28 February 2019

Boats, barges, etc.

Here's one final slideshow showing photos from Paris, mostly taken in 1998. The first photo is a little newer — it's one that our California friend Sue took of me on a tour boat on the Seine in October 2000.

The man with the ruffled collar is Michel de Montaigne. His statue sits (il est assis sur son derrière) across the street from the main entrance of the Sorbonne. Students who are going to take an exam supposedly rub his shoe superstitiously because it brings them good luck. I've never stayed in the Hôtel California. It's on the rue des Écoles in the Latin Quarter. Friends of our stayed there once, years ago.

27 February 2019


That's the verb "to sit" in French. To seat oneself. When you've been walking around Paris for hours, you just want to find a nice place to sit. Here are three examples of places you might choose when you want to take a load off your feet.

L'Église du Dôme aux Invalides.

Vous reconnaîtrez la Tour Eiffel ci-dessous.

Don't feel too special just because you're sitting in Paris and somebody else isn't. As Michel de Montaigne, the Renaissance author of Les Essais, wrote: « Sur le plus beau trône du monde, on n’est jamais assis que sur son cul ! » Can you translate that?

These are more photos from 1998.

26 February 2019

Trois vieilles images

Yesterday I posted a stylized photo of the church and château in our town. We live about a mile and a half northeast of the château, as the bat flies. Here's another version of that photo, with color but also stylized. This is a stitched together image. I took the two photos I put together to compose this image back in July 2004 with an 2001-vintage Canon digital camera (a Pro90 IS).

Meanwhile, I've been sitting on (as it were) some more photos from a 1998 trip to Paris that Walt and I took. I captured these images with a 1996-vintage Kodak DC50 digital camera that CHM loaned me for the trip.

I like the soft-focus quality of the image above, which shows people shopping in the bouquiniste stalls along the river on the Left Bank, with Notre-Dame cathedral as a backdrop.

I guess this last image is pretty blurry, but there's something about it I like.

Local news: I've told two of our part-time neighbors about the furniture-burning that we saw taking place in another neighbor's front yard a couple of weeks ago. Both reacted just as Walt and I did — mystified and slightly shocked. The neighbors I'm talking about are women in their 60s and early 70s, and the said they've never heard of anyone burning their deceased parents' furniture this way. I'd been wondering if this a common practice out here in the French countryside, but it doesn't seem to be.

One of the neighbors I've mentioned is the daughter of our former Blois neighbors who have "turned a page" by quitting driving and no longer down coming to their country house in the Saint-Aignan area. Their daughter and her husband are taking over the house and making some modifications inside, as well as mowing the grass. They invited us over for an apéritif dînatoire Saturday night. We've known them for years, but not all that well. They've never expressed much of an interest in living in the country, asking us on many occasions over the years what we do here to avoid getting too bored. But here they are. We'll see how often they really come down here from Blois, where they  have lived for many years — especially when this current streak of sunny, clear, warm weather breaks.

25 February 2019

“Processed” Saint-Aignan pix

Still going through old photos on my computer. Found this one. I think I took in in 2004, when we had been here for just a year. That was before I started this blog.

I obviously processed the photo I took, and I think I did that using not Photoshop but an application called PixLR. I like the effect.

This morning I've cut the processed photo in half and applied some color to it.

Some mornings I just don't have anything to talk or write about.

24 February 2019

Kung-Pao Shrimp

It's not particularly French, but here's what I did with some of the shrimp I bought in Blois on Friday. It's called kung-pao and the recipe is pretty straightforward. The main ingredients, besides sauces, are onions, bell peppers, and peanuts (or cashews).

It's easy. First, stir-fry the shrimp until they are just beginning to turn pink, and then set them aside.

Second, stir-fry the onions and peppers, cut into strips or diced, until they start to soften.

Finally pour on the sauce. Here's what's in it:
  • light soy sauce
  • sriracha pepper sauce
  • balsamic vinegar
  • grated or pressed garlic
  • grated ginger
  • nuoc mam (fish sauce)
  • shrimp broth
  • corn or potato starch
  • tomato paste
Pour it over the vegetables and let it thicken slightly. Then put the shrimp back in the pan and re-heat in the sauce for just a minute or two. Stir and serve over steamed rice (white or brown).

