Shakespeare & Co.

NB: I stole this from the internet.
Thank goodness for rainy afternoons; without them, I might have never stopped in Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore in the Latin Quarter.  I was on my way to the Musée Cluny and took a respite from the weather for an hour there.

I generally try to avoid English-speaking places, since I am here to learn French, but now that I've visited Shakes & Co I won't be able to stop going back.

It. Is. Magic.

Downstairs there is a hodgepodge of small winding rooms, with contemporary books on shelves from floor to ceiling, a nook for all things Shakespeare, a table display of only books with red covers, and a doorway covered in notes offering and requesting English speaking fill in the blanks.

On the wall next to the stairway there are cartoon portraits in olive and cream of some of the many writers who have frequented the store.

Upstairs, there is a room with low mattresses covered in Indian blankets and a piano for anyone to play.  In the hallway there is a cubbyhole with one chair, one typewriter, fairy lights and the notes of dreamers past.  If you sit in the stall and read the notes, one will say, "I wrote a piece of music this year and I played it for the first time on your piano."  Another will say, "Thank you."  Yet another will say, "I fell in love in this room."  There is a reading room with mismatched chairs and benches, fresh flowers and a window that looks over the Seine.  The books upstairs are not for sale.  You may read one, like Lady Chatterly's Lover, while you sit in the Reading Room.

A bibliophile,


Locks of Love

In France (and perhaps everywhere in Europe - I don't know) love is immortalized not by being carved into trees but by being inscribed on locks.  I found a bridge where many people have hung their love for the world to see.

The messages are painted, scratched, written and engraved.  Different kinds of love are represented...

In love with the city of love,


To everything, turn, turn, turn...

Autumn has been coming on for a while now.  The leaves of the Luxembourg garden have begun to line its walks instead of garnishing its branches.  Last week when I woke up I could smell its crispness on the air.

Within the French, knowledge of the change lies dormant, and without knowing why they do, they've been wearing jackets in warm weather for weeks to prepare for its coming.

Today the shift in the air was palpable.  I went to the river to watch the sun set.  Instead of turning away from it, I embraced the cool touch of the nimble-fingered wind, and it made me feel alive.

Jardin du Luxembourg


I'm here to study?

Today marks exactly four weeks since I left the States, and I am happy to announce that after one month of great anxiety and stress (ha!) I have a semi-official academic schedule.  This may interest you greatly or not at all, but here is what I will be studying:

La litterature:
Mythes et filiations culterelles : XIXe siècle, Le mythe de Pygmalion
Mythes et filiations culterelles : XXe siècle, Miracles sacrés, miracles profanes

Le théâtre:
Théâtre et mise en scene
Ateliers pratiques diversifiés : Acting Shakespeare (un cours du méthode de Stanislavski)

Le cinéma documentaire en France

Class starts next week!

Academically yours,


Mot de Cambronne

Pierre Cambronne was a general in Napoleon's army.  Though his military career began in 1792, he is most famous for the role he played in the Battle of Waterloo:

Cambronne was commanding the Old Guard, and, as we know, the battle didn't go too well for the French.  The legend goes that when General Colville called for Cambronne to surrender, our stout Frenchman told him that "the guard dies and does not surrender!"  When Colville pressed the point, Cambronne replied in a manner that was concise but well understood:


Which has become known as le mot de Cambronne, or Cambronne's word.

Street sign from my window.
And it is for this illustrious man that my street is named.

Les cinq lettres,


Delicious in any language

Tonight I made Lulabells as a thank you to my temporary host family.  Changing measurements and ingredients is tricky!

Fortunately it was a grand and glorious success; they asked for the recipe, and my temporary "host father" rechristened it "gateau à Maria!"

Eat your heart out Julia Child!

P.S. If you have the misfortune of not knowing what Lulabells are, let me know, and I'll make them for you next time we're together.

Jour du Patrimoine

France, and apparently all of Europe, has this wonderful annual tradition called le jour du patrimoine, or "heritage day."  On these days lots of museums, consulates, and government department buildings open their doors to the public for free - there are guided tours, talks, and concerts.

