L’Ateliers des Lumières: Digital Art in Paris

Before arriving in Paris in October, I’d heard quite a bit about the newly opened digital art museum, L’Ateliers des Lumières, and so it was definitely high on my list of places to visit.

Once we arrived, my traveling companions, Thom and Eric, and I went online to check it out. We noticed right away that weekends were sold out. We also realized that it would be best to book in advance, purchasing our tickets online to avoid the potentially long lines waiting to buy tickets onsite.

Digital art has been appearing with more frequency in the past few years. 

From November 2017 to April 2018, the Tate Modern presented the Modigliani exhibit. In addition to 100 of Amedeo Modigliani’s iconic portraits, nudes and sculptures, the Tate paired the exhibition with The Ochre Atelier, a Virtual Reality tour of the artist’s studio in Paris. The seated experience enabled visitors to listen to narrated accounts from the artist’s friends and Tate’s experts while exploring the more than 60 objects authentically modeled by 3D artists.

Modigliani’s Paris Studio in VR at the Tate Modern (Courtesy Preloaded)

However, the digital art museum or, in the case of Paris, ‘workshop,’ which is the direct translation of atelier, is a fairly new concept. 

L’Ateliers des Lumières, located in the 11th Arr., opened in April 2018 with three presentations: Gustav Klimt, Hundertwasser and the contemporary installation, Poetic_AI. 

Klimt artwork as it unfolds as digital art.

Along with our Parisian friend, Sandrine, who met us at our flat on a beautiful, warm Wednesday, we walk the short distance to the museum to arrive by our 12:30 entry time. There were two long lines, one for those with tickets and the other, much longer line, for those wishing to purchase them. Sandrine mentioned that it was good that we had our tickets as she read that the 12:30 exposition was complet (full). 

We enter the building quickly and move through the ticketing area. With my phone in hand, I scan the ticket codes for each of us and we move through the turnstile. 

The museum is operated by Culturespaces, a French museum foundation specializing in immersive art displays, and housed in a former foundry. The Chemin-Vert foundry dates to 1835, when it was established by the Plichon brothers to make high quality cast iron parts for the railroad and the navy. The family-owned foundry closed in 1929, and was purchased by the Martin family in 1935. The foundry was used to manufacture machine tools until the Martins’ moved their company in 2000. 

In 2013, on the heels of the successful opening of the Carrières de Lumières in Les Baux de Provence, the president of Culturespaces discovered the unoccupied foundry. The Martin family was enthusiastic about the concept of creating a center for digital art in Paris, and agreed to rent the space.

Carrières presentation of 16th century artists: Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo.

As we enter the main hall of the exhibit, we find a concrete floor on which many people are sitting around its edges. We walk to the center and looking to the right, we can see around a corner, and to the left at the far end, there’s a stairway with a viewing platform partway up the wall. There’s a large round column off to one side. The ceiling appears to be about 25 feet high.

We decide this might be a good place to begin our viewing, and suddenly, the lights in the room go out. The first presentation, Poetic_AI, prepares us for what lies ahead through a series of black and white lines, drops, circles, numbers and flashing bright lights. From the floors to the ceilings, the images move and swirl, fading into and out of each other. They fall off the walls and travel across the floor. It’s stark, mystifying and mesmerizing, with the visitor as interloper in the midst of the magic. We stand enthralled, turning this way and that and even in circles to capture the essence of the event. We hold out our hands and find the images covering our skin and think, “We’ve become a part of the artwork.”

An example of the Poetic_AI presentation.

This presentation ends and the lights come up, but remain dim. 

The Gustav Klimt presentation begins as we walk around to experience another view. I’ve always been rather enthralled with this Austrian artist who seemed to combine surrealism and realism with the beauty of art nouveau in his gilded portraits of women. The images flowing across the canvas of this foundry are enthralling. As the shapes draw themselves out, they appear to come alive, all while pulling you into the midst of the painting as if you belonged there. The colors are bright and bold, the golds and yellows reflecting like a sunburst.

Klimt: The golden tears of Freyja

These images are put into motion by 140 laser projectors. One would think the use of this digital medium of algorithms and mensuration would appear a bit discordant, but the beauty and awe are captivating, drawing us into the artists’ universe and immersing us in this fantastical aesthetic experience. 

The final Hundertwasser presentation does not disappoint. Its beautiful bold colors and shapes draw gardens of superior beauty and gracefulness. 

An image from the Hundertwasser presentation

The experience is one where you could stand, walk or sit at various places throughout the building and see changes in the shapes and flow of the images. It’s at once, calming and emotional.

After our visit to the Ateliers des Lumières, I was sharing my experience with some friends, and one suggested I check out the new digital art museum in Tokyo by teamLab*Borderless. I checked their website and agree that it would definitely be worth the trip.

This new type of museum is inspiring and reaches an entirely new generation of artists. As it expands to other countries, it will be fascinating to see where it leads.

The Hare with Amber Eyes: A Paris View

One day when summer was in its full bloom and Paris was but a dream, a book friend indicated — quite emphatically, as I now recall — while pointing to The Hare with Amber Eyes, by Edmund de Waal, that it was an excellent book. “You should read it,” he said. “Really … it’s a great book.” 

“Oh, fine,” I said, reluctantly. It’s a memoir, you see, and not my typical cup of tea. Nonetheless, I grabbed the copy from the bookshop shelf and took it home, where it sat for several weeks. I began to imagine the tiny hare on the cover staring at me reproachfully each time I passed.

The hare with amber eyes netsuke.

When I finally picked it up and began, I found that my book connoisseur friend was correct — it was well written and extremely engaging. 

It’s a story about a collection of netsuke bought in Paris in the 1870s by Charles Ephrussi, a cousin of the author’s great-grandfather. The book relates the story of these beautiful art objects and the events occurring around them throughout their travels — from Japan to Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, and London, where they eventually wind up in the possession of Mr. de Waal.

As you read, you get a sense that Mr. de Waal lived among stories — great and tragic ones. He weaves a strong visual tale of these tiny figures — ivory, horn, boxwood — delicately and intricately carved by Japanese artisans and initially collected by Charles. 

As an artist himself, Mr. de Waal has a visual capacity to capture the essence of the past beautifully, so the reader is easily able to “see” the places, the rooms, the people, the netsuke, as they move through time.

While the lives of the netsukes began in Edo (pre-Tokyo), they enter this story in Paris, in Charles Ephrussi’s study overlooking the rue de Monceau, kept in a black polished wood vitrine lined with dark green velvet and reflected in the mirrored backing. 

With this story resonating in my mind, I thought it would be interesting to see the places in Paris where Charles lived, and the sites that Mr. de Waal visited in his quest to track the history of the netsuke collection.

So we begin where Charles lived after his arrival in Paris from Vienna in 1870, the Hôtel Ephrussi, the family’s home, at 81 rue de Monceau. 

Parc Monceau

We arrive at the Parc Monceau and walk through its lovely grounds, stopping occasionally to enjoy the autumn flowers, fantastic variety of trees and beautiful art and installations that make this park unique.

