was referring to. Mr French had heard the reports, but even he had no idea why it had caused such a scandal. In fact, a lot of native French speakers were at a loss to understand what was so insulting about the term.

It is no exaggeration that French is a tough language to master. Beyond the titles, some nouns mean different things depending on the gender. Un oeuvre is a porfolio of somebody’s work, while une oeuvre is a piece of work, like a painting or sculpture (or do I have that backwards? You see how hard it is?) A memory becomes a memoire.

I was actually quite relieved to learn that I am not the only one who struggles with these little details that seem to make big difference. Not only do I feel like incompetent, but it forced Le Figaro newspaper to print an article in French explaining to the French why Madame le présidente is such a slur. Assemblywomen, it would seem, would like their jobs feminized. Just to make things less clear, female government Ministers do not request the same priveledge, so Ségolene Royal is indeed, Madame le Ministre. This is the formula preferred by the Academie Françaises, the official body whose soul existence is to monitor the French language. Quebec, Belgium and Switzerland beg to differ, asserting that by feminizing career titles we are contributing to equality.

And now Sweden has gotten involved introducing the word hen to replace him or her, in the hopes gender differences disappear for good. An idea that would cause a revolution in France!

Becoming French… 6

Screen shot 2014-09-29 at 11.11.47 AMMy accent not withstanding, Monsieur Mustache’s assistant brought out a heavy, canvas bound ledger, dated 1934, the year before the grand in law’s had their first child as French citizens. A loopy scrawl had entered each wedding by date, one after the other for the entire year. Using a clear plastic ruler M Mustache scrolled down page after page aft… arrêt! He had found something. Bringing the awkward witness to the counter, he showed me their names. M et Mme In-Law, French citizens married in the 12th arrondissement before the birth of their daughter who would one day become my mother in-law. The family joke just got funniey! The grand in laws had remarried after being naturalized. The grandmother may have been uneducated and illiterate, but she had been wicked smart, understanding the French and the importance of the paper chase.

A birth certificate does not cite the nationality of the parents, but the marriage certificate made it clear that the two parties were French citizens. I was able to take my files and get official Nationality Certificates for my husband and my girls. Armed with these documents and the paperwork for Nantes, I was ready to submit my dossier.

In a great moment of anti-climax, Madame was not there that Wednesday. I left my file with her colleague, a polish professional, who looked over all the documents and accepted them with a nod. Several months later my husband and I ware called in for an interview.

Like many Parisiennes, Madame is much friendly with men than with women and she was perfectly charming throughout the interview, as I sat there, wanting to do a gloating happy dance to the woman who had informed me I’d never be French. But I didn’t dare, knowing the dossier was still in her hands. The interview was a no brainer old marrieds like ourselves, and we were assured we’d receive confirmation by mail in the weeks to come, but before that Madame asked me a questioned I’d never anticipated and would love to have known was coming so I could have prepared my answer in advance.

– Would to like to françasisé your name?

– França-what?

– Take a French name. It is the law, I must offer you a more French sounding name. It may make your life easier.

She leaned across her desk and whispered the most ironically hypocritical understatement I have ever heard – Sometimes, this country can be difficult for immigrants.

Going from Sylvia to Sylvie hardly sounded like a life changer, so I stayed with what my parents had given me, but had I known, I think I’d be signing off right now as Madame Chanel, that’s Coco to you. Or perhaps I’d have gone with Colette. Marie Antoinette has a certain ring to it…

Still trying to become French… 5

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No more tears for me, I left Madame’s office more determined than ever to prove her wrong. But how? I did some research. Naturalization is registered with the Journal Officiel. I made inquiries, to no avail. I couldn’t find anyone who could help me find what I needed.

My mother-in-law was confused and absolutely certain she’d never been naturalized. She’d been born a French citizen. Over Easter holidays, 6 months into the process, we visited her in Montreal, where he organized a lunch with her brother, hoping he could help us out. A small get together for paperwork turned into a family reunion, the French cousins meeting their Quebecois cousins, the sound of young kids laughing hysterically at one another’s accent rang through out the small airplane hangar where we had gathered. The uncle had flown in that morning with fresh lobster from Maine, we feasted over red and white checked table clothes, a wing of his Cessna 150 above our heads. The wine flowed freely. It was like being on a Soprano’s set.

