Inspiration Thursday

DSCN2920photos and post by Karen Samimi

How is porcelain made, and what is it made of?
What’s the difference between porcelain and biscuit?
How hot does the hottest kiln get?
These are only some of the questions that will be answered during your visit to the National Manufacture of Sèvres that is part of the City of Ceramics.
The last time I visited the City of Ceramics in March, the porcelain Manufacture (Factory) was not open to the public. That’s not unusual:  guided tours are only available by reservation for groups, on specific dates for individual visitors, or on annual Heritage Days in September.  I was fortunate enough to have a reservation for one of the few guided tours for individuals in August.
DSCN2885The Manufacture was founded in Vincennes in 1740 by a group of craftsmen and was moved to Sèvres in 1756 by King Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. Because of their great interest in porcelain, they wanted Sèvres to create porcelain surpassing the established Saxony works of Meissen and Dresden.  Sèvres is unique today in that the ancient crafts practiced there have been passed down from one generation to the next.  Each object is produced manually from start to finish, with each craftsman marking their work. Each Sèvres craftsman completes a three-year training program to acquire a French state certification in ceramics and usually stays in a specific trade for most of his or her career. There are currently 120 artisans at the Manufacture working at 30 different ceramic trades.
KilnsThe tour began in the reception area of the National Ceramic Museum at the top of the staircase at the main entrance. The tour guide took us to the Manufacture building directly in back of the Museum, and we entered the “welcome room”. Here, our knowledgeable guide taught us about the history of the Manufacture and explained the porcelain-making process. Porcelain paste and plaster molds are used to make dishes, figurines, vases, and contemporary art, and examples of all of these were displayed. Proceeding into the adjoining room, we saw a porcelain bust of Louis XV made in 1760 and several other examples of objects made in Sèvres, as well as a wall map of the buildings on the site.
The tour proceeded to the workshops and storage and display areas on the lower and upper floors. The first thing I noticed was how large the Manufacture building is.  Ambling through long corridors, our group passed by room after room of equipment, huge kilns, unfinished vases and plates, molds, and other production materials. We entered our first workshop which was for enamel glazing and were quickly welcomed by a young specialist who expertly explained her craft. She then gave us a demonstration by plunging her arm up to the elbow into a large bath to mix the enamel paste with water and then rapidly swooshing a plate through it with one hand. And, voilà! The plate was fully glazed and already practically dry, ready to go on to the next step in the long fabrication and decoration process. I really enjoyed this part of the tour.

After immersionAfter making a short stop in front of several display cases showing the different phases of the porcelain painting process and a series of objects commissioned by different French institutions, we arrived at the gold decoration workshop. Here we were, in a large room that looked at first like an administrative office, but upon closer observation I realized that there were neither computers nor printers on the desks, and artisans’ fine tools had replaced pens and pencils. One man showed us how he transfers tiny engraved motifs from a gold-brushed metal slab to tracing paper using a special press, proud to share his unusual skills with our amazed group.
19th century wood-burning kilnHis colleague, a jovial woman about to retire after a career of 47 years there, demonstrated how she meticulously aligns and applies the gold tracing paper motifs to various porcelain objects, kind of like decals.  It may take two or three days just to decorate a single teacup. On her desk and in a showcase nearby were examples of objects she had decorated. “Doesn’t this get a bit repetitive?” someone in the group asked. “The objects and motifs are always changing, so it stays interesting, and above all, we’re creating art”, she replied. I realized then that we were not just observing people working at their jobs. We were witnessing dedicated artists with a passion for using their unique “savoir-faire” to create lasting beauty for the world to admire.
We concluded our tour in front of one of the oldest kilns in the Manufacture, a 19th century wood-burning kiln which is still fired up occasionally. It gets so hot that it takes weeks just to cool it off to remove the objects inside. It was fascinating to be able to walk inside this kiln and imagine how hot the factory gets when it’s used.
If you love artistry and handiwork of any kind, and especially if you love porcelain and would like to learn more about it, treat yourself to a memorable visit to the Manufacture of Sèvres.