This weekend I went to the Palais Bourbon, home of the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of French parliament. 

Assemblée Nationale

Also in the Assemblée Nationale is the Hôtel de Lassay, which is the home of the President of the Assemblée Nationale, Bernard Accoyer.  He may be older than my father and married, but I would overlook all that if I could live in the Hôtel de Lassay with him.

The only word I got is...

But my favorite thing was the library!
Palais-Royal. No big deal.

Molière fell sick and died after performing Le Malade imaginaire in this room.
You say formal wear, I say normal wear!
Display of opera costumes from bygones past.

Surprised to be falling in love with mushrooms,


Don't know much about history...

Hear ye, hear ye!  Let it be known far and wide that on this day, Friday the 17th of September, 2010, I, Maria, after one week of hard work, have accomplished a high and mighty task:  today, I read the final square of the History of France cartoon that adorns the right hand side of the powder room.

L'histoire de France racontée par Astrapi!
Charlemagne being crowned and starting schools.

King Dagobert wearing his pants backwards.

I am now an expert in French history.  Ask me anything.  Go ahead - I dare you!

It's the little victories, right?


The Paris That Belongs to Me

I would not say that I am a lover of Hemingway.  However, I am reading A Movable Feast right now, in honor of Paris.  I think Paris was good for Hemingway, and I think Hemingway is good for me in Paris.

Well in this book, Hemingway sees a pretty girl and says to himself, "You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil."  I was not inspired by a beautiful girl, but I was rather taken by these beautiful words.

So, today I explored my Paris.  I have not yet (for reasons that are too long and boring to recount here) moved into the apartment where I will be living this year.  Today I did a casual walk-by of my new home in the 15th arrondissement to introduce myself.

Here are good things I found chez moi:

My apartment is above a wine shop called Les Petits Bouchons.

There is a tiny little park nearby.

I found a pool within one and a half blocks.

During the day, there are people and people bustling and living.

A specialty shop around the corner and down the block sells fancy-lookin' foie gras.

Queen of the 15th,


An Afternoon by Numbers

NB: I stole this picture from the internet.
Today I had a free hour in the 6th arrondisement, so I took myself to the renowned brasserie La Rotonde for the most expensive limonade of my life and a little people-watching.

I took the liberty of writing down some of the things I saw and thought I'd share:
  • women roller-skating : 1
  • glasses with perfectly circular frames : 3
  • earphones : 16.5
  • straw hats : 1
  • stripes : 19
  • pregnant women : 2
  • red shoes : 1
Sugar and spice,


Ajouter deux lettres à Paris: c'est le paradis.

To the best of my recollection, I started hoping and wishing and dreaming to study abroad when I was eleven or twelve.  I've known I would be in France for about half a year.  In Tours, I knew I would be in Paris at the end of two weeks.

A breeze blowing the magic of la Tour Eiffel all over Paris

However, I've realized that no amount of foreknowledge or anticipation can compare with being here and having the city and the year curling, stretching, expanding at my feet.

Casually Parisian,


Onward, to Paris!

"I live my life in widening circles that reach out across the world. 
I may not complete this last one but I give myself to it." 
Rainer Maria Rilke



A Place to Think

One of my favorite places in Tours is a small square off the the main road, Rue Nationale. 

The square has small trees and white roses growing on one side, a fountain and benches that face the ruined facade of a renaissance style building.  Only one wall of the building remains; the stones are quite worn, one edge is jagged like a jigsaw puzzle, and ivy is bursting out of the glassless windows.

I don't know if the square has a name or not, but the fountain in the center is called the Fountain of Lovers.  A tile in front of it encourages people to go to the fountain together to make a wish "for the here and now."

Sitting in front of it makes me think about time, about my here and now and my future.  I have so much future; the wall has so much past.  I wonder if it's possible for any person to wear ruin and incompleteness as well as this leftover wall.

