Tuesday, July 31, 2012

GRAFFITI TO WRITE HOME ABOUT

We stopped dead in our tracks while strolling through Senlis when we came upon this remarkable graffiti carved on the south exterior wall of the église Saint-Pierre. I know of people who take along a pair of binoculars when they visit gothic churches and cathedrals so they can search for carved markings, called historic graffiti, left by stone cutters and builders high up on the walls. That these were at eye level and of such an unusual nature seemed significant. Note the Jansenist crucifix.
As it turns out, these inscriptions were the ones that in 1969 caught the attention of Serge Raymond and sparked his interest in historic graffiti. After years of searching for, photographing and imprinting ancient graffiti, he created in 1987 France's first museum of historic graffiti in Verneuil-en-Halatte, grouping more than 3500 molds taken from across the country and covering 10,000 years of history.
Raymond described these Senlis figures which he dated to be from the 19th century as "personnages à caractère équivoque."
The gothic church building was abandoned during the French Revolution, then later used as a covered market and community hall until it was condemned for use in 2009. Senlis is a medieval town 45 km from Paris.

Read more: Un Patrimoine Culturel Oublié: Les Graffiti by Serge Raymond

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, July 29, 2012

IT MIGHT AS WELL BE GREUZE


There's no standing in line, entry fees are low and there are usually a wide range of representative works and exceptional treasures in France's smaller, provincial museums. In the Château-Musée de Dieppe one of my finds was this portrait; and even if only attributed to Jean-Baptiste Greuze, an 18th-century French painter whose works I enjoy coming across, it might as well be.

Expression
La beauté est dans les yeux de celui qui regarde. 
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. -- Oscar Wilde

For a brief and fascinating account in French of Oscar Wilde's summer of self-exile in the Normandy coastal village of Berneval-sur-Mer near Dieppe, click here.

©2012 P.B.Lecron

Saturday, July 28, 2012

BURNISHING HOPE

When a 21 year-old journalist working for an anti-Bonapartist political publication was assassinated by the impulsive cousin of Emperor Napoléon III in 1870 after an altercation, it created an uproar and a cult following for the young Yvan Salmon. Salmon, who wrote under the pen name of Victor Noir, became a tragic symbol of the opposition to the Empire. In 1891 the sculptor Jules Dalou created this effigy, which has since become one of the most visited tombs, as well as the most fondled, at the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise in Paris. For decades sterile, superstitious women have rubbed it, especially its masculine parts, with the hope it would make them fecund. The local tradition is to leave a flower on the tomb if later their wish come true.


Vocabulary
un gisant:  a recumbent effigy
brunir:  to burnish; to brown
le brunissage:  burnishing
une sépulture:  a sepulture, a grave

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, July 27, 2012

NO ROSES WITHOUT THORNS

Pas de roses sans épines
A view of Auguste Rodin's sculpture group, Les Bourgeois de Calais, inaugurated in Calais in 1895. Twelve original bronze editions of it exist and are located in Calais, Paris, London, Copenhagen, Mariemont (in Belgium), Basel, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington D.C., Pasadena, Tokyo and Seoul. 

Above is the very first of the limited edition which was ordered by the city of Calais. It commemorates the legendary story of the heroic self-sacrifice of six of the town's notables in 1347 during the Hundred Years' War.

When Calais was forced to surrender to England, King Edward III supposedly offered to spare its people if six town leaders would give themselves over to be executed. Six burghers volunteered and were led out of the city, stripped down, wearing nooses and carrying keys to the city gates and castle, as Edward had ordered. The story is that their lives were spared, however, at the request of King Edward's wife.

The sculpture group is installed in front of the Calais Hôtel de Ville, or town hall. At this and other sites the individual burghers are positioned tightly together on a single base, at some sites they are mounted separately and at greater distances from one another.

Photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron
©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, July 23, 2012

COURAGE EVERY HOUR

Courage de toutes les heures
We were intrigued by this heart-shaped sundial carved in stone on an historic house in the town center of Mortagne-au-Perche, then learned that there are two others similar to this one on churches in the Perche departement. All three date to the mid-17th century. The sundial's time lines mark 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with small diamonds interspacing the Roman numerals to indicate the half hours.

