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The Whimsy and Wonder of Montmartre

August 22, 2014 @ 8:50 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan

Montmartre is the highest point in Paris, home to the iconic La Basilique du Sacré-Coeur, but also the guardian of whimsical art, spectacular cityscape views and delightful scenes around each corner.

We enjoyed  a month-long stay in a vacation rental at the foot of the Basilique.  We seemed to wander every lane, every endless set up steps that wind their way up to the appealing summit.  We never tired of finding our ideal, shaded spot on the Basilica’s sprawling lawn, where we could watch the visiting throngs of tourists and residents along the magnificent steps that spill down the hill.  Musicians play Mozart’s “Air”.  Living statues appear frozen in place, dressed as a jester, a sphinx or the Statue of Liberty.  Though some exacting visitors would find the scene hectic, we enjoyed the lively mix of magnificent views and lively people.

The Place du Tertre is the bustling center at the top – yes, overrun often with  tourists, but nonetheless another traditional “must see”, where artists gather to demonstrate their skill and sell their creations.  We simply don’t accept the notion that the popularity (or notoriety, as the case might be) of a place makes it off limits, too mundane to bother with.  In 20-degree weather, we have visited the square to enjoy a steaming bowl of onion soup, while watching over the chilled artists.

Chilled artists on Place du Tertre


With our extended stay on Montmartre, we came to recognize the everyday humanity that is part of the fabric of any renowned attraction, the people who populated our ‘village’.  The baker who greets each morning with the delightful aroma of fresh baked breads and a welcoming line of customers at the door.  The many fabric storekeepers, who ready their displays in hopes of a prosperous day of business – even the sad old man, who sits on the bench with his half-empty bottle of wine.  It is just another side of Paris that we relish.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

“Scrapbook” of Montlouis-sur-Loire

August 19, 2014 @ 9:15 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Loire Valley France - Montlouis-sur-Loire

A pictorial ‘scrapbook’ of Montlouis-sur-Loire

Sometimes unique little features of places are the things you remember.  Once we stopped by a town near Toulouse, only to find it seemingly abandoned – not a sign of life nor a soul to be seen on the streets.  Then, we rounded a corner to a lively “pressed dirt” square (as so many paths in France seem to be).  Beneath the plane trees around the square, the whole town was involved in a lively pétanque tournament – either as a participant or as a wholeheartedly enthusiastic (and biased) spectator.

On another occasion, we headed along the Loire River from Amboise en route to Vouvray.  Just before reaching our destination, a little riverside commune captured our attention.  The entry was so pretty, lined with plane trees and old stone walls.  Here and there, ‘troglodyte’-like caves either were converted homes or were tasting caves for the many excellent wines produced in the region.

The town was Montlouis-sur-Loire, and we felt the urge to park and look around.  We happened upon an unusual, small communal area.  A board contained all sorts of photographs of events, homes, people and festivals, seemingly from many eras.  One photo featured a visit from President Charles De Gaulle, certainly a monumental occasion for a relatively small town.  Who knows?  Perhaps he was paying a visit to his first Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic, Michel Debre, who had a home in Montlouis-sur-Loire.

Montlouis-sur-Loire Charles De Gaulle France

French President Charles De Gaulle

Our short visit to this central village ‘scrapbook’ seemed to encircle us with the lives and history of the residents.

Mirabelle Delicacies from Lorraine

August 15, 2014 @ 9:18 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
Mirabbelle greengage plums, Sion hill - © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent   "sensitive natural area" (ENS) of the Département of Meurthe-et-Moselle for its very rich ecology and countryside.

Mirabelle plums in the Département of Meurthe-et-Moselle – © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent

Don’t all sweet and savory foods taste better with stories?  In Florida we await the arrival of delicious ears of newly-picked corn…or the sweet scent of orange blossoms; as groves move toward producing plump, textured oranges filled with juice.  This is the one month of the year in France – from mid-August to mid-September – when gourmands salivate, at the onset of harvesting of the year’s crop of delectable Mirabelle plums.  The sweet plums are the pride and profit of the Lorraine region of northeast France, where over 70% of the world’s entire production centers.

While we can only enjoy the fresh mirabelles during the harvest season, we savor delightful jams and desserts throughout the year.  Under the esteemed “Confitures a l’Ancienne” brand,  Mirabelle Plum French Jams are produced in “Grandmother’s” old fashioned way.  Plums at the peak of ripeness combine with pure cane sugar and pectin to be cooked in large copper cauldrons.

