A day in the Arts

I was invited to join a group of women who go on guided tours of museums and/or areas of interest in Paris.  Having visited most, if not all, of the tourist places, I thought it would be a lovely gift to me.  I didn’t have to do anything, just show up twice a month at a designated place sent to me in an evite.  Two of the group did all the heavy lifting, hiring Kelly Spearman from Kelly Tours and figuring out the perfect size for the group.

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Eglise Notre Dame des Victoire with Kelly Spearman standing in front

Yesterday, we all met at Place des Petits Freres in the 2nd arrondissement. The small square is home to Notre Dame des Victoires and this was our fourth tour of the Fall.  It was entitled Squares of Paris.  Before I go further, I want to say a word or ten about Kelly herself.  Kelly doesn’t just give you a tour pointing out sites of interest.  She first orients you.  Which direction is La Seine? Where is east and where is west?  Then she proceeds to take you back into history and tell fascinating stories of how Paris came to be Paris and all the lively characters living in and out of my fair city.  I’ve never met a guide like her and I highly recommend her to any of you coming to Paris.

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The Church’s organ.  It can only have been left behind by the French revolutionaries because there was so much else to plunder

La place des Petits Frères, where we started our journey yesterday, is in a rarely visited area of Paris. Though we were in the 2nd arrondissement, we were close to the original walls of Paris.  Therefore, at the time of the construction of the church, the land was cheap because it was outside Paris.  A unique addition to this church is the plaques/bricks that cover the inside floor to ceiling.  Each one is numbered and dated.  Each one thanks Mother Mary for a miracle.  Some are more detailed than others,  They are in French, English, German, Italian.  All say Thank you.  It is a space of intense gratitude and even someone like me who was raised a Quaker and not familiar with such religious symbolism couldn’t help but be deeply moved.

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The interior back of the Church.  This part of the church is always built first and the builders move forward.  

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We made our way past the “Cour des Miracles” to Place des Victories where Francois Mansart first placed his mansard roofs–a four-sided gambrel-style hip roof characterized by two slopes on each of its sides with the lower slope, punctured by dormer windows, at a steeper angle than the upper.  Architects were admiring of Italian renaissance architecture and the results in Paris are very pleasing to the eye.  In the middle of most squares (really Places as none are square anymore) there is usually a statue.  This is the first thing built when a new Square/Place is being designed.  Here, as at the Place Vendome where we went next, the stories of statues going up, coming down, going up, being destroyed so material could be used for bullets, is a fascinating journey through the Kings, the Napoleons, the french revolution and the Commune.

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Look carefully and you can see the original name of the street
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Place des Victoires with the third or fourth statue.  This one is of Louis XIV but is so unbalanced that the tail had to become part of the structure making sure it didn’t fall over.

Place Vendome is a masterpiece of urban designing and left no doubt about the amazingly privileged social position of all those who claim it as their personal address.

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Napoleon stands at the top of this column.  Poor guy, he went up and down four times before he was allowed to stay there.

I show you photos as I could never do justice to what we saw today and can only urge you to get in contact with Kelly, tell her how long you will be here and let her suggest a tour for you.  You will not regret it.IMG_1626.JPG

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In the evening, I was invited to a cocktail party and “Talk with the Artist” at the Mona Bismarck American Center.  The show is Landscape with a Ruin by Evan Roth, a Paris based artist.

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I was looking at things I didn’t understand when I saw Evan, went up to him and said “You have to explain this to me”  And he did.  Each of the above scenes is an 18 minute stream shot with infrared light of a place where a fiber optic cable goes into water or comes out of it.  The brochure says that he ‘has measured the impact of the Internet on society for over ten years.’ The internet took him to these places.  I found them haunting, lonely and beautiful.  I think that’s the point.

I came away with an understanding that one has to know the heart and mind of contemporary artists.  We aren’t looking at a Monet where all that’s said is in the painting.  These works like so many others include thought process, a lot of travel, interpretation of things in everyday use and creating art.  I liked Evan and was grateful for my private tour and talk.

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Bianca Roberts, Executive Director, introducing Evan Roth

It is lovely Indian Summer in Paris these days.  We had winter all September so we are luxuriating in this weather for as long as it lasts.  The sun sets around 7pm and the lights and colors on the Avenue Mozart during the waning light remind me why I love Paris.

