As I mentioned, I ate well when I was in Trouville a few weeks ago. One of the restaurants that I was glad to visit was Les Étiquettes (65 rue des Bains). This small restaurant specializes in tapas-like small plates of food. The menu, written on chalkboards, was full of fresh and original offerings. I had the salmon tartare with potato galettes. The name Les Étiquettes (layz et-e-kets) means “the labels.” I’m guessing that it refers to the labels on the wine bottles lining the walls like mini works of art. If you’re in Trouville, this is an address worth checking out.
It’s been a hot week here in France! Nothing makes you appreciate air conditionning quite like the lack of it. As I’m typing this, a cool breeze is coming through the window, and I’m very grateful.
Here are my francophile recommendations for the week:
- Anatomie d’une collection – The tiny Palais Galliera: musée de la mode always has interesting temporary exhibits. This time they plundered their archives for examples of high and low fashion from the 18th century to today. I saw a suit that belonged to Louis XVII, the child of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI who died in captivity and Napoleon’s vest.From more modern times, there were a number of pillbox hats and trim suits belonging to Audrey Hepburn. My biggest criticism of this museum is that they rarely translate the information into other languages; it’s fine for me, but I’m sure many people would get more from the exhibits if they could read about what they were seeing.
- Marguerite (2015) – In this humorous and touching film, Catherine Frot stars as a wealthy socialite who cannot sing, yet who insists on giving concerts that her friends are compelled to attend. It won a pile of awards in France last year and it’s available on Amazon. It sounds a lot like the plot of Florence Foster Jenkins, with Meryl Streep, but France did it first!
- Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard – Again, this week’s book recommendation is more of a beach read than serious literature. It’s a memoir about Bard’s decision to move to Paris to be with the love of her life. Bard gives an honest account of what she had to give up, adjust to, and ultimately embrace in order to make peace with living in Paris. Food played a starring role in her new life, to which the recipes in this book attest.
- @tresorparisien – The Instagram account of Aisling Greally features great pictures from all across France. Definitely worth checking out.
- Georgette – This super little Parisian restaurant is on the same street where I work (44 rue d’Assas). The food is made on the premises with fresh ingredients, not just microwaved, and the difference shows in every bite.
When I was in Deauville, I thoroughly enjoyed a long walk on the beach. Amid all the beautiful homes and hotels, one massive structure really stood out. It was much more like a château than a summer home – there was even a flying buttress on one side – but it was abandoned and in very rough shape. Some windows were boarded up, some were empty of glass, and some still had elaborate curtains hanging in the window.
When I got back to my hotel, I searched for the history of the house online. I found that the house was known originally by two different names, La Tour Carrée, after its bulky, square tower, and Villa Mors, after the family who had lived there. It was actually outside of Deauville (there are no town lines on a beach) and in Tourgeville-les-Sablons. The Mors brothers were early pioneers in the automobile industry. Together, they constructed this grand home in 1905. André Citroën became chairman of the company in 1908 but shut it down entirely in 1925. The Mors factory produced Citroën cars thereafter. While Citroën has remained a household name, not much remains of the Mors company except this empty hulk on the side of the sea.
Délabré (day-lab-ray) means dilapidated, and it certainly fits this once grand house. I had a fantasy that the New England boarding school I work at could buy Villa Mors and transform it into our French campus. We could even stay in shape after crêpe binges by running along the beach. Maybe we could crowd-fund my brilliant idea? All donations gratefully received.
This morning, the news from Nice was profoundly sad. Here, in Paris, the sun is shining brightly and it’s a simply beautiful day. It’s hard to imagine that France has once again been the victim of senseless violence. I hope that all your loved ones are safe today.
Here are my francophile recommendations for this week:
- L’Atelier en plein air – Les Impressionnistes en Normandie – Having just visited Normandy, I particularly enjoyed this exhibit at the always stunning musée Jacquemart André. I really loved a painting of the cliffs of Dieppe by Spanish Impressionist Eva Gonzales. Her work had a pastel-like effect, very diferent from her contemporaries. I had brunch in the tea room for the first time, instead of lunch, and it was just lovely – a real treat. The exhibit is open until July 25.
- Les émotifs anonymes (Romantics Anonymous) – This fluffy, romantic comedy stars Benoît Poelvoorde and Isabel Carré as two highly sensitive, highly awkward chocolate experts who fall in love. It’s charming and lighthearted and available on Netflix (at least in the US and France).
- The Paris Key, by Juliet Blackwell – OK, this is NOT “literature;” it’s a beach read, but it’s a beach read that is set in Paris, particularly the Marais. It’s part romance, part mystery, part history, and part travelogue. (That’s a lot of parts.) Most of the commentary about Paris is accurate, so it’s possible to learn a thing or two as you toast yourself in the sun (slathered in sunscreen, I hope).
- @fallingoffbicycles – This Instagram account features beautiful pictures of France, often featuring bicycles. The photographer, Julia, and I like the same sorts of vignettes, so there is always plenty of visual inspiration.
- Saint James – I just got my first Saint James marinière during les soldes, or the twice-a-year sales. (Yes, I already have a great many striped tops, but each one speaks to me in its own way.) The fabric is light and breathable, provides sun protection, and dries in a flash. I also look really, really French! Their products aren’t cheap; even on sale, my top was 70 Euros, or 78 USD, but the made-in-France quality is excellent and I think I’ll be wearing this bleu, blanc, rouge top for years.
Until next week, au revoir.
The château de Canon has been on my list of places that I wanted to visit for about ten years now, inspired by a photo of a statue in an arched opening that I saw in a book about beautiful places in France. The only problem was that it is a little awkward to get to, being roughly situated about smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. Of course, that may also be why it has survived.
I decided that my recent trip to Trouville-Deauville presented the best chance I would probably get, provided that a day of decent weather presented itself. After several days of intermittent rain, steady rain, and flat-out thunderstorms, a day that was forecast to be only partly cloudy seemed close enough to decent weather for my purposes. I took a train to Lisieux (appropriately enough, since it is a pilgrimage site), and then waited for another train to Mézidon-Canon on the line to Caen (not all Caen-bound trains stop there, so there can be some delays). Once in the very small town, I had to walk about twenty-five minutes to the château, but the route was well-marked and often very pleasant.
Once there, I had a choice of a ticket to the gardens alone or a ticket that included the farm. I opted for just the gardens. Unfortunately for me, although the château itself is now partially restored, it is only open during the high season and I was about a week too early.
In exchange for 7€, I was given a map of the gardens and an explanation of route to follow. The château has no direct royal connection and the property has basically been in the same hands since the middle ages. The building and gardens that exist today date to the mid-18th century, created by a wealthy and well-connected lawyer who had married the heiress to the property, Jean-Baptiste Elie de Beaumont. The couple lavished equal attention on the grounds and the symmetrical building made of pale stone. Thirty workers labored on the site for ten years.
The gardens mark the transition between the French-style of clipped hedges interspersed with marble statues (made by the same artists who worked for Louis XVI) and the informal English-style of garden. This looser form of garden was made popular in France by the writings of Voltaire about the beauty to be found in nature. A stream was re-routed to enhance the atmosphere and little cascades were built to create a soothing babble as one walked through one’s “natural” garden, but artifice has often been called upon to give nature a bit of a boost.
Over time, “follies” were installed, like the Chinese Pavilion and a neo-classical temple, but the most spectacular structures were les Chartreuses (lay shar-truz), a series of walled gardens that allowed the family to grow exotic fruits, such as figs and apricots, in the relatively short summer in Normandy. Apparently the name came from the fact that most of the plants came from monks of that order. It was within this structure that I found the sculpture of Pomone, a Roman goddess of fruits and orchards, whose image first attracted me to come to Canon. Now the gardens are largely full of flowers, but originally, they were part of a farm that allowed the château to provide most of its own food. I kept thinking about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, a childhood favorite.
The family organized a huge festival that attracted thousands of locals in a celebration of “Virtue.” These celebrations created such goodwill that the château was spared attack during the Revolution. For once, virtue was rewarded. The château didn’t get off as lightly in World War II when it was used as a German military hospital. Tanks hid from aerial surveillance among its mature trees. American bombs flattened part of the farm and refugees housed in the out-buildings after the war took their toll. The Elie de Beaumont family still owns the château and is consistently engaged in its restoration, including those interiors that I didn’t get to see…this time. Maybe in another ten years.
My recommendations for Honfleur, a charming town not far from Trouville-Deauville, are based on my most recent trip and one that I made seven years ago.
- Walk everywhere – Honfleur itself is the principal attraction. Stroll around the port! But don’t spend all your time in this heavily touristed area. Meander up and down its narrow streets. Take pictures of window boxes. If you get lost, don’t worry; head downhill to get back to the port.
- Le musée Eugène Boudin – Boudin, a friend of Monet, is credited as being the father of the open-air movement that marked the Impressionist movement. The museum has a decent permanent collection of Boudin’s works and hosts special exhibits. I missed the opening of the new one by just a couple of days (part of the Normandy-wide celebration of Impressionism). On the other hand, I’d skip the Satie museum. It certainly is surreal!
- La Tortue – I ate here both times I was in Honfleur, but the chef had changed, so that almost counts as being adventurous in my books. My meal was delicious and artfully presented both times I ate there. La Tortue (lah tor-tyue) means “the turtle” but there were no terrapins on the menu. (Fine with me!)
- Saint Catherine’s Church – If the interior of this wooden church reminds you of the hull of two boats lashed together, that’s because it was built by boat builders rather than ecclesiastical architects. One “hull” was built in the 15th century and the other a hundred years later. The bell tower is at a slight distance and you can mount to the top for an overview of the town.
- Boat Tour – A 45-minute boat ride takes you under the stunning Normandy Bridge and gives a wonderful overview of the Seine estuary. Touristy, but worth it.
Because the holiday season was not yet fully underway during my recent trip to Trouville-Deauville, it seemed as though most of the shops and restaurants were closed when I arrived on a Monday afternoon. As I got closer to the weekend, more shutters were folded back and more options were available. One of those was a tiny, informal restaurant within view of the ocean. Les Affiches (layz a-feesh) means “the posters” (6 rue de Paris, Trouville) and its unprepossessing décor was some dog-eared posters.
There were seats for about twenty-five guests and I was lucky enough to snag one for lunch. I had probably the most delicious appetizer of my life – a mixture of tomatoes and melons, with chèvre “ice-cream” – followed by a delicious white fish. There is no fixed menu; it’s all based on what’s in the market. It was an exceptional lunch. When I walked by Les Affiches during the dinner hour, they had a sign out announcing that they were fully booked. I’m not surprised.