Just a quick walk down the road at the end of a June day in the South of France.
I am always amazed at the intention some artists put into their work. The knowing before had. The wanting to communicate an exact message. Because I’ve always felt like the message finds me, and maybe only after. The theory I’ve been holding to for years now is that there are artists who are controllers, who use the art as a medium for a message, and those who are conduits, those through whom the art has its own say, whose hands are just a vehicle. For better or worse, my experience has been much more the latter.
At the beginning of April, a 24-hour flurry of shocked realization and panicked travel ended in my being on a high speed train in the middle of France when my father passed away in my home town in Maine. It’s something I’m still grappling with. Some have assured me I may always and others that it well ease. Still a month and a half later, the one thing I know for sure is: I don’t understand. I traveled home with Élie and spent a month trying to manage for my mother what I could of the unimaginable to do list. But now I’m back in the south of France, in a home that’s still so new to the three of us.
I want to write about him, but I’m sure you’ll understand, I haven’t sorted those thoughts out yet. It seems so massive. And it also felt wrong to acknowledge other topics here before giving it the time it deserves. But I can hear Dad, I can hear him saying “That’s ridiculous.” I can hear him wanting me to keep doing. To be honest, it’s a conversation I have with myself daily. So I began to think maybe it didn’t matter what I started with, just share something small. Get back at it. Try not to worry so much about the perfect thing, perfectly done.
I’ve always followed Jamie Beck’s work but last weekend something struck me harder than usual in an image of hers that came up in my Instagram feed. I started pouring over her beautiful work and it has sparked a number of things including a fascination with working in black and white that I want to practice and explore. So I picked up the camera, hoping to get to that place where it becomes an extension of my hand and I feel a symphony starting to tune up, knowing that something good is being made.
It wasn’t until I was pressing the shutter button, but really and truly once I edited them to black and white on my screen, that I realized what was being said in these two images. But suddenly I realized that they weren’t accidental, that without my consciously knowing it, they were talking about where my heart is right now. A conversation about feeling the passage of time. About the layers that build up from time and experiences. A life lived. But even more, about the speed of a blink of an eye, the time we have here on Earth. Something I’ve always felt so keenly and struggled with greatly. Something thrown into sharp contrast when my father, as the French say, disappeared. Once again, I was the conduit to a greater something’s message.
So I am going to try to be braver. Make more. Think less about why and when. Because, I need to.
First, I’d like to apologize to email subscribers for the various ‘test’ posts yesterday. My fingers are crossed that we have definitively rectified the issue that was preventing me from publishing this post two days ago!
Hello Spring! Hello you!
What a whirlwind since my last post. Moving across the country is no easy task and while we didn’t have any horrible issues arise, it was hard, very stressful, and very physically taxing and I think we are just recovering now, a few weeks after the move.
Here we are, though, in the famous Occitane region of France and trying to re-find our footing. We haven’t changed countries but the culture is a bit different and, even more than that, we went from one of the most densely populated areas in Europe (with the transportation to match) to a small country village about 25 minutes from the city. A lot of changes come with that. We feel less harried and there is so much more sun. The people smile and say hello when you pass on the street and the expansive landscape is covered in the low, silvered flora of a hot region. The Roman Empire is still palpably here.
But the stores close earlier and we have access to just the basics in town, though of a very good quality. The bus only comes by a few times a day and I have no French driver’s license yet. We spend the weekends running around doing errands and trying to find our patterns, the ‘regulars’ that we had figured out ages ago in Paris. I can’t wait to get back to a point where Saturday isn’t only about shopping and errands and more about exploring! And that sunny 75°F in March is making me panic a bit about what that means for August!
On pictures and location alone we rented an old stone house in a the center of the village (that stone should help immensely in August!). We’re almost lost in it as we went from a two bedroom, compact apartment to a four bedroom two story house with a deck. I’m not complaining, though. We’ll adjust!
It’s a huge change for all three of us apartment dwellers but I think that now that most of the boxes have been unpacked, and a modicum of organization has made the space functional, we’re starting to settle in a bit. So today I wanted to share what the space looks like now because I have big plans over time (got to let the bank account recover after the move 😉 ).
Come on in? (And while I ran around straightening a bit before snapping these, this is real life so please excuse the clutter/mess/laundry!)
The first floor is an open plan dining and living room with whatever original finishes it had now renovated over. Everything is tiled here in the south and that has been one of the biggest adjustments for me honestly, not only because it’s really not my favorite look or color but also because it is so hard on the joints walking on the cold hard tiles all day. My knees and feet were in so much pain that first week and a half with so much walking to work on the boxes! So I’m not sure how we’ll approach that aspect yet but I think we need a billion rugs.
