Our Fall 2022 Trip to Paris and Versailles

Since 1776, personal relationships have defined America’s partnership with our oldest democratic ally, France. The French-American Cultural Foundation is the product of hundreds of individuals reaching across the Atlantic – as soldiers, scientists, chefs, businessmen, artists, writers, diplomats, immigrants, and expats.

This Fall, the Foundation was honored to continue the tradition, forging relationships between our respective citizens of past, present, and future on a trip to Paris and Versailles. Among our party were amateur organists, art teachers, corporate executives, environmentalists, former government officials, investors, journalists, lawyers, writers, and second generation diplomats and naval officers all united for the first time in their connection to France. It’s impossible to distill this trip down to any single defining moment, so here are our Top 7 – none of which would have been possible without the Foundation’s unique and treasured French partners.

1. Behind the Scenes at the Musée de Montmartre
Illegal vineyards, black cats, and sunlit studios – uncovering the world of the artists

2. Private Dinner at the Interalliée
Toasting the French-American relationship in the salons of the Allies

3. Curated Tour at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs
Meeting the brilliant curator behind the shocking world of Schiaparelli

4. Mimosa and Café Lapérouse
Fine dining hidden within naval headquarters

5. An Evening with the Versailles Chief Curator
Masterkeys, hidden passageways, and spontaneous recitals

6. Gala Mozart
Living like Louis the 14th

7. Celebration of French partners at Interalliée
Toasting our allies of past and present

If our work resonates with you, please reach out to learn more about how to support our Foundation, meet our partners, and be invited on future trips!

 

1. Behind the Scenes at the Musée de Montmartre

Illegal vineyards, black cats, and sunlit studios – uncovering the world of the artists

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The vineyard at the Musée de Montmartre followed by the back view of the Musée, which once housed studios for Renoir and Suzanne Valadon. Valadon’s painting of the gardens and the studio and a recreation of her artistic process.

 

We began our trip at one of Paris’ hidden gems: the Musée de Montmartre, where our partner, the American Friends of the Musée de Montmartre, had arranged for a private, behind-the-scenes tour. The electric Clémance told us the stories behind the museum’s vineyard as we tasted blends that were once illegal for allegedly causing the drinkers to descend into madness. Once we had drunk in the countercultural spirit of Montmartre, we stepped back in time, into the footsteps of painters Suzanne Valadon and Maurice Utrillo, touring their apartment and studio. In fact, long before the Museum came to be, Number 12 on the Rue Cortot housed the studios of Auguste Renoir, Maurice Utrillo, Suzanne Valadon, and Raoul Dufy.

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The original iconic poster for the Chat Noir cabaret, followed by Steinlen’s Chats et Lunes, which once hung inside. The original swing from Montmartre that Renoir used to stage his famous painting, La Balançoire.

 

Montmartre in the late 19th to early 20th century was the place for artistic expression in France, if not all of Western Europe. This was the time of the Chat Noir cabaret, of the impressionist movement, of Eric Satie, of satire, of shadow theater – but above all, of incredible, incredible talent. Our tour of the collections put iconic pieces into context, as we unraveled the lives of Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse, Toulouse-Lautrec, Fernande Olivier, and Pablo Picasso. Champagne and dessert in the Renoir Gardens brought us back to the present day, full of new-found appreciation for Montmartre and the Museum’s vital role as the preserver of this dynamic cultural heritage.

 

2. Private Dinner at the Interalliée

Toasting the French-American relationship in the salons of the Allies

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The entrance to the Interalliée followed by our opening dinner.

 

For our opening dinner, the Foundation chose the symbolic and architecturally stunning Cercle de L’Union Interalliée, situated minutes from the American Embassy. The Interalliée was created in 1917 to serve as a gathering place for the officers and political leaders of the Allies. Following the Armistice of 1918, the founders decided to maintain the institution as a cultural hub. In the words of General de Gaulle, the Interalliée was “the French embassy in Paris.” It was a place for “relaxation, understanding, and cooperation” between the French and international elite. We were honored to continue the tradition of the Interalliée, forging relationships between the French and American allies of today. The Foundation is very grateful to our French advisor, whose membership granted us access to such a special establishment in the heart of Paris.

 

3. Curated Tour at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

Meeting the brilliant curator behind the shocking world of Schiaparelli

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The Schiaparelli exhibit followed by her lobster dress made for her daughter. Schiaparelli’s iconic newsprint pattern was made from all of the printed stories about her, here worn by artist Salvador Dali and performer and American expat, Josephine Baker.

 

Our partners at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs very kindly arranged for us to have a private viewing of the shocking Elsa Schiaparelli exhibit before the museum opened to the public. We were led by lead curator Marie-Sophie Carron de la Carrière – the brilliant mind behind this Schiaparelli exhibit. She took us on her designed journey into the world of fashion – a world where fashion was not simply beautiful clothing, but an avant-garde artform enmeshed in Paris of the 1920s and 30s. It was a surreal experience, and not just because Elsa was friends with Salvador Dalí, Jean Cocteau, and Meret Oppenheim. From the stories behind Elsa’s lobster dresses to her famous newsprints, Nathalie allowed us to experience the exhibit through the eyes of its curator – a rare experience for which we are incredibly grateful.

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Schiaparelli today, from first sketch to Lady Gaga.