Beyond the few plums eaten fresh in season, the remainder of the fruit is made into jams, pastries and ‘eau de vie’.  And if you don’t happen to be in France, you still can enjoy the confiture (and many other imported delicacies) from French Food Market.   You’ve no excuse, then, so spread that lovely jam on your baguette or croissant and settle in to learn more about this fabulous fruit!

Now a revered French food staple, the mirabelle enjoyed a renaissance some thirty years ago, when producers expanded and launched the replanting of 1,500 hectares (nearly 4,000 acres) of new orchards.

Mirabelle plum jam imported from France - French Food Market

“Confitures a l’Ancienne” – French Food Market – Imported from France

Fifteen years ago, Mirabelles from Lorraine became the first fruit to be awarded the European IGP quality label.  Such an esteemed designation signifies adherence to strict standards – traditional, primarily organic methods, natural fertilizers and special steps for aerating, collection and packaging in Lorraine and guaranteed minimal sugar content.  Not only do the French strive for and achieve quality, but they make sure that excellence is recognized.

The “Champagne” of Lorraine?  Just as Champagne is strictly designated for the magnificent sparkling wines only from France, The Association Mirabelles de Lorraine assures the authenticity of fruit and confitures (jams).

Naturally any ‘heaven-sent’ delicacy must have an alluring legend.  They say there was once a princess named Mira who was equally generous and pretty.  She lived in a grand castle around the Nied river, and one day she extended hospitality to an old woman.  In thanks, the lady (who, of course, was really a fairy) waved her magic wand over the sterile trees surrounding the castle.  Voila!  The barren landscape transformed into a lovely orchard filled with golden fruits.  She told the princess, “As your name is Mira and as you are as generous as pretty, these fruits will be named Mira-belles plums!”

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Huge Little Reasons to Travel to France

August 9, 2014 @ 8:42 am
posted by Sandra Sheridan
The River Seine in Paris France

Reflections along the quai of the Seine in Paris

La vérité vaut bien qu’on passe quelques années sans la trouver. – Renard
Truth is more valuable, if it takes you a few years to find it.

Note:  I first wrote this post back in August 2012, but the thoughts are just as valid today; and it’s one of many reasons I am nearing completion of a book of encouragement to those who dream of travel to France.

 

I’d like to have a keyboard embedded in my brain, so it could capture all of the thoughts that rush at me like the force of flood waters surging against a levee. But I don’t. The thoughts whip through my mind; and when I sit down to try to edge them gently on to paper, they wander over to the ‘formula’ anteroom, the ‘rules’ parlor. No sooner do I type a word, than the grammar teacher cocks her brow and pronounces, “You can’t begin a sentence with ‘and’!”

Enough. This current flood began when I was thinking about HUGE little moments, like the time my friend called me from a distant conference to tell me about the airline ticket sale to Paris. She knew how deeply I yearned to experience France, with a passion I couldn’t seem to indulge.  It was her enormous little call that forced me over the timid lines I had drawn in my life. I bought the ticket. I boarded the plane. I arrived in Paris. I was forever changed.

I wonder what my life would have been without my trips to France.  No – “trips to France” sounds like some little chapter I might add to a diary.  I wonder what my life would have been without just “doing it”, just breaking beyond my self-limiting reticence to reward myself for living.   I have had enough dark moments in my life to want the counterbalance of bright, light joy.  And the extremes of both make me very restless with the in between. Perhaps, it’s the drama of extremes.

Paris gave me extremes. France gave me extremes. God reached down and swirled through beautiful spaces and places, but He also allowed the scared little girl to face her own internal doubts. Is that what happens, when Utopia – long sought Utopia – becomes reality, only to stand you up straight to learn the fact that you take yourself with you into the light?

Cafe chats in Paris France

Petite cafes, grande friendship

You also ‘pack’ the unresolved sorrows of yesterday, the guilt, the hopes, the insecurities. You may dangle your feet above the Seine or stare at the magnificent iron beauty of Le Tour Eiffel and enjoy floods of happiness; but you also may sip your coffee in a sidewalk café and wonder at the small, cloudy depression you feel.

I am ever so thankful for the friend who well nigh demanded I purchase my first airline ticket to France. I cherish my Parisian friend who shared her 6th-floor flat and wealth of intimacy with her adopted country. The only thing keeping me from my dream was me; and I found the horizon was not nearly as far away, as I once presumed.

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.