Passport to Paris: A touch of France in Denver, Colorado

Denver Art Museum

Denver Art Museum

Last weekend we visited the Denver Art Museum’s Passport to Paris exhibit, advertised as “More Monet in Denver than ever before.” I love the French Impressionists, so there was no doubt we were going to go, even if it meant dragging a three-year-old and an eighteen-month-old through an art museum. Between pushing buttons on the audio tours for the kids to keep them entertained (“Mommy! She stopped talking again!”) and pulling my daughter’s curious fingers away from priceless works of art (“NOOOOOOOOOO! Off limits! Eyes only!” Cue hyperventilating  Mom all too aware of angry glares from other patrons) we managed to see most of the works displayed in the show’s trio of rooms.

DSC01306

The rooms: Court to Cafe, Nature as Muse, and Drawing Room, focus on French art from the late 1600s to the early 1900s and include a fascinating look at how art and society mirrored each other through these dynamically evolving centuries. The show incorporates 50 masterpieces from the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, 36 landscapes from the impressionist artists from the private collection of Frederic C. Hamilton – on public display for the first time, as well as drawings on paper from master artists of the period. Here are a couple of my favorites (no photography was allowed, so I had to scan them from postcards I bought):

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Claude Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil, 1873 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

The Beach at Trouville, 1870 by Claude Monet

The Beach at Trouville, 1870 by Claude Monet

If you are in the Denver area and interested, the show is here through February 9, 2014, and tickets can be purchased online or at the museum. Click here for more details.

Photo Day: Aix en Provence and the Abbaye de Sénanque

I’ve never been to Provence in the fall, but summers there are magical. Here are some more of my favorite photos:

 

Aix en Provence

Aix-en-Provence

Place du General de Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence

Place du General de Gaulle, Aix-en-Provence

Fresh fruit of Provence

Fresh fruit of Provence

Abbaye de Sénanque, from the road above

Abbaye de Sénanque, from the road above

Abbaye de Sénanque and lavender field

Abbaye de Sénanque and lavender field

Me in a lavender field

Me in a lavender field

I adore sunflowers!

I adore sunflowers!

Vineyard tucked into the hills of Provence

Vineyard tucked into the hills of Provence

Another view of the Abbey, with lavender fields

Another view of the Abbey, with lavender fields

Lavender

Lavender

Je t'adore, belle Provence!

Je t’adore, belle Provence!

Liebster Award

liebster awardThere’s nothing like an award nomination to boost morale and motivation! A fellow Francophile at Oh Sacré Bleu nominated me for the Liebster Award. Thank you, and Yay!

This award is a pat on the back for newish bloggers from fellow bloggers, meant to help spread the word about our favorite blogs out there in the blogosphere.

As part of the Liebster award, I must do the following:

  • Post the award on my blog
  • Thank the blogger presenting me with the award and provide a link back to their blog
  • Write 11 random facts about myself (uh-oh)
  • Pay it forward: find 11 other blogs with less than 200 followers that I enjoy reading and nominate them. (This is a tough one! Many blogs I follow have more than 200 followers, or have already been nominated, or I don’t know how many followers they have and couldn’t figure it out, but here are a bunch of really great ones that I’m happy to share. Sadly, I had to leave many of my discoveries off the list.) Okay, so, my dad was a math teacher, leaving me with a strong left brain, and I have to wonder… if every nominee faithfully nominates 11 blogs, after about 10 rounds, we’ve well exceeded human population … but I digress. It’s great to receive and spread blog love.
  • Answer the 11 questions the award presenter asked me, and ask my nominees 11 questions

Here we go:

Random Facts About Me

1. Many of my relatives are cowboys, the real deal (read about them here). I, however, am horribly allergic to horses.

2. I wake up every morning at 5 a.m. to work out.

3. I’m left handed.

4. I’ve sprained my ankles well over 20 times between the two of them. Ridiculous.

5. My mom wouldn’t let me take French in high school, despite me really wanting to. She said, “Carol, you live in Arizona. You’ll never have any occasion to use French. You’ll take Spanish.” Then I married a Frenchman. I like to remind her of this story.

6. I  need a social media detox on a regular basis. I have a crappy little phone with no internet access and I like it that way. I often leave it behind, as well as my laptop – life feels freer and simpler when I disconnect from all devices. I’ll take a paper map over GPS any day.

