A la Maison Fournaise

Funny what happens when you let a story take you by the hand. This little tale started with a photo I found online a few days ago.

I looked at delightful Audrey Tautou, impersonating the great Coco Chanel, and I wondered how anyone could look this good, dressed as a man and wearing a black canotier (boater hat.) That got me thinking le canotier was the couvre-chef (headgear) of choice of many, starting in the late 19th century. The popular straw hat was most commonly seen in a much lighter-colored version, often adorned with a wide brim ribbon. Le canotier is a bit of a cheeky hat, and it tends to fight for attention with the person wearing it. Illustration:

French singing and acting legend: Maurice Chevalier
Daddy Long Legs: Fred Astaire
Lovely Audrey Hepburn

Coco Chanel knew she was on to something when she adopted the whimsical hat at the beginning of her career. All most women had known until then was the ornate, cumbersome, heavily decorated headgear de rigueur during la Belle Epoque.

From Eliza Doolittle (Audrey Hepburn)…
… to Coco Chanel,
(wearing one of her early creations in 1910)

 

Coco Before Chanel (the movie)
La Belle Epoque meets Chanel

Truth be told, Chanel adopted something that had been around for years, and made it her own. In the 1880s, le canotier became popular first with men, then with children and women. It was reserved for athletic activities: cycling, hunting, and horseback riding. In the early 19th century many indulged in a favorite summer hobby: le canotage (canoeing.) Boats – often handmade – were everywhere on the Seine river, in downtown Paris, and outside the city. I wrote a story about the illustrious river a few months ago, and I mentioned les Canotiers (the Canoeists) who discovered the joys of rowing and the world of boating. This was documented by artists, among them painters in the Impressionist movement.

Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894),
a good friend of the Impressionist crowd

 

Gustave Caillebotte

Canotiers in Chatou
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

It was important to look the part while rowing, and the straw boating hat, worn by the French navy crews, was adopted early on by all. This started among Parisians an enduring fascination with the nautical clothing style, in particular la Marinière (French sailor shirt.) 

A French girl all the way: Marion Cotillard

I could have stopped when I reached this point in my story. But there was more to tell. From the straw boating hat, to the Canoeists, I started thinking about how very few foreign visitors realize how beautiful the Seine river banks are outside of Paris. Most tourists will stay downtown (or take day trips to Versailles) but few will travel to the western outskirts of the French capital and follow the river, as it heads towards Normandy and finally flows into the English Channel in le Havre.

(photographer unknown)
La Seine near Chatou
(Y. Capelle)
Near Bougival
(flickr.com)

On the way, bucolic scenes await as the Seine meanders through small towns, Croissy, Chatou, Rueil-Malmaison, Bougival. This may not be the mighty Mississippi river, but I am guessing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have enjoyed following the old Seine, and exploring some of the islands discovered on the way, l’Ile Fleurie, l’Ile des Impressionnistes.

La Seine in les Andelys (Upper Normandy)
(photographer unknown)
Bords de Seine (Seine riverbanks) near Chatou
(Jacques Souben)

While I lived in Paris, I was fortunate to work for many years in one of these small towns, Rueil Malmaison. American Express France was headquartered there. The building – and my office – overlooked the majestic and peaceful river. I am happy to go back today, and to take you with me. This was the view from my office window for a while.

la Seine and la Maison Fournaise
panoramio.com
(Hebrard)


Très joli, non? Let’s get closer, shall we? We have arrived on a small island, l’Ile des Impressionnistes (Ile de Chatou,) connected to the towns of Rueil-Malmaison and Chatou by a bridge. There, time has stopped.

The “old” Chatou bridge (1870s)

The most famous building on the island is an institution of sorts, the type of place where one often thinks: “If only these walls could talk…” As a history buff with a healthy respect for the past, you know how much I love these.

Ile des Impressionnistes, Chatou
La Maison Fournaise

Bienvenue à La Maison Fournaise. This restaurant was a popular place in the 19th century. Remember our friends les Canotiers (the Canoeists)? This was one of their favorite destinations on Sunday afternoons. Every week, Parisians flocked to la Gare St Lazare and after a 20-minute train ride, arrived in Chatou, looking for a good time. La Seine provided affordable entertainment. Swimming and fishing were favored by all. Sunday boaters could also rent sailboats or canoes.