Don't forget to sprinkle on some roasted peanuts or cashews. You could make this with chicken, pork, or tofu instead of shrimp. I'm not giving proportions for the sauce ingredients because you might like more or less sriracha, more or less garlic, more or less ginger, etc. This recipe does give quantities, and it's what I used as a guideline.

The recipe is in a book published in the U.K. called The Complete Chinese Cookbook (© 1974,1978). The author was Kenneth Lo (1913-1995). His recipe is for chicken, but you can substitute. I must have bought the book back in the early '80s when I lived in Paris. Oh, alongside the kung-pao shrimp we also had some steamed Shanghai choy, which I bought in the same shop where I found shrimp and okra. It was good with the kung-pao sauce.

23 February 2019

Paris street art in the year 2000

Street art because it's visible from the street. You could also call it official art, I guess. Here's another series of photos that I took on July 4th weekend in Paris in the year 2000. Some of them I can't really identify — I don't know where I took them. I could spend days walking the streets of Paris and taking pictures. And I have, over the years.

Yesterday I drove up to Blois in the old Peugeot to do some shopping and to take some photos. I wanted to buy some frozen shrimp and some fresh okra, and I found both of those at a grocery called Blois Store, which is run by a young Vietnamese man. The okra pods are beautiful, green and pristine. The shrimp are large ones — jumbo shrimp, that old oxymoron — and back in the day they used to be called bouquets in Paris fish markets and restaurants.

I haven't seen the term bouquets applied to shrimp (crevettes in French) in a long time. I just read that bouquets (Palaemon serratus) are a European species of crevettes and they've been overfished, apparently, and pushed off the market by shrimp imported from tropical waters, and often farmed. They are called the "common prawn" in the British Isles. Oh well. The crevettes I found are Litopenaeus vannamei, but the packaging doesn't say where they come from. They are farmed, it says.

There's the okra, called gombos in French. The pods are a little large, but I'm hoping they will be tender. As for taking photos in Blois, when I left home at 8:45 a.m. in kind of a hurry, I forgot to put my camera in the car. That was too bad, because the weather was beautiful — bright sunshine through a light haze against a clear blue sky. Blois was beautiful in that light. I'll have to try to go up there again next week, since the weather conditions are predicted to remain as they are for another week or even two.

22 February 2019

Paris in the year 2000...

Walt and I flew from San Francisco to Paris three times in the year 2000. I guess we were living large. Two of our trips to Paris that year lasted only 3 or 4 days. In hindsight, I admit that was pretty extravagant. The third trip was for a three-week stay in the Loire Valley and Paris, with side trips to Champagne and Normandy. That's when I realized how much I liked being in the Loire Valley.

In July 2000, Walt was lucky to be able to go on a business trip to Italy with some of his San Francisco co-workers. He said that since his flight required a layover in Paris, he thought he'd plan to stay in Paris for a long weekend on his way back to California. It was the July 4th weekend, so I could see clear to take a few days off. I told him I'd meet him in Paris for that long weekend.

CHM was in Paris that summer. Being able to spend some time with him was a bonus. His partner Frank was there with him, as was a Frenchwoman CHM and I had both worked with in Washington DC. So we had plenty to do. One of the things we did was go up to the top of the Tour Montparnasse to see Paris from on high. Photo below.

Walt and I stayed in a hotel, called La Tulipe, in the 7th arrondissement not far from the rue Cler market street and the Eiffel Tower. It had been recommended by Rick Steves on one of his TV shows about traveling around Europe. We hated it! But it was all because of the weather. It was so hot and humid in Paris that weekend in 2000 that we needed to sleep with the window open at the hotel. It looked out onto the courtyard, and the hotel was full of young American tourists. They would gather in the courtyard late at night and loudly discuss what they had done earlier in the day and what they were planning to do the next day. The noise was terrible. And besides that, there were swarms of mosquitoes because of the hot weather. We hardly got any sleep at all, and vowed never again to stay in a Paris hotel without air-conditioning in summertime.

