Tres Cher Chalk!

2016-04-28 11.57.24The Pastel Shop was a treat.  The tour2016-04-28 12.53.14 – well, really a lecture – was in the Henri Roche shop: La Maison du Pastel.

The store was founded in 1729, bought by M. Roche in 1865.  He sold pastels and actually created new colors and changed the formula when working with artists including Degas and Bonnard.  His son, a doctor, joined him.  The son continued the enterprise after M. Roche’s death and he was later joined by his three daughters.

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The direct line ended there – but in 1999 when the eldest passed, the two remaining sisters sought someone to get involved. . A distant cousin took it over in 2000. An engineer, she learnt the craft from those elderly cousins.

Isabelle Roche (that’s with an accent on the ‘e’ if I had a French keyboard) (ro-shay) welcomed us and told us her family story. I loved the shop with the original wood shelves and boxes.

It was a big job to take on by herself.  Dwindling stock and small clientele…

Serendipity is a marvelous thing.

Isabelle Roche met 2016-04-28 11.55.47Margaret Zayer in 2010.  Margaret is an American and an artist who was at the time a student in Paris.  She joined Isabelle.  Now the two, an engineer and an artist, make the pastels by hand.
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The studio (you can’t call this a factory) is in the country outside Paris so we had to settle for an
excellent video of the very time-consuming process. The process hasn’t changed much – the scale is from 1909 or so. The pigments are now bought from distributors so they no longer have to grind it.  But they hand mix and squeeze and roll.

The pastels are pricey – 27 euros for 3 half sticks, 120 euros 2016-04-28 11.40.36for 12 sticks – but when you see the process, you understand the cost.  The pastels in and of themselves are a work of art.   See the open box on the left?  That holds 72 pastels – with the box it costs 1,385 euros.  Almost $1,600.

2016-04-28 11.49.03I have included a link to the website for the store itself and a link straight to a 15 minute video with much of the same footage I saw today of the process.  I never much enjoyed working in pastel but now I want to pastel again!  Too pricey – and yet, I would feel like I was buying a piece of art and of history.2016-04-28 11.56.38


It’s only open one afternoon a week.  The rest of the time I guess they are in the studio making more pastels.  And nowadays with the internet, why not?

Funny coincidence – I am going to have dinner tonight in a restaurant two doors down from La Maison.  My vegetarian French friend selected it: Le Potager du Marais.  We are checking out a veggie restaurant each week.  (I must admit I am not up for the French cuisine of eat every part of the animal… veggie is stressless!)

Definitions, Writers and Manifestations…

Ladybird!  All I could think of at first was Ladybird Johnson!  Who knew?  My friend taught me the name for a bug with a red shell and black spots. Coccinelle. I said lady bug.  She said lady bird.  She was adamant

At first I thought I was forgetting my English. Then we discovered it is “bird” in the UK and “bug” in the US.  Thank God for French/English dictionaries that differentiate between UK and US.  Whew.  But isn’t there a phrase…  Ladybirds?  Like the girlfriends?  Not the Yardbirds!   Or maybe it’s more an English expression… as in the UK?

Then we talked about roofers. Their roof in Normandy needs repair.  And I said that roofers in CA have a reputation to be flakes.  Whole ‘nother discussion    I didn’t like the Merriam Webster definition: oddball personality.  Hmmm.  I think of flakes as people who aren’t really responsible.  Weigh in if you want.

This conversation was over a lunch of Caesar salad after the pastel shop tour (see next blog).  But let’s address the failure of the salad.  Not romaine.  Horrors!  And green beans.  And asparagus.  And a dressing not quite an American Caesar.  But white.

From cuisine to literary culture.

You must remember the Music Man – such a hit show.  One of my favorites.  I bet you can sing along with all the songs.
And remember when the ladies were singing about the library?  Like cheeping hens?  Let me refresh:

Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little, talk a little,  Cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little,  Talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more
Pick a little, talk a little, pick a little,  Talk a little, cheep cheep cheep, talk a lot, pick a little more

Maud: Professor, her kind of woman doesn’t belong on any committee. Of course, I shouldn’t tell you this but she advocates dirty books.
Harold: Dirty books!
Alma: Chaucer
Ethel: Rabelais
Eulalie: Balzac!

