A quick update

Posted in Biographical, Paris at 22:08

Apologies for the months without new posts! As you may have guessed, life has been full of activity.

My position in Paris has continued to go well, and a transfer within my consulting company is now being finalized. I’ll be moving from our Sophia Antipolis business unit on the Riviera to one of our Paris BUs. Transfers are handled nicely in our company: employment contracts remain the same, meaning you keep your seniority and everything that goes along with that. You merely change location and, naturally, management.

As a result, I’m going to put up for sale my apartment in Nice. (If by chance anyone’s interested, do feel free to contact me: fraise at fraise dot net.) My upcoming weekends are going to be a flurry of packing, real estate agent visits, and bringing up as many full suitcases by TGV as my arms can handle.

The cats and I were back in Nice for a week and a half at the start of September. They were delighted to doze and play on the patio again, but to my surprise and relief, they were even happier to be back in the Paris apartment and check out their favorite balcony views from the feline-pleasing seventh storey (eighth by US standards). C’est officiel : ce sont des chats parisiens.

As for me – I’m really happy. Paris has proven to be more fulfilling than I had imagined it would. Although I am a bit sad to leave behind my lovely apartment in Nice, I’m looking forward to continuing to build my new life à la capitale. Once the move is done and my Nice apartment is sold, I’ll finally have weekends free to better enjoy all that Paris has to offer.

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Abbatiale Saint-Ouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 23:14

Church of Saint Ouen

Of the multitude of Gothic churches I’ve visited in France, none has impressed me as profoundly as l’Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, known as the Church of Saint Ouen in English. If you’re wondering how to pronounce it, it’s roughly like our Owen and Ewen, which is for good reason, as they’re from the same root. Saint Audoin (Ouen) lived in the seventh century, and eventually became bishop in Rouen. After his death and burial at the original church, built in 553, the building took on his name. Three centuries later, this abbey was sacked by Vikings, which happened relatively often in Normandy. Indeed, in 911, one invader traded peace for a guarantee of his protection of Normandy… against other Viking warriors. He was named King Rollo. One thousand years after Rollo’s victory, Denmark gifted a replica of Harald Bluetooth’s runestone to the city of Rouen, where it still stands in front of the modern abbey.

Church of Saint Ouen, west rose window

Another church began construction in 1062, and was consecrated in 1126. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1248. Today’s abbatiale construction began in 1318, and the last side, the west, was finished in the 19th century. The photo above is of a smaller rose window on this western side – you can see definite Celtic influence.

In addition to the flamboyant exterior – which is indeed mainly Gothic Flamboyant – the church’s stained glass windows are among its most unique sights.

Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass
Church of Saint Ouen, stained glass

If you’d like to see more pictures of the church, there are over a dozen in my photoset of Rouen. Our next entry on the Norman city will be about more down-to-earth buildings, namely the wonderful maisons à colombages, or woodframe homes.

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La Cathédrale de Rouen

Posted in La France, Photography, Travel at 22:41

Rouen Cathedral towers

France still holds mysteries, even after nearly two decades living here. Last week I picked Rouen for a day trip, as the SNCF was offering a Saturday special to the Norman city from Paris. While I’ve been to Brittany and Paris, I had never before visited Normandy between them. My twelve hours spent in Rouen were so rich, I’ll be doing a series of posts on the city and its history.

This first entry is dedicated to an edifice that embodies Rouennais history from the twelfth century to our own: la Cathédrale de Rouen. The photo above shows the Tour Saint-Romain on the left, one of the first examples of Gothic architecture in history, and the first part of the cathedral to be built. On the right is the more modern Tour de Beurre, built in the 16th century, a late example of Gothic Flamboyant architecture.

