Travel: Culture & Architecture

Paris: Looking Up, Part One

A little chapel in the Cluny Museum, built at the height of the Gothic era, early 1500s.

Ceilings of the Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. I spent most of my time in Paris piecing together its architectural history. Unfortunately a lot of the surviving mansions are now government institutions and are not open to the public, but if an architectural gem was open, the rooms were rarely in their original state. Historical interiors had either been stripped bare by the revolutions or heavily embellished during the Second Empire. By the way, I am no fan of that era’s design.

After three weeks of effort, I did manage to find, visit, and photograph some wonderful buildings. Usually if a room retained any of its original décor, it would be the ceiling. And the ceilings were amazing! All but one photo of this blog post were taken in the Louvre. I was only interested in its structural and décor history. Plus there was the newly renovated 18th-century Decorative Arts Galleries that had recently reopened. It took me a whole day to see the new galleries and another whole day to discover the building’s architectural history.

Film: Design & Architecture

Vatel (2000)

Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands
Louis XIV portrayed by Julian Sands

Impressive sets for the Sun King as only Hollywood could imagine it. Repeat viewing of the film Vatel is one of my guilty pleasures. I’ve referred to it once before on my blog, but this time I would like to focus on the elaborate sets designed, as imagined by Hollywood, to entertain Louis XIV and win his favor during an historical event in 1671. I feel confident that nothing as elaborate as these sets in the film were ever created for those three days of revelry, but they are still fun to look at. The historical genius behind the festivities was François Vatel, who was the Master of Festivities and Pleasures in Louis de Bourbon, Prince of Condé’s household. You see, it was the Prince who desperately needed to win over the sun king, hoping for a commission as a general and an end to his financial struggles. Vatel was already renowned for having served Louis XIV’s superintendent Nicolas Fouquet in the splendid inauguration fête at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte ten years earlier, but that occasion lead to the unfortunate Fouquet’s downfall.

Film: Design & Architecture

Sugar, Almond Paste, Fruit and Flowers


Can blown sugar be a lost art? There are certain historical films that no matter how many times I view them, I will always notice something about the past that I hadn’t been aware of before. This happened to me while viewing Vatel. In two scenes, Gérard Depardieu, as François Vatel, creates two sugar arrangements as gifts for Uma Thurman, who plays the love interest of several men (Louis XIV being one of them). These works of art were so mesmerizing that I had to find out more about this process. Maybe I don’t read enough lifestyle magazines to know if this art form is still in existence today. All I had to go on in my search was Tim Roth’s line describing the process as “spun” sugar. But the images that Google returned were the crazy strings of caramelized sugar that’s often seen on fancy deserts at fancy restaurants. After multiple google searches and relying on the resulting images, I found the right term, “blown sugar”. Unfortunately, there’s zero information on its history, but it’s definitely not a lost art and is still taught in culinary schools. To illustrate and share this technique with you, I have captured some stills from the film.