Degas: A New Vision – I’ve never been to Houston, but this Degas exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts could be a good reason for a trip. Two hundred works from public and private collections, including paintings, drawings, photography, prints, and sculpture, show the breadth of a career that covered the last half of the 19th century and the early 20th century. The ballet dancers will be there, alright, along with so much more. This is the only US stop for this comprehensive exhibit. The exhibit will run from October 16, 2016 to January 8, 2017.
- The Little Paris Bookshop, by Nina George – Jean Perdu runs a floating bookshop, moored on the Seine. He is a literary apothecary who dispenses the perfect book to cure troubled souls – except his own. His name rather unsubtly means John Lost, and when he lost the love of his life twenty years earlier, he became emotionally dead. When a woman comes along who makes him want to live again, Perdu goes on a quest down the rivers of France on his book barge to find the anonymous author of a treasured volume and lay the ghost of his beloved to rest.
- Le fils de l’épicier (The Grocer’s Son)- This 2007 film, starring Nicolas Cazalé and Clotilde Hesme, gives a look at rural France. Rough-edged Cazalé is the son of a village grocer who agrees to help his Mom run the shop while his Dad recovers from a heart attack. The family also has a grocery truck so it can bring the essentials to rural customers. It’s a film about strained family relationships and fulfilling expectations versus satisfying one’s own wishes. It’s available on Amazon for rent or purchase.
- Duolingo Tinycards – I’m a big fan of the Duolingo website and app for learning and reviewing French vocabulary and grammar. Now they have a flashcard app that is colorful and interactive. As a teacher, I’m generally not a fan of flashcards as they tend to be so passive. Students have the impression that they are reviewing when they are actually just spending time. The Duolingo Tinycards are different. Of course, it’s the French cards that interest me the most, but there are plenty of others to pique your interest.
- Le District – My husband and I recently made a rapid trip to New York. While there, we checked out Le District, a collection of French restaurants, cafés, and food emporiums. It is essentially a glorious food court within the upscale Brookfield Place mall, located opposite the new World Trade Center. We hadn’t known what to expect, so we had recently eaten and weren’t hungry enough to take advantage of all the Le District had to offer. Next time, we’ll know better.
- Valentin de Boulogne: Beyond Caravaggio – The Met in New York has a new exhibit opening on October 7 featuring the greatest follower of Caravaggio, French artist Valentin de Boulogne (1591–1632). Although de Boulogne was one of the most talented 17th century painters in his own right, his work is almost unknown because he died rather young, at 41, and only about sixty of his works survive. The 45 paintings in this exhibit come from museums around the world, most notably the Louvre.
- Raiders of the Lost Art – This British documentary follows the stories of looted and stolen art from many countries and eras. There are two seasons of episodes on Netflix (in the US) that recount Hollywood-worthy true-crime tales through re-enactment, rare documents, and commentary by art theft experts. Unsurprisingly, many of these stories have a connection with Paris. If you enjoyed movies like The Monuments Men, you’ll like this series, even if there is no George Clooney.
- Paris Stories, by Mavis Gallant – This is a collection of short stories by a fellow Canadian, written while she was living in Paris. Gallant, who frequently wrote for The New Yorker, moved to France in the 1950s so that she could focus on writing fiction. The stories only occasionally take place in Paris, but all share brilliant turns of phrase that had me reaching for a pencil to underline them and wishing that I could write with such crystalline clarity. I did not read these stories quickly, but dipped into them over several months. But as Gallant herself said, “Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.”
- @frenchlarkspur – This Instagrammer is a decorator and photographer with an eye for vintage French goodies. If you like what you see, follow the link to her website, where you can buy prints of her beautiful photos or brocante treasures.
- Baies room spray, by Diptyque – I added this room spray to my collection of Diptyque products in my favorite Baies scent when I was in Paris. It’s safe for fabrics, so I spritz it in my closet so that all my clothes smell delicious.
HODLER MONET MUNCH The musée Marmottan Monet, on the western edge of Paris, in the calm 16th arrondissement, has two major special exhibitions a year. This year, the fall and winter show, which runs from September 15 to January 22, 2017, concerns three very different artists Ferdinand Hodler, Claude Monet, and Edvard Munch. The proposition is that these three were essential to three major European art movements: impressionism, post-impressionism, and symbolism. Also, all three tackled subject matter that was considered almost impossible to render with paint and canvas such as snow, the movement of light on water, or grasses growing beneath the surface of water. As Monet said, “C’est admirable à voir, mais c’est à rendre fou de vouloir faire ça,” which means “It’s wonderful to look at, but to try to paint it is enough to make one insane.”
