Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Remembrance of Things Past

When we were making our plans to move here from California, someone dear to me asked incredulously, "You're moving to France, and you've never read Proust?" She was right, of course. How could I expect to understand my adoptive country without having absorbed À La Recherche du Temps Perdu? My literary friend very kindly gave me Un Amour de Swann, a small section of the whole work. In French. One is given to understand that Proust must be read in the original; it is all about the language. I noted that she, who ostensibly does not speak French, had underlined and made notes in the margins. I, who should have spoken French, flipped through the pages, eyes swimming, and filed the book on a shelf next to the other unread French novels I had begun to collect.

Finally I can say I have rectified this situation....well sort of. I have at least read some of Proust, although I admit, in English translation. Here is the story:

A few weeks ago we had a printmaker, and her filmmaker husband, come stay at Maison Conti on the way between their homes in London and Lucerne. Every time a printmaker has come to stay with us, I have become friends with them. Friends far-flung, but kindred spirits nonetheless. Hjørdis and I spent a long time in my studio trading ideas and techniques. She also told me that not 40 minutes drive from our house is the Proust museum, which in the several years we'd lived here, we had never discovered. Located in the village of Illiers, (renamed Illiers-Combray in 1971 on the 100th anniversary of Proust's birth),  Tante Léonie's house is kept very much as it was when young Marcel came to stay each year at Holy Week. In his book Proust names the village Combray, and it is to the times spent there that he is recalled when he tastes that famous madeleine. Hjørdis and Hans-Peter are making a movie about the village, and she urged me to visit and create a set of prints based on this local resource.

And so I have begun. We arrived in Illiers-Combray after lunch one day recently and were the sole visitors in the museum. I was armed with my camera, which hung around my neck as we paid our entrance fee and were given free rein of the entire house. It seemed so wonderful and slightly insane. I snapped pictures in every room in order to gather my visual data for the illustrations/prints to be developed. We spent about an hour discovering all the corners of this funny old place and reading Proust's corresponding descriptive passages provided in the brochure we'd received at the entry. As we finished our self-guided tour, we saw a sign which read "Please, no photographs in the house." Hmm. Well, I do apologize, but make here the suggestion that the request be posted at the entrance rather than the exit.

I have launched my project and will post my first results here next week, if all goes well. And Proust and I curl up together every day now as I discover what I have been missing all these years.

My literary friend came to visit us last month. I'm so sorry I didn't know of this place while you were here! It makes a wonderful day trip from Montmirail and there are nice walks and other Proust sites to discover nearby.

Here is Marcel Proust in 1887, several years after he stopped coming to see his aunt Léonie. He developed asthma when he was nine and was unable to visit the countryside again.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

It's Euroweek on Etsy!

 8 Autumn Acorns for sale at astashtoys, Blackpool, UK

For this entire week (22-28 March), the European shops on Etsy are being featured and promoted. That means you have the opportunity to discover some really fabulous stores and take advantage of discounts, free international shipping and surprises which many of the Euro sellers are offering. There are a lot of very talented artists and craftsman located on the continent. I've gathered together just a few here. To discover a more comprehensive list visit the European Street Team Etsy catalog.

Brown Leather Handmade Necklace, for sale from Baghy, Bucharest, Romania

Mosaic Relief, for sale from BlueTerracotta, Lyon France

Linen Bunny Rabbit, for sale from DonataFelt, Vinius, Liehuania

Nessie's Rose Garden - reversible shawl, for sale from ThongbalTatong, Netherlands

 Stepping Stones - necklace and earrings set, for sale from staroftheeast, Marmaris, Turkey

Hand dyed Merino wool sock, for sale from Snowberrylime, Cardiff, Wales

Needle Felted Chubby, for sale from 5erg, Estonia

Enjoy shopping!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Bella Barcelona - Part 5, Parks

This will be my last post about Barcelona...after all, we've been back almost two weeks. But the city had so many charms and was extremely photogenic, so I can't resist adding just one last post about a couple of the beautiful (and very expansive) open spaces. Here you'll see images of two very lovely parks.

The first is in the Parc de La Ciutadella, Barcelona's central park, located in lower Barcelona, near to the sea. It has a really fantastic fountain of monumental proportions, a zoo, a lake for boating and endless walking paths.

At the center of the park is the Catalan Parliament building, still used by the government.

At the other extreme of the city, in the Zona Alta, there is the Parc Güell. It is situated in the most northern part of Barcelona, which is more residential and quite steep. The park is a UNESCO world Heritage Site. You find there numerous shady walkways, sun-lite terraces, and plenty of Gaudi's organic mosaic creations. It is a very popular place for people to congregate. It is quite a hike to get from the metro, which leaves you out at the bottom of the hill, up through the precipitous streets leading to the Park, but it is well worth the effort, for the view points afford an incredible panorama of both the city and the sea beyond.


The park is named for Gaudí's patron Eusebio Güell, who encouraged and commissioned the architect to create some of his most dramatic buildings, including his fantastical church Sagranda Familia. Gaudí helped to develop the park. I think it's safe to say that it's truly unique.

Casa Museu Gaudí is located at the foot of the park. It was originally built in 1904, but Gaudí made it his home from 1906 until he died in 1926. The house was bought, restored and became a museum to honor Gaudí in 1963.

My next post will bring us back to France, where it is definitely spring!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bella Barcelona - Part 4, Restaurants

We ate our way through Barcelona and found the restaurants to be abundant, inexpensive and really fabulous. Meal times are much later than Anglo or even French habits, but we got used to that. Once we had dinner served to us at midnight.

