Archive for the ‘French Traditions’ Category
Last time we were in Paris, we stayed for a week in a charming vacation rental on Île Saint-Louis. Other than the sometimes grueling climb up four flights of stairs, we were absolutely enchanted to enjoy our residence on one of our favorite places on earth!
BUT that is also when we first heard that, “The island has changed. So many foreigners have bought property here, and it no longer feels authentic.” Well, I’m sure I’ve paraphrased somewhat, but the key thought remains the same – the long famous and revered Île Saint-Louis doesn’t feel so French anymore. I hasten to add that we do not share that sentiment, perhaps because we are blinded by the island’s charms!
Mind you, if we had the ‘spare change’ to buy property on l’île, we would jump at the chance; but we also would spend lots of time there. Recent studies show that many foreigners, including Americans, have gradually driven out less well-off Parisian residents; and the second-home nature of their ownership and brevity of visits has had a negative impact on neighborhood shops and local schools. Authors of the study indicate that this district is the only one in Paris that is losing inhabitants. Given the French love of heritage, home and history; you can imagine how this ownership transfer has been received.
Those tensions resulted in quite a clash between historic and new residents, between architectural designers and cultural protectors. A Qatari prince purchased one of the island’s most beautiful, historic and revered buildings – Hotel Lambert. Once home to Chopin and Voltaire not to mention the Rothschild family, the 17th century mansion contains many artistic treasures, including priceless frescoes by artist Eustache Le Sueur created around 1652.
As if the drastic structural changes anticipated by the prince were not enough, a significant fire broke out in 2013 and caused the rooftop to collapse and destroy the Le Sueur designs. Part of a UNESCO World Heritage site, the building was empty and undergoing the controversial renovations.
Nonetheless legal actions still are underway to assure that changes to the famous building are in line with historical dictates. One heritage architect specialist went so far as to describe the proposed changes as “a monstrosity with the aesthetics of a James Bond villa”. Parfait!
The hotel was originally designed and built for the personal secretary – Lambert de Thorigny – of King Louis XIII. Voltaire was said to have courted his mistress, the marquise du Châtelet, at the Hôtel Lambert; and prior to being sold in 1975 to the Rothschild banking family, noteworthy visitors included Chopin and Balzac.
Perhaps on a more positive note, it seems that many of those owners of second homes in Paris want to blend in, opting for traditions like visiting the local boulanger for bread and La Presse for the daily newspaper. It is, in fact, that village feeling that so many of us seek, when we arrange our vacation rentals in the City of Light.
If you have always opted for hotel stays in Paris, we highly recommend the more authentic and cost-effective vacation rental. You still may eat out as often as you wish, but that morning cup of coffee in your own apartment is quite nice!
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I am not an historian, but I understand the reasons for locating various Chateaux in France in strategic locations. Fortifications were extremely important to people threatened from within and without by enemies. But that’s not really my thinking, as I recommend an enchanting holiday in the country.
The desire for hunting and quiet retreats also drove the locations of chateaux and manors. One such place is the Relais & Chateaux-designated Château de la Treyne in the Midi-Pyrénées. Though the original Château’s history goes back, back, back to the religious wars and beyond, the delightful castle that greets visitors today is a wonderful blend of the authentic past with the imprint of today’s modern comforts and amenities.
Remarkable, Scenic Location
The 4-star lodging overhangs the Dordogne River, high on a cliff with magnificent views and French formal gardens – an oasis, it would seem, in the middle of nearly 300 acres of forested land. That alone calls to mind the retreats that served as ‘hunting lodges’ for French royalty.
Your hosts are Philippe and Stéphanie Gombert, who manage to mix warm hospitality and refined décor with an oasis of calm and quiet. Enjoy breakfast under ancient cedars or dine on the terrace overlooking the Dordogne. Naturally fine cuisine is a part of this unique establishment, where the Chef has tapped the goodness of local products and embellished them with his own creative genius.
You can stay quite close to ‘home’ and enjoy leisurely garden walks, the outdoor heated pool, hiking and biking and canoeing along the river. You are in the “Land of Marvels”, between the Lot and Dordogne Rivers, and your accommodating hosts arrange themed sojourns to help you discover the rich land and many chateaux and villages in the region. You might even jog along the former cliff-side path of the Postman to enjoy scenic river sights.In a land so filled with quiet surprises and historic sites, it is no surprise that the Château de la Treyne is designated one of the “Grand Sites of Midi-Pyrénées”.
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Following the “When in Rome…” mantra, there are a few things for you to keep in mind as a visitor in France. Out of courtesy and to maximize your experience, observe local customs and traditions. Just making small efforts to appreciate French people and their language yields warm benefits.