- Madame Bovary – The first book I ever read in French in university was Madame Bovary, by Gustave Flaubert. It’s a great classic of French literature, and after I read it, I felt … annoyed. What was her problem? She was so selfish and I had absolutely no empathy for her. This 2015 English-language film, starring Mia Wasikowska, is not flawless, but it helped me understand Emma Bovary’s feelings of claustrophobia in her small town existence. It’s available on Netflix and Amazon.
- Death in the City of Light: The Serial Killer of Nazi-Occupied Paris, by David King – This is an absolutely amazing true-crime story that I had never heard of before. Dr. Marcel Petiot was a physician and antiques dealer by day and a serial killer by night. Although he was ultimately convicted of 26 grisly murders, he may have committed a hundred more. I don’t want to give away too much by telling you what he claimed as a motivation and what his actual reasons for killing appeared to be, but it’s quite the tale. I think that King went down a few too many rabbit holes in trying to tell this sprawling story, but overall this was a very interesting read.
- @french_manoir – This Instagram account features the restoration of Le Petit Château in the Loire region if France. If you want to make your internet feed look just as beautiful, you can even rent the château for your own family to enjoy.
- Clarins Rouge Éclat lipstick – I wanted a red lipstick that wouldn’t be too bold and garish. I like Clarins skin care, so I tried several of their lipsticks to see if I would be similarly smitten. I really liked color 20, Red Fuchsia, but I like the formula so much that I would definitely consider other shades. Not only is the color beautiful and long-lasting, it’s also an age-defying treatment, featuring Clarins’ Nutri-Youth Complex to create fuller, younger-looking lips. Moisturizing AND longlasting? Ooh-là-là!
Recently, my husband and I visited The Mount, Edith Wharton’s home in Lenox, Massachusetts. The author of books such as The House of Mirth, Age of Innocence, and Ethan Frome, and my favorite short story ever “Roman Fever,” built The Mount based on design principles she set forth in The Decoration of Houses. Wharton used the knowledge she gained as an insider in the highest New York social circles to write books that showed the weaknesses and failings of that society.
Wharton and her husband lived in the house for just ten years. Their marriage was marred by their lack of suitability and her husband’s increasing mental health issues. Wharton left for France, where she continued to live until her death. She was very active in charities to ease the suffering caused by war, including work with refugees. She was allowed to travel to the front more than once to report on conditions there. She received the French Légion d’Honneur, a Pulitzer prize, and an honorary Doctorate from Yale University. She is buried in Versailles.
The house and grounds are beautiful, but they’ve gone through some rough times. In 2002, the centenary of The Mount, they hosted a designer Show House. Although no furniture from Wharton’s time was currently in the house, there were many, many photographs and letters describing how things were. Designers were given enormous latitude, provided that what they did was in keeping with how things looked in 1902. The living room, dining room, library, Wharton’s suite of bedroom, boudoir, and bathroom are the most fully decorated spaces. Other rooms are used for educational displays about Wharton and her era.
In the forty works that she wrote in her forty years as an author, Wharton had many a bon mot. One of her sayings has become rather well known: On peut répandre la lumière de deux façons : être la bougie, ou le miroir qui la reflète (ohn puh ray-pan-druh lah loom-e-air duh deuh fass-ohn: et-ruh lah boo-zhee, ooh luh meer-warh key lah ref-let), which means “There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” I think Wharton was a candle, illuminating the good, the bad, and the ugly of privileged New York society. If you get a chance to visit The Mount, I would heartily recommend it.
- Fantin-Latour. À fleur du peau – The charming little musée du Luxembourg-Sénat, often has excellent small exhibits. A new one, dedicated to artist Henri Fantin-Latour will open on September 14. Fantin-Latour is best known for luscious still-lives of flowers that are so realistic you’d like to pluck them, but he also painted portraits, including several warm pictures of his family painted at home. The exhibit is on until February 12, 2017.
- Hunt for the Wilderpeople – OK, this movie has 99.99% nothing to do with France; there is about a two second spot where the main character is reading The Little Prince. It is, however, the best movie I have seen in years, maybe forever. I saw it in the charming, old-fashioned Michigan Theater when I was visiting my daughter in Ann Arbor, which only addded to the experience. It’s the story of an “incorrigible” foster child and his foster father who take off to the wilds of New Zealand and become the subjects of an extensive manhunt. Comedy, drama, a great soundtrack, and breathtaking scenery – what’s not to love?
- The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, by Phaedra Patrick – This is my favorite of the books I have read so far this year. Arthur Pepper is a widower who finds a charm bracelet among his wife’s belongings. He doesn’t remember ever having seen this piece of jewelry and he starts a quest to trace the story behind each charm and how it connects to his wife’s life. One of the charms takes him to Paris. It’s a delightful read.
