French Excursions Part 1: Paris
So we admit this post is long past due because we actually traveled to Paris back in October, but were most recently in France again to see a fairy-tale-like castle in the French countryside. It reminded me I was behind on my blogging, so I decided to combine our French excursions into one post for now.
Our Paris trip took place because I had the opportunity to get involved in the marble business that Ryan’s company in Chicago has partnered with in Italy. We became good friends with owner, Gualtiero, and his girlfriend, Natalia. It happened to be a coincidence that Natalia was looking to get involved in the business and my presence created an opportunity for us to become a team. The role stemmed from Gualtiero’s desire to grow his other business, Robot City, which utilizes robots and 3D printing to create sculptures out of marble. It is a new technology that enables artists that have never worked with marble before to start creating sculptures through detailed computer images designed with the help of Robot City’s technicians. Although Robot City had already worked with many well-known artists, Gualtiero was looking to expand his international base, and though the FIAC art fair in Paris was the perfect forum to do so.
And so Natalia and I were asked to travel to Paris with Robot City marketing materials to network with galleries whose artists would be potentially interested in the technology. I learned that in the art world, the galleries often commission or pay for the creation materials of the artists they represent. They often act as the “gate-keepers” and thus it is necessary to work with the galleries first before approaching artists directly.
Now I was a bit nervous because I had limited knowledge of the art world. let alone all of the artists that Robot City has worked with already. The best I could do was study the materials, have a pitch ready in my head, and utilize my professional skills. Thankfully, Natalia was much more versed in the art world and so she would be able to fill in my gaps in knowledge!
FIAC was held in the Grand Palais near the Champs-Elysees. It was a large convention center in the inside, with over 250+ galleries of modern art from all over the world on site Overwhelmed, we scouted out the premise and spotted a dozen or so galleries working with marble, which would make for easy conversation. Furthermore, Natalia was unofficially on the look-out for art pieces Gualtiero wanted to purchase for his collection. We soon found that being a potential buyer made it much easier to market and pass out our materials as well! As we walked the convention hall and talked to each of the galleries, our job started to become more natural- first because people were genuinely impressed by the craftsmanship of the robots, and second, the gallery representatives were very open and willing to hear us out, even if they were not interested in marble. By the end of the fair, we had made connections with 11 different galleries, and had spent that night sending out a dozen follow-up emails to our contacts.
The following day Ryan and Gualtiero met us in Paris to view the art fair themselves and be introduced to our new art gallery contacts. We had lunch and dinner at the Cost Hotel (where Gualtiero and now Natalia was staying) that had the most decadent cheesecake I had ever had in my life- it was too bad I didn’t take a picture of it but if you eat at the Cost Hotel- definitely have it! We were also joined by one of the French artist Gualtiero works with, Aurele, who is famous for his “Lost Dog” sculpture. He was a quintessential, eclectic French artist with a bellowing sense of humor, spoke English with a heavy Parisian accent, and made esoteric speeches about love, life, and the pursuit of art. He also threw a slew of sexual jokes into the mix after several glasses of wine. He was entertaining to say the least!
On our last day Ryan and I woke up early to make a long, leisurely walk along the Jardin Des Tuileries. We then met up with Gualtiero,who took us the so-called old Jewish neighborhood in Paris- the one area whose galleries were open on a Sunday. We walked through about 5-6, and I have to say I was enamored by the creative artwork I saw at these galleries- even more so than at FIAC! One of the items I loved was a 3D painting that consisted of origami-like flowers arranged tightly together throughout the canvas. The flowers also created a pastel, rainbow-like effect that was very beautiful. Gualtiero ended up purchasing an unusual, but stunning table that as glass on the surface, but a work of art underneath the glass. The artist had placed 50 or so paintbrushes of different colors in several rows and had made a smear of paint in front of each one. The array of colors was eye-catching and also one of my favorites.
Our final meal on the trip was the only one where I took photos. Pictured below is Ryan’s French onion soup and my tuna tartare. This was before we headed off to Gualtier’s private plan which conveniently dropped us off back at Pisa Airport in less than two hours. I can’t complain about this trip!
French Excursions Part 2: Chateau de Landreville
I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post that Gualtiero had a bought a castle in France to be used as a secondary residence, an art gallery, and potential concert hall. We were invited to fly out for a few days to stay in the castle before he signed the final papers (along with JoJo). Who would say no?
We took Gualtiero’s plane from Pisa and stopped in Milan to pick up the previous owner of the castle, who would be present with the family to sign the final papers and discuss any additional information. All was fine except that JoJo did not like the plane ride for the first hour and nearly cried the entire way. We weren’t sure if he just didn’t like being in a tight space or the feeling of ears popping but we decided at that moment that was the last time he would travel on Gualtiero’s plane!
The castle, officially called Chateau de Landreville, was a two hour drive east of Paris near the small town of Bayonville. There is nothing around you except countryside and farmland, and was significantly more rural than where we live in Italy. The area is famous for its many battles from the French Revolution and both World Wars, signified by the monuments and cemeteries dotted throughout the countryside. The castle is secured by a gate surrounding the property, after which you drive down a long path amidst a forest. All of a sudden you are greeted with a magnificent view- a magical-like fortress surrounded by acres of greenery and a moat. The grounds and outside of the castle were immaculate. The setting was other-wordly.
Inside, we were greeted by the owner’s mother and father- an adorable French couple who had taken pride in restoring and unearthing the history of the castle for the past fifteen years. They had also run it as a Bed and Breakfast and wedding venue for a period of time. The castle had been built in the 900’s by a lord who was very powerful in the region. It was primarily used for military purposes and many prisoners and deaths have haunted its walls. In the past century, it was occupied by the Germans during both World Wars. I was shown a photo album of its use during WWII, admiring how much history had transpired through these walls.
We were given a grand tour of the castle, meandering throughout its majestically designed bedrooms, old parlor rooms, dungeons, and hideaways. The castle has been kept in incredible condition despite its ancient infrastructure, with many of the furniture as old as the original building.
The castle being as old as it is does have its own legends associated with it. There is a ghost that haunts the castle called the White Lady. She lived in one of the bedrooms on the second floor and had a deep connection the castle. When German invaders came, she tried to escape through the underground tunnel in the castle’s basement. However, the Germans blocked off the exit pathway about a quarter mile from the castle and she died. The story goes is that the Germans were haunted by the sound of her weeping. In addition, she makes appearances in her old bedroom and the upstairs hallway, with several witnesses from the family. They reassured me, however, that she was a nice ghost and often smiled at them when she appeared. Needless to say, I was a little spooked and tried to avoid walking down the hallway by myself at night!
The castle also had two guest houses and acres of greenery and farmland, which was great for JoJo to run around in. He even went swimming in the moat! The hospitality we received was also so gracious- with home-cooked meals by the owner’s mother and a beautiful bedroom fit for a king. To be honest, we did not do much during our time there except eat, drink, and marvel at how we were living like royalty.