A hillside garden in Parc Monceau.

The park was established in the 18th century at the request of the Duke of Chartres, cousin to King Louis XVI. It was unconventional in its tastes at the time with its many conflicting architectural features. 

Charles was 21 when he arrived in Paris. By that time, the park was undergoing a transformation by Baron Haussmann, opening to the public in 1861. 

The Hôtel Ephrussi

Rue de Monceau is south of the park and we find #81 near the top of the hill. It’s an impressive building, five stories high, with five windows across. Four Corinthian pilasters add a Neo-Classical feel to the façade. Stone urns sit atop the parapet, and the Ephrussi family’s double-Es are still present in the metal grilles over the street windows.

The Ephrussi mansion at 81 rue de Monceau.

We look up at the second floor windows and envision Charles’ suite of rooms: an antechamber, two salons — one which became his study — a dining room, two bedrooms and a petite chambre.

It’s a neighborhood of very impressive homes, once owned by well-known families.

With command of a number of languages, a great amount of money and his freedom, Charles spent a good deal of time traveling during his 20s. During his travels, he became a collector — drawings, tapestries, enamels, sculptures and furniture. 

Musée Nissim de Camondo

To get a better sense of Charles and how he lived, Mr. de Waal visited the Musée Nissim de Camondo to view the contemporaneous furnishings in this Museum of Decorative Arts. 

We, too, visit this museum. 

Musée de Nissim Camondo from the stairway.

We’ve come to see the furnishings of the main house, particularly those in the two drawing rooms. 

The furniture throughout this beautiful home turned museum has been crafted by artisans who worked for the king and other wealthy clients. Through it, we get a feel for how Charles’ apartment would have been furnished. 

Meanwhile in Charles’ life, he begins to write a book about Albert Dürer, while also writing for the Gazette des beaux-arts. 

The Gazette has a reputation as an essential part of society life in Paris. For Charles, it’s “a calling card into those places where society and art intersect.” He’s invited to important salons where he meets poets, playwrights, painters — he begins to find a life for himself in Paris. 

Mr. de Waal finds that life reflected in the social columns of the day, with Charles and his brothers recorded attending Parisian balls, musical soirées, operas, and receptions for princes and countesses.

Japanese art

Charles has new interests … he has a lover and begins collecting Japanese art. 

Japan has opened up in Paris and Charles and Louise buy “Japanese black and gold lacquer boxes for their parallel collections: they start their love affair with Japan.”

In his commentary, Mr. de Waal wonders what it must be like “to have something so alien in your hands for the first time, to pick up a box or a cup — or a netsuke — in a material that you had never encountered before and shift it around, finding its weight and balance, running a fingertip along the raised decoration of a stork in flight through clouds?”

The quantities of Japanese art that came into Paris at that time were overwhelming. They arrived at a merchant’s shop and immediately left it.

Before the netsukes, Charles had already collected 33 black-and-gold lacquer boxes that he placed among his other treasures. They sat near his Renaissance wall hangings and his pale Donatello sculpture in marble.

Charles also developed a growing passion for the work of the Impressionists, creating one of the great early collections of this art. He purchased forty paintings within a three-year period, sending an additional twenty to his cousins in Berlin. His collection included paintings and pastels by Moriset, Cassett, Degas, Manet, Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and Renoir.

This art, along with the Japanese creations “conjure a picture of a place where sensations are always new, where art pours out of daily life, where everything exists in a dream of endless flow.”

The netsukes

Following the promotion in a book by Edmond de Goncourt that described the “obsessive search for the perfection” of these tiny sculpted masterpieces, suddenly, it seemed, netsukes had become essential to salon life.

And so Charles buys his netsukes — 264 of them. It’s a huge collection of small things, bought as a complete, spectacular collection. A fox with inlaid eyes, in wood. A curled snake on a lotus leaf, in ivory. A hare and the moon. Three toads on a leaf. An octopus. A priest on a horse. A persimmon. And countless others — figures, animals, erotica and creatures from myth. 

Lunar hare with moon netsuke

The purchase details are lost to time, leading Mr. de Waal to wonder, “Had they just arrived? Was Charles present when they came in? Did he fall in love with the startlingly pale hare with amber eyes, and buy the rest for company?” 

What he does know is that Charles bought a black vitrine to put them in. 

More than six feet tall with wood polished like lacquer, the vitrine, with its mirrored backing, reflects all the subtle variations in colors of the creams, golds and browns of the ivory, horn and boxwood netsuke.

These tiny figures are not shut up in isolation to be viewed. The cabinet is made to be opened, for a netsuke to be chosen, “picked up in a moment of seduction, and encounter between a hand and an object that is electric.” And the netsuke are perfect for the life of Charles’ salon.

And Charles’ life is progressing. In 1881, the young poet Jules Laforgue is recommended as a secretary to assist with the lists, notes, and such for the publication of his book on Dürer. And at age 30, Charles becomes the editor of the Gazette. 

Mr. de Waal, worrying about how he would construct a life out of mere objects is able to feel the room through Laforgue’s writing; he can hear their nighttime conversations and so can the reader of this wonderful book.

Charles has become good friends with Marcel Proust and a number of painters of that time. He continues to support the impressionist movement. Charles played a pivotal role as an advocate and an editor. One critic wrote of Charles as ‘an older brother to young artists,’ visiting with them in their studios, purchasing a painting directly from the easel.

The book speaks to Charles life, his friendships with the painters, poets and writers of the day and how the “conjunction of Japanese objects and the shimmering new style of painting seems right,” and how this new Japanese art had a profound effect on artists like Manet, Renoir and Degas, who were also avid collectors. 

Charles even makes it into one of Renoir’s paintings, along with his friend Laforgue.

Renoir’s The Boating Party with Charles in top hat in the background.

At age 36, Charles becomes the proprietor of the Gazette. It’s 1885, and he’s becoming a public figure.

Another move

In 1891, Charles moves his netsuke to 11 avenue d’Iéna. The house is larger than the Hôtel Ephrussi and more austere. It’s located on a hill just north of the Champ de Mars, where the Eiffel Tower had just been erected. It was a very desirable neighborhood, referred to as the ‘hill of arts.’ He lives there with his brother Ignace and they give large dinner parties and soirées. 

Courtyard at the current 11 avenue d’Iena.

But Charles appears to grow away from his netsuke.

With the coming of the new century, Charles’ first cousin is to be married in Vienna, someone Charles has known since childhood. He sends the couple “something special, a spectacular something from Paris: a black vitrine with green velvet shelves, and a mirrored back that reflects 264 netsuke.” 

And so ends the Paris section of this remarkable book. Moving to Vienna with the transfer of the netsukes as a wedding gift, the next chapter of this story begins. 

But this and further parts of this tale are not mine for the retelling. You, the reader, will need to decide if your interest is piqued enough to find out what happens as this most interesting of collections travels through time and the world, interacting, impacting and escaping some of history’s most insidious events. 

All I can say is, “You should read it … it’s a really great book.”


