Which is exactly what we did on Saturday, January 24.
It was a party we had organized in the guise of a wine and beer tasting.
The marina kindly let us use what use to be a volunteer yacht club on their premises, which was perfect.
Phil, the yard manager at the marina (and who’s quite wonderful),
met us at 4pm and helped set up and kept us company while we waited with fingers crossed for some others to show up. We knew at least five other people – our friends
Anne & Peter and Jayne & Paul…
& Lily who found a good friend in Phil’s son, Allen–
would be arriving as they helped spread the word.
We had put together something similar when living aboard in Rota, winter of 2002-03. A friend and I, Rita, went around inviting any and everyone we saw on the pontoons. Unfortunately, the marina wasn’t as hospitable and refused to let us use their extra room reserved for meetings. So, we had to do it at the shower and laundry block, i.e., head. In spite of foul weather, spirits–both bottled and body–weren’t dampened.
Now, we weren’t sure if there’d be eight of us or more. Either way, we knew we’d enjoy being with our friends. Hey, it was a Saturday night, weather was good, hors d’ouerve plentiful, wine and beer available, and conversation even better no matter the number.
Yet, within fifteen minutes past 5pm people started arriving until by 6:30p it was packed with over 50 marina folk.
Max with his deviled eggs, a big hit in the UK, and Tanya and Paul…
VJ, who’s single-handed his boat across the Pacific…
Our next door boater, Gary (on the right) with his girlfriend, Wendy, and Rob …
Kate and Mike, the latter is a London Bobby who’s retiring this Friday (we told him next time he needed to wear his uniform).
marina crew and Phil’s wife, some of whom were heading off to celebrate Chris’ (checked shirt guy) new job as building manager for a care home….
We toasted Max’s family name conveniently located on a good English beer can….
while later Rob, Angela, and Sharon helping us with their second run to the Bottle Bin…
And, plenty of other wonderful folk who, unfortunately, never made it in front of the camera lens.
The little tasting became a full-fledged fiesta with people introducing and re-introducing themselves to some boaters they’d never seen before and to those they’d nodded to on the way to and from the shower blocks and around the marina premises. Next time, though, name tags would be a good idea.
By 10:30 the last crowd had a group photo,
and by 11p we cleaned up (took ten minutes at the most thanks to all the help), locked the door, and realized, yeah, we’re not the only ones who wanted to get off their boats.
Max was off to Maine for a visit with his mom as I prepared to meet up with two college friends, Carol M. W. and Katie R. P., the latter being the wife of our crew member, Steve, from this summer.
We had finalized plans just three weeks before after coordinating schedules and settling on a location, which you can probably guess was Canterbury.
Our tales weren’t necessarily bawdy… well, one night was, but no more of that :)
I had actually Blobbed Blogged our reunion before Max and I left for Germany but had a few edits to make so kept it as a draft. Mistake. When my laptop was stolen, poof! Photos, words, notes… gone. But, I wanted to write something about this trip for it was wonderful, as it always is, being with good friends. Fortunately, I had a few photos left on a camera card and Carol sent hers. Unfortunately, Carol isn’t featured in a lot of the photos, which only means the three of us need a repeat adventure.
Hopefully, the few photos we have and some words will give you a sense of our visit… so here beginneth our tale.
DAY 1: Friday, October 3
I met Katie at Heathrow while Carol arrived via Gatwick. Katie and I arrived at our place easily. Carol, on the other hand, began her journey with a five-hour delay starting with an early check-in to catch an 11pm flight from JFK that didn’t leave until 3am. Not a great night spending it in an airport with little open and nothing to do but sit and wait.
Katie and I were unpacking when the owners happened to come around and gave us a quick tour and a fast lesson on how to use the fancy expresso machine. Katie and I then freshened up
and went across the street to the Safron Cafe, which became our go-to spot for a spot of tea, coffee, and sometimes lunch. Our first time there the waitress sat us outside under a grape vine. When we commented on the luscious purple grapes, she picked and washed some for us to eat while we were waiting for our coffee. Heaven.
As the hours ticked by we knew Carol would be looking for some refreshments when she finally arrived. Not to disappoint, we greeted her with some nutritional cheese & crackers and a glass of wine (doesn’t that always make things better? if sipped with friends? :)
Just a warning: our get-togethers take the three us back, okay, waaaay back, to our Foss-Woodman dorm at Colby freshman year. Consequently, we’re not the most sedate adults. But, no one can say we’re not entertaining. Well, we make ourselves laugh.
DAY 2: Saturday, October 4
The first day we found an easy pace with Carol and I generally heading out for an early morning excursion while Katie caught up on some rest (she’s more of a night owl than Carol and I).
Carol and I thought we’d just get our bearings. Our condo was from one of those rent-your-own sites that Carol had located. It was perfectly situated: off a quiet street and close enough to wander easily in town (if you enlarge the town map, we’re on Castle Street, just down from Beer Cart, roughly 8 o’clock from the black star).
Canterbury is filled with college students, tourists (like us), and locals, strolling the cobblestone streets.
There was a lovely park down the main road where Carol and I found a path along the river accompanied by some quackery
and decorated by a really funky tree.
We returned to find Katie up and ready. The weather was relatively mild and the three of us decided to take a short punting trip on the river. In spite of the huge looming thundercloud we were taken in by the spiel of the young folk selling this trip.
We hopped in and were immediately entertained by well-practiced factoids and plenty of puns by a theatrical student. Remember that cloud? No sooner were we pushed off from the rickety dock than the skies dumped rain, and, I mean dumped. All we could do was laugh as our punter quickly pushed us under a bridge to wait out the worst of it.
