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Archive for July, 2011

The Englishman who tends Monet’s Giverny gardens

The New York Times has an interesting profile of the Englishman who is head of the grounds at Giverny’s Monet estate gardens, James Priest. Excerpts below.

Keeping Abloom the Inspiration for Masterpieces
By SUZANNE DALEY
Published: July 26, 2011

GIVERNY, France — James Priest stood on a footbridge overlooking the lush Japanese-style lagoon at the bottom of Claude Monet’s garden, pleased with what he saw.
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It was here that Monet painted the water lily series that hangs in the Musée de L’Orangerie in Paris.

“Some people go into the museum and they say — ‘wow,’ ” Mr. Priest said. “But I get that feeling standing here. Looking at this makes your head spin. It makes your heart boom — just like his paintings do.”

Mr. Priest, who is British, likes it even better in the evening when the visitors are gone, a solitary view he can relish whenever he wants. He took over last month as head gardener of the grounds that surround Monet’s pink stucco country house here, where the painter lived and worked during the last four decades of his life.

No one has made much ado about handing over an iconic French garden to an Englishman, he said. But he does blanch when asked if parts of the garden — with their wild tangle of flowers — reflect more of an English style than the formal, symmetrical style of French gardens.

“Oh, you must not say that,” he said, looking just a little bit panicked. “It is a unique garden, neither French nor English. It’s an artist’s garden, a dreamer’s garden.”

“This is France,” he added. “They cut off people’s heads for saying less than that.” …

Mr. Priest was raised in England and studied gardening there, but he has lived in France for some 30 years, much of it married to a Frenchwoman and tending the gardens for the Rothschild family estate in Chantilly, on the outskirts of Paris, called Royaumont.

At first, Mr. Priest took his new job at Giverny in stride. But having spent much of the last few weeks giving interviews, he says the weight of the task of caring for one of France’s most famous gardens is sinking in. “I know this sounds silly,” he said. “But it’s only little by little that I’m realizing the aura around this place. I was quite naïve really.”…

Expatica: Exploring Paris First arrondissement

Expatica has an interesting historical and cultural peak by Thirza Vallois into the 1e arrondissement (1st arrondissement) of Paris.

Some excerpts below. Happy reading!

Around and about Paris: The First arrondissement
26/07/2011

As tourists snake their way to the Louvre Pyramid, or pack beneath, you may crave some relief in the nearby gardens of the Palais Royal, an arcaded haven of tranquillity, especially in the early hours of the morning. Expert Thirza Vallois offers a historical tour.

Between 1784 and 1830, on the other hand, the Palais Royal was the bustling centre of both intellectual and dissolute Paris. Cafés, restaurants, game-houses and brothels flourished under its arcades.

Whores and courtesans came here from all over Paris ‘faire le Palais’, as the saying went, among them the Pompadour’s mother. No wonder Casanova rushed here upon his arrival in Paris.

Palais Royal: Construction

In the late 18th century, the landlord of the palace was Philippe d’Orléans. Deep in debt, he built the arcades with shops running beneath as a rental business, drawing substantial profits in particular from the gambling houses and the brothels.

The newly converted Palais Royal was opened in 1784 to the satisfaction of all. The Palais Royal was the intellectual centre of the capital, studded with cafés where such prominent figures as Diderot used to sup and where dangerous new ideas circulated…

Honoring France’s historical commitment to America

Renown scholar and author David McCullough wrote a nice piece in the New York Times to celebrate Bastille Day and honor France. It addresses France’s historical contributions to America, from the Revolutionary War to other efforts that have defined the US today. It highlights our similarities and encourages recognition of France among Americans. Great article. Although as an expat I can get frustrated with some details of life here, I join McCullough in saying “Vive la France!”.

Article below. Enjoy.

OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR
Vive la Similarité
By DAVID McCULLOUGH
Published: July 13, 2011

THE recent arrest in New York of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, then the head of the International Monetary Fund, has caused some people to question the American-French relationship. Though we will probably never see a Bastille Day when French flags fly along Main Street and strains of “La Marseillaise” fill the airwaves, July 14 would not go so largely unobserved here were we better served by memory. For the ties that bind America and France are more important and infinitely more interesting than most of us know.

Consider that the war that gave birth to the nation, our war for independence, would almost certainly have failed had it not been for heavy French financial backing and military support, on both land and sea. At the crucial surrender of the British at Yorktown, for example, the French army under General Rochambeau was nearly as large as our own commanded by Washington. The British commander, Cornwallis, was left with no escape and no choice but to surrender only because a French fleet sailed into the Chesapeake Bay at exactly the right moment.

The all-important treaty ending the Revolutionary War, wherein King George III recognized the United States to be “free, sovereign and independent,” was signed in Paris. The plan for our new capital city on the Potomac was designed by a French engineer, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. The first great statue of our first president was the work of a French sculptor, Jean-Antoine Houdon. The first major study of us as a people, “Democracy in America,” was written by a French historian, Alexis de Tocqueville. Published in 1835, it remains one of the wisest books ever written about us.

To be sure, our relations with France have not always been smooth. Tensions over a diplomatic snafu called the “XYZ Affair” led, in 1798, to an actual but undeclared shooting war at sea that could have flared into full-scale war had it not been for the level-headed judgment of President John Adams.