Gothic architecture originated in France, and was in fact first named “French work”, Opus Francigenum. The term we use today was pejorative then: Goths were destructive vandals, and the new-fangled French handiwork was seen as a modern travesty, with Greek- and Roman-inspired Classical architecture held as the ideal against which it was judged. Even Molière, who lived in the seventeenth century, well after Gothic architecture had been established, had words to say about it:

« Tout s’y voyant tiré d’un vaste fonds d’esprit,
Assaisonné du sel de nos grâces antiques,
Et non du fade goût des ornements gothiques,
Ces monstres odieux des siècles ignorants,
Que de la barbarie ont produit les torrents… »

Translation (which can never equal the original):
All had been drawn from a rich reservoir of great thought,
Seasoned with the spice of Ancient graces,
Certainly not the blandness of Gothic ornament,
Such odious monsters borne of ignorant times,
Barbarism alone could produced by such torrents…

As for we contemporary visitors, if we exclaim “oh my God!” or “goodness gracious!” when approaching the legions of gargoyles, sculpted saints, ornate spires, and stained glass windows, all set on massive stonework, we unknowingly keep alive one of the style’s key purposes – which was to inspire awe for God and the Church.

Darkness, Rouen Cathedral

Skipping ahead another few centuries, seventy years ago this May, Rouen Cathedral lost many of her colorful windows, all of her chapels on the south side, and bells in the Saint-Romain tower, which went up in flames. The year was 1944, and Rouen was being bombarded during la Semaine Rouge, “Red Week”, by British and American Allied forces. In Rouen alone, 400 people were killed, many of them drowned after having taken refuge in cathedral cellars, unable to escape them after the bombardment.

Allied forces bombed nearly 1600 cities and towns in occupied France. In Rouen, the purpose was to destroy bridges and railways, although the cathedral is near neither and was surrounded by homes, which were razed. Understandably, the subject is complex and does not lend itself to facile conclusions. Unfortunately, there is almost nothing available to read on either Rouen or the more widespread bombardments in English. Indeed, as you can see in the Wikipedia article linked for la Semaine Rouge, there is not a single translation into any other language. For a nuanced analysis of it, I highly recommend this 2012 PDF from the Canadian Centre for Military and Strategic Analysis: ROUEN: La Semaine Rouge, by Stephen Bourque.

While many are familiar with the Normandy Invasion, few American, Canadian or British citizens know about the massive air campaign waged against their occupied ally. This offensive lasted four long years and targeted most of France’s population centers and infrastructure. By the time the war was over, the Allied air forces killed as many French as the Germans killed British civilians during the “blitz” and vengeance weapon assaults […] The greater French narrative is extremely complex and begins with Germany’s invasion in 1940 and the resulting occupation.

Rouen Cathedral continues to be restored today, its façade getting more work done, as well repairs to still-damaged structural elements. Another church targeted during la Semaine Rouge was also recently restored: l’église Saint-Maclou. Here you see its freshly-cleaned Gothic Flamboyant entrance framed by wood homes typical of Normandy.

Eglise de Saint Maclou

In the next post of this series on Rouen, we’ll look at the Saint-Ouen Abbey, festooned with gargoyles, light filtering through a veritable tapestry of stained glass windows, and containing one of the largest Gothic organs in France.

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Weather War! Paris vs. Eugene

Posted in Paris at 12:04

Anna 1994 - Eugene

Taken in Eugene on a sunny August day by a friend’s mother in 1994, the photo above shows your author twenty years younger, and just a couple months before she began writing her first online journal.

While the blue sky looks almost Mediterranean, Eugene (Oregon) weather is actually more similar to la météo parisienne. The first few months in Paris, I was surprised at how well I adapted to Paris’ grey skies and drizzles, sleets, downpours, and scattered showers. Until I realized that the familiarity was because it reminded me of my first home.

Without further ado, Eugenian weather vs. Parisian weather!

Year-round precipitation: 1171mm vs.637mm – Eugene wins by 534mm!
Average precipitation days in a year: 143 vs. 111 – Eugene wins with a full month more of rain!
Average high in July: 27.9C vs. 25.2C – Another clear win for Eugene!
Average low in December: 1.2C vs. 3.4C – Yes, Eugene is more wintry than Paris.

As you can see, while Parisians are all too happy to be vocal about their rain and grey, in fact, Eugene soundly trounces their complaints. Eugene also manages to be warmer in summer and colder in winter! And there is no métro to escape it.

In summary, the world is a land of contrasts.
(Note that I’m among people in Paris who complain about its weather – this is not a serious post!)

