||PART OF A TWIN FEATURE PUBLISHED WITH INVISIBLE BORDEAUX||
As Invisible Bordeaux has already told us, Presidential candidate Mitt Romney remembers his 30-month stint in France as a Mormon missionary in the 1960s as being marked by buckets for toilets and hoses for showers. For the period spent in Paris though, in a neo-classical house in the wealthy 16th arrondissement, it is unlikely that there was such hardship.
His final months in France were spent with the country's Mission President at 3 Rue de Lota, in a home that fellow mission volunteers described as being a palace with servants. Today the opulence of the property is still evident (despite the fact that it is currently unused), but coming after a tour of some smaller cities in the west of France, where he lived in more rudimentery accommodation, it is surprising that the house did not make more of a lasting impression in Mitt Romney's memories of his mission abroad.
As Romney has not spoken of his time at this house, it is not clear what he knew about the property. Did he know for example that it had a link to the United States?
The house was built at the very end of the 19th century for Douglas Fitch, the heir of a wealthy American shipping family that had emigrated to France and settled near Marseille. Fitch had recently inherited the family chateau (the Chateau de Pradines) on the death of his father, and although although he didn't sell that property, he did almost immediately marry a comtesse named Marie-Thérèse Gouttenoire de Toury, and set about moving to Paris.
The scale and decoration of the property they built show that they clearly had vast sums of money to spend (a further sign of the wealth of the Fitch family is the fact that the young Douglas had even had his portrait painted by Renoir). As a pied de terre in Paris, it is certainly impressive, with its largely classical forms supplemented by several more modern touches.
For the mormons who made it their home 50 years later, several features particularly stood out. There was the magnificent cast iron staircase and the vast rooms, but above all, there was the huge stained glass window on the facade. This window provided titilation for some of these rather repressed young men, who remember it featuring a lady with bare breasts. The creation features four women representing the four seasons, but seen from the outside, it seems that summer is only in fact revealing barely a single breast. This was probably excitement enough though for the group of mormons living beneath it!
Douglas Fitch lived until 1951, but it is not clear whether he lived in this house until that date. His Renoir portrait is listed as being housed in the Chateau de Pradines until the year of his death, so it is likely that the various properties owned by Fitch were sold at this point. The mormon community purchased the Paris property in 1952, and retained ownership until the 1970s, when it became the embassy of the United Arab Emirates. Were they too attracted by the nubile young ladies in the window?
|Top: an addition to the facade when it became an embassy. The golden leaves frame three letters; EAU, the Émirats arabes unis. Bottom: the embassy has now moved to a new address, and the building is awaiting a new occupant.|
Mormons on mission cannot smoke, drink or date, which must make Paris a cruel place of constant temptation. Trying to recruit new members to the mormon church in France is surely a thankless task at the best of times, but as the city revolted, proclaiming amongst other things that 'Dieu est mort', it must have been a hopeless period for Mitt Romney.
What we do know is that the war in Vietnam was often a bone of contention between Romney and the French students. Romney would defend his country's position, seemingly not seeing the irony in the fact that his time in France was what was keeping him out of the military draft.
As Paris veered back towards normality, Romney passed his final months in the country living very much out of the way in what remains a quiet district of diplomats and embassies. The passage through Paris for many young Americans leaves a lasting impression for the rest of their lives, but, Romney, without the opportunity to indulge in women, cigarettes and alcohol, was seemingly glad to go back to the United States.
Read about the first part of Romney's stay in France on the Invisible Bordeaux blog.