Archive for July, 2013
My apologies to our faithful readers about the intermittent blanks in publishing France Daily Photo. It’s certainly not from a lack of passion or interest. One of several projects at the forefront include a book with a dual focus: challenging readers to indulge their passion for travel and providing personal glimpses of the many faces of France. I hope you will share with us the things you most enjoy reading and learning about France. Many have told us how much they appreciate the wide range of topics and ‘territories’ covered. Others particularly like those personal moments and suggestions that offer a deeper look at a village, an inn or a person. I appreciate your longstanding loyalty and will keep you posted on our progress.
In the meantime, welcome to a different slant today on our France.
I cherish the lessons I learn along the way about what is important and lasting. One of those lessons centered on an endearing Chapel Dean, who made his own omelette at La Mère Poulard in the medieval village of Mont-Saint-Michel. It is a wonderful story.
As an alumnus of Rollins College, I wrote an article for our collegiate magazine. The piece profiled our Dean of the Chapel, who had recently completed a one-year sabbatical the University of Edinburgh.
I knew him to say a warm hello and have an occasional conversation. Rollins was and still is an exceptional, small Liberal Arts college with less than 2,000 full-time graduates. All of us on campus were like an extended family with all of the ups, downs and merry-go-rounds family can entail; so it would have been impossible to miss this charismatic professor and Dean.
We saw him as a man with a twinkle in his eye, an abiding love of God … and a penchant for chomping on cigars! In preparing for our interview, I brushed up on his ‘official’ background. Boston-born, from a Scottish family that emigrated to Prince Edward Island; he and his family later moved on to Massachusetts. By the time he was fifteen, he had made up his mind to enter the ministry.
After completing his Bachelors of Science and Bachelors in Sacred Theology at Harvard, he was invited to join the Rollins College faculty. By that time, he and his wife had produced four children and had ministered in two Connecticut churches. He was the fourth dean of the Knowles Memorial Chapel and would ultimately earn the title of full professor. He was bemused by the latter. He related that his professorship was a real accomplishment, in that his only previous teaching experience was instructing Sunday School.
So I had the privilege … finally … of sitting down for what seemed like a fireside tête-à-tête with this remarkable man – as extraordinary for his ‘in the moment’ ways as for any of his accomplishments. We simply chatted. He recalled rainy days and interesting moments in and around Edinburgh; and he cherished his well-deserved exploratory retreat, after a lifetime of significant responsibilities.
With his bifocals perched on the bridge of his nose, he peered over at me like a school child ready to share something that happened on the playground. That is when he recalled his trip to Mont Saint-Michel, to this historic pre-Romanesque settlement on a rock in the midst of a huge bay. When the tides come in, the Mont is isolated. It becomes a village tucked away from the world for a while; perhaps with ancient whispers from the Benedictines, who settled the rock.
With all of that beauty, that religious history, that magnificent sight in the North of France; his story centered on the invitation to, “Come and make your own omelet.” The tale was appealing; he would have made a great village storyteller.
But it was only when we finally made our own way to La Mère Poulard that the ‘bud’ he presented to me that day came into full bloom.
As we ducked away from the grey drizzle into the warm entry of the restaurant, the picture he had painted transformed from black and white to color. A young girl in a long burgundy apron stood before the open fire, long-handled omelette pans at the ready. Since the L’Hôtel de Madame Poulard opened in 1888, the ultra-light omelette has become quite famous, drawing countless celebrities since the 19th century.
I imagined his hands whisking those eggs in an old copper bowl and holding that long handle. I believe his heart was as warm as the hearth where he stood. You needn’t guess what we ordered on our visit, and it came with his long-ago message about the importance of little moments in life.
After the sabbatical, he received his honorary degree of Doctor of Humanities from Rollins College. These words were read to him:
“…The scourge of the administration, an implacable foe of red tape, the custodian of a thousand and one faculty and student confidences, and always a jealous advocate of freedom of the pulpit, and worship.”
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If you are lucky enough to be in Paris … or planning to visit soon … just 17 miles northwest of Paris, Auvers-sur-Oise is a charming little commune on the banks of the Oise River. It is the quaint ville that attracted Vincent van Gogh and several other famous Impressionist artists.
A pleasant day trip from Paris, you will find your journey centered more on mood and imagination than on history. Catch the 10 a.m. direct train from Paris’ Gare du Nord, and in just 30 minutes you’ll discover a window into the world of Van Gogh, to see the sights he painted in a whirl of artistic expression in the last two months of his life.
The tortured and talented artist moved to Auvers to be treated by Dr. Paul Gachet, though he felt the good doctor in a worse condition than his own. Nonetheless, they were friends and, in an ironic twist of fate, Van Gogh’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” brought nearly the highest auction price of all of his paintings.
