Le carnet de France
The 25th Salon International Du Patrimoine Culturel was held on October 24-27 in the Carrousel of the Louvre Museum in Paris. It is a lovely public show and certainly a favorite of France’s First Lady. Madame Brigitte Macron has visited this show every year since 2017, when her husband Emmanuel Macron became president of France. This year she was accompanied by the French Minister of Culture Franck Riester and the very popular journalist and cultural historian Stéphane Bern (a whole article could be devoted to Mr. Bern for all his accomplishments benefitting French culture and history).
The show comprises three sections — stands of craftsmen and women demonstrating their skills in creating and restoring antiques and artistic works; booths of associations and organizations dedicated to preserving the country’s heritage; and presentations of journals and books about heritage and preservation.
Let’s look at some of the 360 booths presenting their skills in restoration and decoration. We find a restorer working on an antique silk carpet; nearby and artisan in the art of making trimmings and tassels. A bookbinder builds books, agendas and photo albums, some covered with handmade fabrics or fine sheets of wood. Haute Couture designers who keep feathers in high demand, known as plumassiers. Elsewhere there are artisans working on furniture, clocks and barometers, as well as stone, porcelain, stained glass windows and ironwork. Many others were present.
Socra, the atelier that is restoring the sculptures of the apostles from the roof of the Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral (see the October issue of the Charleston Mercury) was also present.
The skill of those restorers will be demonstrated at L’Hôtel de la Marine, on the Place de la Concorde. This magnificent hôtel particulier (private mansion) built under Louis XV in the late 18th century and used to be the headquarters of the French Navy and was therefore open to very few. It has been closed since 2017. The restauration emphasizes all the old details in the woodwork, plaster, glass and more. During the summer of 2020, it will finally be open to the public and there will be a restaurant and boutiques.
Another section of the show includes the associations, from Maisons paysannes de France — 50 years old, with 80 chapters in France and 400 volunteers — to Fondation du Patrimoine, created in 1996, via Sites & Monuments from 1901 and many others. They help potential and existing owners in their activities and wishes to improve and maintain their properties according to style and regional characteristics. Maisons paysannes is mostly involved in small homes and farms. Fondation du Patrimoine is involved in 2500 projects, public and private, every year (religious sites, mills, ruins, cemeteries, castles and many more).
Sites and Monuments analyzes and deals with issues involving the beauty of the landscapes and sites in the countryside or in villages and towns. Right now, they are dealing with the controversy over the installation of hundreds of wind turbines (éoliennes) in agricultural fields and offshore (especially in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy). These associations all have the knowledge of the best craftsmen and restorers, as well as addresses for financial and tax guidance.
As you know, France is a small country with noteworthy climate differences; one of its charms is to drive only 30 miles and find yourself in an architectural environment that is distinctly different from the one you just visited due to the necessities of the local weather. The small houses in Brittany (a one-floor house painted in with a slate roof, door in the middle, a window on each side, therefore a room on each side, plus a small garden outside) have nothing in common with an Alsatian house, usually narrow, on two or three floors, half-timbered, painted in pink, green or yellow; neither are like a chalet in the Alps, all made of wood, walls, balconies, or a mas, a one-story stone house in the south.
Of course, in Brittany blue or pink hydrangeas are profusely planted in the gardens whereas in Alsace and in the mountain areas you will find window-boxes filled with red geraniums and mimosas in the south.
During the show, many presentations were given by artisans, journalists and experts. This year, the major topic of conversation was on how to avoid another disaster like the one of April 15, 2019 — the fire of Notre-Dame de Paris.
Lots of magazines and books on the history of the heritage as well as coffee-table books are displayed in the literature area where authors come and sign their new works.
I would like to mention the relationship between the Salon (SIPC) and Charleston. The Paris Chapter of the French Heritage Society, thankful to the contributions of its members, enables an annual exchange of students in landscaping between the École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage in Versailles and Middleton Place and Magnolia Plantations and Gardens in Charleston. Some very gifted future landscapers have the opportunity to study in those magnificent gardens.
This show is an excellent source not only for French but also for International aficionados, owners or potential owners of heritage. Should you be interested in attending next year’s Salon International du Patrimoine Culturel, it will be held in the Carrousel du Louvre from October 24 to 27, 2020.
Two other actions that encouraged French citizens to be interested in their heritage:
In 1984, Jack Lang, Minister of Culture under President Mitterrand, had the great idea of creating what is now called Les Journées du Patrimoine, which opens the doors of buildings normally closed to the public. It takes place all over France, usually during the third weekend in September and it gathers hundreds of thousands of visitors. One can visit the Palais de l’Élysée, the residence of the French President on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré; the backstage of the Palais Garnier (the old opera house); the Senate in the Palais du Luxembourg and many other sites. On those days entrance is free to all the open sites, museums and châteaux. In 2020, this event will take place on September 19-20.
Last and not least, if in Paris (and other cities) the buildings are so clean and so beautiful, we owe it to André Malraux (1901-1976), a novelist and art historian. From 1959 to 1969, Mr. Malraux was minister of culture under President de Gaulle. He established a deduction on local taxes for property owners who would clean the façade of their buildings. Those clean buildings enable us now to admire all the great details. (Editor’s Note: Monsieur Tecklenburg might pick up a tip here.)
As you can tell, France values its heritage and is actively preserving its history and beauty.
Martine P. Dulles lives in Tours, in the Loire Valley of France. She was a docent at the MET in New York and later a licensed tour guide in Charleston where she and her husband lived for 11 years. She now organizes bespoke guided tours in France and may be reached at email@example.com. Visit her website at charlestonpromenades.com.