French Flowers in the Fall Tuesday, Nov 18 2014 

It’s always a bit triste (sad) when late fall’s cool temperatures finally decimate flower gardens in France. Due to the country’s generally mild climate, French flowers are obviously glorious from spring until early fall – click here for previous posts on splendid gardens in France. And while my take is that French winter gardens have their own special magic, there is still something qui manque (lacking) when all the bright colors disappear due to frosty weather.

However, this fall and winter France lovers in the U.S. can enjoy vibrantly hued French flowers in Dallas all cold season long – and no jackets or coats required. From now through February 8, 2015, the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) is hosting “Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse,” a breathtaking exhibit devoted to French floral still-life painting from the 18th century to early 20th century. Developed in cooperation with the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, this special show explores the evolution of flower painting through works of such famous artists as Van Gogh, Delacroix, Fantin-Latour, Manet, Courbet, Matisse and many others.

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“Bouquets” fills seven stunningly colored galleries with each one painted a different hue to set off the art. With all the works so superficially pretty, it would be easy to breeze through the variously themed rooms and miss the real richness of the exhibition. But as DMA curator and show co-organizer Heather MacDonald pointed out in a recent preview I attended, “Bouquets” is not merely a nice collection of decorative flower paintings. The exhibition is meant to dig deep into the floral still-life genre to showcase both the artists’ creativity in documenting the natural world and also the historical and cultural contexts that led to the works’ development.

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Image courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art

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Anne Vallayer-Coster, Bouquet of Flowers in a Blue Porcelain Vase, 1776, DMA

As I walked through the galleries, I found myself fascinated by the depictions of flowers in every format – casual to polished, natural to stylized, grand scale to petit tableau. I wanted to spend time in front of each of the more than 60 paintings from museum and private collections around the world and get to know these colorful works by heart. Had I done that, I would have been there all day. Still I plan to see the show several times to take in all the fabulous French bouquets gathered here. 

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A special feature in the center of the exhibition is the aptly named “Atelier des Fleurs.” The “Flower Workshop” offers visitors a chance to sit down and create their own bouquet image using the art supplies and fresh flower arrangement provided. You can post your artwork on the cloth boards for others to enjoy or take it with you.

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I happened to see the ‘changing of the bouquets’ on the day I was there. Every week throughout the exhibition, the Dallas Museum League volunteers bring a new colorful bouquet inspired by the paintings in the show. What a fabulous touch!

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After Dallas, “Bouquets” will travel to the Virginia Museum of Fine Art in Richmond and then on to the Denver Art Museum. The fully illustrated exhibition catalogue entitled Working Among Flowers: Floral Still-Life Painting in 19th Century France is terrific and a great way to keep the flower show going after you’ve seen it or to enjoy the floral still-lifes chez vous if one of these cities is not on your upcoming travel list. It also makes a superb Christmas present for any French art lover or French garden lover or Francophile on your gift list.

Speaking of gifts, I learned in the show that many of these artists painted floral still-lifes with the intention of giving them away as presents. It reminded me of a small, rustic bouquet painting I picked up at a Paris flea market earlier this year. While it won’t win any art prizes, the French flower painting is old and charming and cheerful – and sure enough, it was painted as a gift. A barely legible “Bonne année,” or ‘Happy new year’ is inscribed near the artist’s signature.

Dallas Museum of Art

1717 N. Harwood

Dallas, TX 75201

Tickets are $8 each (free for DMA Partners & children under 11)

• Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (March 21, 2015–June 21, 2015)

• Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (July 19, 2015–October 11, 2015)

 

 

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PS: If you go, don’t miss the two ”brioche paintings.” Manet painted fluffy brioche bread with flowers – they look real enough to eat!

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Deep France Wednesday, Oct 15 2014 

To my mind, one of the best things about France is the French countryside. These are just some of the images that come to mind: Driving down a rural lane past centuries-old farms in Normandy or Burgundy. Taking a long walk in the once-royal forest of Fontainebleau. Picking my way through moss-laden trees in the Dordogne woods. Smelling the pines and sea air in the hinterlands of the Médoc or in the hills behind the Côte d’Azur. Getting stopped by a rowdy herd of goats on a remote road in Corsica or Provence. Biking around the scenic Ile de Ré. Tracing the outline of bare trees against open fields in winter. Seeing thousands of yellow sunflowers swaying in the wind. Watching the sun slowly set over rolling green vineyards. The possibilities of French landscapes are almost endless – and so easily obtainable. All you have to do is get out of the city and voilà, the French countryside is there.

Thinking about the non-city experience in France reminds me of the wonderful French expression ‘la France profonde’ – deep France. As one of my French friends puts it, ”la France profonde signifie la France des campagnes. Sans urbanisation et progrès, et ancrée dans les traditions.” In other words, deep France is the French countryside untouched by urbanization or development and anchored in tradition. In this view, French rural life is simple and idyllic in a positive sense. To another French friend, however, la France profonde is rather pejorative. It reminds her of a remote backwater, its inhabitants out of touch with modern life. Perhaps the American expression the ‘deep South’ is similar, both positive and negative depending on whom you talk to.

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Recently, I had a very deep France encounter in its best sense. You know when you’re really in the mood for something and then it happens that the more than the perfect thing comes along to satisfy that wish? For me, it was just that with the extraordinary French documentary film “Le Cousin Jules.” Originally released in 1973 and despite receiving critical acclaim, Cousin Jules languished in relative film obscurity until it was digitized and re-released this past year.  

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Watching Le Cousin Jules is to step back in time to real, deep France – and I was totally mesmerized. Filming over a five-year period starting in the late 60’s, director Dominique Benicheti records the rhythms and rituals of the lives of his cousin Jules Guiteaux and his wife Félicie on their farm in Burgundy. Each day, Jules dons wooden clogs and leather apron to begin work in his shop, while Félicie tends the vegetable garden and prepares their meals.

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From the music of Jules’ hammer hitting the anvil to the sweetness of Félicie’s gnarled hands peeling potatoes to their simple lunch taken together in near silence, every scene is rich in the details of daily life. My favorite scene is when Félicie joins her husband in his blacksmith shop after lunch and carefully prepares their coffee on the wood-burning stove. You can tell it’s something that she’s done hundreds of times throughout their lives but somehow the action manages to be fresh and alive in that moment.

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Before sitting down to watch this jewel of French cinema, however, you have to know that the film really is a documentary. There is no storyline and almost no dialogue. The drama is simply everyday life in the French countryside. (There is a big shift midway through the film, however. I won’t give it away here, and try not to read about it on the internet before seeing the movie!) To enjoy the film is to completely slow down and take in the details, the sounds and the rhythms of a time that no longer exists in France or elsewhere for that matter. But Benicheti makes the watching very worthwhile – he filmed Le Cousin Jules in lush CinemaScope and recorded it in stereo for a ravishing visual and auditory experience.

