Category Archives: Francophilia

More Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte

It was probably obvious from my earlier post that I’m fascinated by Château de Vaux le Vicomte and its uber-celebration of Christmas. Since that posting, I’ve found a few more images and videos from the château.

First, there’s this beautiful short video from the Travel with Kat YouTube channel, which, btw, overflows with equally wonderful stuff.

View fullscreen. of course.

Then there are these pictures from the château’s website.

 

Finally, a revision of the official Christmas video, which is a mix of new footage and shots from the version I posted earlier.

Joyeux Noël!

Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte

My Mother, who usually started decorating for Christmas sometime around Columbus Day, would have loved Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte, although she might have found it a bit too restrained and understated. During the Christmas season, roughly mid-November through mid-January, she left no space untouched by toys and trees, tinsel and glitter.

I didn’t go home for Christmas as an adult. My painfully extreme introversion makes things like that simply impossible for me. But I saw the pictures, and, later, the videotape of what she’d created, and I heard the awed descriptions from one of my nieces: “It’s amazing! It’s like being in a toy store!”

Here’s a sampling of Christmas at Château de Vaux le Vicomte.


The Château is about an hour southeast of Paris. You can get there by public transit, using a train and shuttle, on those days when they’re not on strike.


This year’s “Vaux-le-Vicomte Celebrates Christmas” festivities began on 23 November and will be open from Wednesday to Sunday until 22 December. From 23 December until 5 January 2020, the celebration will be open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.


While the Chrstmas season is the most popular time to visit Château de Vaux le Vicomte, the estate is open to the public between mid-March and early November.

Well, maybe next year. The closest I’ll get to France this Christmas is having the $13 lunch special at Le Café Descartes, the cafeteria at the French Embassy.


Château de Vaux le Vicomte

This video begins with two or three minutes of superb drone views of the Château’s grounds, followed by some appropriately spectacular images from the Château’s appropriately spectacular interior. I have no idea why they decided to use what sounds like an Irish jig for the soundtrack, but you can always mute it if it gets too irritating. I sure did.

Need I remind you to view in full screen for the best results?

Added to My “Someday” List: A Stay at L’Hôtel in Paris

Oscar Wilde’s last words, as he lay dying in a shabby Parisian hotel, were “My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.”  At least that’s the official story, and who would want to question it.

Oscar Wilde has been dead since 1900, but the hotel, known simply as L’Hôtel, still exists. Wilde wouldn’t recognize it, though. It has been massively upgraded and enhanced, and now rates five stars and boasts a Michelin-starred restaurant (currently closed for renovation).

The wallpaper has been replaced, too.

The Oscar Wilde Suite

The Oscar Wilde Suite

If you’re in Paris in mid-April—which means you’re already living a charmed life—you can spend a night in the 35 sqm (377 sqft) Oscar Wilde Suite, for as little as €766 ($848). I can’t embed the hotel’s video tour of the suite, but you can watch it here.


Exploring L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

L’Hôtel

Reception

Reception

Chic Room

Chic Room

Mignon Room

Mignon Room

Grand Room

Grand Room

Le Restaurant

Le Restaurant

Le Bar

Le Bar


All images from L’Hôtel.

Moving Sale Find of the Year

For decades, this 8½ x 11painting hung over a hotplate in a kitchen in Compiègne, a small city north of Paris. It had been in the family so long that the 90-year-old woman who lived in the house said she had no idea where the painting had come from or how it had come into the family’s hands.

Last summer, the woman decided to sell the house and move, so she called in an auctioneer to assess whether anything in the house was salable. Everything else would be hauled off to the dump.

Philomène Wolf, representing the Actéon auction house, noticed the painting immediately. She thought it was a work of Italian primitivism, and urged the owner to get an expert evaluation. If she was correct, the little painting might be worth as much as €400,000.

Infrared reflectography confirmed the age of the painting and identified the painter. It was part of a work created in 1280, and it was painted by Cimabue, the 13th-century Florentine painter who is known as the forefather of the Italian Renaissance.

Last Sunday, the painting, now known as “Christ Mocked”, was sold at an auction outside Paris for more than €24,000,000—the highest price ever for a medieval painting.

According to The Guardian, “About 100 other objects from the house were sold for around €6,000 and the remaining furniture and decorations were disposed of at the local dump.”

Bistrot du Coin — Lunch on 13 July 2019

Still catching up with old news here….

My Bastille Day celebration continued. I stuck a Tricolour flag in a tab on my knapsack and donned my souvenir baseball cap from the Château de Chenonceau. With those essential signifiers in place, I headed out for lunch, humming a medley of “La Vie en rose“, “Non, je ne regrette rien“, and “La Marseillaise“, occasionally complementing it by singing my kinda loose interpretation of the lyrics.

Another day, another bistro.

Signifiers, used in the hope that strangers might think I was French. It didn't work.

Signifiers, used in the hope that strangers might think I was French. It didn’t work.

Dupont Circle

Dupont Circle

According to Google Maps, it takes about10 minutes to walk from my condo to a certain little French restaurant on Connecticut Avenue, assuming you don’t stop along the way. But Dupont Circle, aka le cercle de Dupont, looked so lush and green that I couldn’t resist the temptation to spend a few minutes resting on one of the benches, enjoying the pleasantly warm day.

