Mont Saint-Michel

Before I went to Normandy for the weekend, my host mom told me that there are some places in Frances that are truly special and that Mont Saint-Michel is one of them.  She was right.  In the words of Guy de Maupassant : " l'abbaye escarpée, poussée là-bas, loin de terre, comme un manoir fantastique, stupéfiante comme un palais de rêve, invraisemblablement étrange et belle. "

Mont Saint-Michel is an abbey town built on a stone island off the coast of Normandy.  According to legend, in the 8th century the archangel Micheal appeared  to St. Aubert, the bishop of the closest town, in a dream and told him to build a church on the island.  To this day a functioning monastery crowns the mount.

 The monastery has a clean peacefulness about it.  I sat in this rooftop garden and listened to the church bells.

Mont Saint-Michel has the highest tides in continental Europe, and depending on the season, the water level can change up to 15 meters and the coastline can recede 15 kilometers.  One can cross from the shore to Mont Saint-Michel during low tide, but only with the help of a guide because of the fast moving tides and quicksand.  We were there during low tide, so the island was surrounded by a strange, lonesome but beautiful marsh.

I know no man is an island, but if I were, I would be this one,


Traces of The War

This weekend I went to Normandy with my program, and most of Saturday was devoted to World War II memorial sites.  We visited the cemetery and memorial at Omaha Beach and Point du Hoc at Utah Beach. 

The memorial and cemetary at Omaha Beach.

In both places, I was struck by the natural beauty and the immense difficulty the troops of D-Day faced assailing those cold, steep cliffs.  The visit provoked interesting reactions from my group, as we asked ourselves what purposes war memorials serve and how we feel about those purposes and about war itself.

View from Point du Hoc, Utah Beach.
Craters left in the earth by American bombs.

I ran into two girls I went to high school with (our graduating class had a little more than 50 girls) at Omaha Beach.  The world fits inside a shoe box sometimes.



Le Train Bleu

I dropped a friend off at the Gare de Lyon on Wednesday, and while we were waiting for his train we went up to the beautiful restaurant, Le Train Bleu, to have a drink.  The restaurant has not changed since the train station was built for the Exhibition of 1900.  The great hall is covered in Belle Epoque paintings; the banquettes are in rich dark wood and leather; gold leaf is used liberally.  It's like stepping back into a more genteel time.

Sipping my limonade,

P.S. Thanks for the rec, Mom!


The Writing On the Wall

Across the board, French graffiti artists perform on a much higher level than their American counterparts.  One of my favorite hot spots of street art in Paris is near my university on the Passage des Patriarches.  I once overheard a mother teaching her young daughter the names of colors with the help of the swirlingly colorful wall.



Hello there springtime

It seemed appropriate, on the first official day of spring, to visit a chateau famous for its gardens : Malmaison.  Malmaison was bought and renovated by Joséphine Bonaparte in 1799.  It was where she finished her days after her divorce from Napoléon and where he in turn lived between his defeat at Waterloo and his exile. 

The extensive grounds (three full parks plus grounds around the house) hold many exotic plants, but are most famous for their roses.  Josephine had her favorite flower crossbred so that her gardens held roses that couldn't be found anywhere else in the world.  The roses weren't in bloom this weekend, but there was quite enough splendor to be going on with.

The day consisted of the following simple pleasures:

Cherry blossom trees reminded me of the D.C. version of home.
I stole walnut shells.
This Western redcedar is 150 years old.
And you can sit inside its branches like it's a fort.
I took off my shoes to walk barefoot on the grass.

The town of Ruil-Malmaison, about fifteen minutes outside Paris by train, is also charming.  I ate a wonderful millefuille in the town square as all the residents sunned themselves in the warm afternoon.

The whole day smelled nice.
Wishing you hyacinth-colored days,


An afternoon drive

This film, C'était un rendez-vous, was filmed in one take by attaching the camera to the front of a car.  The route, as far as I can tell, would take about 25-30 minutes if you were making good time.  Claude Lelouch does it in under 10.  When you gotta be somewhere, you gotta be somewhere.

Vroom vroom baby,


Life lessons in art class

This semester I am taking a class in drawing and painting for the first time since I was in middle school.  I love the atelier; it's filled with the gray natural light of a Parisian afternoon and the harsh smell of paint.  I'm learning a lot about art, but I've also found that I'm learning a lot about life and myself.  If you'll forgive me for a moment of empurpled soul-bearing, here are some things I've learned :
  1. The hardest part is starting.  When I sit down to that white page, I feel like I wouldn't know how to write my name with a crayon, much less paint a human being.  Once I start, it gets easier.
  2. There is no right or wrong way to paint a picture.  Part of why the blank canvas is so intimidating is that I don't know what I'm doing.  I've realized that I'm really uncomfortable with not knowing how to do something "right."  In the world of academia, where there is often a right and wrong, at the very least in terms of methodology, it's nice to have an outlet where the point is just to do.
  3. Don't force it.  The more I try to draw what I think I see instead of what I do see, the less human my pictures look.  When I relax and work in the moment, the results are usually more interesting.
  4. Trust myself.  "Don't be afraid to be audacious," said my teacher to me, "When you've decided where to put something, make deliberate brushstrokes.  If it's not right, you can change it later."
  5. Freedom scares me.  When I look at that blank page and think "I could do anything," I freeze.  This, maybe more than these other things, surprises me.  I love the idea of freedom.  I guess with time that infiniteness will scare me less, as will my own boundlessness.  
I painted this!


Chez Michou

This week I saw the last gasps of a well known drag show cabaret, Michou. Why do I say we saw its "last gasps"?  Because most of the drag queens and clientele are over fifty, at the very very least.  One gentleman in the front has his picture in the dictionary under "grandfather."  It's funny that I can't imagine my grandparent's generation setting foot in a drag show in the United States, but here in France they're the target audience!

Michou himself.  He kissed my hand when we arrived at the club.
Chez Michou was next door to the hotel where a couple of friends of mine were staying in Montmartre, and too intrigued to not do it, we rang the bell outside and were let into a bygone world of dim, red lighting, mirror covered walls and glitter lipstick.  It was campy, ridiculous and fun.  Oh to have seen it in its heyday!

Trying to figure out glitter lipstick,


Lennon Wall

The Lennon Wall in Prague is a combination of an act of civil disobedience and a world wide arts and crafts project.  It is visually overwhelming and ever-changing.

You may say I'm a dreamer,
but I'm not the only one.
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will be as one.

Coo coo cachoo,