25 October 2021

More Pirou pictures

It's funny. I have two Michelin Green Guides for Normandy, one in French with a copyright date of 1981, and another in English with a 1996 copyright. In the French-language guidebook, there's no entry for the château de Pirou at all — Pirou doesn't appear in the index. But it's there in the newer English-language book. Apparently the château underwent a long restoration between 1968 and 1994. I guess that was when it was opened to the public and got into the guidebooks. If you want to read about Pirou, you can do so in French here and in English here. Don't miss the story about the geese... On either Wikipedia page you can see a lot more photos of the château. Here are some more of CHM's photos from 1998.

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Here's the story about that English-language Michelin Guide. It was on one of those days in August 1998 when CHM and I were driving around seeing the sights in Normandy that we decided we needed a guidebook. We stopped in a little bookstore/newstand in some little town to buy one. The woman running the shop apologized and said she had only the English-language book; she had sold out of the French-language book. CHM and I looked at each other, then looked at her and smiled, saying we would do fine with the English book. I've still got that one.

24 October 2021

Le château de Pirou, en Normandie

The château de Pirou is about 60 kilometers north of the Mont Saint-Michel and 30 km south of the town called Barneville-Carteret. Towns of note are Avranches, Granville, Coutances, Cherbourg, and Barfleur, all along the Cotentin coast. The château was built in the 12th century, replacing an older "fort" built of wood.


CHM, our friend and former DC colleague Jeanine (who had a house in Carteret), her old friend Andrée, and I spent a day or two touring around in the area in August 1998. Pirou was one of the first places we went to see. The image above is a composite, stitched together from two separate photos.

Below are some of CHM's other photos of Pirou that he took that day. I'm in two of the pictures, and in one I'm standing between Jeanine and Andrée. These were the early days of digital photography.Enjoy.

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23 October 2021

Jumièges, digitally

The first digital photos I ever took in France were photos like these. At first, when I found these on my computer this morning, I thought I had taken them myself. Then I realized that I'm in them, so I couldn't have taken them. CHM took them. We were in Rouen, staying and touring around with Jeanine and Henri. That afternoon, August 23, 1998, we went to see the ruins of the Abbaye de Jumièges, on the Seine about 30 minutes west of Rouen.

The reason I thought I took these photos is because CHM had loaned me his Kodak digital camera for the summer. Walt and I had come to France in June. I came over first, carrying CHM's camera, and went to spend a few days in Rouen while I waited for Walt to arrive. He was still working — I was unemployed — so he couldn't come to France for a long stay. We had rented a little studio apartment on the Île Saint-Louis in Paris for a short visit. We went to see some tennis matches at Roland Garros (the French Open tournament). That was in late May and early June. I took a lot of photos in Paris then, with CHM's camera. Then Walt and I flew back to Californiia.

In August, CHM flew from California to France to go see a friend of ours, a woman we had both worked with in Washington DC in the 1980s. She had a house in the town of Carteret in the region of Normandy called the Cotentin (Granville, Cherbourg). I decided to go back to France in August to give him his camera back. I had only recently learned that our DC colleague's house was in Carteret. Walt and I had gone to Carteret on a road trip we took around Normandy, Brittany, and the Loire Valley in 1992. I really wanted to go there, because the county where I grew up in North Carolina is called Carteret County and is named after the Carterets of Normandy and the Anglo-Norman Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernesey). I wanted to see the village called Carteret again.

I arrived in Paris, took the train to Rouen, and there I rented a car for the drive out to the Cotentin, a few hours west. CHM, our friend with the house in Carteret, an old friend of hers, and I spent a few days touring around that part of Normandy. I think I'll resurrect some of the photos CHM took there with his camera that I had returned to him. I didn't yet have a digital camera of my own. Then CHM and I drove to Rouen and went to Jumièges, the site of an abbey founded in the 7th century. The ruins are imposing, to say the least.

