Sunday, June 30, 2013

A little bit of sky for your viewing pleasure

My pal Bruce B. sent me these photos of June 29th .  He says that he had just finished dinner yesterday and then this appeared out of the blue.    

  I am going to keep a lookout tonight but hey, you have to be alert around here or you will miss something pretty wild.  

Friday, June 28, 2013

Pique Nique sur la Terasse

Take seven artists, ask them to come for a potluck lunch on the terrace and you are in for a treat for eyes as well as mouthes.

Yesterday, most of my printmaking class was able to come to my house for an end of year celebration. 

 I am not very social in the class.  I don't pick up on the general conversation around me very well.   And if I didn't really focus on the printmaking work I wouldn't get anything done, either.

 So for one day,  I wanted the people I see every week to know other sides of me.   And it was such a fine day .....and there is the garden....... and of course....... I wanted to show off my studio .  I think every artist secretly wants you to see how and where they work.....

  (As Joelle said, Do you know how spoiled you are?  And the answer is yes, Joelle, yes.) 

Gratin Aubergines produced by Agnes

The potluck meal is a great favorite amongst many of my friends because it means that one isn't responsible for the whole thing.  It's also a wonderful way to get spirited conversation going.  Each dish is discussed and that leads to other subjects.  That is the French leads to everything!

And I notice that when others are bringing the food the meal takes on a pace of its own.    I can't succumb to my tendency to rush the meal anymore.   And that's a good thing.

 I am afraid that Americans tend to "bolt" their food and expect one plate to come to the table right after the other.   Its as if the table was not a comfortable place to be and you have to leave it as soon as possible.   Maybe we are all racing to the finish line in a life long eating contest.

I suppose some of this comes from the American work ethic:  "time is money"...  but how sad is that?.  And it doesn't help that restaurants want to "turn the table" and chase you out for the same reason:  more dollars.  The irony being that with the extra dollars you earn you want to spend on having meals with your friends!

 Our meal yesterday took four hours!  Now that's what I call dining.

 The first course was the hors d'oeuvres ...

  Mary Dominique (Mary Do) brought humous made with lentils and cardamon and a courgette loaf , (more like a frittata than a bread).  I had a slice of the loaf for breakfast.
Agnes brought a gratin d'aubergines .   Its good warm or cold.   Jaques brought a tapenade made from black olives and a whole meal bread to serve with it.
Jocelyn made a whole fois gras and served it on fresh, fig/nut bread.

 And of course Monsieur gave us some good summer wines that he loves to search for.. out there in the various markets.

 Joelle, Jacques, Sylvie.....

 Sylvie, Jocelyn and Mary Do .....

 Agnes, Kaloon, and Joelle......

That would have been enough but there was also a main course.  After an interval, we heated up and served  Kaloon's Thai fish and shrimp stew with its rich coconut milk sauce.    When Monsieur asked him where he learned to cook , he said that for him it was instinctive.  In other words, he learned as a child , as a part of life.    Kaloon, don't forget your promise to show us how to prepare that dish.

Then came the cheese plate.  Joelle produced a green Pistou novelty cheese , three chevres : one rolled in cranberries, one in black pepper and one with chives and herbs.  a gorgonzola and a lovely Reblochons with two fat, round loaves of grainy bread.

Sylvie cut up and served a succulent plate of ripe pineapple and sweet strawberries.   

For dessert Agnes and Jocelyne each made an apricot tart, one complimenting the other with texture and flavor.

Monsieur and I were grateful for the excellent day with excellent company.       Let's hear it for good friends and the French pot-luck.  

Even thought the class is breaking up,  we all promised to stay connected..... and we will. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

L'Hotel Dieu de Marseilles

After the museum,  we happened upon a wonderful leafy square fronting the magnificient structure of the Marseille Intercontinental Hotel and I was fascinated enough to want to go inside  and find out about the beginnings of this absolutely beautiful structure .   

Diane was game and we lingered, overlooking the roof terrace with a cocktail.  What I found out from the waiter and pieced together later online is this:

Walking from courtyard to glimpse this imposing edifice

The origins of the Hotel-Dieu de Marseille date back to 1166, when the Brotherhood of the Holy Spirit based in Marseille built the Hospital of the Holy Spirit as a set of narrow houses, communicating with each other. It was located in the district Accoules, which once housed sick and abandoned children.

