Place des Vosges and Victor Hugo

Place des Vosges is Paris’ oldest square. It was built for King Henri IV in the 1600’s and it is truly a beautiful place. The king’s residence was on one side, the queen’s on the other. The buildings are all covered with lovely pink brick and there are covered walkways all the way around. There is a park in the middle where duels were once fought and it is now a popular place to come and sit under a tree with your lunch if the day should be nice. On one side is the entry in the very beautiful Hotel de Sully, first the yard, then the house with the library having the original ceiling, then the entry courtyard leading out onto Rue de Rivoli.
On the other side is the former home of Victor Hugo who lived there from 1832 to 1848 which has been turned into a museum with free entry. It contains some of his former furniture including his bed and the desk he wrote all of those books on, such as les Miserables. He was wildly famous in his own time and I once saw some old photos of his funeral. His coffin was huge, covered in black under the Arch de Triumph and it was surrounded by thousands and thousands of people.

Here is a painting of Victor Hugo hanging in the museum.

What I especially liked was seeing the park of Place des Vosges from a window up above in the museum.

All of the Marais, of which Place des Vosges is found, if worth a visit from the Picasso Museum, the Jewish Quarter to the fabulous mansions left from times past when the Marais was the area to live in as it has once again become.

What We Eat

What We Eat

The French are known for what they eat, not only all of those rich sauces but things many Americans won’t eat due to that “yuck” factor. The list is fairly long containing such things as frog legs, snails, raw oysters and then many things we in the south call
My mother who became very anemic when carrying me (she also says she almost died during her delivery making me feel guilty for many years) was told to eat calf liver at least once a week, liver being loaded with iron . My mother was the only one in the family who would eat it. It always smelled so wonderful to me as she fried it up with onions but every time I tried a taste I almost gagged. I just didn’t like the taste.
Forward many years and I was in France refusing offers of foie gros. It was goose or duck liver so it couldn’t be good. Then I ordered a salad and a slab of foie gros was put on the top of the lettuce. I took a small bite with a large bite of lettuce and discovered, to my surprise that I liked it. It didn’t have that really strong taste of beef liver but was sweet and creamy in texture. I never turn it down now. I try not to think of geese being force fed to the point of bursting as I eat it just as I have learned not to think of cattle or baby calves as I cut into a juicy steak.
I have gone on to try frog legs which are a little like chicken in taste but I keep picturing the whole frog while eating them and don’t eat them if I can avoid it. I will have a raw oyster or two at Christmas, a tradition in France, and I like that salty taste of the sea and have it with a slice of bread with butter and some nice white wine, but I can’t down a dozen like Maurice.
Sometimes something will be on the menu at a restaurant and I will ask Maurice what it is. He sort of pauses, trying to think what it is in English, and usually end up saying, “Parts”. I have come to learn that means “innards”, or parts of an animal that come from the interior. I’ve tried a few of these, usually a sausage type of food and at first they taste pretty good but then a taste slowly develops in my mouth like a barnyard smells. Hard to describe but it puts me off what I am eating and I have trouble finishing.
There are some foods that I don’t think I will ever try. Rabbit is one of those. It is probably because I never had it growing up and I can’t get past that Thumper image from Bambi. Maurice loves rabbit cooked in mustard. I suppose one of these days I might try a taste. I remember our neighbor had us over for drinks and one of the appetizers was quail eggs with a little sauce on top. I’d never had them before and was really afraid to put one in my mouth, afraid of the taste. I didn’t want to appear rude so I finally shoved the whole thing in my mouth and was surprised to find it tasted exactly like chicken eggs.
I don’t see myself ever trying horse meat either. It was very popular here in France through the years, especially during the war years when beef was hard to come by. It is still sold here and the shops have models of horse heads above the doors. The meat itself is very red and it looks low in fat. It has slowly died out of favor here but there was a resurgence in buying it during the mad cow scare. Maurice isn’t sure but he thinks he may have had some at some point as he was growing up. I just have that cultural thing and I am sure that I will never eat it. I used to ride one, maybe that’s why.
Sometimes when Maurice and I aren’t together, he will buy a calf’s brain to eat. This is truly disgusting to me. I try not to even look at it if he brings one home. They are very small, about the size of an apple and when Maurice fries it in butter, there isn’t a bad smell but I just don’t want to see it on his plate or watch him eat it.
It is amazing what cultures consider quite ordinary in their culture for consumption while the rest of the world would gag-such as eating dogs in China or monkey brains in Africa, not to mention various bugs. There are things Americans eat that the French look at with looks of disgust such as peanut butter or stuffing in turkeys, marshmallows on yams.
I did learn not to order anything with the word “tete” in a French restaurant as this means head. Maurice happily ate his-it came out in slices on his plate- but I happily had my roast chicken. I have crossed that cultural line a few footsteps here and there and I am trying things I had never even heard of before but there are some things that will remain in that strange realm of things the French eat.

Cold and Snow in Paris

View from our apartment window to the street below.