Et voila.  You now know that you know a medieval French writer of dirty books – Rabelais!    I have no idea why the subject of Rabelais came up in a conversation with Albert this week – but it did.  And he was astonished that I knew of him.  And I must admit to reading an excerpt of his book Gargantua and Pantagruel in a 10th grade World Lit class.  (I believe the style has changed and I don’t have to underline the title of books but it’s a habit that does not die.)  That’s where we get the word gargantuan.  AND he’s referenced in the Music Man.  Et voila.

And now from literary culture to disruptive culture.

Manifestations.  The French word for a demonstration.  Greve.  The French word for strike.  Lots of them happening right now.  Many workers and many students are very upset and oppose the proposed new labor laws.  The government is trying to help the economy by helping business.  The workers see only their rights taken away and the students see – maybe more jobs although probably they don’t see that – less likelihood of job security.  Don’t get me started on the issue of entitlement here.

Yesterday the trains were on strike – meaning 1 in 3 trains would be running.  Today all over France there were demonstrations.  In Paris 3 police officers were wounded.  Trust me.  I stayed away.  The hotbeds are Place de la Republique and Place de la Nation. (on the opposite side of Paris from me.)  And if taxis are involved, then Porte Maillot which is very close to me.

I had a nice day out and about – see Pastel blog to follow – and saw nothing amiss.  Except for a nice French woman who chatted with me about deviations of the bus because of the manifestations.  (YES!  Chatted with me IN FRENCH!)


My new book – Le Petit Livre des Chateaux – lists 78 Chateaux in France.  I am positive there are more.  But this is a good starting point.  I have visited 23 of them so far. About 30%.  Now I have a goal. And with a good friend who lives in the suburbs of Paris and owns a car, I have a great travel companion.

2016-04-27 10.31.02-2Wednesday we set off for Chateaudun.  It’s located 90 minutes south west of Paris.  The way there was on the freeway.  Oops.  Toll road.

By beautiful fields of yellow.  Nope.  Not what you are thinking.  You are thinking MUSTARD.  Not Dijon, Grey Poupon or even French’s!  It is colza.  Same botanical word in both languages.  We also call it rapeseed.

Did you know it is the third leading source of 2016-04-27 10.34.41vegetable oil in the world?   It was used mostly as a lubricant until a Canadian scientist bred strains of rapeseed that was
safe for livestock and humans.  Who knew?

Maybe I should rename this blog “Who knew?”

2016-04-27 10.41.50And even found a windmill.  I thought we had suddenly transported to The Netherlands.  But no.  Even the French had these windmills.  This was one of the benefits of the car – it was off to the side and I just caught a glimpse of a sail.  A minor adventure to turn off the highway in search.


The Chateau of Chateaudun was built between the 12th and 16th centuries.  The donjon  (round tower, castle keep) 2016-04-27 11.40.56was the first building and then two wings were added in the 1450s and late 1500s.  Pretty much trashed during the French Revolution (those guys had no respect!) – the French government took it over in the 1900s and started a major renovation.

Huge rooms – reminded me of the Pope’s Palace in Avignon.  Well – not THAT big.  But high barrel 2016-04-27 11.50.12ceilings.  And as you went through the rooms, the newer ones had wood paneling.  I am sure that was warmer than the tapestries – which were far warmer than bare walls.

We took a guided tour – in French of course – of the donjon.  This meant climbing 140 steps.  My Fitbit says I climbed 28 floors in all.  Happy to say my knees held up.  The view was quite spectacular – but through wire grills to keep you from falling over or throwing trash over… or maybe a friend… or maybe another tourist who was talking all through the guide’s spiel.  Just sayin’

And a picturesque return to Paris by backroads.


What a brilliant and talented artist.  He ended up with assembly line type production of his pieces.  Did you know about 300 bronzes of The Kiss exist?  I guess he had to increase the output in order to be able to pay for the process.

