Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

Bastille Day

Thursday, July 14th, 2011


In honor of the day I post this painting, featuring, among other things, our ratty yet beloved old Paris guide to arrondissements. This morning we hung from the porch our homemade French flag and put Edith Piaf on the CD player. For dinner I will make a soufflé (not exactly a dish suited to July, but definitely a family favorite) and we’ll watch “Casablanca” and sing along during the Marseillaise scene. Vive la France!

This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.

À la recherche du temps perdu

Sunday, July 10th, 2011


Today is the birthday of Marcel Proust (1871-1922), and so I post this sketch, in remembrance of things past (his and mine).

This image is available as a high-resolution print on 8.5″ x 11″ archival paper.


Sunday, February 13th, 2011


This rather fierce-looking cat is Minou, the spoiled darling of the concierge, painted in our long-ago Paris days. Minou is undoubtedly long gone, but she pretty much ruled the roost while she was around. I post her portrait here, along with this poem, in honor of Eleanor Farjeon (1881-1965), whose birthday it is today. For a brief bio of the delightful Farjeon, another of her poems, and a painting, please see Morning Has Broken.

Cats sleep
Any table,
Any chair,
Top of piano,
In the middle,
On the edge,
Open drawer,
Empty shoe,
Lap will do,
Fitted in a
Cardboard box,
In the cupboard
With your frocks –
They don’t care!
Cats sleep

—Eleanor Farjeon


Man of Steel (and Iron)

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010


Ah, Paris… The history! the art! the cafés! the romance of an evening stroll beside the Seine with the lights of the Tour Eiffel twinkling downstream! Unless, of course, you are among the artists, poets, and other French citizens of 1887 who were horrified to contemplete the erection of what one writer called “an odious column of bolted metal” that “even commercial America would not want on its soil,” and who together signed a paper protesting its construction.

Alexandre Gustave Eiffel (1832-1923) was born in Dijon, France, and after obtaining his baccalaureate came to Paris for further education. After the disappointment of rejection by the Polytechnique (take heart, aspiring applicants!) he obtained a diploma in chemistry from the École Centrale de Paris and launched a career in metallurgy, a fortuitous choice at this exciting phase of the Industrial Revolution.

Eiffel was hired first to manage, then also to design, the construction of bridges. Within ten years he became an independent consultant and started his own company for the creation and construction of new large-scale iron and steel engineering projects. Because he was gifted as an engineer and construction manager, and the economy was booming, Eiffel was soon successful, rich, and in demand. He designed not only bridges but train stations, churches, lighthouses, palaces, and the armature for Bartholdi’s new Statue of Liberty. When a competition was held to design an iron tower for the Exposition Universelle de 1889, the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution, Eiffel’s design was chosen from the 107 entries. Despite the aforementioned protests, Modernists and Republicans (as opposed to Monarchists) viewed the project with enthusiasm.

Construction began in January 1887, and the increasing fascination of the steadily growing tower foreshadowed its future popularity. It was completed in twenty-six months without a single fatality, and as the newly tallest structure in the world immediately drew crowds of visitors. (Amazingly, the weight of the tower per square inch is no greater than that of a man sitting in a chair.)

Eiffel went on to design other projects, including an ill-fated Panama Canal venture in 1887 that, through no fault of his, collapsed due to financial mismanagement. Discouraged, he turned from construction to experimental research (another of his passions). Eiffel had planned in advance multiple functions for the new tower, and he began a series of aerodynamic, meteorological and radiotelegraphic experiments to be undertaken from its height. In 1898 an antenna was mounted for radio transmission.

Originally planned for removal after twenty years, by 1907 the tower had become far too useful and admired. A new generation of artists now celebrated the Eiffel Tower in paint and literature. Who can envision Paris without it? Of all Eiffel’s work, this tower that bears his name is probably the most beloved. Happy Birthday, Gustave Eiffel! What a gift you have given to painters, photographers, filmmakers and lovers.

This sketch is from our old neighborhood in Paris.

Dans la rue

Thursday, November 4th, 2010


Today is the birthday of Andre Malraux (1901-1976), writer, art historian, explorer of Indochina, anti-Franco fighter in the Spanish Civil War, member of the French Resistance, and France’s first Minister of Cultural Affairs, and it is in his honor that I post this sketch from his home town.

Youth is a religion from which one always ends up being converted.—Andre Malraux

Something there is that loves a wall

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

I post this hastily drawn very poor sketch of my son in Paris in honor of King Philippe-Auguste of France (sorry, Your Majesty), whose birthday it is today.


Years ago, when we lived in Paris, I encountered Philippe-Auguste (1165-1223) in a roundabout way, by means of the wall that he had constructed around the city for its protection between 1190 and 1215. The Gaulois had probably had a palisade around their village on the island of Lutetia (as Paris was formerly known), and a rampart certainly existed under Roman occupation of the Parisii as protection from barbarian invasion, but Philippe-Auguste’s wall was a great leap beyond these.