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Sèvres – Cité de la céramique


2 Place de la Manufacture
 – 92310 Sèvres – +33(0)1 46 29 22 00

Manufacture and workshops:
Guided tours available with advance reservation for groups and individuals, from 1 ½ hours to 3 hours, including visits to 2 workshops.
Individual ticket prices between 12 and 14 euros, includes Museum’s permanent collections.
See website for specific visit dates and times.
For reservations and information call: +33(0)1 46 29 22 05
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

National Ceramic Museum:
  Open every day from 10 am to 5 pm except Tuesdays, January 1, May 1, and December 25.
Guided tours for groups and individuals available.
Theme tours available one Monday a month.
Free for visitors under age 18, ages 18-25 with European nationality, job seekers, handicapped, and on the first Sunday of every month.
Individual prices between 4.50 and 8 euros
Free entry on annual Heritage Days in September.

How to get there:
Metro line 9 : « Pont de Sèvres » stop (exit train at front, then use exit number 2), then walk over the bridge to the museum
Tramway T2 Val de Seine : « Musée de Sèvres » stop
Bus at Pont de Sèvres : 169, 179, 279, 171, 26 ( first stop after the bridge : « Musée de Sèvres »)
Paid parking available in front of the City, at the Tramway station and at the entrance to Parc de Saint-Cloud.

We’re back!!!

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 3.58.12 PMThis morning, rain poured down relentlessly on harried commuters as they head in to the crowed Metro. The dieties of weather have decided it is time we all get back to work, the non-stop drizzle putting a ruthless end to any thoughts of stretching the season out just a little bit longer. There will be no lingering weekend escapes to the seaside, stolen moments tanning along the banks of the Seine, they are dreams to be neatly packed away for the year, along side our summer dresses, shorts and espadrilles.

The entire city is back and open for business as Parisians bid misty-eyed good byes to their carefully curated tans, consoling themselves with an evening visit to the nearest café in the hopes of catching up with friends and neighbors after a 3 week hiatus from reality.

Homes have become obstacle courses of empty suitcase, abandoned sports equipment, stacks of bills; reminders that tomorrow has arrived. Traffic jams of shopping carts clog grocery store aisles, spin cycles process 20 days of dirty laundry.

Our 90 minute flight from Ajaccio has taken us from endless summer to an undeniable automn. My skin rebels as I grab a wool sweater, my dermis knowing instinctively that it is too early for heavy knits. The transition back is a shock to my sun soaked being, and yet I am thrilled. Thrilled to be home.

Invitations flow in for art openings, catalogues announce theater programs, my in-box is full of news for upcoming runs. A friend calls asking if we’re interested in the outdoor opera at Les Invalides? This being France, the next school holiday is a mere 6 weeks away, so its time to start planning our next adventure… the perfect armour for facing “la grisaille Parisienne”.

Le grand départ…

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 12.20.12 PMFor reasons that totally escape my independent American way of thinking, French vacation rentals run Saturday to Saturday. From ski chalets to seaside villas, family apartment-hotels to luxury lodges, during peak holiday season, we are all expected to arrive and leave on the same day. There are, of course, a few exceptions. Some hotels are flexible, some property owners have a different agenda, but those places are a microscopic minority.

The result is Le Grand Depart, the first Saturday in August when everyone in France who is not adventurous enough to travel abroad or wealthy enough for a second home, takes off on holiday. It is sheer madness and Mr French absolutely insists on being part of the insanity.

Because another French tradition is going to the exact same place every year (another mind boggler for this curious soul), I have found a great place in Hossegor that accepts flexible dates. We could show up on a (gasp) Sunday! and they wouldn’t mind. But that would mean one day less on holiday. I once tried suggesting that we make that first day a stay-cation, enjoy Paris and then leave early the next day. The entire family stared at me in a mix of horror and disbelief at the blasphemous idea.

Screen shot 2014-08-01 at 12.19.41 PMWith approximate 1/3 of the country hitting the road on the exact same day, joined by the Dutch and Belgians seeking warmer climes, traffic flows like a dammed up river. Last year it took us 14 hours to complete a 7 hour journey. There are some fun aspects to the adventure. The highway rest stops become party zones with the leaseholders organizing games like archery lessons and zumba classes, to keep drivers alert and their kids exhausted after a pit stop. At toll booths, cheerful young students hand out travel kits full of treats and this is the one time of year I allow myself a travel sized can of sour cream onion Pringles.