 

4. Mimosa and Café Lapérouse

Fine dining hidden within naval headquarters

Following a sunlit walk through the Tuileries Gardens to the Place de la Concorde, our group divided between two neighboring restaurants within the Hôtel de la Marine. The Hôtel is an iconic 18th century establishment with an internal courtyard that served as the headquarters of France’s naval ministry for over 200 years. It has only just become open to the public. Each restaurant celebrates this tradition in its own right, as champions of the idea that cuisine, when done right, is a hallmark of French history and culture.

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Outside of Hôtel de la Marine followed by the party at Mimosa and Café Lapérouse.

 

Mimosa, takes inspiration from the sun and sea with a menu inspired by the French Riviera. Chef Jean-François Piège delighted us with Mediterranean cuisine grounded in the celebration of French products. From eggs with lobster and caviar to grilled octopus to a tiramisu-style crepe cake, our specially-arranged tasting menu gave us a taste for contemporary French cuisine beyond the beloved steak frites.

Across the plaza at Café Lapérouse, travelers seeking classic French dishes of past and present feasted upon pâté, steak tartare, and truffled croque monsieur in an interior designed by Cordelia de Castellane, the artistic director of Dior Maison. It’s difficult to have a bad meal in Paris, but our experiences with the Hôtel de la Marine reinforced the Foundation’s conviction that even more extraordinary dining can be found, if only you know where to look.

 

5. An Evening with the Versailles Chief Curator

Masterkeys, hidden passageways, and spontaneous recitals

We met longtime friend of the Foundation Bertrand Rondot, Chief Curator for Versailles, at the personnel entrance to the Palace just as Versailles was closing to the general public. Bertrand led us on an incredible behind the scenes tour of the King and Queen’s apartments, state rooms, opera house, chapel, and, of course, the iconic Hall of Mirrors. From Louis XIII’s hunting lodge to Louis XIV’s seat of court and government to the empty halls of the Revolution to Napoleon Bonaparte’s summer residence to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, Versailles is a hallmark of French culture. Bertrand unlocked this essential establishment for us both with his stories and, literally, with a historic masterkey, revealing hidden libraries, passageways, and entire salons rarely seen by the public.

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The view from Versailles, after closing. Bertrand leading us on our private tour, featuring the view from the King’s box at the Opera House and the King’s Chapel, where we had a surprise concert from the organist. Family dinner at Le Limousin.

 

We started with the King’s private opera box for a sneak peak of the opera scenes we would hear the next day during the Gala Mozart. Bertrand then ran into Versailles’ organist, who invited us along for a spontaneous concert in the ornate, frescoed chapel. Both were magical experiences that only seem possible at a place like Versailles, for which we are incredibly grateful to Bertrand, without whom they would not have been possible. He kindly joined us for dinner at the local Le Limousin, enchanting us with stories about tracking down furniture taken from Versailles during the French Revolution. The infamous Kansas City chair will stay with us forever, as will his recommendation for roast leg of lamb and Burgundy.

 

6. Gala Mozart

Living like Louis the 14th

After a relaxing morning at the nearby Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace, travelers donned black tie and experienced the royal feeling of returning to Versailles. Champagne processions ended in the Opera House, where we took in Mozart’s greatest hits. It was a fantastic performance, and one that was uncommonly accessible for those with little opera knowledge. A particularly colorful bass baritone amused all by repeatedly breaking the fourth wall between the audience and performers. Walking through the majestic halls still familiar from yesterday’s tour led us to the chapel for another musical moment. French choral music soared among the high ceilings, accompanied by our new friend on the organ.

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Our party in the Hall of Mirrors, followed by the opera, with the colorful bass-baritone on the far right. Toasts at the Champagne reception preceding dinner in the Hall of Battles with our table of honor below the Battle of Yorktown. Fireworks in the Hall of Mirrors with a final photo of F-ACF Executive Director and daughter, Helen.

 

When we finally sat down to dinner in the Hall of Battles, we reflected on how we were experiencing the authentic Versailles of years past. Music had been absent from Versailles for centuries, but thanks to our dedicated and innovative partners at the ADOR opera house and palace, it has now most justly returned. The meal itself was like something from Louis 14th’s wildest dreams, with every detail meticulously considered. The Foundation’s table was even given pride of place, framed by the enormous Battle of Yorktown oil painting and adjacent to the head table. Could this be one more Versailles magical coincidence? But no, our friends confirmed that, no, it was very much deliberate. The French-American Cultural Foundation is the American delegation in the eyes of Versailles. It is a role with great responsibility – one which we are honored to play and one which we will endeavor to live up to in all of our work.

 

7. Celebration of French partners at Interalliée

Toasting our allies of past and present

We concluded our trip back at the Interalliée with a toast to our French partners, celebrating their integral contributions to French and American culture. As a Foundation, we pride ourselves on building relationships, both across the Atlantic and across the disciplines, where brilliant minds might otherwise remain siloed from each other. The evening was our way of saying thanks to our partners. However, given the setting, a more appropriate term might be our allies.

All together at the Interalliée.

 

It was proposed to us shortly after the reception that we might think of the Foundation as a sort of cultural hedge fund. Together, we identify vital French-American projects that are in need of preservation, celebration, and support. The Foundation then invests its time and resources to establish each project’s place in the French-American network. We connect new voices with well-known figures across art, commerce, cuisine, diplomacy, government, history, industry, and science – essentially providing established partners across all institutions of creative activity that foster connection between the people of France and America. It is in this manner that the Foundation honors the past, celebrates the present, and builds for the future of French-American culture.

If our work resonates with you, please reach out to learn more about how to support our Foundation, meet our partners, and be invited on future trips!
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