But the rewards of our ties with France have far exceeded any difficulties there have been. With the purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France, the size of the country was more than doubled. The Statue of Liberty, one of our most treasured symbols, was a gift from France.

No less conspicuous are the number of French names all across the map of America — cities and states, rivers and lakes: Baton Rouge, Des Moines, New Orleans, St. Louis, Terre Haute, Louisiana, Vermont, the Au Sable River, Lake Champlain. And then there are colleges and universities like Lafayette, Duquesne, Marquette, Notre Dame.

More than nine million of us are of French descent. Over a million American students are taking French, making it, after Spanish, the most commonly studied foreign language in our schools.

Times continue to change, yet we remain conspicuously fond of all manner of things French. We deck ourselves out in French fashions, French lace, French cuffs, spend small fortunes on French perfume and French luggage. We love French doors, French cheeses. We’ve made French fries a national staple, and in time-honored tradition raise glasses of French Champagne at important celebrations.

For well over 200 years, our most gifted American writers, artists, architects, composers, musicians and dancers have flocked to Paris to study and work, nearly always to their benefit and ours. John Singleton Copley, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Edward Hopper, James Fenimore Cooper, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Richard Wright, Louis Gottschalk and Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter, Isadora Duncan and Josephine Baker, and, of course, Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. The list goes on and on.

Especially for American women and for African-Americans, Paris provided an atmosphere of freedom and of acceptance such as they had never experienced.

Less well known but of great importance were the hundreds of young Americans who went to study medicine in France in the 19th century, when Paris was the medical capital of the world and who brought home ideas and skills that would transform American medicine and medical education.

And there is a further reason France should hold a prominent place in our memories and in our hearts. More American history has unfolded in France and more Americans are buried there than in any other country but our own.

During World War I more than two million American soldiers served “Over There.” In World War II another generation of American soldiers numbering more than 800,000 served in France. In all, more than 60,000 Americans are buried in French soil, at Meuse-Argonne, Normandy and nine other cemeteries. At the Meuse-Argonne, the largest, lie fully 14,246 American dead. The grave markers are a sight never to be forgotten.

Though I love France and greatly value the friends I have made there, I am not an overboard Francophile. But as an American I think it is well past time to get back to respect and affection between our countries, on all fronts and with all possible good will.

For my part this Bastille Day, I intend to raise a glass or two of Veuve Clicquot in a heartfelt toast: “Vive la France!”

David McCullough, a winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, is the author, most recently, of “The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 18, 2011
An Op-Ed article on Thursday, about America’s ties with France, incorrectly described the size of General Rochambeau’s forces during the siege of Yorktown in 1781. While the combined forces of the French outnumbered those of Washington, Rochambeau himself commanded fewer soldiers than Washington, not more.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 14, 2011, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Vive la Similarité.

How French media is adapting to Web 2.0 name bans

The BBC has a short video report featuring interviews with French journalists about the recent ban on citing Facebook, Twitter, Google and other social network companies on air. This stems from a French law preventing the promotion of brands on news broadcasts.

So instead of saying “Follow France24 on Twitter and Facebook”, they will have to say “Follow France24 on our social network channels” or something of the like. Not a big change perhaps, but the debate is whether or not these companies have penetrated the social fabric of our culture so deeply that their names are cultural references first, brands second.

What do you think?

You can watch the video here.

July 14th Bastille Day celebrations in France, around the world

Bonjour à toutes et à tous !

As you know, Thursday July 14th is the French National Holiday known as “Le 14 juillet” in France and “Bastille Day” around the world. Besides celebrations in the US (some of my favorites in Washington DC: at Bistrot du Coin, as well as the French Embassy), there are celebrations all across France.

You can see fireworks schedules for major cities in France on this page . For example on the Champs de Mars in Paris the fireworks will take place from 10:30 to 10:45pm on July 14th.

A local tradition in France is also Bastille Day Firehouse parties hosted by firemen everywhere at fire stations around the country. Paris and the region has dozens of them July 13th and July 14th. You will be expected to donate money to firemen in exchange for drinks and good times.

You can find a list here and here for even more information.

Expect crowds, but enjoy!

In honor of the holiday, here is the French national anthem below, La Marseillaise, complete with lyrics.

Comparing the Europe and US debt crises

The Economist has an insightful commentary on both debt crises. Excerpt below.

Both the US and the European Union have public finances that are out of control and political systems that are too dysfunctional to fix the problem,” Mr Rachman writes. I have some quibbles about the way he frames the economic issues as a generalised problem of “an unsustainable and dangerous boom in credit”, viz homeowner credit in America and the overdrawn borrowing of Greece and Italy in Europe. This seems to smooth over a lot of differences a bit too easily; the American housing bubble was fueled by CDOs, but the economic problems in Europe aren’t about an asset bubble caused by Greek or Italian government borrowing, and to the extent that the problems are due not to asset bubbles but to financial interconnectedness, the interconnectedness caused by private-sector issuance of CDOs and CDSs isn’t really the same as the interconnectedness caused by the adoption of the euro across 17 countries.

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