L’Art de Vivre – To Be Sure There is Nothing Quite Like French Glamour – But Do You Know Your French Eco-Glamour?

What does Chanel #5, the world’s most famous perfume and Catherine Deneuve, one of the world’s most beautiful women, have in common? The answer is French Glamour.

And what of Limoges Porcelain, Gobelins Tapestry, Louis Vuitton Handbags, Savon de Marseille, Aubade Lingerie, and Fine Jewelry and Watches handmade by Van Cleef & Arpels all have in common? The answer is French Glamour – Yes, also synonymous with ‘LUXURY’.

And what of Monet’s Water Lily Paintings, and Claude Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ and the Musee du Louvre itself, one of the greatest museums in all the world have in common? ‘GREAT ART’ – True! – But the answer, once again, is French Glamour.

And finally what do you think of when you hear the brand names – Givenchy, Christian Dior, Pierre Cardin and Yves St. Laurent? –Yes, ‘HAUTE COUTURE’ truly! – But once again the imagery that these great houses of fashion can evoke is much like the Palace of Versailles, the Castles of the Loire Valley, and the Vineyards of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne – a sumptuous collection of French Glamour at its very best.

My introduction to French glamour had its roots in both its language and its cooking style as it developed over the centuries – for I am the product line of a mad dash of 10th century Dukes of Normandy, a sprinkling of 12th century Counts of Poitou and Provence, a splendiferous mix of 13th century Capetian Kings and Plantagenet Kings and an unshakeable pinch of 17th century Huguenot craftsmen. But that is not why I and 80 million other tourists go back to France each year making France the world’s most visited country. Have you not heard? France is undergoing a ‘Green Revolution’ and its leading image is now that of Style AND Sustainability – in essence – FRENCH ECO-GLAMOUR!

You can see it in their development of glamorous green tourism businesses, (‘camping ecologique’) now taking France by storm – in moderately priced eco-campsites like the ones being offered by Celine Bossane’s ‘Huttopia’, which offers eco-camping in Versailles, Rambouillet and Senonche, Font-Romeu in the Pyrenees and Rillé in the Loire Valley – to luxury-priced eco-yurts in the Dordogne county of Aquitaine in southwestern France. Perhaps the most glamorous of these five-star eco-campsites is my favorite – ‘Camping Les Moulins’ – whose tents were designed by Cartier no less and are located on the lovely beaches of Ile de Noirmoutier in the picturesque Vendee region of West Central France. You can also see French Eco-Glamour in their sustainable farming techniques – my favorite being the production of ‘French Rabbit Wines’ by the Boisset family in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France – and in their eco-glamorous cutting-edge ski resorts – my favorite being Kalinda Village at Tignes les Broisses, the first and biggest eco-village in the French Alps.

You can also find French Eco-Glamour in their ‘Reversible’ brand-named eco-handbags made of recycled materials and Katell Gelebart’s transformation of food packaging into eco-chic dresses, jackets, and aprons and ‘Iroisie’s’ eco-beauty products for women, an organic skin care line of ‘cosmetiques biologiques’, founded by Anne Bontour whose source of inspiration came from her summers spent with her two grandmothers – countrywomen who lived by the sea in France’s northern Brittany – ‘Mer d’Iroisie’. How romantic-sounding is that? Not to be outdone by such eco-inspirational beginnings are the forests of France which have now doubled in size since 1950 making France the third largest forested surface area in Europe after Sweden and Finland. In particular seven miles west of Nice beyond the glitz and glamour of Cannes on the French Riviera, perched high above the medieval village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence in southeastern France, are the glamorous cedar wood lodgings of ‘Orion Treehouse B&B’ – the very definition of charm and excitement.

But not all that is French eco-sophistication and eco-glamour is new – indeed the conceptual birth of “Eco-Museums” originated in France back in 1971 – the brainchild of George Henri Riviere and Hugues de Varine – an idea which promoted special places whereby communities could actively participate in the preservation, interpretation and management of their own cultural heritage for sustainable development thru both indoor and outdoor exhibitions. As a result half of all the three hundred plus ‘Eco-Museums’ in the world today are in France.