The kitchen is off the dining area and it’s huge! The layout is an odd inverted L because of a powder room off the dining area but it’s roughly 6 times larger than what we had before so all thumbs up! The beige tile follows us in here with sand colored cabinets, strangely purple laminate counters, and an orangey beige tile backsplash all pulled together with my least favorite paint color: peach. But not a sweet, airy peach, this is kind of muddy as a color and the symphony of all those beige/sand family hues is just not inspiring anyone around here. But we are only renters so I have some creative plans up my sleeve!! The wall sticker on the back wall drove me nuts when we first got here (pepper & salt). The color, the kerning, the reasoning (?), and the order (SALT & pepper!) made me crazy. But when I started to pull off the letters, beginning with ‘T’, I stopped because Pepper & Sal sounded like some crazy friends of Mitch and Cameron on the Modern Family and now I’m thinking of it as their kitchen. 😉 Also, our stove is currently just a countertop as we have a new oven under the counter where the stove is.
Off the kitchen is a small garage (the door by the stove) and a second full bath that is a bit ‘vintage’ but will mostly serve as a laundry/utility room for us. (A disaster right now!)
Back in the living room area is a door to another small garage (!) and the stairs to the second floor. More tile! Cat on a suitcase!
At the top of the stairs a door on the right goes out to the deck over the second garage and a loooong hallway goes off to the left leading to the bedrooms and bathroom.
Here starts what is left of the original stone floors which are beautiful and run through the closet, Élie’s room,
and our room.
Further down the hall the flooring changes back to beige tile in an open space in the hall and the bathroom and toilet.
The tile in these rooms is the strangest greeny-beige color with an accent stripe. While the space (our previous bathroom was less than a yard wide) and that gloriously big tub/shower are making us so happy, I have plans to soften the effect of all that tile!
Around the corner and at the end of the hall are two stairs up to the third and fourth bedrooms and our third and fourth types of flooring.
Confusing, right? This space is really big actually but we think it was added on from the neighboring property or at least vastly changed because it is on three levels (partially to accommodate the garage below) and, since you have to go through the third bedroom to access the fourth and there are no doors, I suppose it isn’t technically two rooms but the amount of space sure is! That first room is my new office and studio and I am so thrilled to have that space!! Now it just needs to be made functional.
The mezzanine of the fourth bedroom (finally some wood flooring!) will be R’s office and the lower level (currently É’s “new home” as he calls it) will be a guest room. Again, we’ll be needing a lot of rugs, and furniture!
(That DIY runner is from the old apartment and doesn’t even make it halfway down the length of this hall!)
So you’ve had the tour! So much potential, right? I’ve got a lot of ideas brewing and I’m looking forward to finally getting them sorted out and start planning these spaces to fit our family now that we’re mostly out of the boxes. Here’s to spring and new beginnings!
P.S. These are all iPhone pics but I’ll have more and better shots of the region to share soon!
The weekend before last we went to the Louvre. If you’ve stuck with me this long, you might remember that we went all the time before parenthood changed our schedules. We had the amazing annual membership for those up to 30 years old (if you live in Paris and that description fits you, get it!) and we would meet after work for the Friday late night openings and just wander.
The year I was pregnant with Élie was the same year they held the campaign to raise funds for the restoration of Winged Victory, my favorite sculpture, and, as you could donate in someone else’s name, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to donate in the new a baby’s name!” But É was due in January and we didn’t even know that he would be É since we were waiting to find out the baby’s sex.
I waited until that last minute anyway. Just in case. And what do you know, the baby was in a rush and made December 26th his birthday! So his first action on Earth (after stealing our hearts) was to help, in a small way, preserve that statue for many more years of visitors to one of our favorite places and I really, really love that. But we had never gotten to go see it with him and see the work that was done. We finally checked that off the list two Sundays past.
I’ve started to feel an intense necessity to do all those things we haven’t done yet here or try all those restaurants I follow on Instagram or go back to our favorite spots in the city for a visit because 2017 is taking us away from Paris and into the south. We are moving! Sooner than R expected, MUCH sooner than I expected. I could write quite a bit about how being an expat has been for me, my love/hate (sometimes really hate) relationship with this city that everyone else seems to have stars in their eyes about, and how wrenching it feels to finally be leaving it but I will save that for some other posts, because it does bear talking about.