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Paris from the sky

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 21:40

View of Paris looking east from La Défense

Life has been quite the adventure lately! I’m working on one of those “fast-paced” projects you often hear about, and have had a promotion to management. It’s been wonderfully exciting, but has left me with less time to write.

Today I got to take an elevator up to the 21st floor of GDF Suez’s T1 tower at La Défense, and couldn’t resist taking a photo of the view. For this Oregonian who had never dreamt of seeing Paris from on high, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Hopefully there will be plural opportunities and this one will become “first” as opposed to “once”, but if experience has taught me one thing, it’s that you never know.

A few weeks ago I took the direct train from La Défense to Versailles; only 4 euros for a round trip, and the train takes 15 minutes to get there. I took just over a dozen photos on the beautiful Sunday I visited. Like for the Louvre, there is an Amis de Versailles program/subscription that lets you visit the castle, gardens, and Trianons any time you want, for a full year. I’ll definitely be making the most of that one soon!

Flowers in front of Versailles

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Avenue d’Iéna

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 20:09

As the weather finally cleared up a bit today, I was able to go on a much-desired walk. I took the métro 1 to Charles de Gaulle – Etoile and crossed the street to Avenue d’Iéna, which I then strolled down to the quais of the Seine. Not before stopping at the wonderful Musée Guimet, however!

koi nobori
On the top floor, they had a colorful temporary exhibition of koi nobori, carp streamers for Children’s Day, celebrated on 5 May in Japan.

The museum is filled with beautiful pieces from Cambodia, Thailand, Afghanistan, Korea (before it was split), China, Tibet, Nepal, and Japan, but my breath was taken away by a tenth-century Indian sculpture of a woman with a tree, called salabhanjika.

Salabhanjika

Goddess figures and trees were a key part of my Masters thesis on the feminine in cosmogonies. Across the world, an original goddess and tree of life are paired, from ancient Indus to Sumerian to Norse to Native American world creation myths. Both symbolize creation and creativity/fecundity, wisdom; that which is and that which can become.

After Guimet, I finished my walk to see Eiffel again, this time from a different perspective than I’ve had before. It’s a relatively famous spot for taking photos: the incredible Art Déco Palais Chaillot.

Eiffel from Chaillot

I also returned to the Louvre yesterday, this time to take in Flemish paintings. As always, more photos can be found in my 500px (favorites) and Flickr (everything) photostreams. I’ve been enjoying 500px, which has an active community that gives immediate feedback. Flickr has gotten much quieter since Yahoo removed statistics.

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Happy cats in Paris

Posted in Cats, La France, Travel at 19:07

Susu and Kanoko sharing a chair on the balcony

At home on my lunch break, I took what is quite possibly my favorite photo of the cats to date. They had never shared the chair on our Courbevoie balcony before, but today they did, and my camera caught Kanoko in another of his quintessentially feline “I am happy” expressions.

I’ve now taken the TGV often enough to earn Grand Voyageur status. My new card came in the mail today; Susu seemed quite interested in it.

Grand Voyageur card and curious Susu

There are two higher levels: Grand Voyageur Plus and Grand Voyageur Le Club. It’s nostalgic for me, because I’m just old enough to remember when airline mile clubs were all the rage, and business travel with one added up to a lot of perqs. Now that those have all but disappeared, I’ve nonetheless gained a… train card that comes with perqs! I’ll hit Plus status in a month, and likely Le Club not too long afterwards. You can exchange points for train tickets and/or gifts, get hotel reductions, use the special travel salons in stations, exchange train tickets much more easily, and for the highest Club level, if you miss your train for whatever reason, you can even get on the next one without exchanging your ticket. For free. All you have to do is notify the train controller.

No matter which card you have, the Voyageur programme is pretty nice. It’s free, and means you don’t have to print out your ticket, since it’s linked to your card’s QR code – those square barcodes you see everywhere nowadays. Controllers have QR code readers and simply flash your card. Bienvenue au futur !