L’Ile Fleurie, Chatou
(Musée Fournaise)
Fishing party, Chatou 
(Musée Fournaise)

Artists were attracted by the exceptional light and shadows they found by the river where ancient poplars, willow and chestnut trees provided shade on hot summer days. La Maison Fournaise‘s guest lists reads like the Who’s Who of the Impressionist movement: Monet, Manet, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Pissaro, and the painter and art patron Gustave Caillebotte were all regulars. Later on, Vlaminck and Derain, the founders of Fauvism, opened a workshop in Chatou. Matisse visited them on a regular basis. There were politicians; there were intellectuals and writers, Guy de Maupassant, Guillaume Apollinaire. They ate and often stayed at La Maison Fournaise overnight. La Fournaise,” as it is sometimes called, is a piece of property purchased in the 1850s by a river toll collector, Alphonse Fournaise. Capitalizing on the new tourist trade and the emerging canoeing craze, he promptly established a boat rental business on site, with the help of his son, Alphonse Jr. Meanwhile, his wife took care of the restaurant and the small hotel in the main building. The most famous person in the family was lovely Alphonsine, their daughter, who counted many admirers and friends among the customers. La Fournaise quickly established itself as the epicenter of the Impressionists’ social life in Chatou. Through the 1870s and 1880s, the business prospered. The restaurant was known for its terrace, overlooking the Seine river and surrounded by an ornate cast iron railing; its murals, painted on the building façade by visiting artists, its food, and its clientèle.

La Maison Fournaise, late 19th century
(Maurice Leloir, 1851-1940)
Fournaise boat rental business, Chatou, early 20th century
(Musée Fournaise)
Maison Fournaise:
La terrasse (the terrace,)  today

Renoir, who stayed chez Fournaise on a regular basis between 1868 and 1884, felt inspired by the pastoral surroundings. He immortalized La Maison Fournaise in one of his most famous paintings, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party.)

(1880-1881) 

The scene depicts Renoir’s friends and acquaintances on a hot summer day. Some noticeable characters are the Fournaise children, Alphonse Jr. and pretty Alphonsine, both wearing straw boater hats, on the left. The young woman kissing the dog is Renoir’s future wife, Aline Charigot. On the right, also wearing a canotier, Gustave Caillebotte, painter, photographer, and art patron, straddles a chair. The painting captures the lively and relaxed atmosphere of the Impressionists’ lazy Sunday afternoons in Chatou.

Many years later, Alphonsine Fournaise took over the family business, but the restaurant closed down in 1906. A few years later, her father’s old boat rental business followed suit. The world was changing fast and many deserted the area. The building and grounds fell in a bad state of disrepair until the property was purchased by the city of Chatou in 1977.

Maison Fournaise at the end of WW2
(courtesy of the City of Chatou)

In 1982, it was registered as a Historical monument of France. The city received subsidies from the state and from private organizations (including the Friends of French Art in Los Angeles who restored the beautiful iron railing.) A massive renovation effort was undertaken from 1984 to 1990. Today, the restaurant has reopened and a museum is located in Alphonse Fournaise’s old boat workshop. 

The renovated façade 
(courtesy of the city of Chatou)
A message left by writer Guy de Maupassant,
restored to its former glory

I started working part-time for American Express in my early 20s as a customer service  representative, while I studied English at the Sorbonne university. I remember looking longingly at the old building across the Seine river – the restaurant had recently re-opened – knowing that I would be having lunch there sooner or later. After graduate school, I was hired full time by American Express, and there were many opportunities to follow in the Impressionists’ footsteps. Birthdays, engagements, or just casual Fridays: My friends and I would head over chez Fournaise, a short car ride away. In the winter, we had lunch indoors, waiting for the weather to warm up so we could finally enjoy the renowned terrace. The food may not have always been up to old Madame Fournaise’s standards, but the view and atmosphere were unmatched in the area. Ever since I moved to the United States, a reproduction of Renoir’s masterpiece, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party,) has been hanging on the wall above my desk, a reminder that I, too, got to sit on the renowned terrace chez Fournaise.

Many years later, during our annual visit to Paris, it was time to christen American-born Junior. We booked a private room in the restaurant before going to church. I was really happy to go back to my old hunting grounds that day.

Memories, memories…

Like so many other prestigious or anonymous visitors before us,  we had a lovely time chez Fournaise, enjoying a stroll by the Seine after lunch as Junior and his cousin ran along the river banks, imagining the canoes, the sailboats, and the artists who had sat outside and painted in the shade of the ancient trees.

Next time you visit Paris, why don’t you, too, follow la Seine all the way to Chatou? No need to wait until Sunday afternoon, or wear a canotier. The Canoeists and lovely Alphonsine may be long gone, but la Maison Fournaise is still there, by the river, waiting…

La Maison Fournaise (Renoir)
Alphonsine Fournaise (Renoir)
Renoir

I can’t leave Chatou, because my painting is not finished yet. It would be nice of you to come down here and have lunch with me. You won’t regret the trip, I assure you. There isn’t a lovelier place in all of Paris surroundings.
– From a letter Renoir sent a friend in 1880

A bientôt.

Afterword:

My brother, who is a good man, braved the cold on his bicycle this weekend to ride to the American Express building in Rueil Malmaison (he lives nearby with his family) and took several great shots for me. This one is my favorite. Merci, petit frère!