7. I’ve been to 5 continents. Missing Australia and Antarctica.

8. Even though the bottle says rinse then repeat, I don’t repeat. I’m rebellious like that.

9.I recently discovered that I’m dairy intolerant. It’s really pissing me off.

10.  I’m a redhead. I’ve always been one, and I’ve always liked being one.

11.  I have a doctorate degree in physical therapy.

Eleven Questions from Oh Sacré Bleu

1. Why do you blog? Because I love to write. And I think I found a good subject to blog about.

2. Are you in any way a ‘cultural failure’? i.e. You don’t do something that is typical of your nationality or culture (e.g. an Indian who doesn’t like spicy food, an Irishman who doesn’t drink alcohol etc) I think being a Francophile makes me a cultural failure, doesn’t it? It certainly did during the “freedom fries” craziness. I also don’t like apple pie, I can’t get excited about baseball, and I can’t bring myself to eat a corn dog. I just threw up in my mouth a little thinking about corn dogs.

3. Do you believe in ghosts? If I say no, will the ghosts find out and come to get me?

4. What’s a really bad song that you secretly like? See You Again by Miley Cyrus. Yeah, that’s right. She was in Hannah Montana mode when she rocked this one.

5. One country you can’t wait to visit? Only one? Ok. New Zealand.

6. Dogs or cats? Dogs. Big dogs.

7. Favourite city in the world that you’ve visited? I have to say Paris, right? I love Paris. Not to live, but to visit.

8. Do you collect anything? Randomly and unconsciously, I do. Buttons. The extra ones that come with new clothes. I don’t just collect them, I hoard them. Weirdo.

9. Favourite destination in your own country? Yosemite National Park

Happy happy me, in Yosemite Valley

Happy happy me, in Yosemite Valley

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls

10. Worst thing about living in my country is…. Angry, hateful, bitter political climate.

11. Best thing about living in my country is….Diversity. People, cultures, food, terrain – you can find it all, here.

 

My Nominations:

C’est La Vie Cuisine Yummy recipes and a slice of life from a Frenchwoman living in the U.S.

Little Miss Frenchified An American teaching English to Strasbourg high school students.

Multilingual Parenting Advice and insight from a parent who has been there and done that.

Learn French With Jennifer A French teacher married to a Frenchman gives us a word a day. Great resource for French learners.

Stumbling Into Paradise Fun stories of adventures in learning French (complete with stereotypical hardass French teacher) and traveling.

The Head of the Heard Stephen shares his adventures of living in a foreign country and raising a multilingual child.

Au Lit! An Aussie married to a Frenchie living in France

The European Mama A Polish mom married to a German living in the Netherlands and raising three kiddos

Brian Goldsmith Photography For some fantastic armchair traveling

Meg Travels Beautiful photos and anecdotes from around the world

Traveling Frenchies Family of Frenchies, traveling the world

 

Okay, you guys are up: Eleven Questions for My Nominees

1.     If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

2.    What is the best book you’ve read recently?

3.    What is the nicest thing a random stranger has ever done for you?

4.    Your life will be made into a movie. Who do you want to play you?

5.    What was your favorite childhood toy?

6.    What is your guilty pleasure?

7.    Sweet or savory?

8.    If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

9.    How many and which languages do you speak?

10. What was your favorite subject in school? Least favorite?

11.  If you could have any job other than your current one, what would you do?

Now what are you waiting for? Go check out these blogs! Go!

 

A Trip to France and Ireland (from a few years back)

We’re temporarily grounded. I haven’t been to France since the summer of 2011 – the longest break from my beloved adopted country in a decade. The thought of traveling overseas with a 2-year-old and a baby is so daunting that we’re exploring closer to home these days. We’re gearing up for 2014; that will likely be the year of our big return to France. For now, I’m going to reminisce about some of our past adventures. With photos.

We brought my family to France and showed them around Paris, including the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens:

029 Luxembourg Palace

And Versailles, where we also visited the lesser known Hameau de la Reine, a small village and garden built for Marie Antoinette:

062 M.A. garden

We traveled through the Loire Valley; here is a photo of the rooftops of Ambroise. I love rooftops in French villages:

094 Ambroise from castle

Next we went to Bretagne (Brittany), western France. Gorgeous flowers abound:

136 Flowers

Here we are in Port de St. Goustan:

154 Port de St. Goustan

My husband and I then went on to Ireland. Here I am in Kinsale, one of our favorite towns…

189 Kinsale Harbor

…where we hung out in a pub with this sign. Will you buy me a drink if I tell you?