21 February 2019

Le marché Saxe-Breteuil

I've never been secretive about the fact that one of the main reasons I wanted to come live in France is the food. I remember vividly how good everything tasted, whether fruit, vegetables, and cheeses from the markets, or full meals in inexpensive restaurants, on my first trip to France — Aix-en-Provence and Paris in 1970. Between 1972 and 1982, I was lucky to become friends with two French women, one in Rouen and one in Paris, who were not only really good home cooks, inviting me to countless meals, but who were also willing to explain to me and show me how they prepared the food and sauces they served. I started to learn how to cook in Rouen in 1972-73, partly because I wasn't making enough money as a teaching assistant to be able to have meals in restaurants on a regular basis.

Above is a small sample of the foods you can buy in open-air markets all over France. This market happens to be in Paris, not far from the Hôtel des Invalides and the Tour Eiffel — and not far from CHM's Paris apartment. It's the Marché Saxe-Breteuil, which sets up twice a week on the avenue de Saxe starting at the place de Breteuil. I took these photos in the year 2001 — Walt and I spent a two weeks in Vouvray in June that year, with a few days in Paris added on at the end of the trip. I had acquired a new digital camera by then, another Kodak (the DC4800). By the way, the prices in the market were in French francs then, not euros. Divide by 5 or 6.

I never actually shopped in the marché de l'avenue de Saxe, as people call it, when I lived in Paris. It wasn't my neighborhood. But there are similar markets all over the city, as well as out in the suburbs and in every city, every town, and most villages in France. In Paris, I lived for three years just a few steps off the rue Montorgueil in the Les Halles market neighborhood. Montorgueil was an open-air market daily back then, and still is partly, but there are a lot more restaurants and cafés on the street than there used to be. It's become very trendy over the past 25 years.

20 February 2019

Sneaking up on Notre-Dame de Paris

I mentioned the other day that a month-long stay in Paris and Normandy in 1997 might have been the time in my life when I realized I needed to get out of Silicon Valley and move my life to France. Well, another trip to France, for three weeks — a week in the Loire Valley, at Vouvray, plus a week in Champagne and Normandy again, as well as a week in Paris — was the moment when I realized, I think, that the Loire Valley might be the best place for me to live. Walt and I both already spoke French well enough to live here without language problems.

I wanted to live in the country and have a big vegetable garden. We had a dog, so moving to the countryside made more sense than moving into an apartment in a big city. I couldn't really afford to live in Paris. I definitely didn't want to live in the Paris suburbs. In 2000, Walt and I weren't yet ready to make the move. However, in 2002, we were both ready for this adventure. It took us only six months to sell our house in San Francisco, buy the house in Saint-Aignan where we've now lived for nearly 16 years.

Here's another slideshow, this one from Paris in October 2000. I'm enjoying seeing these photos again and putting the slideshows together. I took these with my first digital camera, a Kodak DC260, and recorded the show in Windows Movie Maker.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

If you look at this blog regularly, you might wonder how many other people are reading over your shoulder. Bloggerprovides blog authors with a few statistics. Traffic on the blog is measured in "pageviews" — I assume that means how many posts are opened by readers over a certain period of time.

For example, yesterday this blog registered 1,039 pageviews. Last month (the calendar month, January, I assume), Blogger counted 21,497 pageviews for my blog. And over the past 12½ years — I started the blog in October 2005 — the total pageview count is reported as 2,771,525.

19 February 2019

Sunrise these days

We worried all through the darkness and cold of December and January. What would February be like? Even colder? Snowy? Just as dark?

Well, that didn't turn out to be the case. High pressure built in over Europe, east of us. That has given us clear skies and a warm southerly flow of air coming up from North Africa. Here's what sunrise has looked like recently out our kitchen window. The sun comes up before 8:00 a.m. now.

For comparison, look at this snowy photo Walt posted a year ago. (I was in North Carolina at the time.)

18 February 2019

Rouen : Le Musée Le Secq des Tournelles

On the same June day in 1999 when we spent an hour or two in the painter Claude Monet's garden at Giverny, we visited an unusual museum in the city of Rouen. It's called Le Musée Le Secq des Tournelles and was named after a man who donated his vast collection of ferronnerie (ironwork, including weapons like swords and shields, household utensils, merchant's signs, surgical instruments, decorative objects, architectural features, and so on). Henri Le Secq des Tournelles (1854-1925), starting with a collection left to him by his father, the Parisian painter/photographer Henri le Secq (1818-1882), amassed a huge collection of such pieces of ironwork over the course of his life. In 1920, he donated the collection to the city of Rouen, and a disaffected church, l'église Saint-Laurent, was turned into a museum for their display.