Not the best day for a river boat ride but definitely memorable.
After heading back to change various articles of soaked clothing we ended up at a whole food cafe sitting atop a co-op. The hot coffees, teas, and soups made it a great stop for a late lunch.
We walked around a bit more then headed to the store for breakfasts, hors d’ouerve, and dinners. Since none of us felt like cooking, our meals involved a lot of yogurt and fruit, cheese and crackers, soups and bread. Oh, and wine.
At one point we had trouble fitting into a self-timer shot, but, as you can see, it really didn’t matter.
DAY 3: Sunday, October 5
It was a beautiful morning. Mild, and a totally blue sky. There was a historical site just down the road from our condo. Carol and I decided to explore this Norman castle begun by William the Conqueror around 1070.
Although it was beginning to earn its reputation as a ruin by the 17th century it had been one of the three royal castles during Henry I’s time (1068-1135). Two hundred years later it became a prison. It made for a lovely walk if not the most informative castle tour.
From there we walked through another park to the site of Saint Augustine’s monastery, marking the rebirth of christianity in England, now simply stone foundations poking up through grass.
Just to provide a quick background on the religious element of Canterbury:
As a lot of you know Canterbury is known for its cathedral as well as the guy telling the bawdy tales (Chaucer). The history is amazing. Prior to the invasion of the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, the Celts had converted to Christianity after the Romans introduced it. However, the 5th century invaders noted above changed the religious make-up to the worshiping of Odin, the head of the Norse gods.
Seeing an opportunity Pope Gregory the Great sent a monk, Augustine, to England for missionary work in 596. Augustine set off with a group of fellow monks; but, he was so nervous of running into bandits and other road travel menaces he ended up turning around in southern Gaul. Not to be deterred in his desire to christinize England, the pope sent him back, and Augustine landed on the Isle of Thanet off the SE coast of England in spring of 597.
King Ethelbert who was married to a christian, french princess, Bertha (too bad she didn’t have a middle name to use), welcomed this retinue and gave them some land to build a monastery and allowed them to use St. Martin’s Church, the queen’s place of worship (and the oldest church in England still in use after 1,400 years) to begin with.
Augustine soon built a monastery and a church while becoming England’s first Archbishop. Thus, Canterbury’s prominence in English religion was cemented. This humble monk (and, he was known for being self-effacing as well as warm) became a saint, which only added to Canterbury’s growing prestige among England’s christians. Due to Augustine’s initial settlement and sainthood a magnificent cathedral (THE cathedral) was constructed on part of the former monastery’s site.
Having gotten our fill of formal religion, we decided it was time for nature to work its magic. Because it was so perfect of a day, it seemed the best use of the pristine weather would be to travel to the coast.
The three of us set off on the local bus towards Herne Bay, and the day was, as the English say, absolutely brilliant.
For those who’ve been around Katie, if there’s a beach around, you’ll most likely be walking on it with her. Which is how we landed at Herne Bay’s shoreline :)
The boardwalk, which was filled with others enjoying the October sun day, hugged the shore curving around to a local artists’ market with colorful booths and a few fruit vendors.
Opposite the market were some local fishing boats and an example of the dramatic change in tide. We spotted some artists painting outside bringing to mind friends’ (Ellen and Bobbi) trips to Maine.
Tiny, shoulder-to-shoulder beach cottages lined the path. Looking at these (some dilapidated and some cutesy-decorated) I could just imagine my sister and Ellen envisioning the best way to fix one of these up; and, if they had, I know I would have wanted to rent it.
With the sun going down we decided to find a tea shop, which we did (hard not to in England). Warmed up we caught our bus home enjoying the twighlty sky.
Another magical day was put to bed.
DAY 4: Monday, October 6
I must admit the most frustrating event of our trip was trying to figure out the fancy expresso machine. To give you an idea of just how complicated it was, the damn thing came with an instructional DVD. I watched it twice and still it baffled us on how to operate the stupid thing. The worse part was that all of us would hungrily stare at it each morning, knowing that a morning cup out of it would be like heaven. Oh, well, there’s that obnoxious first-world problem again.
Wanting to visit the cathedral, the three of us made our pilgrimage through the impressive gates and into this building built just after the Norman Conquest (1066) and constantly added to and renovated into the 1500s.
Well-worn, slippery stone steps were throughout this cavernous stone edifice as we toured it clockwise.
There are too many stories to discover here, so I’ll just relate two, one well-known, the other, not so much.
First, there’s “The Martyrdom” where Thomas Becket (1118/1120-1170), the famous Archbirshop and friend of King Henry II (1154-1189), was murdered.
Becket had been a really close pal of the king after becoming Henry’s Lord Chancellor. In this post he collected all the revenue from landowners, including churches, and enjoyed the finer things in life (food, drink, clothes, and, I imagine, women).
Then, he got religion but not in the usual sense. He was appointed Archbishop because Henry was hoping to lessen the control of the church by placing a good friend as head of this powerful institution. Becket was initially reluctant about this change, and the priests weren’t so happy about it either. After all, here was a playboy who’d never even been a priest taking the highest position in England’s Catholic hierarchy.
However, Becket embraced the role wholeheartedly and changed from a carouser to someone evoking monastic piety. Even to the point of wearing a hair shirt (gross) and being scourged (whipped) daily by his fellow monks (even grosser).