So if you’re game for a completely different type of film, pick up the Cousin Jules DVD at your local art flick rental store or buy a copy for your French film library. Then sit back with a nice glass of French wine and let yourself be immersed in la France profonde. Warmly poetic but unsentimental, Le Cousin Jules palpably captures the beauty of rural France, the simplicity of daily peasant life, and the nearly wordless intimacy of a lifelong relationship.  

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French Take-Out ~ La France  à emporter

To enjoy more French film viewing in the U.S., be sure and check out the swell website frenchflicks.com. Every week, French Flicks lists all the French movies being shown in America including special film festivals and events. For an added bonus, it also cross-references French film offerings on Netflix and TV5 Monde.

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Paris With a View Thursday, Oct 2 2014 

There is no shortage of beautiful sights in Paris. Almost everywhere you look merits a picture or postcard moment. But by far the most arresting views in the city are the ones with altitude. From the top of the Arc de Triomphe to the dome of the Pantheon to the towers of Notre Dame, there are numerous vantage points where you can see the city from incredible angles. 

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In this week’s post, I’ve pulled together a list of my favorite Paris panoramic spots – some well known and some off the beaten track – including whether they are accessible by stairs or elevators. You have to know what you’re getting into after all. I’ve also noted the ticket cost – a couple of them are even free – and whether the site is included in the Paris Museum Pass (PMP). So I invite you to check out these exceptional ways of discovering Paris from above and maybe put a few on your Paris to-do list the next time you’re there. One of these days, I am going to visit them all in the space of a month and dedicate a photo album to “Paris vu d’en haut” (Paris Seen from Above). Bonne visite!

(listed in order of arrondissement)

Tour Jean Sans Peur, 2nd arr: The Tower of John the Fearless is the last vestige of the Parisian palace belonging to the powerful Dukes of Burgundy. Hand-carved stone steps lead to the top of this medieval jewel. 5 euros. www.tourjeansanspeur.com/

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Notre-Dame, 4th arr: For climbing the 387 steps to the balcony on the western facade of Notre Dame, you get a double bonus – seeing the cathedral’s towers and gargoyles up close as well as enjoying the superb views of Paris. 8.50 euros or PMP. Tower entrance at the northwest exterior corner of the church. www.cathedraledeparis.com

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Centre Georges Pompidou, 4th arr: Whether or not you like the mod architecture of the Pompidou Center (some days I do, some days I don’t!), the viewing deck from the top floor is outstanding. 3 euros panorama ticket or included with regular museum entry fee or PMP. www.centrepompidou.fr

Panthéon, 5th arr: Built on Mount St. Genevieve in Paris, the Pantheon is a must on any walking tour of the Latin Quarter. In addition to the great views from the dome (via stairs), several French notables are buried in the crypt including Voltaire, Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Marat, Emile Zola, Jean Moulin, Louis Braille and Marie Curie. 7.5 euros or PMP. Note: Due to ongoing renovations, access to the dome may be limited.  www.pantheonparis.com

Tour Eiffel, 7th arr: The most obvious place to get a good look out over Paris is the Eiffel Tower. It’s also an intriguing spot weather-wise – I once visited when it was raining at the bottom only to find it was snowing when I reached the top! 15 euros for elevator access to the summit or 5 euros to climb the 704 steps to the second level. (Definitely buy any tickets in advance online as the ticket queue there is always way too long.) www.tour-eiffel.fr  

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Musée d’Orsay, 7th arr: Accessed via stairs or elevators, the rooftop terrace at the Orsay Museum is one of my favorite venues in the city. You’re right in the center of everything – it feels like you could reach out and touch the Louvre or wave to folks on the Bateaux-Mouches on the Seine. And seeing Paris through the massive clock window is not to be missed! 11 euros or PMP. www.musee-orsay.fr

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Arc de Triomphe, 8th arr: The Arc de Triomphe at the top of the Champs-Elysées puts Paris in perspective – literally. From the 12 broad avenues radiating out from the Arch to the stunning axis running east to the Louvre and west to the La Défense Arch, Arc de Triomphe’s terrace (stairs only) offers views day or night like no other. 9.50 euros or PMP. To reach the Arch, don’t try to cross the traffic circle above ground – use the underground passageway.  www.arcdetriompheparis.com

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Galeries Lafayette and Printemps Haussmann, 9th arr: In addition to all the fabulous shopping, the famous French department stores have great rooftop views of Paris. You can take the elevators, escalators or stairs to the 7th floor at Galeries Lafayette and the 9th floor at Printemps to reach the “terrasse panoramique.” Free. www.galerieslafayette.com, www.printemps.com

Institut du monde arabe, 13th arr: Located on the eastern end of Paris, the Institut du Monde arabe overlooks the Seine, Notre Dame, the Ile St. Louis and the Marais. The rooftop terrace on the 9th level (elevators) is open daily Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm. Entrance is free. www.imarabe.org/terrasse-panoramique

Tour Montparnasse, 14th arr: Parisians joke about how ugly the black Left Bank skyscraper la Tour Montparnasse is. The even bigger joke is how fantastic the views of Paris are from the Tower’s 56th floor viewing deck – especially because while there, you can’t see the Tour Montparnasse itself! The 360 degree views are accessible 365 days of the year, with the regular viewing deck reachable by elevator and the very top terrace by additional stairs. 14.50 euros.  www.tourmontparnasse56.com

Parvis du Sacré-Coeur, 18th arr: The Basilica of Sacré Coeur floats on the hill of Montmartre on Paris’s northern edge. The view from the square in front of the church is wonderful, but the outlook from the top of Sacré Coeur’s dome is sublime. Note that there are 300 steps to reach the top! www.sacre-coeur-montmartre.com

Grande Arche de la Défense: Inaugurated on July 14, 1989, for the bicentennial of the French Revolution, the great arch of La Défense symbolizes the modern business district west of Paris where it is located. The unique perspective towards the Arc de Triomphe, the Place de la Concorde and the Louvre is truly amazing. Access to the roof via glass elevator. 10 euros, 5 euros on Tuesdays. www.grandearche.com

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NB: Weather conditions may affect accessibility to some of these sites.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

The famous French photographer, reporter and environmentalist Yann Arthus-Bertrand has specialized in aerial views of magnificent sites and sights all around the world. Click here to see a gorgeous video he did of Paris a few years ago. It will transport you straight to the City of Light!

Paint in Provence Wednesday, Sep 24 2014 

Provence is possibly the most beautiful and rewarding region in all of France. It is known for its charming villages, picturesque countryside, warm sunshine, lively markets, fragrant gardens, flavorful cuisine, wonderful wines, and relaxed culture. And Provence’s stunning light and color have inspired artists for centuries.

