Des castors, des hirondelles et des grisettes

E00617E7-0F15-4BB6-A0DE-12858A95B813I have long loved the covered passages of Paris, those boutique-lined, glass-roofed vestiges of another era of shopping. Years ago, I saw a photo exhibit about them at Les Antiquaires du Louvre (now such a sad, abandoned shell) and bought the accompanying book. I slipped it on my bookshelf, and there it sat for a decade. I’ve been reading all that back stock before allowing myself new books and finally turned to this one. I’m kind of sorry that I did.

2AB4B5A1-CDB5-45A8-A8AB-E3C0708599C6I knew that the Palais Royale, opposite the Louvre, had been a precursor to the covered passages, and I also knew that it had been a “pleasure garden” at night, but I hadn’t known much about the women who worked there and in the passages around  it. The book revealed that the “romance” of these shopping arcades often had a lot to do with taking advantage of poor women.

There was a whole hierarchy of prostitutes. Les castors, (beavers) were at the pinnacle of this sorry group. They were further subdivided into demi-castors, castors, and castors-fini. Their relative status decided whether they had to work the garden and alleys, the arched galleries, or the terrace of a café in the Palais Royale. Balzac wrote about the whole sorry business in Illusions perdues, but took the point of view that the prostitutes were the hunters of hapless male prey. Five or six hundred women worked the Palais Royale each night in the mid-1800s.

F65777CA-BA08-4F2D-B7F2-24A07172A1D9Less “fortunate” women worked in the covered passages nearby. They were known as hirondelles (swallowsor rossignols (nightingales). Then there were the grisettes (warblers) and lorettes, shop-girls, who augmented their meager salaries by becoming prostitutes after hours. Often, those who owned the shops made the arrangements with this other sort of client, for a cut of the fee. There was the account of the arrest record of a widow who had met clients in the public toilets of one of the passages for forty years. I felt ill reading that.

E4C44A65-2EE8-4087-8538-1C89BAA4821AAnd if that isn’t sad enough, then there were the wives and daughters of factory workers who, after their own day in the factory, were expected to work “l’heure du travail supplémentaire,” or overtime, as prostitutes in one of the passages. Karl Marx wrote all about this when he lived in France from 1843-45.

7DDDED94-6341-4D15-8F69-508FF68D7ADDI felt so sad for all of those women who had no options, and so grateful to live in a time when I have an education and a very different kind of job. I’ll certainly look at the covered passages through different eyes from now on.



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Le Chalet

C5551665-2525-440D-9BFA-C4B0A4293EEDI love a good mystery and I’m always looking for good resources to keep my French up to snuff, so I happily added Le Chalet , which originally aired on French TV, to my Netflix queue. It did not disappoint.

The gist of this suspenseful six-episode show is that a group of long-separated friends have gathered in a remote Alpine town to celebrate the marriage of one of the old gang. Along for the ride are an assortment of boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, and even a small child. But all is not well. First, a series of “accidents” cut them off from the rest of the world. Then, one by one, friends keep getting killed to settle a twenty year-old grudge.5D34CFAE-ACD0-4591-B1A4-1E67AD223438It’s a classic Agatha Christie-type scenario, but I jumped out of my skin half-a-dozen times, so it certainly kept me guessing. My least favorite episode was the final one, however, as I found the wrap-up to be a bit weak. Still, I’ve recommended it my students, using the child singing the creepy opening song to lure them in, just as each victim was lured to his or her demise.

I watched it with French audio and subtitles, but English subtitles are available, too. I’m certainly not the only fan; viewers are clamoring for a second season. Hope you enjoy it!

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Que faire à Martha’s Vineyard

54C62CF4-BCB5-475F-8EFA-3522ED7D87CE.jpegI’ve wanted to check out Martha’s Vineyard since we moved to Massachusetts five years ago, but it just didn’t happen. During the school year, I often have to work on Saturdays and in the summer, I’m in France. In addition, I had no idea of the best way to get there, where to stay, or what we would do once we were there. Finally, everything aligned over Columbus Day weekend. We had such a lovely time, that I wanted to share my discoveries with you in case you, too, have been planning a visit.