Parc Monceau and its museums

Parc Monceau, at the northern edge of the 8th Arr., was established in the late 18th century by Phillippe d’Orléans, the Duke of Chartres and cousin to King Louis XVI, as a private garden. The park is a favorite of ours and as part of research for an upcoming post on the book, The Hare with Amber Eyes, we visit this park and two museums located at its borders.

Parc Monceau

In 1779, toward the end of the Age of Enlightenment, the Duke of Chartres opened the Parc Monceau, an extravagant pleasure garden. At that time, the park appeared to be a hodgepodge of fantasy focused on various cultures. Among its original installations were a Roman colonnade with a pond, a miniature Egyptian pyramid, a Dutch windmill, a temple of Mars, an Italian vineyard, and other statuary. At its opening, the garden featured exotic animals and servants in flamboyant dress. It was pure fantasy designed to surprise all those who entered. 

Parc Monceau carousel near the rotunda.

The park was purchased by the city of Paris in 1860, and was part of the grand transformation of Paris created by Baron Haussmann. Exotic trees and flowers were planted, enhancing its beauty. Walkways were widened and paved to accommodate carriages and additional walking paths were added.

Lush garden in Parc Monceau.

The park became a favorite among Parisians, including writers and painters. In the spring of 1871, with the Parc Monceau as inspiration, Claude Monet created a series of three paintings, with two additional ones painted in 1878.  

We arrive at the park, now considered one of the most elegant gardens in Paris, on a very warm autumn day. We pass through the wrought iron gates embellished with gold located on either side of the rotunda.

Rotunda at the entrance of Parc Monceau.

The grounds are beautiful with the sunlight illuminating the English-style gardens. Most of the benches located along the walking paths are occupied by Parisians eating lunch, reading or chatting with companions.

Scattered throughout the grounds, you’ll find a number of statues of writers and musicians that have been added over the years. 

Spring photo of the Venetian-style bridge that replaced the Chinese arched bridge.

The park is known for its spectacular collection of trees, including a sycamore maple, dating from 1853, with beautifully twisted branches that reach 30 meters in height. Because of the variety and height of the trees, as well as the pond with its large carp and smaller goldfish populations, a great diversity of birds can be found at the Parc Monceau. 

Colonnade and pond in Parc Monceau.

As we meander through the park, we find the great lawn populated with luxuriating Parisians relishing the greens and golds of this sunny mid-October day.

Parisians relaxing on the lawn at Parc Monceau.

Surrounding the gardens of Parc Monceau are lavish mansions built in the 19th century. The homes seem unaffected by time and the neighborhood is quiet and comfortable. The grand structures are elegant yet unassuming and speak of the wealth and sophistication of that era. 

Many financiers and bankers lived on the rue de Monceau, which included the palace of Adolphe de Rothschild at #43 with its glass roofed exhibition room that housed his Renaissance art collection. Two mansions adjacent to the park are now museums, including the Camondo family home at #63, and the Cernuschi mansion on avenue Velasquez.

Musée Nissim de Camondo

The Musée Nissim de Camondo opened in 1935 and presents Moïse de Camondo’s spectacular collection of French decorative arts from the late 18th century.

We enter this museum through its beautiful courtyard. In 1911, Moïse had his father’s house razed and construction was begun on his new home, designed in the style of the Petit Trianon at Versailles. Moïse and his children, Nissim and Béatrice, moved into their mansion in 1913; the ‘perfect 18th century setting’ for his collections. 

Courtyard entrance to Musée Nissim de Camondo.

There are three floors accessible by visitors with a restaurant on one side of the courtyard. It’s late in the afternoon and so we go directly into the museum. 

The lower ground floor houses the kitchen, scullery, chef’s office and the servants’ dining room.

We’ve come to see the furnishings of the main house and begin our tour on the upper ground floor. We have access to six rooms including the dining room, two studies, the porcelain room and the pantry. We’re particularly interested in the furnishings contained in the two drawing rooms — the great room that opens onto the garden and the smaller oval salon with its series of pastoral scenes painted by Jean-Baptiste Huet. 

We imagine what it must have been like during that time period as we walk through these rooms. The Louis XVI-style furniture in the great drawing room comprises a chest of drawers by Jean-Henri Riesener (Marie-Antoinette’s preferred cabinetmaker), a ladies’ writing desk, a suite of seats upholstered in Aubusson tapestry, and a pair of cabinets with Japanese lacquer panels by Adam Weisweller, whose work was often sold to the French court. The Savonnerie carpet in this room was produced in 1678 for the Grande Galerie at the Louvre.

Great drawing room

In the smaller salon, we find additional Louis XVI-style furniture as well as a folding screen from the games room at Versailles by master cabinetmaker Jean-Baptiste Boulard. 

On the first floor, we find the two apartments of Moïse and Nissim, plus a drawing room, the library and the bathrooms.

The blue drawing room was once Béatrice’s apartments. After she and her family moved out in 1923, Moïse turned the space into a large, light-filled room to be used as a drawing room and study. The wood paneling was originally painted a peacock blue and so the room was called the “Salon Bleu.” Due to age, the paneling now appears to be a shade of green, but the room is beautiful and elegant and includes a series of paintings of Paris, along with eight watercolors from the 1880s by Johan Barthold Jongkind.

Blue drawing room

Of course, the library is my favorite with its wonderful view of the Parc Monceau and its carved wood paneling housing the books collected by the family. The room is rotunda-shaped and located in the center of the private apartments.

Camondo Museum library

Moïse’s bedroom contains several pieces dating from the mid-1700s, including the bed and another Savonnerie carpet, which was originally in the chapel at Versailles. There are a number of stamped pieces including a marquetry chest of drawers by Matthieu-Guillaume Cramer and a folding screen by Louis Falconnet.

Nissim’s apartment has not been kept as it was, with some of the furnishings moved to the blue drawing room; however, the bed and other historical objects speak to a time when Nissim resided here.

The furniture throughout this beautiful home turned museum has been crafted by artisans who worked for the king and other wealthy clients.

A bit of history about the Camondo family

Shortly after the Camondo’s moved into their new mansion on rue de Monceau, Nissim joined the French Army. It was 1914 and the beginning of the First World War. He transferred to the air force in 1916, was promoted to the rank of lieutenant and subsequently became a pilot. On September 5, 1917, Nissim’s plane was shot down during aerial combat near Emberménil in Lorraine.

Lieutenant Nissim de Camondo

Moïse’s daughter, Béatrice and her husband Léon Reinach, had two children, Fanny and Bertrand. When the Second World War broke out, the family continued their lives as usual. In 1942, Béatrice, Léon and their children were arrested and interned in Drancy. Léon, Fanny and Bertrand were deported to Auschwitz in November 1943. Béatrice was deported in March 1944. None of them survived.

As for Moïse, he never quite recovered from his son’s tragic death. He closed down the family’s bank and his life was never the same. Rare visitors were either close friends or scholars. His home and collections were bequeathed to the French state in Nissim’s memory upon Moïse’s death in 1935. 

