Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy birthday to me...

We discovered the village Villaines la Gonais on my birthday and found it to be completely charming

Since last talking to you here on the blog, I have been having a non-stop birthday celebration. It began when Emily and family came chez nous for the actual day which happened to correspond nicely with the kids spring school holidays. It was so pleasant to have everyone around for a few days, even if during most of the time Quinn was rather ill.

Quinn and Zinnie survey the Place outside the gates.

We spent a certain amount of time in the garden where we are just beginning construction of a playhouse for the children.

football on the garden lawn

The weather wasn't nearly as balmy as it had been earlier in the month, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway. It's really wonderful to have a place to "get away."

Relaxing in the garden

On the actual day of my birthday, I requested that we find a riverside somewhere and enjoy the water running idea of heaven. We were delighted to find a little park right next to the Huisne where we spread out a blanket and relaxed all afternoon. It was perfect.

The banks of the river Huisne, not far from home

On the day after, in the early morning hours we woke up to a huge amount of commotion and uncharacteristic traffic just below our windows. I looked out to discover that our local restaurant and two adjacent houses were on fire. In the end, they burned to the ground. It was quite a dramatic and sad moment for our little village. My birthday happens to also be the day the Titanic sank and Lincoln was shot. Somehow my birthday seems prone to catastrophes and disasters. I try not to take it personally.


Emily's birthday present to me (among several others) was to take me out for a girls' day in Paris. She had an adventure all planned, so we went along to the big city last week. Rick stayed to babysit and Emily and I enjoyed ourselves with eating, shopping and discovery.

At the junction of Ave de la République and Oberkampf

Emily wanted to introduce me to the chic neighborhood called Oberkampf, on the border between the 3rd and 11th arrondissements, an area I have little experience with. It is a laid back part of town, with much less traffic than the center and not many tourists. But it is a definitely upscale location for Parisian residents.

Charming little park

 This neighborhood is quite fashionable with lots of great restaurants, art galleries and shops.

Chic little shops blend with elegant apartment buildings

I love Parisian architecture and one can always find quirky and cute little buildings along side the grander traditional ones.

On the Passage Saint-Sébastien

I am especially attracted to beautiful doors, which, of course, can be found in all Parisian neighborhoods.

Two of the doors that caught my eye during our stroll through Bastille

Our first stop was at the boutique of our friend Sophie (14 rue Ternaux Paris 11ème. m° PARMENTIER), the wife of our printmaking neighbor Georges. She has a "pop-up*" shop in the neighborhood where she sells her beautiful jackets and bags. She travels to India every few months to purchase antique fabric, out of which she designs and has made her delicious products.

*A pop-up shop is one that is open only temporarily, in this case in someone else's office space.

Unfortunately when we arrived at her attractive shop, it was closed for lunch

These are one-of-a-kind garments. I really love them. The jackets are completely handmade, lovely and flattering to wear as well as reasonably priced. If you want to visit her on the internet, go here. She also has a Face Book page.

Jackets by Sophie Escojido

Her bags are also unique items, made from recycled Indian wedding dresses.

Bags by Sophie

Emily had chosen a very hip restaurant named Au Passage with fresh tapas style plates as our luncheon destination, but unfortunately it was closed that day. We didn't have to go too far afield to find another very special place, albeit casual. It is a taco bar called Candelaria. If you live in the U.S. this may not sound so extraordinary, but for me it was a real treat, as authentic Mexican food is almost impossible to find in Paris. This little trendy place is very small but serves the most delicious tacos, guacamole and handmade tortilla chips in the whole city. It was lots of fun and satisfying.

Candelario Taco resto

We wandered into Atelier 154, an upscale furniture store with gorgeous and very expensive minimalist chairs, desks, tables and so forth. Emily is seeking inspiration for the new bigger house, which they will move into in July.

Atelier 154 showroom

The place was really vast with an eclectic mix of simple classic furniture and brightly colored accessories.

another of Atelier 154's showrooms

I really enjoyed the very interesting concept store* called Merci. It is much bigger than it looks from the street, with several floors and many shops in a kind of open floor plan. They sell the most luxurious clothing, home ware, linens and kitchen gadgets. One could definitely spend all day here and never get bored.

* A small shopping outlet that specializes in elite and fashionable items that are often arranged thematically.

