Thursday, April 30, 2015

Rainy Day in Paris

The rain was expected, and we would have gladly slept in, except that we were hungry.  I pulled on clothes and went for bread. It is such a treat to have fresh baguettes every morning, I don't mind going out even in the rain.  

We planned to go to the Manufacture des Gobelins for their tour at 1 pm. There were a lot of reviews on line with stories of changed times and inaccurate web information, so we decided to arrive early, just to be sure. When we arrived we found that actually the tour had been cancelled today. What a surprise!  We decided to make the best of it with a visit to the gallery. 

The Manufacure des Gobelins is a government outfit. The workers are government employees, "fonctionnaires" as they are called in France.  It was founded in the 16th century by Louis XIV with his minister Colbert, to develop high class, luxury furnishings and to train artisans who could produce them. It has been functioning ever since.  

Their principal customer is the government, so if an ambassador, or the Élysée palace needs curtains, rugs or chairs, they swing into action and guided tours drop by the wayside.

All this was explained by a guard who we engaged in conversation. We wondered why all the workbenches were set up as part of he exhibits.  She explained that in the afternoons, some of the workers come across and do demonstrations in the exhibit halls.  But we'd have to wait until 2:30 to see them. That was all the encouragement we needed. It was lunchtime and that would give us just time for a nice meal.

We found a small place called La Manufacture.  We ate steak and clafoutis while watching pedestrians armed with umbrellas splash through puddles.  The rain had let up by the time we finished and headed back to the museum. 

Here we found a group of visitors getting ready to enter, and sure enough the workers were at their benches. I was particularly interested by the two women restoring a tapestry. We had a wonderful conversation about their work. One woman told me she was right handed except for her sewing which she did left handed. Both women had been working together in a profession they loved for almost 50 years.  I think spending time talking with them was better than a guided visit.

It was still raining when we left the museum. We picked up some groceries because tomorrow is a holiday and we weren't sure what would be open. The Bakery will be closed.  

Tonight we're going to take in a movie. 

Promenade in Paris

Our first day in Paris was sunny with billowing clouds threatening rain but delivering nothing until we were dining with Jonathan, Laura  and their three sons on Magret de Canard, the queen of all steaks. I cannot pass it up on any menu, and here I am en famille with a mountain of juicy duck in front of me. But I'm getting ahead of myself 

We walked all day, mostly on the left bank. We just wandered.  We crossed the Seine, and poked around at the bouquinistes, but we only looked.

We got within range of the pickpockets at Notre Dame, but then turned south in the direction of our favorite fountain at the Lux. We stopped at an Asian sushi take out and turned toward the Cluny. The marroniers were en fleur. And the lilacs scented the air. 
When we got to the Lux we headed to our fountain. This is our Paris meeting spot in case we ever get separated. It doesn't happen often, but it is a great place for a rendezvous.  The park was in spring mode. Not only are the chestnuts in bloom, but the tulips are abundant. 

It seemed to be grandparents' day. At the Luxembourg. The bassin area was thick with children and their parents or grandparents renting sailboats to sent out on the water. Peter finally decided to channel his inner grandparent and picked a New Zealand model which joined the toy regatta and the duck traffic

Afterwards we watched a jazz combo play on the sidewalk and stopped for coffee on the Boulevard St. Germain on our way back to our apartment. 

We had time to put our feet up for a few minutes before we took the Metro down to the 15ieme to join Jon and Laura for dinner.

At the end of the day I checked the pedometer on my iPhone:  16,500 steps, 6 miles, 16 floors climbed. Somehow Peter did fewer steps (his legs are longer) but he walked 7 miles. ??

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Bucolic , photogenic approach to Paris

Our drive from Dijon to Paris took us off the beaten path into a countryside remote from city life.  We asked our GPS to find the Abbaye de Fontenay, and the cheerful disembodied voice easily found the shortest route. We were a bit disconcerted by her choice however.  We drove a narrow road, barely wide enough for two vehicles, which wound through verdant valleys with green pastures dotted with brilliant white cows chewing their cuds and tending their wobbly, young calves.
If we were lost, it was magnificent. Vivid yellow fields spread across the hillside, contrasting with the billowing clouds that threatened rain most of the day. We suspect the crop is mustard, but there was so much of it, we could hardly believe it.  

An Internet search when we got to Paris, however seemed to confirm the mustard hypothesis.  Unless there is a vast contemporary art installation funded by the government to support the arts!

The Abbaye de Fontenay is magnificent in other ways. It is one of the oldest Cistercian Abbeys, since it was founded in 1118 by St Bernard. It had been a large community which reminded us of Fontevraud. The church was enormous as was the dormitory. All the monks slept in the same room on straw mattresses on the floor.

The cloister was large and calm. This community was much larger than the one we visited in Silvacane although the same simplicity of design was everywhere. No decorations were representational. Geometry, repetition and simplicity formed the aesthetic choices.

The water resources were abundant and used for washing but also as a power source. There was an enormous building called The Forge which housed a water driven anvil for making tools from the iron found in the surrounding hills. 

We wandered through the buildings and gardens and lost ourselves in the medieval calm of the place. By the time we finished wandering we decided we had better cancel our intended stop in Troyes and save it for another trip.  Instead we headed toward the A6 and followed our GPS confidently to the Boulevard  Morland where we had reserved an AirBNB. After dropping off our luggage we returned the car to the Gare de Lyon and strolled home, stopping for crepes on the way. 