In the thirteenth century the administration of the hospital came under municipal control and two delegated rectors ensured proper operation. In 1344, Bernard Garnier,  a rich merchant, founded the Hospital Saint Jacques de Galicia, for women. 

Then in 1593, Charles de Cazaulx first Consul combined Marseille Hospital Saint Jacques de Galicia and the Hospital of the Holy Spirit into a single institution taking the name of Hôtel-Dieu. 

The combined hospital differed from other French hospitals as it entrusted the care of its patients to only secular personnel and boasted an area for those with the disease of leprosy, both men and women.  The Hotel-Dieu, located at the site of the former  Hospital of the Holy Spirit then grew over time as the population of Marseilles exploded (as did epidemics all through the city).  

At the end of the twentieth century the hospital turned into a teaching hospital for midwifery, paramedics, nursing, anesthesiology, nursery and childcare assistant training, radiology  etc. 

Then in 1993, the last patients left the Hotel Dieu and it  closed its doors finally as a teaching institution in 2006 and stayed abandoned for some years. 

 The waiter tells me that the whole city waited in fear that it would be demolished as no one came forward with the funds to restore it.  That was until a Qatar family financed the restoration, transforming the site into the present five star hotel, The Hotel Continental of Marseilles.   


Architecture:  The Hôtel-Dieu de Marseille building was erected from 1753 by the Marseille architect Claude-Henri-Jacques of Aggeville (1721-1794)  using the plans and elevations of the royal architect Jacques Hardouin-Mansart de Sagonne ( 1711-1778), grand-son of Jules Hardouin-Mansart.  

This last Mansart added to the size of the building making the Hotel Dieu de Marseille  comparable to the Hôtel-Dieu de Pierre de Vigny in Lille by Jacques-Germain Soufflot . ..becoming therefore
one of the major achievements of the French hospital architecture of the eighteenth century. 

The building was refurbished to its current state from 1860 to 1866 by the Hospital architect of Marseille, Felix Blanchet.  He extended the left wing of the courtyard,  erected pavilions at the ends of the two wings and then raised the whole floor of the building.   

Above all, he cleared the surrounding slums which crowded the entrances providing light and air while improving accessibility for patients on litters and sedan chairs.

 In 1865, two side wings were added to the main building and trees were added to complete the beautiful square in front.  The new Hotel-Dieu hospital was inaugurated by Napoleon III, November 15, 1866 for the feast day of the Empress Eugenie.

Here are some snapshots walking up from the port to the interior of the hotel.
Funny little oriental bridge on display at start of courtyard

Courtyard with exhibition center to the right, hotel in background

This young girl was playing all of these chess students in turn!  The courtyard was alive with activities.

Statue in the memory of martyrs of the resistance and for the victims of "la Barbarie Hitlerienne"... just to the side of the hotel

Uber display of orchids and hydrangea blossoms in the lobby
Hotel lobby decor, ceramic sea-life dictates the theme

Rooftop garden for hotel bar

Pristine surroundings don't bother me.  I can take it....anyway it was a nice way to wind down the day and be grateful.....for the day and the "hotel of God". 

 The word hotel, by the way, is derived from the French word "hote" ( host) and used to mean... any building with frequent visitors rather than a place offering accommodation. But that meaning still fits with the new one.  There were lots of people taking advantage of the atmosphere here for the price of a coffee or cocktail.  I would imagine some of them were locals.... so happy to see the place come alive again. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mucem: Museum of Civilisations of Europe and the Mediterranean

Yesterday Diane and I rented a car to drive two hours to Marseilles to check out the progress of a city fast becoming an icon of cultural France.  

 The last time I was in Marseilles was 40 years ago and I was on my way to another destination.  I was told to stay in my hotel room and not come out without an escort.  So, I mostly did and don't remember a thing about the place. 

 I wanted to change my mind about Marseille being a seedy place full of thieves and pirates and that was part of my desire to go again.

At least down by the port there is so much new, a revitalization and sense of balanced order.  Cosmetic changes are only the beginning of aiding a population and changing a reputation but they are a great start.  