The past month or so was been a blur of trying to wrap my head around this, a job interview for R, thinking, talking, thinking more, holidays, visiting our new city, Montpellier, scouting places to live, negotiations for a rental, prepping for and hosting visits of our current apartment, coordinating moving company quotes, and I don’t even remember what else. We’re sad to leave this little apartment that we love in a suburb we finally felt home in but come late February we will be starting a whole new adventure of living in a small village near Montpellier in the south and renting a whole and entire HOUSE! I haven’t lived in a single family house since I was two. Those are things we are pretty excited about! So while we try to soak up every second we can here, I’m also dreaming of spreading out in my own space for a studio/office in the new home. And I’m looking forward to sharing all those fun new things here on the blog come spring.
So cheers 2017, let’s make it a good one! I have so many thoughts and dreams to turn into plans but for now I’m wishing you all the best of years and hoping you’ll spend some of it following along here as we set off into new waters!
It’s been months since our visit in February to the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes. But as the weather gets colder, and we turn back to the indoors, I wanted to share this jewel box of a museum.
With four floors, there is a lot to see. The first floor is dedicated to species of the sea and the second to those of the land but the top two floors take a more philosophical approach with exhibits on man’s effect on the environment and evolution, and the mechanisms of evolution.
On our visit, we began with the second floor and its signature parade of exotic animals.
(Look at that little pudge! It’s always hard to believe how much they change in a few months. Élie was fascinated, especially by the elephants which he loves, but when the automated recording of an elephant trumpeting activated, he clung to his Papa for dear life, despite the volume being well adjusted to the space and not overly loud.)
The second floor opens above to the soaring ceiling, the top two floors being large balconies that run the entire perimeter of the space. You don’t notice it at first, it is so natural seeming, but that ceiling and the walls of the second floor are fitted with lighted panels that gradually change color and intensity to mimic a day on the savanna changing into evening. Sounds of insects and birds float through the space until you suddenly realize that is has become quite quiet and the panels have turned an ominous blue gray. The sound of a sudden downpour and thunderstorm sweeps through the floor as flashes of lightning travel across the ceiling. Then, as suddenly as it arrived, the storm is over and the panels melt into the soft colors of a rainbow after the storm. It is brilliant. And magical. Eventually the panels fade to a quiet night with crickets providing their song only to eventually start again with a dawn breaking and the day beginning. It is a testament to the place that the guards we encountered took great delight in telling us the little details not to be missed, like the one who smiled and told us “A storm is coming but watch the ceiling, there is a rainbow after!” when we noticed the change in atmosphere.
Of course, every kind of animal can be find here from the large and impressive to the tiny and delicate. And not just animals, plants are just as important in this story.
The backdrop of the exhibits, the building itself, is just as much a reason to visit as what is on display. Built in 1889, the museum was actually closed for years between 1965 and its reopening, relatively recently, in 1994. It has that wonderful, moody mix of its time: the elements of classical architecture refracted through the lens of the industrial revolution and the age of steam.
So there you have a peek into this treasure of Paris. It’s a wonderful place to visit and wander, and a perfect museum for children, too. Definitely put it on your list for a day indoors and check their website for film showings for both adults and children.
And I had to share these chairs for visitors to rest in because I just loved their design – such a perfect mix of echos of the space’s architecture and a modern sensibility!
36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 70005 Paris
Jardin des Plantes
Last time I was at my favorite brocante, one of the last things I picked up, arms full of bags and a toddler, was a bamboo folding table. For me, the best way to go at the flew market is with your gut: do you love it? Go with it! Are you not sure? Walk away. This method has never led me astray in almost ten years of brocanting. Do not over think it! So when the price was great and I didn’t have much to lose, I grabbed this little table knowing I’d figure out what to do with it when the time was right.
In the mean time, I decided to give myself the challenge of styling the table for two different set-ups: one as a bedside table and the other as a little writing desk using only what I had access to already at the house.
I love this as a bedside table. If you have the space, it feels luxurious to have such a large surface to keep some of your favorite things nearby while still having space for the necessities.
For me, those necessities are a place to have a glass of water at the ready and a dish for taking off jewelry at the end of the day. For years now, my favorite type of dish for that has been these beautiful vintage salt and pepper dishes! While I don’t keep pinch bowls of salt and pepper for daily use, the little bowls of these dishes are perfect for rings and earrings.
Add books, a focal piece of artwork, maybe a favorite photograph (that one is my husband as a wee one!), and some green and you’ve a bedside table that is useful and inspiring!
I think we would all like to be better at finding the time to write notes and thank yous by hand. The time you spend thinking of someone while putting pen to paper creates something that feels so much more special than a digital note. I’m pretty sure if I had a pretty little writing spot like this, I’d be better at it, non?
Favorite books and some to pull inspiring quotes from, a box for stamps, envelopes, and writing tools, and some cards ready to be addressed. What else does a writing desk really need? Oh, that pretty little box will be in the shop Friday!
It was wonderful to sneak in the time to try these two set-ups and I’d love to try to find time (and space!) to do more. When I bought this table, I first pictured it for plants and artwork, but who knows how it will end up being used! What do you think?
A special note of thanks to my assistant, above. I could have done it without you. But it maybe wouldn’t have been as much of a challenge. 😉
To celebrate Small Business Saturday there’s a sale in the Brocante Moderne shop! 15% off + free gift wrapping on orders of 30€/$32 or more from now through Cyber Monday. Hurry over as this is the only sale of the season!
Also, beautiful limited edition gift wrapping is now available to add on to any order during the holiday season, one less thing on your to do list, right? 😉
Here’s a peek at some of the latest editions to the shop (click the pictures to go right to the listings). Hop on over! And happy weekend!
It’s not the first time we’ve been to Chenonceau, and, you might remember, not the first time I’ve written about it (1 & 2). But it is one of those places that you hold dear to your heart. There is something about it besides its location spanning the beautiful Cher River, or its grand but comfortable dimensions, or even its ornate detail. It must be its soul.
Halloween day turned out to be a glorious sunny day in central France and, lucky us, R and I had planned to leave É and his Mamette to have fun for the day while we went our way. The first time we’ve been gone that long since he was born I think.
It was autumn, my favorite season, and I knew I wanted to go soak up the inspiration and beauty of my favorite chateau. That we needed that. Luckily R was in complete agreement and, to our surprise, we realized it had been more than 5 years since our last visit, after our French wedding in 2011. So we set out for Chenonceau.
The Chateau dates to the 16th century when Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet demolished the existing castle and mill to build the chateau we see today, minus the wing spanning the river. Katherine supervised the work and incorporated modern art and design, like the flights of straight rather than spiral staircases, a model brought from Italy.
Katherine lived for just two years longer after the castle was finished but she said and had carved into the doors, along with their initials ‘TBK’, this saying: “S’il vient à point, me souviendra” (If it is completed, I will be remembered). I think she succeeded.
Known also as the ‘Chateau des Dames‘ (castle of the ladies), Chenonceau was seized by the crown from Katherine’s son for unpaid debates and King Henri II’s mistress, the famous Diane de Poitiers took up residence. She oversaw the building of the wing over the river, at that time a bridge, and extensive flower and vegetable gardens. While she was particularly fond of Chenonceau, she was forced to give it back to Henri’s widow at his death, Catherine de Medici, who transformed the bridge into a 2-story wing where she hosted spectacular fêtes and balls. The first fireworks seen in France were displayed over Chenonceau.
The clever contraption above has a weight on the other end of the rope which hangs out the window over the river. As the weight drops down, the movement rotates the spits on the fire in the kitchen!
The bedroom on the second floor where this arrangement was is called the Five Queens Room for Catherine’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law, one of whom was Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots. There were so many people visiting I wasn’t able to photograph them, but Mary’s guards left fascinating graffiti carved in the chapel walls on the first floor, including “Man’s anger does not accomplish God’s justice.”
Year-round the chateau is filled with the amazing arrangements of Jean-François Boucher. They are always perfection and are an integral part of what keeps the chateau and its history alive for visitors. You can follow his work on Instagram.
The line of ladies of Chenonceau continued when Louise de Lorraine withdrew to mourn her husband, King Henri III, to this room on the top floor in 1589. With black walls adorned with the symbols of mourning and dark textiles, Louise would have glowed in royal white mourning clothes in this room. While hers was the last royal residence of the chateau, the line of women mistresses continued even through the World Wars when Chenonceau played an important role as a hospital.
Here I promised myself that I would offer a visual tour of our time at Chenonceau and not go into too much written detail! But I love this place and its history is such a fascinating and important part of its soul.
If you can, plan your visit to the chateau so as to finish in the dying light of the day before you leave. The magic of the windows spilling golden light onto the gardens and river is not to be missed! Like being able to peek in to see the household of Catherine de Medici bustling around preparing for the evening meal to be laid. The past still lives here.
open year round with special decorations for the holiday season