A bientôt,

Sara

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A resident of Paris

On September 29, 2017, I had my fourth yearly date with an agent at the Prefecture to renew my Titre de Sejour (residency card).  Each year, it gets a bit easier to prepare for it.  The French want to make sure that 1–I won’t work meaning take away a job from a French person 2–I won’t end up living on the street and 3–that I’m covered by health care and don’t need to use their social security system.

I seem to get anxious anyway.  I know something will go wrong and this year, it was the printer that ran out of ink while I was making the required copies of all the documents I needed to bring with me and my translator’s vacation. (All English documents must be translated into french by an official translator).  She arrived home two days before my appointment and meeting up with her the day before demanded a dexterity of mind that is not a strong suit of mine.

The morning of my appointment, I went to the nearest Post Office to make copies.  I was under the impression that it opened at 8am and I arrived at 9:30am.  My appointment was at 10:30am.  The sign on the door informed me that this particular Post Office opens at 10am.  So I took myself off to a nearby Cafe for a cafe allongée (long pull as opposed to a short pull which is an expresso).  At 10am, I was back at the front door of the PO.  There was a man standing there looking very bewildered, checking his watch.  The PO was very closed.  I walked closer and read everything on the PO’s front facade.  In small print up in a corner of one of the windows, there was information telling us that this PO was no longer open on weekdays.  I had 30 minutes, and probably less, to find a printer.

I stopped in two cafes and asked if they had one I could use.  No, madame.  I called my old neighbor from my Git-le-Coeur days knowing she had one and was close by.  I reached her at the hospital where her mother was dying and she could barely get four words out.  I rushed to a Gibert Jeune, an all-purpose station for students of any age to buy books, supplies, maps and more.  The Security man told me that ‘No, madame, we don’t have a printer but if you go up that street, cross over past the Pharmacy, there is a Internet store that has a printer.’  I rushed there and, acting like a spoiled American, thought I could talk my way to the front of the line.  No dice.  I had to wait my turn which I did extremely ungracefully.  My heart was beating so fast and my anxiety was so high that I thought I might make myself sick.  With my copies in hand, I rush-walked back towards the Prefecture–it was 10:20am.  I asked myself what was the worst that could happen?  The Prefecture would ask me to make another appointment in the future, it wasn’t the end of the world.

I made it to the door at 10:30, made it through the TSA-like security and, after handing all my documents to a lady at the front desk of my particular department, receiving a number in exchange, waited two and a half hours to be called to one of the cubicles.  After twenty minutes, she renewed my Residency Card and told me I would receive a text of when I could pick it up.

I relate this experience without accompanying photographs because so many of my American friends are envious of my living in the city of their dreams.  And indeed, I am extremely fortunate to be able to afford to live in Paris.  However, at some point, one is no longer a tourist or a visitor but a resident.  And being a resident comes with a lot of anxieties, dealing with the French administration and a lessening amount of time to explore museums and tourist points of interest which continue to be interesting to me.

Days will go by now that I do not see the river or my favorite bridge, Pont Neuf.  I have responsibilities and commitments.  I live here.  I carry around a card issued by the Mayor of Paris saying I’m an official citizen of Paris! It’s actually not official but gets me in to many places that I wouldn’t see if I didn’t have that card.

Some mornings, I wake up thinking of the Bay Area, my other home, the way I used to think of Paris.  With an affection and longing that surprises me.  Sometimes I think it’s time to go home–meaning Oakland.  Paris is really home but I’m not saying that anymore.  It’s a luxury dilemma that doesn’t always feel so luxurious.  And a universal dilemma I believe–wanting to be somewhere else when the going gets tough.

For now, I will take my fiscal stamps to pay for my new residency card.  Paris will have me for one more year.  For one more year, I will wake up with the joys and the aches of being a resident in this city.

A bientôt,

Sara

Going to Poitiers and my first Destination Wedding

When I mentioned to French friends that I was going to my first Destination Wedding, most of them looked blankly at me.  I had to explain that it was the latest trend among young Americans to pick a beautiful or exotic place to be married, invite all your friends and family and pray they liked you enough to spend the money and plan a vacation around it.

