- Picnic in Provence: A Memoir with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard – This is the follow-up to Bard’s best-selling memoir Lunch in Paris and I liked it even more than the first book. Bard talks with raw honesty about the strain her book caused in her relationship with her mother-in-law who felt that Bard had disclosed too much that was private. She lays bare her feelings of inadequacy as a parent of a young son who clearly prefers his daddy. But the book is really about finding her place in France, but in Provence instead of in Paris. Bard and her husband move to the Cereste in the south of France where they decide to break with their prior careers in order to open an artisanal ice cream shop, Scaramouche. I’m not a big ice cream person, but Bard’s description of how they sourced the best local ingredients and experimented to create the most luscious combinations made me want to try a scoop of everything. If you’d rather eat ice cream than read about it, Scaramouche has now opened a second shop in Paris (22 rue la Vieuville, in the 18th). It’s closed for the winter, but I definitely want to check it out this summer.
- Chef’s Table: France – This Netflix Original series explores the stories of four very different Michelin starred chefs. Each chef is completely different in the style of cuisine and back story, but each clearly infuses each dish with love as well as skill. It’s an enchanting short series – and I’m not even a foodie!
- TripFiction – I’ve always loved to prepare for a trip by reading about my destination beforehand, whether it be a travelog, history, memoir, or historical fiction. And when I come home, reading about places I have discovered helps prolong the pleasure of the trip. I just discovered Trip Fiction, a website dedicated to this proposition. Search your destination and tailored recommendations pop up that you can purchase through the site. I checked their recommendations for France, and they are goodies. Even if your travels are only of the armchair variety, you will find plenty to enjoy here. Bon voyage!
Since we’re going to spend Christmas in Paris, I decided not to decorate our home for the holidays. I love my collection of ornaments; putting them out is fine, but putting them away afterward is (yawn) a real bore. Still, seeing all sorts of Christmas finery is one if pleasures of the holiday. So this weekend, we visited Castle Hill, a historical mansion in Ipswich, Massachusetts that does Christmas in a big way.
We were wowed from the moment we glimpsed the huge house at the top of the hill. Castle Hill, a 59 room mansion, was built in 1928 by the Crane family, of indoor plumbing fame and fortune. (My paternal grandmother was named Crane. Do you think they’ll let me move in as a long lost heir?) The Cranes used it as a summer home for just a few weeks each year.
While the house is truly splendid, we thought the commanding view down to the sea and salt marshes would have made even Louis XIV jealous. In fact, the dramatic setting reminded me of Vaux le Vicomte, a château that made Louis XIV so jealous that he took it for himself.
Inside, the house was decorated with a Twelve Days of Christmas theme. Our favorite two rooms were the richly paneled library, inspired by Seven Pipers Piping, and the apricot guest room, decorated with Five Golden Rings. But room after room was a genuine delight. Local florists demonstrated their talents with lush bouquets.
Une décoration de Noël (oon day-kor-a-see-ohn duh no-ell) means “a Christmas decoration.” If have a chance to admire the holiday décor at Castle Hill, I think you’ll be just as delighted as we were. We hope to come back in June to see the rose garden in full bloom. It’s perfect – decorations I don’t have to put away and gardens I don’t have to weed. Check out their calendar for a full listing of special events.
- When I’m at the musée d’Orsay to see the exhibit on the Second Empire, I will also check out Frédéric Bazille (1841-1870). The Youth of Impressionism. Bazille died at the age of just 28 as a soldier in the Franco-Prussian War. A friend of Monet, the sixty paintings in the exhibit show a young talent that had the potential to equal the other Impressionists. The exhibit shows Bazille’s work alongside his contemporaries, highlighting his unique talent. It’s on now through March 5, 2017.
- 24 Jours (24 Days) – This isn’t a cheery movie, but it is a compelling true story. I remember following the drama on the French news as it was unfolding in 2006. Ilan Halimi was abducted by a rough gang and held for ransom for twenty-four days. He was targeted because he was Jewish, and the thugs believed that “they” were all rich and stuck together, so the kidnappers would be able to raise a large amount of money very quickly. I won’t tell you how it concludes, but when country after country seems to be turning inward instead of welcoming those who represent the “other,” I think it’s an important film to watch. I saw it on Netflix, but it’s also available on Amazon.
I’m changing things a bit again. If you follow the blog regularly, you will know that I’ve been trying to publish a “Five on Friday” post for the last several months. The problem is, however, that the school year is so busy that having the time to find all five books, films, events etc. to recommend sometimes doesn’t happen within the span of seven days. The space between posts is getting longer and longer. Rather than being a slave to the format, I’m going to just rename these posts “Friday Finds” and publish as many as I’ve been able to gather – even if it has to become a “Friday Find.” Alors, on y va!
- Oscar Wilde: L’Impertinent absolu – Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite authors and the Petit Palais in Paris has an exhibit dedicated to the controversial author and playwright who died in Paris in 1900.The exhibit assembles 200 manuscripts, photographs, letters, drawings, and paintings from international collections as well as France. The exhibit is on now and will continue until January 15, 2017.