And then there is the eco-glamorous ‘Paris Flea Market’, locally known as ‘Marche aux Puces de Saint-Ouen’ – the most renowned flea market in the world which covers 17 acres and welcomes 70,000 visitors per week with rows of discarded shards of civilization – bits of ‘distressed couture’ saved from bulging landfills and dumpsters. Opened in Paris in 1885, the Paris Flea Market offers shoppers with ‘upcycling’ talent – everything from hand-forged antiques to vintage clothes to decorative curiosities to playful kitsch and outright castoffs at bargain prices. Today, there are now customized ‘junk picking’ tours operating out of the USA to visit its 3000 plus stalls which gives ‘couture cycling’ new meaning – a sense of eco-glamour – which again is worth repeating – there is nothing quite like French glamor whether it be on the Avenue of the Champs-Elysees or your own repurposed French patterned pavers.

The Swedes are Coming! The Swedes are Coming! — Yes, in Cozy Tailor-Made, Eco-Friendly, Energy Saving, Prefabricated Homes!

It’s not the first time, Swedes have invigorated the American landscape with their eco-innovative architecture. Back in 1638, the Swedish colony of ‘New Sweden’ was established along the banks of the Delaware River that ran alongside the contiguous states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Although the number of first settlers was small in size, the territory in their possession limited, and their political ties to Sweden soon severed by northern wars in Europe and the capture of Fort Christina at Wilmington by the Dutch – the influence of their colonial footprints in America can still be seen in their native ‘Swedish Log Cabin’ architecture – made famous two centuries later by Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign bid in 1860 that he was born in a “log cabin” in Kentucky – a fact I can historically trace back to his New Jersey ‘Bowne’ ancestors thru their 17th century movements in south central New Jersey. For President Abraham Lincoln is in actuality, my 5th cousin.

But that was then. Today the Swedes are making their presence known with ‘prefabricated homes’ – easy-to-ship-and-assemble residential building parts manufactured off-site – that once again draw upon their creative skill for using environmentally sustainable materials in making practical eco-functioning homes with a touch of Scandinavian serenity. Classic examples include: 1) Willa Nordic’s “Eco House”, constructed of raw wood, built-in pergolas, and herbaceous plant growth; 2) Kjellgren Kaminsky Architecture’s “Villa Nyberg”, a timbered circular home, tightly insulated with a half circle second floor, central atrium, and a solar hot water heater on the roof; 3) Pinc House’s “Sport Home”, a modern version of a classic sports cabin or wooded bungalow complete with outside deck and grill area, panoramic windows and a spacious open interior; 4) Arkitekthus’s “Plus House”, a modern-day takeoff of a traditional Swedish barn constructed with native woods, glazed gables, windows, and walls, designed by the popular Swedish architects, Claesson, Koivisto, Rune, the inventors behind the stylish prefab folded roof house on Musko Island ; and 5) Rorvikshus’s gallery of pre-designed theme homes reflective of the historical provinces of Sweden itself – i.e. Gotland, Dalarna and Smaland. My personal favorite is that of the SASA Collection by Thomas Sandell, one of Sweden’s greats – a world famous architect, landscape designer, and furniture designer who interprets the celebrated “Swedish holiday cottage” in a more contemporary way by infusing his modern small prefab homes with the site’s topography thereby minimizing land footprints.

But perhaps the most interesting development is the entrée of IKEA, (a Swedish-based international retailer and adopted American icon of ready-to-assemble furniture and Scandinavian housewares) – into the housing market. Created in the mid-1990s, ‘BoKlok’ (Swedish for ‘Live Smart’), is now being launched for the first time in Germany later this summer – – updated eco-friendly modernist prefab developments that have grown globally from its initial debut in Sweden – then Norway, Finland, Denmark, and the UK. This rapid growth is due in part to technological advances like ‘SIP Panels’, (Structural Insulation Panels) that are precut and can be locked together. But there is more to all this than meets the eye – more than just making a profit – more than just conserving energy or pampering the planet.

