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December 2015

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17k Birthday

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Our favorite thing to do is – to go somewhere and wander around. We’ll read about a village or an old abbey, something that catches our eye, and then we’ll go there without much of a plan, and see what we find. This is what we did today starting in Saumur with lemon sugar crepes then hiking through the stone villages of Montsoreau to Candes St. Martin then through the wind and green grasses to the valley of the Fountain of Evraud to the Abbaye de Fontevraud.

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We spent all day out in the countryside of the Loire Valley, hiked about 20 kilometers, kept going with chips and chocolate, then at dusk we rode back along the river, quiet, tired from the fresh air. Watching the light fade along the tufa cliffs, I imagined the dinner I would make from the bag of local lettuce, mushrooms, and cheese we had been lucky to get from a small village market that was still open.

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Christmas with Picasso.

20151217_153215 On a warm afternoon last Thursday, I rushed down rue des Archives, late for a tour. I’d left my house with plenty of time, in fact, with hours to spare, knowing I would wind up sticking my head in shops and all that, then need lunch suddenly, as I have a habit of not eating until 1pm, then ravenous. On the way over, I texted long notes to a friend, to catch up on our daily details, then as expected, lost my head in the Marais. Old streets buzzin’ that youthful vibe that can fire all the brain cortexes at once, marriage of art and commerce. Then you meet people and end up way-laid having a conversation about what you’re buying your dog for Xmas or where to go on vacation in February.

The Picasso Museum re-opened last year, after a 5 year renovation. The Baroque Marais mansion that houses the world’s largest collection of Picasso’s was built in the 1650’s. And it’s gorgeous! All white stone and endless white rooms. It’s also huge – 4 floors that have no rhythm or reason, in other words, it’s easy to get lost if you’re trying too hard to make sense of the place or the collection. But try to not forget to look at the sculpted stone cherubs and garlands on the grand staircase. I kept lagging behind the tour group looking at little details.

That’s part of its charm. The 400 plus works were left to the heirs of Picasso when he died in 1973, but those concerned believed it wiser to donate the collection to the State, instead of dishing out a huge inheritance tax. So France ended up with this very personal cache of works, ranging from well-known paintings that represent his “Blue Period” to scribbled notes, doodles, and literally scraps of construction paper pressed between expensive pieces of glass. In other words, it’s sublime, even if, like me, you don’t particularly like Picasso…

Walking through the museum looking at the recurring subjects: self-portraits, guitars, bullfighting, women… you can identify. Picasso was not subtle. Like Hemingway, he was a man of large and terrestrial  tastes. Images are strong, even aggressive with teeth, detached limbs, explosive and unexpected lines. It’s obvious when his love life was not working out. What I do like is the sense of his avid experimentation. You sense the man’s curiosity about form, state of mind, attraction, anything in front of him. He sculpted, he painted, but he also – doodled, wrote notebooks full of nonsense, twisted wine bottle wire into little forms that looked forlorn and funny. He wasn’t afraid to be madcap.

The museum is full of cul-de-sacs, dead-ends, but that’s fine, because the light is sublime!

I’m going back in January. Like I said, I kept losing my tour group, because the light from the windows was muted and the views like the photo I shot above, so quiet and tempting.

Want to join me? Buzz me with the password – Bullfighting.  

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4 Weeks Ago.

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Around 10 am Andrew and I leave the apartment to go run some errands together, the girls as usual preferring to reserve the sanctity of Saturday mornings for reading books, watching cartoons, or rummaging in their rooms. On rue Jean de la Fontaine there is a Marche de Noel, a Christmas market just opening up, vendors still putting decorations on the small white wooden huts, like small chalets that line most other markets across the city. I’m instantly drawn into the lane by the trees and twinkling lights. A wine vendor smiles at us and asks if we’d like to try his Cotes du Rhones. What is a Cotes du Rhones, I shrug, smile, peer ahead to gauge which stalls look interesting, but he is still talking to us, animated in a reserved sort of way, so we’re drawn to his stand, lured by his friendliness, besides it’s just the two of us out enjoying the morning, and Andrew knows wine and likes wine.

Our gentleman says he is the vintner and is handsome in a Richard Burton kind of way, navy jacket, vest, scarf, the trio French men wear in December. He pours and swirls and watches our reactions as we sip from the glass. “C’est bon, oui?” Don’t we agree – it’s nice, isn’t it? I’m unable to grasp the subtleties of a wine, but Andrew nods. I nod too, more because it’s 10am and we’re sipping wine beside a medieval church, smell of spices in the air, music of a carousel in the distance whirling children on colorful tigers. The man is still talking, “We’re lucky. C’est parfait. Some wine. Dinner, a little cheese. Life is beautiful,” he winks and the way he says it, anyone would believe it.

We walk away with a case and an invitation to visit his vineyard.

Four weeks ago, the world turned its eye on Paris, shocked at an attack on the Western world’s capital of art, culture, democracy – Paris. It was a strange experience to read hour-by-hour accounts of events taking place right in the heart of our city. Facebook became a large inventory of newspapers to read. I witnessed the anger and fury on many friends’ posts. It sometimes seemed that the rest of the world might catch the next flight over to France armed and ready to protect us.

The Saturday after the attack, Andrew and I had walked out early to go to the Auteuil open air market to buy fruits and vegetables from the usual stands, to indulge the girls with a parcel of eclairs from the bakery on the walk back. The international newspapers had reported all markets closed that weekend, but it wasn’t the case in every quartier. The city of Paris had suggested people stay close to home while investigations continued. But in our neighborhood the streets were full of people, the market was busy with shoppers and trolleys, children were everywhere.

Researching and reading was my personal reaction to the events, jogging to relieve stress, and pinching pressure points on my hands when riding the metro. The city was tense. You could feel it in the air. Because I must walk by the President’s palace and France’s Dept. of Security every afternoon, I witnessed the armed movements every day, could see when the threat was high alert. Those days, I did not have to elbow my way along rue Faubourg St. Honore. There were no lines at Louboutin, but on the corner at Avenue de Marigny, there were hordes of reporters from all around the world.

The Monday after, I met a big group of American women on a terrace before a tour around the 2nd arrondissement. I could have squeezed them all it was so good to be with so many new-found friends. And we made it a point that week of meeting our friends out, on the terraces, like we normally would. “Je suis en terrace.” The new rallying cry of many Parisians.

And the weeks became particularly busy – a family birthday party, a cocktail party, Andrew had to leave again, this time to Kazakhstan. He sent us stories of elaborate banquets set up as welcome from the local officials and photos from the snowy peaks of the Alatau Zhotasy mountains. Back home, another birthday party, my mom arrived from the states, the climate conference, the marches, the new windmill on the Champs. We ALMOST met President Obama. ALMOST! Then Andrew arrived home again, now we have a Christmas tree up and a new round of cheer begins. We love our home. Peace in Paris. Peace on earth.

 

 

 

 

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