We fell asleep in our borrowed Paris apartment without planning for anything more than a trip to the boulangerie in the morning and dinner tomorrow evening with Jonathan and Laura Reid.

Monday, April 27, 2015

La Chouette

Dijon is a medium sized city with a great idea. The center is full of interesting architecture, pedestrian walkways, museums, shops, restaurants and cafes. How best can you encourage visitors to discover what is there?  The treasure is in the collection, not in one stunning spot. 

The solution is a very well marked walking tour called La Chouette.  Embedded in the sidewalk are brass triangles with a little owl (la Chouette) pointing the way. With a city map in hand we spent a drizzly day following the little owls.

We learned that the composer Rameau was born in Dijon as well as the sculptor of one of the statues on the Arc de Triomphe, Francois Rude.

 Dijon is full of medieval buildings. I was especially fascinated by the colored patterns on the roof tiles. They reminded me of quilt patterns in tile. 

The Renaissance also left its mark.

Dijon was important as the capital of Burgundy up until the 15th century when the French kings, especially Louis XI, won the Hundred Years War and dominated the Burgundians thereafter. 

The Musee de Beaux Arts was a great place to get out of the rain. Like the Smithsonian museums in Washington it is free.  Even the lockers returned the euro we had deposited when we returned the key. The most impressive room was the tombs of two of the Dukes of Burgundy.

Of course as we read the fine print, it turned out that these tombs had been damaged by the Revolutionaries of the 18th century. Those revolutionaries were also the ones who smashed the statues at the Cathedral so thoroughly. But the town knew that tourists come for glitter, and these tombs are well gilded. There are also plenty of weapons and armor as well as religious art.

The Burgundians were essentially the losers in the battle to control France. They were allied with the English and made a good effort.  Now they are the capital of spicy mustard and great wine.
They are unquestionably French, but it doesn't hurt to have a Duke or two to pull out to impress the visitors. 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Room service

Most of our travel in France in the last 25 years has been with students. Room service was never an option. We've stayed in many different youth hostels, small hotels and even retreat centers. None of them had room service. So when we arrived at our hotel in Dijon, late in the evening, and a bit hungry,  our first instinct was to find a bar closeby, where we could order something simple. But when we asked at the desk, they suggested room service. What an idea!  Perhaps we could give it a try. 

We ordered omlettes and a Heineken, and twenty minutes later we heard an energetic knock on the door. A tall young man carrying a tray with two silver covers, strode in and set it on the table. You can't go far wrong in France with omlettes.  There were even fries and bread to fill us up before we settled under the white duvet. 

We are discovering some new aspects of travel. We might get used to this. 

Chagall and Matisse

The site which drew us to the Côté d'Azur was the Chapelle du Rosaire decorated by Matisse.  But since we were driving over an hour to reach the chapel in Vence we decided to start with the Musée  Marc Chagall in Nice. Since Danielle and Pierre were expecting company in the evening, we decided that the only way to fit the trip into the day was to start early. We left the apartment by 8:30, and it was shortly after 9 when we got on the A8 in the direction of Nice under a fine, gray rain. 

When we arrived in Nice we combined the power of the GPS with the signs indicating the museum, and found our way easily. Pierre dropped us off and discovered the well hidden parking lot behind the museum garden

We were stunned by the rich collection displayed on the white walls. The collection of large paintings based on Old Testament stories spoke powerfully. The colors were deep; the images were provocative, and we returned frequently to our favorites. 

One room housed five rose colored paintings based on texts from the Song of Solomon.  

There were also many tapestries woven at the Gobelin Manufacture designed by Yvette Cauquille-Prince under Chagall's direction, which translated smaller paintings into large tapestries. 
 Installed in the auditorium three stained glass panels filtered the light, and a large mosaic covered one exterior wall. 
A documentary about Chagall's life  included many short interviews, showing the personality from which such creativity sprang. Needless to say we spent more time than expected and only the rumbling of our stomachs impelled us to head to Vence.

We drove right to the center of the town, and parked in an underground garage. Since it was nearly two we chose a brasserie which advertised non stop service. The Salade du chèvre chard was perfect, but I only thought of photographing it when the plate was cleared. 

After we had eaten we were thinking more clearly and realized that the chapel was not next to the restaurant. We did search out the cathedral with a Chagall mosaic from 1971 and walked through the old part of town. 

But to see the chapel we decided to drive. 

We were not disappointed in Matisse.  He had designed this small chapel for the religious community of the Rosaire. He had a personal connection with the nuns who had cared for him when he was seriously ill.  This chapel was his way of thanking them

I have few photos because they did not allow pictures in the chapel. The walls are all white with three sets of windows in beautiful shades of green, blue and yellow. It was cloudy when we were there, but the guide told us that as the sun shines through the glass only the blue and green colors show on the floor. The yellow disappears in the sunlight. 

Matisse also designed the altar and all the utensils for mass. Even the vestments were his design. 

Our guide was a tiny Asian nun who spoke with great respect and sincerity. We left the site with a sense of peace and joy. We felt that we were in a place of holiness rather than at a tourist spot. 

The drive back to Aix was smooth but we knew the timetable for dinner was going to be tight.  When we got there Danielle and Pierre set the lamb shoulder to turn on the rotisserie in the oven just high enough to clear the potatoes roasting on the bottom shelf. I set the table and chopped vegetables.  

Daniele's menu went together beautifully. There were nine of us at the table,  and the evening was a great success.  Pierre and Peter finished in the kitchen and Daniele and I collapsed in bed. 

Everyone slept late the next morning