Blakely, younger sister of my Goddaughter, Elizabeth, chose a chateau outside of Poitiers: St Julien de l’Ars.  By the end of the weekend, I learned it was actually her father who did the choosing.  But never mind, how we all got there, 65-70 people showed up to wish Blakely and her fiancé, Josh, a champagne drenched Bon Voyage on their new adventure of marriage.  I was impressed by the amount of people that flew from Boston, Florida, Tennessee, New York and New Jersey as well as California where I’m from.

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Blakely, the night before the wedding

I was the only invited guest who lived in France.  It’s a quick trip on the TGV (France’s speed train) to Gare de Poitiers.  I had booked an AirBnB and had the opportunity to walk around the Centre Ville before meeting the shuttle that would take many of the guests out to the Chateau.  Poitiers seems to be a sleepy town.  In the three days I was there, I never saw many people out and about.  Even when I found the Saturday morning marché at Place Charles de Gaulle, people were scarce.

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Hotel de Ville, Poitiers

The wedding party and immediate family stayed at the Chateau St. Julien de l’Ars. The rest of the invited guests stayed in hotels and AirBnBs in Poitiers.  We were shuttled out to St. Julien de l’Ars in one of the comfortable buses that tourists often use for traveling in Europe.   We were greeted by a Chateau, hundreds of years old, not in great shape, but I imagine would be high on every little girl’s dream of where to have a story book wedding.

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A french friend told me there are a couple of thousand of these old Chateaux in France.  They are expensive to keep up and a large percentage are for sale.  The immediate history of St. Julien is that the owners are an American couple.  He was in a theatre group years ago and they used to come to the Chateau for practice and entertainment.  When it went up for sale, he and his wife bought it.  It was full of antiques which disappeared the same year the Americans purchased the property.  The antiques are probably in hiding or have been sold.  The Chateau is rented for large events like destinations weddings.

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There is an enormous amount of work that now needs to be done and the couple cannot afford it.  So after owning the chateau for eighteen years, they have put it up for sale again.  Anyone have a couple million euros?

It was old home week for many of the guests.  And also for me. I had not seen Blakely’s mother, Darcy, in a long time.  Once she moved away from the Bay Area it was harder to keep up constant contact.  She and Blakely’s dad were divorced and I hadn’t seen that side of the family since I’d been to Maine for a big birthday party for Blakely’s uncle.  Time really does smooth away a lot of wrinkles.  Things that seemed so important once upon a time seem completely irrelevant now.  I was very grateful that I’d made the effort to get to Poitiers.

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Even though the weather report called for rain, nature smiled on Blakely and Josh.  Chairs were set up in a grove covered by towering trees that seemed an endless archway.  A duo of string musicians played music while the wedding party walked from the chateau to the grove.  Blakely, ever resourceful and a strong proponent of recycling, wore her grandmother’s wedding dress that she, herself, worked on so that it fit her perfectly. The service was lovely, short and sweet.  The champagne toast that followed was highlighted by a “Cheese Cake” which Blakely promised had no sugar and no flour.

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I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling that these weddings of close ‘family’ that one has known their entire life are bitter sweet.  I kept looking at this  beautiful, enchanting and friendly woman with such composure and saw the little girl that I had known.  In 1991, when she was 5 years old, my home in Oakland burned down in the Big Oakland Firestorm.  Blakely made me promise that I wouldn’t rebuild a house in wood.  I didn’t.

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Blakely and Josh with the western sky in St. Julien

I felt so happy for her and so proud of her.  Yet this feeling of ‘where has the time gone?’ surrounded me.  It didn’t last but I had to work at it.

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Blakely at the end of the evening.  Photo by Darcy Hartmann
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Sara and Darcy, Blakely’s mom

Amazingly enough, everyone who made the trip to come to France to celebrate Blakely and Josh’s wedding thought it was well worth it.  It showed me how loyal their friends are.

A bientôt,

Sara

The Scarred Woman

It’s about time for another book review of a favorite author.  So while I prepare my blog on my very first ‘Destination Wedding”, get out your reading glasses and prepare yourself with one of the earlier books while waiting for the release of the The Scarred Woman.

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The Scarred Woman

by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Pub Date 19 Sep 2017

After I discovered and read, along with the rest of the world, the Dragon Tattoo Trilogy by Steig Larsson, I scarfed down every Scandinavian mystery/crime thriller I could find. I didn’t care if I’d never heard of the author, experience was teaching me that the books were sometimes good and often great. I don’t remember reading a poor one.