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Paris views

Posted in La France, Paris, Photography at 20:40

I’ve been back in Paris for a week now, enjoying the city as it moves from a cold and windy spring to a sunny, warm one. Paris also has something that the Riviera doesn’t: fog! One morning, my walk to work resembled a fairyland of steel skyscrapers coiffed in dainty white caps. Unfortunately, it was also the one day I left my phone at home, so I have no pictures to show for it.

This weekend, two friends (and former landlords, and readers of this blog!) invited another friend and I for a delicious dinner of Thai food, made from ingredients brought from Thailand, and cooked by a Thai friend of theirs. The views from their rooftop apartment were similarly authentic, for Paris.

Parisian rooftops

The weekend before, I visited the Louvre again, and met a long-time internet friend. I had my Nikon with me, for much nicer photos than on my last visit.

Le Louvre

Going forward in time to this evening, we had beautiful sun and blue skies. Paris au printemps, c’est beau !

La Defense le soir

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Fraise niçoise

Posted in La France, Nice at 12:24

On May Day the cats and I took the TGV from Paris to Nice, for a week and a half of vacation. It was the first time in two months that the kitties returned home, but they hadn’t forgotten a thing. Not twenty minutes after they were freed from their carriers, Susu was swatting around her favorite toy, and Kanoko had reclaimed his habitual perch on the kitchen bar. Both of them asked to be let out onto the patio, as always, when I approached the door.

Wednesday April 30th was my birthday – which was another reason I had decided on a Louvre membership. On top of being in Paris and having spent a lovely weekend filled with some of my favorite sculptures, at work on Wednesday I earned another “gift”: more professional responsibilities! I’m now Test Lead on the GDF project, adding communication and coordination duties to the usual Test Analyst responsibilities, which include managing a test repository, supervising testers, and reporting on progress. While it is still early on, only two months into the project, it’s increasingly enjoyable and looks to have the potential to remain that way for a long time. I’m loving Paris, both personally and professionally.

Back in Nice, today I strolled to my favorite fruit & vegetable shop on Avenue Borriglione. They had fat yellow lemons from trees in the hills of Nice, strawberries from Carros, beefheart tomatoes and Pink Lady apples from Nice, and Mona Lisa potatoes from farms I’ve visited in Provence (the 04 département). Once home I rinsed the strawberries and ate one. “Oh my goodness,” I sighed luxuriously, “why buy sugary pastries when you can find fruit this delicious.”

You’ll need to understand French for this video, but it’s a nice interview of a strawberry farmer in Carros, which is on the other side of the Var river from Nice. When he talks about going to the MIN, he’s referring to a professional market center in Nice, the Marchés d’Intérêt National where farmers bring their produce, and others buy it for distribution at markets or stores.

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Amie du Louvre

Posted in La France, Paris at 18:32

Fontaine de Diane

This morning I woke up to the sound of rain. “A museum day,” I yawned while preparing breakfast. Once the fruit and gluten-free apricot bread had woken me up, reality hit: I’m in Paris. I can go to the Louvre. But wait… not only can I go to the Louvre, I could get a membership!

As an adolescent, when I first began learning French in middle school, our teacher regaled us with stories of her time in France, and showed us newspaper clippings from Le Monde. One was about the then-controversial construction of Le Pyramide du Louvre, finished during my second year of French studies. Our teacher told us how unimaginably vast the Louvre was; how full of amazing works of art; and how, if you were very lucky and stayed in Paris long enough, you could get membership in the museum, and visit whenever you wanted.

Amis du Louvre

Twenty-five years later, I did just that. The card is somewhat expensive; you would need to visit the Louvre more than six times for the card to be worth the investment. Difficult to do on holiday, but easy when you live in the city and can visit on weekday evenings: the Louvre is open until 10pm on Wednesdays and Fridays.

I remembered how massive the museum is from my last lengthy visit in 1998, which was also the first time in my life I had set foot in the Louvre. So I wasn’t too surprised when, after two hours browsing just one floor of one wing (Richelieu) of French sculptures, I had reached “peak artwork” and wanted to go home. With the card, the decision was easy – I knew I could come back at any time, and take in the Louvre at my own pace. My life feels very charmed indeed.

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