Category Archives: France Retour

Season of Change

L’automne est arrivé and is making itself felt even here in France. The color is not as dramatic as in New England . . .

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire 2013
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire 2013

. . . where we are usually to be found in October. But there are the occasional flashes of color, like these  . . . whatever they are . . . on a tree in le jardin . . . 

Anyone know what this is?
Anyone know what this is?

But mostly, the heat has lost its intensity, the mosquitoes are gone (WOOHOO!) and the days are shorter . . .

Looking out to sea from La Rochelle, October afternoon.
Looking out to sea from La Rochelle, October afternoon.

We took advantage of a gorgeous afternoon to climb la tour Saint-Nicolas with Courtney. We only had time for one tower, and la tour de la Lanterne has recently closed for renovations and won’t reopen until sometime next year.

La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas
La tour Saint-Nicolas

Courtney does not love heights, so of course we climbed the tallest of the three. Love all the stairs going every which way. And of course, the view . . .

View from la tour Saint-Nicolas
View from la tour Saint-Nicolas

But perfect weather like we had that day is becoming the exception. The cool and the occasional rain showers make us appreciate les arcades de La Rochelle and, last week, les passages couverts de Paris . . . 

Passage Vivienne, Paris
Galerie Vivienne, Paris

We’re choosing to eat à l’interieur instead of à l’exterieur . . .

Courtney, Café de la Paix, La Rochelle
Courtney, Café de la Paix, La Rochelle

And of course l’automne makes us feel like curling up with a good book . . .

Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris
Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris
Book Shop in Covered Passage of Paris
Book Shop in one of the covered passages of Paris

The changing season signals other changes as well. Tomorrow is our last day in La Rochelle, and that feels strange. We’ll fit in one last lunch at Les 4 Sergents, courtesy of our kind landlords, and I’ll have one last French lesson with my fabulous tutor, Natacha, who has become another good friend.

The past few days have found me wandering in and out of tourist shops, buying a Charente-Maritime calendar and reproductions of watercolors of the towers and the sea, strongly tempted by other touristy knickknacks to which I wouldn’t have given a second glance a month ago. All in an effort to hang onto something precious, I guess. But of course a refrigerator magnet is not an adequate substitute for this place and these friends. So, we don’t know when, but God willing, we will certainly be back.

Palais Garnier

We’re here in Paris with Courtney this week, heading back to La Rochelle tomorrow. We’ve visited many of the usual sights, including la tour Eiffel, where we were able to stand on one of the sections of the new glass floor which just opened this week on the first level. Since it’s about 57 meters from the ground (American translation: about 187 feet), it was a little unnerving–and Courtney wouldn’t do more than put the toe of her shoe on it long enough to take a picture. She’s not a fan of heights, so the first level is as far as we went. On the plus side, no interminable line for the elevator to the summit.

One Paris treasure I had missed until now–Palais Garnier, also called Opéra Garnier–is right around the corner from our apartment, so we walked over there this morning.

Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier

Lots of gold here, too, like Versailles, but far fewer tourists. I think a few postponed their visit because the auditorium was off limits today, due to a rehearsal. Still absolutely worth it. I LOVED this place, especially the Grand Foyer, where the wealthy patrons used to chat each other up between acts (and maybe still do) . . .

Grand Foyer Palais Garnier
Grand Foyer Palais Garnier

Absolutely stunning.

Balcony Palais Garnier
Balcony Palais Garnier
Sun Room Palais Garnier
Sun Room Palais Garnier

I love the story of this room, the Sun Room–meant to be the vestibule of a future Smoking Room–and it’s companion, the Moon Room. In all the hurry to finish on time, there was a mistake and the decorative schemes of the two circular rooms were reversed. “So that’s why, if the Smoking Room were finished, you would go through ice to show that you are going to light a cigar, and through fire to show that you are going to eat a sorbet!” said the architect, Charles Garnier.

Fascinating place. There’s even a room with models behind glass of previous set designs:

Miniature Set Design
Miniature Set Design

It’s not all gold . . .

Palais Garnier
Palais Garnier

But it is all gorgeous, absolutely from top . . .

Ceiling Detail Palais Garnier
Ceiling Detail Palais Garnier

. . . to bottom, even the floor!