I was excited to discover two books by an author I’d not heard of, Jussi Adler-Olsen, a Dane, at a neighborhood book sale. They were both in practically perfect condition. Either the owner prior to me took extraordinarily good care of paperbacks or s/he was put off by the length of these mysteries. Her loss.

The two books I picked up happened to be the first two books in the series about Department Q. One certainly doesn’t have to read them in order–there are seven in all including The Scarred Woman–but I have loved being witness to the evolution of the main characters and Department Q itself. The first book details the beginning of Department Q, a demotion for Carl Morck who, although an excellent detective, is surly and on the outs with many of his colleagues. Department Q is created, in the bowels of the basement, for him to work on cold cases. He is given an assistant, Assad, a Muslim Dane, with a mysterious and dubious history. The two attempt to solve unsolvable cases.

As the series moves on, Carl and Assad get another member of the team, Rose. Rose is as off beat as the other two and the interactions between the three of them provide a levity much needed to balance the gruesome Nordic mystery and murders.

By the seventh book, years have passed, Carl and his team have become famous for solving hideous past crimes. They have saved each others’ lives and there is a strong if unspoken affection between all the team members that keeps the reader involved in these lengthy books. A fourth member has joined the team. Gordon has a serious crush on Rose and, as The Scarred Woman moves along, is traumatized by the fact that something is seriously emotionally wrong with Rose. The Chief of Police has retired and he, too, is falling apart after the death of his wife. However, a recent death looks to him like a murder as it is so similar to one seventeen years ago that he worked on. He is intrigued and asked Carl to look into it.

Meanwhile, another story of three beautiful but lazy, entitled girls, determined to marry rich men while living off their lies to their Social Worker, seems completely unrelated. Nothing happens without a reason and nothing happens quickly. For me, this is part of the charm of this series. We think along with Carl and Assad and sometimes the murderer. There are many many threads going at the same time much as life and the juggling of priorities and time are not unfamiliar to most of us. We are amused by the repartee between Carl and Assad especially and astounded by the many sides of Rose. The books are long, 500 to 600 or more pages but Adler-Olsen is such a good writer and so adapt at bringing the reader along far a wonderful ride that one feels we’re reading about distant friends. I never wanted any of the books to end.

I’ve always wondered how authors like Ruth Rendall, Adler-Olsen and a number of the Scandinavian writers come up with people and crimes that are pure evil. Some authors spend time making sure the reader understands that the murderer is a victim also, hostage to his or her past. I wouldn’t call Adler-Olsen’ books psychological thrillers as a number have now been labeled. He entertains us, he scares us and, often, he provides background to explain some of the horror but doesn’t dwell on it. As someone who worked in a psychological profession, I can say that he has definitely done his research. But then to create these masterful jigsaw puzzles from his research and extraordinary mind is true literary genius to me. One of the books says he is the No 1 bestselling author in Denmark. I didn’t know that as I’d never heard of him before this summer but I don’t doubt it.

If you are a true mystery/thriller fan and also like good writing, read this book and oh by the way, read the other five books also so that you became part of Department Q!.

 

B10GlZr+VYS._SY200_.jpgBiography

Carl Valdemar Jussi Henry Adler-Olsen (born August 2, 1950) is a Danish author, publisher, editor and entrepreneur. Jussi Adler-Olsen’s career is characterised by his great involvement in a wide range of media related activities. In 1984, he made his debut as a non-fiction writer. 1997 saw his debut as a fiction writer. His latest novel is The Boundless (Den Grænseløse) (2014) is the 6th volume in the Department Q series.
Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Lesekreis (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
A bientôt,
Sara

The further adventures of Bijou, the cat

While I was in the United States, January through May, Bijou was living the life of Riley.  She stayed with a friend who has quite a large apartment, consisting of three large bedrooms, a living room plus and a dining room plus.  Bijou had the run of the place.  And she literally could run in a circle going through almost every room.  She loved hiding under my friend’s bed, she would go to sleep on the kids’ book bags, she would sit on the back of a sofa for hours making those funny kitty noises every time she saw a bird and she made herself at home wherever she could.  She knew she was only a guest and never jumped up on a table or workspace as she did at my apartment.

