VOSNE-ROMANÉE, France — Aubert de Villaine gently lowered a long glass tube into an oak barrel and filled it with a rare liquid: Romanée-Conti Burgundy from the 2014 harvest.
Paris — François Hollande, the president of France, and Ségolène Royal, a senior cabinet minister who once ran for that post herself, have an exceptionally complicated relationship.
The two lived together for 25 years, raising four children over that time. They broke up in 2007 over an infidelity that Ms. Royal made public a month after she had lost that year’s election for president.
When partners-in-life Gabor Szalay and Ildiko Beky told friends they planned to open a restaurant with menus inspired by books, the response was unanimous. “Everyone said, ‘Don’t do it!’” Ms. Beky recalled. “They said, ‘Books are the past. People will come to read, not to eat.’”
They did it anyway.
PARIS — For 28 years, one of this city’s most famous restaurants operated out of a dark, starkly modern site on rue Troyon, a banal street in the 17th Arrondissement close to the Arc de Triomphe. Now diners at Restaurant Guy Savoy will enter a grand 4,300-square-foot top-floor space on the site of both the oldest institution in France and the oldest factory in Paris: the Monnaie de Paris — the French mint.
St.Ouen. The name made me shudder. Whenever visitors asked me to take them to that vast set of flea markets just north of the Paris city line, I did my best to divert them elsewhere.
A pair of extra-large organic hard-boiled eggs served with homemade mayonnaise from Bistrot Valois.
PARIS — It is a question I have come to dread: Can you recommend the perfect bistro?
The reason it’s so hard to give my visiting friends a good answer is that the Paris bistro scene is in full transformation. And the trends are moving in contradictory, and worrisome, directions.
From 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on the third Sunday of each month, a group of retirees takes over a corner of the Rue des Martyrs in my neighborhood in the Ninth Arrondissement. It’s time for Circul’Livre, a volunteer operation dedicated to the preservation of the book. Circul’Livre was created in 2004 and now operates in about 20 locations throughout Paris. Used books are classified by subject and displayed in crates. They are not for sale. Customers take as many as they want as long as they adhere to an informal code of honor neither to sell nor destroy them. They are encouraged to drop off their old books.
Princess Minnie de Beauvau-Craon has ruled over the Château de Haroué in the Lorraine region of northeast France since 1982. Gabriela Plump for The New York Times
The French village of Haroué does not have much to offer. There’s a bakery, a pharmacy, a tabac, a restaurant, a police and fire station, a doctor’s office, a retirement home, a church that’s rarely open and a population of fewer than 500.
Agathe Poupeney/Opéra national de Paris
Members of the Paris Opera Ballet and students of the Paris Opera Ballet School pose inside the Opera Garnier.
The Paris Opera Ballet, the oldest national ballet company in the world, dating to the 17th-century court of Louis XIV, has dared to break with tradition: for the first time in its history it is asking ordinary citizens for money.
At a news conference on Feb. 5, a handful of Paris Opera officials made the case for a one million euro fund-raising project to renovate the decorative pillars, lampposts, columns and statues that hold up the 60 outdoor light fixtures of the Palais Garnier, the ballet’s jewel of a theater made famous by the Gaston Leroux novel and the Broadway musical “The Phantom of the Opera.” The pitch was direct: the Louvre and Versailles solicit individuals as well as corporations for financing their projects. Why not the Palais Garnier?
As Christophe Tardieu, deputy director of the Paris Opera, announced that anyone could make a donation — “no matter what the amount” and “by check, by credit card!” — it was clear that the Paris Opera Ballet, without exactly admitting it, is trying to redefine itself.
The Paris Opera Ballet is perhaps the second most elitist, insular and self-breeding cultural institutions in France. (The Comédie-Française is first.) Unlike Britain’s Royal Ballet or American Ballet Theater, with their rosters of international, multilingual stars, the Paris dancers are almost exclusively French and the products of the Paris Opera Ballet school.
