On Monday past, four members of my book club, The Mountainview Literary Circle, along with with four friends, went on a Field trip to La Grange in Rozay-en-Brie. The Chateau at La Grange was the last home of Lafayette and his wife, Marie Adrienne Françoise de Noailles . La Grange lies in the Provins region of France which is still part of Ile de France. Lafayette lived there for 30 years after the peace of Amiens. His wife, however, who had became very sick when she refused to leave him while he was imprisoned in Austria during the French Revolution and the Terror, lived there only eight years.
A year ago November, I attended the American Library Book Award ceremony held to give a monetary prize to the best book of 2015. The subject matter has to be about France or French-American relations. The winner in 2015 was a book by Laura Auricchio entitled Le Marquis: Lafayette Reconsidered. It sounded so interesting that I recommended it to my book club. At the end of the book, the author urged us all to visit La Grange explaining that it is probably the best museum of all things Lafayette as well as his wife, Madame Adrienne de Noailles La Fayette , a very interesting person in her own right. So I made all the plans and got a date and then learned that the Chateau at La Grange is a private museum and one has to have special permission to visit.
The Chateau today belongs to the Foundation Josée-and-Rene-de-Chambrun which is responsible for the management of the inheritance and property of the family La Fayette. Interestingly enough the Chambrun family was instrumental in keeping the American Library open during WWII. As a result of Mme Chambrun’s son’s marriage to the daughter of the Vichy prime minister, Pierre Laval, the library was ensured a friend in high places, and a near-exclusive right to keep its doors open and its collections largely uncensored throughout the war. A French diplomat later said the library had been to occupied Paris “an open window on the free world.”(Wikipedia)
One of our book club members is a “son of the American Revolution” At a press meeting at the American Library, he met another SAR and together they requested permission for a visit. It was very iffy until the last minute. The Chateau will be closed for the next eighteen months while it undergoes renovation and it wasn’t clear if the renovation had actually started. Three weeks ago, we were given the date of Monday, Dec. 12th for our visit.
Rozay-en-Brie is approximately 1 hour southeast of Paris. Easy to get to. We had lunch at one of those funky looking restos where you hold your breath hoping there is good food and leave thinking “imagine that, really good food in this place.We must be in France!” We met our guide promptly at 2pm. I was slightly handicapped as I was the only one who doesn’t speak fluent French. Visually the place is an homage to La Fayette and the American Revolution. A copy of the Declaration of Independence hangs on the wall along with letters, gifts and reproductions of battles.
No one actually lives in the Chateau. There was no heat. I had a very definite feeling of what it would be like inhabiting one of these gorgeous old places before modern day comforts were invented. We went from room to room enjoying the memorabilia. There is a James Fenimore Cooper bedroom. Cooper met General Lafayette when the latter visited the US in 1824, a reunion trip that took Lafayette to many states and many cities named after him. Cooper later moved his family to Paris hoping for a better audience for his books and became good friends with Lafayette.
It’s easy to imagine Lafayette’s love affair with all things American as there was a long canoe like vessel in the barns next to the Chateau. I wasn’t clear who had sent it to him but it looks very similar to the boat depicted in the painting of Washington crossing the Delaware. While living at the Chateau in La Grange, Lafayette participated in politics but gradually grew very disillusioned.
On 20 May 1834, Lafayette died on 6 rue d’Anjou-Saint-Honoré in Paris (now 8 rue d’Anjou in the 8th arrondissement of Paris) at the age of 76. He was buried next to his wife at the Picpus Cemetery under soil from Bunker Hill, which his son Georges Washington sprinkled upon him.
To be able to visit this chateau was a treat and a privilege. One most people won’t be able to have. After we had visited all the rooms that were open, our guide invited us to tea. She took us into a beautiful, oak-lined small dining room set out with a full English tea. We were thanking her profusely and she said “no, it is I who should thank you. It is a pleasure to show this place and these rooms to people who understand the context and the history” Once again, I was reminded that our hero who had at least one city named after him in every state of the Union, who is synonymous with the American Revolution is not seen with the same eyes here in France. He was an aristocrat at the time when aristocrats were suspect and the French were never quite sure what his motives for doing anything were.