Merci is a very popular place for shopping

There are two cafes here including this one which has thousands of used books on the walls to either read while you sit here, or buy when you leave. All the tables, lamps and chairs, and presumably the dishes as well are for sale.

We had coffee and crumble at the cafe

The theme of the store this season is plants and animals. They were selling chickens and goats in the nursery section...of course the chickens were not any ho hum variety, but these extravagantly colorful ones.

Chickens for sale in Paris

Emily wanted to take me to Anna Ka Bazaar to pick out some fabric. She is making me a skirt for another of my numerous birthday treats. She really spoils me. The fabric here is all made in Japan and has that whimsical Japanese elan.

Anna Ka Bazaar

Our last shopping stop was the wonderful Les Trois Ourses which we have both wanted to visit since learning about their workshops and handmade book showroom. Some of the most clever book artists in the world have limited edition books for sale here. There are so many clever forms, all fresh and very graphic.

Les Trois Ourses showroom

We spent a long time looking at various books and choosing one apiece to take home with us. Emily chose a box of transparent pages that could be arranged and stacked in different ways to create stories. I bought a book that opened up to reveal four small slip covered accordion fold pages that can be viewed two ways to see two different pictures. Both so very clever.

Emily at Les Trois Ourses

Before taking the bus back home we stopped off for a few dinner supplies. We bought some excellent bread at Le Pain Quotidien,

Pain Quotidien

and chose a couple of excellent bottles of wine at Septime, a wine bar that is attached to a very chic restaurant. The white, a Maçon from Burgundy, was particularly wonderful. We also got some green olives there which were the most delicious I have ever tasted.

Septime wine bar


We spent the night at Emily's house and the next day Rick and Quinn joined us for one more shopping errand. We went up the hill to Montmartre to buy yet more fabric for several other sewing projects that both Emily and I are at work on.

This neighborhood is not so quiet. There are always crowds here.

Just below the wedding cake church, is a beautiful old merry-go-round.


Quinn happily took a ride with Rick watching, while Emily and I went to fabric stores.

Quinn has all of a sudden shot up


At home the kids enjoyed their evening rough-housing. Emily and Jos generally put music on in the evening the the children run and dance and bounce on the couch. At the end of it they (and we) are ready for bed time.

Zinnie and Quinn in PJs doing their evening dancing

Zinnie is quite the little girl these days, chatting, joking, playing and learning. Her mother makes her the most beautiful outfits which Zinnie is very proud of.

Zinnie at home


News from the village includes the birth of the blackbirds and by now their flight from the nest. That happened fast. I think the mother sat on the eggs longer than she spent with the young chicks. They're all gone now.

fledgling blackbird

It's lilac and iris time in the garden, making for extravagant bouquets.

First garden flowers

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Birds, Beasts and Beautiful Landscapes

Spring Idyll

All around us nature is stretching and wiping the sleep out of its eyes after a long winter nap. Renewal and reproduction are the predominant activities of the moment. That nest we noticed behind our clematis trellis is now inhabited by a female blackbird, called a merle here in France. She is a most patient and responsible parent. We peak out at her from upper windows using our binoculars and have taken a few photos with our telephoto lens. Day after day she rests in her beautifully constructed nest.

Female blackbirds are actually brown with tan speckles

Occasionally she flies away, presumably to get a snack, only to hurry back to her three blue eggs. The incubation period for her eggs is 10-19 days. She's been sitting there 12 days, so her time is drawing near.

Her male counterpart comes to sing to her every morning at six-thirty. I know this as the nest is right below our bedroom window. I guess he's giving her (and me) the wake-up call.

The singing that wakes me up each morning

Three beautiful large eggs rest at the bottom of the nest.

Father Blackbird swoops around the walls of the château waiting anxiously, I suppose, for news from the nest.

The castle walls provide little nooks and crannies where birds nest and hide. It's a riot of activity and noisy conversation there, especially at dusk.

Male blackbird clinging to the side of the château

Morning doves or tourterelles, as they're known here, are cousins of the pigeon and frankly not my favorite of birds. Their nests, as opposed to the merle's, are slap-dashed together and so shoddy, that sometimes they fall apart as the hen sits on them. More than once eggs have crashed down onto our terrace and created both heart ache and a very big mess. There is always one of these birds who insists upon building a nest every year in our wisteria on the front of the house, even if we remove the nests at the end of the season, they are never dissuaded. They always seem to win the argument which we are continually having with them. They are far too big for our modest wisteria vine, but they are nothing if not persistent. You have to admire them for that.

Morning dove overlooking the view of our valley

Sparrows, finches and other little birds seem to prefer nesting in very dense bushes which the castle provides in abundance. There must be many nests hidden in the dense shrubbery of the castle grounds as so many of them come and go from that location. I can hear their enthusiastic twittering just outside the back windows and watch as the bushes rustle and the purposeful little creatures flit from here to there, but it's impossible to see their nests. For little beings, they have very big voices.

Sparrow perched on the castle wall just below our back windows


Recently we took a day to enjoy spring landscapes in the Perche. Our new American friends who bought a bungalow just north of us were on their way back home to New York. While they were in town, taking possession of their new residence, Rick helped them with some remodeling. We wanted to see them one last time before they left. We gave ourselves some extra time to meander among the pretty fields and villages that make up the Parc Naturel du Perche.

We met a number of very friendly creatures along the way.

These ladies came over to greet us when we stopped by the farms where they were grazing

It is lambing season and if you have never seem baby lambs cavorting through the fields, you've really missed something!

Grazing sheep and lambs

The lambs jump straight up in the air like cartoon characters. They are among the most playful youth of the animal kingdom. You can't help but laugh out loud while watching them chase one another around.

Baby lambs with their mothers

Fruit trees this time of year are gracing the fields and road sides of the Perche. Although I am quite fond of the less common and showier pink or rose colored spring blossoms, I think the whites are still my favorite. They are in such abundance.

Trees in bloom

The typical Perche landscape is rolling hills with fields bordered by trees. In the spring the colza, or safflower paints the hills in bright yellow.

Green and yellow hills

The Perche has a number of charming villages. Nocé is right in the heart of the Parc Regional.

Entering Nocé where we stopped for a coffee

Perche architecture is rather grand in some villages. The stone buildings are covered with plaster, usually in various shades of yellow, orange or tan. Shutters are very often painted in a grey-green color.

At an intersection in St. Cyr la Rosière

The main "industry" in the Perche is farming, and there are some very grand old manoirs and ancient farm buildings.

A grand old farm in the Perche

I love these ancient stone estates. This area, which was once much more lively, is being resettled by organic gardeners and Paris-born idealists who are bringing back many of the old ways of producing food and making a very successful go of it. The Perche is having a kind of rebirth.

Another beautiful estate which was once a collection of farm buildings

The Perche is a well-kept secret that attracts initiated Parisians because of its proximity to the capital. It is very countrified, but in a most refined and elegant way!

Beautiful manoir in the middle of nowhere

Our friends Dawne and Dean found their cottage in one of the loveliest villages in the Perche, Maison Maugis. I've always loved stopping here to look at the château, which is right on the road through town. A wonderful botanical artist lives here and offers drawing courses.

Maison Maugis

The place is definitely atmospheric and the little houses that surround the castle are all typically Percheron and very charming indeed.

Maison Maugis cottage

Dawne is an amazingly energetic and creative woman with a lot of taste and ability for decorating. Dean is a talented craftsman. Together they make a very effective team. I do not have a before photo of their new house, but they certainly transformed it in the few weeks they were here from something rather ordinary to a cozy and very attractive space. I really am looking forward to their next visit to see what evolves. Meanwhile they were filmed by House Hunter's International TV and will be featured in an upcoming episode. As if that weren't enough, Dawne's photos were published in the latest issue of Pays du Perche Magazine, including the cover and a two-page spread. This our local high quality publication. Pretty impressive considering she's only owned a home here for a bit over a month! Both Dawne and Dean are professional photographers. You can understand my enthusiasm at having these new clever neighbors!

Dean and Dawne

Back on the home front, we continue to work on our garden project which is starting to take shape. Last time I posted a photo of pregnant cherry tree buds. Here is a shot from the same location a few weeks on.

Cherry blossoms

Our little corner garden has developed a lot in a couple of weeks. It was a matter of instant gratification as everything was transplanted from somewhere else in the garden, including the grass. Still, we have a couple of months before things reach their potential. Meanwhile we are creating a much bigger vegetable garden this year and building a garden shack/playhouse. I will keep you posted on our progress.

Rick enjoys his labors