191 Will you buy me a  drink if I tell you

Ahhh, laptop traveling. It’s not quite the same. But it will do for now.

Opera

I went to my first Opera recently. We saw La Fille du Régiment (The Daughter of the Regiment). Originally set during the Napoleonic Wars, it tells the story of a regiment of soldiers who adopt a young girl who then grows up among their ranks. The San Diego Opera moved the story to World War II, so the idea that a girl would spend so many years with a group of soldiers doesn’t really fly, but as the review in the paper said: don’t think about it too much. I didn’t. Honestly, what I was thinking through most of the opera was this: I’m so flipping bored. I wonder what time Ghirardelli Chocolate closes?

I know, I know, it’s terrible. Horribly disrespectful. I can appreciate, on a technical level, what the performers accomplished. But I don’t enjoy the music. Nor did I love the story. It’s not that I don’t love a good musical or a star-crossed lovers story. This one just didn’t work for me.

Plus, I felt like I’d stepped into an alternative universe. One where a man backs his Maserati up at full speed with his nose in the air, not even bothering to glance at you because he knows you’ll get out of his oh-so-important way. Where big-breasted but otherwise skeletal young women wear five figure gowns and wobble ever-so-delicately on their sparkly heels, clinging to the arms of their white-haired husbands. Where people go to see and be seen; to have their photos taken for the society page of the newspaper.

“Where are we? Who are these people?” I kept asking my husband.

He was trying to figure out what the performers were saying while I tried to not look at his watch to see how much time had passed since the last time I looked at his watch.

“I can’t understand anything they’re saying. Their French is killing me,” he mumbled.

Yeah. I don’t think we’ll become season ticket holders. I’ve always wanted to experience an opera. Now I have. Check.

Instead I think I’ll stick to the kind of opera I love: Opera Café and Patisserie. Where they serve their namesake dessert: Opera, a layered almond sponge cake soaked in coffee syrup and layered with ganache and buttercream then covered in chocolate.

The café is located in a strip mall in Sorrento Valley; not exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find a gem of a restaurant like this. It’s my favorite place to meet my husband for lunch. The preceding conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hey, babe, can I come up and meet you for lunch?”

“Sure. Do you want to try a different restaurant this time?”

“What? No! Why would you even say that?”

Gentle smile. “So are you coming to see me or are you coming because of Opera?”

Pause. “You, of course, honey.”

And this (because no blog is complete without food photos):

IMG_7112

That’s an Opera where I can happily cheer, “Encore!”

Stuff Parisians Like

Stuff Parisians LikeOlivier Magny, a native Parisian, writes with an insider’s knowledge yet the unique ability to pull back and see the irony and humor of his own culture from an outsider’s perspective. His book, originally released in French and based on Magny’s blog, is a series of short observation pieces with titles like, “Crossing the Street in a Bold Way,” and “Thinking That Not Wearing White Socks Makes You a Better Person.” Magny’s spot-on observations had my husband and I laughing until tears were spilling from our eyes. I read aloud while my husband would nod and smile, then say, “oh, if this guy knows his stuff, next he’ll be talking about X.” Sure enough, the next paragraph would talk about X.

Magny helps decipher the opinionated, sometimes exasperating, but never boring Parisian psyche in a way that made him an instant best seller in France and convinced my husband that he’s a cultural genius.

Here are a few gems:

From Winning Conversations: “A conversation in Paris is both a scene and a battle. Parisians win conversations. That’s what they do.” (pg. 115)

I admit I sometimes enjoy the discussions/debates I have with my French friends. Even when they agree, they’re likely to take the opposing viewpoint, just for fun. But there’s only so much I can take before I want to crack open the booze and play beer pong or maybe watch a Will Ferrell movie (neither of which my French friends seem to appreciate).

From Crossing the Street in a Bold Way: “The only Parisians crossing at pedestrian crossings are old folks. The rest of the crowd standing there is made up of banlieusards, provinciaux, and tourists… (Parisians) have no fear and they demonstrate it. By engaging the road with brutal authority. Tourists mistake authority for insanity. Foolish!… Refinement in this dance is to cross the street while keeping your walking pace absolutely unchanged from one side of the road to the other. As in an urban bullfight, the closer you cross to the running car and the faster the car is going, the more thrilling, the more beautiful the move. Parisians caress cars.”  (pg. 48)

Spot-on! I’ve seen this dance many times. I’ve even started to learn the steps.