Musée Cernuschi

Located at 7 avenue Velasquez at the east entrance to the Parc Monceau, you’ll find the Musée Cernuschi, or Museum of the Asian arts of Paris. 

Musée Cernuschi

Henri Cernuschi was an Italian patriot and one of three heroes who liberated Milan from Austrian occupation in 1848. He fled to Paris after the fall of the Roman Republic and eventually built his reputation as an economist. From 1871 to 1873, Henri and his friend, Théodore Duret, a young art critic, traveled to Japan and China where he acquired a collection of about 5,000 works of art.

Upon his return to Paris, Henri built his home on the Parc Monceau, a private neoclassical-style mansion where you can see mosaic medallions of Aristotle and Leonardo da Vinci on its façade.

Upon entering the museum, one is immediately taken with its high ceilings and windows that look out onto the park. A great bronze Buddha, acquired in Japan, dominates the room. 

Cernuschi’s Great Hall

As you move through the space, you’re able to follow Henri and Théodore’s journey through China and Japan from the plaques arranged on the friezes at ceiling level. 

By the time Henri returned in 1873, Japan had opened up in Paris and it was the height of what was called ‘Japonisme.’ The wealthy of Paris, along with writers and painters — in particular the Impressionists — couldn’t get enough of Japanese art. In an article in the Gazette des beaux-arts in 1878, a writer wrote:

“One kept oneself informed about new cargoes. Old ivories, enamels, faience and porcelain, bronzes, lacquer, wooden sculptures … [they] simply arrived at a merchant’s shop and immediately left for the artists’ studios or writers’ studies.” 

This passion for Asian art made Henri’s mansion a center of activity from 1876 to 1896.

Since its opening in 1898, the museum has acquired additional objects including archaeological pieces discovered in the mid-20th century in China and Vietnam. Throughout the years, the museum has hosted major exhibitions of works from China and enjoys close associations with Asian artists active in Paris.  

There are currently about 12,500 art and archaeology objects in the collection with about 900 on permanent exhibit in the museum. The collection includes pottery, jade, ivory, bronzes and statues. A collection of contemporary paintings and photographs can also be viewed. 

Henri bequeathed his mansion and Asian collections to the City of Paris in 1896.

These fascinating museums, along with a stroll through Parc Monceau, are perfect for a beautiful, sunny October day.

Paris and autumn’s lavish brush

As the days fall away, so too do the leaves of autumn.

Relaxing mornings spent with strong coffee and fresh, flaky, buttery croissants heated in the oven and pulled apart to top with marmalade have been our norm since arriving in Paris in early October. 

But on a day that’s destined to be the warmest so far (79F/26C), we venture out as the sun’s rays touch the white stone architecture of the city and Paris awakens. The streets are still damp from the coolness of the evening and the softness of the morning light creates a sense of newness. 

Thom, Eric and I are off to Le Pure Café in the 11th Arr. It’s a lovely morning for a walk and we find some wonderful cobblestone streets with interesting restaurants and shops that beg us to take short detours.

Restaurants and shops along a side street

Not too far from the Place de la Bastille at 14 Rue Jean-Macé, Le Pure Café is situated away from the hustle and bustle of traffic, yet well positioned on a corner between two side streets. 

Le Pure Café

A series of proprietors have maintained its 1930s vintage decor where you can sit at an outdoor table or find a cozy spot inside. The ambience, with its old-fashioned signboard, flare lamps and mosaic tiles pulls you back to a previous time in Paris. The rather distinguished zinc bar would be a nice place to sit with a glass of wine. 

Vintage zinc bar

On this day, we take a table inside and discover that they don’t actually serve breakfast. However, they have one croissant and one tartine that we’re able to purchase. We decide it was probably the breakfast set aside for the waiter, who may actually be the proprietor, as he appears to be the only worker in the café. The coffee is good and we’re thankful for the small bite that we share between the three of us.

A gentleman sits at the counter, his small, white Lasa sits atop, its head sticking out of a black carrying case as he closely watches the activity taking place around him. Other customers sip coffee and read newspapers, books, or chat amiably with their companions. 

Large windows encircle the room where the morning light adds to the ambiance. I pause for a moment and think, “My TimeWalker friend would love this place.”

The location and the café’s vibe has been a draw for the film industry as well. It’s been featured in the French films Le code a changé and Les Infidèles, but possibly the most famous example is Before Sunset, where Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s Parisian time together is brought to an end.

At our end, we decide to wander the area around the Bastille. We had wanted to go underground into the Bastille’s crypt, however, as we’ve discovered on several occasions during this visit, it, too, is in the midst of renovation with a 2020 scheduled opening.

Side street near the Bastille

Meandering through the streets, we find some lovely back streets and come out in the 12th Arr near the Viaduc des Arts. 

Studios and shops dedicated to arts and crafts

The viaduct, located just east of the Opéra Bastille, was built in the 19th century to support the Paris / Bastille-Varenne railway line inaugurated in 1859 and closed a century later with the opening of the RER A. Between 1990 and 2000, the vaults of the viaduct were restored as arts and crafts studios and shops. There are more than 50 artisans located here creating and presenting their designs in support of innovation and creativity. You’ll find restaurants as well as workshops, showrooms, shops and galleries.

Above the Viaduc des Arts, along the old railway, sits the Promenade Plantée also known as the Coulée verte René-Dumont. This nearly three mile elevated park opened in 1993.

Bamboo archway along the Promenade Plantée

The Promenade Plantée also appears in the film Before Sunset.

Since breakfast was slight, after perusing the shops, we decide to stop at a boulangerie for sandwiches and an impromptu picnic above the city. The trees have grown substantially since our last visit here in 2014.

The park above Paris

It was a lovely day as the lavish brush of autumn continues to color the city. The weather has remained very warm for this October with only one day of rain. We’re taking advantage of this with long walks through the beautiful neighborhoods of Paris.

Only the Purest Will Do: Paso Robles Wine Country

As far as wine goes, Paso Robles, in the Central Coast of California, is fairly young. Even though the Franciscan Friars began making wine in this area in 1790, it wasn’t until 1983 that Paso Robles became an American Viticultural Appellation (AVA). There was a huge investment in this area beginning in the 1990s and in 2013, Paso Robles Wine Country was named Wine Region of the Year by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

There are now 32,000 vineyard acres, producing more than 40 wine grape varieties including the area’s heritage variety, Zinfandel. An important factor that distinguishes this region is the distinct microclimates and diverse soils. Combined with warm days and cool nights, growing conditions are ideal.

Paso Robles Wine Country

Paso Robles Wine Country

Perhaps one of the most ecologically-focused wineries in this region is the Carmody McKnight Vineyard. Nutrient-based sustainability is at the heart of their vineyard practices.

And so, on a weekend in mid-January, shortly after a substantial rainfall, Mark Stine and I drove up from Los Angeles specifically to seek out Gary Conway, owner (along with his wife, Marian McKnight Conway) of Carmody McKnight. Mark had purchased Gary’s book, The Art of the Vineyard, and was interested in getting it autographed. The day was glorious with an azure sky marked by very few cotton balls of clouds. The hillsides were newly green, unusual in the midst of the great drought in California’s Central Valley.

