August 10, 1995…best day of my life because my daughter, Gracie, was born. August 13, 2006…second best in my life because I met my husband. November 12, 2014…yesterday, third best day of my life because I was fortunate enough to have…a private visit of Coco Chanel’s apartment in Paris! Swear to God, it was the third best day of my life.
I have a very special person to thank for this. My friend, Diandra de Morell Douglas, made it all happen. I told her she is like my personal Make-A-Wish Foundation. Diandra waved her magic wand and there I was…in Coco Chanel’s living room. This was no wait in line, grab a headset, and mingle with the masses kind of tour. As everything that Diandra touches, it was special and by special I mean first class. We were greeted at 31 rue Cambon by a very special woman named Madame VBA and an exceptionally handsome, well-dressed gentleman who helped with our visit. For the next two hours, we had a private tour of every inch of the legendary 31 rue Cambon.
But, as with everything in my life, nothing goes off smoothly. The evening before our visit as I was organizing my outfit, I felt a little pang in my right ribs…the exact position of my diaphragm pacer. A diaphragm pacer is a surgically inserted stretch of wires that attach to five different spots inside my delicate little body intended to aid my diaphragm with breathing. After nearly dying in surgery a few years ago to have the diaphragm pacer inserted, I spent the next eight weeks on oxycodone from the pain. On top of that, after six months of trying…the diaphragm pacer was not successful. So, all I have to show for it is five wires coming out of my right rib cage causing me worry and stress every day. Usually, the pacer is fine and has not caused me any actual trouble…until this night. The night before the best day of my life at Mlle. Chanel’s apartment! I thought to myself, “Just ignore it. Don’t tell my husband because he will do something about it. Deal with it after Mlle. Chanel’s apartment.” No such luck. As much as I tried to ignore it, I knew something was wrong. I had to tell my husband. Of course, he over-investigates and starts poking and prodding and cleaning and touching my extremely delicate diaphragm pacer. I almost fainted and I was forced to scream at David 500 times. He is not the most gentle human being on earth and in case you don’t believe me…he accidentally cut the cat’s ear off last week. David managed to clean and sterilize the pacer, put gauze over it and decided to have the nurses look at it in the morning.
The entire evening my thoughts were the following… “I don’t care if my diaphragm pacer explodes, I am not going to the hospital and missing my Coco Chanel apartment tour. I don’t care if I die as long as I die in Coco Chanel’s apartment and actually, I hope that happens. Nothing is going to stop me from visiting Coco Chanel’s apartment. Not my diaphragm pacer and not my ALS. Come hell or high water I will be at 31 rue Cambon, Paris, at 3 PM on the dot!”
Thanks be to Allah (that’s how my caregivers say it), I made it through the night. I made a mental note of how many crazy pills I had left just in case I had a panic attack in the morning. I was so stressed out, I couldn’t even wash my hair so I had to wear a hat. It was a leopard hat, so it’s okay. My nurses arrive at 10 AM and immediately dive into investigating “le pacer.” It did not suck because my nurse (male) is a total babe. Temperature taken, pulse taken, blood pressure taken, visual of pacer noted… The results were in… The pacer was not infected but they were going to call a doctor to come to my apartment anyway. My answer: “Please tell the doctor that I am not available until after my Coco Chanel apartment tour.” They looked at me like I was crazy but I didn’t care.
My caregivers got me, Humpty Dumpty, all put together and it only took three hours. I swear to God it took three hours to put me together. My daughter did my makeup and on my way out of the door there is a mirror in the entry and I always look at it and say, “Hi Ellie. Remember when you were pretty?” My husband, Gracie and I laughed that I am nearly a skeleton in regards to weight but my face always looks fat. I carry my weight in my face. That’s nice.
We decided to walk to Mlle. Chanel’s apartment because it is only a few blocks from our apartment. That means I am technically neighbors with Mlle. Chanel. On our walk down rue Saint-Honoré, I couldn’t help myself but think, “Paris is truly amazing. The architecture, the gardens, the fashion, the style… Everything has happened here and anything can happen here. I am living in the middle of a history book. A glorious history book.”
Madame VBA greeted my husband, my daughter, my caregiver and me at the bottom of the legendary Art Deco mirrored steps inside the front doors of 31 rue Cambon. The very steps that Mlle. Chanel sat upon as she watched her fashion shows. If I could have leapt out of my wheelchair and licked the stairs, I would have. Luckily for my daughter, I remained seated but I was truly in awe.
We were taken through a private elevator and up to the second floor (third floor in France) to the entry of the famous apartment. When our guide opened the double doors, I literally gasped. An audible gasp. You would have too because before my eyes was a room completely paneled in 18th-century Chinese cormandel screens. On the far left wall was a German mirror with eagles and the center was shaped in the famous hexagon shape mimicking Place Vendôme and the stopper of the Chanel No.5 perfume bottle. Under the mirror was an antique reddish altar table with two deer/antelope and a bundle of gilt wheat atop it. There were two Venetian statues greeting the guests. There was a French bergère chair that Karl Lagerfeld found in an antique shop that was the exact chair that Mlle. Chanel had been photographed in at Horst’s studio in 1937. On the opposite wall was the chair of all chairs. It was the actual chair that Mlle. Chanel sat in, kneeled on and stood on as she pinned her creations on the models/mannequins. Be still my heart.
