Heavy Medal

Late last month, April 27, to be precise, Becca Cason Thrash %26mdash; consummate hostess and philanthropist%26mdash; was f%26ecirc;ted by no less than the French government. Awarded the Chevalier (Knight) of the National Order of the Legion of Honour from President Nicolas Sarkozy for her innumerable contributions %26mdash; culturally and charitably %26mdash; to the Gallic people, Thrash is among only a handful of Texans to ever receive the honor originated by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. The Order is the highest decoration in France. Her ongoing support of the Louvre, Versailles, the Palais Garnier, Giverny and the Haute Couture has raised beaucoup Euros for France. The first Liaisons au Louvre fund-raiser she organized with the president and director of the Mus%26eacute;e du Louvre, Henri Loyrette, and Kip Forbes, chairman of the American and International Friends of the Louvre (the first fund-raiser ever to be sanctioned and held in the Louvre), raised more than $2.7 million for the venerable national treasure. For more than a decade, this Francophile has hosted memorable parties on both sides of the Atlantic for French luxury houses ranging from Dior to Montblanc, Louis Vuitton to Cartier %26mdash; pouring Dom P%26eacute;rignon and Veuve Clicquot, bien s%26ucirc;r. On the eve of Liaisons au Louvre II, June 12 through 14 in Paris, vice chairman of the American and International Friends of the Louvre, Becca Cason Thrash, sits down to parle about her home away from home, Paris.

Image: HRH Princess Caroline of Monaco, Becca Thrash, at the Louvre gala, June 10, 2008; The medal of the Legion is a five-armed Maltese cross in silver enameled in white with a laurel and oak wreath, and the face of Marianne, with red ribbons.

How did you become involved with the Louvre?

In 2004, the Louvre created the American Friends of the Louvre. Henri Loyrette, director of the Louvre, invited Christopher Forbes to become the chairman of the organization. In turn, Christopher (Kip) invited me to join the board of directors. The following year, we created the International Friends of the Louvre, of which I am the vice chairman of the board. Since 2005, I have chaired and hosted two fund-raisers in Houston, one in Los Angeles and one in Palm Beach.%26nbsp;In 2008, Henri Loyrette invited me to create and produce the first-ever fund-raising event held for the Louvre and in the Louvre. I am currently finalizing details for the second Liaisons au Louvre, which will be held in Paris June 12, 13 and 14 under the high patronage of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.%26nbsp; On La Grande Nuit in the Louvre, June 14, cocktails will be served in the elaborately furnished 19th-century apartments of Napoleon III, followed by an elegant seated dinner in the Cour Marley amidst the masterpieces of the Louvre. After dinner, the entertainment is the one and only Janet Jackson, performing before 350 guests in the Pyramide de Louvre.

Image: Pyramide de Louvre

Parlez-vous fran%26ccedil;ais?

Last summer, I took a month French immersion course at the Institut de Fran%26ccedil;ais in Villefranche-sur-Mer near Cap Ferrat. I had never studied French formally %26mdash; and as everyone speaks English these days, never made much of an effort to learn. One day in Paris during a board meeting, a fellow board member said, %26ldquo;Becca, it%26rsquo;s time for you to learn French.%26rdquo; One certainly does not learn French, or any language, in a month or even a year, particularly if you are not living in the country of the language %26hellip; This program gave me a great core of the language and basic knowledge of the most used verbs. Since coming home, I have taken occasional lessons at Berlitz and have had private tutoring. I am far from fluent, but I can certainly get by and say just about anything I need to say. Unlike Spanish and Italian, which came easier to me, French is a difficult and complex language that takes an open mind and full concentration.

You%26rsquo;ve been attending the couture collections in Paris for quite some time now. What are your favorite houses?

Sadly, the couture loses a major house every year or two. It is really not what it was when I first began attending 12 years ago. My favorites were Ungaro and Christian Lacroix, and neither exists any longer. Dior and Chanel have been the solid staples, but Jean Paul Gaultier is also one of my absolute favorites. I once saw a show he did with clothes made entirely of bread! It truly was astonishing: His talent and genius run deep.

Image: Will this be the one? We're only guessing.

And to La Grande Nuit you will wear %26hellip;?

I am wearing one of the last 12 gowns that Alexander McQueen designed before he died.

Paris is full of marvelous patisseries and boulangeries, chocolate shops and the like, where you can sit for a moment and treat yourself to a beautiful sweet. Where do you go for a sweet treat?

I%26rsquo;m not a big sweet eater, but I love Ladur%26eacute;e on the rue Royale. They make the best macaroons in the world. The palmiers at Angelica on rue de Rivoli melt in your mouth. Sometimes the line is a block long!

Your stomping grounds?

There%26rsquo;s not a bad part of Paris. It%26rsquo;s only seven miles long, and although millions live there, every arrondissement has its own charm. The 1st and the 8th are so well located. The 7th, the most famous, on the Left Bank, although the 6th is probably more special and a little more exclusive. I love Le Marais, a slightly more bohemian area of Paris but with amazing bistros and edgy shops. The 16th is beautiful, although primarily residential. I have a tendency to spend most of my time between the 1st, 7th and 8th.