 Several warnings to watch our handbags, kept us aware of that we were visiting a small section of a big metropolis, but we also found the people helpful and friendly (which I can't always say about Nice).   

After a few errands and lunch we were off to the main attraction for the day:  Mucem ( Musée des civilisations de L'Europe & de la Méditerranée) which is housed beside the refurbished space of Fort Saint-Jean on the port at Marseilles and was newly opened June 7.  It is a revolutionary idea for a museum, combining so many aspect of culture in an array of sound and visuals.   Here are the first batch of photos.

Square where we found some tasty lunch.  That trompe l'oeil painting on that building was really deceiving.

This is actually a huge mirror installation at the port that I am photographing upwards 

an intriguing Salvador Dali sculpture

We will enter the fort by that overhead walkway

Diane on the walkway to Fort Saint-Jean

outdoor lounges at the fabulous grounds of the fort

One of several eating areas at the fort

Looking out to sea and the watchtower of the fort, gardens on the right

Looking down at the vegetable gardens one of 15 gardens, showing the metal irrigation ditches

Diane in front of the Mucem building designed by Rudi Riccioti 

the background cathedral marries well with the new structures and the refurbished fort 

The body of the building covers the walkways to the five floors and esplanade

Restaurants and lounge areas abound.  This is all free to the public, only the museum is an entry fee. Five euros for seniors, not bad for hours of fascinating exhibits

Monday, June 17, 2013

Amused and Amazed

So what have I been doing?  Visit with friends,  meetings in restaurants, movies, children's music recital,  renting and cleaning of the studio for summer tourists,  trimming trees, finding guys to fix roof tiles,  steps etc, gathering cherries from our own tree, spoiling the cat.   Just normal stuff.  

  But I am practicing being amused and amazed.  That is my mantra right now for my daily life.  Be amused and amazed as much as possible because everything is meaningful and nothing is meaningful and you might as well get something out of everything.   

I have been exploring the "Amazing" with the painting dilemma.   I had decided to paint the outside trim on my house and cement garden walls.  This is my idea of a fun I went to buy the paint from the corner hardware type store: Bricorama .  Here is the short version of the seemingly never-ending story.  

  1. Used first color on three garden walls, went back for more, was told it was paint for wood not concrete (even though I had specified that I was painting cement walls).   Nice kid sold it, he just heard "exterior" when he recommended the paint.
  2. Bought a different "facade paint" with the new vendor and used it for several hours.   Later that day I had a spontaneous nose bleed while at lunch with a friend.   Hmmm. 
  3. Wore a mask for the next day of painting with the resin based paint and that night another nose bleed.   Googled it.  Its the resin based paint.  It happens to some people.
  4.   Next day I wore two masks and no nosebleed but ran out of paint.
  5.   Bought second can of same color mix, same paint.  Painted 3 more hours with two masks on, thinking new color would darken.  It didn't . The can is a different color!!
  6. Gave up with Bricorama and decided to go to the professional paint store to choose color ( Albertini's).   Got home and realized that the new color is way off of color chip I had shown them.   I Can't use it.
  7.  Went back to professional paint store to choose a color myself.  Second color is even more off the color I want.   It is "daffodil" .  Great color for plastic beach shoes!  Each liter can is 35 euros !! Ouch. 
  8. Go back to first store and ask them to remix the "lethal" paint that is too light.  Of course, how can they since some is used up.   I buy third can  of 2.5 liters for 30 euros more... even though this is the one that gives me nosebleed.   The machine mangles the lid and they can't get it back on.  I tell them to use the previous lid and I bring it back home.   I put it in the corner but get a nosebleed that night because they opened it for five minutes right in front of me while they were fiddling with the lid.  I put the paint aside, what is in this stuff anyway? 
  9.   Monsieur, the master problem solver, suggests I mix my two expensive pots of water based paint from Albertini .  I am a colorist and I do know about such things but I am skeptical....  but what the hell.   AMAZINGLY I get a great color:  not to sandy, not too yellow.... kind of a soft ochre.  Hallelujah.
And yes, I am still working on the AMUSING part of this story.... but somehow it didn't manifest until just now.   Now, I am bemused over what we put ourselves through in the name of progress.