The Saint-Laurent church dates back to the year 1024. It has had a complex history. The church burned in 1248 and was rebuilt between 1440 and 1482. A Gothic tower was added on between 1490 and 1501. The tower collapsed in 1520. It was rebuilt and a steeple was added to the top of the stone tower. The steeple was heavily damaged by storms in 1638 and again in 1683. It was repaired and put back in place in 1703. The church was "decommissioned" in 1791 during the French Revolution and in 1803 was sold to a man who used it as stables and a storage building. The steeple was finally removed for good in 1810.

The church building remained privately owned until the city of Rouen acquired the building in 1893 and turned it into a museum in 1911, on the 1000th anniversary of the establishment of the Duchy of Normandy. Finally, Henri (also spelled Henry by some) donated his collection of ferronerie to Rouen, on the condition that the city find an appropriate space in which to house it. The église Saint-Laurent was the place, and the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles opened in 1921. The collection grew to include more than 15,000 objets over the course of the 20th century.

Thanks to Google Maps...

The Saint-Laurent church building is located just behind the Musée des Beaux-Arts (an art museum that shouldn't be missed) at the corner of the rue Jean-Lecanuet and the rue Jacques-Villon, within easy walking distance of the train station. There is no entrance fee to view the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles permanent collection, though special exhibits may require a fee. This ironworks museum is really worth a visit if you find yourself in Rouen one day. The objects on display are interesting and the fact that the museum is in an old church building makes it really unusual and memorable.

17 February 2019

Flowers up close at Giverny

I'm pretty amazed at the quality of these images. Here's another "slide show." I think when we were in Monet's garden at Giverny, on June 3, 1999, the weather was very clear and sunny. Most of these photos were taken with my first-ever digital camera, a Kodak Digital Science DC260. If I remember correctly, that camera didn't have features I take for granted today — image stabilization (anti-shake), for example, or a macro mode for close-up shots.

Other subjects: we are having beautiful weather here in the Saint-Aignan area these days. Mornings are cold (but temperatures are above freezing right now) but afternoons are glorious. Yesterday afternoon the temperature was about 60ºF (15ºC) and the sun was shining brightly when I went out for a walk with the dog.

Meanwhile, our deceased neighbors' daughter and her family continue burning furniture and furnishings that they are hauling out of their late parents' house. Last Tuesday or Wednesday, they had another big fire to burn furniture they had piled up in the yard last Saturday and left there for several days (it rained on Sunday and Monday). And yesterday, there were at least four cars and a rented van parked over there for most of the day. They loaded up the van several times and drove away, coming back a few minutes later. I assume they were taking things that they couldn't burn to the déchetèrie (recyling center) over on the other side of the river. Late in the afternoon they hauled out two more big wooden cabinets and set them alight in the yard. These are people I don't know well, so I haven't gone over to talk to them, and the smoke is not blowing our way. It's none of my business, and the mayor of the village is our neighbor, so she is bound to be aware of the situation. It's still hard to understand why they are doing this the way they are.

16 February 2019

Giverny — Monet's garden in June 1999

This morning I decided to take some of the photos that I took in Monet's garden back in 1999 and post them as a slide show. We stopped there for an hour or two before driving on to Rouen. The gardens were very crowded.

I took these 20 years ago using my first digital camera, a Kodak Digital Science DC260. I also processed them in Photoshop Elements to crop, contrast, and apply effects to them. Some of these are me doing my impression of an Impressionist....

15 February 2019

Normandy in 1997

For me it was a big year, in many ways, 1997 was. I had been working for Apple (Claris) since January 1992. Back then, every five years we Apple employees had the right to take a six-week "sabbatical leave" — paid leave, of course. I also had four weeks of vacation time saved up, so my sabbatical was actually ten weeks long. I decided to go spend a month in France. Walt came over for the first two weeks, but then he had to go back to work in California. My mother and my 15-year-old niece came to France to stay with me for the second half of the month.

My mother, my niece, and I then spent about a week seeing the sights in Paris before going up to Rouen to visit friends there. My mother wanted to see the D-Day beaches, and we did that, among many other things. My niece took this picture of my mother and me with my friends Henri and Jeanine on the day we visited the spectacular ruins of the ancient Jumièges abbey on the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre.

