29 February 2024

Medical news: it's about eyes

I went to see an ophthalmologist (ophtalmologiste in French, if you can see the difference) over in Montrichard yesterday. I had made the appointment months ago. He's the same doctor that I saw in Blois about 18 months ago, when he told me I had the beginnings of a cataract in my right eye.

Yesterday he examined me and announced that I also have a growing cataract in my left eye. He said the vision in my right eye was 10/10 in 2022 but now it is 7/10. That's not good. In my (weak) left eye, my vision was 7/10 in 2002 but now it's only 5/10.

I got caught up in reading about cataract surgery this morning and time got away from me, so I didn't write a "real" blog post.

On several web sites I see that the basic cataract operation (including the surgery, the anesthesia, and the cost of the implant that will be inserted into my eyeballs) costs a little less than $400 US and is 100% reimbursed by the national health service. If you go to a doctor who charges more than the health service's recommended fee, your private top-up plan might pay the extra.

Anyway, I told the eye doctor that I hadn't really noticed any change in my eyesight, but he said that was because the cataracts grow very gradually, so you just get used to it and don't know it's happening.

I'm wondering if I'll still need glasses and corrective lenses after the operations are done. My next appointment is on March 21 in Blois. If you have had the surgery, I would appreciate knowing how it worked and how it went. My mother had it when she was about the age I am now. A friend in California who was born 2 days after me back in 1949 recently had the operation on both eyes and said the result was fantastic.

28 February 2024

Other CHM gifts

Over the last 15 years or so, Charles-Henry gave us other kitchen treasures, as you see in the picture below. The set of three gratin dishes and the "bean pot" are pieces he bought from a vendor in an outdoor market not far from his Paris apartment, the Marché de l'Avenue de Saxe in the 7th arrondissement. I was with him when he bought them in the year 2000. He gave them to us a few years later because, he said, he wasn't using his oven any more and he thought we could make better use of ovenproof cookware. For more than a decade before the last time I saw him in 2017, he would come spend a week or two at our house in summertime, and we was always happy to see us using the things he had given us.

The dish at the bottom left of the picture is a soufflé dish that was his grandmother's, he said. I have no idea how old it might be. Since he died a few weeks ago at age 99, how old must his grandmother have been? I don't even know if he was talking about his paternal grandmother or his maternal grandmother. The cut-glass bowl (is that what it is?) on the right has no history that he shared. He just gave it to us. I'm sure he didn't buy it as a present for us. We use it fairly often. I should have asked him for more information about it before it was too late.

27 February 2024

A 2013 gift

Charles-Henry, who passed away a few weeks ago, gave us a really nice and useful gift nearly 11 years ago. It's a set of stainless steel serving dishes — the kind you see often in Paris bistros and brasseries. It's a ten-piece set. When I took the picture on the left below, one of them was in the refrigerator.

These were dishes that his mother used all the time, C-H told me. She passed away several decades ago, so they are antiques by now. One of the nicest things about them is that you can also cook in them. They are unbreakable. They clean up easily. One other nice thing about them is that they will always make me remember Charles-Henry when I cook or serve food in them.

26 February 2024

Spring... almost

Some spring days will look like the one on the left above. Others will look like the one on the right. Such is spring in Saint-Aignan. These are views of the vineyard from our windows. The weather woman on Télématin says it's going to rain all day today.

Flowers like the ones on the left are already appearing. This is a photo
that I took 10 years ago today.
For a while yet, the grape vines will look like the photo on the left just above. But the fruit trees will be covered in blossoms like the ones on the right very soon. It's starting now. Maybe we'll get some plums this year.

25 February 2024

Spring is knocking at the door

The big tree at the center of the photo to the right is the 75-foot cedar we had to have taken down a couple of weeks ago. It's harder to see, but just to the right of the cedar is a blue spruce that we had to have taken down four years ago. It too had died. In this post from 2020, you can see a video of the felling of the spruce tree.

The flowers above and below are some that come up in our back yard in springtime. They've already started this year, as they had when I took these photos on 26 February 2014.

24 February 2024

Recent tree pictures...

...and one ex-tree. These are photos I took over the last two weeks.