They say a picture says a thousand words. So today, I’m going to rely on photos to show Paris and environs dressing up for the holidays.
Since the attacks in Nov. 2015, the decorations have been sparser. Notre Dame no longer has a tree on the parvis. Whereas once anywhere you turned, there would be a festive feeling, now it’s mostly the Champs Elysees and the Haute Couture streets. Is it related? I don’t know but it can’t be coincidence.
Thanks for enjoying my photographic tour. More to come.
Once I no longer HAD to read good literature, I joined a Book Club so that at least once a month I could say I had read Literature. But for pure reading pleasure, I started my life-long love affair with Mysteries and Thrillers. Some would say that there are plenty of mysteries that are also well written literature. I’m not a judge. I know that I love to while away the day lying on the couch reading Lee Childs, Alexander McCall Smith, John Sanford, PD James, etc. All written in English by American or British authors.
I don’t know when I discovered that the French write mysteries! At my Alliance Française, they are filed under Policiers. Anne Trager, editor and translator, says the French call them Polar — pronounced “pole-ARE”. Whatever they are called, I love them. And thanks to Ms. Trager, I get to read them in English. I’m not exactly proud that my french isn’t good enough to read these books but I’m making progress. In the meantime, there’s
Anne Trager founded Le French Book in 2011. Her website says: “The company’s founder—American translator and editor Anne Trager—loves France so much she has lived there for over a quarter of a century, and just can’t seem to leave. It’s not the baguettes that keep her there (she’s sans gluten), but a uniquely French mix of pleasure seeking and creativity. Well, that and the wine. After over a quarter of a century of experience in the translation business and nearly as much in publishing, she decided it was time for her to focus on the books she loves to read and bring them to a broader audience.”
You can go to the website: https://www.lefrenchbook.com and discover all the books that she and her team have translated. I want to tell you about one series in particular The Winemaker Detective Series by Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noël Balen. I must have written Anne to thank her because I am now able to read advance copies of this series. They aren’t quite The Cozies that some people steer clear of. There is always a mystery and some are darker than others. There is also plenty of wine as our hero ‘detective’, Benjamin, happens to be a renowned Wine Expert. He and his assistant, Virgil, make the rounds of the vineyards of France, eating delicious meals, drinking fabulous wines and solving mysteries. And, as with many series these days, one gets to know Benjamin’s family, Virgil’s love affairs and the state of wine production year after year. The books are not lengthy so each one is an easy couple of afternoons reading. Plus if you live in France as I do, it is so much fun to say “I’ve been there!”
I wrote Anne last Spring and asked her if a TV series had ever been made of the books. Yes, she said, Blood of the Vine. I subscribe to MhZ International Mysteries and found the series there. I think I watched all four seasons in two weeks! The series is loosely based on the books–once I got passed the fact that the shows were different, I fell in love with them also.
While writing this blog, I went on LeFrenchBook website and discovered that you can get 3 of the books free. You just need to tell the team where to send them. Unless you only like violence that comes at you on every page, you will not be disappointed.
You can read an interview with the two authors from November 20, 2016: https://www.lefrenchbook.com/le-french-book-blog/2016/11/20/revealed-the-winemaker-detective-and-winemaking
Netflix, in it’s great wisdom, suggested Binge Watching some shows over the Thanksgiving weekend. I saw posters in both California and here in Paris for The Crown. Since I don’t like football and couldn’t find anything else better on Netflix, I decided to watch it. And I ended up binge watching it just as suggested!!!
I have no memory of Queen Elizabeth II being anything other that what she is today, an elderly women, who waves funny and rarely speaks. The series starts in 1947 when she is a young girl, her father is still King, she is in love and about to marry Phillip and she and her sister Margaret are good friends. Claire Foy plays Elizabeth. The last I saw of Ms. Foy, she was getting her head chopped off as a result of being Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall. From cunning, manipulative Ms Boleyn to the intelligent, correct Ms Windsor in one season is quite a feat!!