436FF3DA-E5A2-40A9-B458-EBFB07D0ACF1Comment y aller? (How to get there?)

The only two commercial options are to fly or take a ferry. Since we’re in driving distance, we opted for the ferry from Wood’s Hole to Oak Bluffs, but there are many companies offering a variety of destinations, both from the mainland and on the island, at a variety of prices. It’s very expensive to take a car – about ten times the passenger rate each way – so we parked our car at one of their lots and took the shuttle bus to the dock. Parking was $13 a day when we went, but the rates vary depending on whether or not it is high season. Shuttles are free and frequent. The tickets for the ferry were $8.50 each person, each way. The trip lasted 45 minutes and was smooth. We were really lucky; just a few days earlier, the ferry had been shut down for two and a half days due to a Nor’easter.

2BA85AE0-57B7-48E1-B54F-BF87D354211BOù rester? (Where to stay?)

There are two larger towns on the island – Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Since we were arriving at Oak Bluffs, I looked for a hotel there. I chose Summercamp because it was well-rated by other travelers, and I liked the Victorian exterior and the retro, camp-themed fully-renovated interior. It’s just a short walk from the ferry dock. We really liked it. The bed was comfortable and the room was quiet, even though it’s right in the center of Oak Bluffs.

8A29645A-925C-4502-8219-9607CBDED300Que faire? (What to do?)

We aren’t beach people, and it was mid-October, but we love to wander and look and look at architecture. In Oak Bluffs, the most interesting part of town was right next to our hotel. In the mid-1800s, the Methodists established camp meetings, first in simple tents, then in wooden cottages with high pitched roofs and double doors, reminiscent of tent flaps. Then they began to adorn them with wooden gingerbread trim and cheerful colors. Most have porches to extend their tiny footprints. Today, there are about 300 of these storybook cottages; most of them are summer homes, but a few have been winterized as year-round tiny houses. Exploring them made me ridiculously happy.

There is a decent public bus system on the island. We took the bus to Edgartown for $2.50 each (have small bills on hand to feed into the machine on the bus). Even through a misty rain was falling for most of the morning, we thoroughly enjoyed wandering the streets among the beautiful homes of former ship captains. The gardens were lush and brilliant with flowers. In the afternoon, we did a walking tour with a guide from the Vineyard Trust. It was the last one of the season! The tour started from The Carnegie building, the former library and home of the Historical Society. The most interesting stop was the Old Whaling Church, a real marvel of engineering decorated with beautiful trompe l’œil painting.

4D2FBA90-B85F-471F-A073-F93052161BB7Où manger? (Where to eat?)

A number of the restaurants had closed for the season, but we did just fine. The restaurants where we ate were all very casual – no tiara required. I had a scallop sandwich at Coop de Ville (Oak Bluffs), a lobster roll at Lookout Tavern (Oak Bluffs), and salmon at The News From America (Edgartown). Our breakfasts were both in Oak Bluffs at Biscuits (Cod Cake Benedict ) and Linda Jean’s (apple cinnamon pancakes).

If you get the chance to go to Martha’s Vineyard, I’d highly recommend it. It’s a magical escape.

E67D6388-BB7A-4BA2-AC93-DD67FA3BCED7101 Things To Do on Martha’s Vineyard (affiliate link)

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Ma Maison de campagne française

13D3AE5D-769C-4AF9-A9B3-F9CA93046125For years, I had a subscription to an app that allowed me acces to hundreds of magazines. I had about half a dozen favorites that I could download and read offline, which was great for car trips. Then the app went the way of rotary phones. I really missed it and didn’t think much of the alternative that Big Brother suggested. So, I started looking for alternatives. 

I’ve followed Sharon Santoni’s blog and Instagram account (@sharonsantoni) about her life as an ex-pat in Normandy for quite some time. She’s extremely entrepreneurial; you can also join her on small group antiquing or lifestyle tours of France or sign up for one of her themed subscription boxes. When she came out with a print and on-line magazine, My French Country Home, I dropped a hint to my hubby. He was probably so busy serving me breakfast in bed at the time that he missed my delicate hint. (He really does serve me breakfast in bed every day, though, so I’ll keep him.) When I got back from France, I decided it was time to check it out.