Henry II was known as having a wicked temper, which didn’t bode well for anyone refusing to comply with the king’s wishes. He and Becket had already had one rift, causing the latter to flee to France after refusing to support Henry’s desire to try lay clerks in the royal vs. church courts. The two reconciled but came to blows again when Becket excommunicated bishops who had supported the king during Becket’s self-imposed exile.
When the king heard about this latest action he yelled (supposedly) ‘will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?!’. That was enough to send four knights at their own behest to hunt down and stab Becket on December 29th, 1170. The site is marked in a little room off the main part of the cathedral.
Well, Henry was devastated and also realized what a huge faux pas he had done… not only had he lost someone he had admired but also created a saint. After convincing Pope Alexander III he never meant or ordered the murder of Becket, Henry was forgiven. The king had to provide 200 men for the Holy Land crusade (talk about murderers) and be whipped by 80 monks. Furthermore, he agreed to drop his plans of trying criminal clerics in the royal courts.
Canterbury itself obtained a monstrous amount of revenue by becoming a pilgrimage site, the most important one in England.
Another tale was related to us by one of the staff keeping guard (I would heartily recommend taking a guided tour, better yet, hire one of these on the side if you can). She began by explaining many stained glass windows were used to tell the story of christianity to those who couldn’t read. Some of the windows in Canterbury do just that. One series shows a woman dragged there by her caretakers. She was accused of being crazy. Well, she got well by feeling the tomb. (The tomb had holes so people could get as close as possible to St. Augustine’s bones. Nice touch.) What is really wonderful is that these stories were documented by scribes as they were occurring, so they know the window is depicting an actual event.
It was an impressive building but also cold and drafty, so we were thankful to have done our walk-around. If you find yourself in Canterbury and want to see the cathedral, visit this site; http://www.paradoxplace.com/Photo%20Pages/UK/Britain_South_and_West/Canterbury_Cathedral/Canterbury_Internal/Canterbury_Inside.htm for a good primer.
What was really a highlight of our week was returning for the 5:30 pm Evensong composed of the famous Boys Choir and some older singers. It was hauntingly beautiful. The boys were given free room and board on the grounds (the Cathedral had quite a lovely complex), bused to an excellent school, and offered scholarships for universities upon graduation. But, they definitely earned it with all the singing they had to do.
With heavenly tunes drifting in our heads, we slowly walked home.
DAY 5: Tuesday, October 7
We decided to revisit the park, so the three of us meandered through the formal part and found ourselves faced with a bit wilder area occupied by some rather shaggy beasts.
Definitely a bit different from our black and white variety.
Today was our day for a tour of the city guided by one of the people holding up placards outside the cathedral. We paid our fee at the local visitor’s office and found our guide, a retired gent who was full of wit and historical information about his town.
He pointed out hostels (hotels) where pilgrims stayed, both the poor (shared beds and everything else that goes with that) and rich (fireplaces, toilets, and even someone to do your penance for you), the crooked house of which Dickens wrote,
one of the oldest homes exhibiting the emblems for fire insurance, and more information about the cathedral and its grounds.
It was well-worth the ever-growing-colder day to trek around town with him. Not a bad job for being retired and, as he put it, kicked out of the house by his wife.
DAY 6: Wednesday, October 8
Our last full day was again gray and chilly, but Carol and I decided to take the train to Walmer Castle, known for its gardens and being the place where General Wellington of Waterloo fame died.
It was raining off and on, mostly on, as we walked several miles to the castle from the station. Walmer was one of the five, coastal fortifications built by Henry VIII, with others being some Max and I had visited on the southern coast earlier in the summer. The castle later evolved into the residence of the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (in charge of arresting criminals and collecting taxes), a post Wellington held for 23 years and which is now ceremonial.
We whisked ourselves through the house, noting Wellington’s room, the chair in which he died, and the boots he designed and took on his name.
Outside in the gardens we found the vegetable and flower ones and then realized we needed to run back (the several miles) to catch a train in time to be home by noon.
Well, our dash was interspersed with heavy panting, only to start off again, not quite sure where the station was. We finally made it (to the station) having just missed our first train, which put off schedule for the second one. Oh well, we tried, and we had to laugh thinking how the two of us must have looked running like screaming meemies through the quaint village streets to the train.
Back in Canterbury we caught up with Katie,
and the three of us decided to visit The Beaney, named for the philinthropic gentlemen, Dr. James George Beaney (1828-1891). Beaney had traveled to Australia and made his fortune practicing medicine at the Melbourne Hospital and becoming a pioneer in child health, family planning and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. This generous man left a bequest to create an ‘Institute for Working Men’ to serve as a refuge for those who grew up poor like him.
Got to love someone with a name like Beaney, who loved showy jewelry so much he was nicknamed Diamond Jim, and who cared so much about others less fortunate.
A wonderful photographic exhibit, the Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait 2013 contest winners, were featured. Taylor Wessing is an international law firm, not an individual as I originally thought. For seven years this firm has sponsored a photographic portrait contest, and it was spectacular. The aim is to encourage and support new talent. Anyone interested in seeing some provocative shots of a diverse group of people, check it out.
The Beaney, which also houses one of Canterbury’s tourist offices, has some other rooms dedicated to showing off stuffed animals as well as some historical items of the town.
After being on our feet for most of the day, we were glad to finally find a place to sit, which just happened to be under a poster featuring one of the portraits (that of a female jockey).