As you know if you follow Walt's blog, we had the 75-foot-tall cedar tree on the north side of our house taken down about two weeks ago. It had been dying for two or three years, and we were worried it might fall on the house. We had a big wind storm just a couple of days ago and we were glad the sick tree wasn't a danger any more. The photo above shows what this part of the yard looks like now.

The first step in felling the cedar was to cut off all of its long horizontal branches (photo on the right). That didn't take long. The very top of the tree wasn't hard to cut off and pull down into the yard after that. The coucou birds that have roosted in the top of the tree for decades, cuckooing like crazy, will be disappointed and disoriented when they come back to Saint-Aignan from Africa this spring.

The photos here show how big and tall the trunk of the cedar was. The stump is more than three feet in diameter. That's just two-thirds of its height you see in the photo below. We're thinking we might soon have a cherry tree planted to replace the cedar. A big potted plant will look good sitting on the stump in the meantime.

Below is a recent sunrise seen from our front terrace. The house across the street is owned by some people from Blois and isn't much occupied at this time of year. The same is true of three of the four houses closest to ours. Why? Well, we're expecting a lot of rain over the next four or five days. It's been a very rainy winter.

23 February 2024

Ferronnerie (2)

In 1998, Charles-Henry and I were driving around in Normandy, just sightseeing. We realized we needed a Michelin green guide for the region, so we stopped in a small town and found a bookshop/newsstand. We asked the woman running the place if she had a copy of the guidebook we could buy. She searched around for a few minutes and then told us she didn't seem to have the book in French. She only had it in English. We told her we could make do with the English version. And we laughed about it when we got back in the car and continued our sightseeing.

So here is what the Michelin guidebook I have in my book collection says about the Musée Le Secq des Tournelles in Rouen: "The Wrought Ironwork Museum is housed in old St. Lawrence Church, a fine Flamboyant building, and is exceptionally rich (3C to 19C)." I assume that means 3rd to 19th century objects.

"The nave and transept contain large items such as balconies, signs, railings etc. and in the display cabinets locks, door knockers, and keys. Their evolution can be studied from Gallo-Roman times."

It continues: "The north aisle includes displays of locks, belts, and buckles from the 15C to 19C... The south aisle exhibits a large variety of domestic utensils and tools such as knives, grills, irons, spice and coffee mills etc.The north gallery... is devoted to accessories such as jewels, clasps, combs, and smoking requisites."

22 February 2024

Ferronnerie (1)

The French painter Félix Michel (1856-1915) had as a friend a man named Henri Le Secq des Tournelles who was just two years older than he was. I think their fathers were friends; both were artistes-peintres. Henri's father also collected wrought iron objects (ferronnerie) and he left the collection to his son when he died in 1882. Henri made it his life's work to expand the collection and it is now on display in an old church building near the Musée des Beaux Arts in Rouen. Here are a few photos I took there in 1999.

Rouen seen from high ground just south of the city.

This the interior of the old church building where all sorts of interesting wrought iron objects are on display.

P.S. We're having very high winds this morning and I'm trying to get this post uploaded before our power goes out. It flickered a few minutes ago. More tomorrow, if possible...

21 February 2024


I got an e-mail this morning from Charles-Henry's niece Muriel in Grenoble saying that cremation was scheduled for between 5 to 7 a.m. today in Arlington, Virginia. Rest in peace. I've heard some talk of a memorial service for C-H later in the spring.

Left to right, Charles-Henry, Walt, and me standing in front of the restaurant La Couronne in Rouen (Normandy) in 1999. La Couronne was the restaurant where Julia Child had her first meal ever in France; she was astonished how good it was. We didn't eat there the day this picture was taken, but Walt and I did eat there one time, 20 years ago.

20 February 2024

Pastels by Félix Michel (2)

Félix Michel (1856-1915), the second son of the painter Charles-Henri Michel, opened a candy store in Rouen (Normandy) toward the end of the 19th century. One of Félix Michels nephews was my friend Charles-Henry, who passed away a couple of weeks ago at the age of 99. These are some more of Félix Michel's pastels.

