Saturday in the Park with Sasha

Paris; Saturday morning, sunny, autumn, leaves falling. There are remnants of summer flowers as fall buds present themselves.

Six year old Sasha has planned my day. We walk hand in hand, her “Papa” following. She chats about learning French, her new school and new home. She’s excited to show me Parc Monceau, one of the city’s most beautiful enormous green areas and Sasha’s favourite.

There’s a joyous squeal of children and the reason is a colourful carousel. Not your unusual animals merry- go- round but this one is more transport -oriented with trucks, cars, space ships, tanks and the ticket seller is just trying to keep pace with the demand. As it goes round and round with hoots of laughter from the kids and smiles of delights from the parents, the sun streams through the branches of the treed area. Being Paris where food is always a major factor, many senior citizens sit on benches watching and eating goodies from picnic baskets and bags.

Parc Monceau isn’t your usual park with more than just kiddy thrills. It’s in one of the most elegant neighbourhoods in all of Paris and is surrounded by stately home.

We walk passed a small Pyramid and cross over a Japanese type bridge to get to our next ‘adventure’. The palatial mansions, all once private homes, now some well turned out apartments, are a statement to the great wealth that was evident during the Belle Epoque. With the right amount of cash, who wouldn’t choose to have windows overlooking this glorious green oasis?

However, Sasha is excited as we stop in front of one of the most elaborate, dignified and sumptuous estates but with a sad ending. Now the Musee Nissim de Camondo, it was once the happy home of a banker, Comte Moise De Camondo, his wife and two children. This private estate abutting the park was designed by architect Rene Sergent in 1911 and Sergent made sure that it would be a suitable showcase for De Camondo’s massive and varied important collections. It would also be a fine home for his family. I thought there was something vaguely familiar about the architecture and I soon discovered why. The mansion had been modeled after the Petit Trianon in Versailles.

Comte Moise De Camondo was born in 1860 into a Sephardic Jewish family in Turkey. His family, owners of one of the largest banks in the Ottoman Empire, established a branch in France in 1869.

The Count became a passionate collector of 18th century ‘objets’. French furniture, tapestries, rugs, painting, (he once even watched patiently for 30 years to purchase a matching commode he had in his collection) are of the finest quality. The gilt wall clocks, impressive chandeliers, mounted vases fill walls and cabinets are not so far away that visitors can’t get a great look at these priceless masterpieces and all preserved in original condition.

Wood paneling with intricate carving, beautifully silk walls, bathroom tiling which still would delight even today’s decorators, glimpses into the large bedrooms. Sasha has been there several times and showed me the ‘little girls’ bedroom with a heavily brocaded bedspread on a bed nestled in a regal niche. She also wondered if the children ever slide down the grand, twisting circular wrought iron and wood banister

Two outstanding collections are of Sevres “Buffon” porcelains from the late 1700s, most decorated with fluttering birds and the outstanding silver dinner service commissioned in 1770 by Catherine II of Russia from the silversmith Roettiers.

Moise de Camondo had intended to bequeath his mansion and collections to his son Nissim. But World War I broke out, Nissim was killed in air combat in 1917 and Moise never recovered from this tragedy. The mansion and all its contents were gifted by Moise De Camondo to Paris’ Arts Decoratifs in Nissim’s memory.

The estate opened as a museum, a year after Moise died in 1935. But the dramatic history of this family had worse heartbreak still to come. During World War II, the Count’s daughter, Beatrice, his son in law Leon Reinach and their two young children died in the Nazi camp of Auschwitz.

Now the public walks through this house of sadness and beauty to see exhibits of one family’s rare collection. There is a wall plaque commemorating the entire family.

It was difficult not to feel ambivalent about the finality of the family, but thrilled to have seen this rare and concentrated collection. I wonder why this stunning small museum isn’t better known for tourists since it’s certainly one of the Parisians treasures and pride.

Sasha has another favourite place nearby. It’s also in another once privately built mansion from 1870. The white elegant stone mansion, Musee Cernuschi, is just stops away.

A wealthy Milanese financier, Henri Cernuschi also amassed a treasure trove, this one of the world’s most important collections of Oriental art. It’s considered France’s second largest Asian art collection.

Now after four years of renovation which provides more space for the artifacts specializing in Oriental art and archaeology, the exhibits are shown to their best advantage. Just inside, a black, two storey marble archway’s top is the perfect place for the rare 18th century bronze Buddha from Japan. It is certainly the first of many important statues on view. An ancient bronze basin from the Warring states (475BC-221BC), and an early bronze, called The Tigress, a kneeling, open jawed feline (Shang dynasty- 1600BC-1000BC) are the undisputed treasures. The Silk Route is represented with terra cotta sculptures and the Tang and Han dynasties have a plethora of treasures shown in vitrines throughout the main floor.

Sasha had shown me two extremely important collections in Paris which are not on the casual travellers’ list but should be.

Musee Nissim De Camondo
63 rue de Monceau, 75008
Tel 33 1 53 89 06 50

Open from 10AM to 5.30PM Monday and Tuesday.
Metro stop: Villiers, Monceau. Bus 30, 84, 94

Musee Cernuschi
7 avenue Velasquez Paris 75008
Tel 01 53 96 2150

Everyday except Monday from 10AM to 6PM
Metro; Villiers, Monceau. Bus 30, 94