My Best Wishes for Contentment and Health…
I know I have been all too negligent about writing to my readers about my whereabouts and my goings-on since the beginning of this last month in 2021, but so many things have been going on around the Holidays, running up to the New Year, I’ve been enjoying the doing and foregoing the writing about and just being myself in my own life. However so much has piled up that I now need to download or suffer writer’s crash altogether.
On December 11th we attended a splendid chamber music concert featuring music of
LEOŠ JANÁČEK Quatuor à cordes n° 2, « Lettres intimes » (1928) and FRANZ SCHUBERT Quatuor à cordes n° 14 en ré mineur, « La jeune fille et la mort » (1824) Performed by the Quatuor Hermès consisting of the vigorous and youthful players
Omer Bouchez, violon | Elise Liu, violon Lou Yung-Hsin Chang, alto |Yan Levionnois, violoncelle. The concert was sponsored by Michael Boone’s Sinfonietta, a series called “Music by the Glass” that had been interrupted for too long by the pandemic, but is now back in the swing of things and featuring some of the best young talent in France.
The concert was performed in the stately Salon of the Musée National Jean-Jacques Henner, where we roamed around before the performance viewing not only the permanent collection, but a special exhibit as well, recounting the history of ALSACE: DREAMING OF THE LOST PROVINCE 1871-1914, featuring paintings, sculptures, art objects, posters, engravings and jewels that demonstrate the fruitfulness of this theme as well as the images of the melancholy of this period in French history. We learned that, following the war of 1870-1871 and the Treaty of Frankfurt, France was in the dark and forced to cede Alsace and part of Lorraine to Germany. For forty-seven years, these territories, which were then called ”Provinces perdues” were to be the object of a cult of remembrance in France. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Treaty of Frankfurt, the exhibition traces the way in which the image of this territory "torn from the mother country" was constructed for nearly half a century. Jean-Jacques Henner (1829-1905) lent one of his iconic paintings to
the retrospective that the Museum of Fine Arts of Strasbourg is currently devoting to the artist, the exhibition offers a new look at this imaginary, populated by picturesque, historical and patriotic representations that inspired the artists A LA FRANCE TOUT that marked the French visual culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This figure embodies the myth and perhaps even the propaganda that lingers.
At this point, having received our 3rd vaccination, Ted and I had become less fearful to venture out into the world of art and we traveled into the 12th arrondisement with our faithful Evie to the Musée de L’Histoire de L’Immigration to explore this recently renovated final Speciment of Art Nouveau Architecture to be constructed in the city, to visit the exhibition “Picasso: L’Etranger" and an amazingly wonderful and imaginatively designed Aquarium, filled with colorful fish from all over the world and a unique, interactive exhibition of whales.
Of all of the many exhibits and museums dedicated to the work of Picasso all over the world, I found this one the most touching and the variety of art work representing the various phases of his life as an immigrant in Paris were compelling in this extraordinary act of curation. As an immigrant to France myself, this exhibit touched me and brought the Great artist down to the level of human longing and suffering as well as triumph.
Later in December we attended an unusual Double Piano recital at the Auditorium of the Louvre.Two young and impassioned pianists Ismaël Margain and Guillaume Bellom, played works by Debussy, Saint-Saëns, and Ravel. What had originally been solo works accompanied by an orchestra were transformed such that
the Orchestral score was adapted for the second piano, with the players taking turns at switching roles. This was somthing truly unexpected and extraordinarily unique in this relatively intimate concert venue. We also enjoyed a lovely supper at the Cafe Marley terrace overlooking the Pyramids of the Louvre.
On the 17th we spent the morning at The Musee Histoire de Paris Carnavalet to view the new exhibition “Marcel Proust Un Roman Parisien” and I discovered that the great writer had lived his days very near our own home on the right bank of the Seine, just up the street on Blvd. Haussman! What a threat to follow the journey of his life and work in Paris and to learn about the genesis of his characters.
December 18th was a very special day. We had planned to take Jeffrey, Michelle and Genevieve to visit the Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Baroque French château located in Maincy, near Melun, 55 kilometres southeast of Paris in the Seine-et-Marne department of Île-de-France, about an hour or so by car outside of Paris. This
very special Chateau has spectacular gardens by LeNotre, and a mote filled to the brim surrounding the house. A Museum of antique carriages drawn by realistic steeds was exciting for our little Genevieve. Every imaginable size, purpose and era was represented by these meticulously restored phaetons.
Inside the walls of the castle were rooms decorated for Christmas, each in their own style and each with it’s own magical Christmas tree trimmed to fit the decor of each room. Everywhere there were costumed
historical look-alikes dressed in finery from each century, all walking us through the rooms, happy to chat and eager to have their photos taken with the guests on this occasion.
Outside in the park we all gathered at sundown as the topiaries and fountains began to sparkle with lights and when the clear blue sky turned dark, a fabulous Light show began, projected on the face of the Chateau in what is known as a lumiere. It was a stunning and awesome show for us adults and our little Genevieve.We had been to this Chateau fifteen years before
and were now experiencing the wonder of that visit through the eyes of these young newcomers to the magical world of such French treasures. It had been a big surprise to us when two new friends, Marie-Claire and Guy, had insisted on taking us to visit a place that we could not have gone to on our own all those many years
ago before we had our Evie. It was the last day before our departure for Los Angeles on that particular visit to Paris to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. In those days December in the countryside was freezing cold and if Christmas snow did not appear naturally, the proprietors of the Chateau would make it. This Castle and its magnificent grounds were originally built in1661 by Nicolas Fouquet, King Louis XIV's Minister of Finance.
The estate was lavish, refined and dazzling to behold, but those characteristics proved tragic for its owner: the king had Fouquet arrested shortly after a famous fête that took place on 17 August 1661, where Molière's play 'Les Fâcheux' debuted. The celebration had been too impressive and the superintendent's home too luxurious. Fouquet's intentions were to flatter
the King, with a part of Vaux-le-Vicomte actually constructed specifically for the King. However, Fouquet's plan backfired. Jean-Baptiste Colbert led the king to believe that his minister's magnificence was funded by the misappropriation of public funds and that the funds had been skimmed off the top for this enterprise. Colbert, who then replaced Fouquet as superintendent of finances, arrested him. Later, Voltaire was to sum up the famous fête:
"On 17 August, at six in the evening, Fouquet was the King of France: at two in the morning he was nobody." La Fontaine wrote describing the fête and shortly afterwards penned his Elégie aux nymphes de Vaux. After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life and his wife was forever exiled. This tragic story did not subtract from the joy that this place bestows upon young and old alike each year during the holidays.
Our little Genevieve was filled with giggles, smiles and interest beyond her three short years, although she was far too young to appreciate the history. But one day when we return, she will. We often went hand in hand speaking baby French and enjoying each other’s company when her parents would allow.
The closest Ted and I have to children, these young parents and their beautiful toddler are so precious to us two septuagenarians.
Since that special trip, many informal walks on sunny days have given us as much pleasure as these extra special events and qualify for the term flanneuring. But no matter how far we meander, we always find our way back to our little rue with its cheerful lights and friendly shops.
In closing before the year’s end, I wish all a merry celebration for the holiday, one that brings laughter and hope and secures safety and health to be utilized in the New Year. Visits to Paris will be welcome once again for those who can make it through these times of uncertainty with prudence and with years to spare.