Mr French has decided that this year’s departure time is 2am. He plans to come home from work at 4, pack the car, have a bite, grab 6 hours of sleep and then slip behind the wheel. This is a man who is used to getting off a plane from China at 5am and heading directly in to the office for a shower and a full days work. I hope he can handle it, because no matter how hard I try to be the perfect, chatty passenger, the vibrations of the car ride as white dashed lane dividers pass rhythmically before my eyes, invariably hypnotise me to sleep. I’m getting drowsy just thinking about it…

FindingNoon is officially on holiday. See you August 25th. Bises!

Paris Plages : Not Just a Pretty Beach

FermobETphotos & text by Karen Samimi

Every year when the City of Paris announces that it’s time for Paris Plages (Paris Beaches), I get excited and immediately write the dates down in my planner. I hardly ever leave the city or get to go to a beach or the sea. Not that I’m a beach bum or anything: I don’t even own a proper bathing suit and I don’t carry a towel or care to bury my toes in the sand. I go to Paris Plages for a quiet stroll alone or with a friend, a good read, people-watching, to have an ice cream or sip a cool cup of City of Paris bubbly water at the water bar, and to enjoy the warm weather.
Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 3.07.13 PM   Paris Plage, created by former mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë in 2002, began as a single beach located on the George Pompidou Express Road that runs along the Seine between the Pont de Sully and the Pont Neuf, on the Right Bank. The road is closed to motor traffic for a month, dozens of palm trees and several tons of sand are brought in, picnic umbrellas, tables, and lounge chairs are set up, and the fun begins!  In 2007, a second beach opened along the Canal de l’Ourcq (part of the La Villette Basin), and the project became Paris Plages in the plural.  It was so successful that it was copied by the cities of Brussels, Berlin, and Prague.
Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 3.07.22 PMScreen shot 2014-07-29 at 3.07.57 PMEvery year, new activities and sights spring up at both beaches and in front of City Hall. “Louvre at the Beach” is a small gallery of paintings and sculpture, all with a bathing theme, on the western end of the beach under the Quai du Louvre. Families can sit at tables and participate in Louvre-related activities run by smiling hostesses to learn more about art or pull up a lounge chair and relax with an art book from the gallery’s reading area. Each afternoon there are drawings to win art books, postcards, or Louvre tickets.  Last week, I was delighted to rediscover the mini red Eiffel Tower constructed entirely out of 324 Fermob bistro chairs. It was originally displayed on the Champ de Mars near the real Tower a few weeks ago to celebrate the 125th birthday of both the chairs and the Tower. I also marveled at the new “water bar” in a corner of City Hall Square complete with bartenders dispensing both flat and carbonated City of Paris water, tables and chairs to relax and have a chat, and interactive games with a water theme.
The FNAC Live Music Festival kicked off Paris Plages at City Hall Square last weekend with a series of free indoor and outdoor evening concerts by diverse popular musical groups.  Wheelchair basketball and beach volleyball courts, both with instructors, are now installed at the Square and visitors can come there to watch games or learn to play. In the evening, street shows such as jugglers, musicians, and mimes can be seen along the beach and there’s a generally festive atmosphere amid the crowds.
Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 3.08.38 PMScreen shot 2014-07-29 at 3.08.06 PMAlthough actual bathing in the Seine is not allowed, Paris Plages offers many other activities for the whole family. Children and teens can find a pool, sandbox, merry-go-round and electric boats and play games organized by the French Secours Populaire, use the tyrolean (air cable rolling), take hip-hop classes, or go to a Sunday afternoon ball.  For adults, there’s ballroom dancing, pétanque (the French bowl game you often see people playing in parks), and a Paris Rendez-Vous souvenir boutique.  For all ages, there are libraries with reading areas, mini-Velib’ and Velib’ bicycle rental, sandcastle building and photo contest, Tai Chai classes, a mini-soccer game table, kayaking, rowing, paddling, a cool mist sprinkler (my personal favorite), cafés food and ice-cream stands.
Health-and-well-being-conscious visitors can go to the blood donation center and/or find information about security, first-aid, prevention, and City of Paris drinking water at dedicated booths either on the walkway or at the water bar. All of these activities and the materials are free of charge to the public, except for food and adult Velib’ bicycle rentals.
If none of the things I’ve mentioned appeals to you or your family, a short promenade on Paris Plages affords a spectacular view of several of Paris’ most beautiful buildings and monuments: City Hall, Conciergerie, Sainte-Chapelle, Palace of Justice, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Saint-Jacques Tower, as well as the tiny Ile Saint Louis and the beautiful river Seine and its bridges. Photos taken at Paris Plages during the day or at sunset are a unique souvenir.
There’s something for everyone at Paris Plages, whether you are a tourist, resident, old or young, employed, or retired. Whatever you decide to do at the beach, here’s some advice -  don’t forget to bring your hat, sunscreen, and water bottle. It gets very hot down there, even if you’re just strolling by the palm trees or walking through a sprinkler.Sunset
Practical information:
Opening hours:
Every day from 9 to midnight, from July 19 to August 17, 2014