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This next summer, your can have your own French art experience with French Affaires’ upcoming “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop” featuring southern France artist and resident Jill Steenhuis and hosting by France expert Elizabeth Seitz. During this hands-on week plus of French painting and culture, you’ll discover various motifs including Provençal landscapes, village architecture, outdoor markets, still lifes and more while working on composition, brush stroke and color mixing. Cultural visits to Cézanne’s art studio, Van Gogh’s painting sites and more will deepen your understanding of the real Provence. Jill’s artistic expertise, warm energy and poetic spirit plus Elizabeth’s knowledge and desire to share the riches of this region make it a creative journey you won’t want to miss!

“Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”

May 28 to June 6, 2015

Everything is arranged for your perfect art adventure – private accommodations in modern apartments in the heart of Aix-en-Provence, painting lessons for beginners to experienced artists with celebrated painter Jill Steenhuis, superb cultural excursions in the steps of artists Cézanne and Van Gogh, wonderful lunches and dinners featuring Provence cuisine with wine, visits to colorful outdoor markets, trip hosting by Elizabeth Seitz, and more. You’ll love soaking in the art and ambiance of Provence during this personal and unique painting trip in southern France.

Provence Painting & Culture Workshop Highlights

Nine days, eight nights in your modern, centrally located Aix apartment

Outdoor & studio painting classes with artist Jill Steenhuis

Cultural activities & trip hosting by France expert Dr. Elizabeth Seitz

Guided cultural tours of Cézanne’s & Van Gogh’s Provence

Gourmet Provence lunches & dinners with wine

Colorful Provence outdoor markets & villages

Your wonderful paintings & sketches to take home as souvenirs of your trip!

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Your Provence Trip Hosts

 Jill Steenhuis, Artist

Jill Painting in CassisJill Steenhuis, an Atlanta native, is a French impressionist painter living in the south of France. Jill earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts at Sweet Briar College in 1980. Upon graduation, she studied at the celebrated Leo Marchutz School of Painting & Drawing in Aix-en-Provence, which follows in the tradition of Cézanne. Since then, she has become an acclaimed artist & has sold more than 2300 works to private collectors, museums & art enthusiasts. She regularly exhibits her work at art shows in France & the U.S. Jill has lived in Provence with her French husband for more than thirty years & has three sons.

Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz, French Affaires

ENS_croppedA native Texan, Dr. Elizabeth New Seitz is a specialist in France & French culture. She is the founder of French Affaires, a unique company celebrating French travel, culture, language & l’art de vivre. She received her B.A., M.A. & Ph.D. in French from Vanderbilt University & studied at the Sorbonne in Paris & with Vanderbilt-in-France in Aix-en-Provence. She has lived, worked & traveled extensively in France since 1983. Her specialty is making France personal & special to everyone through her trips, classes & lectures. She still loves to teach the French language & is often asked to speak about French culture to groups across the U.S.

Provence Trip Overview

Day 1: Thursday, May 28Depart your home city & fly to Marseille.

Day 2:  Friday, May 29Arrival at the Marseille Airport, Transfer to your Apartment, Walking tour of Aix, Welcome Bistrot Dinner with Jill & Elizabeth

Day 3: Saturday, May 30Aix Outdoor Market Tour, Cezanne’s Art Studio, Jill’s Art Studio, Cocktails & Dinner at Jill’s Provence Home

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 Jill’s beautiful home just outside Aix-en-Provence 

Day 4:  Sunday, May 31Provence Painting Workshop Begins: Color Palettes, Sketching, Painting Demonstration by Jill  

Day 5:  Monday, June 1Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Landscape Painting en plein air

Day 6: Tuesday, June 2Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Charming Port of Cassis on the Mediterranean  

Day 7:  Wednesday, June 3Van Gogh’s Art in Provence: Arles, Abbaye de Montmajour & St. Paul de Mausole, St. Rémy’s Charming Town & Market, Bistrot lunch

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Van Gogh’s Asylum near St. Rémy with reproductions of his works in the garden

Day 8:  Thursday, June 4Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Aix Flower & Vegetable Market

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Day 9: Friday, June 5Provence Painting Workshop Continues: Still Life & Garden Scene Painting, Hang Artworks, Evening Art Exhibit, Cocktail Party & Farewell Dinner 

Day 10: Saturday, June 6Farewells & Trip Departure

About Aix-en-Provence

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Aix-en-Provence is a gorgeous, vibrant city in the heart of Provence. With a rich history & welcoming southern French culture, Aix provides a superb base for our stay in France. Aix is known for its majestic monuments & architecture, beautiful old town, centuries old fountains, fascinating museums & cultural institutions, wonderful cuisine, colorful outdoor markets, popular universities& schools, lively arts & music scene, & grand boulevard the Cours Mirabeau, noted by many to be the prettiest main street in all of Europe.

 For the detailed Provence Painting Trip itinerary and registration information, please email us at info.french@frenchaffaires.com . This special trip is limited to 8 to 10 participants for a highly personalized art and travel experience.  

A personal invitation from Jill to the “Provence Painting & Culture Workshop”:

Elizabeth and I look forward to welcoming you to Provence for an intensive week of painting and cultural inspiration! Our French art workshop is designed for both experienced and beginning painters alike. The focus is on experiencing nature and culture in Provence through the senses in order to engage one’s inner poetry — to see, hear, smell, taste and feel, which will lead you to create new paintings expressing these experiences.

Out in the fields of wheat, sunflowers and lavender in the Provençal landscape, at the seascapes of Cassis or in the flower and vegetable markets of Aix, we will celebrate color. Our workshop will begin with learning to mix a harmonious palette at l’Abeille, my Provence studio and home, which will be our headquarters for the week. After warming up with special drawing exercises, each participant will do a landscape or garden painting in order to get used to the colors and light of Provence. The rest of the week we will draw and paint in the landscape and see places that inspired geniuses like Cézanne and Van Gogh, always seeking to release our creative spirit. Ideas come to our fingertips. Brush strokes go on the canvas. Immediacy is a key element to being able to let go of the intellect and let the paint fly onto the canvas without thinking and calculating, allowing artistic grace to happen. The exhilarating joy of being there to paint, to create from what is visually there in front of you, the sublime fragile beauty and translucent light of Provence will make it an unforgettable experience. A bientôt!

To meet Jill prior to the workshop, feel free to attend any of her fall 2014 art shows in the U.S.: 

October 9-10, 2014 – Richmond, Virginia
 
October 20-21, 2014 – Dallas, Texas

October 23-24, 2014 – Dallas, TX

October 30-Nov 1, 2014 – Ft. Worth, TX

November 5, 2014 – St. Louis, MO

Permanent display – Atlanta, GA

For the full schedule, locations and times, please click here.