After lunch, things turned serious as he showed me the little paper work he had found on his parents. There was nothing on the dates they had been naturalized. But, perhaps thanks to the wine, he shared a family joke. As kids, they had always teased the older siblings for being bastards because the parents had married in Paris after having immigrated from Turkey with the older siblings. The thought was hysterical to this troupe of modern Parisians living with their old world parents. Illicit love? Maman et papa? LOL!

But what if it wasn’t a joke? We had the marriage certificate from Turkey, so we knew they had married before immigrating to France, but a few years ago my husband and I had remarried with Elvis in the Little White Chapel in Vegas. Could it be a family tradition? Is it possible the parents had remarried in France?

Back to Paris, back to the Mairie of each of the three arrondissements where the had lived, 5 year old Em by my side because it was a Wednesday and there was no school in France on Wednesday. That is because after The Church struck a deal with the Government after the Revolution. They were ok with the idea of public school, as long as kids had time to go to religious school one day a week. Wednesdays worked for the church and the country developed a habit. By the time my girls were old enough to go to school, no one was sending their kids to religious school, but teachers had grown accustomed to having their day off, and parents were stuck providing entertainment. Em spent a year of Wednesdays hunting paperwork with me.

There was nothing in the 19th, or 11th. I had no choice, but to head to the 12th. I hoped that the grump took his Wednesdays off, as many parents do, but I had no such luck and was soon facing Monsieur and his mustache. He was as horrible as always but he remembered me and was afraid I’d slip into another tantrum, so after a 10 minute lecture, he went off to search from the documents he assured me did not exist. I sat back down on the bench, next to Em, waiting to see if luck would strike twice.

M Mustache assigned the search to an intern and turned to help the next woman in line, a very proper Parisienne.

– Listen, Mommy! He’s being mean to her, too! He’s mean to everyone. He’s mean to everyone! It’s because of your embarrassing accent…

Yes, but does the document exist?

Heritage days

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 10.23.26 AM  France uses the last days of summer to open her doors and invite the world inside for quick peek behind the scenes. It is a national campaign, with chateaux and public buildings across the nation open to the general public for the weekend. Lines start in the early hours for places like the Elysée, presidential palace and the Prime Minister’s home at Matiginon. In years past we have seen the mineral collection at the prestigious Ecole des Mines engineering school, the carnival museum, the green houses of the Luxembourg Gardens with their orchid collection for the senate, and the Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 10.23.53 AMObservatory nearby. Last year, we stopped by the Manufacture de Sèvres.

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 10.23.40 AMThis year, I was not in the mood to stand in lines and deal with crowds, so we just went for a stroll. It would seem the universe had other plans for us, and along our walk we passed the fine arts college, Ecole des Beaux Arts. The school was open to visitors and I was very curious to see inside, because the school has been getting a lot of press lately.

It is a beautiful space, evoking an abandoned Italian palazzo of fading ochres and falling plaster with patina all around. The chapel has been stuffed full of statuary. Renaissance horsemen face off medieval tombstones, Micheal Angelo’s Virgin is not far from a Roman god. The works are all plaster replicas of masterpieces, set out for the students to study, draw, photography.

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 10.15.47 AMIn the auditorium there is a large mural of the masters. da Vinci chats away with Reubens, Van Dyke shares a laugh besides Fra Angelico, all of them looking down at the students below, sitting on stiff wooden benches, listening to a lecture as the butts go numb.

Screen shot 2014-09-23 at 10.15.28 AMThere is a covered courtyard, flooded with light, where students can work in the sun, protected from the elements, and a smaller, arcaded courtyard that leads to the chapel. A memorial to students who died fighting for France in the First World War dominates the space, a large chestnut tree reigning from above, nature faces tragedy in absolute beauty and our day has been enriched.