The art of wine at Carmody McKnight estate winery

The art of wine at Carmody McKnight estate winery

As we headed out of Paso Robles into the mountains and valleys of wine country, we commented on the beauty of the light creating shadows on the sides of hills from oak trees stripped bare and resting for the short California Winter. The beauty was staggering in its simplicity … the green grass, bright in its newness, fading to a color reminiscent of the blue grass of Kentucky from the reflection of the sunlight, and everywhere along the hills and in the valleys, the branches of grapevines trained to grow along the wires.

Paso Robles Wine Country

Paso Robles Wine Country

Carmody McKnight Vineyards

Carmody McKnight was a pleasant surprise. Not really knowing about the vineyard, except from the story of Gary Conway’s book, we were immediately struck by the simplicity of the old farmhouse, kept as the tasting room. In 1972, while looking for land to purchase, Gary crash-landed in a helicopter and walking away from the accident, proclaimed that he would buy that property.

Carmody McKnight estate winery, farmhouse tasting room

Carmody McKnight, farmhouse tasting room

Gary Conway is what you would clearly call a Renaissance Man. He’s an actor, having starred in Burke’s Law and the 60’s cult Sci-Fi series, Land of the Giants. He’s a writer, artist (modern bold colors painted in oils, images that also adorn the labels of the Carmody McKnight wines), producer, activist and environmentalist.

The land on this 160-acre property was formed by three volcanoes and the natural grapes grow in the magma. The super soils are mineral and nutrient rich, which transfers to the grapes, fitting well with Gary’s passion for the environment and healthy food, and leading him to produce wine that is completely pure and natural.

Carmody McKnight vineyard, Paso Robles, CA

Carmody McKnight vineyard, Paso Robles, CA

There are no additives in the Carmody McKnight wines, no chemicals, no manipulation … pure, exquisite flavor comes through in each varietal. Truly the best wine is the “signature of the soil” and that is clearly apparent in these wines. Of all the wines we tasted, the intense, rich, complex flavors came through.

The Carmody McKnight website describes in detail how the mineral-rich soil contributes to the flavor of their wine as well as increasing its health benefits and enabling this vineyard to produce true Natural Wines.

Gary spent quite a bit of time with us, describing the wines and the production process. His comment, “I used to fight [fictional] giants, but now I’m fighting Corporate Giants” was a reference to his anti-GMO stance that’s pervasive in the US food and agricultural industry.

Mark signed up for the wine club partially because of Gary’s passion, the purity of the wine and the wonderful, bold flavors. From movements all over America, people are supporting local, organic farmers by buying their products and spreading their message. And it’s clear that our health and that of the planet is intricately linked to this movement.

Wild Coyote, House of Reds

There were a couple of other vineyards that Mark and I particularly enjoyed. Wild Coyote featured pure, unfiltered wines. Each wine we tasted was unique, complex and wonderful. I had a few bottles shipped, including a delightful Port. Oh, and, you can stay onsite in one of their five private casitas!

Entrance to Wild Coyote Tasting Room

Entrance to Wild Coyote Tasting Room

Kukkula Vineyards

Another must see winery is Kukkula with their beautifully constructed and energy efficient winery and tasting room. Their mostly estate grapes are organic and their blended Rhone wines rich and delightful.

Wine tasting at Kukkula Vineyards

Wine tasting at Kukkula Vineyards

Thomas Hill Organics

If you’re passionate about supporting restaurants that are organic and sustainable, there are many wonderful choices. Our favorite was Thomas Hill Organics, a beautiful little bistro and wine bar with unique menu items and ingredients sourced locally.

Wine a dinner at Thomas Hill Organics

Wine a dinner at Thomas Hill Organics

Pasolivo Ranch

Another wonderful experience occurred at Pasolivo Ranch. As Mark and I were taking one of the many back roads to Paso Robles, we came across a beautiful olive orchard. We stopped in at the end of their day and the staff was gracious enough to allow us to enjoy their unique olive tasting experience. With pieces of a baguette, and a small plate full of various salts, herbs and spices, we dipped and tasted olive oils with flavors enhanced by our plate of options. Directed by our own “guide” and enhanced by our own imagination, we experienced some amazing flavors! My favorite (and I’ve already purchased more online directly with Pasolivo) was the Lime Olive Oil with Winter Ambrosia Vinegar (a seasonal option).

Outside of Pasolivo Ranch

Outside of Pasolivo Ranch

If you find yourself in the California Central Valley, definitely visit Paso Robles and its many vineyards and olive orchards of that region. It’s well worth the trip.

Crossing the causeway: St Michael’s Mount

From many places in Penzance, you can see St Michael’s Mount reaching majestically toward the sky, its flag flying proudly.

The castle is clearly visible walking across the Penzance harbor bridge on a sunny day, sitting atop its jagged slopes, catching the sunlight and beckoning you to climb its granite steps and walk among its ancient stones and tropical gardens.

St Michael's Mount from Penzance: On a clear day

St Michael’s Mount from Penzance: On a clear day

On a day when the sun has taken leave, out of the mist and barely visible, you might be drawn by the myths and legends that surround the island. Pulled by an image of the Archangel St Michael, who appeared to fishermen in 495, you might find yourself dreaming of an ancient stone chair that still stands at the entrance to the castle.

Located on one of Britian’s most prominent ley lines, St Michael’s Mount is suffused in a spiritual energy both ancient and new.

Looking back on history

Looking back on history

On a beautiful sunny day, Mark and I set out to explore this historic and most magnificent of places. The Mount is open to the public and you can cross the bay by boat during high tide, or wait until the tide is low and walk in the footsteps of time across the cobblestone causeway. Mark and I choose to do the latter, and so we spend a memorable morning exploring the lovely town of Marazion, on the Cornish coast overlooking the island.

Munificent Marazion

On a hill overlooking the bay and St Michael’s Mount is the village of Marazion, Cornwall’s oldest chartered town. With a small town centre and winding streets sheltered by pristine cottages and row houses, Mark and I walk up and around to take in the history and architecture of this beautiful coastal village.

Marazion toward the bay

Marazion toward the bay

As we round a bend in the road, snapping photos of everything imaginable, we garner a smile from a pleasant villager crossing our path. She seems surprised by us and when I point to my camera and comment that everything here is so beautiful, she responds with a simple, “I live here.” I continue my chatter about the history and architecture and she points us to the top of the hill where we will find the oldest public building, the Friends Meeting House, and the beautiful Memorial Gardens.

View of St Michael's Mount from the Friends Meeting House

View of St Michael’s Mount from the Friends Meeting House

Marazion Memorial Gardens

Marazion Memorial Gardens

As we turn to walk up the hill, our villager calls out and asks if we’d like to see her house. She clearly thinks we’re trustworthy and from our conversation of historic buildings has decided to show us her own home. We enter through a carved iron gate to a garden area.