Une amante,

Tarte Tatin

One of the host mothers in Tours offers a cooking class, so I took her up on it.  We made the magnificent Tarte Tatin.

Here's the recipe we used, though all of the conversions are a bit strange since it was given to us in kg, g ˚C, etc.

  • puff pastry
  • ~3 lbs apples - we used 6/7 medium sized apples
  • ~2 cups granulated sugar
  1. Peel the apples and cut into halves (epulcher is the French word for "peel" - great word, non?)
  2. Combine sugar with a little water in saucepan; heat until it becomes caramel
  3. Pour melted caramel into a tart mold making sure that the bottom of the mold is covered with caramel
  4. Place apples halves in the mold in concentric circles from the edge in; this can be done after the caramel has dried
  5. Cover the apples with the sheet of puff pastry, tucking it in so that the tart will have sides; sprinkle (saupoudrer) the puff pastry with vanilla flavored sugar - I don't know if that exists in the U.S.
  6. Cook for 25 minutes at 392˚ F 
  7. Take the tart out of the oven, place a serving dish on top of the mold, then flip both over to remove your Tarte Tatin
  8. Serve with creme fraiche seasoned to your liking with sugar and cinnamon

    Tarte Tatin was originally a happy accident.  One of the sisters Tatin, who owned a hotel together, started making an apple pie, but left the apples in the hot butter and sugar too long.  So she put pastry on the bottom, flipped the whole thing over and faked it!

    Apple love,


    Artsy Fartsy

    Today was the first gray, rainy day of many, I'm sure.  It was a perfect day for a visit to the Musée des Beaux Arts.  Our tour guide was Jean-Paul, a wildly-gesturing whirligig of a Frenchman.

    Jean-Paul : man, myth, legend

    If he had spoken with a little more enthusiasm, I think his mustache would have taken off and carried him, helicopter-like, through an open window into the great blue yonder.

    Donc, je vous présente un ode à Jean-Paul :

    Also in the Musée, a four-hundred-year-old wooden fireplace.  Think about it.

    I was incredibly stirred by the work of Olivier Debré.

    Gros bisoux,

    Heard around Tours

    It's funny how music takes you somewhere else.  I keep visiting home through the sound waves.

    1. Steve Miller Band floating through the open windows of a car on a hot day.
    2. Weezer in an add for La Banque Postale
    3. The Jackson 5 being blasted by two guys in a mechanic's van; one threw me an imaginary fishing line to reel me in.
    4. The Beatles providing the background music for the enormous annual market called La Broderie. 
     A lot of bars play American music, but somehow I'm not pulling up anything very specific...

    Rock on,


      Castles Are Fun

      Are knights allowed to smile?
      Visited Langeais, ye olde medieval castle par excellence.

      L'Abbaye de Fountevraud
      Also visited the Abbaye de Fontevraud, which really caught my imagination.  It was built in the early 12th century and controlled many other abbeys in Europe.  Fontevraud was also a prison from the time of Napoleon until the 60s.

      The roof of the kitchen is magnificent.  Nuns who went crazy were locked in the dungeon.  Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard the Lion-Hearted are buried in the church.

      Dungeons are full of shadows.
      I thought about how many thousands of lives have overlapped there, how many hands and feet and breathes preceded mine.

      I stole lavender from the little garden. 

      Swimming the sidestroke through history,


      Real Estate

      Today I visited Chenonceaux, the delicious little palace just down the Cher.  I'd like to live here one day.  Maybe just in the steward's little tower.  I think it could happen.

      This is perfectly Maria-sized.

      The gallery that extends over the Cher.
      During WWII, the front door of this chateau was in la zone occupée and the back door was in la zone libre.

      Bedroom of Louise de Lorraine
      My favorite room in Chenonceau is Louise de Lorraine's room.  When her husband Henri III was assassinated, she retired to this chateau, painted her room black and wore white for the rest of her life, earning the appellation "The White Queen."  Talk about a flare for the dramatic!

      Coucou Georgetown : oh look, a fellow Hoya!