I’ve lived a bit more than a block away from the Circle for almost half my life, and I’ve had more than a few life-changing conversations in the Circle itself. The Washington I moved to years ago is long gone, and much of the city is almost unrecognizable today, but Dupont Circle is a constant.

Bistrot du Coin

Bistrot du Coin

In a previous incarnation, Bistrot du Coin was a vegetarian-friendly, hippy-ish restaurant/bar that often hosted performances by local musicians. It was called Food for Thought, and it was one of my frequent DC hangouts. Now it’s a popular bistro, serving all the popular bistro standards. Conveniently, the site’s evolution mirrors my own changing tastes.

Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde

Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde

Lunch was rabbit stew with carrots, onions, and mushrooms, in light creamy mustard sauce. It was served with “Croes pasta”, and I have no idea what that means.

A very good meal.

Lately I’ve found that many American restaurant serving sizes are just too big for me. The thought of leaving half of this fine stew uneaten was unthinkable, if you can have an unthinkable thought. I took it home, where it made a delightful dinner. My Presbyterian Morrison ancestors would have approved.

Postscript: And with lunch, my Bastille Day celebration came to a close, one day early. When 14 July, the actual Bastille Day, arrived, I was too tired to celebrate and not hungry enough to go out to eat. I blame the late-night leftover Casserole de Lapin à la Moutarde, and maybe the two glasses of Chardonnay I drank with it.


*Or “another bistrot”. Both spellings are correct.

Scott and Zelda and Gerald and Sara

On the left, Scott and Zelda Fitgerald, sometime in the 1920s. On the right, Gerald and Sara Murphy at Cap d’Antibes beach in 1923.


Last week I made a passing reference to Gerald and Sara Murphy, the wealthy American couple who played a huge part in the literary and artistic communities in Paris during the 1920s, when Paris was the center of the literary and artistic world. “Paris was where the twentieth century was,” wrote Gertrude Stein.

Dick and Nicole Diver, the central characters in F. Scott Fitgerald’s novel, Tender is the Night, are based partly on the Murphys and partly on Scott and Zelda Fitgerald themselves.

Fitzgerald thought the book was his best work. It was the last novel he completed.

I mentioned that I planned to re-read Calvin Tomkins’ 1962 New Yorker article about the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds, and posted a link. I’ve just finished it, and it’s even more impressive than I remembered it being.  It’s a beautifully written piece about some extraordinary people.

Here once again is a link for “Living Well Is the Best Revenge”, along with my highest recommendation.


Bistro Bis — Lunch on 12 July 2019

After an hour or so at the “Infinite Space” installation at ARTECHOUSE, I headed over to Capitol Hill for a late lunch.

Bistro Bis

Bistro Bis

Bistro Bis is a 10-minute walk from the Senate Office Buildings north of the Capitol, which should tell you pretty much all you need to know about its clientele. The interior is beautifully done, with multiple dining areas on two levels. It’s a charmer.

Bistro Bis Interior (Image from Bistro Bis website)

Bistro Bis Interior (Image from Bistro Bis website)

Duck Confit

Duck Confit

I’d talked to a friend a few days earlier, and the conversation turned to duck confit, as my conversations so often do. It occurred to me then that since I’d titled my current life-improvement project as the “Bastille Day Revival”, and since dining well was a key part of the Revival agenda, there’d be no better way to start it than by ordering that classic French dish. And where could I find one of the best versions of duck confit in Washington? Well, it wasn’t simply chance that brought me back to Bistro Bis.

The duck was served on a bed of wilted spinach and beans, with baby shallots and a good gastrique. Excellent as ever. I could live on this.

Pommes Frites

Pommes Frites

I chose Pommes Frites, with spicy harissa and rosemary aïoli dipping sauces, for my side dish.

This meal made me happy. Thanks to ARTECHOUSE and Bistro Bis, the Bastille Day Revival was off to a great start.

A Faithful Man –– Official U.S. Trailer

Louis Garrel, my favourite French actor, reminds me of Joseph Gordon-Levitt and James Franco. Like them, Garrel is a hugely talented actor who has created a body of work that mixes intriguing indie projects with big mainstream hits. They all take risks and make often-brave choices in the roles they play. All three are about the same age.

With his new romantic comedy, A Faithful Man, Garrel has progressed from acting in memorable films like The Dreamers, Ma Mère, and the delightful Les chansons d’amour, to writing and directing one as well.

In A Faithful Man, Garrel plays Abel, whose partner Marianne (played by Garrel’s real-life wife, Laetitia Casta) tells him that she’s pregnant and that he’s not the father. They go their separate ways, and time passes. Eight years later, Marianne’s husband Paul is dead, and Paul’s little sister Eve has grown from a 13-year-old girl into an attractive young adult who has had a longtime crush on Abel….

It’s all very French.

Eve, btw, is played by Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.*

A Faithful Man was released in France on 26 December 2018, and opened in the US with a  limited release on 19 July  2019, and will expand this weekend.


*Garrel, Gordon-Levitt, and Franco might want to take cautionary note. That description of their careers in my first paragraph could once have been used to describe Depp’s early trajectory. Both personally and professionally, the last 10 years have not been good ones for Depp.