La Maison Fournaise while standing in front of American Express

 

11th arrondissement: a day in my old stomping grounds

I once lived in the 11th arrondissement before it became trendy. My first place was a 270 sq. foot studio I rented rue Alexandre Dumas, for almost two years. It was cramped, dark and damp (the only window faced north.) It had no proper kitchen. Like an afterthought,  a two-burner electric cooktop, small sink, and small fridge were tucked to the side of the short hallway connecting the front door to the main living area. A small bathroom with a narrow standing shower completed this attractive package. It was not much, but it was mine, as long as I came up with the rent money each month, my first taste of independence since I had lived on an American campus in Atlanta, GA, a few years earlier. I was already in my mid-20s then. It was not unusual for young Parisians to continue living at their parents’ because they couldn’t afford their own place. Things have not changed that much in the French capital I suspect. As an up-and-coming young executive working for American Express France, I loved my neighborhood, conveniently located near la place de la Nation, a public transportation hub, between two Metro stops, and a 10-minute walk away from a good friend’s apartment, rue de la Forge Royale. We worked together  and commuted to Rueil Malmaison daily. I look back fondly on these years, the friendships I made at work, the paycheck that came in every month and was enough to go out, catch a movie or two, and enjoy lively dinners at small local restaurants several times a week. Life was busy but good, and everything seemed possible. In April, while vacationing in Paris, I returned to my old neighborhood, in the heart of an arrondissement that is now part of the so-called “New Paris,”  to see what the fuss was about.

We will always have Paris

We will always have Paris.

As Parisians are still reeling from the most devastating terrorist attack ever experienced on French soil, the world has reacted with an amazing outpouring of support. For better or worse, Paris, Parisians, and French culture do not leave anyone indifferent. If there was still any doubt, it was quickly dispelled by countless comments found in social media, where foreigners recalled (often emotionally) their first visit to Paris, their second, or their third. To each of them, the attack on Paris felt personal, and only reinforced their attachment to the city. Traditional complaints about high prices, dog poop on the sidewalks, rude Parisian waiters, smokers and long lines, were forgotten, at least for now. As I read their testimonies, stories about friends, favorite experiences, restaurants, museums, or neighborhoods, I realized the terrorists will never win. Paris means so much to so many people. Parisians, for one, are stubbornly in love with their city and their way of life. The media showed some emotional scenes, tears, and even fear. Still, I was impressed by how calm and dignified most people appeared to be, even as police forces kept hunting down the last of the terrorists, and more violence broke out during a long siege in St Denis. I understood then, that DAESH won’t win. Fanatics can hurt and traumatize people; destroy lives and families, but they can’t fight against an idea, or in this case, an ideal. Paris is so much more, to so many people around the world, than just a city. DAESH can’t compete with that ideal, and interestingly, neither can Paris. I know many, like myself, have found much comfort these past few days, in memories of good times we have enjoyed at one point or another, in the French capital. 

This is my tribute to Paris, and what it means to me, the long-time expat, once a Parisian, now a tourist during my annual visits (It is based, loosely, on a story I wrote on the blog three years ago.) I hope you enjoy it. On a personal note, merci, for all your support and kind messages. It is heartbreaking to live abroad when tragedy hits your homeland and impacts the lives of your loved ones. The French Girl in Seattle community has meant so much to me, since the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January.

With gratitude,

Véronique, a.k.a. French Girl in Seattle.

We will always have Paris.

Today, I started thinking about how very few foreign visitors realize how beautiful the Seine river banks are outside of Paris. Most tourists stay downtown, or take day trips to Versailles, but few will travel to the western outskirts of the French capital and follow the river, as it heads towards Normandy and finally flows into the English Channel in Le Havre

La Seine near Chatou
(Y. Capelle)
Near Bougival
(flickr.com)

On the way, bucolic scenes await as the Seine meanders through small towns, Croissy, Chatou, Rueil-Malmaison, Bougival… This may not be the mighty Mississippi river, but I am guessing Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have enjoyed following the old Seine, and exploring some of the islands discovered on the way, l’Ile Fleurie, l’Ile des Impressionnistes.

La Seine in les Andelys (Upper Normandy)
Bords de Seine (Seine riverbanks) near Chatou
(Jacques Souben)

While I lived in Paris, I was fortunate to work for many years in one of these small towns, Rueil Malmaison. American Express France was headquartered there. The building – and my office – overlooked the majestic and peaceful river. I am happy to go back today, and to take you with me.

This was the view from my office window for a while.

la Seine and la Maison Fournaise

Très joli, non? Let’s get closer, shall we?

We have arrived on a small island, l’Ile des Impressionnistes (Ile de Chatou,) connected to the towns of Rueil-Malmaison and Chatou by a bridge. There, time has stopped.

The “old” Chatou bridge (1870s)

The most famous building on the island is an institution of sorts, the type of place where one often thinks: “If only these walls could talk” As a history buff with a healthy respect for the past, you know how much I love these.