Our last night was our pub dinner, one we had been promising ourselves since we had arrived in Canterbury. And, man, what a great meal that was! Situated behind the cathedral, The Parrot is touted as the oldest pub in Canterbury, and, once inside, we didn’t want to leave. All of us said ’THIS is IT.’ If everyone inside had been wearing clothes from the 1500s, we wouldn’t have been surprised. We would have just wanted to sit in the low-ceiling, beamy room sipping pints and chowing down on the wholesome, delicious food.
The young manager said he was sorry but they were booked. When we mentioned we’d wait for an opening, he responded a whole roomful from an event was coming downstairs to eat. With that information Katie and I began to head out the door when all of a sudden Carol called our names. We turned around and saw a huge grin on her face. She got us in! She told the manager it was our very last night in Canterbury, and he graciously gave in and offered to seat us. Not only was the food delicious but the manager and the waitress couldn’t have been more hospitable. A wonderful way to finish off the week!
DAY 7: Thursday, October 9
Time to say good-bye as Katie and I headed back to Heathrow (I’d just miss Max returning from the states) and Carol, to Gatwick. Nothing’s good about good-byes except when you know you’ll be seeing someone soon.
And, we did! We stopped in for a night at Katie and Steve Palmer’s on our way back north during Thanksgiving holidays.
As you can see, we were able to entice Max and Steve to behave like the three of us.
DAY 9: Friday, Boxing Day Off to the largest castle in the Loire Valley, Chateau de Chambord, in DM2.
Another cold day, which only made it seem more authentic considering the only heat in this 77-staircase, 426-room home were a couple of the 282 fireplaces with burning wood in them. That and tourists’ bodies, and there weren’t a ton of those on this chilly day.
Set on a large estate with some areas opened to the public for walks, etc., while the remainder is kept for high-officials of the government (some things never change), it’s another fairytale estate, built by Francois I of Amboise (1494-1547). [FYI: His son was Henry II who married Catherine de Medici and whose mistress, Diane de Poitiers, created the other amazing chateau, Chenonceau. The mistress was booted out upon his death by his wife, Catherine. Francois I’s grandson, Francois II, was married briefly to Mary, Queen of Scots.]
Unfortunately, he reputedly only spent 47 days here due supposedly to finding it too drafty. I couch this with reputedly and supposedly because no sooner do I read a fact about someone or something of history only to discover a conflicting story from another source (72 days vs. 47, 365 vs 282 staircases… you get the drift). So, who knows really what happened except that he had a lot of houses from which he could choose. We all set off only to start going in different directions once inside the courtyard. Max and I can’t resist a cut-out opportunity (ask Jane S. as we made her do one with us in Brighton), so we did the same here:
The size of the interior keep was impressive, especially the double helix staircase, which supposedly (there’s that word again) Leo designed for his king pal. This spiraling staircase connected the three main floors with apartments off of them. From the bottom to the top (sixth floor) you can be on one staircase and someone on the other but not touch. A way to avoid brushing up against someone, or an attacker’s sword. However, as per the audio guide, this definitely wasn’t built as a fortress – too many easy-access doors and openings.
Most of the rooms were unfurnished because the king carried his foldable stools, etc., with him to his various other homes, along with his retinue of 2,000+. However, we saw lots of salamanders, Francoise I’s personal emblem, like the green sign I saw walking with Betsy in Amboise. These creatures, which were thought to be able to survive fire and extinguish it with their cold little bodies (that’d be easy to test, I’d think), supported this king’s motto ‘I nourish [the good] and I extinguish [the bad]’. All over the place you see them… carved in stone
and carved in wood (this, by the way, is the original wooden door accessing his personal chapel).
We kept the audio guides glued to our ears as we also looked for any lit fireplaces.
When we reached the terrace where we could promenade around the Harry Potter-esque chimneys and spires,
we took the opportunity to take group portraits
Exiting we spotted a shaggy donkey (Patricia, this is for you :),
then we (Max, Betsy and I) stopped in Blois for a quick cafe lunch and a snapshot of the Loire and red-chimney dwellings prior to heading home to Amboise.
Our farewell dinner was filled with leftovers, plenty of vino, and exotic veggies Danielle and Michelle found at the local market.
DAY 10: Saturday, December 27
I truly HATE goodbyes. We all knew it had to end, but that realization didn’t make it any easier. They’re off to Normandy to stay with friends until flying back to the States. We’re driving to Paris to return the car and stay in an airbnb.com rental. Being with this family was a treasure. Every day reminded us of just how much we love their company. And, having my sister here only made it even more wonderful. Thank gods and goddesses for such times.
With strong hugs we bade goodbye and set off for Paris with a brief stop in Malmaison, Josephine Bonaparte’s (1763-1814) home where she lived with her husband Napoleon (1769-1821) from 1799 to 1809, then as a divorcee (he needed a male heir and she was unable to give him one) until her death five years later on May 29.
With 30 minutes before it opened after lunch break, we toured the gardens. Early on we found this fella. What did I say about photo ops?… :)
Josephine purchased the house while Napoleon was on his Egyptian campaign. Evidently, she had a history of extravagance (bad) and graciousness (good except it fed into the extravagance), and Napoleon was furious at the price tag (300,000 francs, beaucoup bucks in today’s dollars). But, he soon got over it, and she began renovating it by hiring famous architects and landscape artists. She even imported exotic birds caged inside and animals to roam the grounds including never-before-seen black swans from Australia. (These weren’t there but thought I’d throw in a pic of them.)