Our habit was to leave the apartment at mid-morning and find a place for esmorzar (breakfast in Catalan). We always ordered orange juice,  croissant and a café con leche.  After a long night of sleeping, what better way to start the day than by relaxing in the sun?

There are lots of wonderful cafés everywhere you go in the center of the city. It is just a matter of choosing one.

Dinar (Catalan for lunch) was generally our biggest meal. We had some really memorable mid-day meals.

Don't arrive before 1PM, since they will still be setting up, and things don't really start jumping until 2 or 3.

We had the distinct advantage of having a friend with us who lives in Barcelona and could identify the best places to eat. We had one of the most pleasant lunches we've ever had at La Mar Salada. Located on the harbor, it doesn't look like much from the outside, but the food was divine. On the terrace where we sat, the sun was shinning gloriously and the waiters were charming and attentive. We were nurtured from top to bottom. I had a green tomato gazpacho and tuna steak dressed in a delicious teriyaki sauce. For dessert, the chocolate bomb. We also realized that we'd read about this restaurant in the New York Times.

We loved the tapas, particularly the gambas al Ajillo (garlic shrimp), Calamares Fritos (fried squid) and patatas bravas (fried popatoes served with aioli and paprika sauce). The sea food was particularly fresh, the sauces particularly tasty.

Spanish wine is quite nice as well. We enjoyed some fabulous crisp whites and mellow reds. We had a wine cellar not far from our apartment. My favorite white was Viña Sol, so easy to drink, like grapefruit juice, and so refreshing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Bella Barcelona - Part 3 Joan Miró

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893 and lived until 1983, so he witnessed and was influenced by all the chaos of the twentieth century. He was friends with the poet Garcia Lorca who was killed by Franco during Spain's fascist period. During the dictator's reign, it was a capital offense to speak the native Catalan language. Miró spent the Franco years in France.

During the final years of Miró's life, and with the encouragement of his Majorcan wife Pilar Juncosa, he built Fundació Joan Miró on Montjuic, not far from Franco's execution grounds. This is one of the loveliest and most entertaining museums I have ever visited. It was easy to spend an entire day there.

I was not particularly a Miró fan before visiting the Fundació, but I certainly left there a committed one. His work is colorful, playful and seems to be very appealing to children.

The architecture of the museum is modern, in the best sense of the word. It is expansive and clean. There is a lovely garden with panoramic views of Barcelona, a gift shop, book store, café and restaurant. There are lots of places to sit down and many rooms to visit. The collection is impressive. Like Picasso, Miró was extremely prolific and lived a long life, working until the end.

He did large colorful paintings and charming fanciful sculptures.

The museum also had a fun temporary exposition while we were there. Each artist had an entire wall to decorate. They were mostly fresh and fun. They seemed exuberant, which is how the entire museum space feels.

My next post will recommend some restaurants in Barcelona.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bella Barcelona - Part 2 At the Market

Wandering through a fresh-air market is fundamentally nurturing. Barcelona has several fine ones. During our first morning, we discovered the Mercat St. Josep, in the old town. Something about food, so colorful and elegantly arranged, satisfies all the senses and makes one dream of pleasant pass times in the kitchen. Of course we took most of our meals out, so my consumption was through the lens of a camera.

It seemed quite remarkable to me that even in early March, there was so much gorgeous produce available.

We returned to the market on our last day in town, just before leaving for the airport, to purchase some Spanish ham and cheese. Of course these products are easily available in France, but it's such a pleasure to purchase them from the source.

Although I think it's difficult to beat French breads and pastries, Barcelona does have some wonderful bakeries with a Spanish twist on their baked goods. Generally they are a little hardier and less delicate, which, from time to time, makes quite a nice change.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Bella Barcelona - Part 1, Architecture

We have just returned from five days spent in Barcelona. It was our first visit to the city and only our second time in Spain. The stay was long enough to absorb the atmosphere and learn our way around. With the highly recommended Top 10 Barcelona by Eye-Witness, we were able to discover wonderful little corners, bustling markets, gorgeous architecture, must-not-miss sites and fabulous museums, not to mention some outstanding restaurants and cafes. We experienced all the four seasons in the brief time we were there. It rained, it shone and it even snowed while the temperatures varied wildly between about 35 - 75 degrees. We rented an apartment in the Poble Sec neighborhood just at the foot of Montjuic and a short walk to the Harbor and sea. 

I have so many nice photographs of Barcelona that I will post several blogs about the city. This post mostly focuses on the architecture and general ambiance of the city.

Barcelona, like many Spanish cities, has narrow shady streets (cool in the hot summer months) which open out onto large squares, where people congregate.




Barcelona is a city that has been greatly influenced by her native sons, particularly by the modernist architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). His fantastical church, Sagranda Famillía which has been under construction since 1883 is not estimated to be completed until 2026.

Many of the buildings in Barcelona are extravagantly ornamented. Certainly Gaudi and those who came after him have lent much to the city's decoration, but Barcelona's history is long and many of its buildings have stood for hundreds of years. It seems always to have been a place of architectural taste and experimentation. It has often, throughout its history, been a very prosperous city.

 The harbor and Mediterranean Sea were just a short walk from our apartment. Our first day in town was clear, bright and warm. We had lunch next to the harbor and walked along the boardwalk afterwards.

Next post will feature Barcelona markets. I simply can't resist taking photos of food!