All this glorious history comes with a price. The price of upkeep and renovation. The school desperately needs to be brought into the age of modernity, a little wifi here, perhaps a sound system there. Which is why it has been in the news. Ralph Lauren visited the space and was smitten. He has agreed to wire the school, renovate the chapel and ensure a classical, yet sustainable art education of generations to come.

More on that French thing… 4

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Victory? I had at last found all the papers required on the infamous list written by a certain Madame’s blue fountain pen. I had waited to have all the French papers before getting my US paper work in order, because I knew the American system and its efficiency. I requested marriage licenses and birth certificates for my parents, myself and my children. Everything arrived promptly, then was immediately returned to the State of California to be apostilléd. The process took 7 weeks. In five weeks, I’d have to start all over again.

There is a list of certified translators posted on a larger poster at the Tribunal d’Instance. I dreaded running into Madame, but there was no time to waste. I took down the list of those approved for English to French and started calling before heading home. One translator had quit. Most would need 1 – 3 months just to get to my dossier, a few were exorbitantly expensive. I finally found M SALIN on the rue de Las Cases, in the 7th arrondissement who would translate my documents for a fair price in a timely manner. I went to his office to deliver the papers. It was a wood encased study. A place Sherlock Holmes would have felt at easy, motes of dust dancing in the mid-winter sunlight, a globe, stacks of books spilling over. I was worried my papers would be lost in the mess,but he assured me that all would be well. And it was.

I arranged everything in French plastic sleeves. A sleeve for me, for my husband, one each for our parents, two more for,our girls and I headed triumphantly to the Tribunal d’Instance to file my request for citizenship.

Madame was there with her scowl and fountain pen. I started handing her the documents one by one, as she checked them from the list. When French citizens marry, they are given a Livret de Famille. A family notebook, where everything is recorded. The spouses’ two birth certificates, their marriage license, all the birth certificates of their children. I handed her our Livret de Famille, then the birth certificates and marriage licenses I had spent so much money ordering, apostillé-ing and translating. She took my documents, crumpled them in to a ball shrugging,

— Beh, these, we don’t need. They are already in the Livret.

— But, but, bu…. you told me I had to have these documents from California, and they needed to be apostilléd.

— Oui, but I did not believe you had a Livret. I did not think you had taken care of your papers.

— You knew I had taken care of my papers! You told me to go to Nantes for the copies!

She shrugged, 1000€ in paper work and hours on my time dismissed. A huge grin broke out on her surly face,

— Madame, you can not prove your husband is French.

— Yes, yes, her birth certificate is here. She was born in Paris. She’s French.

— It is not enough to be born in Paris. Look, her parents were born in Turkey. She is not French.

— They were naturalized citizens. They were not born in France, but they were French.

— If they were naturalized citizens, she too had to be naturalized. I need her naturalization papers. I have told you. You will never be French. (Je vous avais dit, vous ne seriez jamais française.)

We’ll see about that…

Still trying to become French… 3

Screen shot 2014-09-19 at 8.55.19 AMFrom dealing with the woman at the Tribunal d’Instance, I finally understood what Freud was getting at with his definition of hysteria; the panic was rooted at the core of my being, twisting through my gut, setting my legs into tremble mode and propelling my voice as I called my husband.

I had just ruined his life. He was no longer French, we were in the country on false pretenses and we were all going to be deported. The choe of his foot stomp could be heard surfing the airwaves all the way from the conference room he was visiting in Dresden.

— Are you out of your mind?

Well, yes, actually, I was slightly out of my mind at that exact moment.

— If that broad thinks she is going to take our citizenship!  I am a citizen under article…

I tuned out as he started spewing legalize, his cold certainty reviving my spirit. I stalked home determined to prove “that broad” wrong.

To make a long, very long story short, I set to work hunting down papers. I found out online that Madame had, surprise, surprise, given me a load of false information. There was an official document with a list of all the papers I would require to apply for citizenship.