FC8DA242-6D5A-462A-8F5A-CD5ABE6C225EThe  bi-monthly magazine comes in both print and online versions. The print version costs US$59.99, which is pretty steep for a magazine, but it also comes with online access, plus two additional digital subscriptions to give to others. That could be a lovely way to share France with like-minded friends or family members. I went for the digital only subscription at US$36.99. 

I really like the content. The photography is beautiful and the articles are either about places I know and love or ones that I’m adding to my to-visit list. It’s also pretty substantial at over 120 pages. I’m glad to support Sharon’s new venture. I don’t, however, love the platform she uses for the magazine, Getting my account set up was a bit of a mare’s nest and I have to be online to read it. (If there’s a fully downloadable way to read it, I’d love to know, but it’s certainly not a user-friendly system.) I’m no computer scientist, but I can usually figure things out, and this process was a bit frustrating. I’m hoping that either Sharon switches to a new platform or that Joomag gets a lot more user-friendly. But tech grumblings aside, if you’re a francophile, I think you’ll enjoy leafing through the pages of this magazine, either literally or virtually, and armchair traveling to France.

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Les Parisiennes

3A769A0E-34E0-4029-BD8E-46C8E5FEB473.jpegI just finished an excellent book, Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died in the 1940s, by Anne Sebba. I think was the best book that I have read so far this year. Sebba makes it clear that the situation for women in France during the war was incredibly complex. Some women still went to couture shows and wore custom jewels from the greatest boutiques on Place Vendôme, while others queued for inadequate food. Women resistants were not recognized as combatants, so they were not eligible to be compensated after the war. They were, however, given honors by the government for their heroism. On the other hand, women who were deported to concentration camps were neither considered combattants nor heroic resistants, but rather victims. People didn’t want to hear their stories after the  war because they ran contrary to the national rhetoric that France was full of bold resistants who took on the Nazis and won, not victims of four terrible years of occupation. It’s a fascinating series of accounts based on eyewitness interviews, journals, and letters. I highly encourage you to you read it, especially since we just marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Paris.


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La Forêt

901AC5E6-6AB6-4228-A62B-E42A5648C963If you like police thrillers, you should check out La Forêt (The Forest) on Netflix. The clip in the link is only in French, but there are several subtitle options available. The storyline is about a teenage girl, and then two more, who go missing in the forest near a small village. There were other disappearances in that forest, and it appears that history is repeating itself. The little town has enough secrets for a much larger city, however. I don’t want to give too much away, so check it out for yourselves. It’s well done.

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Les Nabis

The Window 1925 by Pierre Bonnard 1867-1947I enjoy the interior scenes of French painter Pierre Bonnard. He was born on October 3, 1867 in Fontenay-aux-Roses, a suburb of Paris.

12C58CF2-F5AF-41D3-98CB-D14DFC384FA9Bonnard settled in Paris in 1888, where he studied at the Académie Julien and the École des Beaux-Arts. With Maurice Denis and Édouard Vuillard (with whom he shared a studio), he was influenced by Paul Gauguin’s expressive use of color and formed the Nabis. The name comes from the Hebrew word for “prophet.” I saw some of his paintings this summer at the musée du Sénat’s lovely exhibit about the movement.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhile other artists at the end of the 19th century were tending towards abstraction, Bonnard was influenced by Japanese prints and concentrated on landscapes and interiors which strove to create subtle effects in light and color at the expense of perspective. At the turn of the century he was moved by the intensity and passion in the paintings of Van Gogh and this led him to become a founding member of the Salon d’Automne in 1903. Thereafter he was influenced by Les Fauves (literally “the wild beasts”), whose strident colors and distorted images he tamed and harnessed to his own style. Bonnard died in southwestern France on January 23, 1947.

E2A452A8-BC69-43A5-9EE4-FD02B978C4ECThe Nabis

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