In Old French corage (courage) came from the Latin cor for heart; in the 17th century, coeur was used synonymously in the figurative sense with courage.


Vocabulary
un cadran solaire:  a sundial




©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, July 22, 2012

THE TOUR DE FRANCE WAS HERE

Youpi! Today the Tour de France publicity caravan, then the cyclists, whizzed past on a backstreet in Versailles on the way to Paris for the contest's final heat. It's one of the biggest annual sporting events in the world. Individual and team time trials, mountain stages, flat and rolling stages--all while touring France on a three-week and 3,200 km bike ride.
Bradley Wiggins, in the maillot jaune, was all smiles as the peloton advanced along the narrow backstreet in Versailles to the applause of the neighborhood crowd. Later in the afternoon on the Champs-Elysées he became the first British competitor ever to win the Tour de France.

Vocabulary
youpi:  yippee
le maillot jaune:  the yellow jersey; in the Tour de France and other major cycling events it is worn by the leader who is classed first among the competitors
le peloton:  the pack (in sports)
être dans le peloton de tête: to be among the front runners

©2012 P.B. Lecron

ON THE SUNNY SIDE OF THE STREET

On the streets of Paris: this plaque d'égout at the Place des Vosges in the Marais district has attitude. 

When I think that back in March we were concerned about having enough rain through the spring and summer seasons! This photo was taken on one of the few days of the past three months when the pavements weren't wet. Clear skies and more seasonal temperatures have finally arrived.

Vocabulary
une bouche d'égout:  a manhole
une plaque d'égout: a manhole cover
un égout:  a sewer

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, July 21, 2012

CATHEDRAL CHARM

With a pair of shoes and a prayer
For the paralyzed and those who have difficulty walking, or simply for children learning to walk, the tradition among local believers is to place a pair of shoes on the tomb of Saint Erkembode in the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais. As soon as the shoes are collected and donated to charity, more appear. Saint Erkembode, known as the "saint qui fait marcher" (the saint who makes one walk) was a late 7th- and early 8th-century Benedictine monk originally from Ireland. He became abbot of the Saint Bertin monastery, and also succeeded Saint Omer as bishop of the diocese of Thérouanne. (What is now the city of Saint-Omer was originally a community called Sithiu, built around a church which had been founded by the monks Audomar (Omer) and Bertin in the 7th century.)

The diocese of Thérouanne was sizable, going from Ypres to the valley of the Somme River; Erkembode travelled it extensively attending to his pastoral flock, which probably accounts for his being associated with the effort of walking. He himself died paralyzed; thus the offering of shoes, a custom dating back to his death in 742, when the present cathedral was only a small primitive church. Shoes are also sometimes placed there for depressed people with the hope that it will help them step out of their depression, a sort of paralytic state.

©2012 P.B. Lecron














Friday, July 20, 2012

IMAGINE

Stylized hawthorn, or aubépine, polychrome decor dating to the 17th century adorns the enclosure of one of the lateral chapels of the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer. An 18th century statue of the Virgin Mary is the central figure of this chapel dedicated to the Conception. Hawthorn, a symbol of innocence and purety, was once thought to protect newborns.

Vocabulary
un nouveau-né:  a newborn child
nouveau-né(e):  newborn (adjective)

©2012 P.B. Lecron


LET THERE BE LIGHT AND COLOR

Glimpse of stained glass in the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer.

photo courtesy of Marianne Lecron

Thursday, July 19, 2012

KEEPING TIME SINCE 1558

Another marvel at the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer is its precise astronomical clock, working since 1558 with all of its original parts! It marks the hours, days, months, zodiac signs and the rising and setting of both the sun and the moon, as well as the position of the sun in relation to the earth. Only 25 of the clock's pieces actually move.  
The clock is mounted above the baroque-period royal entry on the north transept of the Cathedral. It was through this portal that Louis XIV triumphantly entered the Cathedral in April 1677 after important battles in the wars with Holland, winning Saint-Omer, Cassel, Bailleul and Ypres. (Ypres was eventually reattached by treaty to Flanders in 1713.) 

Wearing a turban topped with feathers, an automated figurine dressed in a military officer's costume of the Ancien Régime strikes the hours on a bell.