My mother was 67 years old in 1997. She passed away a year ago this month. She would have turned 89 next week, but it wasn't to be. She's of course much on my mind these days. She came to Saint-Aignan twice, in 2004 and again in 2005, before she decided she couldn't travel like that any more.

During that month in France, I decided that I was going to resign from Apple at the end of 1997. Walt and I had bought a house in San Francisco, and the commute to Silicon Valley was killing me. My 50th birthday was on the horizon.

With J. and H., my mother, niece, and I also went to other spots along the Normandy coast. The photo on the left shows my mother, Jeanine, and me at Saint-Valery-en Caux, near Dieppe. We had gone on a day trip to see the English Channel cliffs.

I got to be friends with Jeanine when I spent a year in Rouen in 1972-73. Her son was a student at the lycée where I was working. She and her family — she had two other children, who were younger —had moved to Rouen only a few years earlier, and she didn't have a lot of friends there yet. Jeanine was born in 1934, so she would be 85 years old now, if she's still living. We lost touch about 15 years ago, I'm sorry to say.

Here's a shot of my mother and me with Jeanine's close friend Henri. I knew him for only a few years. He was born in 1924, so I feel pretty sure that he must have passed away by now.

I remember that the day we went to the D-Day beaches, my mother and Henri were both in tears. My mother was busy looking for the names of men from North Carolina who had died on the Normandy coast on D-Day.

That day, Henri told me about his wartime experience. He was a young man, and somehow he ended up in London as a member of the French army units accompanying General de Gaulle.

A while later, when de Gaulle and his troops returned to France, Henri passed through Le Havre on his way to Rouen. He shed tears as he described the scene. All Le Havre was in ruins because, as an important port city, it had been heavily bombarded. Henri said that as he and the troops marched through the city, people emerged from their basements and cellars bearing gifts of food and drink for the soldiers. He thought it was amazing they could be so generous after all they had suffered through during the war.

All of that trip in 1997 was memorable. Walt and I went to both the men's and women's finals at the French Open. I had rented an apartment not far from the Eiffel Tower and the rue Cler market street for the month-long stay. We enjoyed spending time in Paris again. Maybe it was that experience, more than any other single event, that led to our coming to live in France in 2003. I had thought that California and San Francisco might be places where I would love to live more even than in France and Paris, but it didn't work out that way. My last few Silicon Valley jobs were less satisfying than the years I spent working for Apple. The thrill was gone.

Walt and I had met and become friends in France in the early 1980s. By 2002, after coming to France from California for vacations every year since 1988, we knew we were ready to come and live here. I can't believe it's been nearly 16 years already.

Here are Jeanine and Henri in Dieppe in 1997.

14 February 2019

Rouen 1999

This is another one of those mornings on which I can't stop messing with pictures. In the organizing work in my archives, I ran into a set of photos I took in Rouen in 1999. Walt and I were in Paris for a couple of weeks, and CHM was in Paris at the same time. It was late May or early June. The three of us went to Giverny and Rouen on a day trip.

I took some photos from a place that's called la corniche de Rouen. It's a road that runs along a steep hillside on the southeast side of the city, and the views are spectacular. As it turned out, we didn't have great weather that afternoon, but we had a great time. The photo above is a composite — I stitched it together from two smaller photos, "processed" it, and enlarged it. I like it that you can see all three of Rouen's big churches in the photos above and below. From left to right, they are the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, the Église Saint-Maclou, and the Église Saint-Ouen.

Here's another one. It required far less processing. I'm not sure where I took it from. It shows the Seine, the city of Rouen, and what seems to be a park. That day, we had rented a car in Paris, and we were upgraded to a very fancy Mercedes by the rental company. We traveled in style, and we needed to drive because we wanted to see Giverny (Monet's garden) as well as Rouen.

We spent the afternoon walking around Rouen, I believe, going to a museum with a friend who lived in Rouen at that time. Anyway, here are a few old photos. I'm not even sure what camera I was using in 1999. On second thought, it must have been the Kodak DC260.

