Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Musée de la Grande Guerre

in English under the line _________
Ce n'est pas si nouveau que ça. Ouvert depuis prèsque trois ans, déjà, le Musée de la Grande Guerre a reçu une couverture médiatique récemment. C'est vrai que cette année marque le 100è anniversaire du début de la guerre de 14-18 et la bataille de la Marne marquera son centenaire dans quelques semaines. En tout cas, nous avons décidé, il y a deux semaines, lors d'un matinée un peu maussade, d'y aller.Ce n'est pas loin de chez nous, juste au nord de Meaux, à peine 40 minutes de route.
Le bâtiment n'est pas beau. Je ne dirai pas qu'il est moche. C'est une boite, pas tout à fait régulier, posée sur des piliers d'hauteurs différent, donc en porte-à-faux, sur une parterre en béton, qui ressemble à une carte régionale. Le bâtiment est entouré d'un grand jardin. Dès l'entrée de l'espace, on entend des bruits de chevaux et à l'approche du bâtiment, il y a des bruits de canons. Le rez-de-chaussée par lequel on entre est le niveau technique: toilettes, consigne, snack-bar, ascenseurs. On monte au premier par un grand escalier pour arriver devant la billetterie et la boutique.
La visite commence avec un court film pour remonter le temps jusqu'à la guerre de '70, car pour les français, c'est ça le début. Il y a deux parcours: chronologique et thématique. Les deux sont bien fait et à la porté des écoliers comme des adultes. On montre bien l'indoctrination de revanche du côté français, l'industrialisation en vue d'une guerre de tous, les alliances qui liaient les uns et les autres. C'est déprimant tellement on voit des choses similaires encore aujourd'hui. Il y a des petits films, des présentations vidéo qui montre le rapide engrenage à partir de l'assassinât de l'archiduc à Sarajevo. Il y a des mises en scène de tranchées. Il y a des armes, des avions, des transports, y compris un taxi de la Marne. Il y a, à la fin, un épilogue qui montre comment la fin de cette guerre a alimenté la suivante. Dans les salles thématiques, on voit comment les civiles et les militaires on vécu cette guerre. J'étais très impressionnée par la créativité artistique des soldats -- fabrication des instruments de musique, transformation des pièces métalliques (douilles d'obus qui deviennent chopes, par exemple) et la gravure. Il y avait aussi la salle des soldats des colonies, la salle de l'engagement américain, la salle de la médecine....
Il y a, en ce moment, une exposition temporaire sur les troupes Britanniques (du pays et des colonies ou du Commonwealth).
Ceci complète les visites que nous avons faits l'année dernière sur des sites de bataille, et le fort et l'ossuaire à Douaumont. C'est une visite à faire.
About two weeks ago, on a gray day (and we've had almost nothing but that since we got home), Paul and I decided to visit the Musée de la Grande Guerre, which is not far from us, about 40 minutes away, just north of Meaux. It's been getting a fair amount of press recently. It opened on November 11, 2011, fittingly, but this year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, or what the British call, the Great War. France has been spotlighting this anniversary and next month is the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Marne, which took place, at this spot.
The building is not particularly beautiful, nor ugly, for that matter. It's a sort of box, not quite rectangular, set on pillars that are not all the same height over a concrete map. There's a garden, like a field, around it. As you enter from the parking lot, you hear horses and, as you get closer, cannons. The ground floor is the technical level, with the toilets, cloakroom, elevator access, and snack bar. The stairs lead to the ticket and boutique on the first floor.
The visit starts with a short film to take you back in time to the beginning. The beginning, for the French, at least, lies in the disastrous Franco-Prussian war, which they lost. Alsace and Lorraine were annexed by Germany and the French were bent on revenge. This is well-documented, here. As you meander through the rooms building up to the war, you can see the propaganda, the training, the industrial build-up. From there, the museum splits into two paths: you can go through the war chronologically or step into the rooms on the side for a thematic visit. There are short films and maps to show the rapid entry into combat after the assassination of the archduke in Sarajevo. There are tanks and trucks and a Marne taxi (a brigade of Parisian taxis was sent to the front.), planes and so on. They've set up some trenches so you can see what that was like. At the end, there's a bit of epilogue, showing how the end of WWI set the stage for WWII. In the thematic rooms, they showed the medical care, the gas masks, and just the daily life of civilians and soldiers. I was quite impressed by the soldiers' artistic creativity in the trenches. They recovered shell casings and transformed them into drinking mugs with elegant engravings. They made musical instruments from helmets. They drew and painted. There are also rooms dedicated to the soldiers sent from the colonies and a room for the American engagement, although I was disappointed not to see any mention of the Escadrille Lafayette of American volunteers; the room starts with the official entrance of the US.