Vocabulary
un horloge astronomique:  an astronomical clock
un jacquemart or jaquemart:  an automated figurine in wood or metal which strikes or sounds the hours of a clock

©2012 P.B. Lecron

DUSTY, DIZZYING & DIVINE

Le buffet de la grande orgue de Saint-Omer
The spectacular baroque façade and ensemble of this Cavaillé-Coll organ was sculpted and crafted in Danish oak by the Piette family (a father, two sons who were both master sculptures, and a son-in-law) from 1716-1721 for the Cathédrale Notre Dame in Saint-Omer. The instrumental workings of the Saint- Omer organ,  originally constructed in 1717 by the Desfontaines brothers of Douai, had been denatured over time by repairs and transformations. In 1855 Arisitide Cavaillé-Coll reworked and rehabilitated the organ. The Cavaillé-Coll family was a line of famous French organ makers of the 18th and 19th centuries; in those days the making of masterpieces was often a generational family business.




 Vocabulary
un facteur d'orgue:  an organ maker
le buffet d'orgue:  the organ cabinetry
un chef-d'oeuvre:  a masterpiece

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

MADONNA AND CAT

Both a treasure and a curiosity is this rare representation of the Virgin Mary nursing baby Jesus with, lo and behold, a cat at her feet. The alabaster relief sculpted by Jacques du Broeucq in the 16th century is one of the numerous riches of a cathedral which is noted for its exceptional furnishings, Notre Dame in Saint-Omer. More to come...
Expression
C'est qui est rare est cher.
What is rare is dear.


Vocabulary
cher:  dear, expensive
albâtre:  alabaster
un trésor:  a treasure

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

VERSAILLES-LAND


Because of a growing number of flashy leisure-park like events calculated to draw a maximum number of tourists to the Château de Versailles coupled with increased visitors' amenities like rental golf carts and more and more souvenir shops, the historic domaine has become to be mockingly called in certain circles, Versailles-land. Add to that the controversy of dismantling the 19th century royal grille installed by Louis-Philippe in order to reconstitute the original baroque grille that had been removed by Louis XV, and you've got a long-lasting and good old-fashioned flap, or what the French call a polémique.


I'm not certain who coined the term Versailles-land, but it was used in 2007 in an article appearing in La Tribune de l'Art. 



iPhone photo by Ian Byrd

©2012 P.B. Lecron



Monday, July 16, 2012

LEARN FRENCH WITH POMPON

Tomorrow is another day...
A French Education's mascot, Pompon, has this to say about that:
"Demain est un autre jour..."

©2012 P.B. Lecron

THIS BEAR WAS MADE FOR WALKING

Il reste toujours toujours quelque chose de l'enfance, toujours...
Something always remains from childhood, always....
A universal sentiment and extract from Marguerite Duras' novel, Des Journées Entières dans les Arbres.  Above, a pedestrian traffic light "revisited" at la Place Colette, Paris.

Vocabulary
revisiter:  to visit again; to reconsider, to rethink; in the figurative sense revisiter means to give a new interpretation to a text, a work of art, etc. Of late it has been frequently used to describe new twists given to classic recipes; e.g. un Paris-Brest revisité


©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, July 15, 2012

BARE NECESSITIES

Here's Auguste Rodin's plaster cast of Georges Clemenceau, French politician and prime minister from 1906-09 and 1917-20.  Nicknamed "le Tigre" because of his aggressive debating technique, Clemenceau was also known for his sometimes derisive wit. "Pour mes obsèques, je ne veux que le strict nécessaire, c'est-à-dire moi." For my funeral services, I want only what is strictly necessary, that is to say myself. 

This was the public figure who also said, "On ne ment jamais tant qu'avant les élections, pendant la guerre et après la chasse."  One never lies so much as before elections, during war and after hunting. And lest anyone forget, he summarized that "la France est un pays extrêmement fertile: on y plante des fonctionnaires et il y pousse des impôts." France is an extremely fertile country: it plants civil servants and grows taxes.



Photo taken at the Musée Rodin in Meudon.