1. Parlez vous – Even if your French is minimal or ‘elementary’, begin your conversations or questions in French. In so doing, you acknowledge that you are the guest and you defer politely to the ‘host’. Does that sound terribly ‘Book of Etiquette’? I hope you don’t think so; because we all have our points of pride, and the French have great pride in their language and go to great lengths to preserve it.
Just a few French phrases will earn you smiles … and even warm responses instead of the French shrug. Purchase a simple French phrase book and visit on-line resources for pronunciations. I’ll assume you understand everyone should go armed with please, thank you, hello, my name is….etc. Others to learn might be:
Je suis désole I’m sorry.
Je ne comprends pas. I don’t understand.
S’il vous plait – J’ai une question (probléme) Please – I have a question/problem.
The small amount of time and effort you apply to learning a few phrases will yield incalculable results! (And by the way, if your French is painful to them, they will speak to you in English!)
2. Lunch breaks & tipping – Don’t fight the noon to 2 p.m. break, when everything is closed. Everything. As in banks, brocantes, fashion houses, boutiques. Yes, the occasional supermarket might be open; but for the most part cafés and brasseries and restaurants steal the mid-day thunder … and business. Yes, we are used to tipping handsomely for good service; but that’s not the way in France, where the tip already is included in your meal cost.
3. About those ‘strangers’ – Don’t grin your way down the street with a happy American smile for every stranger. You might be from the deep South or the frozen North, but French people don’t extend blanket friendliness to complete strangers. That is not to say they won’t be friendly; they just don’t spread the sunshine on their faces quite as much as we do. Unless …. we employ those magical French phrases we have learned!
4. About those ‘friends’ – Strike up a modest friendship, and be prepared to kiss! Pardon? Yes, kiss – sometimes even several times, traditionally twice in Paris- three times (or more) for those from the country or other regions. And I don’t mean planting a grand kiss on the mouth. You’ve seen it in movies or on TV, no doubt; when greeters sort of kiss the air by the cheek on both sides of the head. This subject deserves its very own post, but just flow with the French experience and tradition for now. Don’t be the first to initiate the kiss, but don’t reject this type of greeting or ‘adieu’ kiss either.
5. And speaking of shopping, always greet the store owner/help, when you enter a store. “Bonjour Monsieur/Madame”. Sounds so simple, but I well understand the hesitation and shyness one can feel at first in France. Forget that simple rule, and you might find your shopping experience to be chilly with little, if any, service. And don’t forget your, “Merci, au revoir” on departing.
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A saddlery? Yes. Way back in 1837 Thierry Hermès founded the family-named saddlery business. That’s certainly a touch of irony, in that the Hermès name is synonymous with French luxury products. After first manufacturing silk scarves in the late 1920s, Hermès rapid ascent to haute couture prompted their establishment of a special scarf factory in Lyons.
Today two special scarf collections make their debut every year, adding to the more than 25,000 scarf designs that are so treasured by women throughout the world. In France, tenderly coddled scarves are passed from generation to generation, and even rare scarves from yesteryear command increasingly high prices in the marketplace.
Iconic Hermès wearers like Grace Kelly and Jackie Onassis no doubt contributed to their esteemed fashion position, further enhanced by Hermès additional fashion niches, as well. Uniquely-stitched leather goods like the Birkin and Kelly bags are signature ‘heirlooms’, and refined jewelry pieces are every bit as reverd and collectible as the spectacular scarves.Despite otherwise sluggish worldwide economic woes, Hermès continues to attract elite clients with an ever-expanding luxury product line, timeless and elegant designs and exacting standards of production.
“In her 2007 book, Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster, journalist Dana Thomas called Hermès bags ‘the antithesis of an It bag: Most of the designs have been around for almost a century and are coveted not because they are in fashion but because they never go out of fashion.’”
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Julia Child’s kitchen resurrected at the Smithsonian – now THAT’s a famous cuisine!
I have so many Francophile preferences – for windows and light, for colorful textiles and pottery, for old rush-seat chairs and for ‘imperfect’ touches that underscore the real life lived in that lovely kitchen.
We neither need nor want grand décor – though one of those classic French stoves by Lacanche would be perfectly acceptable! I think I’d settle quite well with a nice square kitchen with big windows. Some open shelves could hold old copper and brightly-colored pottery casserole dishes.
As I do now, I’d have space on the counter for my copper basket filled with potatoes; and the coffee-fixin’ area would have everything within easy reach. A colorful Provençal pitcher next to the range would hold my handled kitchen utensils, and a handsome French lamp would shed light over the aged country table and chairs.
Now, doesn’t that sound like the perfect place to fix a lovely French Onion soup….and sweet raspberry and chocolate crepes? There I go back to My French Neighbor for their exceptional Dijon mustard, because savory vinaigrette would be the perfect touch for a salad to go with the soup.
Daydreams are such fun. Enjoy your own today and, who knows? You just might make your way to a bric-a-brac store to find a fresh addition for your kitchen.
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