Next we were headed into the salon. That’s a living room to us Americans. Another audible gasp. Maybe two…for here I was…sitting in Mlle. Chanel’s living room! I honestly had to hold back tears. We spent about 30 minutes in the salon and our wonderfully knowledgeable guide and I had the best conversation I’ve ever had in my life. She told me about everything in the room…its provenance, its significance, its details, and its history. I thought to myself, “Okay, it’s official, I can die now. I have seen the best and it will never get better than this.” My most favorite part about the whole day was learning about all of the details. Starting at the top, the rock crystal chandelier had subtle nearly hidden backward C’s and number 5’s in the ironwork. It also had crystal beads mimicking Mlle. Chanel’s pearls. The original sofa in beige suede had very unique pillows. Madame VBA brought the pillow over to my wheelchair and showed me the details… It was quilted! It was the original idea for the quilted bag and the exact size! This was the pillow that started it all…the famous quilted bag! This room was everything. There were more 18th-century Chinese screens, seated Buddha statues, rock crystal orbs, rock crystal lamps, French needlepoint chairs, wheat table, silver and marble lions (symbol of her astrological sign, Leo), books everywhere, a petite black and gold painting of a sheath of wheat (symbol of abundance) given to her by Salvador Dali, Cubist andirons, terra-cotta camel (symbol of humility), glass frogs (symbol of luck), beautiful Korean bowls with painted flowers and walls covered with a golden colored fabric/wallpaper that set the tone for the whole room. And there were those famous deer! Those famous bronze deer. They were given to Mlle. Chanel by her good friends, Misia and Joseph Sert. If I could have licked those as well, I would have. As I was gazing around the room I was trying to soak it up as much as humanly possible. I wanted to breathe it in. I rudely asked if we could take a photo and our generous host cheered, “Mais, oui!” This day just keeps getting better.
The third room that we were led into was the study. More 18th-century Chinese screens but this time there was a little secret involved. We were told that these are the screens that the current Chanel fashion designers take yearly inspiration from and adapt into their design. There was a chic console table designed by Jean Michel Frank (or was it Jean Prove) as well.
The last room of the apartment that we saw was a showstopper as well…the dining room. Rock crystal chandelier, Venetian mirrors that were not actually Venetian (they were something else but I forgot, maybe Spanish), more 18th-century Chinese screens with symbolism, flanking the fireplace were two tables that originally had marble tops but Mlle. Chanel replaced them with black lacquer tops. Genius. While most of the apartment has figures of animals there is one bust of an actual human. Our guide told us that Mlle. Chanel would never reveal the heritage of the bust. We were told that Mlle. Chanel would make up stories about the identification of the bust differently to her guests. Only recently was it discovered that the bust was the uncle of Mlle. Chanel’s lover and original patron, Boy Capel. All of the curtains in the apartment were ivory/cream tailored straight, exactly touching the floor, minimal design. No obnoxious fluff. The carpet was the same… ivory/cream low pile (for lack of a better word).
What I noticed most about the apartment was the symmetry. Pairs, pairs and more pairs. Double mirrors, double side tables, double orbs, double chandeliers, double candelabras, double deer, double camels, double lamps etc. And then to throw that off, Mlle. Chanel would juxtapose the whole shebang with a singular Buddha. What I learned the most about the apartment was the symbolism. According to our guide, Mlle. Chanel was very superstitious and had signs of good luck, wealth, abundance etc. scattered throughout the apartment. What I admired most about the apartment was the inspiration that she drew from her apartment and incorporated into her design or quite possibly vice versa. The Camellia flower, the pearls, the black lacquer, the Chinese screens, the number 5, the hexagon, the shape of her famous perfume bottle embedded in the Chinese screen, the quilted pillows etc..
I have never had so much fun in my entire life. I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrors and I could see that my face was flushed. Flushed with happiness or maybe that was the diaphragm pacer infection setting in. After the tour of the apartment, we were lucky enough to be invited to the haute couture salon and into a room where the latest collection is on display. Baccarat crystal chandeliers, black lacquered screens/doors, white orchids, industrial chandeliers, double C carpet, white sofas and those famous Art Deco mirrored stairs. After two hours of my blaze of glory apartment tour, it was time to go. As much as I wanted to get on my knees and bow to our guide in appreciation, my ALS forced me to have some decorum, remain seated and I just politely said, “Merci Beaucoup,” about 4000 times.
I am aware that an event like this is very special and I am very appreciative. I would like to thank everyone involved… Mme. Douglas, Mme. Karella, Mme. Bouruet-Aubertot and M. Cruz.
In case you are wondering what happened with my diaphragm pacer after the apartment visit here is the scoop… Because this is France, a doctor, a real doctor, showed up at my apartment to personally check on my diaphragm pacer. Good news…It is not infected and I am not going to die…at least not today. The doctor wrote me a couple precautionary prescriptions for antibiotics and a bonus of crazy pills. For the next week, a nurse will come to my apartment to check on the pacer. Can you say “socialized medicine!”
*Something you don’t know about me? I truly love knowing all about all of you. I am one of those people who is actually interested in the personalities, the likes, dislikes, the nuances, the interesting stories and the emotions of other people. My husband is the opposite and for that, I am better than him. Thank you so much for all of your comments about yourselves. You are all so unique and I love you all for it. My favorite is the woman who said that she loved God and battered fish. Also a quick update on my Thanksgiving dinner…Heather from lostinarles.blogspot.com, suggested I make a reservation at Ralph’s restaurant. Ralph’s is the insanely chic restaurant in the Ralph Lauren shop on the Left Bank of Paris. Genius idea! This is exactly where I need to be. We called and emailed our reservation but received an email back that they are fully booked…duh. I have never ever pulled the ALS card once in my entire career of ALS but I might today…If any of you know anyone at Ralph’s restaurant (if you have to call Mr. Lauren himself, feel free) who could help secure a reservation and squeeze in a desperate American and her un-American French husband for Thanksgiving dinner, I would so appreciate it. As a token of my appreciation, you can have Grace. :-)