Archive for the 'La France' Category

Of parakeets

Posted in Journal, La France, Nice at 21:31

Many apologies for the silence. As a few readers know, I keep meaning to update, and then life happens. The most recent was of course 14 July in Nice. It was heartbreaking; affected me very deeply. I’m only just now starting to feel normal. I’d had TGV tickets to take care of my apartment there that same weekend, for which I was grateful. Being able to walk the Promenade and talk with other people in the city was a balm.

After returning to my Paris suburb, I started taking more evening walks. During one of them, a parakeet greeted me. My first reaction, due to the parakeet being so friendly, and it being the holidays, was that the poor thing must have been abandoned. A few friends mentioned, however, that parakeets in cities are somewhat common. So I decided to look more carefully on my next walk. It turned out I didn’t need to look very far, because Madam Parakeet found me on her own and introduced me to her partner.

Earlier this week their flock fweeped (parakeet for “chirped”) up a storm in a tree, and one did a lovely swoop over my head. This evening they were a bit more secretive, but I did get a beautiful shot of one flying from her perch.

Parakeet in flight

All is well

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 20:21

Flags at half mast, La Defense

Life has been very brisk these past few months. Work, then a broken wrist, a change of home, and of course, the tragic attacks in Paris just over a week ago.

I’m finally firmly at home in my new city. A bigger apartment with a garden, in a quiet area – it’s immensely refreshing. The cats are noticeably happier than in the studio, and love looking out our French doors into the garden. While moving with a broken wrist wasn’t easy, I have been grateful for the medical leave it entailed, since it’s also allowed me to take the time to find my bearings more thoroughly.

Physical therapy for the wrist started a couple of weeks ago; I’m finally able to start lifting small things and type for more than ten minutes without exhausting pain. It happened while roller skating, as part of tryouts for a roller derby team here. After two hours of exercises and skating, my thighs started telling me, “welp, it’s Friday evening and I’m tired!” I tried one last jump, but as I turned to make it, sure enough, my pivot leg’s thigh gave out. I fell, and did what you’re not supposed to do – put out my right hand. I felt my wrist break beneath my wrist guard. Both forearm bones were broken crosswise and had fractures along their length as well, but thankfully none of the smaller wrist bones were injured. The surgeon put in three temporary pins, and six weeks later they were pulled out and reeducation could begin.

Paris has been very quiet since Friday the 13th. We are still living, and hoping that tolerance and joie de vivre will prove stronger than fear. I’ve most enjoyed seeing how very many people are truly applying it to their lives, too. It’s an amazing experience; one that I hope continues in peace.

Un jardin parisien

Posted in Journal, La France at 23:28

New shovel

“Why is there a shovel on her tile balcony?” you may well be asking. Indeed, a shovel is one of the last things I thought I would be buying in Paris. More precisely, I did not even think about buying a shovel until today, when I went to my favorite furniture store for a fan. They had no fans, but they were having a blowout sale to empty the store for upcoming renovations. Among sale items were some fine heavy-duty steel rakes, hoes, and a single, lonely shovel.

I picked up said fine shovel, which shall no longer be lonely, because in just over a month, I’ll be moving into a new home in the Parisian suburbs! A 55sq.m (nearly 600sq.ft) one-bedroom apartment with a 25sq.m (270sq.ft) garden. Not a terrace nor a patio, though a small part of it is covered and could be considered one, but a genuine garden made of earth. It’s a long-term rental I found through what used to be called 1% logement, but is now ordained Participation des employeurs à l’effort de construction (PEEC). This is a tax paid by employers that funds rent-controlled housing as well as zero-interest loans for purchasing homes/apartments. It takes a bit of time to find a good rental, especially in Paris where housing is in high demand, and you have to go through a government-overseen commission for your application to be finalized.

I first applied in May, rejected three other apartments due to size and location considerations, then this one was offered at the end of June. I jumped at it before even knowing it had a garden. When I visited, it was something of a dream come true. Just one next-door neighbor, a retired woman who also has cats. The garden has a high fence and bushes that climb above it, and gives onto a low-traffic, dead-end street that only serves two apartment buildings. I plan to make sure the cats can’t get so adventurous they go into the street, but it’s reassuring to know that if ever they do, it’s not very dangerous.

The apartment is laid out like a rectangle, if you’ll allow for an old-school ASCII floor plan. Slashes are regular doors and brackets with tildes designate sliding French doors. There are three that give onto the garden, one from every main room:

 ---------------------------------------
|            garden                     |
|                                       |
|[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ]-[ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ]|
|                 |       |             |
|   living        |kitchen|   bedroom   |
|    room         |       |             |
|                 |       |             |
|                 |       |  / ---------|
|          |         /____   / _________|
|          | entry  |  WC |    bathroom |
 ------------  /  ----------------------

The commission that approved my application was held this Monday, so the news is recent! I feel a mix of emotions: relief at being able to live in a larger space, happiness at having a garden I’ll be able to work in (the owner lets renters take care of it), and excitement that the cats and I will be in a quiet, clean space near the Seine.