Gateway to the house

Gateway to the house

Our lovely hostess has traced the house, and its use, as far back as 1770. It was originally used as a tool shop and subsequently used by the current owner as she created costumes and stage sets for the theatre. The shop was then turned into a home, with the first level still used as a studio. The creative touches of our hostess are seen throughout the two floors of living space and the deck off the second floor. Two stain glass windows depict the life of the house and the life of our hostess. These are now part of the building and will remain into the future as historical reference.

History of the house in Marazion

History of the house in Marazion

We leave her planting flowers in boxes along the tiny road and walk to the town centre to check out some shops, including The Summerhouse Gallery where I discover the beautiful and vibrant gold-flecked paintings by local artist Kate Richardson.

Looking over at Marazion

Looking over at Marazion

We then head to the beach to see how far the tide has gone out.

A walk across the water

As the waters of Mounts Bay part, each end of the causeway becomes more and more visible. People gather on both sides stepping farther and farther into the sea as the waters recede.

Waiting for the tide

Waiting for the tide

We walk across the rocky beach and climb onto an outcrop overlooking the causeway to wait a bit longer for it to clear. The process is gradual and since my cousins will be arriving in the afternoon and I need to get back, we decide to see how deep the waters are along the walk. Mark springs across the cobblestones as waves rush over the top. I take off my shoes and follow.

Cobblestone causeway

Cobblestone causeway

The water is warmer than expected; the stones cool on my bare feet. I walk cautiously as the path is uneven. I feel the sun on my face, the salt water rushing across my feet and the tug of history pulling me onward toward St Michael’s Mount.

St Michael’s Mount

The castle that sits atop the granite outcropping that is St Michael’s Mount was originally a monastery, tied to the Benedictine Abbey of Mont St Michel in France, following the Norman invasion.

Since the 1650s, it has been home to the St Aubyn family, with James and Mary St Levan making their home here. James is the 12th generation of the St Aubyn family, and while they reside in the fortress, many other families live and work on the island, occupying the waterside cottages at the foot of the Mount.

Cottage by the bay

Cottage by the bay

In 1954, James’s great-grandfather gifted the island to The National Trust with a large endowment fund and a 999-year lease for the St Aubyn family to continue in residence. The property is entrusted to James and Mary who live within its medieval walls, hosting events and keeping its history alive.

After lunch at one of the island cafe’s, we take a walk around where the views out to sea are spectacular.

St Michael's Mount: Looking out to sea

St Michael’s Mount: Looking out to sea

The walkway up to the castle is steep and uneven, but once you arrive at the castle door, it’s a world unto itself. Historic artifacts within its walls have been well maintained and there are many items dating to the 15th Century, including the beautiful stain glass St Michael rose window in the Priory Church. Items found on the island are also on display from the Bronze Age. The plaster work in some of the rooms is remarkable; some with intricate carvings and others depicting hunting scenes.

Through the windows looking out to sea, it’s easy to get lost in thought and wonder at the lives of those who have walked these hallways before.

Windows to the sea

Windows to the sea

Outside, the sub-tropical garden, with its variety of exotic plants growing out of cracks and crevices and clinging to the granite hillside, is serene and magnificent. Flowers delicate in their beauty, yet sturdy enough to withstand the wind and weather of this island, flourish.

Looking down at the gardens

Looking down at the gardens

St Michael’s Mount is truly remarkable, filled with serenity and hope. For centuries, standing guard and looking out to sea, it whispers of magic and myth, of knights and kings, and of time—moving in a wave from past to present and on into the future.


Picture Perfect: St Ives

Nestled in the hillside of the rugged Cornish coast is the picturesque town of St Ives. Curving majestically out to sea, its landscape lined with cottages, its shoreline dotted with colorful boats of all sizes, it beckons you to walk her cobblestone streets and climb her wind-worn hills.

Boats in the harbor

Boats in the harbor at low tide

Before leaving for this trip, my friend, Colleen, suggested I connect with her cousin, Doreen, while I was in Cornwall. So after contacting Doreen, Mark and I walk the short distance from our cottage to the bus depot in Penzance for the 30 minute ride to St Ives.

The bus ride through the rolling hills and valleys of the English countryside is ripe with opportunities for photos, but our ‘drive-bys’ just can’t capture the beauty of this mystical land.

The St Ives bus depot is perched high above the bay providing a perfect opportunity to see the curving Southeast tip of the town as it juts elegantly into the sea. On the other side of the hillside, you can see the vastness of the Celtic Sea in all its splendor.

A hazy day in St Ives

A hazy day in St Ives

Doreen’s daughter, Janine arrives, walks over to us and asks, “Are you American?” I wasn’t expecting anyone quite so young, so after a bit of confusion, we begin our adventure and meet Doreen part way down the hill on our way into town.

Doreen has lived in St Ives for several decades, first in a cottage in town and now on its edge. As we walk arm-in-arm through winding back streets, past shops not yet open on this cold and windy Saturday morning, Doreen shares the town’s history and her story. It’s easy to see why she settled here and why she stays!

Winding street in St Ives

Winding street in St Ives

We arrive on the far side of town at a beach called Porthmeor. The sea moves from a pale green closer to shore, to a light shade of blue on this overcast day. As it touches the sky, the colors blur and except for the occasional darker blue hue, it’s difficult to discern the horizon where the Celtic Sea becomes the Atlantic Ocean.

An open-air cafe sits perched above the white sand beach surrounded by glass shielding its occupants from the wind coming off the surf. Colorful cabanas add to the ambiance.

Cabanas at the beach

Cabanas at the beach

The St Ives Surf School is holding court, decked out in bright yellow like a sunflower opening its petals toward the ocean waves. The students are paying close attention to the master as the waves lick the shoreline, begging them to grab their boards and enter the aquamarine world.

St Ives Surf School in session

St Ives Surf School in session

We head toward the island at the tip of St Ives. “The island” is not really an island, as it’s firmly attached to the mainland, however, it is surrounded on three sides by the sea. Sitting on top is  St Nicholas Chapel, dating to Medieval times.

Walking up the hill, precariously close to the rocky edge, we move around and up until we reach a fork in the path. The rocks are splattered with orange and golden lichens. Small pink, yellow and white wildflowers dot the landscape, appearing in the crops of grass and wherever they’ve managed to hang on. Sea birds fly and hang in mid-air, taking the up-drafts and diving into the sea.

Wildflowers at the rocky edge of "The Island"

Wildflowers at the rocky edge of “The Island”

Doreen and I continue around the island to the harbor side, while Mark and Janine continue up the hill to get a closer look at the one room granite chapel, stoically looking out to sea. Later, Doreen will tell us tales of how pirates used to land on the island, hiding their loot in caves to be transported inland, while the chapel was used as a lookout in an effort to prevent the smugglers from gaining access.

St Nicholas Chapel

St Nicholas Chapel

We wait for Mark and Janine and then head back down to the town, passing by the small protected Bamaluz Beach, past shops and rental cottages to the harbor, where we stop for lunch at the Lifeboat Inn.

Harbor with life boats

Harbor with life boats

Historically, St Ives was a fishing village. Today, it’s an artist community, the transition occurring around the time the fishing industry was declining and the new railway provided easier access. Artists came for the light and beauty of this village by the sea.