Ile des Impressionnistes, Chatou: La Maison Fournaise

Bienvenue à La Maison Fournaise. This restaurant was a popular place in the 19th century. This was one of the Parisians’ favorite destinations on Sunday afternoons. Every week, they flocked to la Gare St Lazare and after a 20-minute train ride, arrived in Chatou, looking for a good time. La Seine provided affordable entertainment. Swimming and fishing were favored by all. Sunday boaters could also rent sailboats or canoes. Many dressed the part, wearing une marinière (sailor shirt,) and un canotier (straw hat.)

L’Ile Fleurie, Chatou (Musée Fournaise)
Fishing party, Chatou (Musée Fournaise)

Artists were attracted by the exceptional light and shadows they found by the river where ancient poplars, willow and chestnut trees provided shade on hot summer days. La Maison Fournaise’s guest lists reads like the Who’s Who of the Impressionist movement: Monet, Manet, Sisley, Berthe Morisot, Pissaro, and painter and art patron Gustave Caillebotte were all regulars. Later on, Vlaminck and Derain, the founders of Fauvism, opened a workshop in Chatou. Matisse visited them on a regular basis.

There were politicians; there were intellectuals and writers, Guy de Maupassant, Guillaume Apollinaire. They ate and often stayed at La Maison Fournaise. 

La Fournaise,” as it is sometimes called, is a piece of property purchased in the 1850s by a river toll collector, Alphonse Fournaise. Capitalizing on the new tourist trade and the emerging canoeing craze, he promptly established a boat rental business on site, with the help of his son, Alphonse Jr. Meanwhile, his wife took care of the restaurant and the small hotel in the main building. The most famous person in the family was lovely Alphonsine, their daughter, who counted many admirers and friends among the customers. 

La Fournaise quickly established itself as the epicenter of the Impressionists’ social life in Chatou. Through the 1870s and 1880s, the business prospered. The restaurant was known for its terrace, overlooking the Seine river and surrounded by an ornate cast iron railing, its murals, (painted on the building façade by visiting artists,) its food, and its clientèle.

La Maison Fournaise, late 19th century
(Maurice Leloir, 1851-1940)
Fournaise boat rental business, Chatou, early 20th century
(Musée Fournaise)
Maison Fournaise:
La terrasse (the terrace,)  today

Renoir, who stayed chez Fournaise on a regular basis between 1868 and 1884, felt inspired by the pastoral surroundings. He immortalized La Maison Fournaise in one of his most famous paintings, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party.) 

(1880-1881) 

The scene depicts Renoir‘s friends and acquaintances on a hot summer day. Some noticeable characters are the Fournaise children, Alphonse Jr. and pretty Alphonsine, both wearing straw boater hats, on the left. The young woman kissing the dog is Renoir‘s future wife, Aline Charigot. On the right, also wearing a canotier, Gustave Caillebotte, painter, photographer, and art patron, straddles a chair. The painting captures the lively and relaxed atmosphere of the Impressionists’ lazy Sunday afternoons in Chatou

Many years later, Alphonsine Fournaise took over the family business, but the restaurant closed down in 1906. A few years later, her father’s old boat rental business followed suit. The world was changing fast and many deserted the area. The building and grounds fell in a bad state of disrepair until the property was purchased by the city of Chatou in 1977.

Maison Fournaise at the end of WW2
(courtesy of the City of Chatou)

In 1982, it was registered as a Historical Monument of France. The city received subsidies from the state and from private organizations (including the Friends of French Art in Los Angeles who restored the beautiful iron railing.) A massive renovation effort was undertaken from 1984 to 1990. Today, the restaurant has reopened and a museum is located in Alphonse Fournaise‘s old boat workshop. 

The renovated façade 
(courtesy of the city of Chatou)
A message left by writer Guy de Maupassant,
restored to its former glory

I started working part-time for American Express in my early 20s as a customer service representative, while I studied English at the Sorbonne university. I remember looking longingly at the old building across the Seine river – the restaurant had recently re-opened – knowing that I would be having lunch there sooner or later. After graduate school, I was hired full time by American Express, and there were many opportunities to follow in the Impressionists’ footsteps. Birthdays, engagements, or just casual Fridays: My friends and I would head over chez Fournaise, a short car ride away. In the winter, we had lunch indoors, waiting for the weather to warm up, so we could finally enjoy the renowned terrace. The food may not have always been up to old Madame Fournaise‘s standards, but the view and atmosphere were unmatched in the area. Ever since I moved to the United States, a reproduction of Renoir’s masterpiece, Le Déjeuner des Canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party,) has been hanging on the wall above my desk, a reminder that I, too, got to sit on the renowned terrace chez Fournaise.

(unknown photographer)

Many years later, during our annual visit to Paris, it was time to christen American-born Junior. We booked a private room in the restaurant before going to church. I was really happy to go back to my old hunting grounds that day!

Memories, memories…

Like so many other prestigious or anonymous visitors before us,  we had a lovely time chez Fournaiseenjoying a stroll by the Seine after lunch, as Junior and his cousin ran along the river banks; imagining the canoes, the sailboats, and the artists who had sat outside and painted in the shade of the ancient trees.