13 February 2019

Old photos of Saint-Aignan's château

I'm still going through my archives — disk by disk, folder by folder, photo by photo — in an effort to delete duplicates and generally organize everything. Here are three old photos of the Château de Saint-Aignan that I found yesterday. It's the château you see in my blog banner, above, and it's about 2.5 kilometers from our house. As usual, you can click on the photos to enlarge the view.

This first photo is one that I took in March 2004 with a Kodak DC4800 digital camera that I was using back then. Comparing it to the 1998 Paris and Normandy photos that I've posted recently, I can see that digital cameras improved greatly in those few years. I took this before before I started blogging in 2005, so I've probably never posted it before. I was standing on the island in the Cher River across from town, only about 200 meters from the château.

Above and below are two photos that I took in June 2008 with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3 digital camera that I had back then. That camera had a long zoom lens, and I was standing two kilometers (1.25 miles)  north of the château over in Noyers-sur-Cher.

This second 2008 photo shows not only the Château de Saint-Aignan, but also the town's church. The oldest part of the château — the ruined towers on the right — is probably more than a thousand years old. The "newer" part of the château, the fancier Renaissance building, is only 500 years old. Parts of the church are also about a thousand years old. Saint-Aignan is located 40 kilometers south of the old royal city of Blois and one of its biggest attractions these days is the parc zoologique de Beauval.

12 February 2019

Tasha Tuesday

This is not an original title or idea. I stole it shamelessly from Walt. The last few weeks and months haven't been very easy for the poor dog. Too cooped up. Too wet outside, not that Tasha seems to mind as much as we do. And she loves the cold weather, which makes her frisky. But she can't spend much time out in the yard. She'll enjoy spring and summer. She'll turn two years old next week, so this is her doggy adolescence.

is learning
how to pose
for the camera.
Here she is
with what's left
of the
a mistletoe-
apple tree,
and the little
garden shed.
Not to
the new
back gate.


a tromp

Nose to
the ground,
and not
the blue


11 February 2019

Saturday and Sunday, like day and night

Saturday morning was beautiful. Sunday morning was plain ugly. Well, maybe not ugly if you enjoy gusty winds and hard rain. A few minutes ago, I dumped 12 millimeters of Sunday rainwater out of the gauge. That's half an inch. In contrast, here's what I saw out the back gate Saturday morning as the dog and I went out for our walk.

But before giving my weekend weather summary, let me report, as Walt did yesterday, that our late neighbors' daughter and her family had a bonfire on Saturday, out in their front yard. The neighbor who most recently lived in the house, two doors down from ours, passed away suddenly last October. His wife had died, suddenly as well, two or three years earlier. Both had cancer. Because the tree limbs are bare in winter, we had this view of the activity over there — the daughter's firetruck-red Peugeot, and hot red flames — on Saturday.

Our late neighbors had just one child, a daughter who's about 45 years old, I'd guess. All day Saturday, she and her husband and children hauled tables, chairs, beds, bed linens, and lord knows what out of the house where her parents lived, and burned it all in plain view, not far from the road. And there's more: Walt walked by there yesterday morning (in the rain) and said the family had left a big pile of furniture out in the yard, presumably to be burned at some later date. It's all been ruined by yesterday's heavy rain at this point, anyway.

Before all that excitement and mystery — I wonder if the mayor gave the family permission to burn everything like that, and why they did things in such a spectacular and spooky way — Tasha and I had taken a good long walk around the vineyard. There was sun. There were clouds. And there was a pretty rainbow.

For a change, it was nice to see bright sun early in the morning. The days are definitely getting longer now, and we're emerging from the darkness. The weather is supposed to be spring-like by the end of this week.

Even though the rain blew by in sheets in the morning, I had a sunny walk in the late afternoon with Tasha. Heavy squalls moved through again in the evening, but I was back inside by then. And dry.

10 February 2019

Rouen 1998 slideshow

I have a lot of photos of Rouen left from the 1998 set, so I've decided to post some of them as a two-minute slideshow. Rouen is a big city in Normandy located about an hour northwest of Paris. I lived there for a year back in the early 1970's and have always enjoyed going back there to re-acquaint myself with the place, as I did in 1998. Looking back through this blog, it seems that the last time I was in Rouen was in 2010.