19 February 2024

Pastels by Félix Michel (1)

The 19th century painter Charles-Henri Michel, grandfather of my friend Charles-Henry who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 99, was not the only artiste-peintre in the Michel family. The painter Charles-Henri had three sons: Auguste, Félix, et Paul, all born between 1855 and 1860. One of them, Félix, was a painter who worked with pastels. That's about all I know about him, except that I read somewhere that he lived most of his life in Rouen (Normandy), a city where I spent a year teaching... 50 years ago. C-H's father Paul was a well-known doctor who practiced in Paris and died in 1956.
These pastels came to me from Charles-Henry who recently died via another friend of his whose name is Jim. Jim became a colleague and friend of Charles-Henry's some 50 years ago. I have never actually met him, but Jim and I have been keeping each informed on Charles-Henry's health for a few years now. Charles-Henry talked of Jim often and fondly over the decades I knew him. At some point he gave Jim digitized copies of these pastels that C-H's uncle Félix painted, I assume, in the 19th century. I first saw them decades ago, I didn't have a copy of them until Jim e-mailed them to me last week. He asked me to post them here.

PS: I just found this web page about Félix Michel, who died in 1915. It was written by our departed friend Charles-Henry!

18 February 2024

Varzy for a mass and a museum viewing

This is a revised post from nearly twelve years ago. Visiting a museum like the one we saw the day before I posted this was a real privilege. I would never have done these things if Charles-Henry, who was approaching age 90 back then, hadn't asked me to be his driver on such trips.

In June of 2011, Charles-Henry and I drove down to the village of Varzy (pop. 1350) in Burgundy. We had been in Péronne for another few days. At the museum in Varzy there was a painting by Charles-Henry's grandfather, Charles-Henri Michel (b.1817–d.1905). The curator of the museum had agreed to show it to us, even though the painting was not on display right then.

Mass on a Friday morning in the church at Varzy

We arrived in Varzy in a steady, chilly rain, and we were about 45 minutes early. We decided to go look around in the church, a gothic structure built between 1230 and 1280. There was a priest officiating at mass for about six people, all women. They weren't in the main part of the church, but up front in a little chapel off to one side. We could walk around and look at the rest of the building, quietly, without disturbing the service.

Two closer views of the priest holding mass

A few minutes later, we went and found the museum, after a little bit of searching. It was still raining. We arrived at the museum 15 minutes early for the appointment Charles-Henry had agreed to, and it wasn't yet open for the day. We found a place where we we were protected from the cold rain and stood and waited. I took a couple of pictures of the Hôtel de Ville, which is on the same square as the museum.

The town hall and library at Varzy

The curator drove in from Nevers, a larger town nearby, arriving right at the appointed hour. After some small talk, he went into the museum storeroom, brought out the unframed painting, and unrolled it on the floor for us to be able to see it. It's big, nearly 2.5 meters tall and 1.75 meters wide. The figures depicted are perhaps not quite life-size, but very close.

CHM's grandfather's 1867 painting titled Le Renoncement

The museum director didn't fit my stereotype at all. He was probably 45 or 50 years old and dressed in rumpled and faded blue jeans, tennis shoes, and a faded red zippered jacket of some kind. His head was shaved, and both his head and his face were covered in a three-day growth of stubble. There was nothing stuffy about him at all.

A scale model of the Varzy church

We didn't stay very long, and then we headed off for the three-hour drive back to Saint-Aignan.

17 February 2024

So what happened to the French-language magazine? (Part 2)

We three editors were not let go when management decided to move the French-language operation to Paris, but we were told that part of the deal of moving the French-language editorial work was that the French government required that French nationals or holders of French work permits would be hired as editorial staff. We were not eligible to apply for the jobs in Paris, but were transferred to a different department: the USIA press service.

I found a job as a writer/reporter/editor pretty quickly. There was a vacancy on the staff and I had two big advantages that got me the job. I was a native speaker of American English, and I already had a security clearance. Getting one of those could take three or four months.

The head of the press service needed to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible. Charles-Henry and the other assistant editor were kept to work on the magazine staff for a few more months to finish the issuesof the magazine that they had already started work on and to consult with management in the U.S. and in France about the details of the transfer of the operation to Paris. I don't think I would have wanted to move to Paris at that point anyway. Walt was working in a good job in Washington DC and was starting to think about moving to California.