How to get there:
RIVE DROITE
MÉTRO : stations Louvre-Rivoli (ligne 1), Pont-Neuf (line 7),
Châtelet (lines 1, 4, 7, 11, 14), Hôtel-de-Ville (lines 1, 11),
Saint-Paul (line 1), Pont-Marie et Sully-Morland (line 7).
RER : station Châtelet-les-Halles (lines A, B, D).
BUS : lines 21, 24, 27, 38, 47, 58, 67, 69, 70, 72, 75, 76, 81, 87.
lines 24, 27, 81 et 96.
BATOBUS : station Hôtel-de-Ville.
VÉLIB’: stations in front of the Tuileries tunnel,
Place de l’Hôtel-de-Ville (City Hall)and behind Hôtel de Ville, rue Lobau.

LA VILLETTE BASIN
MÉTRO : stations Jaurès (lines 2, 5, 7 bis), Crimée (line 7),
Laumière (line 5).
BUS : lines 54 et 48.
VÉLIB’ : station in front of Maison des Canaux.

Website: http://www.paris.fr/parisplages
Map and activities schedule: http://filer.paris.fr/quefaire/uploads/files/Plan_verso_Bassin.pdf

Martial Raysse

Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 1.57.03 PMI’d never heard of this French artist when Mr French insisted we go see his show at the Pompidou last week. As we strolled through the fun, colorful collection of his art, I started learning more and more and today, I’d consider myself a fan.

Raysse was born in Vallauris, on the Côte d’Azur. The town was put on the international art scene when PicassoScreen shot 2014-07-25 at 1.57.16 PM started collaborating with its thriving ceramics industry. Jean Cocteau was dran to the area, which is how he met Raysse. The two did a joint show together in 1958, when Raysse was only 22.

The young artist was fascinated by the Pop Art scene in New York and traveled there to meet the Warhol crowd before returning to France and founding the Nouveaux Réalistes with others, including Yves Klein, Christos and Niki de St Phalle.Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 1.57.38 PM Their concept was “the poetic recycling of reality.” If you now the work of these artists, then Raysse draws on color as the primary source of power for his work.

If the artist bases his work on poetry, it is the Haiku, or Limerick. His work is short and sweet and a delight to take in, although I suspect that a lot of the fun was drug induced, particularly the short films he made with his friends.

The show is presented chronologically. His earliest work features plastics and garbage that has been recycled into art. Of course, in the 1950′s that was a fairly avant garde concept. But in 2014, my heart sank when I first entered the exhibition. Turning the corner, I saw some interesting neons and my attitude shifted, filling with a healthy curiosity to discover more.

Screen shot 2014-07-25 at 1.58.55 PM

Mr French & Me… a work of art?

Mr French loved the neon work, and a collection of 1950′s pin-ups that decorated a beach scene, with imported sand and a working jukebox.

I’m a sucker for interactive art, so I really got into the Moroccan tent with a true to scale palm tree and sand visitors can draw on. And then I loved, loved, loved a work called “Identity, Now you are a work by Martial Raysse,” which projects viewers into the work.

By the time we came upon his most recent work, a rapturous ode to youth, depicting Bacchus at play as a young boy, my heart was singing with joy and I was totally hooked. If art is what moves you, then this is great art, because that is exactly how I was feeling as I left the show. Great.

aujourd’hui

I understand one should never discuss religion or politics, but there was hatred exploding on the streets of Paris earlier this week and I worry that choosing to remain silent would somehow make me guilty by abstention. What is happening between Israel and Palestine today is horrible. Both sides have suffered unconscionable losses. Both have committed crimes against humanity. There is no easy answer.