He worked in clay, wax, plaster, bronze and marble.  But it wasn’t always his hands.  Sure, it all started in his noggin.  But he had a full team of artists and artisans who did much of the work – the rote work and details – to allow him time to be creative and visionary.  He even had a contraption to allow someone to scale up a model in clay. rodin_studio_enlarging_process_custom There’s a great article on the website of the Victoria and Albert museum in London.  (The website is virtual…)  (duh)

He was a very savvy businessman.

So of course you know about the Musee Rodin in the heart of Paris.  It was recently closed for renovation for several years and reopened last fall.  I love the place.  And you will recall I have purchased tickets so I can drop in the gardens for an afternoon here and there.

2016-04-23 14.09.20Turns out he also had other places he made his art.  In Meudon, just south west of Paris, he purchased a house and set up a studio.  Small house.  Big studio.  2016-04-23 14.05.49Great view – would be better in the winter when the trees don’t have leaves.


On display were many of the plaster casts. 2016-04-23 14.26.47 So the guy was also brilliant – he saved the plaster casts and would reuse them – putting a foot or hand or arm onto a different torso…  But the display case with the tiny arms and legs was a bit creepy.

I thought he was a great sculptor.  Now I am totally in awe of him.

We got there on a bus, (through the Bois de Boulogne) (went by the Gehry Louis Vuitton Foundation Museum which strangely enough now has colored panels on its exterior…  I don’t care for it), then a tram (like lite rail) and Uber.  We came back via Uber, and two buses.  The view from the bus is so interesting.  And from the tram.  A new goal for this year is to circumnavigate Paris by tram.  The trams are almost like a business loop freeway but they don’t totally connect yet.

End of Week Deux (2)

I highly recommend Marks & Spencer’s Mild Red Cheddar cheese.  And with salted almonds.  Tasty.  I decided to blog in style this afternoon.

2016-04-21 13.16.53-1Thursday I met a friend at the d’Orsay for a conversation.  And took time to wander through the latest exhibit – Le Dounaier Rosseau.  We just call him Henri Rousseau – the Frenchies use his nickname.  He was really a tax collector, not a customs officer, but that is the name that stuck.

The paintings were from everywhere, and many from the US.  I am developing an appreciation of the curation of an exhibit.  This one apparently started in Venice and traveled here.  Who does that?  Who gathers all these painting together and finds the right museum and makes all the arrangements?  When you start to think about it, you realize that they must be preparing years in advance to bring these things off.  And even if it is just for the one museum and doesn’t travel – just think about the decisions.  What paintings to request from other museums?  What paintings to take out of the permanent collections or the stored collections of the French museums?  For the Bonnard last year, there were so many works that were loaned from the Pompidou and other Paris museums.  (And that exhibit went on to Madrid and then SF – which I attended but I don’t believe it was all the same paintings… and laid out differently,) And then the whole question of what goes where?  Who’s next to whom?  In this Rousseau exhibit the curators had many works from other artists who impacted Rousseau or others who were influenced by him.

Imagine getting paid to do that?

2016-04-20 23.45.35As I wandered around seeking the spires (see last blog), I also stumbled upon the Formula E racetrack being set up around the Invalides.  Grand Prix type cars but E as in Electrique!


Instead of heading over today for the race, I went to Meudon, a suburb just southwest of Paris to see Rodin’s other museum.

Easy to get to – a bus and then a tram (trams are similar to light rail in Sacto).  And ok yes, after that an Uber.  We could have walked but it was COLD today. Moved up the date because of chance of rain – well, strong possibility of rain – tomorrow.  And I carried an umbrella anyway.  After last Sunday when I ended up buying umbrella number 3…

How did Rodin do it?  That’s another blog…

Ah Shaddup

Speechless.  I should have been speechless today.  If I had kept my mouth shut, I could have continued the fantasy that I speak French.

Instead, I had a conversation with Albert.  He is my toughest conversation partner.  Of course, he had brought along some documents that he had translated into English and wanted my feedback.  I must admit, I was quite picky.

So he returned the favor.

Eh bien.  As much as I am complaining and irritated that he burst my bubble, I do appreciate it.  Only way to learn.  It would have been nice to have had a couple more days to bask in the dream that I was more fluent than fact.