This is the apartment across the street-you can see the snow falling.

About two weeks ago it was beautiful not only in Paris but all of France. There were blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the 70’s then, bam, all of Europe was hit with a major cold front. We are lucky if it gets into the 40’s during the day. The skies had been without a cloud which means the nights get really cold and I knew, should we get clouds that it would lead to snow. And I was right. There are now big, fat flakes floating down from the sky. Ordinarily, I would get outside to get some photos but because it is Saturday and early in the day, I know it will all be a big mess as kids get in it and play. Plus, it is really cold out there and I don’t have any boots good for the snow. Maurice keeps saying, “Snow, in November”, with wonder in his voice, which means that it is unusual. Actually, snow in Paris is fairly rare. Since I have been here it has snowed maybe once each year. The snow resorts are happy of course as they are starting to get badly needed snow. There is lots of spring skiing here as I guess snow isn’t good until then on the whole. So, we bundle up and find things to do that don’t require many trips outside. It is chilly going to markets to buy fruit and vegetables and I’m glad I’m not one of the sellers having to stand outside all morning in the cold. They are all covered, however, so that helps. I think I will make myself a nice, hot cup of tea.

French Women Don’t Get Fat…

….but American women living in Paris do, at least this American woman. I’ve had a few of those slim French women over for meals before and they really watched what they ate. I was eating twice as much, having the cheese, drinking double the wine and eating dessert. They have just a little of everything, no cheese, sometimes no salad, and a sliver of the dessert.
My weight has been going up the scale since I moved here. I find it hard to pass up cheese or wine and if something tastes good, I have trouble stopping with just a little taste. Maurice and I used to drink a lot more wine and have a large lunch and dinner but I had to stop that. I feel like I am passing Maurice in weight and, if he should try to carry me-not a likely occurence-I would, as he says, squash him like a crepe.
The French, of course, believe you shouldn’t starve yourself and go on crazy diets. You should enjoy life. Once, when complaining about how tight my jeans had become, Maurice said( sweet man), “Why don’t you just buy larger jeans?” Isn’t that great? My ex used to tell me to never get fat because he couldn’t stand it.
I do walk more here in Paris but I think I need to start doing marathons if I’m going to get back down to my old svelt self. I have strong legs, but get above my thighs and it isn’t a pretty picture. And, now, here is Thanksgiving. I just baked my pumpkin pie, have a stuffing mix ready to fix, turkey, potatoes to cook and mash. Sigh. Won’t be loosing any weight tomorrow.

I’m in love with color

I can’t take enough photos of red leaves, especially on the grape vines.
Sometimes I don’t feel like a “real” photographer because I am not doing “studies” of something and I don’t do haunting black and white photos. I can’t get away from color. I simply love it. Autumn is especially delicious in Provence with shades of gold everywhere and the sunlight is even golden, especially in the evenings as the sun sets.
I did take some photos in Paris up at Montmartre, all in black and white. Here is a sample:

It is ok-I like the shadows, but it doesn’t grab me like color. A neat quote by Cezanne, that master of color: At the very end of his life Cezanne wrote, “Long live those who have the love of color – true representatives of light and air.”

We leave today for Paris. I will keep the memory of this view near our village on a rainy, gray day in Paris.

A House in Provence Chapter 15

This is a photo of a great red leaf in a vineyard taken recently here in the autumn. The article below was written almost 2 summers ago. We’ve come a long way since I wrote this.

Chapter 15
Swimming Pool and Landscaping

As might be expected, building a pool in Provence is right up there in the stress and disappointment we experienced in building our house. I’ve met an American lady living in Aix who says she will never, never (she said repeated this twice) have anything built in Provence. She did need some work done in her house and had a man come out to look at what was needed and now she is waiting for the estimate of the work and has no plans to hear from him any time soon. If you have expectations and want something down right away you will end up with a stress ulcer and have periods of time when you think that your head is going to explode. I should add that even Maurice, being French and all, has the same reactions and can’t believe how hard it is to get something done here.

My American friend thinks it is just different in Provence. According to her, people in Provence always put their families first in their lives. This is one reason why shops close for lunch with those long breaks because this is a family time for getting together over a meal. Friends come next and in France this means that these friends are ones you have had since childhood. They might have other acquaintances, different levels of friends, but never one they value more than the ones made first. Down near the bottom of the list is work and this certainly appears true to me. I often see shops closed for lunch around the various villages in Provence, as well as the rest of France, and think that if this were done in the States, everyone would stop shopping there; Americans would take their business elsewhere. Customer service, as we in America think of it, will probably slowly make its way into France mainly because customers will start demanding it and, most probably, because the shops will discover that they make more money this way. I could be wrong but there are more and more shops in Paris doing this. Can it be far behind in the country?

Back to the swimming pool. Maurice picked out a local builder who, in fact, lives three houses down from us. He first talked with us in October and told us they could start sometime in January. January came and went with Maurice calling and leaving messages several times. Finally we were told they would start our pool at the beginning of February. They didn’t start digging until the end of the month. They decided that we needed two support poles under the end of the pool nearest where the land dropped off so two deep holes about ten feet deep were dug. Maurice and both the pool builder and landscaper all thought that the pool needed to be very near the end of the land so it would be in the sun more time. To me this wasn’t an important factor as once summer sets in and the temperatures start soaring, it isn’t that necessary to be in the sun. You aren’t going to get a serious chill sitting in a tepid swimming pool in the shade if it is in the 90’s or more. I put up a little protest but let Maurice put the pool where he wanted.

When they started digging it looked like the pool was going to be way too close to the house, like we could jump into it from our porch with very little effort but that didin’t turn out to be the case. The pool, because the land was so low in realtion to our house, was built as a cement square sitting above the ground at first. To get to it for a look we had to climb down from the porch or consider putting a plank across from our porch to the pool but never did. Eventually the landscaper came and filled in two porches with dirt right by our house which helped to get around out back.

Progress on the pool was in fits and starts. Sometimes there were workers everyday doing something but we went most of April with not much of anything being done. We had been told, and had started hoping, that the pool would be finished by early May. This didn’t happen. We were planning a trip to the States at the end of May and Maurice didn’t want to leave without the pool being finished. He had learned to be around as much as possible when work was being done or something was done wrong. One day our neighbor across the street came roaring over as we came home from a trip to the grocery store because a huge truck bringing equipment had torn off a branch of one of their trees trying to turn off the very narrow road into the even narrower entry way to our house. Their house was the first one built on our street and the wall surrounding their land was built much too close to the road-we were required to have about 6 feet between a fence and the road-and some of the braches of their trees and bushes hung out into the road. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. It was an oak tree that grows all over the place and I’m sure they didn’t plant it, and they couldn’t even see the damaged part of the tree from their house or land, they had to walk out onto the road to see it. I think they were mad that the truck driver didn’t come tell them and just threw the branch over the wall into their yard. They thought Maurice should have been there to supervise. I don’t know how this could have been done when we never knew when anyone was going to show up and I doubt that Maurice would have been out on the road to watch the truck in any case. Half the time we didn’t know anyone was at our house until we looked out a window and saw a truck pulling up near the pool. I learned not to open the shutters to the bedroom until I was fully dressed as I sometimes was surprised when a workman or two strolled past on their way to work.

Our landscaper couldn’t do much of her work until they put the soil around the pool. Maurice had the name of the man who was supposed to do this and called him one day to see when he was coming as the swimming pool supervisor had told him the dirt mover man was due on a certain date. The digger knew nothing about it. The supervisor of the pool was doing the same thing the supervisor of our house did, telling us what we wanted to hear while, at the same time, collecting money. Maurice was able to get the digging guy to come out-he had his own earth moving machine-and finally fill in the area around the pool. It made such a difference and gave us an idea of what the yard would finally look like when we, some day in the distant future, got it finished.

Maurice would often jump the space between our porch and other walls before they were filled in with dirt as he tried to get a little work around the yard done. One day the front door opened and I heard him calling for me. When I arrived at the front door he was bending over holding his forehead from which blood was dripping to the ground. He had slipped on our “non-slip” porch and his head came down on the corner of a wall. There was a gash in his forehead and nose, large abrasions on his arm, a deep scratch on his glasses lens, a tear in his jeans and his thumb hurt. He was lucky he didn’t break something or end up with a concusion. For the next week he sported a spectacular black eye.

The landscaper put some nice gravel on one of the porches and planted lavender and rosemary on the hill below the pool. She said it was really a little too late to plant them as it would be a little too warm so we had to water them every day or so. I wasn’t in Provence at the time and Maurice bought the flat green hoses that spray out thin misty little jets of water. I had hoped for the hoses I used to use, soaking hoses, as I think they do a better job while saving water. I think Maurice didn’t want to bother with burying them or pay the higher price so we were commited to this type of watering system. I feel like it is worth the time and price, not to mention the labor, to get soaking hoses installed at the beginning. You can’t see them and I like the idea of saving water. Well, maybe some time down the road this will happen. The hill where the new plants are is huge and it will be an enormous job. Maybe they won’t need much water once they are established. Right now we have two bright yellow hoses that run across the yard to attach to the watering hoses-not very attractive. I found out later that once the plants were established, we didn’t need to water them. This worried me, not being used to this mentality, but the plants all survived although I think they would have grown more and produced more flowers had they been watered but with water being so expensive here, I’m just happy that they all survived the summer.

We have huge expanses of land behind the pool that will require landscaping and I would like to, at one point, build a little pool house/covered area or cabana to put chairs under. This will be a year or two down the road when we aren’t putting out masses of money for other things needed for the house and yard.

The pool after it was built, before the dirt was put it around it and the drop from our porch.

The pool after the dirt was put around it. The pool filled with water in the front of the photo is our neighbor’s pool up above our house.