Currently, there is a temporary exhibit that goes into more detail on the British soldiers -- how they were recruited village-by-village, the ones sent from the colonies and the Commonwealth.
This museum is a perfect complement to the battle site and Douaumont fort and ossuary visits we did last year, in June.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Summer is over

Not officially -- that's in a little less than a month. Not weather-wise -- it already happened, or maybe we just skipped summer. This morning, the British contingent left to go back to England. We had a lovely weekend with them. Constance is quick on her knees -- halfway up the stairs before you realize she's left the living room. If she can grab a hold, she'll stand up, but can't let go, yet. It looks like she's going to master letting go, soon, and will stand up without grabbing onto a support, soon after that. She almost stands up, now, but falls back to sitting just before it happens. We went for a walk, yesterday, and she talks (squeals) to all the animals she encounters -- dogs of all sizes, cats, ducks, and especially ducklings, swans, geese, pigeons. She loves the trampoline as she tries to crawl around while Aurelia jumps, as long as Aurelia doesn't jump too hard. And Aurelia loves the trampoline, not just to jump on, but also to do cartwheels and somersaults.
We celebrated Aurelia's birthday a week early, yesterday. She helped me make the cake and decorate it. She's in the "I love horses" phase and got a lego set -- a horse farm -- and a playmobile set -- a farm with a horse -- in addition to a diabolo, a fresh bag of elastics for the rainbow loom elastic bracelet fad (It's a fad, here and in England; I don't know about elsewhere.), and "My Little Pony". She's very, very happy! Anne spent the afternoon helping her build the lego farm buildings after doing her stint on the trampoline with her.
We thought Charlotte would be with us, too, but she's off finishing her vacation with her mum -- she'll have spent absolutely the whole school vacation in France, this year. We got to see her just at breakfast the day we left the Verdon, but since we're planning to go up to Northampton in a month, or so, we'll see her, then.
During the week, we went down to Gwen's parents' and spent a lovely afternoon with the family. Sacha is now pedaling a bike, with training wheels. The big step is the pedaling. He's also learning to balance himself on a bike without pedals, because the new theory is that one learns to bicycle better that way, without pedals and training wheels. When the kid gets the balance down and braking, you put the pedals on and he's off. Chloé is growing fast. She looks just like Sacha.
Instead of going straight home, which was the original plan, we spent the night in a hotel and went off to St. Aignan the next day. We stopped off at a wine co-op that Ken (Living the life in Saint-Aignan) recommended -- just across from Chenonceau. Nice; they gave us his discount and put the fidelity points on his account. We then meandered slowly to St. Aignan, where we stopped to look around and have lunch. The church is interesting. Ken has written about it and posted pictures. The lower part, the crypt, pre-dates the more recent (early gothic, 12th century) church on top. The paintings, apparently, were done later, but it is still amazing that they have survived. The main church is clean as a whistle; if there ever were any painted features, they've been scrubbed away. There were a few people inside setting up some decorations for something -- maybe a wedding. From the side of the church, there is a path to the Cher (river)-side of the château. We wanted to get the view - nice - and then continued walking until we got to the side entrance of the château grounds. It's a private château, but one is allowed into the courtyard. As you enter, there is the 10th century tower, followed by a beautiful Renaissance château -- not very big, really. In another corner of the courtyard, there is an 1830 structure, not nearly as nice. From the courtyard there is a majestic staircase that takes you winding down to the church entrance, and from there, back on to the main street. The town was empty. We stopped at what we thought was going to be a mediocre creperie for lunch, Le Crepiot. It turned out to be an excellent little restaurant that happened to serve crepes. We took the plât du jour, pork filet mignon with Meaux mustard sauce and pasta. They served wine by the glass and it so happens that the wine they served was from the winery whose grapes grow just behind Ken and Walt's house!
So, on to Ken and Walt's for post-lunch coffee. It's a pleasure to see them. When they come up to Paris, it's always one at a time, because Callie, the dog, doesn't like to travel. Ken took us over to the Renaudie winery, where we bought some more wine, we had our coffee and just a short visit before heading home.
The week before, we went to the Musée de la Grande Guerre, but I'll write about that later.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Les Gorges du Verdon

Les Gorges du Verdon
en français sous la ligne ___
Les Gorges du Verdon are sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon du Verdon, but in no way can the area be confused with what Americans consider the Grand Canyon!