Next time you visit Paris, why don’t you, too, follow la Seine all the way to Chatou? No need to wait until Sunday afternoon, or wear un canotier. The Canoeists and lovely Alphonsine may be long gone, but la Maison Fournaise is still there, by the river, waiting.

La Maison Fournaise (Renoir)
Alphonsine Fournaise (Renoir)
buy evening formal dresses
Renoir

I can’t leave Chatou, because my painting is not finished yet. It would be nice of you to come down here and have lunch with me. You won’t regret the trip, I assure you. There isn’t a lovelier place in all of Paris surroundings.

— From a letter Renoir sent a friend in 1880

A bientôt.

Maison Fournaise
A French Girl in Paris with her family, in front of la Fournaise (February 2015)
MaisonFournaise2
My nephews, playing by the Seine river, Rueil Malmaison, February 2015

 

Merci de votre visite.

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A bientôt. 

Paris in the winter

A French native and former Paris resident, I often get asked: When is the best time to go to Paris? Spring, summer and fall all offer perks. The Holiday season is a special time. Yet, after each of my visits, I am reminded of a valuable lesson: Paris is a great city year round.

Paris in the winter
Maison Fournaise. La Seine. Seen from Rueil Malmaison.

Look at this photo. This is Paris in the winter as many people describe her: Slate gray skies. Short days. Perpetually rainy weather. Chilly temperatures. Now look closer. Notice the light, the sky, low and soft, the peaceful surroundings. Notice the beautiful reflections in the Seine river. History is still there, all around you. Do you see it now? This is the mythical Maison Fournaise restaurant, and its famed terrace, immortalized by Auguste Renoir and his friends. For several years, as an adopted Parisienne, I was lucky to enjoy this view from my office window.

Do not discount Paris in the winter. Even after she has shed her spectacular Holiday lights, January and February offer many surprises to those who take the time to slow down and look. Of course, you will follow locals’ example and spend more time indoors. After hours of walking, you will welcome the chance to warm up with hot chocolate, or a cup of tea at a local café or tea room.

Paris in the winter
Le Loir dans la Théière, rue des Rosiers.

You will visit museums, and exhibits.

Marmottan-Monet museum, 16th arrondissement
Marmottan-Monet museum, 16th arrondissement.

Keep in mind that Paris awaits outside, as beautiful and mesmerizing in the winter as she is in the summer months – minus the crowds.

Paris in the winter
An empty [heated] café terrace.
EmptyRuedesRosiers
An unusually quiet rue des Rosiers (Le Marais.)

It is easy to forget that Paris has great bones when she is wrapped in summer foliage. The temptation, then, in the shadow of the trees, is to look around, more than to look up. In the winter, your eyes focus more easily on the elegant façades, the architectural feats, and the details.

Paris in the winter
Peeking through the trees in the Haut Marais, 3rd arrondissement.
Paris in the winter
Square du Temple, Haut Marais.
Paris in the winter
Mouzaïa neighborhood, 19th arrondissement.

How fun to return to summertime favorites and discover them dressed in their winter attire!

Paris in the winter
Reflections at Parc de Bercy, 12th arrondissement. 
Paris in the winter
Parc de Bercy: Maison du Jardinage, Vineyard.
Place des Vosges
Place des Vosges.
Paris in the winter
Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

In the summer, Parisians take the sun and heat for granted. In the winter, they live for those precious moments when the clouds part; and the sunlight wraps them up, bringing some warmth, revealing colors and shadows.

Sun and shadows at le Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement
Sun and shadows at le Palais Royal, 1st arrondissement
Paris in the winter
A bench with a view. Parc des Buttes Chaumont
Sun break. Place de la Bourse, 2nd arrondissement
Sun break. Place de la Bourse, 2nd arrondissement

Then there is the rain, the ubiquitous rain. Like most Parisians, I used to hate it, as I commuted to work. I would overhear tourists rhapsodize about it. I did not get it, but I do now. Paris in the rain glistens. Paris in the winter shines. Forget pollution and filth: The rain magically washes it all away, revealing those great bones, that once immaculate complexion.

Paris in the winter
Fontaine Wallace. Parc de Belleville. 20th arrondissement.
Paris in the winter
Rainy day. Belleville (20th arrondissement.)

Let’s give credit to Paris: The city makes even the rain feel special (if not downright romantic, according to some.) And so rainy Paris continues to inspire visitors and artists, old and new.

Paris street; Rainy day. (Gustave Caillebotte)
Paris street; Rainy day. (Gustave Caillebotte)

To quote Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux,) in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris: “Actually, Paris is the most beautiful in the rain.” 

A bientôt.

 

Under the Paris spell

 

 

The Holidays are here. Busy time of year. I was sorting through old photos this weekend, looking for inspiration for the traditional Christmas card. I fell into the rabbit hole when I opened some old folders and found images of travels past.

What is it about Paris? I slowed down, and started looking at the photos. Memories flooded back. I smiled. Once again, under the Paris spell. I thought these photos may remind you of special moments you spent in Paris, too.