The Swedes, I would argue, are a country of people imbued with a strong sense of moral conscience who have taken our American sense of ‘right to liberties and freedom’ to a higher level – the right that everyone should have adequate housing for their health and well-being. You can even see their sense of fairness in their handmade chocolate balls and Swedish coffee bread. Yes that’s right – according to Sweden’s leading chocolate expert, Jan Hedh, a beloved baker and confectioner, and world renown author of two beautiful cookbooks, “Artisan Bread” and “Swedish Breads and Pastries” – – “Freshly baked bread for breakfast, lunch, and dinner ought to be a basic human right!” And for most Swedes, prefabricated homes is indeed a ‘way of life’ – comprising 70% of the single-family housing market in Sweden – a fact greatly shaped by their short summer construction season and severe winters which in turn has induced economies of scale for mass production of highly energy-efficient housing.

And so here I am, quietly waiting and pining in the USA for my very own Swedish prefabricated home – an organic structure combined with a more eco-luxurious touch – a masterpiece of ‘ecological and poetic architecture’ – an upgrade of the ‘Swedish Log Cabin’ if you will – more along the lines of Gert Wingardh’s “Mill House”, another Swedish eco-architectural gem – only it’s a small spa retreat complete with ritual bathing and sauna features and an adjacent pool. A girl can dream, can’t she?

The Green Vibrancy of Today’s World Religions: Enriching our Eco-Conscious Efforts Center Stage

Pope Benedict XVI, Head of the Catholic Church is doing it.  Mormon elders, Buddhist Monks and Muslim Clerics are doing it and Hindu priests, Jewish rabbis, and indigenous tribes all across the globe are advocating it along with various Christian denominations here in the USA.   So exactly what is “it”?

“It” is the promotion of eco-friendly spirituality and environmental stewardship and it has been lifted up to a new level of eco-consciousness both on the world’s center stage and within the grass-roots efforts of local religious congregations.   Indeed, members of today’s world religions are celebrating faith and environmental well-being not only with their worship services and newsletters, workshops, recycling programs, and fund-raisers- but with their own eco-conscious energy efficient meeting houses and grounds such as the solar-powered LDS Chapel in Mesa, Arizona and the “Florida Avenue Baptist Church” in Washington, D.C., the First African-American church in the District of Columbia to power a church with solar energy – and the Tirumala Temple in southern India, (reportedly the richest and most visited house of worship in the world), which houses the world’s largest solar cooking technology on its roof to feed its thousands of daily visitors.  Then there is the small but progressive “Libertyville United Methodist Church” in Illinois with its own ‘Go Green Team’ and new bicycle rack meant to promote biking to church events and the “Prince of Peace Lutheran Church” in Gaithersburg, Maryland with its new church vegetable garden, communal compost bin, and rain barrel installation.  Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of eco-friendly architecture is the Buddhist temple built by monks in northeast Thailand which consists of 1.5 million recycled beer bottles for its walls and roof.

Other changes meant to inspire its religious adherents to an ‘ecological spiritual journey’ of faith and nurture are the guidelines and green tips set forth by the “Episcopal Ecological Network” whose mission is to further the greening of its churches, camps, and conference centers across the USA and the ‘Earth Care Committee’ at the First Congregational Church in Sonoma, California and the ‘Environmental Task Force’ at the Edgewood United Church in East Lansing, Michigan whose support for a sustainable society includes the endorsement of local farmer’s markets, ‘eat local potlucks’, eco-responsible companies and labels and the fair trade purchases of coffee, cocoa, tea, nuts, cranberries, and chocolate bars.

To facilitate ‘caring for God’s earth’, Presbyterian churches across America have now established an ‘Earth Care Pledge’ along with worksheets, resources, and instructions for becoming an ‘Earth Care Congregation’ and most recently the Integrated Islamic School Shah Alam (ISSA) has launched a ‘Go Green Muslim Campaign’.  And to secure environmental justice, protect public health, and preserve biodiversity, the “Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life” (COEJL) has launched a ‘Four-Part Climate Change Campaign’ and a  ‘Jewish Energy Covenant Campaign Pledge’ mobilizing the Jewish community nationwide to “conserve energy, increase sustainability, and advocate for policies that increase energy efficiency and security”.