The house was lovely. Both Betsy and I said ‘I could live here’. Alas, not in the cards; yet, it didn’t keep us from drooling or thinking how we’d redo this and that room… :) No one really knows why Malmaison was so named but, as one site said, it could have been because of the occupants, not the house. Whatever the reason, the estate is beautiful. Napoleon held war councils here in a room framed out to resemble a battlefield HQ tent,
and had his own library/office with a hidden staircase where he could escape to his apartment
The rooms comprising Josephine’s apartment showed her bedroom where she died of a cold.
She was truly Napoleon’s love of his life, and it’s where he returned after her death prior to being exiled. It’s recorded he spent some alone time in her boudoir reflecting on his love for her. In his memoirs he wrote her death was ‘one of the most acute griefs of that fatal year of 1814.’
Another reason this house was fascinating was because of the many family portraits we saw. There is a famous one of Napoleon crossing the alps by Jacque-Louis David, originally commissioned by the Spanish King who just happened to be Bonaparte’s elder brother, Joseph, who hung it in Madrid. A little interesting snippet: David was on the Committee for Public Safety during the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, and he signed the death warrant for Josephine’s first husband. Small world, although not one I would have liked inhabiting.
Napoleon liked it so much he commissioned four others to hang elsewhere… one in Milan, two in Paris, and another kept with the artist until his death. There is a slight difference among all of them, with the original one now hanging in front of us at Mal Maison. Good PR for him as it shows him fitter than he was (the artist used his son as the model for the lower part) and he actually crossed the Alps on a mule (he wasn’t a good rider). The artist also threw in two other fearless leaders (Hannibal and Karolus Magnus or Charlemagne) carved in stone for good measure.
Portraits of Josephine hang throughout as well. You don’t see her showing any teeth when smiling because she had horrible teeth. Betsy and I remembered this fact from a series of historical fiction books on Josephine that our mom gave us. In spite being fictional we still gleamed enough history to match the personality of the house to the owner, Empress Josephine.
Josephine had two children (son and daughter) from her first marriage to Alexandre de Beauharnais, and after she died the house was taken over by her son, Prince Eugene de Beauharnais. The estate was later sold and then purchased by Napoleon III, Josephine’s grandson via her daughter Hortense and Napoleon’s brother Louis (yes, her step-uncle), who bought it from the widow of the King of Spain, Ferdinand VII, in 1861. Eventually, the estate was purchased by a philanthropist, David Iffla who called himself Osiris (no idea why). He renovated the home and then turned it over to the state allowing common folk such as us to tour and sigh over the loveliness found in this home.
Back in the car… where we dished out another high toll…
and to our airbnb.com home in Montparnasse SW of Paris Center.
Our arrival was timed perfectly to meet up with our young hosts Marco and Lisou, a couple expecting their first child. We found out we were their last renters for awhile due to a baby on the way, and they enthusiastically showed us how things worked and stressed to call them with any and all questions. They were delightful, and we were sorry they weren’t going to be around (they were heading back to Normandy to spend the holidays with her parents). She had even left us Christmas cookies (she explained her dad’s German, so Christmas is a big deal with her family).
The house is small and lovely and modern, and we settled in for another late and easy night. PJs de rigueur :)
DAY 11: Sunday, December 28
Pariee! And, GD was it blistering cold. I put on one shirt, two shirt, three shirt, and then a sweater followed by tights, pants, coat, neck warmer, and hat. Mittens were long sleeves pulled over fingers. With that I was sort of ready. Off we tramped to the Metro at Pleasance to Champs Elysee-Clemenceau stop to go to Louis Vuitton’s new Foundation, a modern art museum designed by the famous architect Frank Gehry (he did the Guggenheim in Bilboa, Spain, and that bank in Berlin we recently saw).
Reaching our stop, I blithely told Max and Betsy ‘follow me. I know where we’re going.’ Not quite. I got us to the s-t-o-r-e, which amazed Max to think that this guy made enough money to have his own museum. We educated him on the demand of women for certain pocket books. He was still shaking his head five hours later wondering what they looked like. I promised not to purchase one to show him.
At least I got us to the store where we were told how to really get to the new center, the Foundation Louis Vuitton, which the famous architect Frank Gehry designed, one that Betsy had mentioned she wanted to see. There was a special van running from the Arc d’Triumph (about two blocks further away) every 15 minutes. Luckily, I spotted one at the roundabout waiting. We scurried over and jumped in. Doors shut and off we trundled to the Bois de Boulogne (west of Paris center).
Well, it was new (opened in October) and it was a Sunday and it was a holiday week and it was frigging cold. So, when we saw the hours-long line, we did an about-face and tried to scramble back on the warm bus. No luck. We only had to wait another 15 minutes and, at least, it wasn’t the same driver. We were batting one to zero. As we drove away in the van, Max looked back at the huge new museum and commented there must be a wicked mark-up on women’s handbags.
Next idea: Musee d’Orangerie in Tullieres Gardens opposite end from the Lourve. We took the Metro and exited at the Gardens. Orienting ourselves we crossed to the Musee only to find, yep, you guessed it, an hour-long line… in the cold. Nope, Next.
So, now we’re two to none. Time for lunch, a pee break, and getting out of the cold. An hour later we’re back on the streets.
What about Notre Dame? It’s free, huge, and not a museum, per se. We thought it wouldn’t be a long walk, so we headed for that part of gay Pariee noting that if we walked by the Seine we’d be in the sun. Twenty minutes later with legs like popsicle sticks we’re there and see the line and say ‘what else?’
Three to zero and it’s getting close to when we could head over to check on our theater tickets. Max had seen on Tripadvisor some excellent reviews for ‘Hymne a Edith Piaf’ by Caroline Nin. A mix of English and French this chantreuse had performed to sold-out shows at the Sydney Opera House. Her Paris performance was in a 13th century building (underground) and catered to an intimate audience (40 at the most). He had reserved three tickets for the 6:00pm show, and we were looking forward to sitting down out of the cold. But, we still had two hours before we could do that.