Another surprise, the list made it clear I would not need the grand in-laws birth certificates and their marriage license. Either both certificates or one license would do. I had photocopies of the birth certificates, so that seemed like the easiest option. But a visit to the Turkish Embassy made it clear that a birth certificate issued less than three months ago for man who had been born when Istanbul was Constantinople was going to be difficult. There had been earthquakes, there had been infernos, and, quite frankly, Constantinople had not been a city for a very long time now.

In France, all of your major life changes are recorded at your local Mairie. I set out to find documents at what may have been their Mairie, armed with the pertinent names, month and year, but no actual date, or place. The family had lived in the 11th, 12th and 19th. I started with the 11th. Prompt and professional, they quickly informed me they did not have the document I was looking for. Going tot he 19th was like traveling abroad. We sat there in a rainbow of colors, waiting for assistance, one with a thicker foreign accent than the next. The staff were crammed into a tiny, too bright office and could not have been more patient with our lost crew of bureaucratic neophytes.

Then it was off to the 12th. Gorgeous wood ensconced offices, light filtering through the 19th century glass windows. I sat on the comfortable bench waiting for my number to be called by a grumpy man with a peppered grey mustache. By now a professional, I explained my plight and was summarily dismissed.

Did I realize how much work it would be for him to look at all the records for any given month of any given year? No, I confessed, I didn’t know exactly what it entailed, but in the other Mairie I had visited, they had taken out large ledgers, and had scanned columns of entries listed by hand in an elegant scroll. Oui, mais non, he was not willing to do this. But they had done it every where else. Impossible. He’s have none of it. He wouldn’t even know where to start looking.

Of course, he knew where to start looking! I had just told him where his colleagues had looked! I was no longer afraid of the people behind the desks. I was angry.

— Bon, if you don’t know where to find the ledgers, I am confident you know where to find your boss?

Incredibility. Was an uppity foreigner really trying to have her way with the system? He hemmed and hawed and acted deeply insulted. I insisted on seeing his boss. He wouldn’t budged. I told him that if he didn’t get me his boss I was going to start yelling. Smugness. If I yelled, the security would swoop down. That, I calmly explained, was why I was going to start to yell. If he did not go get his boss now, I was sure to find the person myself if security had to be called in.

A perfunctory turn on his heels, and my man was off. I could espy him whispering aggressively to a woman. White blouse, red skirt. I could see her arm shoot out, her finger pointing. And then, nothing.

2 minutes later he was back with the cumbersome ledger in his hands. He spread the enormous volume out on a large filing cabinet, using a clear plastic ruler to guide his eyes. Two minutes later.

— And this, is this the name ?

Victory! I was once step closer to completing my dossier!

Or was I?

more French… 2

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                                  First aid kit in times of crisis

If your face has ever served to stop a fast moving ball, then you know exactly how I felt while trying to apply for citizenship; simultaneously numb and in incredible pain.  My eyes fell to my lap, my hands busy gathering together the pile of official documents I had brought along for the application. I was getting ready to leave as the papers fanned out and my long term visa clatter to the floor, reminding me that as far as France’s Prefecture de Police was concerned, my husband was a French citizen.

— They are not any better than the French Embassy in Montréal. I am sure he is not French.

Knowing it was two against one gave me renewed courage. I leaned forward in my chair, half way across Madame’s desk.

— If I understand correctly, you can only deny my application once I have applied and I have the right to apply. I would like a list of all the documents I need to bring for my application.

She eyed me, huffed, then swiveled her chair 180*, grabbed a blank sheet of paper and swiveled back. Her eyes met mine, she opened her fountain pen and began to write a list in blue ink.

There wasn’t a print document with the steps to requesting citizenship? I was incredulous as she assured me that, no, there was not a list of what I’d need. She was going to decide what I needed.

I was going to require all my official US documents issued from the State of California less than 3 months ago. After being issued by the state, they then had to be returned to be apostilléd and then I had to have them translated by a court authorized translator; a bureaucratic marathon.