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Hello

Once Spring came, things started to get a bit dicey.  The apartment is on the 6th floor.  Each room has a minimum of two ceiling almost to the floor windows.  And every window had a little balcony where healthy plants were waiting for the sun. The windows would be thrown open and Bijou, with tons of cat curiosity, would go exploring.  Just sitting on the little balcony was not enough.  She would jump up on the railing and when any of the family walked by, she would just look innocent.  While the family member had a small heart attack terrified Bijou would fall to the pavement and use up all her nine lives at once.

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One very hot in July night, my friend decided to leave all the windows open.  She could see that Bijou was near the balcony but opted for taking care of herself first. The next morning, when she called Bijou, Bijou was nowhere to be found.  She went looking everywhere and, after an hour, she was formulating a conversation with me to tell me that Bijou had disappeared.  Just as she picked up her phone, she saw Bijou looking pathetic outside her son’s window.  That window was not open the night before.  Neither of us even wanted to think how Bijou managed to get to that balcony from the opposite side.

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Phew, I’m glad she found me.  I’m tired

When I finally moved into my own apartment in early August, I came and got Bijou and, for the first time in eight months, we were living together.  I have a large terrace with a railing.  The top of the railing is 4″/10cm thick.  I’m on the 7th floor.  Each room has glass doors that open up on the south side of my building and it is necessary in warm weather to have them open.  Bijou loves the terrace and spends a lot of her time there.  At first, she would jump up on the railing and I was the one having a heart attack.  If I screamed or did something panicky, I was afraid I would scare her and she’d fall.  I would clap my hands very loud which has always been my signal to her that said “No”.  She would jump down.  As soon as I went inside, she’d jump up again and nonchalantly go walking over to the next door neighbor’s apartment.

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Are you talkin’ about me?

Bijou always comes when I call her.  She is basically a very good cat.  She is learning not to jump up on the railing and does it rarely now.  I’m still too nervous to leave the doors to the balcony open in the night when I’m sleeping or when I leave the apartment.  I don’t know why.  I truly don’t think anything would happen to her.  Cats have such an innate sense of balance and perspective of distance.  But……I don’t ever want to be in the position of saying “If only…..If only I’d done the right thing”  So doors stay closed at night, open during the day. Sara, the police, periodically wanders the apartment looking for any cat trouble Bijou may have gotten in.

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Bijou, who was bought off the streets of Paris 2 1/2 years ago, has grown into a sweet cat. I’m completely aware that the catcapades she gets into are completely in line with her job description.  She also likes to be in the same room as people.  She likes to sleep at the foot of the bed.  When she was very little she discovered a teddy bear of mine and to this day treats the bear like the mother she never had.  She will walk up slowly, sniff it then realizing it is mama bear, she will start kneeding the bear and collapse in pleasure while her front paws go in and out of the bears tummy.  I’m always so grateful it’s not my tummy.  My friend, Fatiha, adores Bijou and makes her toys out of whatever she finds lying around.  She gets Bijou to jump 4 feet high then teases her by pretending to throw a ball.  Bijou doesn’t care.  She adores Fatiha back and if Fatiha wants to play, that’s what Bijou will do.

And now you are caught up with the adventures of the fur ball living with me!!!

A bientôt,

Sara

Chemin de Fer de Petite Ceinture

Two weeks after I moved into my new home here in the 16th, I had some friends visit.  We walked up to La Rotonde at La Muette for a cafe allonge (a long pull coffee as opposed to an expresso).  We sat outside and enjoyed the people watching and street watching.  Across the street sat La Gare.  I knew there was a train station nearby that serviced the RER C but I didn’t think it was that close.  The next day, a friend came in from the suburbs and I asked her about it.  She told me about la Petite Ceinture–literally the little belt.  La ceinture was a rail line that serviced all the main stations in Paris and by the time it was finished construction made a loop around Paris.  It’s heyday was the 1900 Universal Expo in Paris.  It was also the beginning of the end for the Ceinture as the metro lines were being built and introduced.

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Sign as one enters the pathway near my street.

La Gare, which we had been admiring, was one of the little stations for the Ceinture.  It is now a terrace tea room on it’s main floor and a restaurant underneath where the trains would stop.  The architects of La Gare as restaurant saved the signs so one can see exactly where the quays were.  The mezzanine is marked Baggage and houses the toilets and coat service.