But the reaction in Europe is worrying governments across the continent. It is anti-semitism hiding behind the shield of anti-zionism.

To be clear. There were Pro-Palestinian protests across the country. They were legitimate, peaceful events held in support of the Palestinian people. I am not referring to those events. I am talking about two very isolated incidents, one in Paris, the other in a nearby suburb.

They were not protests, they were riots. The government refused to let these groups hold an official demonstration because they knew it would dissolve into violence.  The people were not screaming “Down with Israel” or “Save the Palestinians”. They were shouting “Death to Jews.” This, by any stretch of any imagination is anti-semitism.

And the rioters targeted synagogues; houses of prayer where people gather to celebrate, mourn and try to find meaning in life. They were not in front of the Israeli Embassy, the only representative of the Israeli government in Paris. This, by any stretch of any imagination is anti-semitism.

As a spoiled, modern woman raised in N America, I don’t remember the era when Jews were not welcome in elite clubs in New York City. I only know that the parks in Warsaw had signs that read, “No dogs, or Jews allowed” because I have a photo of a sign taken by my father-in-law when he was a young man. Anti-semitism seems so far and removed from my life and my generation that I sometimes wondered if Israel really needs to exist as a safe haven for Jews.

Then I’d think of my sister-in-law and I’d hesitate. She is younger than I am and her family had to leave what was then the USSR because there was very limited room for Jews in the universities, and if her parents wanted their children to have a complete education, they had to immigrate. Israel is the only state that would have them, so they sacrificed decent careers at home for menial jobs in a country where they didn’t understand the language.

When Mr French and I would talk about Israel, he would grow impatient. Like many French he sees that the Palestinians were kicked out of their homeland and he was not convinced that Jews in today’s world needed a refuge. Last week, after watching the news, he kissed the top of my head, rubbed my back and whispered, “I’ll protect you.” He isn’t worried about my immediate safety, but he now acknowledges that there is a potential for danger. Which sent chills down my spine.

The French blockbuster, Qu’est-ce qu’on a fait au bon dieu? that is filling theaters this summer, uses charming humour to address the difficult subject of racism and integration in France today. My favorite scene is when the two brothers-in-law, one Muslim, the other Jewish are introduced to their soon to be brother-in-law, who happens to be Chinese. “Hmmmm. Let me guess,” he stammers, “its really hard to tell who is Rachid and who is David. You semites all look alike.” And that’s the greatest tragedy of all, because there is an undeniable whiff of fratricide in the air as bombs are exchanged in the Middle East today. We are the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac. Two brothers. After a couple millennium you’d think we’d have out grown the sibling rivalry.

As a citizen of the world, I have come to believe that religion is a great personal comfort, but a terrifying source of conflict. I am extremely proud of my Jewish culture and heritage. I get regular calls from Parisiennes for my chicken soup recipe. I cherish the education that taught me to visit the sick, to really think about the food I put in my mouth and most of all, give my children the very best education possible. But from my perspective, the institution of religion separates and divides. It highlights what makes us different, instead of celebrating what we share. I don’t want the state of Israel to have to exist. But as long as there are people in the streets of Europe shouting, “Death to Jews,” I am glad it does.

The stay-cation

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 6.43.47 PMThe texto exchange went something like this.

(me) It’s 45° here in Paris this afternoon

(MrFrench)45°? Don’t you think you’re exaggerating a bit?

Yes, you’re right. The thermostat at the pharmacy is now reading 47°

Oh merde. Maybe I should stay here in Beijing…

I guess if you’re in Paris it’s worth coming home.

It was settled, Mr French would be coming home from his meetings in Beijing Saturday morning at 5am. And while I love Paris when she sizzles, Mr French was going to be exhausted and needing to exercise, which didn’t seem like a great plan with the mercury over 110° fahrenheit and rising.

We needed to escape somewhere close to home, yet worlds away; the Molitor immediately sprang to mind.

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 6.44.06 PM  Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 6.44.33 PMBuilt as a public swimming pool for the 16th arrondissement in the 1930′s, the Molitor could be the poster child for great design, where esthetics join function to form the perfect pair. In fact, it is not “a” swimming pool, but 2 pools, a 44 metre long outdoor pool, with a  33 metre long winter pool under a glass ceiling.

In the 40′s the bikini was introduced to the world in front of the bright blue changing room doors and by the 50′s it had become the ‘IN’ place to be. Sand was brought pool side as stars like Brigitte Bardot or Françoise Sagan would come by for a day next to the refreshing blue waters.

And then the place was abandoned, becoming the ideal canvas for a group of talented street artists, the home of underground rave parties and generally, a cool place to hang. A few years ago investors stepped in to renovate the site, promising to return the pools to their former glory.

The promise was kept and the space opened to much controversy just a few months ago. Yes, there is scandal, because the public pools are now part of a 5 star luxury hotel, with a roof top restaurant, Jean Nouvel designed Clarins spa and an unmistakeable whiff of attitude.

It now costs 180€ for a day at the pool, virtually killing the whole idea of the space being accessible to the public, although it will be free to public schools twice a week as soon as everyone is back in class. A room is “only” 230€ for the night, which is not cheap but considerably less than any other 5 star in Paris, or a last minute trip to Deauville.

I had thought the price of the rooms were so reasonable because the hotel is virtually in the Bois de Boulogne and fairly remote for your average tourist. Now that I have stayed there I think the relatively affordable price is because you’re getting a pretty average hotel, and I’d now love to know who they had to bribe for their 4th and 5th stars. I hate complaining when we’re away. We’re out to have a good time and complaining takes away from that, but I am not an idiot, I have a critical mind and I know when things are not as they should be. At the Molitor, I felt that we got what we paid for and I loved our weekend away, in fact, I suspect that we’ll be back. Maybe even next week. That said, the service was non-existent, and the quality of everything from the sheets to the furnishings, just a step up from IKEA. I could not shake the feeling that everything is set up to keep the hotel as cost effective as possible, the comfort of the guests a very small part of the equation.

Screen shot 2014-07-21 at 6.44.20 PM

peeking through a changing room door…

All of that washed away as I dove into the delicious pool. The water was perfect and I got in 40 minutes of laps both days. The food at the restaurant is fresh, light and well prepared and they were even able to make a real iced tea for me. The changing rooms above the winter pool have been decorated by local celebrities, creating a voyeuristic art experience that was remarkably fun and I even tested the spa, which was luxurious (and way better designed than the rooms).

We read, we munched, we rested and Mr French came home Sunday afternoon ready to face a rather grueling week ahead.

A French adventure

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.31.58 PM

Many francophiles share a classic dream or fond memory driving into the French countryside, using rural roads where there is nothing but picturesque villages with the occasional old man in worker’s blues shuffling by, smoking a hand rolled cigarette. In the fantasy you stumble upon a restaurant that no one has ever heard, full of locals enjoying haute cuisine for the price of a pizza.

Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.34.14 PM Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.33.43 PM Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.33.24 PM Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.33.11 PM Screen shot 2014-07-18 at 1.32.58 PM Wednesday, we had access to a car, so I headed out with E to the explore today’s reality of that dream, destination; Yerres, a small riverside town south of Paris. We headed through the bustling Chinatown district of the 13th to avoid the highway. Piles of exotic herbs spilled over the stands of an impromptu market, perfuming the air as crowds of jay walkers became a serious menace.

Crossing the Periphérique, the ring road, our eyes met apartment blocks in every stage of a building’s life cycle; from construction zones to demolition sites. We were no longer in Paris. Locals crowded the large bus stops wearing African wax cloth, inner city street clothes, head scarves. The new face of France is young, dynamic and wearing lots of color.

Soon, we were near MacVal, a contemporary art museum with one of my favorite works of art, an interactive video by an artist named Gupta. There was a rail yard with an intriguingly picturesque set of abandoned rail cars. We stayed along these suburban roads, following the Yerres river to a stark parking lot and spilled out of the car, to find ourselves facing a large, white wall.

Propriété Caillebotte was carefully stenciled on the wall in a sedate grey. We had come to see the Impressionist artist’s works which are temporarily on display in the home that had once belonged to his family. I had not done much research before heading out on this adventure, so I was delighted to discover that there was much more to the show than just 40+ paintings. The home is part of a large park with lots to offer, including the gourmet restaurant that is part of the francophile dream.

The art collection was in the family’s old farm house. A lot of the pieces were on loan from private collections, or museums in the US. In France, Caillebotte had been considered something of a dilettante and had never been able to create much of a following.

My very favorite piece, Les Raboteurs, was not part of the show, nor was his most iconic painting, Jour de Pluie. This meant we really spent time appreciating and enjoying a variety of his work. It was a bried, yet lovely moment with art.

The show ends this Sunday, but even more spectacular are the grounds themselves, so it is still worth the trip, and I was assured that there will be more show in the future. There is an expansive lawn framed by pristine flower beds and picnics are allowed!  There are rental boats for rowing along the Yerres and an impressive collection of massive trees, many of them planted in honor of locals on their birth days. There is the gourmet restaurant, Le Chalet du Parc, with an elegant outdoor terrace at the farm house, or the more modest cafeteria in the old Orangerie. The most popular attraction is the large kitchen garden that is maintained by local volunteers. Everything in the garden looked picture perfect, including the work shed full of wheelbarrows. On weekends visitors can peek into the historic glacière where they kept ice before electricity made freezers and option. The place was alive with happy energy. The family’s home can be visited, and a chapel is currently being restored. Entrance on to the grounds is free, so it is full of locals enjoying the outdoors.

The park is available by RER, and there is even a program to stay with the locals for those wanting to turn their visit in to a real adventure. Click here for all the details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday was Bastille Day and we spent the day running errands before Mr French jetted off on yet another business trip. By evening I was alone and in no mood to face the crowds around the Champs de Mars, so I slipped on my walking shows and headed to the Flore to watch the world go by of a glass of champagne with peach liqueur. I learned something that evening. The 14 juillet turns entire quartiers into atmospheric ghost towns. I had the entire neighborhood to myself. It was eerie and magical and utterly divine.

INspiration Thursday

Screen shot 2014-07-17 at 11.56.02 AMLast Thursday I took Sylvia’s suggestion to visit the Zadkine Museum on the well-known rue d’Assas in the 6th district, in the heart of the Latin Quarter.  I hadn’t heard or read much about it so I didn’t really know what to expect. From the brochures I had briefly skimmed through months ago, I knew that some of Zadkine’s works had elongated faces and bodies, similar to his friend Modigliani’s paintings. I was looking forward to learning more.

Screen shot 2014-07-17 at 11.51.05 AMScreen shot 2014-07-17 at 11.56.19 AMOssip Zadkine moved from Smolensk, Russia to Paris in the autumn of 1909 at the age of 19, after a short stay in England. Working for awhile out of a studio in the La Ruche artists’ community in the 15th district, he moved to the house at Rue d’Assas in 1928, where he lived and worked until his death in 1967.  He spent a few years in the United States after World War II and became an art teacher upon his return to Paris in 1945. The sculptor’s wife Valentine Prax, an artist herself, donated the property, which became the museum, to the City of Paris in 1982.

The house/museum is barely visible from the street, and is located right next to the Panthéon-Assas University Paris II. Visitors enter a courtyard and walk through a peaceful garden, to the entrance area, which doubles as a sales desk/bookstore.  A soft-spoken reception lady handed me a visitor’s guide, only available in French that day. There was a guided tour in Room 1, so I bypassed them and began my visit in the garden, which was a good way to get an overview of important works dating from 1930 to 1965.

Zadkine worked with wood, marble, terra cotta, granite, bronze, cement, and plaster, and was influenced by different styles: Primitivism, Cubism, Greek and Roman classical, and African art. He also produced many drawings and engravings.

What struck me most was how sparsely populated this museum is, and for a simple reason: it houses only a mere selection of the artists’ work, the rest having been moved in 1988 to a second museum in the village of Arques, where the artist spent his summers. Each of the six small, airy rooms and the separate garden workshop building tastefully displays between two and seven sculptures, and there are another ten in the garden placed among sycamore trees or on a small lawn. So, the visitor has plenty of time and space to appreciate them, without feeling crowded or bothered by other visitors taking “selfies” with the works (there were none that day).