©2012 P.B. Lecron

Saturday, July 14, 2012

14 JUILLET

Detail of a ceramic mural commemorating the French Revolution at the Bastille Métro station, Paris. A number of factors resulted in the overthrow of the French monarchy; one of them was the high cost of bread. The shortage of grain due to crop failures caused its price to rise, which meant that poor peasants whose main sustenance was bread were starving.

The mural, executed by artists Liliane Belembert and Odile Jacquot, was realized by the Ateliers des Carrelages de la Bussiere in 1989.

Vocabulary
un(e) paysan, ne:  a peasant
la faim:  hunger
le carrelage:  tiling
céramique:  ceramic

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, July 13, 2012

WHEN ICE WAS A LUXURY

In this 18th-century glacière, ice, a culinary luxury, was once stocked during the winter months for use later in the year in a semi-subterranean, masoned excavation. This exceptional example of a fabrique de jardin is one among the remaining architectural folies at the Désert de Retz, a landscaped garden created in 1774 by the aristocrat François Racine de Monville. The site, one of the most famous of its time, was a product of the Siècle des Lumières or Age of Enlightenment. At that time the word "désert" was often the term used for a place where one could withdraw from the everyday world to think and to reflect. Illustrious guests to this garden retreat included Madame du Barry, King Gustave III of Sweden, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Marie-Antoinette visited the Désert de Retz several times, taking inspiration for the construction of her own follies--a hamlet and dairy: the Hameau de la Reine in the park of the Château de Versailles and the Laiterie de la Reine in the park of the Château de Rambouillet. 

Vocabulary
la folie:  folly, madness
une fabrique de jardin:  an ornamental construction designed to decorate a landscaped garden, and which generally has an exotic or extravagant form inspired by architectural elements of antiquity, history or nature
une glacière:  an icehouse

Thursday, July 12, 2012

QUICK TRIP

France Miniature
Bravo to the artisans who built the 1/30 scale replicas of one hundred or so historic monuments and villages for France Miniature, the largest scale model park in Europe. A two-hour cultural and playful visit just 20 minutes from Paris. Above, the Arc de Triomphe, Paris; below, Notre Dame de Fourvière, Lyon.

Vocabulary
une maquette:  a scale model, mockup
une maquettiste:  a model maker (architecture)
ludique:  playful

The 1/30 scale gives this result.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

CHILD'S PLAY

Sweet and simple
Un jeu d'enfant
Fishing for ducks or la pêche aux canards with a stick and hook is a popular attraction at French fairs among pêcheurs en herbe.

Vocabulary
une fête foraine:  a carnival
une foire:  a fair
une kermesse:  a village fair; carnival
une kermesse paroissiale:  a church bazaar
s'amuser:  to have fun, to enjoy
en herbe:  budding
l'herbe:  grass
un pêcheur:  a fisherman
un caneton:  a duckling

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NO PLACE LIKE SOMME

A rainy summer afternoon on the bay walk at Saint-Valèry-sur-Somme, on the Baie de Somme. Rain or shine, we love France's exceptional estuary on its northern coast.

Expressions
Rien ne vaut son chez soi.
There's no place like home.

Où se trouve le coeur, là est la maison.
Home is where the heart is.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Monday, July 9, 2012

SALE TIME HUMOR

Sales at Marc Jacobs
 Everything must disappear, except us. 
A touch of humor from Marc Jacobs greets high-end shoppers at his Palais Royal location in Paris. The periods of "fixed" sales in France are regulated by law; they must begin and end on determined dates. The summer sales officially began on June 27 at 8 a.m. and will end in most departments on Tuesday July 31. For a detailed listing of closing dates by department, click here.

The system is a bit complicated, but has recently been loosened up. Here is how it currently works: Winter and summer sales, each lasting no more than five weeks have predetermined dates; for winter they are to begin the second Wednesday of the year, for summer they are to begin the third Wednesday of June. These are called the soldes saisonniers, or seasonal sales. This rule applies except in certain touristed sectors where derogations apply.

A second set of sales, called soldes libres or soldes flottants, are determined by individual businesses, but are limited to one or two sales periods, but can last no more than two weeks cummulatively. These sales may not take place in the month that precedes the seasonal sales. 

Outside of the these sale periods, merchants may also set up "promotion" and "destocking" events. Much to do about nothing?