When Elizabeth’s father, King George VI, dies five years later, she becomes Queen at twenty-five years of age. What struck me more than anything as Elizabeth learns The Rules of Monarchy, is what a lonely, lonely position it is. She can’t pick her own last name, where she lives or who will be her secretary.
The great John Lithgow plays Winston Churchill. I’ve seen many actors play Churchill. Lithgow’s Churchill is terrific. He is curmudgeonly, manipulative, brilliant and old. Too old to still be Prime Minister. He and Elizabeth lean on each other, she to learn about her job and he to stay needed so that he can keep his.
There are many wonderful performances in the Crown but I’ve vowed to keep my blogs short. I will say that after Colin Firth won the Oscar for playing King George in The King’s Speech, it had to take a brilliant actor to make me forget Mr. Firth. Jared Harris is that brilliant actor. He plays the King with a compassion and wisdom that one hopes leaders of all nations might have. There are lovely scenes of him teaching his eldest daughter about the Constitution and about the relationship between the Monarchy and Parliament.
I think it is a terrific series. I heard or read that the creators are hoping to have 60 episodes, at least 6 years, of The Crown. If it stays this good, I’ll be watching it all six years.
November 24th was just another Thursday for Parisians. Life went on as normal–weather getting colder, Christmas decorations going up and traffic trying to figure out how to avoid traffic jams now that Mayor Hidalgo has closed two main thoroughfares to everything except pedestrians and bicyclists.
For me, it was Thanksgiving. My 4th Thanksgiving in Paris. My first Thanksgiving in 2013, My friend, Barbara and I went to the Hippopatomus for dinner then to see Captain Phillips with Tom Hanks. For Thanksgivings 2014 and 2015, I invited fourteen people to my apartment on the Saturday after Thanksgiving and we had a wonderful meal and went around the room each saying our special gratitudes.
This year, I am moving apartments. I couldn’t possibly entertain and also be closing up the apartment. A month ago, two good friends, American and French, invited me to celebrate Thanksgiving with them ON THANKSGIVING! That invite made my whole day seem different. Every time I looked out the window, I expected to see little or no traffic. I kept having to remind myself that stores were open. Only the thousands of e-mails I received informing (as if I was a Martian) me about Black Friday and Cyber Monday reminded me that this weekend is bigger than an American day of gratitude. It has been surpassed by a world celebration of Greed! of More!
The two years that I hosted Thanksgiving, I would go to the Thanksgiving store in the Marais and put in my order for a turkey. That turkey costs 4 or 5 times the price of a Butterball and the first year I justified it by telling myself I was the hostess and therefore brought the Poultry of Honor. After eating said turkey, I had no need to justify anything. Without exception, French turkeys are the best I’ve ever eaten. I’m told they are raised in the South of France, under very humane conditions.
Bill, our cook and host, preparing the turkey.
At the Thanksgiving Store, one can also buy Libby’s Pumpkin, stuffing makings, aluminum to cook the turkey in, all sorts of nuts, evaporated milk and most anything else that screams Thanksgiving but is all but impossible to find in Paris and certainly the rest of France.
You would have to have a subscription to SkyTV in order to see a football game and who knows if you could find something on at the same time. And because we have Thanksgiving dinner literally and not a mid-afternoon meal, there is not the usual constitutional before dessert and coffee.
There is something about Thanksgiving. Maybe it’s because it’s still Autumn and in many parts of the States, it is still Indian Summer. The leaves of many colors have floated to the ground, the weather hovers somewhere between crisp and delicious, my last 25 Thanksgivings in California have always had blue skies. It is a quiet day and usually a quiet celebration. Football fans are shooed to the TV room to cheer on their teams and the rest of us sit around the table in a relaxed fashion that just isn’t possible for most of the year.
As you can guess, it’s my favorite holiday. It reminds me to be enormously grateful for the abundance in my life, for so many friends in both the US and in France.
Are you an ex-Pat? How did you spend your Thanksgiving?
After Donald Trump’s surprise win on November 9th, Marine Le Pen, of the Nationalist Front party here in France, called him to congratulate him. She is hoping that the wind that has blown so far right in the UK and the USA will blow her into the Presidency of France next Spring.