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French Mustard on the Move Thursday, Sep 11 2014 

You’ve probably heard that the food truck craze has hit France and Paris in particular. French-style burgers, dim sum, tex-mex, pizza (though great pizza trucks have been around in France for a long time!), sandwiches, ice cream, crêpes and more are on offer in these mobile meal machines and are getting rave reviews. Last year even saw the country’s first “Food Trucks Festival” take place just outside Paris. Click here and here for quick guides to Paris food trucks by Le Figaro newspaper and L’Express magazine.

But the famous French Dijon mustard company Maille has decided to one-up the French food truck frenzy and share its delicious offerings on a national tasting tour across America. This month, following a wildly successful East coast tour this past summer, the Maille Mustard Mobile is turning heads in California and the Midwest. The snazzy mustard-bar-on-wheels will spread the French mustard love in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Chicago at food festivals, local restaurants, food stores and trendy urban locations.

Maille Mustard Mobile on the Road

The black and gold Maille Mustard Mobile features a custom-designed tasting bar from which several Maille mustards including Dijon Originale, Old Style, Honey Dijon, Horseradish, and Rich Country can be sampled alongside the brand’s crunchy Cornichons. Mustard fans have the opportunity to compose their own palette of Dijon flavors, compare tastes, and choose their favorites. Recipes are also available to inspire creative cooking with mustard. And it’s all complimentary.

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So what is Maille’s goal in driving its chic French food truck around the U.S.? To entice discerning food lovers to try its world-renowned mustards and other gourmet products. And if it converted more than a few fans of regular yellow mustard into afficionados of its marvelous French moutardes, then that wouldn’t be so bad either!

So if you live in California or Chicago or are visiting there this month, check the Maille Mustard Mobile schedule below and come on out for some French mustard on the move:

September 11
Nob Hill Foods
1250 Grant Road
Mountain View, CA 94040
3:00pm-7:00pm 

September 12
2035 Filmore Street (Between Pine and California)
San Francisco, CA
12:00pm-6:00pm 

September 13
Ferry Plaza Farmers Market
1 Ferry Building Marketplace
San Francisco, CA 94111
8:00am – 2:00pm

September 17
Santa Monica Farmer’s Market
Location TBD
Los Angeles, CA
9:00am-10:30am 

Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese
7461 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90046
11:00am-3:00pm 

September 18
Albertsons
27702 Crown Valley Parkway Suite B
Ladera Ranch CA 92694 

September 20
Eat Real Food Festival
65 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
10:30am – 9:00 pm 

September 21
Eat Real Food Festival
65 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
10:30am – 5:00 pm

September 27, 28 & 29 – Chicago (locations TBA)

(Click here for the regularly updated schedule and locations.)

Another reason for coming out? Lucky tasters will have the chance to win a three-day culinary and cultural adventure in Paris for two while additional winners will score a year’s supply of Maille mustard. For a great preview of the Maille Mustard Mobile tasting experience and how to say the word ‘Maille,’ click here to take a look at the tour video. And you can click here to see a previous French Affaires article on Maille’s history and its wonderful boutique in Paris.

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French Onion Soup in Paris Thursday, Sep 4 2014 

Sometimes you just have a French craving. For me in late May, it was French onion soup. Unfortunately my Paris lunch cantine (regular neighborhood restaurant), the Café Varenne in the Rue du Bac, had just taken it off their menu until the cold weather came around again. I suppose it was too hot and too filling for the summer. Still, Paris weather in May was a bit cool so I was determined to find some good French soupe à l’oignon.

Then I remembered the classic Paris brasserie where French onion soup is always on the menu – the legendary Au Pied de Cochon.

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Located in the Les Halles area of the city, Au Pied de Cochon opened in 1947 and has been a Paris institution ever since. As you might guess from its name, the restaurant’s specialty is everything about the pig. For example, one of their star dishes is “Le fameux Pied de cochon grillé, sauce Béarnaise, pommes frites” (the famous grilled pig’s trotter with Bearnaise sauce served with French fries). While I am always tempted to try chef specialties in France, I’ll stick to steak with my sauce Béarnaise, thank you very much, which the restaurant offers along with plenty of other good non-pig brasserie dishes. (Click here to check out the Pied de Cochon menu in French; for the menu in English, click here.)

But I was on a mission to enjoy Au Pied de Cochon’s traditional French onion soup and it did not disappoint. It came piping hot with the right combination of onion and beef broth flavors. And the golden crust of toasted emmenthal cheese (the key to great French onion soup) was perfect topper. At 8,50 euros, it made for a great – and filling – meal and a bargain for lunch in Paris!

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Truth be told, I had not been to Au Pied de Cochon in years thinking it a bit too touristy for my taste. What a pleasant surprise to find it overflowing with French patrons. And the warm, personable service was the biggest treat of all.

You can’t however talk about Au Pied de Cochon without mentioning the decor. The bright, authentically French atmosphere is a big plus. The white cloth napkins are lovely. But it’s the pig paraphernalia everywhere that catches your eye. From the cochons on the zinc bar to the pig’s trotter door handles, the pig is the guest of honor. It could easily seem corny or tacky but it all works – and wonderfully so.

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To wrap up this nice lunch, I ordered un express (expresso coffee) which is de rigueur for the French after their meals. Often in France it comes with a small square of chocolate. At Au Pied de Cochon, it is served with a darling pair of meringue cookies – in the shape of the pig, bien sûr!

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NB: Au Pied de Cochon is open “jour et nuit” (day and night) 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. In essence, it never closes. So if you end up with a French onion soup craving in Paris on any day at any hour, think about heading to this classic Paris venue!

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Au Pied de Cochon

6 Rue Coquillière

75001 Paris, France

www.pieddecochon.com

 

Beyond Paris: A Day at Chartres Cathedral Thursday, Aug 28 2014 

This summer, I made a long overdue pilgrimage back to la Cathédrale de Chartres - Chartres Cathedral. It had been nearly 25 years since my last visit during my graduate school days in Paris. I wanted to refresh my memory of this crown jewel of gothic art and architecture and also to get in a tour with Malcolm Miller, the famous Englishman who has made Chartres his life’s work. I succeeded on both counts, although I must say I now regret not having been to this sacred gem more often over the years.

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Located about 50 miles southwest of Paris, the charming town of Chartres makes a great day trip from the French capital. Local trains run approximately every hour from the Gare Montparnasse in the 14th arrondissement. The easy journey takes about an hour and costs around 23 euros round trip. The church is a 5 to 10 minute walk from the station.