22 October 2021

Normandy pictures from June 1997

In yesterday's post I mentioned my friends Jeanine and Henri, who lived in Rouen. Here they are in a photo that I took in June 1997. We were spending the afternoon in Dieppe. I lost touch with them more than 15 years ago, for a variety of reasons. I had known Jeanine and her three children since 1972, way back when I was 23 years old and was working as a teaching assistant in a high school in Rouen for a year. I think I met Henri for the first time in 1989, when I spent a few days resting in Rouen after surviving the big Loma Prieta earthquake in northern California. Henri was born in 1925, and I imagine he has passed away.

My mother came to France four times in her life. The first was in 1982, when I was getting ready to leave France and return to the U.S., not knowing whether I'd ever come back. I did, obviously, but not until 1988. My mother came back to France again in 1997, when I was on sabbatical from my job at Apple and spent a month in Paris and Rouen. That's when I took this photo of her with Jeanine in Dieppe. Ma also came to visit Walt and me in Saint-Aignan in 2004 and again in 2005. She died in 2018. I think Jeanine was just four years younger than Ma, so maybe she's no longer living. June 1997 — nearly 25 years ago, was also when we all spent an emotional afternoon walking around in the American military cemetery on the D-Day beaches near Bayeux.

That year, my mother was traveling with her granddaughter — my 15 year old niece — who will turn 40 in 2002. It's hard to believe how fast time as gone by. Another place we visited in 1997 was the site of the ruins of the old abbey church at Jumièges, which is about half-way between Rouen and Le Havre. My niece took the photos above and below with an old film camera, and I'm glad to have them. I went back to Jumièges with Jeanine, Henri, and CHM in August 1998. Normandy has played a big part in my life ever since I spent that school year working in Rouen in 1972-73. Except for the dreary, rainy Normandy weather, Walt and I might have considered going to live there when we decided to leave California in 2003. We decided to look for a house in the Loire Valley instead, and we found one after a short four-day search.

The two people who have been instrumental in my nearly life-long struggle with the French language are Jeanine and CHM. Jeanine befriended me in 1972. Her son was one of my students at the high school where I was working in Rouen. She and her children had moved to Rouen only a year or two earlier (she was born and grew up in Champagne) and she didn't have a lot of friends in Rouen, which was widely known back then as a very cold, bourgeois city — in other words, not very welcoming to newcomers. Her husband had recently left her for another woman. One of the most generous things Jeanine did for me before I really got to know her was come to my tiny apartment near the train station in Rouen in late November 1972 to bring me a turkey because she had heard that Americans celebrated a  holiday called Thanksgiving and always cooked a turkey on that day. The turkey was scrawny, just barely plucked, and still had its head and feet attached. But it was a turkey, and I cooked it. I don't remember if it was good or not.
Another thing Jeanine did for me was teach me a little about French cooking — how to make mayonnaise and vinaigrette, for example, and how to serve and enjoy Normandy cheeses. I wasn't earning enough money to be able to afford meals in restaurants. Jeanine was glad to let me sit in her kitchen while she cooked dinner, answer my questions, and let me help as much as I could. She invited me for dinner at least once a week, including my American friends when they were visiting. Jeanine was easy to talk to and needed friends. My French improved tremendously. By spring we were saying tu and toi to each other rather than vous. It was a good time in my life.

Here we are, Jeanine and me, in a 1997 photo taken by Henri, with the cliffs along the French side of the Channel coast in the background.

21 October 2021

Un après-midi au Havre, et des souvenirs

Le Havre, one of Europe's greatest seaports, is located at the mouth of the Seine river, on the English Channel, about 100 miles northwest of Paris. The port city's old "downtown" or city center was basically wiped out (pratiquement rasé is what my French-language Michelin Guide says) in 1944. The population of Le Havre in 1936 was 164,000, and in 1946 it was 107,000. Starting in '46, a new and very modern city center was built to replace the old one. A lot of people turn up their noses when it is mentioned, but I had spent a school year in Rouen, just downriver, in 1972-73, without ever going to Le Havre. I had wondered for years what it was like.