The church with the tall iron steeple is the cathedral in Rouen. The one with the single, elaborate tower is the Église Saint-Maclou, and the one with two pointed towers is the Église Saint-Ouen. The funerary masks are in the cathedral, and I believe the third one in the show is supposed to be Richard the Lionhearted, who was King Richard I of England.

The window with colored glass panes is in the Tour Jeanne-d'Arc, I'm pretty sure, and the kind of blurry image after it is a photo I took through one of those panes of glass. Rouen nowadays has a modern tramway system that runs underground in the old historic district and at street level in outlying neighborhoods.

09 February 2019

We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming...

...to bring you a cooking post. Yesterday I made a clafoutis aux bananes, after hearing from my old friend CHM how good his clafoutis aux bananes turned out. A French clafoutis is a kind of custard tart but without a pastry crust.

The classic French clafoutis is made with cherries, but you can make the same kind of custard tart with plums, pears, apples, prunes, grapes, or any other kind of fruit that strikes your fancy.

In the U.S. South, we make a dessert concoction that we call "banana pudding" which vaguely resembles French clafoutis. It's vanilla pudding (American meaning — crème à la vanille in French) with banana slices that are cooked in the pudding in the oven in a pan lined with vanilla wafers and then topped with meringue that browns as the pudding bakes.

That's what I thought of making when I bought bananas at the supermarket yesterday morning, but then I remembered CHM's clafoutis recommendation. So I made that instead. The cookies I bought for the banana pudding— cigarettes russes, which resemble vanilla wafers that have been rolled into a cigarette shape before being baked, or right after, before they have cooled and crisped up — will be good as a crunchy accompaniment for the clafoutis, replacing the pastry crust that we didn't have to make. There's a recipe here in French. See my recent post about making a prune clafoutis for a recipe with ingredient quantities in American measures.

08 February 2019

Rouen : maisons à pans de bois

Rouen was first a Gaulish city, then a Roman (or Gallo-Roman) city, then a Norman city, and at one point an English city (or possession), before becoming a French city. Today, it's one of the two administrative capitals of the Normandy region (Caen is the other). It's also an important port city, with ship traffic coming up the Seine river from Le Havre and the English Channel to load or unload on the northern edge of Rouen. Bombings during World War II caused great destruction in the city, especially along the river and in the port district. The cathedral was heavily damaged but then restored after the war.

Translating from the French Wikipedia article about the housing stock of Rouen:

"The city is remarkable for the diversity and richness of its urban fabric There are houses of many eras, from the 13th century to the contemporary period. Rouen is one of the most diverse cities in France from an architectural perspective. There are buildings of many styles and built of many materials, including half-timbered structures and stone, brick, and concrete houses and apartment buildings of all kinds of shapes and colors...."

"Despite extensive damage inflicted by wartime bombardments in the 1940s, the city still has more than two thousand half-timbered houses (maisons à pans de bois) out of the four thousand that existed in 1939. The streets around the Vieux Marché, the Gros Horloge and the cathedral, as well as in the Eau de Robec, Damiette, Saint-Vivien, and Beauvoisine neighborhoods, are well worth a visit."

Wandering the streets of the old part of Rouen...
Some of the houses look like they might be ready to topple over into the narrow streets.

The old city is on the right bank of the Seine. Rouen has been known as la ville au cent clochers (the city of a hundred steeples) and la ville-musée (a museum of a city). A 1981-vintage Michelin Green Guide that I have says that its stock of half-timbered houses, "be they tall or squat, standing up straight or leaning precariously, elegant or modest, these houses are the soul of Rouen. Light-weight and easy to work with, oak — once plentiful in the region — became the ideal local building material, guaranteeing solidity."

The photos in this post are ones I took in May 1998 with a 1996-vintage digital camera. I had earlier spent the 1972-73 school year in Rouen. I turned 24 in 1973.

Rouen is also known as le pot de chambre de la Normandie — the chamber pot of Normandy — because it rains so much there. I remember the principal (proviseur) of the Lycée Corneille telling me about the local climate back in 1972. "They say it rains a lot in Rouen," he said, "but it's not true. It doesn't rain much — but it rains all the time." The rain is often just a fine mist that's still heavy enough to keep you and everything around you wet. As I've always said, you don't move to France for the weather. For the long history, the beautiful landscapes, the delicious food, yes... but not sunny weather.

