Thursday, May 23, 2013

Between raindrops

Climate change is effecting the narrative on our little planet. Monster storms, odd-ball inversions; wherever you are, weather seems to be big news. This wasn't the case when I was young. Those were the days when you could predict the weather based on the date, and never be very far wrong. Not so now. Spring here has been very unsettled and the birds, plants and I are all a bit confused.

While in Moscow people are apparently turning on their air conditioners, over here the heat has gone back on and we're searching around for left over sticks of wood to build another fire. Significant downpours have kept me inside. Looking out from my studio window, it seems as if everything wants to bloom.

If I see a shaft of sunlight, I throw down whatever I'm working on and rush outside. Ah, for the glory of the sun on your cheek!

Our terrace garden is in form this year, despite the off and on weather. My favorite clematis has been blooming extravagantly for a couple of weeks and shows no sign of slowing down. The jasmine that shares the trellis will bloom later.

Even the yellow rose that climbs up the front of the house is covered in buds and is beginning to present itself.

I am really enjoying the terrace this year as everything has nicely filled in. I wanted to show you the full view, how it looks from our front gate, so I used Photoshop to put several separate photos into one panorama. It did a half-decent job,. Except for the distortion in the middle, this gives a fairly accurate representation. Be sure to click on the photo for a larger view.

Irises, temporary as they are, are among my favorite flowers. Outside my workshop this year is a lovely profusion of classic dark purple ones.

Lilacs are in their glory all over the village.

Our garden is in early spring mode; so much in bloom and yet so much left to emerge. The dahlias have not even poked the smallest leaf out as yet and the annuals - sweet peas, sunflowers and nasturtiums are barely starting. We haven't dared to put out our tomatoes yet. It's still just too inclement.

The wall around the far side of the garden is the ancient defensive rampart of the village and is quite thick, perhaps 8 feet. On top grow trees, shrubs, vines and these iris. All volunteers.

Our project this summer is to build a deck. For the moment it is a huge patch of weeds just beyond the little cherry tree.

My all-time favorite garden was one we visited in England many years ago, called Hadspen. It no longer exists but has remained the model garden in my mind. Nori and Sandra Pope created a garden based on color and it was truly breathtaking.

I tried to follow the basic principles when we put our own garden together. I certainly have neither the knowledge nor creativity, or the time that is required to really accomplish a garden like Hadspen, but with each succeeding year, the garden does look better and better.

The stand of white iris enlivens the garden at this time of year. I hate to watch them bloom out, but as they do the rest of the later bloomers, like the roses and penstemon begin to come alive.

This little beauty blooms early too and keeps the irises company.

I've lost track of some of those vigorous perennials. I've forgotten who they are, but each year they come back in force.

None of my beds are yet perfect. This one has gotten a little mixed up, but I love the light blue linen plants which this year are well-established.

This may not look like columbine; it doesn't to me, but it is. Maybe a mutant one, as it seems to have changed its form since last year.

Another pleasure of the spring garden are the daises in the grass. They remind me of being about eight years old. I always feel a compulsion to make chains.

Yesterday, while Rick did the work, I sat in my chair, enjoyed the sun in my eyes and dreamed of the summer garden.


One positive result of so much rain is an electric green world to live in. This is the forest of Montmirail as we passed through it last week on our way to visit the family in Paris.

Rick built a nice desk/sewing table for Emily. It turned out beautifully well.

Emily has become a most excellent seamstress. Here Quinn proudly models the hoodie (lined in yummy white fleece) she made for him.

Zinnie is fully upright these days.

While Rick was building, Quinn and I made our own structure.

Quinn and his mother did some baking one afternoon. Here's his monster bread. Seems a shame to eat him, he's so cute.

Friday, May 10, 2013

I love Paris (and everywhere else) in the spring time

The springtime is my time of year. As the fruit trees blossom pink and white, and the yellow green new born leaves unfurl themselves, my mood is lifted higher and higher. Everything about the season, from the busy, chatty birds, to the white puffy clouds scudding in a pastel blue sky, fills me with well-being and energy. All of a sudden everyone is on the move, we've had a very active social life in the last few weeks, meeting up again with people we haven't seen in months. And of course the garden calls out to us. An afternoon of weeding in the springtime sun is one of life's genuine pleasures. The phone has begun to ring too. People are making their plans.

One of my favorite features of the local spring landscape are the endless fields of colza (rapeseed) that delight the eye around every turn. They last a short couple of weeks, but they are definitely a springtime highlight while they last.

I take my after-lunch coffee outside on the terrace, usually sun bathing along with my lizard friend who lives beneath the roses somewhere. Everything pleases my senses this time of year.

Our good friends Cass and Billy came from California to spend some time with us. We took the opportunity for a day trip down to the Loire Valley.