From Not Exercising: “The only Parisians who occasionally exercise (usually though not to the point of breaking a sweat) are the ones who have at some point lived in America. There, they discovered a different reality where people can be both intelligent and in shape. So they run. Usually for twenty minutes a week. Maximum.” (pg. 129)

Yep. My Parisian friends repeatedly question me about why I work out daily, and assert that their 20 minutes a week of peddling a stationary bike is plenty. When I tell them about the importance of daily exercise and strength training and cardiovascular health (I’m a physical therapist), they shake their heads and argue that it’s just too much (See Winning Conversations). And that they walk, and that’s plenty. (Also an observation from Magny.)

From Complaining: “In Paris, enthusiasm is considered a mild form of retardation. If you are happy, you must be stupid. On the other hand, if you complain, you must be smart.” (pg. 135)

So that’s what’s going on!

Seriously, if you love the French but are perplexed about what makes them tick, or if you hate the French and want a great laugh, and definitely if you are somewhere between these sentiments, you will love this book.

Rue, Rit, Roue

Sunset on the Seine from Pont Neuf, near where I studied French in Paris

Sunset on the Seine from Pont Neuf, near where I studied French in Paris

In continuing with my quest to ensure my French is fluent enough that my husband and kids don’t end up with a secret language, I enrolled in another SDSU French class this semester. Phonetics and Oral Proficiency.

“That sounds horribly boring,” said one of my girlfriends. Really? I’m already loving it. I’m counting on this being the course that takes my French to the next level; shoves me out of my bad habits and gives me a sexy accent rather than an eardrum-rupturing American twang. Because really, it’s all about sounding sexy, right?

My instructor opened with a lesson on the subtle difference between vowel sounds using the words rue and roue. Little did she know the humiliating, hair-pulling relationship I have with these horrible little words.

It all goes back to the spring I studied French in Paris and a particularly nasty teacher named Catherine. She spoke to us in a condescending snail’s pace and had the stereotypical French teacher’s approach that relied on confrontation and humiliation. The class that day was focused on pronunciation, an excellent idea before she got her hands on it. She asked us to say, “rue, rit, roue.” (street, laugh, wheel). Dead silence followed her request (I wasn’t the only student who felt her teaching style discouraged participation), so after a few awkward moments I gave it a go.

Rue, rit, roue.”

The second the words left my mouth, Catherine and the entire class burst out laughing. I did, too; I sounded like a cat choking on a fur ball. Catherine asked me to try again. And again. And again. The class stopped laughing and instead looked on in horror at the train wreck that was my pronunciation crashing head-on into Catherine’s mocking. I kept trying, face flaming. No matter how many times I repeated the words, I just couldn’t get them right. Catherine, in a rare moment of kindness, told me that these subtle vowel differences were particularly difficult for Anglophones.

Then she asked me to repeat them again.

I tried. Failed. So I said, in French, “I just can’t do it.”

She said, “Carol, once more.”

“I’ve tried 15, 20 times. I can’t do it.” I wanted her to move on, allow my tongue to unravel and my face to return to its normal color.

She had other ideas. “Once more, Carol, for my amusement.”

Are you kidding me?

“No.”

She continued to insist. I continued to refuse. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at me. It got so awkward that I finally tried once more. She laughed.

She finally moved on, but throughout the class asked me to repeat the words, “for my pleasure,” or “for my amusement.”

Even when I started to say the words correctly, she couldn’t let it go. All day long, just when I’d think we were moving on, she’d come back to me. “Carol: rue, rit, roue! Répete!” Then she’d say something like, “It’s a fun class today, isn’t it, Carol?”

Comment dit-on, “heinous bitch” en Français ?

Even today, I can do a rolling French R and I can make the vowel sounds, but putting them together proves an impossible feat. I think I’m so traumatized by my experience that I have a mental block. But that’s just dumb pop psychology to the French. Luckily, my professor is American. She makes learning French, even in its hardest moments, fun. I’m inspired by her flawless French. I’m determined to conquer this ridiculous language and all its annoying nasal and hacking and gagging sounds.

Lookout, rue, rit, roue. I’m coming for you.