Thursday, September 20, 2007

In the pages of a magazine today

I found a place I wanted to go (it's Francine du Plessix Gray writing at the New Yorker about Marie-Laure de Noailles, a sort of wealthy muse to the French surrealists):
After the Noailleses finished decorating their Paris house, they began to look for an architect for a villa they wanted to build in the South of France, in Hyères. Marie-Laure was pregnant with their first child, Laure, when they travelled to Germany to seek out Mies van der Rohe, who was too busy to take them on. They then visited Le Corbusier, whose didactic personality put them off. So they settled on a young French modernist, Robert Mallet-Stevens, the first French architect to have seriously studied the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. His creation, a forty-bedroom house made of reinforced concrete, looked like a Cubist cruise ship.

“Innumerable rooms, rectilinear, uni-colored” was the way the painter Jean Hugo described the house in his memoirs. “Like the blocks of a child’s game tumbling one into the other, forming a strangely obscure labyrinth in which guests constantly lost their way.” Each of the monastic guest rooms had its own flowered terrace. There was a Cubist garden with block-shaped shrubbery and sculptures commissioned from Brancusi and Giacometti, who later made several portrait busts of Marie-Laure.

The Noailleses may have been the first family in Europe to have a covered swimming pool, an athletic center, and a personal trainer; their gymnasium was outfitted with parallel bars, punching bags, and volleyball nets, and was overseen by a blond gym teacher named M. Taré. All guests found striped swimsuits and exercise pants in their rooms. The house became the place where intellectuals cultivated their bodies. Even André Gide, an austere man in his sixties, found himself playing volleyball, “more or less naked,” he wrote in his diary. “I hope you’ll do a gymnastics workout with me every morning,” Charles wrote to Buñuel before a visit, according to Benaïm. “I’m not hopeful about the athleticism of the others in the group” (Auric, Cocteau, Christian Bérard).
I don't want to go there now. I want to go there then...

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