But some creative faith-based eco-initiatives can be found right within the worship service itself.  In Quebec, Canada, twenty-five Montreal-area churches – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox – have agreed to replace their Californian-grown communion wine with a new locally produced Quebec wine.  And in the United States, 3556 congregations composed of Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, and Roman Catholics have gone the way of using “eco-palms” for their Palm Sunday services – palm stems that are harvested in a more environmentally friendly way.  Working together with eco-palm cooperatives in southern Mexico and northern Guatemala, this six year-old eco-palm program ensures that rainforest cuttings are not wasted by traditional methods and that villagers’ incomes are increased fairly and the habitats of birds and other species are environmentally protected.

And of course there are the eco-encyclicals and highly visible public statements of the Vatican’s chief administrator – Pope Benedict XVI – dubbed the “Green Pope”.   To date the Vatican has installed solar panels on the roof of its main auditorium, a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria, and arranged a reforestation project in Hungary aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.  As for the hushed eco-whisperings of the indigenous tribes of South America, Africa, and Asia, and the Aborigines of Australia, and our own Native American Indians, they have now become mainstream – their spiritual relationship with the land that their ancestors once used and created – now continues in our time-honored religions of today.

Sailing Out of the Timeless Myths of Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle & Bluetooth’s Roskilde Fjord – Comes Denmark’s Legendary Eco-Designers of Today

It’s a funny thing about ancestral ghosts – Hamlet saw them, my grandmother believed in them, and Hans Christian Andersen made his entry into the world of literature writing about them back in 1822.  And that’s what makes Denmark so special – it is a “Land of Legends” with the oldest continuous monarchy in Europe, spectacular countryside and castles, 5000 miles of clean and sparkling white sandy beaches, and now over 4000 onshore wind turbines making it the world’s most windfarm-intensive country.

And that’s what makes Denmark so richly unique – it is constantly reinventing itself in sustainable ways that are consistent with its legendary maritime heritage, its premium on a close-knit social environment, and its respect for its physical environment – “the land of the Vikings” – many of whom went to France and founded Normandy only to rise later again as English nobility – including my very own ancestor, Prince Bernard of Denmark, Rollo the Viking’s chief counselor in the conquest of Normandy and the progenitor and founder of the “Harcourt” Family in England.

But today, Denmark is now embarking on a new kind of ‘viking raid’ – a globally ‘green invasion’ – and leading the way are the denizens of its very own capital – Copenhagen, nicknamed “Eco-penhagen” – one of the ten most eco-friendly cities in the world.  Over 50% of its hotels are “green”, its central bus system is battery-driven, and with over 300 kilometers of cycling paths, Copenhagen is on target to become the world’s leading ‘bicycle city’ of commuters by 2015.  And if that weren’t enough, topping this year’s #1 San Pellegrino list of best restaurants in the world – for the second time in a row – is “Noma” located in an ‘upcycled’ warehouse in Copenhagen whose philosophy to serve wild and natural food products directly from the soil and sea not only authentically complements the Danish sea and sky-themed atmosphere and terracotta pot filled salads and pebbly-served, starfish-powdered shrimps  – but as Chef Rene Redzepi puts it, (The Founder of the Nordic Cuisine Movement) – each dish is meant “to enrich the soul”.

That ability to link nature to innovation – from eco-cuisine to eco-transport to eco-planning is the hallmark of Danish culture – so much so that leveraging new eco-innovation models of management, economics, and technology is now part of a collaborative effort by the Copenhagen Business School to establish innovation networks worldwide whilst advancing Denmark’s competitive advantage in sustainable business development.  But perhaps nowhere better than in the multidisciplinary area of ‘eco-designing’ are Denmark’s modern-day ‘green vikings’ making the greatest impact worldwide – in the way of car designs, furniture designs, yacht designs, building designs, and urban planning designs.

When it comes to the art of designing eco-friendly luxury cars, perhaps no one can make a more sophisticated, more superbly eco-chic car than Danish-born Henrik Fisker in his new “Fisker Karma” car – a four-door, plug-in hybrid luxury sports car that has a 300-mile range using both electric and gasoline power.  And when it comes to designing environmentally responsible outdoor furniture of international calibre – there is none better than ‘Skagerak Denmark’ whose family’s passion for wood and Denmark’s carpentry traditions over the generations is “anchored in the values of the maritime world”.   As for designing sustainable architecture, the three Danish firms of Deve Architects, Henning Larsen Architects, Christensen & Co. Architects are amongst the world’s best eco-designing visionaries.   Indeed, Deve Architects of Copenhagen has now put a modern-day twist on Prince Hamlet’s Elsinore Castle by designing an urban eco-castle in the formerly industrialized city center of Augustenborg, Denmark whilst Christensen & Co Architects has built a ‘Green Lighthouse’ structure at the University of Copenhagen which is the first carbon neutral building in Denmark.   And Henning Larsen Architects of Copenhagen has designed and completed a unique housing complex of 140 apartments built into the shape of a wave nine stories high with five featured wave crests creating a beautiful connection between Vejle Fjord’s landscape and the town itself.  But perhaps the best example of this Danish eco-philosophy of linking nature to designing can be seen in the “Global Eco-Village Movement”, co-founded by Danish-born Hildur Jackson – the new worldview of linking nature to ‘human settlement designs’  – the creation of planned residential communities based on the holistic concept that human activities must be socially, economically, and ecologically sustainable.

Now looking backwards over the last thousand years of Danish eco-designing, my personal favorite is one that hits closer to home and my immediate family – that of the legendary eco-graphic design left by King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark (b. 935, d.985) – found in the form of a memorial rune stone in the town of Jelling – in memory of his parents, King Gorm the Old and Thyra Danebold.   One stone in particular has a serpent wrapped around a lion and on the other side, a picture of Jesus Christ wrapped in the tree branches of the Old Norse ‘World Tree’ – symbolic of King Bluetooth’s conquest of Denmark and Norway and his conversion of the Danes to Christianity.  Ultimately, his son, King Sweyn Forkbeard, would lead a full-scale Viking assault on England and be crowned King of England on Christmas Day in 1013.  Two of King Bluetooth’s granddaughters would hence marry into Anglo-Saxon nobility.  One of their female descendants in turn would sail to America centuries later to found New England and become the ‘First Poet of America’.  And in turn one of her descendants would become my orphaned grandmother – renamed “Dolly” as a child as she was wont to play with dolls around local cemetery gravestones.  And therein lies the key to my grandmother’s ancestral ghosts and the riddle that she was given – that “she was as old as Olde England itself” – the amazing discovery that her 33rd great-grandfather was none other than Danish King Harald Bluetooth himself.  Perhaps this is another reason why Denmark is so special – its legends never leave us!

An Ode to Sweden: From its Viking Runes & Ragnarok Roots to Today’s Recycling-Conscious Royals & Retailers

It’s been 1025 years since my outlaw ancestor, Prince Styrbjorn the Strong of Sweden, the Viking ruler of Jomsborg on the Isle of Wolin in Poland and brother-in-law and ally of King Svein Forkbeard of Denmark (and briefly England) – was killed by his uncle, King Eric the Victorious, (my one other notable Swedish ancestor) at the Battle of Fyrisval on Nov. 1, 985 near Uppsala, Sweden.  A firm believer in “Ragnarok” – the Norse prophesy that the ‘final great battle’, the ‘end of the world’, and the ‘destruction of the gods’ would ultimately result in a cataclysmic series of natural disasters submerging all of the earth’s known landmarks into the sea — Prince Styrbjorn illustrates not only the Viking’s world view of great storytelling symbolism but the Viking’s remarkable insight into their own eco-surroundings i.e. the brilliant use of polarizing sunstone crystals to navigate the high seas on cloud-covered days long before compasses reached Europe, the release of ravens (one of the 10 most intelligent animals in the world) after setting sail and losing sight of land, and the harnessing of seaweed, seafloor mud samples, and the North Star to estimate their location.  Perhaps more telling is the fact that the heyday of the Viking period – and “Ragnarok” itself – coincided with what scientists now call the “Medieval Warming Period” – the years between 800 and 1300 A.D.

Ironically, one thousand years later, the earth is now undergoing another global warming trend.  Indeed, the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) of the Arctic Council has recently revised its forecasts and has now projected that the melting of arctic glaciers, ice caps, and Greenland’s massive ice sheet will raise sea levels by 35 to 63 inches by the year 2100.  Together with the ever-increasing prices in oil production, Sweden’s policy-makers have now committed themselves to ending the use of fossil fuels by 2020.  Already 28% of Sweden’s energy is renewable and eco-friendly.  But this is not the only reason why Sweden today is considered by many to be the “greenest country in the world” nor is their stunning aspirational drive toward an eco-efficient economy some recent reactionary proclamation by Swedish government officials. Rather there is something deep within the Swedish psyche, the Swedish culture itself, and in their love of nature that has persisted over the past millennium from their earliest Viking days – an unspoken notion that Swedes are somehow the sustainable guardians of the earth’s resources, not only the green care-takers of their planet but the innovative house-keepers of their planet.

One can particularly see it in their world renowned recycling projects – from recycling everyday newspapers to plastic packaging – and in their 3500 environmental technology companies — companies like three year old ‘Minesto’ in Gothenburg and its newly designed underwater kites that capture the energy in falling and rising tides and ocean currents and in 97 year old ‘Electrolux AB’ of Stockholm Sweden, the world’s second largest home appliance manufacturer and inventor of five novelty green vacuum cleaners made of recycled plastics found in the world’s seas and oceans.

One can also see Sweden’s eco-innovativeness in both its ancient textile traditions and up and coming eco-fashionistas – companies like ‘Ekelund Weavers’ – Master Weavers since 1692 and purveyors to the Swedish Royals for over a hundred years, noted for its organically grown fibers, naturally colored cotton, and eco-manufacturing processes that comply with the requirements of the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation — and in young, hip companies like ‘Swedish Hasbeens’ of Stockholm,  eco-designers of handmade shoes made of natural grain leather and rubber and “Swedish alder wood and lime-tree that has been harvested and grown according to the regulations of the ‘Preservation of the Forests’.”

Closer to home here in America, Swedish entrepreneurs are now brandishing their eco-uniqueness with elegantly made “New Nordic Cuisine” and recycled “Gilded Lace” jewelry – in restaurateurs like ‘Smorgas Chef Restaurant’ in New York City whose devotion to serving fresh and flavorful food and managing their own food resources has now culminated in a newly acquired 150 acre eco-farm in the Catskills  — and in Monika Knutsson’s collection of fine art jewelry  – whose inspiration comes from the flea markets of Paris, Berlin, and New York and the early 20th century pieces she finds and dips into sterling silver or 24k gold.

And of course, there is the Swedish-American Chamber of Commerce here in New York – whose active support and recognition of green businesses both here and in Sweden and its sponsorship of this year’s 4th Annual Green Summit and the Pre-Conference  Gala Dinner on Nov. 1st – will allow me to hear for the first time, the eco-introduction from none other than H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden – a graceful proponent of recycling efforts and clean water and energy initiatives – the heiress-apparent to the Swedish throne – and proudly I might add – a royal eco-reminder of my long lost Swedish heritage – in the  way of my 35th cousin – and 1026 years to the day since my 36th great-grandfather, Prince Styrbjorn Starke of Sweden met his fate at The Battle of  Fyrisval. Little did he realize the final ending of the Ragnarok prophesy  – that the earth would resurface again – be renewed and fertile and that Sweden would  take its rightful place as the world’s eco-sentinel.