Our first stop was Vendôme on the river Loir. This medium sized town is one we like very much, and this time we discovered much more of it than we had explored previously. Vendôme is an ancient settlement, first Gallic, then Roman, and later a very important Medieval center. An abbey here claimed to possess a tear that Jesus shed at the tomb of Lazarus. The center of the town is very pretty, with its grand stone buildings.

It seems to project a sense of former glory and grandeur. However, it is not altogether forsaken in present times, as a high speed train link makes it less than an hour's commute from Paris.

We had lunch and took a very pleasant stroll along the river beneath the trees.

Old stone bridges lead to some gorgeous residences which line the river.

Our next stop was Blois, which we have visited before with Cass and Billy, but this time we took a tour of the château there, which none of us had ever done before. It is a huge castle and was the main residence of several kings of France, including Louis XII and François I. It has almost 600 rooms, including 100 bedrooms.

The central courtyard reveals four wings, each completely different architecturally, which is natural as construction progressed from the thirteenth through the seventeenth centuries.

Above, the Renaissance wing. Below, the classic.

There is a lovely covered stone staircase on the outside of the Renaissance wing, designed for François I by Leonardo da Vinci. It is not as grand as the one he designed for the Château of Chambord, which is a double helix and large enough for several horses and riders to use at the same time; but quite pleasant to walk up and down.

The rooms are highly decorated with ornate wall coverings, carved wooden paneling and decorative tile floors. A bit busy for my taste.

The castle sits on the hill above the city with a lovely view over roof tops to the Loire. I don't think it has changed very much in 400 years. There is something about these slate roofs that enchants me.


After they left, Billy attended a conference in Paris, and Cass was on her own during the days, so I went in to town to keep her company. We went to see the Marc Chagall exhibit at the Musée du Luxembourg Between War and Peace. If you will be in Paris before July 21st, I highly recommend that you take it in. This is one of our favorite museums in Paris. It is small, and thus the shows are focused and easy to take in without the sense of museum fatigue that often descends in huge places like the Louvre or the Musée d'Orsay. I don't know about you, but for my money Chagall is the twentieth century's most wonderful artist. The show covered his entire career, which spanned both wars.

Chagall, of course, was born in Russia and much of his imagery harkens back to his childhood.


He lived a major portion of his adult life in France. During the Nazi occupation of Paris he was forced to flee to the United States, but returned after the war and died in the South of France in 1985. Chagall lived almost an entire century (he was 97 when he died), experiencing much of the upheavals that marked those times. Still, for me, even as he expresses the terrible horrors of war, political repression and religious persecution, there is something entirely hopeful in his work. And he certainly celebrates human love.

The Jardin du Luxembourg is right in the center of Paris, of course, and is beautiful throughout the year, but particularly so in spring. The display of tulips was extravagant.

It is the second largest park in Paris and probably the most popular. There are numerous children's play areas, tennis, chess playing, model sailboat racing, puppet shows, lots of chairs for sun bathing and miles of strolling paths. Glorious.

The flower borders are spectacular.

There is sun and shade,

and many wonderful vistas.

Cass and I trekked all over Paris, such a walkable city. We had various errands that took us from Saint-Germain-des-Prés to Notre Dame, the Marais and Ile Saint Louis. Along the way we saw this charming café, located a block south of the river, near Place St. Michel.

After a couple of hours of walking hither and yon, enjoyable though it was, we were seriously tired and the day was warm. We decided to buy a ticket for the Batobus and sail along the river while we waited for Billy who would join us for dinner. A day ticket is 15€, not inexpensive, but well worth it if you are planning to do a lot of touristing during your day in Paris. The Batobus is like a bus or the metro, but you can "hop on and hop off" all day long with your pass, and of course it's a much more pleasant way to get from one spot to the next. It is not like the huge bateaux mouches which have blaring commentary as you glide along. It is simply a nice mode of transportation, though rather slow. It makes a circle on the river between the Hôtel de Ville and the Eiffel Tower, stopping in between at Notre Dame, the Louvre, Champs-Elysées, Musée d'Orsay and the Jardin des Plantes. The entire tour takes about an hour and forty minutes. Cass and I stayed on and enjoyed Parisian sites from the middle of the river.

The Hôtel de Ville:

The Louvre:

Sunbathing next to Notre Dame:

Enjoying life on the quai near Musée d'Orsay:

The Eiffel Tower:

Billy was waiting for us at the quai in front of the Eiffel Tower. We had made reservations at the famous restaurant La Fontaine de Mars, which is just a short walk from here. It also just happens to be right around the corner from our old Paris apartment, so I feel very nostalgic in this neighborhood. This is one of the oldest bistrots in Paris and very popular. In fact, when President Obama brought his family to Paris shortly after his first election, they chose to eat here.

This was Cass and Billy's last night in town and it seemed the perfect final note. The food was typically French, in the best sense.


Back at home, our terrace garden is coming to life, including the blooming of my favorite clematis.