Typically, before we head back to the US after our monthlong sojourn in France, we spend a couple of days in Paris. The girls now deem it as a tradition before returning back home. The trip usually includes going to a favorite Indian restaurant and seeing an exhibit at one of the museums, though I must say we just keep going back to Centre Pompidou in the last few years with their exciting focus on modernist artists such as Twombly, Klee, Magritte and Lichtenstein. In order to keep things fresh, we also try to bring the girls to a part of Paris they have not been to during prior trips so they can get to know the city further.
As the girls get older, I start to wonder how they’ll feel about Paris when they are in their 20s and 30s. Will they see Paris the same way their parents do? Will they feel that they leave a part of themselves behind whenever they return back to the US? Will they come back to Paris and Normandy we stop footing their travel expenses? Hmm, I guess time will tell…
One of my favorite towns near us in Normandy is Honfleur, a place I’ve written about quite often on this space. Its early association with artists like Claude Monet, Eugene Boudin and Erik Satie continue to this day as the town carries on the tradition of featuring innovative artists in its galleries and lively musicians on its streets. A few Saturdays ago, the town hosted “La Nuit des Artistes” or Artists’ Night where all sort of performances, most at no charge, were available to the public. There were gospel choir singing, opera on one of the main courtyards, pantomiming as well as sculptures and artwork in plein air. I think there’s no better way than an event like this to make art less intimidating and more accessible to everyone — young and old, novice and experienced alike. The more access we all have to art, the more it will be a part of our daily lives. Do you agree? Wish we have more events like this one in the US…
We’re slowly settling back to our house in Normandy. It’s funny how things have gotten easier over the years as we develop our habits and ways in going about our time here. After 14 years, we now know where to go for mundane things we take for granted at home in the US like where to get the best produce, bread, pastries and even simple things (think nails and paint) to mend the house. The good thing about settling in fast is the we’re also able to enjoy all the great things that Normandy offers.
One of the first things we did when we got here is visit the city of Le Havre, which is celebrating its 500th year. Imagine that…500 years! Much has happened in the city’s history but one of the most critical ones is the devastation Le Havre encountered during World War II. There’s much hype about the movie Dunkirk right now and its role during the war but Le Havre is also another French town that played a major role during that period. It took architect Auguste Perret’s great modernist vision post-war to develop what the city is today. Le Havre indeed feels like no other French city with all its modern buildings and architecture. I used to hate its utilitarian sort of feel but it’s only through learning Perret’s vision vis-a-vis the city’s history that I learned to appreciate this place.
Most of the art installations below were created for the city’s milestone anniversary…
MuMa Le Havre
Street Art by Vincent Ganivet
Le Volcan designed by Oscar Niemeyer in 1982
Art at St. Joseph church designed by Chiharu Shihota that symbolizes spiritual awakening
Work by Lang/Baumann to resemble doors that open to the sea
This past weekend, we were invited by our friend, Jean-Jacques from the restaurant Provence en Boîte, to our old neighborhood in Brooklyn to celebrate Bastille Day. For the past 11 years, Jean-Jacques has been hosting a block party in Carroll Gardens to celebrate Bastille Day, or what the French calls le 14 juillet. The afternoon was a blast as we listened to live music, danced and ate classic French picnic food. It was fun for everyone, including Brady our dog who ventured into Brooklyn for the first time.
The nice thing about staying in the US for the month of July is that we’re able to catch up with friends whom we usually do not get to see during the school year. Almost every single summer weekend has been spent with friends and family, a pleasure without a doubt yet definitely exhausting. Now I’m almost ready for vacation…
We spent the last day of 2016 at the Centre Pompidou, our go-to place for art exhibits whenever we’re in Paris. In recent years, the exhibits at the Pompidou, from Lichtenstein to Klee, have all been so comprehensive, fascinating and unique. The artists featured at this place, unlike those at other top museums in Paris, are often fresh, modern and slightly provocative — totally my cup of tea.
I guess I am not alone in my love for the Pompidou. According to a recent newspaper article in France, the museum had a 9% increase in attendance in 2016, when most Paris venues were empty due to terrorist fears. During the same period, other more traditional Parisian museums like the Louvre and Musee d’Orsay lost 15% and 13% respectively of visitors.
But enough of the facts, right? The exhibits we saw, Cy Twombly and Rene Magritte, were quite delightlful. The temperature in Paris that morning was below 30 degrees Fahrenheit and the line in front of the museum was quite long and moved at an annoyingly snail’s pace. Despite the harsh elements, we stayed in line because it was our last day in Paris and we knew that we won’t get another shot at seeing these two great exhibits together again.
Twombly and Magritte are such different artists. Twombly’s free flowing, almost anarchic style is a stark contrast to Magritte’s methodical and philosophical approach to art. Just look at the images below…
The funny thing about these two particular exhibits is that my admiration for these two artists were reversed after seeing their works closer and more extensively. I was not a Magritte fan before the show but I came away from it utterly impressed with the precision and thought the artist put into every single one of his works. On the other hand, Twombly, left me a little flat with his carefree style and oversized canvases. I supposed Twombly’s works just did not move me or fascinate me the same way Magritte’s art did.
Happy New Year! Hope that you had a wonderful holiday season spent doing things you love with people near and dear to your heart. We spent about 10 days in France, most of it in my happy place, Normandy. It’s always a little different to see a place you love at a different time of the year. There’s always fear that the said place would not live up to your vision of it, especially as the harsh elements of winter take toll on its natural beauty. Given that we see Normandy mostly in July and August, I tend to associate it with verdant green landscapes, at their peak and in full glory in the summer.