After a great lunch, we meander through the cobblestone streets and back alleys, wandering up and down the hills, gazing into shops and small gardens, tucked away in interesting places. We visit several art galleries, our favorite being the New Craftsman Gallery on Fore Street, where I admire a number of works by artist, Emma Jeffryes, and Mark purchases a couple of paintings.

A war memorial garden in St Ives

A war memorial garden in St Ives

It’s clear we could spend more time here, but we have plans for the evening, and so we say our farewells to our lovely new friends and catch the bus back to Penzance.

With its history, charm and beauty, combined with its many galleries, including the Tate opened by H.R.H. Prince Charles in 1993, we can see why St Ives is such a great tourist destination and why Doreen has spent so many wonderful years in this picture perfect place!

Paris to Penzance

Paris at the end of April is like a beautiful woman with no expectations nor knowledge of her beauty. Lush and full of hope, the trees reach out with their fresh new leaves spreading their joy to create shade. Flowers are everywhere, the scent of Jasmine filling the senses. Tulips seem to be never-ending with colors so vibrant they glisten.

The weather, on the other hand, is like a moody teenager, clouds rolling in at a moment’s notice saying to the sun, “Not yet!” and briefly wetting the landscape pushing people toward the ‘shade.’ But just as quickly, the sun cuts through and the landscape sparkles with freshness.

Tour Eiffel through the trees

Tour Eiffel through the trees

Mark trains in from Stuttgart for a brief 36-hour sojourn in Paris … only enough time to walk the Seine and get a sense of what one might discover in this ancient and beautiful city. Isabelle comes up from Montpelier and with Thom and Eric, the five of us meet for a last dinner. Tomorrow we all part, each heading in different directions.

EuroStar to London and beyond

Thom and Eric leave the flat very early. We awake in time to see them off and wait for Alec to arrive and retrieve the keys before heading to the Metro and Gare du Nord for our EuroStar train to London.

I had previously checked parisbytrain.com to get a visual layout of Gare du Nord to save time once we arrive. Even though I have been here a number of times, I know the EuroStar is boarded in another part of the station and we are short on time.

I’m excited about going through the Chunnel, but as we leave the blue skies of France and enter the darkness, I ask myself what I expected? It’s rather like taking BART beneath the Bay, from San Francisco to Oakland, but with a travel time of a bit more than half an hour. As soon as we emerge into the rain and mist, I know we’re in England.

We have about an hour to transfer from London’s St. Pancras station via the Underground to Paddington for the next leg of our train trip. We have a few delays, but finally make it with, oh, quite possibly three minutes to spare!

We are traveling to Penzance on the First Great Western railway stopping frequently along the way. The trip takes about five hours and is memorable for the beautiful scenery, particularly as we get closer to the coast.

English coastline heading to Penzance

English coastline heading to Penzance

There’s nothing quite so beautiful as the English countryside, with its rolling hills and lush, light green fields crisscrossed with full, dark green hedgerows. Entering the small quaint villages with brick houses and church steeples pointing to the sky seems straight out of a Masterpiece Theatre BBC mystery. Narrow roads with carefully manicured bushes and trees keep the curious from seeing beyond.

English countryside

English countryside

Our first night in Penzance

We arrive at our lovely three bedroom cottage at 33 Chapel Street that Mark reserved through Classic Cottages. It’s perfectly situated on the historic Chapel Street within easy walking distance of the town centre. With a view of the bay and its very own private garden, we couldn’t be more pleased.

View of the harbor from the 3rd floor bedroom

View of the harbor from the bedroom

Fresh tulips are on the dining room table, and in the kitchen, we find a tray complete with a bottle of wine, a fresh loaf of bread and scones. Tea and coffee are provided and in the refrigerator we find butter, milk and the incomparable Cornish Clotted Cream.

Tray provided by our hosts

Tray provided by our hosts

The house is cozy and comfortable, but since it’s already nearly 8:00 p.m., we put our bags away and head out into the town to check out the neighborhood and have some dinner. We find a food cooperative at the top of the hill, many interesting shops closed due to the hour and several open and welcoming pubs.

When did the English learn to cook?

Now before you think I’m being a bit cocky here, my mother was English, so I’m pretty familiar with the cooking.

We enter the Turk’s Head, a lovely, warm and lively pub with a back room of tables making up the restaurant. Mark orders Fish and Chips with mushy peas and I the Asparagus Risotto.

The fish is freshly caught off the coast, deliciously battered and perfectly prepared. The mushy peas are creamy, smooth and a perfect companion. The Asparagus Risotto includes small slices of asparagus, English peas, a hint of mint and toasted pine nuts. The risotto is creamy and perfectly cooked with just the right amount of seasoning. Topped with two crunchy and tasteful asparagus and sprinkled with Parmesan, it just may be the best risotto I’ve ever tasted.

Turk's Head dinner

Turk’s Head dinner

We return to our home for this week and settle in for the night.

An auction for charity

On Saturday night, Mark and I attend a charity Art Auction at The Exchange to support the Cornwall Hospice Care. Over 100 pieces from local artists are being offered with a percentage of the proceeds donated to the charity. After champagne, hors d’oeuvres and music in the cafe, we take a seat with our personal auction numbers to see what we might take home.

The auctioneer is hilarious. Forgetting his microphone cord and gavel, he chooses to “speak up,” and uses an ice cream scoop, banging it loudly on the podium to end each sale. His quirky method of engaging the audience, getting bidders to raise the price and forgetting where he is in the bidding process makes for a very entertaining and fun evening. Mark bids on several items and goes home with a beautiful, original signed watercolor.

Impressions of Penzance

Penzance is a fishing village located along the southeast coast of Cornwall, tucked away in Mount’s Bay, which faces the English Channel. In early May, even though Cornwall is a temperate climate, the weather is cold and blustery. The rain has held off, but I feel like I’ve stepped into the land of Winnie the Pooh!

Despite the chill, Penzance is a lovely town. Possibly best known outside of the UK for the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera, Pirates of Penzance. However, this seaside town has nothing to do with pirates, although we did see several references including the Penzance Sailing Club, which uses a skull and crossbones as its emblem.

During our week-long stay, we walk the streets, finding hidden nooks and gardens and interesting historical sites. The cemetery in St. Mary’s church is very old, the markers blotched with moss and lichen, many lined with vines. Wild flowers are growing everywhere as are Palm trees. (Mark knows the scientific names of the palms, including the true palms home to this area and those imported from other parts of the world.)

Harbor through Chapel St. archway

Harbor through Chapel St. archway

St Mary's Church

St. Mary’s Church

St. Mary’s, located across the street from our cottage, sits high above the town and can be seen from practically everywhere, making it very easy to find our way home.

Top of St Mary's Church

Top of St Mary’s Church

The Jubilee Pool, an Art Deco seawater lido built when Penzance was a prosperous seaside resort is closed. Located between the promenade and the harbor, it experienced extensive damage from the horrendous storms that battered many parts of the UK and Europe this winter.