07 February 2019

Rouen: 1998 photos, 1972 memories

I'll start this post with photos of a couple of places in Rouen that were really important to me when I lived and worked there in 1972-'73. The first shows the lycée (high school) where I worked. It's the Lycée Corneille, named after one of Rouen's most famous writers, Pierre Corneille, a 17th-century dramatist. The job I had at the lycée was as an assistant d'anglais, meaning I served as a native-language resource for the professeurs d'anglais and the students at the school. Some of the profs didn't seem happy to have an assistant who spoke American English. I heard that they told their students not to pick up my accent. On occasion, some profs made fun of my pronunciation (the way I said butter, little, etc.). The students, however, were motivated by a chance to learn some American vocabulary. I had an interesting year at the Lycée Corneille, and two professeurs in particular helped and supported me in my work. With one of them, I co-authored a book, published in 1975, which was a kind of dictionary of the points of English grammar and vocabulary that French students found particularly thorny.

Meanwhile, I needed a place to live in Rouen, of course. The lycée let me stay in a room in the school, which had dormitories for students who were boarders, for a few weeks at the beginning of the year while I looked for an apartment I could afford to rent. I couldn't afford much.

Finally, a woman who worked in the administrative offices at the school talked to me one day and said her parents had an apartment to rent in a house that was within easy walking distance. It was near the Rouen train station and the Vieux Marché, the city's market square. That's the house on the left. I had the two windows over the garage and the one to the left, which was the kitchen. There were a couple of problems with the apartment. First, there was no bathroom. There was a toilet located on the stairs, halfway up — my apartment was on the second floor U.S. — shared by a tenant in another apartment in the building. I had a sink, a refrigerator and stove in the kitchen, and then a bedroom. That was it. And for the first three months I lived there I didn't have hot water central heat. The owners were having a boiler installed and putting radiators in all the rooms, but from October until January I heated with little butane stove. It produced more humidity than heat, and the walls and ceiling dripped water when I lit it. It was miserable. Because the Lycée Corneille was a boarding school, and I was a part-time employee, I could haul a toilet kit and a change of clothes over there once or twice a week and take a shower while the students were in class.

Here's another view of the lycée, showing the main entrance.

In 1972, before Thanksgiving, one of my students told me after class that his mother wanted to invite me over to dinner at his house. I accepted, of course. When I got there, Mme S. and her husband invited me in. Their oldest son, my student, ate at the table too. He had two younger siblings who were called out in their pajamas to meet me and then say goodnight to everyone. Monsieur S. was a very opinionated man. I remember him asking me to tell him who had actually assassinated our President John Kennedy. It told him I didn't know, and that I didn't think anybody really knew. This was stretching my French. Monsieur S. immediately told me he already knew who killed Kennedy, and he'd be glad to clue me in. I don't remember what his theory was — what he said seemed far-fetched. He also pointed out that even it was what I wanted to drink with dinner, he did not allow Coca-Cola to be consumed at his diner table. I hadn't asked for any, actually, and I far preferred mineral water and red wine with my dinner.

Every time I walked from my Rouen apartment to the lycée, I passed by this old leftover donjon of the long-demolished Château de Rouen. It's called the Tour Jeanne-d'Arc. It's popularly believed to be the tower in which Joan of Arc was held prisoner before she was burned at the stake in Rouen in the early 1400s, but many historians doubt the accuracy of that belief.

At Thanksgiving 1972, Mme S. came to my apartment one day and brought me a turkey. She had heard of the American holiday and knew I wouldn't be able to find a turkey in the markets or shops of Rouen, and probably understood that I couldn't afford one anyway. She had ordered the bird from her butcher. The next time I was invited for dinner, a few weeks later, Mme S. was there but not Monsieur. I learned that they were in fact separated and she had asked him to come for the first dinner just for the sake of appearances. I was sort of glad he wasn't in the picture, and I ended up forming a friendship with Mme S. and her children that included weekly dinners, sessions of card-playing, and trips to places like Deauville, Dieppe, and even Reims (in Champagne), which was her home town. My French started quickly to improve.

I hope this isn't all too confusing, with memories from 1972 along with photos from 1998. I didn't have a camera when I lived in Rouen nearly 50 years ago. However, over the past dozen years, I've posted a lot of photos of Rouen scenes and landmarks on this blog (link).