Saturday, August 25, 2018

The ups and downs of a real estate venture

August 25, 2018 -- The Place Vendome was a real estate venture by Jules Hardouin-Mansart.  Before that, in the 1600s, it was the site of the near-Paris stately home and gardens of the Bourbon-Condé family.

The Place Vendome
This family descends from the illegitimate son of King Henry IV and his mistress, Gabrielle D'Estrées.  That son was named Cesar de Bourbon, and he was given the title of Duke of Vendome, which is a city southwest of Paris, in the Loir-et-Cher region.

When Hardouin-Mansart began his venture, it was just the beginning of a series of failures that somehow, eventually, led to the majestic square that we call the Place Vendome today.
The column in Place Vendome.

The first failure was Hardouin-Mansart's; he was unable to make his dream come true.  He sold out to Louvois, Louis XIV's minister of finance, whose dream was to build a square like the Place des Vosges, a very successful real estate development of the previous century (early 1600s).

But Louvois met with financial failure, and the investor John Law took over.  Law managed to complete the square and to build himself a home there.  But he'd also invested heavily in real estate in the French colonies in America.  Law went bankrupt in the Mississippi Bubble -- one of the first known real estate bubbles to burst.

It was then that the Bourbon-Condé family came back into the picture.  They bought much of the square in the 1700s, including part of the site of the Hotel Ritz where they maintain apartments.  According to Wikipedia, the Bourbon-Condé family would like to re-establish a palace on the square, depending upon the Ministry of Justice's possible plans for expansion.
The Boucheron Jewelry store undergoing exterior renovation.
The scaffolding is covered by a beautifully silk-screened fabric.

We'd walked for an hour to reach the Place Vendome yesterday, because Tom wanted to see this glamorous place again.  Nothing much has changed, except that the façade of the Boucheron Jewelry store is being restored and so is covered by a fascinating silk-screened fabric at the moment.  We continued on the Rue de la Paix (Street of the Peace), which is an ironic name given that, in 1702, the Place Vendome was first called the Place des Conquêtes (Place of Conquests), a memorial to French army victories.

The artist Gustave Courbet was so offended by that conflict in names that he gave it as part of his rationale for destroying the Place Vendome's column when he was president of the Federation of Artists during the Paris Commune in 1871.

After the Commune, Courbet was convicted of this vandalism and fined 323,000 francs, which he could not pay.  He fled to Switzerland, and the French government sold his paintings for a pittance.  Courbet died in exile, and the column was re-erected.

The Rue de la Paix leads to the magnificent, old Opéra Garnier, which we gazed at briefly before continuing on the Rue du Quatre Septembre -- a street named for the date in 1870 when Napoleon III's regime fell.

On our way to the right bank, we passed through the Place du Palais Bourbon.  This palace, now the home of the National
Assembly of France, was built originally in 1722 by Louise Francoise de Bourbon, a "legitimized" daughter of Louis XIV.
She was the duchesse de Bourbon.

Near the lovely Guimard-designed Quatre Septembre subway station's entrance, on the Rue Monsigny, is a brasserie/restaurant named L'Entente, which features English cuisine.  That's where we dined.  The resto proudly advertises that it features English cuisine made entirely with French terroir produits (products of the land) EXCEPT for the cheese.  The English are so proud of their cheese!

This dinner was outstandingly good.  We each had the delicious lemon sole with new potatoes and homemade tartar sauce.  I ordered a side of green beans.  These beans were of the thin variety, which is very easy to overcook.  But these green beans were done perfectly -- just to that line between crispiness and tenderness.  And they were seasoned expertly with just a touch of mustard, garlic, and butter.
Desserts at L'Entente.

Desserts were wonderful, too.  Tom had a super-rich triple chocolate cake with sour cream and I had a creamy tart with a tangy rhubarb sauce on the side.

The owner of the place, Oliver, stopped by our table to chat for a while.  He wanted to know where we were from, how we'd heard about his restaurant, etc.  He asked where in Florida, specifically, that we came from.  That launched a little repartée about places in Florida.

In answer to his second question, I told him that I found out about his restaurant on  He said, "You mean The Fork?"  And I said yes, but that I usually use the French version of it.  (I like reading the French customer reviews and menu samples.)

Oliver is originally from London, and he'd been involved with the excellent Poissonerie restaurant on the Rue de Seine in the past.  He strongly recommended that we come back for the Sunday brunch at L'Entente, because it is elaborate and substantial.  Check it out:

Wow.  This is far more than most brasserie Sunday brunches have to offer.  We don't usually do Sunday brunch, but if we did, I'd go to L'Entente.
The Palais Bourbon, a few years ago.

We certainly will go back to L'Entente for dinner.  It is good to have a place we know in the 2nd arrondissement.  We don't dine on the right bank very often.

After dinner, we walked back toward the Place Vendome and caught a taxi on the Rue de la Paix.  I enjoyed whisking through the city at night in a cab.  The Place de la Concorde is surprisingly dark at night.  We crossed the Seine on my favorite bridge, the grand Pont Alexandre III.  The full moon shone on the Seine.  I was surprised again at how relatively bright our neighborhood's Rue du Commerce is.

The dark and the light, the British and the French, war and peace . . . .

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