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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.”…

Lyon’s Fête des Lumières starts tonight thru Dec. 11th

December 8th, 2010 No comments

Lyon is a wonderful city with a rich culture and history as well as modern innovative industries, world class food, museums, parks and architecture, not to mention the host to many events and the site of Interpol. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as I posted before.

Its most famous event is the annual Fête des Lumières (“Festival of Lights”) which each year attracts an estimated 3 million visitors over a span of 4 days for a magnificent light show. Consider that the population of the Lyon metro area is about 1.7 million, and you realize how big that number is. I’ve been the past couple years and it’s definitely worth it. The only thing annoying is the crowds, but that’s expected. You can see some pictures from last year’s event at BBC. It has its origins when the people of Lyon lit candles to thank the Virgin Mary for saving the city from the black plague. Now it’s since 1999 a modern light show with the main sites of the city the objects of dramatic and sophisticated light animations with colorful lasers, layered digital graphics and world-renown technology. It’s really quite remarkable (the picture above is of this square, Place des Terreaux). You can see a video of the scene here.

You can find more information on the festival’s background here, and the official festival site (available in English) as well. This page has a simple list of main sites to see as well as hours of the shows (notes below). December 8th, 10th, 11th will go from 6pm to 1am, and December 9th from 6pm to midnight.

The Lyon culture site has information on the festival as well (in French).

I know I’ll be going. Have a good time!

Bien d’autres illuminations et animations visuelles se dérouleront au coeur de la ville, comme à Ainay (dans le 2ème), Gerland (7ème), Confluence (2ème), Duchère et Vaise (9ème), Plateau (5ème), Plateau de la Croix-rousse (4ème), Foch (6ème), Guillotière (3ème et 7ème) et enfin l’Ile Barbe.

Les animations seront visibles de 18H à 1H les 8, 10 et 11 décembre et de 18H à minuit le 9 décembre.

Bonjour Paris this week: UNESCO France sites, etc.

November 28th, 2010 4 comments

In this week’s Bonjour Paris, I wrote a column about the UNESCO World Heritage sites in France (all 35 of them). Make sure to check out Bonjour Paris for other interesting pieces and travel tips.

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