My nephew, Jules, two summers ago.

JulesFontaineWallace
Jules et la Fontaine Wallace, Rueil Malmaison
La marchande de glaces
La marchande de glaces, Parc du Bois Préau, Rueil Malmaison

La Seine…

Mighty Seine
Je ne sais pas pourquoi on s’aime comme ça, la Seine et moi,” (La Seine)

Benches, café tables, so inviting…

Les Tuileries
Les Tuileries
Jardin de Bagatelle
Jardins de Bagatelle
Somewhere in Le Marais
Somewhere in Le Marais

My old office window by the Seine river,
and the iconic terrace where I celebrated many birthdays and special occasions.

La Seine, Rueil Malmaison
La Seine, Rueil Malmaison
Fournaise
Maison Fournaise, Presqu’île de Châtou

 

The people of Paris…

Madame et ses chiens
Madame et ses chiens
Parisians
Le monsieur à la fenêtre
Photo shoot au Louvre
Au Louvre

 

Remembering a memorable ride in a bouncy Deuche (2CV) with Junior…

Deuche

 

Place de la Concorde
Place de la Concorde

 

Riding the big Ferris Wheel in the Tuileries gardens on a sunny day…

Les Tuileries, the Parisians' favorite playground
Les Tuileries, the Parisians’ favorite playground
A seat with a view
A seat with a view

 

Taking many leisurely strolls  and getting lost in surprising, charming Paris…

ParisVillage
Peace in the big city, somewhere on the Left Bank
Making the most of outdoor space
Making the most of outdoor space

 

Lèche-vitrine, shopping, dreaming…

the art of French window licking
the art of French “window-licking”
Chez le fleuriste
Chez le fleuriste
Best candles in the world...
Most fragrant candles in the world…

 

A ta santé, Paris! Merci… for 35 years of good times and memories!

BubblyandParis

 

 

A bientôt.

Why France has been my favorite travel destination for more than 20 years

France was not always my favorite travel destination. First there was Spain, for a couple of weeks every summer. It was a family tradition. I always had fun there, on la Costa Brava, with my parents, my brother and our relatives. When that was over, we spent the rest of the summer with our grand-parents, in Southern France, and at home (wherever home was, because we moved every few years.) Then, as a middle school student, I started learning English and became enamored with Great Britain, visiting with my family – Ah, that first ferry crossing on the English Channel, the tall white cliffs of Dover appearing in the distance! – then on school trips, and later as a tour director for a European company, leader in educational travel. Finally, when I started studying the United States during my senior year in high school, I *fell* into American culture, an experience that would take me across the pond, over and over again, until I settled in the Seattle area many years ago. So many trips, so many adventures, so many happy memories!

France, I am almost embarrassed to admit, was never at the top of my list. I smiled when I heard that most French people spend their summer vacation in France, often staying with relatives and friends. “Why?” I wondered, looking longingly at the big wide world, waiting to be explored.

Photo credit: Unknown

Fast forward 30 or 40 years. I have led the expatriate life for more than 20 years now. I know I’ve been lucky to fly back home often. When I arrived in Seattle, I decided that seeing my parents or my brother was a prerequisite, a necessity, an unalienable right.  My American-born son would know his French roots, speak French, and be able to function in Europe. For me, at least, there was never any question. And so we flew to France, to Paris, (since they all live in Paris,) with the occasional side trip to Spain, or England, when we could spare a few days. After a few years, a funny thing started to happen. I wanted more. Paris, and the family were not enough. I wanted to see France, to go back to those cities where we had lived and explore new areas. And so, during each trip, I started stealing a few precious days away from family time, and traveled around la Belle France, cherishing moments when I could be a tourist, looking at my homeland with a renewed sense of wonder, as first time visitors do. How much fun I have had, falling in love with France all over again! Every summer, my American friends travel to exotic locations, or take long trips across the United States. I enjoy listening to their travel stories, but I do not envy them. If you gave me an extra week off, and enough money to cover my airfare today, France is where I would go, in a heartbeat.

Enjoying a French breakfast in Nice last summer

It seems I am not the only one enjoying la Belle France. This summer, (FGIS note: story written in 2014,) the French government announced that with over 84 million foreign visitors in 2013 alone, my homeland remains the most visited country in the world, and by a pretty large margin. The international media enthusiastically embraced the story and tried to analyze the reasons for France’s enduring popularity. I shared this article with the French Girl in Seattle Facebook community, and many attempted to answer the question: Why is France so popular? Opinions included: romance, art, gastronomy, history, cultureOthers gushed about “France’s allure,” and “the ephemeral feeling of Frenchness,” palpable all over the country. Matt Long, the story’s author, concluded: “France {Paris} fulfills the promise of Europe, even for Europeans.”

Fabulous French food: Le Café gourmand

I agreed with most of these comments. How could I not? So I went back to my favorite photo library, the place where I keep all these snapshots of favorite French trips. And I came up with The Top Ten Reasons why France is my favorite travel destination.

