Book Review: Suite française by Irène Némirovsky

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I had this book on my “To Read” list for almost ten years! Last month, for my birthday, I decided to feed my inner Francophile by reading 9 books with French themes. Whether they took place in France or were about French history. Sadly, I only made it through 6 of them.

I did not know much about “Suite française” when I added it to my “To Read” list on Goodreads. I just knew it came highly recommended. So last month, when I sat down to read the book, I decided to do a little research on it.

The story behind the book and author herself is so sad and tragic that it could make it’s own novel. Irène Némirovsky was a French born Jew who outlined a sequence of five novels that she had planned to write. In 1942, after finishing the first two of the novels while hiding out in the French countryside, she was arrested by the German army and detained at Auschwitz, where she later died as a victim of the Nazi holocaust. Apparently, her notebook was discovered, translated and published some 60 years later in 2004.

The novel encompasses the first two of her original manuscripts and details the German occupation of France. In the first section, Tempête en juin (Storm in June), Némirovsky tells the stories of several characters fleeing Paris as the Germans advance into the city to take control.

In the second section, Dolce (Sweet), we follow the citizens of a small French country village. German soldiers have been stationed in the village and live with a few of the families. In Tempête en join we get the sense of impending danger and the urgency of the characters to flee Paris. However, in Dolce, it is a more peaceful setting and storyline.

It is the history and timeline of that period that tie the stories together, not so much the characters. Although, a few of the characters do overlap from one to another.

Overall, I found this story to very endearing and at times a little sad. However, Némirovsky did layer in some humor in how the characters reacted in certain situations. Given the sadness of her history and the theme of the novel, one is hard pressed to think there could be some humor in this story, but it is there. Albeit, small and few between.

The appendix includes notes on Némirovsky’s imprisonment. I highly recommend you give this book a read. It has a wonderful flow to it and tells a unique perspective of a time in French history.  To me this was similar to The Diary of Anne Frank. This is definitely a book to share with a friend, and in fact I have already given away my copy.

 

“Let Them Eat Cake”

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“Let Them Eat Cake”, sure it is a fun phrase to say. I even often say “Let Them Eat Cupcakes” on my social media and blog posts. It captures a moment of frivolity and naivety. This phrase has been attributed to Marie Antoinette throughout history. However, any true fan of Marie Antoinette knows that she did NOT say this phrase.

In fact it’s been attributed to several other figures in history before Marie Antoinette was even born. I think this video gives a great summary of the phrase and how it came to be attributed to Marie Antoinette. The more you know!

Review: Les Parfums Louis Vuitton

     This might just become known as the “Gay Gasp” heard around the world. When I found out that Louis Vuitton was launching a line of fragrances I was over the moon excited. Louis Vuitton teamed up with Maître Parfumeur Jacques Cavallier Belletrud to create the parfums.

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a HUGE Louis Vuitton fan. Although, currently I only purchase, collect and use fragrances from Guerlain, I was still curious to try these out. I have been saying for literally YEARS that LV needs to release some beauty products, especially fragrances. Seems every other designer is in the fragrance biz and has at least one signature fragrance. And now we are not getting just one perfume from Louis Vuitton but SEVEN!

The perfume collection includes:

  • Rose des Vents – a blend of roses, iris, cedar and pepper
  • Turbulences – tuberose and jasmine with a faint touch of leather
  • Dans le Peau – leather intertwined with apricot, jasmine and musk
  • Apogee – blends lily of the valley with jasmine, magnolia rose with a base of sandalwood (this might be my favorite based on the notes)
  • Contre Moi – warm vanilla mixes with orange flower, rose, magnolia and cocoa (this might be a second fave for me)
  • Matiere Noire – dark woods like patchouli mixed with white flowers such as jasmine
  • Mille Feux – raspberry infused leather. (this one is going to be interesting)

 

 

The closest Louis Vuitton store to me does not carry the fragrances sadly. I need to find a store that carries them all so I can sample them. I have only been able to try two that I got as samples when I made a recent bag purchase from Louis Vuitton; they included samples in my package. However, I can’t wait to try them all.

Here is my reviews of the two that I have been able to try:

 

Rose des Vents – After reading the descriptions of each one I was left a little “meh”. I get the idea behind adding leather notes to their fragrances as they are a leather goods luxury brand, however I find that fragrances with leather notes don’t work for me.

Rose des Vents was one that really struck me. In the past I’ve never been a rose fan either but lately I’m starting to love florals more, paticualry those with rose notes.

This is an absolutely beautiful floral fragrance, that is not overpowering in rose. It’s woodsier and spicier. This is not your grandmothers tea rose perfume. It has depth and sophistication. The dry down is lovely and soft and the longevity of it is amazing.

Matiere Noire – This is an interesting fragrance and I definitely get notes that are not even mention in the description. This reacted very differently on me than it seems to have been for others.

At first I get a very leathery note (which is not listed in the notes) so that is curious. But it quickly dries down to deep, woodsy and incensy note, which I’m guessing comes from the patchouli and the oud.

On the dry down I get more of a burst of citrus and I’m reminded of the smell of a watermelon rind. Crisp and earthy all at once.

The final dry down to me is very reminiscent of Dior’s Poison. I think this is a lovely fragrance but not really for me.

Which ones do you find the most intriguing? 

 

Au Revoir!

Review: Guerlain Shalimar

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A few years ago I decided to clean out my fragrance collection and focus mainly on collecting fragrances from Guerlain. It seems a lot of fragrance lovers eventually find their way over to the Guerlain side. Their fragrances are often varying, plentiful and complex.

One of the most well known Guerlain fragrances is Shalimar. In fact most stores that carry Guerlain usually only have Shalimar in stock. It was not my first Guerlain purchase but it has become one of my staple perfumes to have on hand.

Guerlain has a rich history and is said to be the first oriental perfume ever made. In fact Guerlain writes in the description of Shalimar… “Four centuries ago, in India, Emperor Shah Jahan fell hopelessly in love with Princess Mumtaz Mahal. He had the enchanting Gardens of Shalimar built for her and dedicated the Taj Mahal to her as well, one of the seven new wonders of the world. This incredible tale sparked the imagination of Jacques Guerlain, who created Shalimar, the first oriental fragrance in history, in 1925.”

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The notes in Shalimar are so rich and varied. The perfume is composed of citrus notes; lemon and bergamot, jasmine, may rose, opoponax, Tonka bean, vanilla, iris, Peru balsam and gray amber.

Shalimar was one that I was sure I was NOT going to love. It just seemed so old lady-ish based on reviews I had preivously read. However, I decided to give it a try and now I LOVE it.

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On first spray, while wet on the skin, there is something so strong that I don’t like.  I dont get the citrus notes as strong as I would have thought.

But within an hour, upon the dry down, this becomes this soft, powdery scent. It’s like a warming resinous incense. It makes me think of Buddhist temples I visited in Asia. The temples were filled with incense that had been lit in honor of Buddha and the dead. In Shalimar I get that incensy, oriental fragrance of the balsam and amber.

The dry down keeps changing, first its warm vanilla, than its this firey resin and ends in a bouquet of flowers. The wear of Shalimar is amazing as the scent seems to linger on the skin all day. The final base notes stay behind and envelope you in the amber, vanilla and tonka bean.

This is definitely a strong fragrance for a strong woman or man.

 

Touring the Newport Mansions – Part Deux

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As I mentioned in my previous post, this year for my birthday we decided to tour some of the mansions in Newport, RI. The second house on our stop was the Chateau Sur Mer or Castle on the Sea. I was more excited to visit this house than I was the Breakers. While the Breakers is definitely beautiful and impressive, I found the Chateau more to my tastes.

The Chateau Sur Mer, built in 1852, was actually the very first of the Newport Mansions during the Gilded Age. It was also the largest until the Vanderbilts built the Breakers. The architecture of the house was built in the Victorian stye and most of the furnishings and decor are in the French Second Empire style.

While the house is very dark and constructed of mostly dark woods and marble, as your see in the video, it has a very nice flow to the design that I loved. The ballroom in particular reminded me of a room from Versailles. It was one of the few rooms with a lighter atmosphere and very French inspired decor.

Parts of the house gave me a very Addams Family, haunted mansion vibe, which you can tell from the video below. I actually talked with a psychic friend after my visit, who told me that this house and the Breakers are both very haunted. I can believe that.

Some interesting facts about Chateau Sur Mer:

  • The house sat abandoned for many years due to the fact that the two daughters of the original owner never married, so there was no one to pass the house onto when the passed.
  • The Preservation Society of Newport County, which was actually started by one of the daughters, purchased the house in the 1960s at auction for a whopping $230,000 however it cost them over a million dollars to repair the roof.

Check out my video below of the Chateau Sur Mer and let me know which house you liked better!

Touring the Newport Mansions

DSC_0010This year for my birthday, I decided to do something that I’ve wanted to do since we moved to New England ten years ago, visit the mansions in Newport, RI.  We decided to only select two of the many mansions you can visit through the Preservation Society of Newport County. We chose to visit the Breakers Mansion and Chateau Sur Mer.

First, let me say that Newport is now my favorite New England town ever. It used to be Salem, MA but Newport is just that beautiful, quintessential New England seaside town. The main part of town on the water has some amazing restaurants and cafes as well as fun shops to visit.

We only spent the better part of a day there, and didn’t get to do everything we wanted. We sadly ran out of time and were unable to go over to the Cliff Walk. So we are preparing to do an overnight trip soon to visit more mansions and see more of this charming city.

The first house we toured was the Breakers Mansion. This is a nice self guided tour with an accompanying audio feature that tells you the history and some intriguing facts about the house.  The Breakers Mansion was built for the Vanderbilts in 1895. The house is the largest and most opulent house in Newport and was built during the Gilded Age. It contains architectural influences and materials from Italy, Africa and France.

The house contains 70 rooms, enough for every kind of activity you could imagine, such as the Great Hall, the Morning Room, Dining Room, Music Room and Library. The Breakers Mansion housed over 40 servants that helped the Vanderbilts with every aspect of their busy social lives. One definitely gets a very Downton Abbey feel while walking through mansion.

Some of the interesting features that I enjoyed:

  • Every bathtub had four faucets – two of them were used to bring in sea water from the nearby ocean in order to allow the Vanderbilts to take salt baths.
  • Dolphins are seen throughout the design of the house to represent the nearby sea.
  • Mrs. Vanderbilt had 4 closets that held the outfits to be used in her 7 wardrobe changes throughout the day.
  • The house contains hidden corridors that allowed the servants to do their jobs unseen and unheard as to not disturb the family.
  • Many of the rooms are designed in the Louis XVI style and many of the furnishings were made in and shipped from France.

Check out my video of the Breakers Mansion below. This video is hosted on one of my YouTube channels. I may make a YouTube channel for this blog, La Vie En Rose, at a future date. Enjoy the opulence!