Floor Mosaic Palais Garnier
Floor Mosaic Palais Garnier

There seem to be fewer tourists, now that we’re into October, so my patience has had no big challenges this week, which is probably good, since that is not always my strong suit. But today I was inspired by this that David forwarded to me from Richard Rohr:

At the end of our street, which is called Five Points Road, five streets come together. The stoplight at this intersection seems interminably long. One day, as I was impatiently waiting and waiting for the light to turn green, I felt God saying to me, “Richard, are you really going to be any happier on the other side of Bridge Avenue?”

Now it has become my daily meditation place where I get to practice living right here, right now. If I can’t experience God and love and happiness and everything that matters in this impatient moment, I probably won’t experience it on the other side of Bridge Avenue either. As Catherine of Siena said, “It’s heaven all the way to heaven, and it’s hell all the way to hell!” ∼ Richard Rohr

Wishing you peace, patience, love and “everything that matters” no matter what side of the street you’re on!

 

Noirmoutier Time

Wow. It’s October already, which means only about three weeks left in France. We WILL come back, but with no firm plans to return, Father Time is clamoring for my attention.

Château de Noirmoutier -- No time to tour it!
Château de Noirmoutier — No time to tour it!

Rather apt then that Saturday Jacky and Pascale took us to Noirmoutier (where the salt is harvested that goes in my favorite butter). This was an adventure that ended up being very much about time. They picked us up at 9:30 for a full day of fun. I had put my camera in the trunk–oops–so missed a few photo ops on the way, including . . . a random Bactrian camel sighting! Yup. Several double-hump camels hanging out in a field at the side of the road.

No worries, though. This day offered plenty more to see.

We left when we did specifically so we would get to Noirmoitier in time to take le passage du Gois, a 4.5 km road that is underwater except for a couple of hours at marée basse (low tide). Arriving on the island, we stopped to take a few photos and were just in time to see these go by:

Les voitures classique
Les voitures classique
Are they having fun or not? I can't tell.
Are they enjoying themselves? I can’t tell.

The people you see walking out on the sea floor are out there to pêche à pied (“fish on foot”) which means to dig for mussels, scallops and the like, but they have to keep an eye on the time as well. I zoomed in to take the photo below and then cropped to enlarge further, so the people in this photo are actually WAY OUT THERE.

Pêcher à pied au Gois
Pêcher à pied au Gois
Too bad about your car if this becomes necessary!
Too bad about your car!

If you do lose track of time and/or underestimate the speed of the returning tide (faster than you think), you may need to abandon your car and scramble up one of these:

(Check out YouTube for videos of those who have taken their chances with the tide. Search Passage du Gois and you’ll find plenty.)

Noirmoutier is a good two hours from La Rochelle, but Jacky drove with his customary good humor. Pascale had done her homework, navigating through all the rondpoints  (roundabouts), which was fortunate, since the GPS was not terribly trustworthy, and actually insisted several times that we were driving through the middle of fields! Pascale had chosen le chemin des écoliers (the scenic route)–literally “the way of schoolboys,” but we did stay on the roads.

Pascale had also prepared the entire pique-nique. (Sometimes we’re allowed to contribute wine!) This was our third pique-nique with themhere are the first and second–and this time she was holding out for an actual table, preferably à l’ombre (in the shade). Again, timing was everything. After directing Jacky up and down various lanes to no avail, we finally found the last empty table in here right before several other groups came looking.

Pique-Nique
Pique-Nique
Apéro time
Apéro time — Photo by Jacky

We took our time and enjoyed it thoroughly. After the usual multi-course feast, we headed out . . .

Noirmoutier
Noirmoutier

. . . for a walk sur la plage . . .

Noirmoutier Plage
Noirmoutier Plage

. . . and a little scrambling over the rocks . . .

Pascale
Pascale finding the best vantage point

Then a bit more touring around the island before heading back to the mainland, this time over the bridge, and a final scenic stop here:

One of the coastal beaches on the way home
On the way home: one of the mainland beaches in the late afternoon light

The gleaming light on the sea tells us it’s time to call it a day.