We saw some exhibit banners at the Pompidou Center, one being for Frank Geary, so, we thought ‘what the hell? let’s check that out’. Hah! Hadn’t we learned? Sure enough, it was packed with a line out the door and bending around and around.
Realizing we now were at four to zero, we headed for libations, starting with coffee and migrating to alcohol after walking around the Marais area (where Betsy said she’d visited our friend Robbie when he was living there for a summer).
A little before six we returned to the Theater for our show. And, Max hit it out of the ballpark. She put on a spectacular show. We even purchased three CDs and had her autograph them. If anyone enjoys Edith Piaf’s music and is intrigued by her history, give yourself a gift by hearing Caroline Nin (carolinenin.com).
FYI: Edith Piaf tried to get two of her regular composers to write her melody down for the lyrics she had written. They both said they wouldn’t put their name to this song. Fortunately, the third person she approached loved it. And, even more fortunately we can close our eyes and drift along with the music.
DAY 12: Monday, December 29
Because there are a lot, and I mean A LOT, of folk trying to visit the same sites we are, Max had a brilliant idea of getting off the typical sight-seeing path. So, today we’re checking out some places researched the night before. Part of our tour including revisiting Rue Cler, a lovely pedestrian street located SW of the Eiffel Tower. We had stayed here a few years ago in February on a layover and, yes, it was freezing then, too, but not the inside shops and markets weren’t as crowded. We had found a little restaurant, Petit Cler, which served inexpensive meals amidst locals shoulder-to-shoulder, and we loved it. So, we thought it would be a wonderful way to remember our previous visit and to introduce Betsy to a favorite place of ours.
We stopped in at the hotel where we had stayed (unfortunately, the owners and their pup, Cannelle, weren’t there),
But, the street hummed with the same energy as the last time,
and we enjoyed the coziness and crowd at the tiny restaurant. Betsy, who had seen our water pitchers from here on Orr’s, ended up getting two herself :)
Then, she headed back to the Foundation Louis Vuitton while we began our trek to more obscure sites, such as Victor Hugo’s Maison (closed on Mondays but beautiful to see the park on which he lived). We passed a restaurant named Cape Horn where Max went in to ask why the name, and discovered it was owned and managed by some Chileans; but, he didn’t meet any fellow Cape Horners.
Another site on our list was the National Archives.
Walking along the courtyard’s path to the front door we passed some historical markers commemorating WW II. What was interesting, though, were the pedestals featured black and white photographs of France’s collaboration with the Germans. They, like the Germans, are facing their past and using it as a teaching instrument to those for whom that period of time is only experienced via history books.
The archives were open but only for another thirty minutes. But, boy, did we see some amazing documents:
a document on papyrus from 625 from the king to the Abbey of Saint-Denis
a letter from Jeanne d’arc to the people of Reims (1429?) (she was illiterate so she must have had it penned for her)
a letter from Napoleon on National Letterhead to Josephine (1796)
one of Marie Antoinette’s coded letters to her very (very) good friend, the Swedish Count Axel von Fersen (June 29, 1791)
All in French and no photos allowed but I did ask the front desk for a translation of a Robespierre list of people’s names that had ‘la tete’ written on it. I thought it was a list of future losses, but the three women who followed me to the display case said it was about the courage and heart of the men. Actually, they rushed to where I had found the scrawled list under glass. They admitted they couldn’t easily translate a lot of the earlier documents because they were in old French so maybe they, too, thought it was a list of heads to roll…
Another display case explained that cursive writing came about due to folk wanting to write quickly, hence the linking of letters. However, writing deteriorated so badly in the 16th and 17th centuries King Louis XIV demanded that people must write legibly. He would have loved typewriters. Better yet, computers with auto-correct. Except that could be dicey if not checked carefully. Imagine someone typing a note to him like I did to a good friend only to have ‘dear ____’ auto-correct to ‘dead ____’.
Finally, this site displayed some parchment rolls explaining they were used for lengthy records, such as trials; and, they said the one covering the Trial of the Knight Templars (1308-09) was 174 feet long. That wasn’t shown but added weight to the rationale for rolling documents.
Wishing we had more time we still were glad we got a taste of this collection. As an out-of-the-way exhibit it was a great find, thanks to Max, and we headed home content knowing we had seen something so informative (it would have been more so if we spoke ancient French). We also agreed to find more, less touristy sites to visit during our stay.
Picking up a chicken that goes round and round the three of us ended the night picking out our next day destinations while wishing we had Michelle and Danielle around who could finish off the carcass.
DAY 13: Tuesday, December 30
While Betsy went to the newly renovated Picasso Museum, Max and I returned to Victor Hugo’s Maison on Place des Vosges, the oldest square in Paris and designed by king Henry IV (1553-1610). [Interesting history: Catherine De Medici destroyed the royal residence, Hotel des Tournelles, after her husband Henry II died there (July 10, 1559) from wounds obtained from a tournament.] (When inside I looked out one of Hugo’s windows to see what he’d see, and this is of the square.)
We barely had to wait in line (a limited number of people are allowed in to ensure no over-crowding), and we were soon climbing on wide stairs to No.6 on the second floor of the Hotel de Rohan-Guemenee where Victor Hugo (1802-1885) lived with his wife and their four children.
He moved there at the age of thirty and began one of his best known works, Les Miserables. He finished this book when in political exile on Guernsey Island. The reason for this self-imposed exile began due to his lack of support for Napoleon III (called him a traitor to France… he’s probably lucky he kept his head). Hugo fled to Brussels in 1851 then the Channel Islands where he lived on Jersey until 1853. From there he moved to Guernsey living in Hauteville House until returning to Paris 1870.
One reason he selected the Channel Islands were their close affiliation with Normandy from when William I, Duke of Normandy, became King of England in 1066. These islands are self-governing but have been dependent territories of England since 1106 when Henry I, King of England and youngest son of William I, seized the Duchy of Normandy from his brother Robert. Hauteville House is the other Hugo home maintained as a museum.
ouring the apartment composed of decor from different times of his life with the ever-present audio guides we both learned a lot more about this famous author.
The anteroom has a portrait of his father, Leopold, the son of a carpenter who rose to social prominence as one of Napoleon’s generals. Due to his military career he travelled a lot. Eventually his mother, Sophie and a Catholic Royalist, got tired of the constant moving and just stayed in Paris. From then on Victor and his two siblings would split time between mother and father.
The red room decorated with heavy, red damask curtains and wallpaper, displayed more family portraits, including one of him,
and one of his wife Adele,
He was devoted to his four children, and you can get a sense of that caring in one of the pictures with his son.
The Chinese room is overwhelming and was designed by Hugo himself for his mistress, Juliette Druett (1806-1883), an actress… soon former actress, who became his secretary and traveling companion. She moved with him to the Channel Islands (but lived in a different house… Adele was still with him. Go figure.
He was a socially conscious activist and put his money where his mouth and pen were. At one point his wife Adele solicited writing inkwells from four famous authors: Alphonse de Lamartine, considered to be the first French romantic poet; George Sand, the first modern liberated woman and lover of Chopin; Alexandre Dumas, historical novelist (ie., The Count of Monte Crisco); and Hugo. The purpose was to raise funds at an auction to feed the poor. The inkwells were affixed to a desktop with plaques and now stands in this red room. (It didn’t sell at the auction due to the high price so Hugo bought it.)
The dining room reflects Hugo’s penchant for old chests, which he then had dismantled and reassembled to use as tabletops, doors, etc. This room, too, seems over the top, furnished with dark Gothic furniture and covered in brown wallpaper.
His bedroom, next to the study, is from 130 Avenue d’Eylau where he lived from (1878-1885). His writing desk used when standing is placed against one wall, which allowed us to envision him doing just that. It also has his bed where he died (beds where famous people have died are quite popular).
He was considered the ‘voice of the people.’ When he died over two million people (more than the population of Paris) came to the city for his funeral. No wonder. He spoke out for those who couldn’t, or, if they did, got kicked back down. He was and is (debate still goes on amidst radicals) a controversial figure due to his politics, which changed throughout his life ping-ponging from socialist to imperialist but always bourgeois. Yet, one can’t deny that his writings and many acts in life demonstrated his desire to help those who were often overlooked and scorned by those more fortunate.
You may remember from other comments in previous Blob Blogs that I really enjoy the overlapping and connectivity in history; and, a minor touch point here is Charles Dickens describing his meeting of Hugo in a letter to a good friend of his, Lady Blessingham, on January 27, 1849:
“I was much struck by Hugo himself, who looks like a Genius, as he certainly is very interesting from head to foot. His wife is a handsome woman with flashing black eyes, who looks as if she might poison his breakfast any morning when the humor seized her. There is also a ditto daughter of fifteen or sixteen, with ditto eyes, and hardly any drapery above the waist, whom I should suspect of carrying a sharp poignard in her stays but for her not appearing to wear any. Sitting among old armour, and old tapestry, and old coffers, and grim old chairs and tables, and old Canopies of state from old places, and old golden lions going to play at skittles with ponderous old golden balls, they made a most romantic show, and looked like a chapter out of one of his own books.”
A test for me of whether I’ve enjoyed a site or not is whether I want ‘more’… more information on a person, building, event. And, Victor Hugo’s apartment No.6 definitely left me with a hunger to learn more about this man’s life and times. Max left to explore more Joan of Arc historical places while I walked around the square waiting for Betsy. The Place des Vosges has plenty of art galleries, and I spotted a few that were just fun to look at.
Betsy arrived saying she missed out on the Picasso Exhibit because it was a 1.5 hour wait in line (again). Nothing like a popular city during holiday season. Instead she had wandered into the Carnavalet Museum, one covering the History of Paris. In spite of the displays being all in French, she said she didn’t have to wait in line and it was free. Oh, and it was interesting. Free? No line? Interesting? That museum went on the list for a ‘to-do’ tour.
We decided to walk to St. Germain, an area familiar to her. We crossed the river and just window-shopped as we made our way to Le Petit Cler to meet Max. Along the way
we saw Autolib, a pay-as-you-drive electric rental car, at one of the 1,200 recharging stations…
the English book store where Jonathan R., the son/nephew/grandson of some great family friends of ours use to live and work (he slept on a cot on the second floor in return for working there). See if you can spot B (hint: look for a furry hat).
a fun graphic for a kid school…
another sign that at a briefest of glances I thought ‘wow!’ until Betsy reminded me the McCarthy ending’s not ‘tney’ but ‘thy’…
and, something for our friend Carol E. who’d appreciate this on the streets of Paris as much as I :)
We made it to Rue Cler where we found Max enjoying a libation while he’d been waiting for us, holding our seats. We joined him and began an early, New Year’s celebratory dinner out, our best (and only one out) in Paris.
We finished off the night with Max posing in the Metro and Betsy studiously ignoring him (wise choice).
DAY 14: Wednesday, December 31
After hearing Betsy’s description of the Carnavalet Museum (name comes from the original mansion converted to a museum in 1880 and enlarged in 1989 by annexing another mansion next door), we all decided to go. Betsy went with us to wait with a newspaper at a cafe for then all of us were heading to another not-so-busy (we hope) museum, Musee Jaquemart-Andre.
We planned only a brief (one hour) stop-in; yet, we discovered they offered audio-guides, which made us wish we had agreed to a longer time. But, even with the short time we were there it was easy to get a sense of whether it was worth returning (it is) at a later date.
One of the first rooms has iron signs dangling from the ceiling. Unbeknownst to me, street signs were the only way to identify addresses until 1805 when Paris made street numbering compulsory. Who would have thought it?
One room had three bedrooms set-up where you could peer in, one belonging to Marcel Proust no less, with the iron bed he had owned since age 16.
Another room was dedicated to two famous philosophers, Voltaire (1694-1778) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), who detested one another.
Their thoughts on mankind were exactly opposite: Voltaire believed education and reason are the tickets to a better life while Rousseau felt nature is man’s salvation. This excerpt says it all from a letter Voltaire wrote to Rousseau after receiving a copy of Rousseau’s Social Contract:
“I have received your new book against the human race, and thank you for it. Never was such a cleverness used in the design of making us all stupid…”
After leaving the museum, Betsy and I got sidetracked while Max left for our next museum tour, the home of Edouard Andree (1833-94) and Nelie Jacquemart (1841-1912). He was the son of the wealthiest Protestant banker in town, she a well-known society painter.
The house has both public and private rooms on tour, all filled with priceless art work. Built in 1869 and finished six years later, it was a home everyone wanted to see. (The walls of the grand salon could be lifted so three rooms became one, large enough to entertain 1,000 people. Not bad.) The party in 1875 celebrating its opening attracting the creme de la creme draped in jewels and fancy dress. [However, the audio guide said diamonds weren’t suppose to be worn; they were considered crass and tacky, and they scratched the guests with their sharp points. Oh well. Let them wear pearls while eating cake]
This husband-wife team met when she painted his portrait. Ten years later, they married in 1881. According to a guard we met (Froggy Francois, a name HE called himself, not us), it was a marriage of reason not of romance. Good thing as Edouard had syphilis and Nelie was just looking for a wealthy man (info from Francois).
Yet, it was a happy marriage due to their shared love of art and goal of collecting it. During their thirteen years of marriage they travelled a lot (were planning on a North Pole trip but Edouards’s health nixed that idea), purchasing art of all kinds and then displaying it throughout their mansion; but, they never wanted to outbid the Louvre for both supported the Paris museum (open to the public since the French Revolution).
Paintings by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, and Botticelli adorn the walls along with tapestries, frescoes, and sculpture such as the bust of Pope Gregory by Bernini.
Considering Edouards’ wealth, it’s not too shocking the masterpieces he and Nelie acquired. What was shocking was hearing this couple described on the audio guide as upper ‘middle’ class. Yeah, right.
In one room Francois pointed out the differing perspective in a painting: her knees face you either side you’re on….
He also told us to go back into the previous room where a bunch of the Dutch paintings were exhibited and gave us an assignment: how many people are in the Jesus-at-the-table painting by Rembrandt? We finally got it right, but it only proved how valuable and entertaining this guard was. Why he wasn’t teaching an art class I don’t know. Then again, he might be!
Just an example of how opulent this mansion was… off of the winter garden room (lots of window panes) was a staircase designed to be different (placed at the end of the house vs. center) and magnificent (marble spiral). The architect who lost the bid for the Paris Opera house wanted to create a showpiece, and he did, one that’s never been duplicated. The twin staircase climbed to the next floor
where this was on the ceiling (which, by the way, was above the music room).
And, this is only a small smattering of what we saw in this house of art. [I can’t do this place justice so here’s a link for anyone wanting to really see the place: http://musee-jacquemart-andre.com/en/home.]
After his death, Nelie continued adding to their collection with both Egyptian artifacts and English paintings. When she died, she followed her husband’s wishes and bequeathed the house and its contents to a private instituion, Institut de France. Which is why Francois kept asking us if we knew Bill Gates for this private organization needs money for upkeep of this glorious house of art.
Max caught up with us when we were conversing with our new-found buddy, Francois, and commented that Bill Gates is off curing malaria at the moment.
Max decided to head off to the see the Musee des Egouts , i.e., Paris’ sewers. I was contemplating going with him but, after reading comments about the smell with one visitor warning people not to visit during the hot summer months, I decided sipping wine with Betsy was much more preferable.
Our last night we brought out the bottle purchased at Lelarge-Pugeot Vineyard and named for their daughter Clemence whom we had met. It seemed a fitting end to 2014.
DAY 15: Thursday, January 1
We left for Gare du Nord and our morning trains back to London. Betsy was flying on to Cincinnati and we were training it to Ipswich.
But, I had to have one shot of the Metro, the transport we relied on so heavily during our visit, and at least one more bread item at the station.
Speaking of carbohydrates I read something on Eurostar’s napkin, which adds to my fondness for France… “Je ne regrette rien. Calories don’t count when crossing time zones.” Now, that’s the type of philosophy I can easily adore.
What a trip, what a wonderful group of people with which to share it, and what beautiful memories.