Jubilee Pool

Jubilee Pool

Nearby to our cottage we discover the Morrab Gardens, home to sub-tropical plants that you won’t find elsewhere in England.

Morrab Gardens

Morrab Gardens

Morrab Gardens: Pond

Morrab Gardens: Pond

There are wonderful galleries, boutiques and museums that will keep us busy. With an easy walk to the bus station, Penzance makes a perfect home base for jaunts to other parts of Cornwall.

A Weekend in the Country: Part 2, Troglodytes

A different kind of cave

I awake early to a silence so profound for a moment I forget where I am and wonder what has become of the kinetic city. The sun reaches its fingers across the sky painting it a myriad of pale colors as it does so. From the courtyard, the morning doves begin to chatter and I realize that the music of these French doves is much louder and the deep-throated cooing is a trifle more insistent.

After breakfast, Dolores and I head out toward Doué-la-Fontaine. We have decided to check out the famous troglodyte caves of the Loire Valley.

Millions of years ago, the sea covered this part of France and upon its retreat, it left a thick bed of white stone called tuffeau, the same stone that exists underneath Saumur. Soft and easy to carve, many buildings in the Loire Valley are built using this stone. One of the caves we will visit dates to 600 and it’s said that the quarrying of the tuffeau initially created the cavities that would become the troglodyte caves and homes.

We follow the river, heading west out of St-Martin-de-la-Place to a small village called Les Rosiers-Sur-Loire where, as its name implies, we see roses upon roses flourishing. Here, we cross the river and head south through the beautiful valleys lush with bright yellow rapeseed.



La Cave aux Sculptures

Upon entering the very small, but clearly ancient village of Dénezé-sous-Doué, we see a sign for La Cave aux Sculptures and make a last minute decision to stop. We head into a small wooden structure and pay for tickets, purchasing our tickets (at a discount) for a later tour of the Troglodytes et Sarcophages.

As it turns out, we are the only people here in this fairly small cave that dates back to the era of Catherine de Medici when the stone masons would meet secretly in the shadows and confines of this cave, making political statements in the form of these sculptures that line the walls of the large inner sanctum.

Unknown man

Unknown man

The young woman from whom we purchased tickets appears and serves as a spontaneous guide. She tells us the story of how the caves were hidden for several hundreds of years and discovered by two local children. She points out the ‘more important’ sculptures and reveals their meaning. These have been identified by archaeologists through carbon-dating and based on the political intrigues of that time period, the stories have been woven of these amazing works of hand-carved scenes.

The King's mistress

The King’s mistress

Our guide speaks to us about the lack of funds to continue excavating this particular site and how she is trying to draw attention and support to save the sculptures that are deteriorating due to the humidity in the open caves. It’s obvious that she is passionate about the past, this place, and preserving it for the future. It would be an excellent project for a university anthropology department and we leave with a sense that her optimism will be met with success.

Sculptures deteriorating

Sculptures deteriorating

Troglodytes et Sarcophages

We continue into the larger town of Doué-la-Fontaine, stopping for lunch and then skirting the carnival (American Circus) blocking several streets for entertainment on this Easter weekend. We wind our way through narrow streets to an extremely old area of town with walls dark and rustic that clearly have been standing for centuries. We park and head into the caves of the Troglodytes et Sarcophages, which date from the sixth century and were initially used in the carving of sarcophagi for the wealthy.

Main room with stone carvings

Main room with stone carvings

This cave is sandstone and we join a tour where the guide is speaking French to a number of tourists. Throughout the tour, he clarifies a few things to make sure we are following along. He speaks of the history of this place, painting a portrait of the past and describing those who worked in the caves and those who sleep in the coffins. He continues the story through the Norman and Viking invasions, speaking about the security that the people of this village found below ground and how they reconstructed the entrances to create a barrier that ultimately ensured their survival. And, he spoke about a return to the caves during WW2 where some villagers returned temporarily to the old Troglodyte ways.

Entrance to the chapel

Entrance to the chapel

This place was beautiful, much larger than we anticipated and filled with many more stories than we had expected. The cave openings now bring in the sunlight and reflect off the pale surfaces of stone, creating a golden glow through many rooms. Moss grows heavy in some areas creating an almost lush environment and an energy that resonates with the past.

Le village troglodytique de Rochemenier

As we head north, a short detour finds us at our final stop, the underground troglodyte village in Rochemenier.

This village is now set up as a museum of sorts that includes approximately 20 rooms and a very large underground chapel. The village presents the lives, complete with photographs, of those who lived here well into the 1930’s. Two ancient farms, replete with animal pens, can be viewed, along with the homes of those who were part of this thriving underground village.

Courtyard between dwellings

Courtyard between dwellings

At the end of the self-guided tour, we see two updated homes that are reminiscent of Earthships introduced in Taos, New Mexico, which are mostly built underground with only the front visible and facing the sun.

These newer, more modernized versions of the troglodyte homes are not quite as sustainably-designed, but with the consistent ambient temperatures below ground, you can see how one could easily be comfortable here.

Front of modern troglodyte home

Front of modern troglodyte home

While there are many, many more of these troglodyte dwellings carved into the rocks and slopes of the landscape of the Loire Valley, we felt that we experienced an excellent overview of the types of caves available and we drive back to our hotel excited about sharing our experiences.

Park in the Sky

One of my favorite places in Manhattan is the High Line,  an urban park built on a section of the elevated former New York Central Railroad. The park runs along the lower west side of Manhattan, beginning in the Meatpacking District and continuing through Chelsea to 30th Street and then around to 34th. It’s a beautiful green space and a wonderfully peaceful place to walk, sit or just get away from the activity on the ground.

In Paris, the Promenade Plantée was the inspiration for the repurposing of the New York railway spur. And so we set out to see for ourselves and to also peruse the artist shops of the Viaduc des Arts.  [From the Place de la Bastille, take Rue de Lyon (to the right of the Opéra Bastille) and stay left at Av. Daumesnil.]

Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille

The artists’ shops are located at street level on the Avenue Daumesnil in the arches of the former elevated railway viaduct, which supports the Promenade Plantée.

Artist shops at the Viaduc des Arts

Artist shops at the Viaduc des Arts

From jewelry to pottery and fine art to leather work, this avenue has an amazing array of art and artists.

Shop on the Viaduc des Arts

Shop on the Viaduc des Arts

In one shop, we saw a loom in the window with beautiful handmade clothes hanging about the ‘gallery.’ This shop was closed, so we didn’t get a chance to see the work up close, but the weave looked very delicate and well made.

The Michel Pintado gallery had some amazing sculptures of leaves, animals and other objects. The stone and metal elephants were simple, yet elegant and interestingly enticing. When I initially looked at the folded metal, I thought, “oh, interesting” followed by, “oh, it’s an elephant … WOW!”

By the time we reached the end of the galleries, we decided to stop for lunch. We were looking for a cafe and at the corner of Rue de Rambouillet and Av. Daumesnil, we happened to look up. To our astonishment, we saw statues built into the structure, running along each side of this corner building. