Sunday, January 11, 2009

Au clair de la lune....

To spend your last night at the end of a magical year in the City of Light with the moon full (and the sky clear!), is a storybook ending...
We are almost (you are never really 100% ready!) to come home, and we are looking forward to shoveling snow, persuading our cats that we really are worthy to live with them, sorting out all those bags (what did we bring home???... and do we really need soap from Provence, sel de normandy, those clothespins I bought at 1 Euro shop on some back street in Venice???), and getting to see everyone.

After the morning of taking care of all kinds of loose ends --emails, instructions about the telephone and internet disconnections, confirming our flights, and still packing (will it ever end???), we did what is best when you are in Paris (well, and eat too... so we had crepes...).

It has been cold --as evidenced by the snow you see-- interesting to know that this snow fell last Monday and it has been sunny all week. The snow has not evaporated --because the sun is so low in the sky... but, spring is already showing up in the flower markets!

We are leaving in the morning... I thank all of you who have read my musings (and my political commentary --I want credit for not mentioning Gaza or Bush Le Pire's lame attempts to salvage his legacy...). This just ends a chapter... and I have always wanted to do this...


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Il fait froid!

Il fait froid a Paris!
It is nearly as cold as Boston! The weather has been in the upper 20's (Fahrenheit) during the day --and we got some snow on Monday! Not much, but a couple of inches... and then it got cold. Paris windy in the winter --the north of France is rather flat and those cold winds come across the channel and some down from Scandinavia... like those Arctic blasts from Canada (but really less cold!).
Gives justification to those who wear all those fur coats...

We spent the weekend after New Year with our friends Jacqueline and Philippe in Lyon --we arrived as Pere et Mere Noel bearing many things that are not returning home with us (we should have brought more!). Those "few" things we brought must have reproduced on their own... I think that the problem is that we are trying to pack Paris in our bags... along with the French country side... and it won't fit. There's the olive oil from Nyons, a few bottles of wine from the Rhone, fleur de sel from Normandy, the poele from Dehellerin, the herbal soap from Provence... and the fabulous Nespresso machine (I already had a 220 plug installed in our kitchen!).

But, I have solved a mystery! I now know why all the Asian tourists take photos of every painting in a museum! They cannot carry all the books! And I am spending 45E for 7 kilos of the Louvre, Emil Nolde exposition, Musee d'Orsay, the Bayeux Tapestry, and then all the churches!

Easy to transport to you:
The Thinker in the garden at the Rodin Museum.
Shadow puppets from the Chat Noir theater at the Musee d'Orsay.
Winged Victory at the Louvre.

And this is going to our house!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bonnes Fetes!

December in Paris is the time of holidays and short days --and as the sun never gets very high in the sky, there is dramatic lighting and long
shadows... even at noon!

We spent our Noel with our family --Andrew and Jenn and Timothy and our French family, Jacqueline and Philippe from Lyon. And it was joyeux!
And we did not have any of the pre-Christmas snow, ice, rain that battered the East Coast the week before! (I'll pass on these white Christmas dreams...)
Christmas morning, we went to Notre Dame for the Gregorian Mass which was said by the Archbishop and Cardinal Vingt-Trois (it is really his name). We got there early enough to hear the end of the 8:30 am mass and the choir perform at 9:30, and actually had good seats for the 10am high mass. It was in Latin and French and was the same mass I heard as a child --I was amazed that I recalled the songs and even some of the Latin. We got to go out through the main doors of Notre Dame which are always closed, so even that was a treat (as was the line for the international mass at 11:30, which was heading for Saint Chapelle if you know Paris).

As we had planned to have a Christmas dinner chez nous, we stopped for a cafe and then walked over to the Marias, which is the traditionally Jewish area for a falafel lunch! (As my sadly departed friend Mel always said when arriving for Christmas Eve, we are celebrating the birth of a nice Jewish boy!) It was lively in the Marias with tourists, families enjoying the nice weather and enterprising young people (note the menorah on top of the van).

Paris is busy Christmas week --there were lots of tourists. It was a bit surprising to me as we are always at family gatherings at Christmas (although, gives one food for thought...) There are several Christmas markets (although the place to go is Strasbourg and the other towns in Alsace for the spectacular German style markets).

Christmas creches are not in every church like they are in Italy. We were lucky as Saint Sulpice (yes, the Da Vinci Code church!) had a creche from Caltagirone, Sicily, which is well known for their decorative ceramics.

The most wonderful part of Christmas is that we were all together!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quatre semaines.....

We arrived last year just days after Christmas and were greeted by the holiday lights making the rather short days festive. And now, as we head towards Christmas, we are greeted by these lights once again... and we will have come full circle. Our amazing year living in the City of Light will end as we board the plane on January 12, 2009 to come home --just four weeks from today. And we are looking forward to coming home (we were not so sure until the election was over and we elected Obama!), although there is much that we will miss. But, we have been extraordinarily fortunate to have had this experience. And we still marvel that we are here as we walk by the Louvre or Notre Dame or cross the Seine while the Tour d'Eiffel is sparkling...

Since my last posting, we have had visitors and returned to Normandy. It has struck me as fascinating that young men in their 20's want to see the D-Day beaches and landing site --our sons included! (Okay, Timothy did, and Andrew is arriving Thursday --I hope he is content to stay in Paris!) I found those places interesting-- and sobering, but honestly it was not first on my list (but, I did not play with GI Joes when I was a kid --and all of these boys did! Those hours of looking for Storm Shadow, Snake Eyes, Shipwreck... we -the moms- did it!) But, as I have said before, being here for a year gives you the opportunity to see things more that once.

We added a trip to Chartres this time --we had not been there since 1981-- and I had forgotten the magnificent vitrines, stained glass windows. (And, during WW II (and WW I) since we were on the subject, the windows were removed by the towns people and hidden; the Germans used the Cathedral for a club.) It escaped the wrath of the Revolution as forward thinking citizens prevented it from being blown up with the argument that the mound of rubble would fill the streets of the town and take years to remove. Started in 1020, the Romanesque cathedral was mostly destroyed by fire in 1194. The existing Gothic cathedral was completed in 1250 and has not been substantially changed. The collection of 13th century medieval stained glass is one of the most complete in the world --and glorious. (I was so enraptured looking up, that I missed the labyrinth in the floor of the nave, which is a rare 13th century labyrinth!)

But we did get a chance to re-visit Bayeux and we stayed in the town this time at another chambres d'hote with our friends and their soon to be married son. As Bob and Gavin toured the beaches, we spent time with Norah at the marche, which I knew since we had been there in October, and in the cathedral of Bayeux, which is another example of a Romanesque cathedral becoming into a Gothic one (this one was destroyed by fighting --and burned on purpose). The Romanesque cathedral, dedicated to Notre Dame, was consecrated on July 14, 1077, by Odo, the brother of William the Conqueror, in the presence of William and Mathilde. You may recall that the Bayeux Tapestry was probably commissioned for hanging in the cathedral.

And as our visitors have British, well, Scottish, roots, we did visit Pegasus bridge where the British landed men in gliders to take the position just before D-Day... and they did it!
We are back in Paris and it's Christmas!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Entre deux vues....

(Yes, we are still here! I have been late at posting this as we have had visitors, been traveling, and thinking about our rentree to the US (like looking for a job--).
A little short and late --but beautiful pictures!

The land of the Alpes-Maritimes is where the Alps descend to the Mediterranean and the culture along the coast has a definite Italian flavor (well, it was part of Italy until the citizens of Nice voted to join France rather than Italy during the Risorgimento (in the late 19th century and to some never finished!), and broke Garibaldi's heart --he was born in Nice... but, this is the French version...the Italian version blames Cavour for ceding the area of Nizzo in exchange for military support.

This is a corner of France and through into Italy that we have never visited--and why did we wait so long? It is the land of dramatic vistas, sparkling sun on the Mediterranean, small towns perched on steep cliffs, the ambiance of Provence and the food inspired by its Italian roots --heaven, in the off season!

We arrived in Antibes --and il pleut des cordes-- raining cats and dogs en francaise --raining ropes/cords.... Antibes is a quaint and charming old port city founded by the Greeks and occupied by the Romans. It is also home to some of the biggest yachts that I have ever seen. (While walking among similar bateaux in Monaco, Philippe asked if we smelled it... smelled the money!) There is plenty of it along the Cote d'Azur!

Many artists have come to the Cote d'Azur and there are many museums dedicated to them... Antibes has a Picasso museum, Biot--Fernand Leger, Nice-Matisse, Menton --Jean Cocteau (he designed the museum from a 17th century fortified building). Our favorite was the Fernand Leger...

Picasso is not unlike the US auto makers --he produces a great quantity and some of it is great, but lots is not... and he leaves owing vast amounts and leaves what he has not sold in lieu of taxes --perhaps there are artistic possibilities in those acres of unsold pick-up trucks and SUV's... there's a bailout plan!

After the rain, the sun dazzled us for the weekend and we visited some of our favorite --and most amazing style-- French hilltop towns that cling to the sides of the hills with steep and narrow streets and a view around every corner... the town of Gourdon....

It is more difficult to see in the vista photo, but that is the Mediterranean in the distance (we were told that on cold clear winter days you can see Corsica).

Our excursion took us to Nice, Monaco, Menton, Cannes, St.Paul en Vence, St. Tropez, and my favorite town, Ezes...

Visiting the Cote d'Azur in the fall is a good choice. We enjoyed mostly pleasant weather and we could not imagine how much traffic there could be during July and August on those narrow, winding roads... at least there was a great view while you sat in traffic!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Acqua Alta

Our trip to Venice and the surrounding area was not only a great way to celebrate my birthday, but David had a meeting to attend concerning the project to protect Venice from flooding. And... we got a taste of acqua alta as there were weather conditions and tides cooperating to flood San Marco. We witnessed a minor flooding event as the water did not extend much further beyond Piazza San Marco and along the canal. Walking around, I could not help but notice that the tourists enjoyed the walking on the raised sidewalks, seeing the water spilling over the quays... personnally, I found it a bit annoying after the first high tide (of course, having managed buildings all these years, I kept thinking of the clean up, the damage, the liability...).

But even on gray days, Venice sparkles!

And... I did get a Venetian birthday gift in addition to the wonderful trip (thank you, D!).

There are serious glass artists remaining in Venice and they now have a DOC-type (like the French AOC --remember the terrior??) certification for pieces made in Murano --and not shipped to Murano from China and thus labelled Murano! This piece is by Afro Celotto... there is a great YouTube video of him at work in his studio... so next year...

December 1, 2008--the highest floods is over 20 years inundated Venice on Monday... the water was over a meter higher than shown in my pictures... now even the mayor of Venice wants the project built (he had opposed it!).