- Paris Reborn: Napoleon III, Baron Haussmann, and the Quest to Build A Modern City, by Stephane Kirkland – I’m planning to go to the exhibit at the musée d’Orsay about the Second Empire when I get to Paris for Christmas, and I’ll get even more out of it after having read this account of the era. The book gave me a much deeper understanding than simply that Haussmann had carved great swathes of broad boulevards through the city, tearing down anything in his path. The financing of the grands travaux also drove the city into massive debt and was a contributing factor to the disastrous Franco-Prussian war and the end of the Empire. The book’s a wee bit dry at times – I reread an entire section without realizing it for an alarming amount of time – but I learned a lot.
- Le Prénom (What’s in a Name) – I really enjoyed this 2012 movie, headlined by Patrick Bruel and Valérie Benguigui. It’s based on a play by the same name that featured almost the identical cast. Benguigui won a César (the French version of an Oscar) for this role shortly before she died of breast cancer. The premise is that a group of friends and family have gathered for dinner. One discloses that he is planning to give a rather controversial name to his first-born, stirring up a heated debate that ends up opening a great many emotional cans of worms. The dialogue crackles with biting wit and intelligence. I saw it on Netflix, but it’s also available on Amazon. In some ways, it reminded me of Le Dîner de Cons, so if you like that classic, you may also enjoy this film.
- Les Chatelles – I’m definitely going to check out this shoe boutique when I’m in Paris. I love flats, but I can rarely wear them due to my weird feet and back. These flats are super cute, they come in tons of colors and they’re customizable. Add tassels, have your initials embroidered or wear them as is. If I can wear them, a pair is coming home with me. If you’d like to step out in these beauties and you’ve got feet that are normal enough to make mail order shoes a viable option, use the code “FLATISSEXY” until November 30 to receive 30% off your purchase. You have 100 days to return them if they don’t work out.
- If you are interested in picking up a classic French pea coat or striped shirt from St. James, use code ESSENTIAL20 to save 20% through this Monday at Halsbrook.com. These basics rarely go on sale, so this is a good deal! I just treated myself to the red and blue striped shirt in the photo.
- This summer, I enjoyed the “Anatomie d’une collection” exhibit at the Musée Galliera in Paris. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one; the exhibit was held over until the end of October and now they’ve launched a follow-up with forty new pieces in homage to French designer Sonia Rykiel, who recently passed away. The total collection of 200 pieces shows the history of fashion from the 18th century to the present, from the most important figures in history to anonymous prisoners. The exhibit will be open until February 12, 2017.
- A Fifty Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France, by Miranda Richmond Mouillot – This is a memoir of a granddaughter’s efforts to understand her grandparents’ experiences as Jewish refugees in World War II. As a child, Mouillot was mystified by her totally estranged grandparents: they met in Strasbourg, married while refugees in Switzerland, had two children, and then Anna left Armand and then they never spoke to or saw one another again . Mouillot immersed herself in refugee archives and letters from her grandparents to supplement their failing and contradictory memories. The story is enmeshed with a crumbling stone house in the south of France that her grandparents nought just prior to their separation. Mouillot moves there for her research but also finds love and a life of her own in the ashes of her grandparents’ marriage. Mouillot discovers that the secret to the demise of her grandparents’ marriage has its roots in the Nuremberg trials and the horrors Armand had to relive daily as a translator. In so doing, Mouillot is able to make peace with her past and move on to her future. It’s a well-written and sensitive memoir.
- Les Revenants (The Returned) – One of my students did a summer program in France and came back with an enthusiastic recommendation for this French series. It’s a goodie. It’s kind of a cross between The Sixth Sense and The X-Files. Seven years after they died, several people suddenly reappear in a small mountain town. While they are just as they were when they died, those they loved have changed and generally moved on. When a particularly brutal attack replicates an unsolved crime from seven years earlier, it seems that something or someone might have been better off remaining dead. It’s on Netflix and Amazon in the U.S..
- @theglitteringunknown – This Paris-based Instagrammer found love when she was on vacation and made the city her home. She has an eye for pearlescent skies and contemplative moments.
- Lancôme Bienfait Multi-Vital SPF 30 Lotion – Being fair-skinned person who is prone to freckling and who has already had one bout of basal cell skin cancer, I am careful to always have sunscreen of at least 30 SPF in my moisturizer and my foundation. Recently, however, I had come to the conclusion that my skin care was not protecting me enough. New freckles were appearing and I was concerned about ongoing skin damage. I switched to this Lancôme lotion and I’m really liking it. The formula contains a broad spectrum sunscreen for protection and antioxidants for repair. Plus, the texture is light and silky and the fragrance is pleasant without being irritating.
Recently, an American couple, Spencer and Marlene Hays received the Légion d’honneur in thanks for the priceless gift of 600 19th-century French masterpieces to the musée d’Orsay. Spencer said, “Art belongs to no one. We were simply the temporary guardians and were delighted to have been.”
The director of the musée d’Orsay has been in negotiations to bring the vast collection back to France for some years now. Apparently, the tipping point was that more Americans would see the collection if it was in Paris than in the United States! Long live cultural tourism.
Although some key pieces of the collection were already loaned to the museum in 2013, the collection will only be transferred to the d’Orsay upon the death of the generous couple. Un don (uhn dohn) means “a gift” and I would sure like to be on the Hays’ Christmas list. I’ve got a spot over the fireplace that would be just perfect for a Caillebotte – if they’ve got any left.