- The Simply Luxurious Life – Blogger, podcaster, and author Shannon Ables writes about a wide variety of lifestyle topics, often from a francophile point of view. Recently, she wrapped up her first French Week, which she promises will be an annual event; the link to all of those posts is above. Ables is the first to admit that she is more of an enthusiast of the French language than a French speaker, but she always strives to provide valuable content.
- Bio Beauté by Nuxe Tinted Repairing Lip Balm with Raspberry Pulp – I like tinted lip balms as I am so fair skinned that a little extra color is always welcome. I picked this one up in Paris, and I keep reaching for it in my purse. It has natural and organic ingredients and a light, sheer raspberry shade. It’s very moisturizing and not at all sticky. One drawback, however, is that it does not seem to be widely available outside of France, so you’ll need to wait for your next trip there to stock up. What a good excuse for a trip!
Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France Watteau is generally associated with paintings of picnicking aristocrats, but early in his career, he painted a series of military scenes. France was involved in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14). Watteau’s paintings don’t portray battle scenes, but rather quiet moments in camp. This exhibit at the Frick Collection in New York is the first to focus on this aspect of Watteau’s career, including one painting that has never been displayed in a museum. The exhibit is open until October 2, 2016.
- Pour une femme (For A Woman) – This 2013 movie is about memories and stories of two sisters after the death of their mother. There is intrigue about the post-war years in France, the black market, the Communist party, and family secrets. It’s available on Netflix or you can follow the link above to watch the full film on Amazon.
- The Paris Winter, by Imogen Robertson – I thought this was going to be “starving artist in Paris rubs shoulders with famous people” story, but it turned out to be so much more. A young English woman comes to Paris to study at a ladies-only Académie and finds herself having to chose between paint and food. She gets a too-good-to-be-true position as a lady’s companion but finds herself the victim of a con man’s machinations. It’s a story about diamonds, opium, attempted murder, and revenge. The backdrop is the great Paris flood of 1910, which is particularly interesting to read about after the dramatic flooding this spring. A thoroughly good read.
- Mode Personel(le) – French style author, Isabelle Thomas, has a blog about fashion and beauty sponsored by the newspaper L’Express. You can practice your vocabulary while you learn about the mysteries of la touche française.
- DiorShow Blackout Mascara – I feel totally naked without mascara. I picked up a new one at Duty Free in the airport and I am very pleased with it. DiorShow lengthens without clumping and stays put so I don’t end up with racoon smudges by the end of the day.
The Spectacular Second Empire 1852-1870 – If I were still in Paris, I would totally go to this exhibit at the musée d’Orsay. The Second Empire marks the reign on Napoleon III, a time of wealth and ostentation, but also tremendous social unrest. It’s on from September 27 to January 16, 2017.
- The Little Prince Netflix movie – This isn’t Le Petit Prince that you may have read in high school French class; it’s a story within a story that presents an allegory of the meaninglessness of modern life and the rigors of growing up. Little Girl reminds me of many of my students. Her life is programmed so that she will be ready for an exclusive private school, unsubtly named Werth Academie. Her eccentric next-door neighbor is the Aviator (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) who introduces her to the tales he has written about a little prince, a tame fox, and a beloved rose. While the message of the novella — that “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” — is kept, the film is much more about the passage to adulthood and leaving childhood dreams behind.
- Moonlight Over Paris, by Jennifer Robson – This is another beach-read recommendation (from someone who doesn’t lie on beaches). I downloaded it as an audiobook from my library to accompany my unusual ritual of spring cleaning in August. It’s an old-fashioned sort of love story that takes place between the two wars in France. Lady Helena Parr travels to France to recover from illness and a broken engagement. She takes art lessons and meets the luminaries of the day, such as Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. I learned a few things, such as the petit blue method of communicating via messages by pneumatic in the pre-telephone age.
- The Great Courses Plus – If you’re a fan of the audio and video programs of The Great Courses, you’ll love the App. For as little as $14.95 a month, you can access over 6,000 video lectures (there is a one-month free trial so you can check it out). For the francophiles out there, just type “France” into the search bar, and there are six relevant courses and fifty lectures to get you started.
- Kusmi tea – This recommendation comes with a disclaimer: I do not drink tea, but I’ve been surrounded by hard-core tea drinkers my whole life. A few months ago, I was given a box of Kusmi Anastasia tea and handed it off to my husband. When I asked him if there was something I could bring back from France for him, this was his one request. He says it is the best tea that he has ever tasted. For those who know tea, it’s a black tea with bergamot, lemon, lime, and orange.