The artist was prolific in Auvers, where he produced many of his best-known works – The Church at Auvers, Thatched Cottages by a Hill, Wheat Field with Crows and more.A couple of standard stops include the handsome Chateau d’Auvers that pays homage to Impressionist painters and the Absinthe Museum that evokes the mystique of the potent green liquid that was Van Gogh’s favorite. To this day, rumors swirl about the so-called mind-altering spirit nicknamed “The Green Fairy.”
Even your visit to Van Gogh’s tiny attic is an understated experience, more in keeping with the bare solitude of an artist than an orchestrated emphasis on historic significance.
The genuine Auvers experience is less about museum visits and more about immersing yourself in a time and place that inspired the genius of many painters. Stroll along the river and through the village to see and feel the scenes that inspired the Impressionist paintings. Wander past the church to the famed wheat field and hillside cemetery where Theo and Vincent Van Gogh are buried.
Before your return to Paris, enjoy a lazy, memorable lunch at Van Gogh’s Auberge Ravoux, where the chef partners with local farmers and muses of yesteryear to create the traditional French cuisine of Van Gogh’s era. In the middle of a wayside tavern atmosphere, you will cement your experience with one more facet of the life and spirit of the Impressionist colony.
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Two vibrant artistic exhibitions promise holiday visitors visual feasts in France this summer. The second edition of the Normandy Impressionist Festival promises an appealing series of extraordinary exhibitions that will wrap around nearly 600 cultural events throughout the region.
With a focus on the theme of water, Normandy captures its maritime heritage and a central element of its existence. Impressionists – most notably Claude Monet – represented the waters of the sea, rivers and rain. Monet often said that “the Seine is my atelier” and the grand river we associate with Paris continues to play an important role in linking the City of Light to the sea and to the ports of Rouen and Le Havre. The river’s importance in artistic impressionism is equally so in contributing to commerce and contemporary development in northern France.
With Normandy’s expansive coastline and seaside resorts, Impressionists also enjoyed capturing the holiday and maritime activities of the region. Eugène Boudin painted the beaches on the Côte Fleurie, while Claude Monet brought to life the cliffs on the coast of Albâtre. Camille Corot and Raoul Dufy painted the ports, and Mont Saint-Michel was a favorite subject of Impressionist painters.
An equally enjoyable summer art tour takes place in the South at The Grand Atelier du Midi in Marseille. Over 200 masterpieces will be exhibited at the Palais Longchamps until October 13. If the serene elements of water captured the imagination of Impressionists in the North, the vivid colors around Provence and the Mediterranean flashed across the canvases of southern painters.
As a critical part of Marseille-Provence 2013, European Capital of Culture, the cultural program will be a flagship event with a dominant focus of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. The entire region from northern Spain to the Italian Riviera serve as a virtual artistic laboratory, as one painter after another sought to capture the vitality of one of France’s most colorful and enchanting regions.
Cézanne summed up the delicate relationship between form and color, when he said, “When colour is at its richest, form takes on its fullest expression.” Many 20th century artists were heavily influenced by these two magnificent painters.
The Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence augments Marseille’s exhibition with “From Cézanne to Matisse”. Visitors begin with Renoir and Signac works in the then obscure fishing village of Saint Tropez. Matisse painted at Nice, while Picasso’s studios were in Antibes and Cannes; where they captured both the sunny and somber nature of the southern landscape. Without question the entire region served as a breeding ground of imagination for artists and writers.
Dividing the exhibition between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence provides visitors with the dazzling opportunity to see the very best of artistic expression. Perhaps Van Gogh best summed up the influence of the region: “The whole future of art is to be found in the South of France.”
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July might well be a good time to visit the west coast of France and, in particular, to enjoy exploring from Saint-Nazaire up towards Guérande and Vannes. The landscape is a stunning mix of inland tributaries and coastal plains. August, as it turned out for us, was the busiest vacation time of the year in France; so planning well ahead is critical for your holiday enjoyment.
One distinctive feature of the coastal areas is the relative modernity. We discovered a somber reason for that was the extensive bombing of the region by Allied planes. This was the locale for the headquarters of the German submarines that were wreaking havoc on Allied supply ships in the Atlantic. Entire cities were incinerated, to be rebuilt in the late 1940’s and beyond.
A little further up the coast, you will enjoy the lovely medieval city of Guérande. The city center is entirely encircled by heavily fortified walls with 6 towers and 4 gates, as if to assure the preservation of this place in time. After the siege in 1343 by Charles de Bois troops, Jean de Montfort ordered further fortifications.
We hope to visit here again, to allow time for slow discovery of this fascinating and beguiling ville – the collegiate church of Saint-Aubin, the surrounding salt flats, the megaliths and Gallo-Roman remains in the area and the gorgeous Bay of La Baule. Perhaps in September, when life is a bit calmer?
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