His wall, built of two outer walls of dressed stone and filled with rubble, grew to be twenty to twenty-five feet high and about ten feet thick at the base, with a walkway on the top, and along it were interspersed 77 towers and eleven gates (four more were added later). At the same time he built a fortress on the left bank of the Seine to defend from invasion by water. Little did Philippe know that one day eight million foreign invaders annually would traipse through his fortress (now greatly expanded in size and function) to stare at the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa.

People tended to build residences up against such city walls, making use of them for the back of the house. Voilà! one less wall to build! and a sturdy one besides!—trés commode. As the population grew, houses were also built up against the outside of the city wall (although citizens abandoned these homes and retreated within the walls during sieges). Eventually there were so many new people and structures that a new wall had to be built outside the old one. And so on.

Paris had a succession of these walls, a few reminders of which survive today. The Porte-Saint-Denis in the 10th arrondissement, for example, was built in 1672 to celebrate one of Louis XIV’s military victories. It actually replaced a medieval gate in the wall built by Charles V between 1364 and 1380 (one of the towers of which was the Bastille). But the medieval wall itself is long gone. Only Louis’ fancy newfangled gate remains to laud him and to recall the ghost wall. Some of the grand boulevards follow circuits of disappeared walls. But generally earlier walls were removed to make way for new construction.

But, because they tended to be incoporated into structures rather than replaced by roads, some fragments of Philippe’s 12th century wall survive. For some reason this wall has always fascinated me. Or, rather, what remains of it. Some is invisible, woven into the foundations of modern Paris (which exists above the level of the medieval city). But numerous fragments are visible, like this one on the rue Clovis, behind my son. Others can be found within buildings, down hallways, through shop windows. One lives in an underground parking garage, surrounded by Renaults and Peugeots. And a long stretch (now part of a lycée) stands on the rue des Jardins St.-Paul, and includes one of the 77 towers. There is a wonderful website with photos of these fragments.

Paris, like other continuously inhabited ancient cities of the world, is an architectural palimpsest, and perhaps that’s the source of fascination to one who grew up in an American suburb. Happy Birthday, Philippe-Auguste! You builded better than you knew.


Sunday, August 15th, 2010




Paris Memory

Sunday, March 14th, 2010


This rather yellowed sketch is from a previous lifetime when my husband and I were first married and living in Paris, drawing, painting, sculpting. Before children. Before we became rather yellowed ourselves. I chose this particular walk down la rue des souvenirs, when we were temporary expatriates, in honor of Sylvia Beach (1887-1962), whose birthday it is today.

Beach was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and was actually christened Nancy, but she later changed it to a name she chose herself. There were generations of clergy and missionaries on both sides of her family, but Beach chose literary passion and Francophilia over religious fervor. Definitely similarities there though.

Perhaps she became a Francophile during her father’s assignment to the American Church in Paris when she was fourteen, because she returned to Paris later to pursue studies in French literature, and stayed for the rest of her life. Her research led her to a meeting, collaboration, and romance with Adrienne Monnier, who had in 1915 opened a bookshop-cum-lending library specializing in French translations of modern works. By 1921 Beach’s own shop, Shakespeare and Company, was installed across the street at 12, rue de l’Odéon, in the Latin Quarter, offering classical and modern literature and periodicals in English and English translations.

Shakespeare and Company quickly became one of the centers of the Paris literary world, with authors, poets, and readers wandering back and forth across the street between the two complementary shops (imagine!) to engage in discussion, exchange news, and borrow money (struggling writers being ever short-handed). But she was far more than a seller of books. Kind, cheerful, enthusiastic, and generous as well as learned, she took it upon herself to help aspiring writers succeed, introducing them to one another and to helpful contacts, taking them round to visit Gertrude Stein’s salon of poets and artists, organizing readings to bring their works before the public. She helped James Joyce and Henry Miller find publishers for their work, which was banned and unprintable in their native countries.

When the Germans invaded Paris in 1939, Beach was forced to close her shop and spent six months in an internment camp, afterwards hiding out with a friend (she was after all an enemy American) until the war’s end. The shop never reopened after the war, but a new version was launched in 1951 under the same name, with Beach’s permission, on rue de la Bûcherie (about which more in a later post).

Pretend you are a young, aspiring American writer on your first visit to Paris. Back on the farm they think you’re crazy. You wander into Shakespeare and Company and encounter Ernest Hemingway… F. Scott Fitzgerald… Ezra Pound. Miss Beach ropes you in to help edit press proofs. In the afternoon she takes you to the Steins’ to see the new work of Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse and in the evening to admire Josephine Baker dancing at the Théatre des Champs-Elysées. Paris in the 1920s was a refuge from Puritanism, Prohibition, and Prejudice, and Sylvia Beach did her part to make it so. Happy Birthday, Patron Saint of the Independent Booksellers.

CakeYellowRoses2 Kara

New Year’s Resolution: New Language

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Today is the birthday of Haruki Murakami (1949), a Japanese novelist and translator whom my son admires, author of Norwegian Wood and Kafka on the Shore, among other works. In addition to writing novels he jogs and runs marathons. Maybe there is a connection between running long distances and writing surreal and humorous metaphysical short fiction.

“Whatever it is you’re seeking won’t come in the form you’re expecting.” —Haruki Murakami