There’s a story told in one of the French novels I’ve read in the last few weeks, where a game of sorts is explained.  Each day you wake up, and the bank has put into your account 86,400 dollars. There are only two rules: 1) You can spend them however you like, but anything you don’t spend by the end of the day goes away. 2) The bank can close your account at any time without warning. So, how would you spend it? The man in the story answered much as most of us likely would: he’d spend it to give pleasure and happiness to himself and those he loved, and even to those in other places that he didn’t know–he didn’t think he could spend that much day after day after day on just himself and his loved ones.  The twist in this supposedly theoretical game is that it’s real, and we all have an account with the «banque magique». We are given every day 86,400 seconds of life to spend as we choose, and aren’t seconds of life even more important than dollars?*

Many thanks, yet again, to Pascale and Jacky for spending theirs with us. How will you spend yours?

*Translated and paraphrased from Et si c’était vrai . . . by Marc Levy

 

Sharing La Rochelle

We had a new adventure yesterday that I want to tell you about, but first thought I’d better finish and post this one. Next post — Noirmoutier!

La Rochelle, being much smaller, is easier to share with guests than Paris, of course, but there still turned out to be plenty to do. After surviving the trek up all the stairs to Sacré Coeur (Paris, of course) that we did with Chelsea . . .

Sacré-Coeur -- Photo by Chelsea
Sacré-Coeur — Photo by Chelsea
See? Still smiling! (Note our favorite street performer warming up in the background.)
See? Still smiling! (Note our favorite street performer warming up in the background.) Photo by Chelsea

. . . we were ready to take both daughters to climb the three famous towers of La Rochelle. I’ve already shared a few of Chelsea’s shots from the top of Tour de la Lanterne. Here’s one from inside a tower, maybe Tour Saint-Nicolas, since it’s the one with stairways going every which way:

Photo by Chelsea
Photo by Chelsea

All three towers have great little book and gift shops on the ground level that I’ve never had enough time to enjoy, but since David had headed back to the house after lunch, missing the last tower, Chelsea and I could browse a bit. David is NOT a fan of shopping of any sort. Once I bought him a polo shirt here in La Rochelle, and he wouldn’t even go into the shop. Le vendeur (sales guy) came with me outside to look at him, to verify I was choosing the right size. Now that’s service! But with Chelsea I had time to discover that Tracy Chevalier has written a novel inspired by my favorite tapestries . . .

La Dame et la Licorne
La Dame à la Licorne –Photo of a notecard. The real tapestries are enormous and stunning and in Paris at le Musée de Cluny, also called le Musée national du Moyen Age.

. . .  AND someone has translated it into French. Woohoo! Not going to find THAT in Fort Collins, Colorado. Not in French, anyway.

David took Brittany when it was her turn to climb the towers, and I stayed home to recuperate from Paris and to work on my Versailles post. When it came to shopping, however, it was all me (see above). La Rochelle has a lot of nice shops, and I’m pretty sure I have now been into well over half of them. On the plus side, when I first got here, I was afraid to even walk in the door of a shop, not knowing what to say, but my first tutor one day patiently took me shopping to show me what to do and say, and most of all, that both the shopkeeper and I would survive the experience. Now I think of shopping as lots of little free French lessons, with the occasional bonus of finding something great, like these . . .

Macarons, D'Jolly, La Rochelle
Macarons, D’Jolly, La Rochelle

. . . or the fabulous leather jacket Chelsea found right away, but didn’t buy until I’d made her look at pretty much EVERY other leather jacket in La Rochelle. I learned my lesson and did not dissuade Brittany from buying the very first belt she found!

And finally, Brittany inspired us to do something we had not yet done on our own. She wanted to get out on a boat somehow, and their are a LOT of boats here:

Sailboats in Port Cropped

However, none of them belong to us, and not having a lot of time, we settled for the bus de mer, a boat “bus” that runs out to Les Minimes, the larger beach of La Rochelle. David and I walk so much, we had never tried it, but it was actually pretty entertaining. Nice to be back on the water, but with NO RESPONSIBILITY. Okay, so it only lasts about ten minutes each way, but still. Pretty views:

La Rochelle en Bateau
La Rochelle en Bateau

On the way back to the vieux port I went up to the bow and asked permission to step out of the enclosed passenger area to take this photo. While I was there talking with the guy NOT driving the boat, and noting the red buoy smack in the middle of my photo, I asked him for the French word for it. “Bouée,” he replied, same word, but with a French flair. Yes, sometimes French really is that easy.          But . . .malheureusement . . . mostly not!

Here’s wishing you the joy of learning something new every day!