Cézanne et moi

65A91C81-574A-4716-BEAE-7090E7F126D6 After having spent an idyllic time in Aix-en-Provence this summer, the film Cézanne et moi caught my eye on Netflix. The film is about the friendship between writer Émile Zola and painter Paul Cézanne. It’s hard to go too many steps in Aix without seeing a reference to one or both of them. Here is where they went to school; here is where one lived; here is where the other worked.

AFC9AC76-7342-448E-9CE1-AB6494A1067EThe film, by director Danièle Thompson, examines their relationship over many years, culminating in the rupture over Zola’s depiction of his friend in L’Oeuvre. One has the tendency to think of them both achieving fame and fortune at somewhat the same time, but Cézanne, the son of a banker, worked without recognition or financial reward for decades after Zola, an immigrant who grew up in poverty, had become a wealthy bourgeois. Quite the role reversal.

29375EBA-1EDB-4272-B07B-77D7E6C1F29FI don’t think it was a great film, but it gave a view of the friendships and rivalries of an incredible group, such as Manet, Monet, Maupassant, and Renoir, at the time of the Salon des Refusés and the birth of Impressionism. I also enjoyed seeing the streets and fountains of Aix incorporated into the film, as well as the singing of the cigales, or cicadas, that are the soundtrack of Provence. It’s in French and subtitled in English.


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La Mode (non)jetable

5BEACD39-A8D8-464F-8F26-D35C3AA573BCThis year, I discovered a new-to-me French clothing brand near Saint Sulpice church, Maison Standards. This home of chic basics has been around since 2013, but used to be only online. Now it has a handful of Parisian boutiques in addition to Internet sales.

01E2F4D7-8D81-4072-8092-56D3EA681414As it was during one of the twice-yearly official sales periods, when big discounts lure customers in, the first thing that I noticed about them is that there were no markdowns. The founder, Uriel Karsenti, keeps prices relatively low by eliminating middlemen. Because the look is totally timeless, there is no need to dump one season’s clothes to prepare for the next.

EEBA5CA9-1179-47CB-A3EB-5FD678E4EABCIf you also like well-cut classics in quality fabrics at fair prices, this is a brand to consider. And if you won’t be in Paris, their Internet business is alive and well, shipping men’s and women’s fashion to many parts of the world. The equivalent of “fast fashion” in French is la mode jetable (lah mowed shjet-ab-luh), literally “disposable fashion,” and that is the exact opposite of the Maison Standards esthetic. My only regret is that my closet is sufficiently well-stocked that I couldn’t justify picking up several pieces. I was on the hunt for a red dress, and they did have one contender, but the color was too tomatoey for me (a different dress from the one above), so I regretfully left empty handed. But I’ll be back.

14BF85C2-DC26-4FAF-BE74-A57BA7CCEAC2Parisian chic

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Jacques-Louis David

60DF4882-4323-4FC8-96A0-8BE07049DFB6French Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David was born on August 30, 1748. In both his art and his life, David displayed a tempestuous nature, possibly inherited from his father, who was killed in a duel in 1757. He trained under Vien, and his early paintings featured the same uncomfortable blend of Rococo sweetness and antique trappings as those of his master.

After winning the Prix de Rome, however, David spent an extended study period in Italy (1775-80), where his art acquired a new dignity and grandeur. With their fiery patriotism and stern morality, David’s paintings of the 1780s captured the rebellious mood of the times.  Indeed, his greatest painting, “The Death of the Horatii,” has often been seen as a visual call to arms. During the Revolution, David was swept up in politics, joining the National Convention, where he became associated with Robespierre and Marat, whose death he immortalized.

DD208EF4-ED6D-4185-A4F4-40E2F9199EC4After their fall, he was imprisoned and was only saved from the guillotine by his royalist wife. This experience did nothing  to quell the artist’s spirit, however, for he became equally involved with Napoleon. After the latter’s defeat, David fled to Brussels, where he remained in exile for the rest of his days. He died on December 29, 1825.