Here is the wikipedia article in English. The river cut the river bed through layers and layers of sedimentary ocean floor. While it was rushing down the hundreds of meters of rock, it carried boulders from higher up and carved out these smooth curves in the rock and sometimes that led to deeper caves. Even before Neanderthal came along, these caves were inhabited by humans. Neanderthals lived there. Cro-Magnon did not live there because the glaciers had come back and it was just too cold for Cro-Magnon, who found a better climate in the Ardeche and the Dordogne valleys.
Claire showing Aurelia the oil
The Verdon is in what they call the pre-Alps or Basses Alpes. It's the eastern edge of the Provence region, east of the Durance river. It's a fruit-tree region, especially apple trees. There is also wheat, the hard variety used in pasta. Most of all, there is lavender. The best time to visit the region is before the lavender is harvested, before the third weekend in July. There's lavender and lavendin, but let's just say lavender to make things easy. The lavendin season is a little later than the lavender season and it takes 6 times more lavender than lavendin to extract the same amount of essential oil, so most of the production is lavendin. Apparently, you can use lavender essential oil in food, but not lavendin. How do I know all this? Well, the Plateau de Valensole is part of the region and we visited a distillery just outside the town of Valensole and the distiller explained it. He took a sample of from the condensing vat to show us the oil floating on the water.
Until 40 years ago, the canyon was all canyon and only accessible to hikers and rafts, but in the 70s a series of dams was built at Esparron, Quinson, and Sainte Croix and they created three lakes. The highest, the Sainte Croix is the biggest. We were on the middle lake, at Montpezat. We (Paul and I, Claire, Aurelia and Constance) were at a vacation village run by Belambra. It was fine for what it is, but not really my dream place. I'm not much into organized quiz shows before meals, the after-dinner parties with music blasting 'til 11. I did go to the aquagym sessions, though. The pool was great. The rooms were fine. I'm just not a great camp participant.
View from the room
The kids show, first week
It was a great location! The tiny village of Montpezat sits just above this vacation complex and is a delightful
place to go for morning walks. We also did little excursions to Riez, Moustiers, Valensole, Quinson and along the corniches of rhte gorges. I took a boat excursion on the lake through the gorges to the Sainte Croix dam. That's where I got my geology and pre-historic information. Moustiers is well-known for its ceramics. The industry had died out completely in the nineteenth century and a sole ceramist revived the industry in the early 20th century. Now, the town is 100% pottery shops. Riez was the closest town and has a good deal of its old ramparts and city gates, with the old main street with 16th century Renaissance homes. It has an enormous market and you can tell that it's not just for tourists when you see the hardware store in a truck on the parking lot.
Papa Cancy and the kids
A one-ring family circus was in town one evening and we treated the family to an evening at the circus -- very small family. The youngest performer was the 4-year-old boy and just learning his clown and acrobatic acts. The 10-year-old is well on her way, but still has a way to go. The younger girl, about 7, didn't seem much interested in making this her profession. Aurelia was very impressed and that's all that counts.
Entrance to the Pre-history museum
We went to Bargème, a midieval village that still has a very authentic atmosphere. It's hard to get to and doesn't have the touristy shops one finds everywhere else. At Quinson, another village with its ramparts, gates, Renaissance homes and fountains everywhere, we took in the Pre-History museum. It's an excellent museum, but perhaps a little out of range for children. There were some scenic windows, but not enough. When you see boxes of flints from 500,000 BC followed by boxes of flints from 400,000 BC followed by boxes of flints from 350,000 it's a bit overwhelming. However, you do see that there is evolution from simple flints to two-facets, to triangular; it just took a long, long time. There is also evidence of trade during Neanderthal times. Obsidean came from more than 1000 km. away in Italy, flint from 80 km. away. We didn't have Aurelia with us for this visit and I think it was a good thing. The entrance to the museum leads you to think that they cater to kids, though, with the Mammouth and tiger and other animals displayed. Kids might think they are in "Ice Age". For fans of contemporary acrchitecture, the museum was designed by Norman Foster and represents a flint. Not far away there is a "prehistoric village" which, according to Claire and Paul, who walked to it, is more adapted to children.