I have to say that I wasn’t disappointed with Normandy in the week we were there. We were blessed with decent weather, no rain and only bitter cold temperatures at the end, so surely my views here are completely biased, right? In all seriousness though, seeing the light in Normandy, the way the sun shines at different hours of the day, makes me understand why so many Impressionists painters did their work here. There is something soft and romantic about the way the sun illuminates different Norman pastures and landmarks.
Spending time in Normandy and Paris twice this year also makes me look forward to the time when the girls will be in college or even older when I can spend unrestricted amount of time here. There’s something about these corners of France that gives me comfort and feel like home to me. Does that make sense? Do you feel that one part of yourself belong to a place you don’t currently call home? I do, I feel that a part of my soul stays in France whenever I head back home to America.
Life lately in 2016
The last week of 2016 is here! What a crazy year it has been with all the ups and downs in our everyday lives. As many variables and unknowns face us in 2017, I know one thing we’ll always have is the love of family and friends. I plan to hold on to those whom I cherish a little bit more in the new year and minimize any negative presence in my life. Life is just too short to bother with the trivial and unnecessary. The death of loved ones in the last few years along with those of singers and artists who were such a part of my childhood are simple reminders how fleeting our time on Earth is.
I am not sure yet what I want to do with the blog in the next year. A part of me wants to stop blogging with my girls getting older and the pull for them to live their own lives become stronger. Another possibility is that I continue writing in this space but focusing more on my own personal narrative (and less of theirs), knowing how much writing fulfills my soul. It’s doable but challenging given how much of my self-definition revolves around motherhood. Yet another option is to just focus on Instagram and let my photos there do the talking. An easier option but a bit limited as a communication outlet. What to do, what to do?
I want to share some photos from our Christmas in France at my in-laws this year. We have not spent Christmas here for five years so our visit was definitely long overdue. The girls have little cousins here now too so there is a stronger need to come to France for all of them to start building some memories and bond even just for a few days.
Have a great week!!!
Before we left France a few weeks ago, we checked out the very comprehensive Paul Klee exhibit at Centre Pompidou in Paris. I’ve always loved Klee’s work primarily because of the colors he used in his art as well as the humor involved. To anyone who first sees work, the simple lines and drawing of his paintings may seem a little childlike and naive. But upon closer look and further scrutiny, one sees the serious message behind a lot of his paintings (even some that were anti-Hitler, pretty bold move at the time) and the careful choice of colors for his compositions.
It’s always fun to see how artists evolve over time, to see how their craft buoys them through their lifetime. With this exhibit, I saw how Klee started out as an illustrator and dabbled a little in sculpture. His trips to Italy and Africa led him to be more brazen with color choice and combinations in his works. He was an artist associated with various art movements — Expressionism, Abstraction, Surrealism, Cubism — but the chronology of his works do not classify him as an artist of these movements.
The other thing the I learned from this exhibit was how Klee suffered from a degenerative disease called scleroderma toward the latter years of his life. This condition explains his shift toward simpler and larger works at the end of his career. Yet despite of his illness, he still created a tremendous amount of work, well over 500 in one year. I suppose that’s one of the things I love about artists, it’s their passion for their craft despite illnesses and everyday realities, many of which can throw us off the usual course. The other thing I love about these creative souls is how they always subject themselves to change, experimenting with the various styles and techniques that may appeal to them but always persisting. Now if I only can mimic these traits and incorporate them in my life.
Here are some of the images I took from the exhibit…
Weekly snapshots of family life in 2016
We are now back in the US, much to my mother’s relief. While we were in France last month, she begged me frequently to go back to the US. According to her, my girls will be much safer back in the suburbs of Northern New Jersey. But are they really though? I feel like there’s a certain amount of unpredictability as to when and where the next catastrophe will occur. And while the US is a relatively safe country, reading about police violence and the Republican and Democratic conventions while overseas can make one think that our great country isn’t a safe haven either.
The thing is despite the Paris and Nice attacks, along with the Normandy killing last week, life still goes on in France. The same way we all tried to carry on after 9/11 here in the US. Yes, we were all impacted and hurt, and life is forever changed but we tried not to give up our basic rights that we enjoy in the free society we live in. The same is true for France. Most of the friends and family I talked to mentioned how wary and a bit more suspicious they are when out in public places but they still go on with the usual in their daily lives.
We plan to go back to France soon, maybe for the holidays. My mother is not too happy about it but France is where our “other half” lives.
Have a great week!
The last flower from our garden this summer
View from Centre Pompidou
Newly redone Forum des Halles shopping center in Paris
Weekly snapshots of family life in 2016
Our stay here in France is winding down. We are leaving Normandy today to spend a couple of days in Paris. It’s always bittersweet, this part of the trip. I’m looking forward to going back home but I’m always sad to leave France because I think there’s always something essential we leave behind when we go back to the US. I cannot necessarily pinpoint as to what it is — maybe we’re more carefree, maybe we just spend more time together as a family away from daily distractions and demands when we’re here? But whatever it is, I always leave Normandy feeling a little bit more clearer about where I stand in life and what my values are, just a tad bit surer in my footing. Perhaps all vacations do that, maybe distancing yourself from the everyday gives you better perspective to see things for what they are.
Some photos of what we’ve been up to the last week…
…Our last visit to the beach in Deauville where it reached 95 degrees, rare for this part of France.
…Long overdue visit to pianist Erik Satie’s house in Honfleur. Satie was born 150 years ago yet the music he composed and played remain modern and fresh today.
…Just walking around Honfleur and admiring this quaint town.
…Going to a horse race in Deauville where both girls won on horses they placed their bets on.
Hope you had a lovely weekend!