I suddenly was in a job that required me to do reporting about policy issues in Washington and to travel with visiting African dignitaries, both francophone and anglophone. I wrote an article a day, if not two, for publication. A copy editor cleaned up my texts according to the style guide. Translators translated them. An "unofficial" part of my job was also to help the translators on staff in the press service when they had questions about the meaning of the English-language texts they worked to translate.

When their work on the French-language magazine was done a few months later, both Charles-Henry and his remaining assistant editor found positions as full-time translators in the press service. I ended up going to Africa in 1985 as part of the press pool covering a trip to drought-affected countries over there led by Vice-President George H.W. Bush. I traveled to Atlanta, New York, Houston, and Chicago as a reporter for USIA. I interviewed French-speaking Africans and wrote about them in English. It was an exciting job. But California was calling.

16 February 2024

So what happened to the French-language magazine? (Part 1)

A few days ago, I mentioned that Charles-Henry and I were transferred to another service at the U.S. Information Agency (USIA) in Washington DC when the powers that were decided to transfer the publication of the French-language edition of the magazine to its Paris office. Why did that happen? It was because the French-language edition kept falling farther and farther behind schedule compared to the English-language edition.

The initial idea was that the French edition would follow by one month the publication of the English edition. The first measure that management took was to hire me and the other assistant editor to help C-H after his original assistant editor resigned. If I ever met her, I don't remember it. I'm sure I never had a talk with her about how she worked with C-H and about why, from her view, the French edition had fallen as much as two or even three months behind.

The second measure that management took was to combine two different issues of the English edition into one, dropping about half the articles that had appeared in those two issues. I was called in to tell the chief of the editorial staff if that was a possibility. I said it sounded like a good idea to me. As I mentioned before, we published both policy articles and what I called "Americana" articles in the magazine, both in French and in English. I'm not sure the manager, a foreign service officer on a temporary domestic assignment, really had a good understanding of what it took to translate the articles into French and then edit the translations to correct misunderstandings on part of the translators and to fit the French text into the same layout as the English-language edition.

One of the reasons Charles-Henry hired me, he said at the time, was partly that I could help him prioritize the cuts that would need to be made in the articles during the editing process. I said I could do that, and that if I had any doubts about what was essential and what was not essential to understanding the text translated into French and remaining faithful to the English text, I would consult with the editors of the English-language edition and ask them if they agreed with my cuts. That worked to a certain extent. Translation is not a word-for-word exercise, as you probably know.

Some of the English-language editors asked me if the editor of the French edition needed more and better dictionaries? No, that was not the problem. It was a streak of perfectionism in Charles-Henry's personality. He really didn't care, I remember thinking, if his work was late, just that it was perfect in his eyes. One day, the publications manager called Charles-Henry in and asked him to explain why the French-language edition was not catching up despite the changes he had put in place. I think Charles-Henry's response was that it was very difficult to find competent translators in Washington DC.

The fact is that the translators were mostly moon-lighting or free-lancing and were paid by the word for their work. They worked fast — quick and dirty, you might say — and didn't feel they had a vested interest in doing otherwise. It was up to Charles-Henry and his two assistant editors to clean up and modify the translations to make them fit the magazine layout and the USIA style guide. An article that ran for three pages in English needed to run the same number of pages in French. It's a rule of thumb that the translation process results in longer texts than the original texts they are based on. Some things need more explanation for a different audience.

What finally happened? The publications manager decided that if it was too hard to find good French translators in Washington, the best solution was to transfer the job of producing the French edition of the magazine to Paris. He negotiated with his superiors in Washington and his colleagues in Paris to do just that. That took the problem off his plate and put it on somebody else's.

15 February 2024

Artist C.H. Michel's painting of Joan of Arc in Blois

On the afternoon of June 19, 2009, my friend Charles-Henry and I drove up to Blois to see the château there. Charles-Henry was visiting from Paris, where he was spending the summer. He had recently learned from a cousin that a painting by his grandfather depicting Joan of Arc at Blois in the year 1429 was on display at the château there. Blois an old royal city that is on the Loire River less than an hour's drive north of Saint-Aignan.

That was the first time Charles-Henry had laid eyes on this painting of his grandfather's in 53 years. Charles-Henry was 84 years old in 2009. His grandfather had finished the painting in 1901 at the age, I think, of 87. It must have been Charles-Henry's father, born in 1860 in Paris, who donated it to the Château de Blois.