François Hollande of the Socialist party and the present President, is extremely unpopular. The right (which in America would actually be the left) and the Centrist parties had a primary this past Sunday. The French; and exPats with French citizenship; stood in line for at least an hour, paid 2euros and made their choices. Alain Juppé, the Mayor of Bordeaux and a past Prime Minister-with a checkered past, was favored to win. Nicolas Sarkozy was one of the seven in the Primary and people were as much voting against him as they were for someone else. François Fillon, who surprisingly ‘won’ the Primary, got 44% of the vote. Juppé got 28% of the vote and Sarkozy got 20% of the vote. Juppé and Fillon will have a run-off this Sunday, Nov. 27. Sarkozy is out and Juppé and Fillon will be battling for Sarkozy’s followers. “They” are saying whoever wins the vote on Sunday will probably be the next President of France. That person will be running against Marine Le Pen and she will give them a run for their money.
Alain Juppé (courtesy of Reuters)
OF the two, Fillon is the more conservative. He was Sarkozy’s Prime Minister in 2007 and although the two didn’t get along very well, Sarkozy is throwing his support and his votes to Fillon. Juppé is more right (left) but has a very checkered past. It is unclear to me whether he did wrong or whether he took the blame for his President, Jacques Chirac. Either way, he has been a great Mayor for Bordeaux and, until Sunday, was the overwhelming favorite to win the Primary.
François Fillon—Sunday, after Primary (courtesy of Reuters)
As in the US, themes of economy, immigration and French identity, themes that Ms. Le Pen takes credit for bringing to the forefront, will be the dominating issues. Fillon also is advocating a nicer, gentler relationship with Putin’s Russia.
Ms. Le Pen and her followers are feeling more confident than ever that she will prevail. Those in the know say whoever runs against her will win the Presidency. They also said Brexit would never win and Trump didn’t have a chance.
Marine Le Pen, president of the Nationalist Front party (courtesy of Getty Images)
More to come,
While in California, I sent my downstairs neighbor a photo of the Golden Gate Bridge. I sent it the day after the election. Being somewhat numb, I couldn’t think what to say so I wrote “Greetings from Oakland” or something banal like that. When she received it, she texted me “Merci Sara pour la très belle carte du pont de SF qui sera toujours là après les élections….(thank you Sara for the lovely card of SF’s bridge which will still be there after the elections…”)
I had similar thoughts the morning after I returned. Sitting at my table, looking out my window on to the Seine and the Pont Neuf, I thought “this scene doesn’t change. It has survived bad kings, the french revolution, the terror, the commune, World Wars I and II, surely the left can survive four years of the right led by someone who is going to have to take a speed course on the doings of US government.”
And so my numbness slowly went away. My jet lag has been relatively mild, just sleeping a lot. I haven’t turned on the news. I was hearing horror stories of teens doing very questionable things to non-white teens in their schools. That was enough. I’ll get back into my daily life here and sooner or later, things will be very clear on how the wind is blowing in the United States.
I’m told one of the first politicians to call and congratulate Mr. Trump was Marine La Pen, she who would very much like to be the next President of France. We’ve called her the French Trump because of her stand on immigration. After Brexit, she was ecstatic and called for a referendum in France. She wants France to leave the EU. I don’t think she’ll be called the french Trump anymore, too superstitious. The French elections are in five months and eyes will be turned this way to see if bad things come in threes. Ms. La Pen has been building power as immigration becomes the most important issue for almost everyone. The choices, so far, are not great.
It’s a strange time. I was born in the aftermath of World War II, grew up in the Kennedy years, became a hippie in my university years and now have watched politics swing as far away from those years as it could possibly get–at least in a democracy. I’ve been extremely active in politics and I’ve been asleep. Right now, it seems to me that what is called for is living the best possible life I can lead. To do random acts of Kindness — because I can.
There is an opinion piece in the New York Times this morning written by Nicolas Kristof titled: A 12 step program for responding to President-Elect Trump. I thought it inventive and smart. I pass it on to you: