Just a quick walk down the road at the end of a June day in the South of France.
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
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
The seasons are turning. But I guess I should start with Hello! How have you been? It always feels overwhelming how much there is to catch up on but let’s say that here we have been busy loving a bright baby boy turned toddler, spending time with loved ones and friends, and just generally working at the great balancing act of life. Ya know?
But the seasons are turning now, outside and at home. My little love has started his first year of preschool. He is a bit past 2 1/2 years old and that feels oh so very young to me but now, in the third (fourth? I’m forgetting already!) week I am finally picking up a smiling boy at lunchtime instead of a devastated one. It feels both amazing (chunks of free time to get things done!) and heart-wrenching (my baby-who-will-always-be-my-baby, isn’t a baby anymore).
But these new free mornings! Oh do I have big plans. I am nothing if not overambitious with my to-do lists. And I can’t wait to share more on those plans very soon. First, though, I wanted to share my dusk walk through my mother-in-law’s garden, one of the first of many more moments to come I hope of re-tending that creative spark.
Motherhood brings so many things into sharp focus (and others are thrown out of field), perhaps none of these being more evident to me now than my absolute need for the natural world. To see it, to study it, to be near it, to be inspired by it. I need nothing more than 5 minutes and my camera in the garden to let my mind go and my creative instinct out. So here’s to more inspiration, and passions, and adventures coming up! Enjoy a little peek into the potager.
Hello again! It seems I haven’t mastered the working/being a mama with baby at home/having a life balance yet. Has anyone? Ha! But that seems like a post for another day. I wanted to pop in with a couple glimpses of the beautiful Sancerre region of France I took this weekend because, well, how could I not share this?!
We went for what felt like a super short visit to R’s grandparents because usually we get to take advantage of a long weekend at this time of year as November 1st (All Soul’s Day) is still a work holiday for a lot of French people but this year both Halloween and All Soul’s fell on the weekend. Dart! But we had two frankly balmy (near 70°F!) days and we tried to soak up those views as much as possible.
We also climbed to the attic and investigated some of R’s old toys for É which was so sweet – like opening a time capsule that, I’m sure, feels like it was just yesterday for both of us. This little guy was quickly adopted and I love his glowing red wheels with the pumpkins in this shot.
Despite it being only two days, we managed to squeeze in a bit of adventuring an visiting new-to-me places and seeing them in another light for R. The country roads – I don’t even know how to resist wanting to see what is just around every bend!
Sunday afternoon ended on the hillside among the vineyards looking back at the town of Sancerre as the evening’s shadow swept over it. It changes so fast at that time of day but for a few brief minutes, the fields turned an almost iridescent violet that I would have loved to drink in for a while. I only caught the tail end of it here.
There are even more images over on instagram because of course I couldn’t help from overgramming.
Here’s to November! I can’t believe it is here. But I’m trying to get myself into the holiday season gear because here it comes!!
May was full of not only long weekends here in France, but a strange mix of weather highs and lows. The weekend of (American) Mother’s Day corresponded to a summery high that made you feel like you were on vacation in your own town. I had wanted to visit Josephine Bonaparte’s home at Malmaison for a few years but the timing was never right – Malmaison is known for its roses and I really wanted to visit when they were in bloom. Unfortunately, we were a mere two weeks early for the roses that weekend but that didn’t bother us in the least because what we discovered was a fascinating building surrounded by wildflower lawns and bordered by a beautiful bois (wood).
The Chateau de Malmaison is not big like Versailles or perfectly conserved like Chenonceau but what makes it worth a trip is its visitable size (you aren’t completely exhausted by the end) and its fascinating history. Many chateaux in France are furnished as they may have been or were during the French renaissance or before but the Bonapartes’ chateau is from a much younger period and one that you don’t often see in such a context. Bought by Josephine while Napoleon was in Egypt, the chateau was decorated almost completely around the theme of military campaigns (albeit, the very rich and fashionable version) and classical and Egyptian motifs. This influence is in every detail – the arrow shaped curtain rods, the x-benches used throughout, the striped wall hangings – but what I found most striking were the wonderful and saturated color combinations in so many rooms.
On the first floor, one of the first rooms you visit is the billiard room which happened to be my favorite palette in the house – that wonderful verdigris green contrasted with the vibrant orange. Then the music room with cobalt blue walls lined with saturated red upholstered furniture trimmed with black. And everywhere, even on Josephine’s harp, the military detailing.
On the other end of the first floor, past the dining room, are Napoleon’s council room and library where the military imagery is on full display, the council room being swathed in draped striped fabric to mimic a military tent ornamented with regal eagles, lions, and mythical creatures.
When Napoleon and Josephine divorced, she kept Malmaion and lived there until her death. The upper floor is a mix of rooms that show her softer, simpler style and spaces that were converted to exhibition rooms after the house became a museum. On display are stunning collections of hand-painted china she commissioned displaying scenes of Egypt, artworks she collected from both classical and contemporary artists, and David’s original painting of Napoleon Crossing the Alps (originally commissioned by the King of Spain, four versions were eventually made).
The gardens around the chateau were converted to the English style by Josephine and remain beautifully simple and natural, much of the lawns being taken over by wildflowers. The gardens are also home to some remarkable trees, brought back from Napoleon’s travels.
While the Chateau de Malmaison is not the grandest castle, it is worth the visit on a longer trip to France for the uniqueness of its story and interiors. Access is very easy and parking is right next to the castle. But be sure to plan some time to visit the Bois-Préau next to it, planning a lunch picnic there is a great idea, because it will only add to the enchantment of the visit which truely feels like you’ve escaped Paris for the afternoon. Oh, be sure to take the well-done audio guide that is included in the price of admission. Although, you may be required to share as Romain was!
Avenue du château de Malmaison
It’s a sunny, warm Friday here and another week has melted into a long holiday weekend here in France (three in the month of May!). I’m feeling buoyed by a clear head and small victories (and the pieces of sweet strawberries Élie is feeding me) after a number of false starts yesterday. Choosing joy today! And so I’m looking forward to trying out a simple pickled radish recipe with these radishes this weekend, as you may have seen on instagram already. I anticipate pickled radishes on everything for a while!
So I’m wishing you a good Friday and a lovely weekend. What will you be up to?
The kitchen has been the hardest room to work out in this apartment. Not only is it tiny, it came with only a sink and the accompanying cabinet. That space under the sink was literally the only built-in storage in the entire apartment when we arrived!
As with all the other rooms, the kitchen had been freshly repainted, which was a blessing, but was still sporting a strange little makeshift wooden counter covered in worn and peeling contact paper. I ripped it out before we even moved our things in. Here are Romain’s quick iphone snaps of the empty space when we signed the lease:
Forgive his ghostly reflection. That window is the only source of outside light in the space and it looks onto a dingy open space between the buildings, getting no direct light what-so-ever. So apologies in advance for the poor light in all these pictures.
In French apartments, more often than not your washing machine goes in the kitchen and you bring all your own appliances with you. We had a fridge and washing machine but our previous apartment was an exception to the rule with a built-in gas stove-top but no oven. So for a few weeks, we lived in your new space with only a small counter-top oven for cooking. Luckily it was August and we were more than happy to eat most meals cold. Once the stove arrived, we started to really see how the space would function, not that there were a million possibilities! Here’s a picture with a tired pregnant girl for scale.
Ugh, what a sorry sight. We lived like that with no countertop until months after Élie was born when we finally had the time to construct a hinged counter to allow our top-loading machine to open, and to add two critical Ikea cabinets, one of which was the Rationell cabinet which I think has been discontinued? But the open storage wasn’t as functional as it could have been and Romain built boxes to turn the open shelves into drawers. Now there is so much I can store in this sliver of space!
Fast forward, here is where we are today.
So much better than where we started! Now even the tops of the machines store platters and baking dishes under the counter – every tiny space needs to be working hard here! But we aren’t done. The counter needs to be replaced now that we have a different front-loading machine, eliminating the need for a hinged counter. A piece of this may be cut for the counter next to the stove. Also on the list: priming and painting the open storage shelving, toes kicks, and the drawers of the Rationell as well as finding hardware for them and building out a coffer on the back of the countertop to hide the water shut-off and, eventually, spice bottles.