That makes for a purity and uniformity of style, certainly more refined than that of Russia’s bold and brash Bolshoi, now mired in an internal investigation into an attack on its artistic director, Sergei Filin, who had acid thrown in his face by a masked assailant last month. But it also discourages risk-taking. Unlike any other ballet company in the world, the Opera is trapped in a military-style hierarchy and system of promotion. In order to move to a higher level (which comes with a better salary and better roles), a dancer must perform in a brief but psychologically grueling two-solo competition before a jury.
Participation is voluntary, and about half of the company’s 154 dancers don’t bother, having given up the idea of a promotion. After all, once dancers join the company, which is state-supported, they are like civil servants, with a guaranteed salary until mandatory retirement at 42, and a pension afterward.
There have been overtures toward democratization: every year, 1,000 students from high schools in troubled neighborhoods meet with administrators, artisans and artists at the ballet company, where they attend performances, organize an exhibit and put on their own shows.
But attempts at modernization have been few. Two of the top dancers have created pieces with hip-hop dancers for a hip-hop festival in Suresnes — but only twice, in 2007 and 2011.
So this is a welcome moment for change. In April, the company will mark the 300th anniversary of its ballet school with a gala performance for 1,700 people followed by dinner for about 600. There will be round-tables, a conference, a six-part documentary on a year in the life of the Paris Opera Ballet. From May through September, the Opera Garnier will host an exhibition on the school.
Henry Leutwyler/Getty Images
Dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied of the New York City Ballet.
A much bolder move is the company’s recent decision to appoint the 35-year-old dancer and choreographer Benjamin Millepied as its next dance director. He’s a natural-born charmer: a guest judge on the Fox television series “So You Think You Can Dance”; a model for brands from the Gap to Yves Saint Laurent; and, of course, the husband of the American actress Natalie Portman, whom he taught to dance for “Black Swan,” the film that won her a best-actress Oscar.
But he’s also an outsider. Even though he is French, he rejected the idea of studying with the Paris Opera Ballet School and at age 16 moved to New York to study at the School of American Ballet. “I was reluctant about joining a school that seemed too strict for the way I experienced dance, which to me was so natural and joyful,” he said in a recent interview in Paris. “That regime was not for me.”
When he moves to Paris with Portman and their toddler son, Aleph, and takes over in September 2014, the hope is that he will use his gift for cultivating donors and raising money to make the Paris Ballet sexy — and bankable. “People are born as stars, and Benjamin has always been starlike,” said Olivia Flatto, head of the American Friends of the Paris Opera & Ballet, a New-York-based fund-raising organization for the ballet company. “He is an artist and also an entrepreneur who can reach out to the donors and make them feel they are part of his world.”
In a recent profile in ParisMatch, he appeared barefoot and shirtless. His jeans are slung low on his hips, revealing a prominent indigo-blue tattoo (an interpretation of Oskar Schlemmer’s 1922 logo for the Bauhaus School). “He is to dance what Beckham is to soccer,” the magazine declared. Indeed, Van Cleef & Arpels has already latched on, announcing that it will sponsor a new Millepied enterprise, “Reflections,” to be staged in May at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.
Millepied was chosen by another outsider, Stéphane Lissner, the artistic director of Milan’s La Scala, who, in 2015, is to become general director of the the entire opera and dance organization that is the Paris Opera. During the interview process, Lissner and Millepied talked a lot about their plans for the company: opera-dance collaborations, workshops for dancers who aspire to be choreographers, dancers working with artists or fashion designers, taking the ballet to museums and other public spaces, touring regularly throughout France, producing films.
“Instead of always letting the audience come to you, I’d like to take the company outside,” Millepied said, adding, “there is an elitist element that I want to break by doing outside projects.” In short, he said, “I want to develop a new identity.”
Additional reporting by Roslyn Sulcas.
Paola Kudacki/Trunk Archive
When it comes to erotica and pornography, whether hard, soft, sadomasochistic or merely steamy, the French believe they have done it first, done it better and done it all. So the French version of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy should have flopped.