In a country that abounds with gorgeous gothic churches and cathedrals – Notre Dame de Paris, St. Denis, Reims, Amiens, Bourges, Rouen, to name a few – what is it that makes Chartres so special?

First, Chartres, a UNESCO world heritage monument since 1979, is the best-preserved of all of Europe’s Gothic cathedrals. Today, most of its stained glass and sculptures remain intact from when they were created in the 1200’s. Wonderfully enough, the cathedral’s sacred art survived the ravages of time, the mobs of the French Revolution and also the destruction of the two World Wars. Sometimes, the acts of preservation were deliberate. In 1939, for example, les vitraux (the stained glass windows) were removed prior to the invasion of the Germans. They were then restored and replaced after the war.

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Second, the architectural design of Chartres is amazingly unified. The fact that the church was built in the space of about 30 years – very quickly as far as cathedral-building goes – is a main contributor. A bit of history: There have been five churches on the site of Chartres, each previous one destroyed by fire or war. After the great fire of 1194, the cathedral as we know it today was rebuilt in the early 1200’s. To be fair, some details of the church have changed over time, like the north spire which was destroyed by lightning in 1506 and then rebuilt in the flamboyant gothic style. (This answers the question about why the two spires are different!) But it is important to remember that most medieval churches have undergone significant alterations since their construction. At Chartres, the architecture of this medieval church has remained remarkably consistent over the centuries.

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Finally, Chartres is also noteworthy for the matchless expertise and enthusiasm of British-born Malcolm Miller who began giving tours of the cathedral in 1958. Miller first came to Chartres from the U.K. when writing his thesis on the cathedral for his degree in French from Durham University. He then decided to make Chartres his life’s work and stayed on in France. He has written numerous books, appeared in documentaries and given lectures abroad. For his significant contributions, the French government has recognized Miller with the Chevalier of the Ordre National de Mérite and Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres awards.

However, Miller is at his best when leading English-speaking tours of the church and its iconongraphy which he does at 12noon and 2:45pm from Easter to the end of October (except Sundays or during religious ceremonies). The cost is 10 euros per person. Miller also offers private tours. For Miller, such are the riches of Chartres that no two tours of his are ever like.

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The Saturday I visited the cathedral, I made sure Miller was on tap for the noon tour. We started on the interior with a sweep through the nave, then sat in the pews as Miller deciphered a cycle of stained glass and the biblical symbolism within and finally went outside to unlock the stories of the exterior carvings. Most fascinating were the metaphors he used to speak about all the sacred art at Chartres. He likened the cathedral to a library yet the texts are not books; they are the narratives contained in the 12th and 13th century stained glass and sculptures. At the time the church was built, paper was nearly non-existent and printing had not been invented. Most people could not read or write but they could ‘read’ the sacred texts of the colorful windows. Miller added that there is so much material at Chartres that one can never take in all the ‘books.’ Hence, he is still learning himself. Alternatively, he said, Chartres cathedral is like a book with the church’s architecture as its spine. The text is the unfolding of time from Creation to the Last Judgment as seen in the medieval stained glass and sculpture.

As we took our tour, we could see that restoration of the church is ongoing. It is clear which parts have been newly cleaned and which still are dark with soot and pollution whether in stone or glass. A couple of weeks after our visit, a large section of the church was going to be closed off for some time as the painstaking work began. And plans were announced this summer that the American Friends of Chartres are raising funds to restore Bay 140 of stained glass. As part of the restoration effort, they are sponsoring the exhibition of the restored glass at a major museum in the U.S. next year. This would be the first time ever that Chartres stained glass would travel to the States. Wow. The institution to host the exhibit has not yet been announced – stay tuned for that one!

Meanwhile, here is a look at the newly restored Belle Verrière window with the Blue Halo Virgin which is perhaps the most famous stained glass at Chartres. The startlingly bright colors, including the famous Chartres blue, just pop out at you.

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To sum up, visiting Chartres is to be transported to the Middle Ages and its rich sacred art, a very meaningful experience whether one is religious or not. If you have the time and the inclination to go, here are a few thoughts for making the most of your journey: Go on a Saturday – the charming town is bustling with activity and the weekly outdoor market. When you first arrive, see the cathedral in the morning light. Then go back in the afternoon for a whole different view. Take a tour with Malcolm Miller before he retires! Take the time to decipher an entire cycle of stained glass – and notice the characters at the bottom who sponsored the piece whether bakers, carpenters or other medieval tradesmen. Have a nice lunch outdoors at one of the restaurants by the church – and enjoy the view of the cathedral nearby. Be sure and walk around the exterior perimeter of the church – the details and angles are fascinating. And last but not least, relish the less crowded church atmosphere when compared to Notre Dame in Paris. Bonne visite!

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Cathedral Notre-Dame of Chartres (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres)

Cloître Notre-Dame, 28000 Chartres

 Open: Daily 8:30am-7:30pm

 Entry: Free

NB: Located near the cathedral are the Centre International du Vitrail and the Ecole Internationale du Vitrail et du Patrimoine which are dedicated to the history and art of stained glass. Their superb cultural offerings include lectures, excursions, exhibitions and training in making ancient and contemporary stained glass.

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French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For a little armchair travel to Chartres with Malcolm Miller, you might want to check out his book in English on the topic: Chartres Cathedral by Malcolm Miller (1997), ISBN 1878351540. For further reading, an array of other books is also available at the church’s lovely bookstore located just to the left as you enter the cathedral.

The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade Wednesday, Aug 20 2014 

Not long ago, I promised myself no more books. As a former French professor and a book lover in general, I have way too many books and can’t seem to edit my collection. But this past spring, a fabulous new French volume appeared that I just couldn’t pass up.

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Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille celebrates the magnificent restoration of the historic Normandy château Champ de Bataille by French owner and world famous interior designer Jacques Garcia. Garcia acquired the run-down property in 1992 and slowly began to bring the 17th and 18th century gem back to life. The result is a truly stunning French architectural, decorative and garden experience which is brilliantly recorded in this oversized coffee table book. Two-inches thick and full of exquisite photos by the extraordinarily talented French photographer Eric Sander, the French book was published by Flammarion in France last winter and the English version in the U.S. this spring.

I recently had the chance to meet with Eric Sander in Paris. We had an engaging conversation about his photography for Champ de Bataille and some of his other projects. Eric began his photojournalism career in the late 70’s and since then, his work has appeared in major magazines and publications worldwide along with more than twenty books. For the past several years, he has focused more and more on capturing beautiful French estates and their gardens through photography. Here are some excerpts from our conversation about Jacques Garcia’s baroque and rococo masterpiece (translated from the French):

Elizabeth: How did it happen that you were chosen as photographer for the book?

Eric: It was a wonderful series of events. In 2008, I was working on a book of the Manoir d’Eyrignac in southwest France and had a great relationship with the owner Patrick Sermadiras. During the project, he would often say to me, ‘Tu sais, tu devrais aller voir le jardin du Champ de Bataille, c’est le plus beau jardin privé de France.’ (You know, you should go see the gardens of Champ de Bataille. It’s the most beautiful private garden in France.) One day, he called Patrick Pottier, Champ de Bataille’s landscape designer, to introduce me and to tell him that I was going to call him about taking a few photos sometime. All that led to my going there in October. 

October 10, 2008 – 8:40am: “It had frozen during the night for the first time that season. It was a good sign. When I arrived at the château, I was warmly greeted by Jacques Garcia who then said: ‘Hurry, Eric. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve never seen such beautiful light.’ He suggested that I go up to the third floor balcony. I was running behind one of his staff who showed me the way. We went through a moody corridor full of stuffed wild animals, a leopard, a lion, an insect collection – it looked like a movie set – before finally arriving upstairs out of breath. And I opened the window to the most beautiful morning ever in the world. Then, startled by the noise, a group of pigeons suddenly took flight right in front of me. Totally surprised, I changed my camera focus quickly and had enough time to grab four images. It was a gift from heaven – my camera was in the right mode to capture the birds…It was an extraordinary moment.”

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That morning, the light was so exceptional, the kind that one rarely sees in a lifetime. I ran around for two hours taking photos. I was truly amazed by the size of the property. Then I rejoined Monsieur Garcia who offered me a glass of champagne. I showed him several images and he was surprised by the incredible beauty of the light. I was asked to join him and his other guests for lunch. We had made contact.

I was so fortunate the way that first meeting turned out. A few months later, Mr. Garcia hired me to photograph the interiors of the château. I then proposed a feature on the gardens to the French magazine Point de Vue and then a piece on the château to Le Figaro. Both were published. One thing led to another and then Mr. Garcia told his editor at Flammarion that I would be the one to shoot Champ de Bataille for the big book they had in view. I was terribly honored and proud to be chosen to photograph one of the most beautiful estates in France.

Elizabeth: How many times did you go out to Champs de Bataille to photograph? Clearly, you captured it in different seasons – how did all that work? 

Eric: From the beginning of the project until the last day of shooting, I went there 18 times often for two or more days at a time. I went in all seasons to capture the gardens and the various rooms in the château as soon as they were restored or redecorated. Jacques Garcia has a massive collection of museum-quality furniture, artworks, objets d’art and more. He is always changing around the interiors of the château which makes things very lively at his place – and it kept me very busy! I also had to respect the wishes of his very talented editor Suzanne Tise, an American from North Carolina who has lived in France for 35 years.

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Elizabeth: How did you decide what to focus on inside the chateau? In the gardens?

Eric: JG made a list of the most important art objects in his collection, and I made sure to focus on these. Suzanne was also often there and she would help arrange them into marvelous “still life” poses. They really are the “pièces maitresses du château” (absolute masterworks of the château).

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Elizabeth: What was it like working with Jacques Garcia?

Eric: It is very easy to work with JG. He is so charming and always in a good mood. But you have to deliver what he wants. That said, from the moment he decides to work with you, he has total faith in you and your abilities. He is also a wonderful host who makes the most of every moment.

Elizabeth: How long did it take to do this project? Did you stay at the estate when you were photographing?

Eric: We stayed at Champ de Bataille as privileged guests. There was champagne, a full staff, a beautiful bedroom with an antique canopy bed. We had our meals in all the wonderful venues of the property – the orangerie, the Indian palace in the summer, the two dining rooms of the château. We even dined in the salon of Apollo with a gorgeously set table next to the fireplace. It was magnificent and magical to be in the middle of this remarkable setting, yet it was so livable too. Not like a museum at all.

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Elizabeth: What was your favorite shot in the château? In the gardens?

Eric: My favorite photo in the gardens was the rising sun with the pigeons in flight. For me, it signified heavenly beauty and also the auspicious beginning of an incredible project. For the interiors, that’s difficult to say. I think I liked the green salon best with the objects and portraits of Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI. It’s a setting bursting with history yet it’s a extraordinary mix of emotions at the same time. You have not only the very refined taste and sensibilities of the late 18th century but also a sense of the tragic end of this king and queen.

Elizabeth: What did working on this book mean to you?

Eric: This book is the work of a master of decor, of settings and of a beauty of perhaps the best era of French style. Champ de Bataille is a property completely unique in all the world – a rare melange of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet and Louis II of Bavaria – put together by the inimitable Jacques Garcia. I was very privileged to work with the interpreter of this exceptional place – a big merci to Jacques Garcia and to Flammarion and Suzanne Tise who had faith in me and my work.

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This sumptuous book is a treasure trove of the ultimate in French 17th and 18th century style, brought to life for the 21st century. Perusing the images and accompanying text will afford endless hours of pleasure and discovery of the French art de vivre. The quality and scope of the book, however, mean that it costs a pretty penny – the retail price is $125, although it can be purchased at amazon.com for around $78 at the moment. One gets a lot for the price – the book is about two inches thick and weighs over 8 pounds.

Given the richness of the material and the presentation, Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion gets my vote for the French coffee table book of the decade, maybe even the best coffee table book ever. Think about giving it to yourself as a gift, putting it on your Christmas or birthday wish list, giving it to a friend, offering it to an antiques loving friend (Garcia got his start roaming French flea markets with his father), sharing it with your favorite interior designer. It might even be the French gift of the decade!

* Photos courtesy of Eric Sander. Many thanks to Eric for sharing his amazing talent and photo stories with us.

Jacques Garcia, Twenty Years of Passion: The Château of Champ de Bataille

 
 
By Jacques Garcia and Alain Stella (authors), Eric Sander (photographer)
Flammarion
March, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages 
 
NB: Champ de Bataille is open to the public and receives about 30,000 visitors per year. It is located 40 kilometers from Rouen in Normandy. Click here for the Château’s web site and more information. To view a short interview with Jacques Garcia about Champ de Bataille in French, please click here.
 
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Luscious French Drawings Wednesday, Aug 6 2014 

When visiting to museums in France and other parts over the world over the years, I’ve noticed that paintings are usually the main attraction. Museum-goers seem to prefer the often vibrant colors and textures of paintings over other more ‘austere’ forms of art such as drawings or prints. In addition, paintings typically are set off by beautiful frames, a phenomenon which directly or indirectly communicates “Look at me! I’m an important work of art.”