Aside from that, I spent the afternoon in the jardins of the musee Rodin.  The museum was reopened last fall – I wrote about it before.  Gorgeous place.  But also the gardens are lovely.  And I discovered that for 20 euros I can purchase a book of 10 tickets to get into the gardens.  So I went there for lunch in their outdoor cafe and sat reading a (French) book.  (Pretending I can read French! HA!…. actually, I understood most of it.  It’s the letters of Madame de Sevigny, a marquise from the 1650s.  Very interesting gossip actually.)

And I wandered.  I had noticed spires from the bus and couldn’t figure out what church.  Then I spotted them from the gardens.  So I walked until I came upon Basilica Ste Clothide.  Built in the late 1800’s but in the neo gothic style.  I chanced upon a statue of St. Leonard – never knew there was a saint named Leonard but there are quite a few saints – I should not be surprised.  That was my grandfather’s name so I lit a candle for him.  Always a nice thing to do.  Even if you can’t speak French.  (I should have asked him for assistance…)





Because I speak French!

Today I had lunch with my friend the French professor of the history of the law.  And I told  him about the oral arguments at the Supreme Court for the Texas abortion clinic case.  And specifically Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s questions (it auto-corrected me to Vader- I almost left it! Lol).

In French!!!

And he understood.

Home Sweet Home

Work is complete at my apartment.  Oh no! I don’t mean the roof…  They are taking their own sweet time – I heard some hammering on Friday and a little this morning.  But the workers – all two of them – had plugged a microwave into a circuit in the lobby and were making lunch as I walked out.

No, I meant my own little 400 square foot – well 430 square foot (I really should add that last 30 sq ft) – apartment.  In one week and a day I have made it all cozy and comfy.  Last year too much stuff ended up lying about on shelves or in corners or anywhere there was an empty place.  I planned ahead.  A visit to Ikea and Target and my garage for those foldable cubes.  They fit perfectly on my all cupboards and shelves.  Amazing how stuff in a box is more comfortable on one’s eyes.  Feels less crammed in.  And I brought some hooks for the bathroom to hang the hairdryer and mirrors.  And I have a coffee table this year – so much more comfortable to stretch out my legs to read or watch French TV.  Well I guess I really didn’t have to use French as an adjective there…

And I came prepared with silicon caulking.  Last year I worked on the bathroom – it’s tough not to have mold here.  I bought hydrogen peroxide and it wiped most mold off.  But the caulking was a mess.  I bought a very expensive tube at a local Paris store and tried to fix it.  It was not a very good job, barely better than what had been.  When I was back in the States, I watched my handyman recaulk my shower and tub.  So with that knowledge and with a tube of $3 silicon from Home Depot, I attacked the tub shower today.  Scrapped off the old and cleaned it up and then re-caulked.  Fortunately some of the old caulk was still soft.  Knowing what to do and how to do it made the project go much quicker and the results are more pleasing.  Bed room and Living room done with the cubes.  Check.  Bathroom caulked.  Check.  New (but cheap) rugs for bath and WC and bedroom.  Check.

The kitchen remains.  And really all that needed was new curtains.  They are large tall windows.  She had a curious set up with woven placemats taped to the windows.  Hmmm.  I lived through it last year.  With comfort on my mind, I tackled the curtains.  Her idea wasn’t bad – it would be a pain to try to put up real curtains.  So I MacGyvered it with a scarf.  Cut one in half and taped it up.  Fits the bottom panes perfectly.  Unfortunately there was only one white scarf.  I went back tonight and purchased a similar pattern in reds.  I will put that up on the top panes.  – break –  I did put that up.  So fini.  The photo was weird so trust me, it does look better than the placemats…

PIN success!

Surely you heard/read my complaints last year about the false advertising of American credit card companies?  They claim they provide Chip and PIN cards… In fact they do have a Chip and they issue you a PIN but at stores and restaurants these dang cards are Chip and Signature. 

Why is this a big deal?  It’s all part of my desire to pass as close to a native as I can get.  Yes yes. I am proud to be an American. Love that passport (although Cruz and Trump cause me headaches).  But I want to be incognito and have a real European experience.  When the waiter has to stop and print the paper and give you a pen- the entire store or restaurant knows you are an American! 

The Barclay card at least works in the kiosk at the train and metro stations. It’s programmed to switch from Chip and Signature to Chip and Pin when the kiosk is unattended.   

