Why this blog?

To understand why this blog was created and where it got its name, start here

Friday, August 31, 2012

Washington D.C.

Government, History, Art, and Science. We are pumping our heads full of information this week as we take advantage of some of America's finest museums. So far we've visited the White House, the Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Lincoln Memorial, the American History Museum, the American Indian Museum, and of course, the Air and Space Museum.
Lincoln Memorial

Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington Cemetery

The Capitol under a full moon

Monday, August 27, 2012


Patrice and I are leaving on Tuesday morning for a three-month trip to the U.S. First stop - Washington DC. After that, Denver, CO. Stay tuned for photos of our trip.

In the meantime, here's what things look like at home in Paris . . . .

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fire dancers

Each evening in the summer, weather permitting, a group of fire jugglers perform in front of Notre Dame. Last night I finally had the opportunity to watch the show.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Vaux le Vicomte is a château built and decorated by Nicholas Fouquet (1615-1680). Fouquet created a sumptuous estate using the top talent of the time:  architect Louis le Vau,  landscape artist  André le Nôtre, and painter-decorator Charles le Brun.

Interior paintings by Charles le Brun

Gardens by Andre le Nôtre
Acting as Superintendant of Finances, Fouquet supplied King Louis XIV with plenty of money, while realizing great personal profit. Fouquet's actions were not appreciated by his rival, Colbert, who convinced the young king of Fouquet's misdeeds. The final straw came in August, 1661 when Fouquet invited Louis XIV and his court to a sumptuous banquet at the Château Vaux-le-Vicomte.
The King, incensed to find Vaux-le-Vicomte much more grand than his own palace at Versailles, decided to arrest Fouquet and throw him in prison. Following a long trial for financial misdeeds, Fouquet was sent to prison for life. His chateau and its works of art were seized by the king.  Louis XIV later used the architect, painters and landscape artists from Vaux-le-Vicomte to embellish his palace at Versailles.

The Château Vaux-le-Vicomte is now in private hands and offers both daily visits and once-a-week visits by candlelight.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

100°F in Paris

We're having a couple of record-breaking hot days in Paris. Almost 38°C (100°F) for two days in a row. However, it's nothing like the terrible heat wave (canicule) during the first two weeks of August, 2003, when there were an estimated 15,000 heat-related deaths (mostly among the elderly).

Patrice and I feel very fortunate to have air conditioning in our apartment - a rarity in Paris because it's not often needed.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Happy Birthday Patrice

Yesterday was Patrice's 68th birthday. We celebrated with a champagne cruise on the Seine.
 Followed by dinner at Sébillon.
Leg of lamb carved tableside
Baba au rhum for dessert

But the best present from Elaine? A new Kindle for storing lots of books for our upcoming trip to the U.S.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Eva Besnyö

Last week we discovered the work of Hungarian-born photographer Eva Besnyö (1910-2003) at a retrospective exhibit at the Jeu de Paume. Jewish by birth, Besnyö left Hungary for Berlin in 1930. Two years later she moved to Amsterdam where she remained for the rest of her life. Forced into hiding by the Nazi invasion of of the Netherlands in 1940, Besnyö later managed to come out of hiding in 1944, thanks to an invented genealogy.

Besnyö's early work in the 1930s is strikingly modern by today's standards. She is also known for her political engagement and commitment to women's rights. You can read more about Eva Besnyö and the exhibit here. Hurry! The exhibit closes on September 23rd.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Saint Germain de Livet

We've just returned from a quick trip to Normandy with my friend Odette. Of course, no trip is complete without a little bit of tourism and a couple of photos. This is the Chateau Saint Germain de Livet near Lisieux.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Star gazing (part 2)

We went out on Saturday night to look for more Perseid meteors. We tried to find a place where we could get a good view of the skies over Paris. We ended up at Montmartre, one of the highest spots in the city. Unfortunately, the city lights obcure all but the brightest stars.

I saw only one meteor, but we did get to see the ISS (International Space Station) fly overhead twice in the same evening. Can you see the tiny white dot directly over Sacre Coeur? That's the ISS.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Star gazing

The skies have been clear over Paris for a couple of days - just in time for the Perseid meteor shower. Each year several Paris locations offer "Les Nuits des étoiles" and astronomy clubs all over the country host special programs. Our excursion yesterday took us about 50 kms south of Paris to a small town called Breuillet whose astronomy club offered free star gazing to the public.
We arrived early and had to wait for the sky to darken.
We were rewarded by some excellent viewing of Mars, Saturn with its rings, a few étoiles filantes (shooting stars), and passage of the brilliant ISS.

Today we're going to the Cité des Sciences for more astronomy programs focusing on the Mars landing of Curiosity.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Chateau Gaillard

This week's continuing medieval history lesson took us to the Chateau Gaillard in Normandy. The chateau, now in ruins, sits perched on a strategic site overlooking the Seine river. It was built in 1196 by Richard the Lionhearted to protect his Normandy territory against French forces. During his lifetime, Richard was a vassal of the French King Philippe II, holding titles as Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, and Count of Poitiers. Richard was also King of England, even though he was rarely there and didn't even speak English. Here is a map showing (in pink) the area that he ruled. Chateau Gaillard is located on the border between the pink area and the blue area which was ruled by the King of France.
After Richard's death in 1199, Philip laid siege to the castle and it became part of the French kingdom in 1204. The castle later changed hands again during the 100 years war. Finally, it was ordered destroyed by the King of France in 1598. Here's what the castle looked like in 1198:
Today, it is largely in ruins.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


Patrice and I play almost every afternoon with an antique chess set that I brought back from China. The games are intense. I'm ahead in total wins; but today's score was 1 to 1.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The eagles of the ramparts

"For your own safety, do not raise your arms or stand up during the performance."
 So began the equestrian falconry show that we attended in Provins. The show featured raptors from several species: falcons, hawks, kites, owls, eagles, and even vultures - all of which flew over the ramparts and just inches over our heads.  

It's OK. He won't hurt you.
Thank goodness for digital film. We took several hundred photos each. . .

Friday, August 3, 2012


Yesterday we visited Provins, a medieval fortified town about 1.5 hrs SE of Paris. The town was located at the crossroads of major European trade routes between Flanders and Italy. Twice a year, wholesale merchants would gather for trade fairs in the city. The area was known for its woolen goods and trade reached its peak during the 12th and 13th centuries.

The town is now known for its ramparts, Tower, and subterranean caves which were used to store and display goods for trade. 
Ramparts built between 11th & 13th centuries

Caesar's Tower

Vaulted caverns used to display goods

Diorama representing spice trader in the Grange aux Dimes
You can learn more about the town's history here.