The church at Ganagobie

Lunch at Bargème
We ended the second week with a visit to Six-Fours to see the family. Aurelia got to swim with her big cousins and loved it. The two Maxes are her heros and the Lebelle and Dehaut girls cousins were perfect and I think they all were taken with her. Constance was a bit startled by everyone and hung to Mommy, but was still well-behaved. The meal was absolutely perfect. And more family came over in the afternoon, so everyone got to see Claire and meet the girls. We were very sorry to miss the cousins from Pau. Claire and the girls had to leave to pick up Geoff and Charlotte in Marseilles and we waited a little longer, but had to leave to get back to Montpezat.
At the Carrière des Lumières
A sarcophage at the Arles Museum
Saturday, we got to see Geoff and Charlotte and said good-bye to the Brits, who are staying on in the area before coming to us on their way back home. We headed west through Provence to Les-Baux-de-Provence so that Paul could see the sound & light show, Klimt and the Vienna School, that I wrote about not long ago. We also squeezed in a visit to the Arles Antiquities Museum before heading to Avignon for the night. At Arles, they dug up a Roman-period barge from the Rhone and it is in almost perfect condition. That and many, many urns and statues and sarcophages make it an interesting museum to visit, though not for kids who haven't studied the Roman Empire.
Street musician in Avignon
We ended the evening in Avignon, a short visit with Tania's mother and then dinner with Tania at a very nice little restaurant on the Place St. Pierre at the Coin Caché. A street musician serenaded the diners for a long time and played beautifully.
I have shared the full photo album with family -- if you didn't get the link, let me know.
Je ne vais pas tout résumé. C'est trop. J'ai parlé de ce que nous avons fait pendant les deux semaines dans les Gorges du Verdon en explicant un peu ce que sont ces gorges. 
Ensuite, la distillation de la lavande. Le plateau de Valensole, les villes et sites que nous avons visités. Nous avons vu un petit cirque familiale -- vraiment tout petit, mais idéal pour Aurélia qui a pu voir des acrobates, à peine de son age...
Les photos évoquent ces vacances et comme nous avons eu la chance de vous voir et de vous raconter de vive voix, je ne vais pas tout recommencer. Je partage l'album avec la famille, si vous n'avez pas eu le lien, passe moi le mot.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Just got home

en français sous la ligne ___
Before I write the post about the two weeks in the Gorges du Verdon, I want to show you what we came home to: no shopping for dinner!

The two smaller zucchini were just over and just under 2 kg.; the largest was well over 2kg. and the kitchen scale couldn't register the weight. We NEVER allow our zucchini to grow that much, but in the two weeks we were away, this is what happened. There were as many cherry tomatoes rotting on the ground as in the bowl. Two very large tomatoes fell into my hands as I was picking the cherry tomatoes. They were so hidden in the foliage that they are still white; I'll let them get some light to color them before we eat them. I picked the small beet for salad. 
I peeled and gutted the zucchini and cut them into cubes that are now in the freezer: 4.5 kg. I saved some for the tomato sauce. I made a tomato sauce with the cherry tomatoes and grated a bit of the beet for the sauce, per Emma's instructions. The rest of the beet we had as beet leaf salad, a few cherry tomatoes, and the rest of the beet sliced thin. Dinner was spaghetti with tomato/zucchini sauce and salad. Oh, I picked a few plums for dessert. 
Today, I've got to prune some of the shrubs and other plants in the yard; one can hardly clear a passage into the yard. The trampoline cover is waterproof, which means that all the rain last week collected on top and we had to empty that. I don't know how many liters of rainwater wasted; it was like emptying a large kiddie pool on the lawn that was still soggy from the downpours. It seems the Paris region got hit with more than a month's rain in a single storm and there have been several storms.
Later today or tomorrow, I'll write about the vacation.
On est rentré pour trouver le potager en plein production. Les trois courgettes pesaient entre 6,5 et 7 kg. ensemble! Je les ai débité en dés pour les mettre directement au congelateur, tout en gardant un peu pour une sauce tomate, faites avec les tomates cerises. Je laisserai murir les grosses tomates (blanches dans la photo, sur les courgettes) ; elles n'ont pas eu assez de lumière. Nous avons diné de spaghetti à la sauce tomate/courgette avec une salade de feuilles de betterave, tomates, et betterave en tranches fines. J'ai récolté quelques prunes pour le déssert.
Il va falloir tailler partout dans le jardin ; les accès en sont impossibles et il va falloir continuer à vider la piscine qui s'est créée sur la bâche de la trampoline ! Il a énormément plu la semaine dernière, parait-il.
Ca nous faisait plaisir de vous voir tous vendredi (vous savez qui vous êtes). Je tâcherai de vous faire ces résumés en français plus souvent.