1. Food, glorious French food

Yes, it can be that good. I am not a foodie, but there are classics I crave all year, and happily indulge in as soon as I set a foot in my homeland. This won’t come as a surprise if you read this story.

Escargots de Bourgogne… et baguette
(you need bread to soak up the delicious,  fragrant sauce.) 
Galette bretonne (savory crêpe) Cidre brut de Normandie 
Salade périgourdine 

2. France is a modern country, where one can get lost in time

In the land of the T.G.V. (high speed train,) the soaring Millau Viaduct, and credit card chip technology, there is also a healthy respect for tradition. Often, the past re-appears in the blink of an eye.

Gardeners, Versailles gardens Orangerie
Looking at life through the roof of an iconic Deuche (2CV) 
A rose named after a beloved author
Jardins de Bagatelle, Paris


3. Hanging out in a Renoir painting (just another day at the office.)

La Maison Fournaise, Presqu’Ile de Chatou
(My office was in one of these buildings across the Seine river.) 
Maison Fournaise:
The terrace, as pictured in Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party


4. It’s all in the presentation

The French love of aesthetics is legendary. Everything in French life has to look/taste/sound just so, including the French language. An enduring (endearing?) quest for excellence, and elegance.

Jardin à la Française: Château de Bagatelle, Paris
Summer lunch, Gorbio, Côte d’Azur
Pâtisserie as art: Fraisier
Window displays in the nation of “lèche vitrine” (window shopping) 


5. France: Touristy yet real

Chers Français : How I love observing you as you go about your business, ignoring the crowds and commotion around you.

Vieux Nice  (Nice’s Old Town) 
Menton, le marché
Pétanque, Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris

6. Les Français : The people the world loves to emulate, but claims to hate, until they meet them

Argumentative. Critical. Feisty. Soulful. Educated. Direct. Culture proud. Welcoming.

Don’t change too much. You have your priorities right.

Shop window:
“I am close by. Call if you need help.” 
Spotted in a popular park:
“This area is reserved for strolling.
Joggers are tolerated as long as they don’t bother strollers.” 
Les Congés (summer vacation)
“In the summer, we take off.
We will re-open on Tuesday September 9”

7. Glorious outdoor markets

Every large neighborhood, every town has one. Food looks, smells, and tastes better when purchased at an outdoor French market. Don’t buy your picnic supplies anywhere else!


8. The French pace 

Taking the time to smell the roses without feeling guilty, ignoring those who criticize you (Les pauvres, they don’t understand,) feeling sorry for those who don’t know how to slow down (that includes les Parisiens!)

Reading…
Strolling… 
Eating; drinking; socializing…


9. French space: Small is beautiful

The French do grandeur like nobody else (Versailles? Loire valley castle anyone?) They also embrace the small, simple pleasures, and the quiet, reflective moments.

A small room with a [gorgeous] view in Toulouse.
A visit to the local market, a small table, and a picnic…
Lingering at a café terrace and watching the world go by
(for the price of a cup of espresso)
Sipping refreshing, affordable wine.
Realizing how happy you are at that precise moment


10. Things I know I will always find in France

A chair, a table, and a terrace, even on a small sidewalk.

A warm croissant and a chausson aux pommes wrapped in a small paper bag.

fragrant baguette, with a delicious quignon I will chew off on my way home



Wherever I travel – cities, villages, countryside – there will be beauty at every turn
Baie des Anges, Nice


La Belle France, the world’s favorite travel destination for more than 30 years — and mine.

A bientôt.

All photos unless otherwise noted by French Girl in Seattle

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Noël à Paris… Memories of [Parisian] Christmas past

Les Noëls se suivent mais ne se ressemblent pas (Christmas celebrations pass by, yet each one is different.)

Our family moved to Seattle in 1996, and slowly but surely, we settled into our new lives, building a career (le Husband) or a small business (Moi,) making friends, exploring the Pacific Northwest (on land or on the water) and finally welcoming “Junior,” our bona-fide American son. Houses have come and gone. So have good friends, as many expat families moved back home after a few years. One tradition has remained: We have been fortunate to fly home once a year, without fail, for the last 16 years. This has always been very important to me, especially after Junior was born. He may live 8,000 miles away from his grandparents and the rest of the family: I was determined he would know them, spend quality time with them, and be able to communicate in French with them. And he does.

The first of many international trips…
Junior, 11 months.

Over the years, Junior has been exposed to the French (and the European) way of life. He understands it, and, at age 13, is already a keen observer of cultural and linguistic differences. His comments on French or American idiosyncrasies are often spot on, and entertaining. The big challenge we face every year is to decide whether we should schedule our visit to France in the summer or at Christmas time. The Holidays are a special time of the year to be with family, and it has always felt a bit strange to be away from them then, as we were vacationing in a corner of the United States or British Columbia, or in sunny locales like Hawaii. It has been a juggling act, but we have made it work, I think, alternating the best we could.