E6FECE0B-69A7-4A2B-9539-C939B8F53ED6Jacques-Louis David: Empire to Exile

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Le jardin français

61AFD91A-5D5A-4E32-BD4F-3852C2E7DC05Upon returning from France, I was pleased to turn to Monty Don’s French Gardens on Netflix to revisit my favorite country while recovering from jet lag. There are three hour-long episodes: Gardens of Power and Passion; The Gourmet Garden; and The Artistic Garden that were first broadcast on the BBC. The host is an earnest and affable Brit who speaks quite good French and clearly loves everything he sees and eats. Everyone – from nuns to Michelin starred chefs – responds to him in the same open-hearted way. He criss-crosses the country in a classic blue 2CV with a straw hat shielding his head from the French sun. He even goes to Aix, that I visited and loved in June. If you want to take a trip to the heart of France – no jet lag required – I think you’ll enjoy this show.

924B6DA9-8CEF-4F3E-BF09-45492D113483Private Gardens of Paris

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Dos à la mode

FEE1ECEE-1109-4741-8738-172FE52D36A0If you’ll be in Paris prior to November 17, 2019, I highly recommend that you visit the exhibit Backside / Dos à la mode at the musée Bourdelle. Located near the hulking and hideous Tour Montparnasse (oops, my bias is showing), this little museum was the atelier of sculptor Antoine Bourdelle. A few times in recent years, it has housed fashion exhibits in conjunction with the Palais Galliera, the museum dedicated just to fashion. I think this is the most successful collaboration to date, as the juxtaposition of couture items seen from the back alongside sculptures presented in the same way creates an interesting dialogue.

A8FABF47-464A-42F9-8E0A-9B3E0B3E0A6FAnd it isn’t just pretty dresses. Did you realize that, apart from a straitjacket, men’s clothes always open at the front, whereas women’s have frequently opened at the back? I never thought about how this one simple fact kept women dependant upon others to get dressed or undressed. We teach children early in their lives how to dress themselves, but women did not have this simple independence.

DF440E93-9FEB-47CF-B6CC-BB433B45900FThe back can also be used as a canvas to write messages, explicitly or implicitly. Remember the furor caused by the writing on the back of Melania Trump’s coat when she was on a humanitarian mission? A look-alike of that “just a coat” is in the exhibition. Some gowns demonstrated Puritanical modesty from the front while saving all the show for the back. From clothes that made news in recent years to a court train from the 18th century, this exhibit covers the whole gamut. Which of these gowns would you choose for yourself?

A4E2EC3B-28EF-4204-B8E5-068979FE45DFBackside / Dos à la mode

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Gorges du Verdon

8F410FE2-69BC-49A7-ADCD-67FE86B72712In a recent blog post, I told you about the first half of a full day excursion to Moustiers and the lavender fields of Valensole. As much as I enjoyed the morning, the afternoon was even more spectacular.

A644F27A-BD45-46BA-831E-FBA0C80A0C3FJust outside of Moustiers, we stopped to admire the Gorges du Verdon, dazzling turquoise waters held in the embrace of deep limestone cliffs. The valley was carved by Alpine runoff, but the water is the result of the valley being flooded in the 1970s as part of a vast hydroelectric project. The astonishing color is the result of minerals suspended in the water. I’m no water sports enthusiast, but it was a fairly warm day when we were there, and all I wanted to do was jump in a paddle boat and join the people frolicking in the water below me.

4B19E9BF-F0B4-4B15-B5A7-39ED57CA8DC7We drove around the perimeter of the gorge and then to the village of Sainte-Croix-de-Verdon, perched above a lake of the same name, also part of the same system of vast reservoirs. We had time to either wander through the village or go down to the water. I opted for the village and photography, but it was so tiny that I think I would have been better using my time for paddling at the water’s edge. The tiny village was saved from being flooded when the dam was built, but some other villages have disappeared beneath those turquoise waters. (It makes me think of the French TV series Les Revenants.) I think this would be an amazing place to rent a vacation home for a week in the summer. (No matter how beautiful it is, I’d get bored of beach life after a few days.)