But this year I scored!  Read about the United Nations Federal Credit Union.  I had to jump through some hoops to become a member (had to join their foundation) but I got the card days before I left.  And I got the pin in the mail the day before I left. 

It works!!!  Now I am an American purchaser in disguise!

Things go on even when…

Things go on even when you are gone…

Pretty amazing, that.  I found the same thing happened in Sacramento while I was in Paris.  They actually tore down and rebuilt the nearby Carl’s Jr restaurant.   I had to ask – something just felt different.

And apparently the Parisians decided they could go on as normal even in my absence.  There’s a tremendous amount of construction or refurbishing going on in my neighborhood.  Starting with my own apartment building.  Something is awry with the roof.  So they put scaffolding up and made some kind of platform around the top floor – it’s encased in netting so nothing should drop on pedestrians.  Then the scaffolding came down from the front.  It is still up in the back courtyard so the workers can climb up to the roof to do their work.  But it does look bizarre to have this hat like thing on the top without any visible means of support in the front.  2016-04-10 18.40.56When I arrived Sunday, the scaffolding was stacked on the sidewalk out front.  Yesterday it was gone.  That makes me concerned that this work will be going on for a while.  It actually doesn’t disrupt me that much except guys will be climbing by my kitchen window.  Perhaps.  Someday.  It’s Thursday afternoon and I have seen nary a worker since arrival.  I don’t believe the work can get done by itself….  WTF.  Welcome To France.

Then on neighboring streets, even more scaffolding.  Now that would be a company to invest in!  And around the corner in the small plaza, two restaurants appear to be closed.  One is clearly in some stage of demolition; the other appears boarded up.  And they had great chicken and great hamburgers…

Jet lag hasn’t been a problem – using melatonin seems to help.   I am happy to avoid it as I have a busy schedule already.  Met a friend Monday, another Tuesday, got my haircut Tuesday, another friend in morning and the expat Meetup in the afternoon yesterday.   Also got my membership card for the Louvre on Monday and for the Musee D’Orsay.  And fit in trips to Monoprix and to Leclerc (I think of it like Target) to gather things for the apartment.  I am all for comfort on this stay.  It was always pretty comfortable, but last time I waited for some purchases.  Now I am all for get it right away and enjoy it immediately!  (That’s an Enneagram 7 for you).  Small things like new throw rugs, extra plates and glasses.  Nothing very big.  A body pillow to be delivered by Amazon to a friend for my pickup.  Remember, no gardien here.

Did I mention before that I have this surprising confidence in my language skills?  I hoped it would survive the flight over – and it did.  Sunday afternoon after unpacking I set out for the Eiffel tower and had three encounters on the way.   At the bus stop, two guys appeared lost.  I asked where they were headed.  And after some exchanges in French, he asked if I spoke English.  Sigh.  At least I could send him in the right direction.  And a French gal needed direction to a different stop – we did that all in French.  And on the bus, a problem with the ticket – the driver also asked if I spoke English.  Sigh.  I take that to mean that I was mangling their language and they would prefer English.  But I also gave myself a pass because it was my first afternoon and I had little sleep.  My transformation into a French speaker had not fully occurred.

Since then, I have surprised myself at how quickly and without much preparation I jump into French.  I am a bit wistful as I think I am losing a topic for my blog.

The weather has been gorgeous.  I ditched the heavy coat for the lightweight jacket today and was still a bit warm in the sun.  Just started to rain – but it’s after five and I am in for the evening.

I met some folks at the American Church in Paris where I guess I am volunteering to coordinate the exhibits for the Bloom Day.  I may have mentioned this?  I have downgraded my involvement to chairing from overall in charge.  There was far too much time involved in the director and I want to enjoy my stay.  The pastor has an apartment in the Church itself – Woodrow Wilson and Martin Luther King Jr both stayed there.  (Bob Dylan just played his guitar in the basement.).  Lots of history in this place.

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My return home was convoluted – going down to say hi to Notre Dame before heading back.  I walked right into Notre Dame.  Very unusual.  Quiet inside – but not as quiet as after the November attacks…

Another wonderful day in Paris.