Because yes, on top of having a nice layout in a quiet area, I’m a hop, skip and a jump from the riverbank. I can hardly believe my luck. The only downsides – because every place has a downside, you just need to know what you’re willing to compromise on – are that the building isn’t terribly attractive, being a 2000s example of “concrete squares painted various shades of white” architecture and it’s a ten-minute walk to the nearest train station. But with the Seine so close by, I’ll also be able to ride my bike.

As for my Nice apartment, it still hasn’t sold. French people aren’t big fans of renovated spaces from more than about a decade ago, and my place isn’t in an area where non-French buyers look. It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise, however. I’ve always been good at handling my budget, so have managed to keep my head above the water all this time (though occasionally just barely). I’m putting it up for a student rental now, and will fix it up as finances allow. Next summer it will likely be ready for holiday rentals, and I’ll probably put it up for another student rental afterwards. It’s perfect for a young couple, and near university facultés as well as the express bus to Sophia Antipolis for its technical colleges.

I was in Nice this last weekend to clean out more of it. Friends (who are also long-time readers! *waves*) kindly accompanied me to the beach so I could get in a bit of swimming. I hadn’t been in the Mediterranean for a year, so that was lovely.

Nice sunset panorama

Sunny summer day

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris, Photography at 17:32

Palais de Tokyo panorama

Last week I learned about Vincennes en Anciennes and their Traversée de Paris estivale, where vintage cars drive through the city, stopping at a few landmarks. Unfortunately they don’t have a set schedule, other than leaving from Vincennes at a certain time in the morning. I arrived too late at Charles de Gaulle – Étoile, which I found out by checking their Facebook page.

It was a beautiful day here, though, so I made the most of it. The walk from Étoile to Eiffel is short and pleasant, filled with architectural beauties and always a surprise or two.

Arc de Triomphe, top

The Arc de Triomphe was cleaned starting last year; you can see a lot more of the detail on it now.

Boat on the Seine

Houseboats from around Europe dock in Paris. This one was from Antwerp, Belgium.

Eiffel from Passerelle Debilly

Bonne fête nationale !

Posted in Journal, La France, Paris at 21:15

A short stint here

C’est le 14 juillet et il fait beau ! The photo above was actually taken a couple of weeks ago, when I had the opportunity to work in that very same EDF skyscraper.

As summer holidays approach, I’ll have more time to share my discoveries of Paris. A few days ago I saw the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit currently at the Grand Palais. I made a day out of it, walking to Concorde and the east edge of the Tuileries, then back up the Champs Elysées for window shopping and ice cream. At the Arc de Triomphe, tourists asked to take their photo with me, assuming I was a Frenchwoman. Which, technically, is correct, but nonetheless brings a smile to my originally-Oregonian face.

Now when I look at the Arc, a new memory is recalled. A colleague kindly drove me (and another colleague) around it. I do believe I’ve come full circle from driving McKenzie Pass to now having experienced the largest cobblestone roundabout in Europe. It was pretty wild… we’ll see if I ever achieve actually driving it myself someday.

Mon petit marché

Posted in La France, Paris at 20:45

Pain de campagne, cheeses and radishes

A few weeks ago, on my way home from work, I passed what looked like a miniature outdoor food market: a food truck selling cheeses, bread, fruit, and vegetables. They had a sign with a website address on it, so I checked when I got home. To my surprise, it was a sort of organic food collective that tours Paris and environs, selling local edibles. They drop by my area once a week in the evening. Best of all, you can order online, and when you request pickup at the truck, they’ll fill your order the day they’re in your area, with fresh goods!

I’ve since gotten in the habit of picking up mon panier parisien once a week. The vegetables are delicious, but best of all are the cheeses. I love Brie and buttery Camembert, as well as longer-aged, harder tomes, and hard cheeses such as Comté and Beaufort which can be aged for years. Le Panier Parisien has an absolutely incredible Camembert the likes of which I had never tasted before, and their crottins de chèvre (literally “goat droppings”, but actually soft goat cheese, you can see two above the Camembert) are also delicious. Together with authentic, freshly-baked pain de campagne, I am now a very spoiled Parisienne indeed.

Chat courbevoisien

For more local color, this is a relaxed tuxedo kitty I also spotted on my walk home.

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.

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.

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.

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 !