This wall of open shelving has been fantastic! We use everything on here in the everyday so dust is never a problem and unloading the dishwasher is so easy, especially since the shelves and dishwasher, on opposite sides of the room, can both be reached without moving. Tiny. Kitchen. They will be painted a pale gray color whose sample is on the right on the bottom shelf. The jars hold grains and flours.
The under-sink storage was difficult to access because a pipe runs along the wall on the right and into the cabinet. You can see in the first images, a notch was cut out of the right door to let the pipe pass but this meant that the door would only open about halfway which was so frustrating! Then Romain had the genius idea of making them large pull-out drawers instead of doors which has made them a thousand times more useful. We built three drawer boxes (one on the right for the trash and cleaning supplies) and two on the left (for pots and food storage) and attached them to runners. The doors and the knobs will be replaced; while you can’t tell in the pictures, the doors are impossible to paint and even after four coats are showing through so we decided to save our sanity and grab some Ikea kitchen doors.
You can also see that I covered that window with an organza panel from our first apartment together to soften the view. We installed an wall lamp and the function is perfect (it swings side-to-side to let the window open) but I think I’d like to find something with a translucent shade.
The fridge generated another big project: a big drawer to bring it to eye-level and create even more storage. Like the shelves and other drawers, it is waiting on paint and hardware.
By the stove, I hide our pans and trivets and even a bag for the glass recycling on a row of hooks behind the door. On the door itself, a hook holds a tray for bringing dishes between the kitchen and living room. Hung below the level of the window panels in the door, the only thing visible from the hallway and when the door is open are our AHeirloom Maine and France cutting boards, used at our wedding. We use them a lot for serving little treats and cheeses and cured meats for lazy weekend lunches. On this side of the kitchen, I need to figure out a backsplash solution for above the stove and a way to hide the pesky vent hood cord hanging down on the right.
While it may never be as grand as these spaces because a renter can only do so much, here are some of the images that I was inspired by:
(While I try and be a stickler about linking to original sources, two of these images, 1 and 4, seem to be from sites that don’t exist anymore but did when I pinned them.)
Airy, simple, white, gray, metallics, linen, wood, and lots of open, easy-to-access storage! If only I could get some of that natural light too.
We’re home! It was a lovely week of vacation but it is always nice to be home, isn’t it?
Capping off the week of family visiting with a few days at R’s mother’s house, we made the customary Saturday morning trip to the brocante (French flea market) in Orleans. It’s my favorite. For a couple of reasons: the prices are much lower than in Paris, there is more space to move around, the people are nicer (in general). But the best reason is that we never, ever walk away empty handed. Here’s what I found on this trip.
I’ve been on a frame kick lately, picking up any vintage frames I like, even if I don’t have a piece of art in mind for them. Like the ones I found this week, above, they are all pretty unique and if they have some wear on them that tells their story, all the better! But what they have in common is their colors (naturals, metallics, black) and styles (most are very simple profiles). This means I can mix them anywhere in our home and not only will they all relate to each other, they can help pull a disparate collection of images and art into a cohesive one.
This tiny wooden frame is a fairly common and classic style found in the brocantes. It will be so sweet for framing a dried flower maybe or a special ticket stub.
The find I was most excited about is this plate from a vintage animal book. The printing is lovely with crisp raised lines for the fur and the colors were applied by hand. I especially love the spots on the jaguar and the lynx’s blue eyes! The seller is one of our favorites and she had a whole pile of plates from this same book of all different sorts of mammals. It was difficult to pick just one.
This is for Élie and as it happened, the middle frame is perfect for it! I can’t wait to find the right spot in his room.
Two of these goodies, the blue enamel bowl and the wooden paddle (originally used for beating the laundry clean) will be props for photos but who am I kidding? I use all those props in the everyday too! And I don’t think you can have enough unique little vases for wildflowers, right? This little Sèvres one is a celadon green with darker green splatters at the bottom.
How was your weekend?
We’ve been having a bit of spring vacation this week so, instead of a Loving List, I’m sending you a Friday postcard from the center of France, in the Sancerre region. Charming farmhouses, rolling vineyards, and lovely green everywhere.
Have a wonderful weekend!