At this point I think some explanation is in order. Apostilléd basically means that the official government body who issues a document is confirming that it is indeed, an official document.  In France, deaths are registered on birth certificates and it takes about three months from the time of death until it is registered on the birth certificate. Anytime anyone wants to do anything official they are required to have a birth certificate that was issued less than three months earlier, so you can prove you are not dead. Being physically present to hand over the document is not a sign of life.

There was a second set of documents I’d need from the French government. When I asked where I’d go to get the paper work we fell into an absurd Laurel and Hardy routine and it suddenly made sense that Sartre’s masterpiece, Huis Clos, was written in France. Hell is others. I’ll bet he lost his passport.

Armed with all those documents, and a few more, I learned I would need a Certificate of Nationality for my husband, to prove once and for all he was really French.

How does one get a certificate?

Another swivel, another blank sheet covered with blue ink.

She was going to need paperwork. A lot of paperwork and much of it from the turn of the last century when my grand in-laws immigrated to France from Turkey. Marriage certificates, birth certificates (from a time when Istanbul was still Constantinople!), official nationalization records of people who stopped breathing decades ago.

I tried to explain, words coming out in irregular spurts… holocaust… collaborators… family of nine… save lives, not paper work…. She cut me off. And here is where my brain goes bilingual. In my head she huffed out an exasperated, “You people!”

But that is not possible, because the entire ordeal had been wrestled out in French. I received a torturous lecture on our family’s negligence, the important of keeping one’s official paper work, and keeping it in order.

I thanked Madame profusely, assured her she’d be seeing me soon, gathered up my papers and headed out the door. As my hand reached out, she stood, pronouncing, “But you’re never going to be French.”

I stumbled out the door, fled up a familiar street until the rage and fear rushing through my entire being refused to go forward. Propping myself against the nearest wall, my thoughts raced. Could she really take away my husband’s citizenship? my daughters’?

find out here…

On becoming French… 1

Screen shot 2014-09-12 at 11.42.13 AMWhen I announced I was marrying a Canadian, my grandmother went into a panic, grabbed my forearm and warned me that he was only marrying me for a green card. “That’s ok, grandma,” I tried reassuring her, “I’m marrying him for his French passport.”

15 years later, we finally had an opportunity to move to Paris. We told everyone that we were leaving for a two year expat package for work, but we both knew we weren’t moving. We were immigrating. I was married to an attorney and he told me that we’d have to live in France for 5 years before I could apply for citizenship.

A few months later we were at a cocktail party in the sunny garden of a suburban home in St Cloud, trying to meet people. And it is where I met Deborah, a sarcastic broad with a wicked sense of humour. She was a Californian, married to a Frenchman in Paris for over a decade and was look into getting citizenship for herself. I don’t know if the laws had changed, or if my then-husband had been confusing the laws of one of our two other nationalities, but she let me know that he was wrong, we only needed to have been married for 5 years. Where we had lived was of no consequence when seeking citizenship.

The very next morning, having already learned that how you dress really matters in all things bureaucratic in France, I put on my most professional outfit, and headed off to the Tribunal d’Instance to apply for citizenship. Clearly, when I had dressed that morning, I’d forgotten to take off the newbie-shine of a recent arrival.

I could hear the water gurgling by the lion at the St Sulpice fountain as I walked into the Town Hall, opening the heavy wood door into the intimate office space. Three waiting room chairs to the right were empty, as were the two desks to the left. I waited a bit, then stood at a desk and let out a rather loud, ‘Ahem.’

Une Parisienne, thin and slightly dried out looking, poked her head out from a stack of filing cabinets.

— Bonjour Madame, I am here to apply for citizenship.

— And what makes you think you deserve to be French.

— I’ve been married to a Frenchman for 15 years, I have two French daughters.

She finally surfaced from behind the cabinets, sat at her desk and invited me to have a seat with a nod.

— Before we waste our time with your application, we have to be sure your husband is French.

—Oh, he is. His mother is French and he has a passport.

—A passport does not prove he is French.

So we go into the details. Born in Montréal, mom born in Paris, passport obtained by the French Embassy in Montréal, military excused by the centre in Perpignan.

—I was right. Your husband is not French. Your children are not French. You will never be French.

to be continued next week…


Feeling kawai at the Bon Marché

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.14 AMThe entire city is feeling something like Dorothy moments before her house lands on that witch; in a daze, with hearts thumping as we hurtle through space. “C’est la rentrée”, we say, the beginning of The Season. Theaters announce their calendar for the year, museums unveil their latest exhibitions, boutiques put out their new collections. Invitations roll in, galleries competing with shops, museums facing off museums, for a bit of attention from the general public. Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.56 AMThere is the Maison et Objets home design convention with Paris Fashion Week just around the corner, sandwiched between the Nuits Blanches cultural all nighter and the Journée des Patrimoines cultural heritage to weekend.

The Bon Marché hosted the very first event this week, putting on a soirée celebrating all things Japan. Arriving at 8:45 for an 8:30 invitation, I was surprised to see a long line of patient Parisians waiting to enter. Surprised because Parisians rarely wait in line, especially not the privileged fashion crowd with invitations to private cocktails parties at the Bon Marché. But everyone seemed clear that the night would be worth the wait. Or perhaps they knew that trying to cut in this line would be much like trying to swim with sharks in chum filled waters.

After a nearly fatal pile up at the escalator, we found ourselves on the 2nd floor in a mad crush of people, the air growing humid with body heat. Keeping our priorities straight, we hunted down some champagne before checking out the 9 minute film on Benesse Art Site Naoshima, an ambitious art project that covers three islands in Japan.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.44 AM Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.45.30 AMLarge, red globes evoking Japanese lanterns divided the sales floor in to a collection of pop up boutiques like a series of rising suns, featuring beauty products, gourmet specialty and home decor. At every cash register there was an opportunity to buy a good-luck bracelet, the proceeds going to help earthquake victims.

Guests had gone to great effort getting dressed for the event, brands had invested a great amount of time putting out their most exciting collections, but it was hard to see all the fashion through the crowd, and impossible to photograph it.

The rooms were hot, the crowd dense, but I was thrilled to be part of the history first created by Aristide Boucicault in the 19th century. He was the founder of the world’s first department store, the Bon Marché, and the one to dream up these extravagant cultural events celebrating the world to bring shoppers in, and stir them into a shopping frenzy. I felt like I was in Zola’s novel, Ladies Paradise, watching people gather around for a free taste of sake, an introduction to Japanese whiskey, a sample of sparkling tea.

Screen shot 2014-09-04 at 11.47.04 AMAs we left, a group of women were playing taiko drums in the fragrance department, their beats vibrating through my core, sending the blood rushing to my head, dizzy with excitement and I could feel the spirit of Boucicault nodding in appreciation.

Inspiration Thursday

DSCN2920photos and post by Karen Samimi

How is porcelain made, and what is it made of?
What’s the difference between porcelain and biscuit?
How hot does the hottest kiln get?
These are only some of the questions that will be answered during your visit to the National Manufacture of Sèvres that is part of the City of Ceramics.
The last time I visited the City of Ceramics in March, the porcelain Manufacture (Factory) was not open to the public. That’s not unusual:  guided tours are only available by reservation for groups, on specific dates for individual visitors, or on annual Heritage Days in September.  I was fortunate enough to have a reservation for one of the few guided tours for individuals in August.
DSCN2885The Manufacture was founded in Vincennes in 1740 by a group of craftsmen and was moved to Sèvres in 1756 by King Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Because of their great interest in porcelain, they wanted Sèvres to create porcelain surpassing the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden.  Sèvres is unique today in that the ancient crafts practiced there have been passed down from one generation to the next.  Each object is produced manually from start to finish, with each craftsman marking their work. Each Sèvres craftsman completes a three-year training program to acquire a French state certification in ceramics and usually stays in a specific trade for most of his or her career. There are currently 120 artisans at the Manufacture working at 30 different ceramic trades.
KilnsThe tour began in the reception area of the National Ceramic Museum at the top of the staircase at the main entrance. The tour guide took us to the Manufacture building directly in back of the Museum, and we entered the “welcome room”. Here, our knowledgeable guide taught us about the history of the Manufacture and explained the porcelain-making process. Porcelain paste and plaster molds are used to make dishes, figurines, vases, and contemporary art, and examples of all of these were displayed. Proceeding into the adjoining room, we saw a porcelain bust of Louis XV made in 1760 and several other examples of objects made in Sèvres, as well as a wall map of the buildings on the site.
The tour proceeded to the workshops and storage and display areas on the lower and upper floors. The first thing I noticed was how large the Manufacture building is.  Ambling through long corridors, our group passed by room after room of equipment, huge kilns, unfinished vases and plates, molds, and other production materials. We entered our first workshop which was for enamel glazing and were quickly welcomed by a young specialist who expertly explained her craft. She then gave us a demonstration by plunging her arm up to the elbow into a large bath to mix the enamel paste with water and then rapidly swooshing a plate through it with one hand. And, voilà! The plate was fully glazed and already practically dry, ready to go on to the next step in the long fabrication and decoration process. I really enjoyed this part of the tour.

After immersionAfter making a short stop in front of several display cases showing the different phases of the porcelain painting process and a series of objects commissioned by different French institutions, we arrived at the gold decoration workshop. Here we were, in a large room that looked at first like an administrative office, but upon closer observation I realized that there were neither computers nor printers on the desks, and artisans’ fine tools had replaced pens and pencils. One man showed us how he transfers tiny engraved motifs from a gold-brushed metal slab to tracing paper using a special press, proud to share his unusual skills with our amazed group.
19th century wood-burning kilnHis colleague, a jovial woman about to retire after a career of 47 years there, demonstrated how she meticulously aligns and applies the gold tracing paper motifs to various porcelain objects, kind of like decals.  It may take two or three days just to decorate a single teacup. On her desk and in a showcase nearby were examples of objects she had decorated. “Doesn’t this get a bit repetitive?” someone in the group asked. “The objects and motifs are always changing, so it stays interesting, and above all, we’re creating art”, she replied. I realized then that we were not just observing people working at their jobs. We were witnessing dedicated artists with a passion for using their unique “savoir-faire” to create lasting beauty for the world to admire.
We concluded our tour in front of one of the oldest kilns in the Manufacture, a 19th century wood-burning kiln which is still fired up occasionally. It gets so hot that it takes weeks just to cool it off to remove the objects inside. It was fascinating to be able to walk inside this kiln and imagine how hot the factory gets when it’s used.
If you love artistry and handiwork of any kind, and especially if you love porcelain and would like to learn more about it, treat yourself to a memorable visit to the Manufacture of Sèvres.


Sèvres – Cité de la céramique

2 Place de la Manufacture
 – 92310 Sèvres – +33(0)1 46 29 22 00

Manufacture and workshops:
Guided tours available with advance reservation for groups and individuals, from 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, including visits to 2 workshops.
Individual ticket prices between 12 and 14 euros, includes Museum’s permanent collections.
See website for specific visit dates and times.
For reservations and information call: +33(0)1 46 29 22 05
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

National Ceramic Museum:
  Open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except Tuesdays, January 1, May 1, and December 25.
Guided tours for groups and individuals available.
Theme tours available one Monday a month.
Free for visitors under age 18, ages 18-25 with European nationality, job seekers, handicapped, and on the first Sunday of every month.
Individual prices between 4.50 and 8 euros
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

How to get there:
Metro line 9 : « Pont de Sèvres » stop (exit train at front, then use exit number 2), then walk over the bridge to the museum
Tramway T2 Val de Seine : « Musée de Sèvres » stop
Bus at Pont de Sèvres : 169, 179, 279, 171, 26 ( first stop after the bridge : « Musée de Sèvres »)
Paid parking available in front of the City, at the Tramway station and at the entrance to Parc de Saint-Cloud.

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