The plaque above explains that Joan of Arc was in Blois in the year 1429 during the 100 Years War when she raised an army and proceeded to march her soldiers to the city of Orléans to liberate it from the English forces who had occupied it. The English would burn Joan at the stake up in Rouen in Normandy just two years later. It also says that it is one of the few existing depictions of Joan's time in Blois.

By the way, Blois is a city that played a central role in French history for many centuries. Back in the Middle Ages, the powerful counts of Blois were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of  William the Conqueror, who had come to be called "the Conqueror" after his army defeated the English army in the Battle of Hastings in 1066. William became the king of England and at least one of his Blois descendants, named Étienne (Stephen), was also the king of England from 1135 until his death in 1154.

14 February 2024

More of Charles-Henry's grandfather's paintings

My friend Charles-Henry's grandfather was a painter who lived from 1817 to 1905. His name was Charles-Henri Michel and he was born in a little village in Picardy, just a few miles north of the town of Péronne. That's where Charles-Henry and I went in July 2010. He rented an SUV that we filled up with paintings, engravings, and other artwork and we drove up to the town of Péronne in the Somme département to leave everything up to the town museum. I had never been to that part of France before, except maybe to pass through on a train.

This is the church in the village called Fins, north of Péronne.

Actually, there are two villages right next to each other that figure in the Michel family's history — Fins and Sorel. The Michels were originally from Sorel, but moved to Fins early on. The house in Fins where the painter Charles-Henri Michel lived has a plaque on it. In fact, it's not actually the same house because the original one was destroyed in World War I. Another house was built later on the site, and that newer house has the plaque on it.

In the church hangs this painting by Charles-Henri Michel
called La Madone des anges (1859).

The painter Charles-Henri lived for most of his adult life in Paris. His son, Paul Michel, father of my friend Charles-Henry, was a well-known doctor who born in 1860 in Paris. Paul Michel also had another son who was born in Paris. But when CHM first contacted his Picardy cousin, the mayor of the village of Sorel, by e-mail, the cousin wrote back and said: "I'm intrigued by your name. Would you by any chance be related to ‘our painter’ — notre peintre ?" He and Charles-Henry had never met before.

Ecce Homo, by Charles-Henri Michel, dates from 1904,
when the painter was 87 years old.

In the church in Fins there are three paintings by Charles-Henry's grandfather. The mayor was a distant cousin of Charles-Henry's — they trace their lineage back to a common ancestor, Fiacre Michel, in the 1600s — was able to get the key to the church in Fins so that we could go see and take pictures of the grandfather's paintings. The mayor of Fins, a farmer, was busy harvesting his crops and not available to greet us.

This painting is titled
Vision de sainte Thérèse d'Avila (ca. 1900).

The old church in Fins was also destroyed during the Great War of 1914-18 and a new church was built subsequently. Péronne and the surrounding villages and countryside were in the middle of the WWI battlefields. The area is the valley of the Somme River. The Germans invaded it, and French, British, and Australian forces tried to push them back, or at least defend the rest of France from invasion. The Americans arrived later. Australian forces were the ones who actually "liberated" the Péronne area toward the end of the war.

The interior of the church in Fins

CHM has now donated hundreds of drawings, engravings, and paintings to the museum of the little city of Péronne nearby, where his grandfather and other family members are buried. Many are the work of his grandfather, and many others the work of his uncle — his father's brother — who was a pastellist. In going through all the things stored in his apartment in Paris, which the family has lived in since the 1880s, he also discovered other documents that the museum was excited about having.

Ecce Homo hangs over the altar in the church

There was, for example, a photo of a 19th-century Picard writer, Hector Crinon, who was known for his efforts to resuscitate the Picard language — only one other such photo of the man of letters is known to exist. Crinon was to Picardy what Frédéric Mistral was to Provence. CHM also found many letters that his grandfather exchanged with other painters, including one of his mentors, Auguste Dehaussy.

CHM told me he feels a sense of relief and satisfaction knowing that his grandfather's and uncle's artwork is "in good hands" — in museums, in other words, and no longer in storage in his apartment. The family heritage will be preserved and the historical record augmented.