In 2003, when Walt and I arrived in France, we spent a few days in Rouen before driving down to Saint-Aignan to take possession of our new house. We spent a beautiful summer afternoon in Le Havre during that short stay in Normandy. Walt has a degree in architecture and another in urban planning (both from Berkeley), and he really wanted to see it. And you know me, I want to see everything in France at least once in my life. Here are some of my photos.

I happen have a copy of the Michelin Guide for Normandy in my collection of books. It's the English-language edition (long story), so I can just quote it. It says that Le Havre's ville moderne is "a remarkable example of large-scale reconstruction and successful urban planning... A remarkable architectural unity has been achieved: a balance between volumes and spaces. The centre offers wide perspectives, the horizontal lines of the vast living units contrast with tall tower blocks. The impressive town hall and St. Joseph's church [both rebuilt after the war] pierce the sky."

One of my memories of Le Havre is not mine at all, really. In the late '90s, my mother, my niece, and I went to Rouen and spent a few days with friends there. I had known these friends, Jeanine and Henri, for many years. One of the things we did during our stay was drive over to the Omaha Beach military cemetery at Colleville, near Bayeux. It was a very emotional experience, especially for Henri and my mother, who both had vivid memories of World War II. My mother had lost several childhood friends and classmates to the war. She turned 15 in 1945.

While we walked around in the cemetery, Henri talked about his war experiences. He said he had been a member of a group of Free French soldiers who accompanied General de Gaulle to London during the war. Le Havre was liberated in 1944, when he was about 25 years old, and his unit returned to France by boat, docking at what little was left of the port at Le Havre. They marched through the streets of the devastated city. Virtually everything was destroyed, he said, but people emerged from their basements, where they had taken shelter and set up living quarters during the bombardments, bearing gifts of food for the troops they saw as their liberators. Henri had tears in his eyes and choked back sobs as he described the generosity of those people and their gifts.

20 October 2021

A minute or two in Gien

First, the pronunciation. It's one syllable, and it rhymes with chien or bien. Gien is on the Loire river about 80 miles
south of Paris, 35 miles SE of Orléans, 40 miles west of Auxerre (Burgundy), and 40 miles north of Bourges (Berry).
Gien is a very old town, going back to pre-Roman times — but like other Loire river towns,
including Blois, Gien was basically obliterated by German and Allied bombing
during the second world war. After the war, it was re-built in the old style.


The Cadogan guide says of Gien: "Eighty per cent destroyed, the town was harmoniously restored...
The splendid hump-backed stone bridge was patched up. Riverside façades were recreated
using traditional brick patternings of trellises and chevrons."

I had been to Gien back in the early 1980s and enjoyed going back again in 2009.


19 October 2021

Driving along a river

It takes about an hour to drive the 70 kilometers from the place you see in the first photo here. The other two photos show a couple of major sights there are to see along the way. Do you know where we are? (I'm pretty CHM will know.)

18 October 2021

Birds at Beauval

The ZooParc de Beauval in Saint-Aiignan — now one of the top five zoological parks in the world, they say —  began as a parc ornithologique in the late 70s and early '80s. Here's a two-minute slideshow made up of bird pictures I've taken there over the years.

17 October 2021

Meet some of our Saint-Aignan neighbors

No, this is not a joke. We live 2¼ miles from Saint-Aignan's major tourist attraction, which is the ZooParc de Beauval. This is a two-minute slideshow made up of photos I've taken there over the years. These too are our neighbors...


P.S. I have to take back what I told chrissoup about quicksand in a comment on yesterday's post. This morning I found a photo I vaguely remembered having taken at the Mont Saint-Michel a few years back. In it, on the left, I see a young woman who appears to be up to her thighs in quicksand on the mud flats that surround the Mont. People seem to be trying to pull her out. I took the photo from far up on the side of the Mont.

16 October 2021

Last photos of old Saint-Aignan... for now

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I took the three photos above from the east side of Saint-Aignan, looking west toward the church and the château.

A detailed view of part of the town's skyline

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The photo in the middle shows one of the more formal and handsome buildings in Saint-Aignan.
The photos on either side might give you an idea of what the Bastille Day parade was like.