This year, we will not be flying home to Paris for the Holidays, but Paris is coming to us. Le Husband’s mom, Junior’s grandma, “Mutti,” will be landing at Seatac airport in a few days. Junior and his parents will be happy to share an American Christmas with her in the Pacific Northwest. It will be fun, and fast paced, just like the Holidays in Paris. Different too. We will miss the rest of the family. We will miss Paris at Christmas time. Amazing how much I remembered, as I browsed through old photos this week…

Noël à Paris… There is quality time spent with family. Two sets of grand-parents. My brother’s family (and for Junior, cousins.) There are long conversations, punctuated with laughter. There are serious moments, as we catch up, exchanging information about relatives and friends. There are heated arguments (this would not be a Mediterranean family without them,) as we try to plan the days ahead, agreeing on a place to meet, on things to do while cramming four adults and a young child in a 700 square foot apartment. Good times.

Part of the family…
La Fournaise restaurant, Chatou.

 

Getting spoiled in Mamie Lyne’s kitchen…
and learning that not everyone lives in a spacious suburban home 
Getting spoiled, always, chez Mamie Mutti and Papy J.P.
Relaxing and watching French cartoons with Papy Zinzin…


Noël à Paris… Hanging out with les cousins and, for years, wearing matching sweaters, hand knit by Mamie Lyne.


Noël à Paris... Enjoying long, leisurely meals, in elegant or more relaxed settings, sharing animated conversation and French culinary delights.

Mutti’s Rôti de porc aux pruneaux (served with chestnuts) 

 

Jolie table de Noël…

 

Foie gras

Mamie Lyne’s Oreillettes (beignets)
Papy Zinzin’s “Escargots”:  For dessert,
or whenever Papy Zinzin feels like having them…

(photographer unknown)


And, bien sûr, une coupe of everyone’s favorite drink.



Noël à Paris… For Junior, experiencing Paris like a young local.

Avec maman, au jardin des Plantes

 

Museum of Natural History


Après-midi au Cirque d’Hiver (Winter afternoon at the circus.)

Cirque d’Hiver Bouglione

A traditional French circus: The traveling Pinder circus


Eating Barbe-à-Papa (cotton candy,) crêpes, and the traditional galette des rois (Kings’ cake.) 



Spinning for hours on les manèges (carousels,) available in many neighborhoods.



Navigating le Métro like a pro, climbing to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and learning about Parisian landmarks from the top of la Dame de Fer, (the Iron Lady.)

 

With Papy Zinzin and Mamie Lyne

 

Show ‘them tourists how it’s done, Junior!
“That’s one big city!”


Noël à Paris. Finally, le Réveillon (Christmas Eve,) arrives. The family has gathered at my parents’ and celebrates early so little children can go to bed before midnight. My brother’s family will be off at the crack of dawn, to celebrate Christmas day with his wife’s relatives in Nantes, 250 miles away from Paris.

After the traditional meal, the children get excited. “When will He arrive? Will we get to see Him this year?,” they ask. Le Père Noël. Santa Claus. “You need to look for Him outside, so you can welcome Him when he shows up.” the grown-ups reply. My parents’ apartment is on the fourth floor of the building, and my brother takes the children downstairs, in the cold Paris night, where they are told to be on the lookout for le Père Noël. Off they go, in their PJs and slippers, bundled up in their warm coats. Meanwhile, in the apartment, the adults scramble furiously to pull out of the three closets all the beautiful Christmas gifts, kept out of little prying eyes for days. Panique. Mayhem. We rush to arrange the gifts around le petit sapin (Christmas tree,) before the children return. After a few minutes, we hear them. Excited voices. The sound of little feet running out of the elevator. They come banging on the apartment door. We let them in. The children are out of breath, and seem disappointed. “We missed him. We did not see him. Has He been up here?” Then they hear my father’s voice, out on the small balcony: “Merci, Père Noël! A l’année prochaine! N’oubliez pas votre biscuit!” (Thank you Santa. See you next year. Don’t forget your cookie!) The children’s faces drop for a few seconds. They missed Him. Then they light up again. They get it: Santa is gone, but he must have left something behind. They push each other to get to the tree, and they see them, the beautiful packages. The distribution starts, children pass the gifts around, until everyone has received at least one. At long last, they go for it, and all we hear is giggling, excited voices, the sound of little hands tearing paper.

“This one’s for you, Mamie Lyne!”


Noël à Paris. There is nothing quite like it. Famille, Paris, la Belle France, as always it won’t be the same without you.

Joyeux Noël! 

A Bientôt.




Tuileries Gardens, from the Ferris Wheel
La Seine

 

Le Grand Palais

 

La Dame de Fer dans le brouillard
(Eiffel Tower in the fog) 

 

Eiffel Tower – Alexander III bridge

 

All photos, except otherwise noted, property of Frederick Savoye photography.

Please do not use without permission.