Screen shot 2014-07-17 at 11.50.54 AMI found the larger-than-life sculptures particularly interesting :  “Torso of the Destroyed City” in bronze visible in the garden, “Rebecca” or “Big Water Carrier” crafted in plaster displayed in Room 2, and “Prometheus” sculpted in elm, housed in the garden workshop. Visitors can actually walk all the way around each of these works to admire the detail.

After my visit I took a quiet stroll in the Luxembourg Gardens, only a few steps down the road, bringing my Inspiration Thursday afternoon to a lovely conclusion.

Practical information:

Musée Zadkine
100 bis, rue d’Assas 75006 Paris
Métro : Notre-Dame des Champs (ligne 12), Vavin (ligne 4)
RER B : Port-Royal
Bus : 38, 82, 83, 91
Vélib’ : 90 rue d’Assas, 13 rue Michelet
Autolib’ : 15 rue Joseph Bara, 6 rue Michelet
Tél : 01 55 42 77 20

Open every day except Monday and public holidays.
The permanent collection is free of charge to the public except during temporary exhibitions.
Group tours may be organized by contacting the Bourdelle Museum at  01 49 54 73 73.

http://www.zadkine.paris.fr/

Ivory Tower

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 10.53.00 AMWhen we moved to Paris, most of the city’s monuments had been scrubbed clean, and reguilded for the millenial celebrations of 2000. Stones the color of chimney ash brightened the skyline, locals would gasp as the glistening gold-leaf of the Opera Garnier. The city had on her very best dress and she was ready to party. And the party hasn’t stopped, with the Palais de Tokyo re-inventing itself as the largest contemporary art space in Europe, the Galliera fashion museum getting a new do, and the Pantheon currently getting a make-over.

One of the longest, most mysterious renovations, was at the Tour St Jacques in the very center of Paris. The tower stood there, all sooty and grey for decades, then disappeared under a white robe for years. And years, and years. The sheath was there to protect passers by, who were at risk of being squashed by large bits of stone that had starting falling off the 52 metre high structure. It became so dangerous the surrounding park had to be closed to the public.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 10.51.55 AM Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 10.51.12 AM Last year the repairs were complete, the tower was unveiled and visits were possible. Possible but very difficult to arrange, as it is only open during the summer and the very narrow, spiral staircase of 300 steps, can only take a handful of visitors, who must be accompanied, at a time. With a zinc roof, it is also a natural lightening rod, making visits during (the rather frequent) rain showers so risky, the tours get cancelled.

Last Friday, the tower re-opened for the season, and you can bet I was there, not caring too much (well, maybe just a little…) that I was going to be missing the first 20 minutes of the World Cup France – Germany quarter finals.

The tours are organized by Des Mots et Des Arts. The guides are young art historians, with a contagious enthusiasm for history and the tower. I arrived a bit early and waited in the small garden around the tower, the fragrance in the air reminding me of home. More specifically, the parks near the Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco and I was bemused by the number of young people with backwards baseball caps and skateboards learning how to roll their own.

Screen shot 2014-07-11 at 10.51.33 AMThe Tour Saint Jacques is a Flamboyant Gothic bell tower, a modern 16th century addition to a 15th century church, St Jacques de la Boucherie. Boucherie is French for butchery and the church was surrounded by butcher shops and other businesses, including the public writing studio of Nicholas Flamel, who is buried below. For the last 600 or so years, it has been the starting place for the pilgrimage to St Jacques de la Compostelle. Following the French RScreen shot 2014-07-11 at 10.53.19 AMevolution the government owed a lot of money to a local businessman, so they gave him the church and he took it apart, selling the stones off to the highest bidders. Since then, the tower has inspired artists, scientists and intellectuals. Dumas wrote a story set in the park, and it is believed that Blaise Pascal used the site for his experiments with atmospheric pressure.

After learning more about the history of the site you get to go up those 300 steps. But not all at once. There are two landings to explore. One a tiny warehouse for gargoyles, the other an old weather station with spectacular stained glass decor. Going up, the walls are blackened for the soot of lanterns of 18th and 19th century visitors who left some intriguing graffiti along the way.

The views from above are spectacular, with every important monument in sight. Alot of the people on our tour were Parisians, who spent their time above trying to find their homes and locate personal landmarks, reveling in the wonder of having Paris at our feet.

A giant merci to Karen from Inspiration Thursdays for letting me know the tower was open, joining me on the visit and for her fantastic photos!

 

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