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Gorgeously framed Impressionist works from the Musée d’Orsay and the accompanying crowds of visitors

Fortunately for museum-goers in the U.S., the Dallas Museum of Art is offering an exciting opportunity to contemplate fascinating drawings and other works on paper now through October 26, 2014. The DMA’s new exhibition entitled “Mind’s Eye: Masterworks on Paper from David to Cézanne” showcases a variety of works on paper including drawings, watercolors and pastels by famous and lesser-known European artists. Notable about this show is the special spotlight on the artistic process and creative imagination of the artists as well as the fact that many of the works on paper are shown in magnificent frames.

At the “Mind’s Eye” press preview in late June, DMA Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs and former curator at the Louvre in Paris Olivier Meslay introduced the exhibition to the large group. He noted that the 120 works on view come from the DMA’s own collection and also significant loans from private collections in North Texas. The perhaps once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see these privately-owned works adds a special dimension to show, he confirmed. (You may remember the Marmottan Museum in Paris had a great show this past spring on Impressionist paintings from private collections all over the world – it was a big sellout of course!)

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Meslay also described the show’s departure from traditional methods of displaying works on paper. Typically, museums mount these types of works in very neutral, almost-disappearing thin frames. Here, the DMA has chosen to display the works on paper in lovely, often ornate frames, some of which come from the DMA’s own Reves Collection and some from the private collectors themselves. To my mind, the frames add a wonderful dimension to the enlightening presentation of the exhibition’s works.

Following his introduction, he and co-curator Bill Jordan, former director of the Meadows Museum and Deputy Director of the Kimbell Art Museum, led our group on a tour through the exhibition galleries. Arranged in roughly chronological order, the arresting drawings, sketches and watercolors focus on European art from the French Revolution in the late 18th century to the birth of modernism in the early 20th century. The works by Delacroix, David, Manet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Schiele, Mondrian, Picasso, and other artists span almost 150 years of creativity. The show’s curators pointed out the many ways the artistic creations reveal the working methods of the artists. You can literally see and almost feel the energy and vitality of the artists’ minds seeking to express their visions on paper.

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According to the exhibition’s curators and DMA Director Maxwell Anderson, a sub-theme of “Mind’s Eye” is the encouragement to collect art, i.e. that art collecting is not something reserved for a privileged few. “One of the goals of the Dallas Museum of Art is to encourage collecting within the community. There is no better example of how to do this than to highlight the Museum’s graphic holdings together with those that have been assembled in private homes throughout the area,” said Anderson. In essence, drawings are more available – and affordable – for those who have an interest in collecting art.

“Mind’s Eye” also includes ancillary displays such as how to care for and conserve works on paper as well as the various materials artists over the centuries have used to create paper-based works of art. In my opinion, seeing the actual samples of ink, pencil, charcoal, pastels, watercolors and other media is a wonderfully educational complement to the exhibition, particularly for those who have never taken a studio art class.

The exhibition is accompanied by a 240-page full-color catalogue, edited by Olivier Meslay and William B. Jordan, with contributions by Esther Bell, Richard R. Brettell, Alessandra Comini, Dakin Hart, William B. Jordan, Felix Krämer, Laurence Lhinares, Heather MacDonald, Olivier Meslay, Jed Morse, Steven Nash, Sylvie Patry, Louis-Antoine Prat, Richard Rand, George T. M. Shackelford, Richard Shiff, Kevin W. Tucker and Charles Wylie. The publication is distributed by Yale University Press.

To sum up, this exhibition is a must-see for art lovers of any stripe. And the preponderance of French artists makes it a must for Francophiles as well. A few thoughts for enjoying “Mind’s Eye” to the fullest: Allow enough time to really look closely at the drawings and absorb what the artists were trying to accomplish. Notice the ways the artists use the white of the paper to create forms and images. Take in the frames and how they set off these works on paper. Bring the kids – drawing and coloring are a time-honored childhood pastime. Finally, once you have nearly reached the show’s exit, turn around and go back through the galleries in the opposite direction from which you came (assuming gallery traffic allows). It’s amazing how many new things are visible by trying this technique. Bonne visite!

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The Harvest, 1895, by Camille Pissarro. Pen, ink, and lead white gouache on paper. Dallas Museum of Art.

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 Still Life with Apples on a Sideboard, 1900–06, Paul Cézanne. Watercolor. Dallas Museum of Art.

Dallas Museum of Art
1717 North Harwood
Dallas, Texas 75201

Museum Hours: Tuesdays through Sundays 11am to 5pm, Thursdays until 9pm. Closed Mondays.
Special Exhibition Tickets: $8 per person. Click here for further DMA visitors’ information.

Photos of Olivier Meslay and the Pissaro / Cézanne images courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

In addition to the “Mind’s Eye” exhibition in Dallas, there are a host of other French-related art shows on view across the country. Check out these various offerings happening from coast to coast:

San Antonio:  Matisse: Life in Color. Also on view: The Art Books of Henri Matisse. San Antonio Museum of Art. Through September 7.

Houston:  Charles Marville: Photographer of Paris. Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Through September 14.

Los Angeles:  Rococo to Revolution: 18th-century French Drawings from Los Angeles Collections. J. Paul Getty Museum. Through September 21. Also in LA: Expressionism in France and Germany: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky. Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Through September 14.

Oklahoma City:  Gods and Heroes: Masterpieces from the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris. Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Through September 14.

New York City:  Miracles in Miniature: The Art of the Master of Claude de France. Morgan Library & Museum. Through September 14.

Washington, DC:  Degas / Cassatt. National Gallery of Art. Through October 5.

Boston:  Daguerre’s American Legacy: Photographic Portraits (1840-1900) . MIT Museum, Cambridge. Through January 4, 2015.

Coming This Fall:

Dallas:  Bouquets: French Still-Life Painting from Chardin to Matisse. Dallas Museum of Art. From October 26, 2014 to February 8, 2015. Also on view at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA (March 22, 2015–June 21, 2015) and the Denver Art Museum, Denver, CO (July 19, 2015–October 11, 2015). Images courtesy of the Dallas Museum of Art.

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Ft. Worth:  Faces of Impressionism: Portraits from the Musée d’Orsay. Kimbell Art Museum. From October 19, 2014 to January 25, 2015.

Rethinking Modern Paris Wednesday, Jul 30 2014 

Bonjour! After a brief working sabbatical to gather new ideas for forthcoming French newsletters, programs and trips, I am sending out this latest French Affaires Weekly article on the development of modern Paris. More interesting topics are to come including “The French Coffee Table Book of the Decade,” “Luscious French Drawings” and more. Bonne lecture (happy reading) and as always, please send us your comments and thoughts on anything French!  Elizabeth New Seitz, French Affaires 

Rethinking Modern Paris

As visitors to the French capital know, Paris today is an amazing combination of beauty and charm, history and modernity, creativity and tradition all in one place. The city never ceases to attract huge crowds wanting to sample its many pleasures and sights. Such is the draw of Paris that it is tempting to take its legendary tourist status for granted.