Vocabulary
les soldes:  sales 
en solde:  at sale price
disparaître:  to disappear

©2012 P.B. Lecron

TOURIST FRIENDLY INNOVATION

Cabine multimédia
What may be replacing the increasingly hard-to-find pay phone? Multimedia booths like this experimental prototype with its large tactile screen on the esplanade of La Défense. Here you can telephone, surf the internet, read and send emails, as well as have free access to practical information such as train schedules or addresses of restaurants, museums, cinemas or pharmacies. For the moment ten minutes of internet access is free. Telephone charges remain the same as in traditional phone booths. Several of these cabines developped by Orange, a subsidiary of France Télécom, have been installed around Paris and Marseilles. Click here for a video demonstration.

Vocabulary
une cabine téléphonique:  a  phone booth
envoyer:  to send
une filiale:  a subsidiary


©2012 P.B. Lecron

A PATCH OF BLUE

It's so good to see some blue sky after three months of gray, rainy weather. Looking up here, giant murano glass beads on aluminum strands form two bird-cage like cupolas over the much photographed Parisian metro entrance at the Palais Royal station. Designed by Jean-Michel Othoniel and installed in 2000, le Kiosque des Noctambules, gives a baroque feel to the Place Colette. 

Vocabulary
une bouche de métro:  a metro (subway) entrance
un(e) noctambule:  a nightbird

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Sunday, July 8, 2012

INSIDE A JEWEL BOX

La Sainte-Chapelle

Restoration of historic monuments is a perpetual activity in France. Since 2008 seven stained glass windows of the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris have been undergoing restoration, with completition expected to be in 2014. Notwithstanding that an entire section of windows is  covered for the work, the small and sumptuous chapel, built in the 13th century to house purported relics of the holy crown of thorns, still gives one the impression of being inside a jewel box. That feeling is intensified, however, during winter visits when the large and tall doors to the outside are closed. On fine summer days they're left open.

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Friday, July 6, 2012

FLEUR DE LYS

From the powerful Italian Médicis family to French kings and Boy Scouts, through the centuries the fleur de lys has been the emblem of diverse nations and monarchies as well as being widely associated with the Holy Trinity. The one above is carved in stone on the exterior of the 13th-century Sainte-Chapelle, Paris.

This age-old symbol of nobility, purity and power makes for a pretty table napkin, too. For three different but easy fleur de lys napkin folding instructions: click herehere and here.

Vocabulary
un fleur de lys:  a lily flower
un blason: a blazon, coat of arms
un emblème:  an emblem
un écusson:  a badge
une serviette de table:  a table napkin
le pliage:  folding

©2012 P.B. Lecron

Thursday, July 5, 2012

PLAY ME I'M YOURS

Here, there and everywhere
The street piano movement, around since 2008 in other world capitals, made its way to Paris this summer. The idea is to place second-hand pianos in public places so that passersby can stop to play them--between 9:30 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. Of course. This one is in the Jardin des Plantes and will remain there until July 8 when the 40 pianos installed around Paris will be packed up and lent to local organisations--until next year when they will again be installed outdoors. The pianos have all been decorated in varying degrees by local artists, and are played as well by the public to the same extents. Lots of fun for mélomanes.

Vocabulary
en libre accès:  free access
au coin de la rue:  at the street corner
un passant:  a passerby
une, un mélomane:  a music lover



©2012 P.B. Lecron

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

THE CUTEST CAROUSEL IN PARIS

It's the Dodo Manège in the Jardin des Plantes




Le Jardin des Plantes is a botanical garden established in 1635 under the reign of Louis XIII. Originally called le Jardin du Roy, the King's Garden, it--with all of its galleries, laboratories, menagerie, collections and library--was renamed le Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle during the French Revolution. Its menagerie, created in 1793, is the second oldest zoo in the world.

Vocabulary
un dodo:  a dodo, an extinct flightless bird found on Mauritius until the late 17th century
un manège:  a carousel, a merry-go-round; a riding school
faire un tour de manège:  to have a ride on a merry-go-round
une ménagerie:  a menagerie, i.e., a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition


Children's Song
Listen to Le Dodo, number 20 on the list of this link by French children's entertainer Chantal Goya


©2012 P.B. Lecron