3D583740-DC2F-4B94-A309-DF111F58E317I’d never heard of the Gorges du Verdon prior to this trip, but all my French friends were in the know. How about you? Have you ever been there? How cold is the water?!

794DD22B-7EF2-4C6F-BD27-20D913051D39Provence Made Easy: The Sights, Restaurants, Hotels of Provence

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7C8BDD91-61C5-4722-92AF-55390CCBCE51After the success of our small-group excursions to Cassis and the hill towns, I signed up for a full day trip to see lavender in Valensole and to visit some additional provençal villages. The advantage of this particular trip was that I had more time in each location, so I feel that I got to see all that I wanted and take pictures to my heart’s content.


Valensole is a large plain known for having field after field of lavender, or actually lavendin. We learned that virtually every “lavender” field is usually lavendin, which has a more compact grouping of flower heads on the stalk and slightly different attributes than its better known cousin. The first stop was to a farm with lavendin, olive and almond trees. We were allowed to go right into the fields to take photos, as is typical of farms with shops, as opposed to farms that simply produce the crop and do not appreciate tourists traipsing through their fields. Because it had been a cool spring, the lavendin was not quite in full bloom, but it was still a beautiful sight to see! My favorite parts were the poppies growing between breaks in the plants. Of course, our visit ended with the opportunity to buy some of the organic products.

FE0C6E22-C761-4EDA-9537-77DABB57E5E920FD56A2-B808-4349-8FCA-C9F030AB74698890410F-CAC0-4AF9-A03C-380CF062AD6A8C871F87-CE8A-4F7C-9085-9996ED95CC5DThen we went to the village of Moustiers-Sainte-Anne, home to beautiful faïence, or pottery, for  centuries. There were traditional patterns, the same as the one ordered by Louis XIV and modern interpretations. I was highly tempted by a mug with a hot air balloon, celebrating the success of the Montgolfier brothers, and a trio of vases in graduated sizes decorated with tropical birds. I resisted, but did indulge in a simple leather belt that I was able to customize in the color, size, and buckle style that I wanted.

0AA3B2D4-C6BF-4533-BC56-43A5BD049BBDD09395AD-4C12-44D7-860D-C77E2D1833EFD7600360-D1BA-4E47-B9AE-64117592DC60462EC382-2DF1-4095-9AD5-C5CF0167A2A3The village deserves its inclusion in the list of the most beautiful towns in France. It perches on a series of terraces, about a hundred yards up a limestone cliff. Far above the little town, a golden star twinkles above the town, suspended on a chain between two cliffs. According to legend, it was hung by a knight who made it home to Moustiers after having been imprisoned during the Crusades to fulfill a pious oath. It’s been replaced a number of times since the 10th century, of course, most recently with the aid of a helicopter. How they managed to suspend it in the pre-helicopter days defies my imagination.

13F68226-660D-4577-A546-D71E367945700BC70AA6-B1CA-446B-A5C2-C31EE6765526A2AEDDDC-E65D-4692-9A62-F3054ACE6E3F1617F020-37AF-40D0-B33C-2582BA2E40F46E848A6F-0E63-4D0F-B433-6AA8EFEFB129A2AEE3AA-9A5B-4E36-BD01-C9BE517BB926Perched between the village and the star is a tiny chapel, Notre Dame de Beauvoir. It’s a long climb up there, on stone steps rendered slick from the passage of many feet over the centuries. You can see the chapel in the photo, above, where the bridge is at the bottom left and the chapel is at the top right. The chapel itself manifests little architectural beauty, but it is well-named as it provides a magnificent vista over the valley. Legend attributes its construction to Charlemagne in the 9th century. For sure there are historical references to it early in the 12th century, which is sufficiently extraordinary.

97342845-4879-4EB9-9E6B-04755192FF20.jpegThe day was far from done, but I’ll share the rest of our itinerary in another post. Have you ever been to Moustiers? Did you succumb to some faïence?

794DD22B-7EF2-4C6F-BD27-20D913051D39Provence Made Easy: The Sights, Restaurants, Hotels of Provence



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