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Once a rail station for la Petite Ceinture now a restaurant and tea shop
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Photo of the menu showing the restaurant.  Sunday brunch is 39euros!

The 16th arrondissement has resurrected 1.2 kilometers of the rail line and turned it into a nature path.  It lies directly between my building and Porte de Passy.  At the end of rue de l’Assomption is one of the gates to enter into the path.  It is green, inviting, extremely quiet and shady for our hot summer days.  Along the way are signs inviting us to look at the trees, birds and other natural phenomena telling us what to look for.  You just get started and the walk is over.  I gather there is great and on-going debate about what to do with the 36 kilometers total of the old rail line.

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A waste container made from the wood along the path and a sign begging us not to throw our cigarette butts or any ‘crap’ on the path.

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At the end of the nature path, in the Jardin de Ranelagh, is this insect hotel! with an explanation of why they are so important.

If you want to know the fascinating history of the Chemin de Far de Petite Ceinture, go to:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemin_de_fer_de_Petite_Ceinture

In a 2004 episode of Poirot “The Mystery of the Blue Train”, Poirot and friends board the Blue Train in London to go to Nice.  On the way, he explains to his traveling companion that they are on La Petite Ceinture to get to the Gare de Lyon where they will turn south to go to Nice.

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Above: One of the last Petite Ceinture de Paris passenger trains in 1933 – its passenger service would close one year later. right: View of the Ouest Champ du Mars station during the 1900 exposition, with the Boulainvilliers bridge-viaduct for Batignolles trains in the background.

Some of my readers know the 16th quite well.  Perhaps this little sign with a map will bring back memories. The three metro stations are Ranelagh, Jasmin, Michel-Ange.

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A bientôt,

Sara

Brittany Part 2–Kerprouet

When we left Perros-Guirec, we went to my friend, Roland’s, house in Kerprouet.  Kerprouet is hard to find on a map.  That’s because it is a small hamlet of six houses. One family lives there full time, Roland comes and goes from his home in Perros-Guirec, there are two English owners who don’t seem to come very often.  The other two homes are owned by members of the family who live there full time.

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Entering Kerprouet

Kerprouet is near the town of Huelgoat and lies on the eastern end of the National Forest in Finistere.  Each day, we lingered around drinking coffee in the morning then made a day trip to somewhere on the coast.  Every trip was a minimum of an hour!

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House owned by an Englishman but the gardens done by Yves and Josette who live there full time

The first day we went to Presqu’Ile de Crozon where the Atlantic ocean hits, sometimes with intense savagery, the cliffs of this peninsula that is almost the most western tip of France and Europe.  My photos will not do it justice.  There is heather on the moors that lead up to the cliffs.  The water is turquoise where it comes into safety in inlets and beaches.  And there are lighthouses on almost every tip manned twenty-four hours a day by the French navy.

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Pointe de Pen-Hir on Presqu’ile de Crozon

 

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Walking on the GR 34 out to the Pointe de Pen-Hir

The following days we visited the town of Locronan, named one of the most beautiful villages in Brittany.  It reminded me a lot of Mendocino, a beautiful place completely taken over by retail shops selling souvenirs.  However, we were lucky enough to see a religious procession of Britons in their native costume.

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Town square in Locronan with Church on the left

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We went to Pointe de Raz “le bout du Monde”-the end of the earth.  I love the faience that comes from Quimper. So we went to Quimper one day, did a tour of the Henriot factory, I bought some faience and then went to the Musee which exhibited years of beautiful work.

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The end of the earth with the lighthouse

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The heather on the moors

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On our last full day in the Finistere, we went to visit another friend of mine, Philippe, in Pont-Aven.  Pont-Aven once was the home Gauguin and friends who took advantage of the beauty of this village that sits at the tip of the Aven river.  Philippe took us on a wonderful walk along GR 34 that took us out to the sea along the Aven river, around the tip and back along the Belon river.

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Barbara, Sara and Philippe’s friend, a true Briton born and raised.

There are so many more photos but that’s enough for today.  Time to come back to Paris, to the 16th arrondissement and the further adventures of Bijou the cat!

A bientôt,

Sara