Thursday, February 25, 2010

Musée de Luxembourg

One of my favorite museums in Paris is the Luxembourg, located at the base of the Jardin de Luxembourg at 19 rue de Vaugirard. The expositions are not at all overwhelming, as the space is relatively small. The theme, therefore, is generally very sharply focused, making it quite pleasurable to savor and understand the art in the intimate space there. Of course, it's also lovely to take a stroll in the garden afterwards.

The image of the angel above is a study of a Véronèse painting from a show I saw at the Musée de Luxembourg some years ago, called Véronèse Profane.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

I Love Birds!

Give me some bird song, and my spirits are instantly lifted, I don't know what it is, but there's nothing like a few birds chirping at the window to make everything seem just fine and dandy with me. The return of some of our bird populations this week, flying up from the south and settling into the vines and trees near the front door, make spring seem not so far off. Of course this isn't California, where spring really DOES begin in mid-February, still our new seasonal residents are sing gloriously away and I am beginning to dream of warmer days.

One of my favorite bird poems is this by Gerald Manley Hopkins: 

The Windhover

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird -- the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, 
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The History of the World in 100 Objects

I love history, so I was delighted to discover a new podcast produced by the British Museum entitled The history of the World in 100 Objects. Every weekday, for 100 days, one object from the collection of the museum is discussed. The program is very well realized and authoritatively presented by the incredibly knowledgeable Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum. Each program is under 15 minutes long. There is also a web site where one can listen to the shows and see all the objects. There is a lot of extra detailed information there.

The Mold Gold Cape (object 19) pictured above is from Northern Wales and made by a Bronze Age craftsman about 4000 years ago. Its discovery certainly changed the ideas of what prehistoric man was capable of!

There is certainly a lot of controversy around the issue of treasures collected in the 18th-19th century by colonial governments, and claimed, cataloged and displayed in museums far from the object's country of origin. There is no doubt that the British Museum holds a great number of treasures of some resentful current governments who would like them back. It is also true that the British have been very conscientious custodians of these precious objects. I have some very mixed feelings about museums, but it is a great privilege to see these fascinating objects all in one place and be able to learn about them one by one from an erudite historian.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Living in the Past

My husband likes to reflect that when our house was built, California was still scarcely populated. It does make a contrast living in a place where almost everything evokes a distant past. I like to think that the buildings in our village have witnessed countless stories as generations have come and gone over hundreds of years. Nowadays it's hard to imagine craftsmen building structures that will last long into the future. Any futuristic visions in our time seem to involve other planets, space ships and distant galaxies. I guess writers can't conceive of our own world continuing. Certainly this was not the case in the Middle Ages when most of the buildings in our village were constructed. People were willing to spend a lifetime building a cathedral. And they must have expected it would stand almost forever. Time must have been experienced in a completely different way. I like to imagine what it was like living during times when the rhythms of days were organized around the sun and the bells from the church steeple.

I usually spend my time making etchings, but sometimes I miss the ease of drawing and painting. Lately I have brought back out my prisma colors and am enjoying the directness and freedom they give me. This drawing is made with watercolor washes and colored pencil.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Traveling to London?

If you're planning a trip to London during the next few months, be sure not to miss this! At the Royal Academy of Arts there is an exhibition entitled The Real Van Gogh, the artist and his letters. The show is in conjunction with the recent publication of the complete letters of the artist.

The Telegraph of London gives the show it's top rating, saying: "The Royal Academy's brilliant new show not only has some of the artist's fiest works, but also reveals their stories."

Until the 18th of April.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Last night the fog rolled in and we couldn't see the world beyond the church. In the evenings, until midnight, there are street lights on the place and so the whole scene was a monochrome brownish orange. This morning, before the fog lifted, I woke up to pale blue. This is the view from our bedroom window, with our own third floor roof in the foreground. I made a simple etching to try and capture the impression of quiet and calm.

I have grown fond of crows, called more poetically in French, les corbeaux. They keep us company all year long. Their cries are evocative and not at all harsh. They decorate every rooftop and circle the church constantly.

Here the weather changes very quickly. The morning's fog was washed away in a light rain by the time we had finished our breakfast. By mid-morning this was the view of the church from our front gate:

The day can go from gray to blue, from rain to snow to sun in a matter of minutes; and usually does. It's all quite unpredictable! And when the sky is blue, it's a deep cobalt

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Living in a Pink Cloud


My friend Wendy from Australia tells me I should be on the payroll of the French government. I'm such a booster. We had some clients last weekend (French) who couldn't understand how we could feel at home here. But what about the bureaucracy? Aren't the villagers narrow-minded? Don't they refuse to accept you? Isn't the government just terrible? We always enjoy the incredulity our clients express that we would have left San Francisco to live in the back of beyond in a tiny village in France.

We like to explain that here we live in a pink cloud. Our French language skills are just fuzzy enough that we can see and hear only the things that appeal to us. That, of course, is part of the charm of making a radical change in life. In truth we have been very well received and very kindly treated in this little corner of the world. 

I think many of the French romanticize the United States and especially San Francisco just as some Americans think of France as the origin of all things civilized, sexy and fashionable.

I have wanted my blog to offer a few fellow travelers out there, especially the arm-chair variety, some tales from the life of a Californian city girl turned French country bumpkin. I have made a resolution to post more often but briefly. I love your comments, so keep them coming!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Bragging about France

I am posting here an article written for CNN on February 11, 2010. I am re-thnking and re-designing my blog so much more later, including some photos and a description of Barcelona, which we will be visiting early in March. In the meantime, I thought you might enjoy this article: 
Why France is best place to live in world  
by Daniela Deane 

Half-timbered houses in Calvados in the Auge countryside, an area that has some of the most beautiful villages in France.

• France scores high marks across the board, especially in health care
• U.S. drops to seventh place from third because of economy
• French enjoy everything from Riviera beaches to Alpine skiing
• Vacations are long, leaves are generous, lifestyle good

London, England (CNN) -- Bindi Dupouy, an Australian living in Paris, and her French husband, just had their first child, a son born in the country.

Dupouy, a 28-year-old lawyer, got almost five months paid maternity leave from her company for the birth. She can take another seven months off beyond that -- a year total -- unpaid, if she wants, with her job guaranteed under French law.

When her son Louis was born, healthy and by way of a normal delivery, she got to stay in her local French hospital, around the corner from where she lives, for five full days, to rest.

Welcome to France, voted the best place in the world to live for the fifth year in a row by International Living magazine, which has been analyzing data and publishing its annual Quality of Life Index for 30 years.

One of the reasons France keeps winning the ranking is its world-class health care system, which Dupouy just experienced first-hand.

Gallery: French delight

"They treat expecting mums like treasures here," Dupouy told CNN from her Paris apartment. "They take really good care of you. The health care system is just amazing." She said she wouldn't have gotten the same maternity leave -- or care -- back home in Australia.

At her job, Dupouy also gets seven weeks paid vacation a year, although it's her first job as an attorney since graduating with a law degree in Australia. She doesn't think twice about taking the Metro across town -- for just $1.37 a ride -- to visit a friend. Or she picks up a rental bike at one of the many computerized bike hire racks in town to get around.

France scores high marks across the board in the survey, which is done every January, from health care (100 points) to infrastructure (92 points) to safety and risk (100 points).

"No surprise," said the magazine in its report. "Its (France's) tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world's best health care."

"The bread, the cheese, the wine," Dan Prescher, special projects editor at the magazine, told CNN, when asked why France just keeps on winning year after year. "That weighs pretty heavily in quality of life.

Prescher admitted the magazine had an "American bias" since the vast majority of its subscribers are Americans spending in U.S. dollars. "France is one of those golden places in the American consciousness," he said.

The annual index ranks 194 countries and comprises nine categories: Cost of Living, Culture and Leisure, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Safety and Risk and Climate. The Index analyzes data from several official sources, including government web sites, the World Health Organization, and several media sources.

Following France in the top ten are Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the U.S., Belgium, Canada and Italy, in that order.

"France always nets high scores in most categories," the magazine said. "But you don't need number-crunchers to tell you its 'bon vivant' lifestyle is special. It's impossible to enumerate the joy of lingering for hours over dinner and a bottle of red wine in a Parisian brasserie. Or strolling beside the Seine on a spring morning, poking through the book vendors' wares."

Other European countries slipped a little in the magazine's rankings this year, with the exception of France and Germany. Britain dropped to 25th place from last year's ranking of 20.

Variety is also seen as a major factor in France's appeal, with the survey noting that "romantic Paris offers the best of everything, but services don't fall away in Alsace's wine villages, in wild and lovely Corsica, in lavender-scented Provence."

The United States dropped from third to seventh place in this year's rankings, largely because of the grinding economic crisis last year. "Sustaining the American dream has escalated out of the reach of many," the magazine said.

"The depression hit the United States and Great Britain hard," Prescher told CNN. "That weighs down the ratings."

Of course, France too has its problems. The country suffers from high youth unemployment, particularly among the disaffected young people who live in its equivalent of the projects, known as les banlieues.

Late last year, the French government opened a national discussion about national identity, which has evolved into debates over whether immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, are French enough. The country has the highest Muslim population of any European country, with an estimated six million living in the country.

But for the most part, French people enjoy a good lifestyle. International Living says that during their large chunk of leisure time, the French enjoy visiting the country's many beaches and Alpine ski resorts.

Dupouy -- like more famous expats Ernest Hemingway and Julia Child before her -- agrees.

She and her husband vacation every year at the seaside near Bordeaux, in the southwest corner of France, where her husband's family has a home. They also go skiing in the Alps during the winter.

She says that even if she and her husband decide to leave France for awhile during their lives, they'll always come back -- every year, probably.

"The culture, the food, the family, it's all just really nice here," said Dupouy.