Quai d’Orsay

The_French_Minister-675722842-largeI’ve had a bit of a crush on Dominique de Villepin since his speech before the U.N. in 2003. He is eloquent, handsome, and suave. What’s not to love? Well, possibly quite a lot.

Last week, I watched a hilarious 2013 French comedy entitled The French Minister on Netflix. Thierry Lhermitte plays Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, a character clearly based on the dashing de Villepin. The intellectual with the aristocratic demeanor was the Minister of Foreign Affairs and then Prime Minister during Jacque Chirac’s final years in office. The film is from the point of view of de Vorms’ speech-writer who strives mightily to satisfy a capricious boss who spouts obscure citations from Greek philosopher and constantly changes his mind about the contents of his speeches. De Vorms slams doors and makes papers swirl in his wake as he frenetically strides about the Ministry.

the-french-ministerThe French title of the film is Quai d’Orsay (kay dor-say), named after the building that houses the Ministry of foreign Affairs. The Ministry swarms with staffers with their own agendas and each one has something to say about what should be in the all-important U.N. speech. The voice of reason is embodied by the unflappable Claude Maupas; for this role Niels Arestrup won the 2014 César for Best Supporting Actor. If you follow French politics, I think you’ll get a big chuckle out of The French Minister, even if it did knock de Villepin off the pedestal I’d put him on.

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Un cambriolage

imageIn our ongoing quest to escape the winter of 2015, we went back to an old favorite, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. They’ve loosened up the rules prohibiting photography just enough to allow pictures of their glorious courtyard. The light in the museum is always subdued to preserve the artworks, but when the glass roof is largely obscured by snow, it brings a new meaning to subdued. Still, what a beautiful sight!

imageThe museum represents the collection of Isabella and Jack Gardner. Isabella Stewart was attending finishing school in Paris when her friend introduced her to her brother, Jack. The Gardners made their home among the elite of Boston society. The pair roamed the world on the recommendation of their physician to help Mrs. Gardner get over a depression brought about by the tragic loss of their only child a few months before his second birthday. They particularly fell in love with Venice. In addition to great works of art, they also bought bits and pieces of Venetian palazzi back to Boston. The Gardners were early adopters of recycling, as they used this architectural salvage to create a rather idiosyncratic house-museum in the then-unfashionable Fenway district. The collection is, naturally, largely devoted to Italian works, principally sacred art. There are, however, some notable French works, particularly among the sketches.

imageThe museum was the victim of a rather notorious cambriolage (kam-bree-oh-lahj), or burglary, in 1990. Among the works taken were several drawings by Degas and a rather fine Manet. (Rather more famous were the three stolen Rembrandts and a Vermeer.) Curiously, the thieves also made off with an eagle that once topped a Napoleonic military flag. With all the treasures to choose from, this is a particularly random-seeming selection. According to Mrs. Gardner’s will, nothing can ever be moved, so the empty frames remain on view, haunting reminders of this unsolved art heist. I hope the paintings are somewhere safe, as there is at least a hope of their recovery.

imageWhile the museum is worth a visit during any season, we’ll definitely head back in the spring to enjoy the newly-developed garden areas. With eight feet of snow having fallen on Boston this past month, the grass may actually appear sometime around June!

51gzuEovaJL__SL75_The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World’s Largest Unsolved Art Theft

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La dactylographie

populaire-romain-duris-deborah-francoisIf you’re looking for a rom-com to watch on Valentine’s Day, you might like Populaire, a 2012 film starring Romain Duris and Déborah François. Here’s the trailer, and it’s available on Netflix in French sub-titled in English. Set in 1958, the film takes on what it meant to be a modern young woman. Rose Pamphyle has only one talent – la dactylographie (lah dak-tea-loh-graph-e) or typing. Like many young women of the post-war years, Rose wants to be a secretary. She leaves her Nowheresville town in Normandy for a job in an insurance office in Lisieux, which is only slightly less Nowheresville. Her boss has a plan for Rose – to enter and win a typing competition. I won’t give away the rest, except to say that it gave me a few good laughs as I rooted for Rose the typist and the young woman with dreams of a career and the love of her life.

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Le brouillard

imageThe snow just hasn’t quit falling in New England for the past few weeks. This weekend, we thought that a visit to the Fogg Museum at Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has recently re-opened after extensive renovations by Renzo Piano. Now the building is flooded with light from a glass ceiling. The collection can be enjoyed in about two and a half hours. Of course, it was the French art that particularly caught my attention.

hareI thought that the painting of a hare by 18th-century artist Anne Vallayer-Coster was particularly fine. I had never given much thought to still-life paintings until a course I took at the Louvre a few years ago. Vallayer-Coster uses a palate limited to browns in a painting that shows the texture of disparate objects, the smooth texture of a jug, a coarse rope, and the incredibly tactile fur of the central figure of the hare. Photos of this particular painting weren’t permitted, so I’m limited to showing you this small one here.

imageThe collection of Maurice Wertheim was a fabulous group of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings and sculptures. This enviable collection of masterpieces by Cézanne, Degas, Manet, Matisse, Picasso and van Gogh gathered in one room was worth the price of admission by itself. Another bequest provided the museum with works by David, Ingres, Renoir, Rodin, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

imageThe word for fog in French is le brouillard (luh brew-e-ar). Even in the dead of winter, the light of the Fogg Museum will banish any foggy feelings that you may be experiencing. It’s definitely worth exploring if you are near Boston.

51ZSYcVktkL__SL75_Degas to Matisse: The Maurice Wertheim Collection

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Engoncé

imageBaby, it’s C-O-L-D outside. It’s the kind of cold when the snow crunches beneath your feet as though you are squeezing the life out of it. It’s the kind of cold when your nostrils stick together when you breathe in. It’s Canada cold – my ultimate comparison when my colleagues in New Jersey would complain about the “cold.” Now that I’m living in New England, it’s that kind of cold. The temperature gauge on my Mini Cooper reads -6 Fahrenheit (-21 Celsius) when I drive to work. And that’s not including the wind chill. What was I thinking?

Today’s word is engoncé (ohn-gohn-say), which means “bundled up.” I took this photo in 2009 on a trip to Paris in the spring with students. As you can see, it wasn’t exactly warm. This bundled up lady had the chilly job of controlling access to the upper level of the towers of Notre Dame. She generously allowed me to take her photo to encourage future students to pack more wisely on school trips.

How many days until spring? And engoncez-vous! (Bundle up!)

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Mater

portrait-of-my-daughters-1907We lived near Philadelphia for twenty years. We knew where to get a great cup of coffee, where to browse for something special, and where to spend a Sunday afternoon. Now that we live outside of Boston, we’re having to reinvent all those familiar places and decisions. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; although we miss certain groups and places, like the bike trails along the D & R Canal, Elixr Coffee, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, we’re making plenty of new discoveries. Today’s word, mater (mah-tay), is a slang term meaning “to check out.” Like many others, our public library has free or reduced fee admission tickets for many area museums, making them even easier to check out on a winter weekend.

SallyAlthough it is small, the Worcester Art Museum, or WAM, has a wonderful collection of French and American Impressionists. Worcester is about forty miles west of Boston and we live in between the two. They were among the first American museums to invest in works by Monet and Gauguin. As much as we enjoyed the European collection, the painting that caught our attention the most was “Sally,” by American Impressionist and Massachusetts native Joseph de Camp, above. If I could have tucked it under my arm and scampered out the door, I would have. Unfortunately, art theft is frowned upon. C’est dommage!

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Grande invitation, petites portions

le chef-the chef-comme un chef-jean reno-michael younI recently saw a cute French movie on Netflix, Le Chef, staring Jean Reno and Michaël Youn. The premise is that Reno’s character is a celebrity chef who may be a bit off his best game. Youn’s character is a self-taught but creative and gifted chef who aspires to work in a great restaurant, but can’t keep a job because his meals are a bit too creative for his prosaic clients. The two men are hardly compatible, but the younger chef is Reno’s only hope to keep his Michelin stars and stave off the machinations of the restaurant group’s CEO who plans to bring in a chef who specializes in molecular gastronomy.

I normally don’t like French comedies, but I had a few good belly laughs out of this one. Two scenes that I particularly liked were a spoof on molecular cooking and a visit by Reno and Youn to a rival establishment, disguised in traditional Japanese garb. I am giving things away a bit, but in the molecular gastronomy scenes, vast amounts of food were converted into tiny cubes after enormous effort. It reminded me of the expression grande invitation, petites portions (grahnd  ahn-vee-tah-see-on, puh-teet por-see-ohn). Literally, this means “big invitation, small portions,” implying that the event hasn’t lived up to its build-up.  I hope this will not be your reaction to this film if you watch it on my recommendation! Bon appétit!

51b72KOfXML__SL75_Le Chef

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