Image: Apicius restaurant

The Paris shops you wouldn%26rsquo;t miss?

If I could only shop in one store (and that would be sheer torture!), it would be Montaigne Market. They have the best-edited collections, from Ala%26iuml;a to J. Mendel and everyone in between. Incredible accessories and shoes, too.%26nbsp;For a department store, the closest thing to a Neiman Marcus is Printemps, which represents every designer under the sun. They have concierges and personal shoppers, making it a really easy shopping experience. I love all the edgy little shoe stores in the 7th and the individual designer boutiques. The outdoor restaurant at Ralph Lauren on St. Germain is incredible to slip in for a hamburger in between shopping. Of course, the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honor%26eacute; has virtually every designer store, beginning at the rue de Rivoli all the way to the H%26ocirc;tel Le Bristol. The Herm%26egrave;s flagship store is there, as well as Lanvin, Gucci, Azzaro, YSL and the beautiful Roger Vivier store. One could spend days visiting all the art galleries and specialty antiquaire stores in Paris. The 7th has an over abundance of these exquisite stores, but wonderful finds exist in the 1st, 8th and the Marais, too. There are frequent auctions featuring rare books and old masters drawings.

What are the bo%26icirc;tes %26mdash; bistros, brasseries, Michelin three-star eateries %26mdash; where you love to dine?

Even though%26nbsp;Vanity Fair%26nbsp;completely trashed it, my absolute favorite bistro remains L%26rsquo;Ami Louis. It serves the best foie gras in the world, the most extraordinary roasted chicken, and the goose-fat potatoes with fresh garlic is mind-boggling. No trip is complete without at least one visit to L%26rsquo;Ami Louis. I also adore Le Voltaire: quintessential French cuisine, elegant yet cozy. Caviar Kaspia, right behind La Madeleine, is also one of my very favorite spots. The freshest caviar, the most scrumptious salmon, with little thimble-sized shots of vodka that you sip endlessly through the night. For really elegant nouvelle cuisine, Apicius is extraordinary, in an old h%26ocirc;tel particulier that has been converted into a sleek Art Deco space with impeccable service and presentation.%26nbsp;I can%26rsquo;t imagine going to Paris without having lunch at L%26rsquo;Avenue in the front room. I also love breakfast or lunch in the lobby at H%26ocirc;tel Le Meurice. When you are pooped and don%26rsquo;t want to get dressed, an easy dinner at H%26ocirc;tel Costes is always fun and great people watching.

Favorite out-of-the-way haunts?

Monday is a slow day, and many restaurants are closed. This is when I love to spend an afternoon at Paris%26rsquo; most fabulous flea market: Porte de Clignancourt. You can find great treasures and don%26rsquo;t have to wake up at five in the morning to do so. It opens at 11 am, but it%26rsquo;s best to go after lunch.

The must-see museum exhibits?

At the Mus%26eacute;e des Arts Decoratifs, they have an interesting show of Ralph Lauren%26rsquo;s antique car collection through August. There is a retrospective on Edouard Manet held at Mus%26eacute;e d%26rsquo;Orsay. The Louvre will feature a Rembrandt exhibit and the Face of Jesus paintings from now through July.

Image: San R%26eacute;gis hotel

Where is your home away from home in France?

I go to Paris about five or six times a year. Until the last two years, I have always stayed at the H%26ocirc;tel Ritz Place Vend%26ocirc;me. I still love it there and always will. However, I discovered a tiny boutique hotel in the 8th called the San R%26eacute;gis, where I always stay when I am by myself. It%26rsquo;s right around the corner from avenue Montaigne, so I can walk to the Plaza Athen%26eacute;e, L%26rsquo;Avenue, or Le Stresa, not to mention the best shopping street in Paris! It%26rsquo;s also about 100 yards from the 7th, as the Grand Palais is right next door ... you just walk across the bridge and voil%26agrave;, you%26rsquo;re there!

In Houston, you occasionally imbibe with a well-made margarita. Your cocktail of choice in Paris?

Champagne, champagne and more champagne! People in Paris don%26rsquo;t usually drink vodka sodas or mixed drinks the way we do here in America. Red wine is completely taboo except during dinner. But I can%26rsquo;t possibly choose a favorite. I adore Dom P%26eacute;rignon, Ruinart, Krug and Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame. They all go down easily and are so yummy. I have a tendency to go to private affairs more often than restaurants, but at the end of the evening, my favorite club to stop by for a nightcap is Mathis in the 8th directly across from Gagosian Gallery.

American Notables Who Have Been Awarded Chevalier of the Legion of Honour Include:
Julia Child
Alan Greenspan
Douglas MacArthur
Barbra Streisand
Toni Morrison
Walt Disney
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Ralph Lauren

Image at top: At La Grande Nuit in the Louvre, June 10, 2008

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