But historical records tell us this wasn’t always so.

When then did modern, iconic, visitable Paris come into being?

Conventional accounts credit Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann in the mid-1800’s with the development of the modern French capital that we know today – the grand boulevards, the public works, the parks and gardens, the 19th century apartment buildings. In reality, the development of modern Paris goes back much further. Professor Joan DeJean’s wonderful new book How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City recounts how Paris became a model of urban development back in the 1600’s and in so doing, it revolutionized the way people thought about and engaged with cities moving forward. This very readable volume highlights not only Paris’s road to physical modernity but also the evolution of its reputation into the mythical city it is today.

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This summer, I had the chance to sit down with Dr. DeJean (pronounced DAY-Jahn) in Paris and interview her about her new book. We met at one of her favorite hangouts, La Tartine, in the Marais where she lives when she is not teaching at the University of Pennsylvania. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

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ENS: How did you get the idea for your latest book?

JDJ: “How Paris Became Paris” started as a French history and culture course for my students at UPenn. I called it “The Invention of Paris.” I got tired of hearing that Baron Haussmann had invented modern Paris. He didn’t all of a sudden make Paris modern in the 1850’s and 60’s. He didn’t invent the big boulevards as so many claim. He was an agent employed by Napoleon III to update Paris, not an original urban thinker. The real boulevard got its start in 1676 under King Louis XIV and was actually called a “street” at first. It was 120 feet wide which is quite something when you think about that time period. It then morphed into an “avenue” or “boulevard,” two terms often used synonymously today.

ENS: Were other world capitals undergoing modernization in the 17th century as well?

JDJ: London probably could have gotten there but then the Great Fire of 1666 and also the plague decimated things for some time. These two events were greatly responsible for holding London back. London only becomes more populous than Paris after 1750. Likewise, Amsterdam’s population doesn’t keep growing so the city doesn’t move forward like Paris does. For the French capital, it was a fortuitous combination of timing, luck, money, a willing population, and a king – Louis XIV – who lived a long time.

ENS: What most interested you in all your research for the class and ultimately the book?

JDJ: I was fascinated by the notion of the boulevard and what it meant for Parisians’ physical and social space. I spent a lot of time doing research in libraries, archives and museums in Paris. The trend of painting cities started in the 17th century. For example, visitors to Paris would buy souvenir paintings to show their families back home what this splendid place called Paris looked like. So I pored over paintings of Paris showing boulevards and other urban projects.

The other thing I loved delving into was how happy the people of Paris were at these urban developments. Parisians were thrilled by the opportunity to socialize in public spaces, especially after long years of civil wars that kept them mostly indoors. They liked walking and strolling along the boulevards and on bridges. The new bridges were a huge commercial success – they cut down travel time across the capital – and they also provided a focal point for various social activities, including strolling, enjoying views of the river, theatrical performances, vendors, etc. It’s amazing to think that a bridge could so change a city as was the case with the Pont Neuf.

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ENS: Can you say more about what the Pont Neuf (‘New Bridge’) meant for Paris at the time?

JDJ: Instituted by King Henri IV in the early 1600’s, this new, wide bridge of stone replaced wooden bridges that were narrow and didn’t last. Now, two wagons or carts could cross at the same time without causing a traffic jam which was a major practical advance. This also meant that the speed of urban life just took a big leap forward. In addition, the planners wanted to make sure that pedestrians had a dedicated space to walk across so they made raised sidewalks. As such, carts and horses stayed on the road and didn’t crowd those on foot. And wonderfully enough, this bridge included small balconies spaced along the entire width of the bridge so people could pause and look out over the river. Prior to this time, the river wasn’t seen as something to view or enjoy; it was a conduit for commercial activities. You can see that the bridge revolutionized how people interacted with the city. Taking pleasure in the view became an attraction in and of itself which was quite a novel idea at the time. These dynamics just snowballed with multiple projects all around the city, so much so that Paris developed a reputation greater than the sum of its parts.

ENS: Do you see the same spirit of modernity and development in Paris today?

JDJ: Yes, there are always interesting projects going on in Paris. The recent opening of ‘Les Berges de la Seine” shows great creative thinking in how to use the spaces along the edge of the Seine river for public enjoyment and interaction. This sort of idea goes back to the 1600’s when sidewalks were developed and the Seine’s riverbanks were paved and shored up. One 17th century painting even shows a sort of ‘beach’ on the banks of the Seine where people could go swim.

ENS: An early version of today’s ‘Les Plages de Paris’!

ENS: How did you make France and French your career?

JDJ: I grew up in Louisiana so French was all around me. It seemed like a natural fit. And too, I love to teach and bring France to life for my students. This past spring, I taught a course on the French Enlightenment. And this fall, I will be teaching a course entitled “Marriage and the Novel” which is a fascinating topic.

In my opinion, How Paris Became Paris” is an engaging read and one of the best new books out on things French. In addition to the chapters on Parisian boulevards and bridges, Dr. DeJean describes many other modern advances in Paris that date back four centuries, including town squares, parks, street lighting, bus service, fashion, pocket guides to the city, and more. Reproductions of 17th century paintings, drawings and maps of Paris help illustrate her points. Reading her book puts the French capital in a whole new light – you’ll never think about Paris the same way again!

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City (March, 2014) – Available through major booksellers and amazon.com.

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Bloomsbury USA

ISBN-10: 1608195910

ISBN-13: 978-1608195916

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter

For an even more in-depth experience on the development of modern Paris, I’ll be teaching a new class “How Paris Became Paris: The Development of the Modern City We Know Today” for the SMU Continuing Studies program in Dallas this fall. Below is the course description – registration opens on August 5, 2014 at http://www.smu.edu/CAPE. Make plans now to join us for the two-session series!

Paris continues to be the most visited city in the world. This iconic metropolis fascinates everyone from first-time visitors to regulars and begs the question – how did Paris become Paris? While some people are familiar with the modernization of the city that took place during the 19th century, many are unaware that Paris’s modern urban development actually began two centuries earlier with the efforts of such kings as Henri IV and Louis XIV. Join France expert Dr. Elizabeth Seitz for this captivating course which will explore the various facets of Paris’s 17th century remaking through illustrated lecture and lively discussion. The new book “How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City” by French scholar Joan DeJean and other sources will accompany our class sessions. You’ll walk away with a whole new understanding of Paris – and plenty of travel ideas for your next trip to the French capital!

Date: Two Mondays – November 3 & 10, 2014
Time: 7 to 9pm
Cost: $99 per person early registration. Advance sign-up through SMU Continuing Studies program – please click here to register.
Location: SMU main campus – Dallas, TX 75205. Classroom & parking information provided by SMU upon registration.

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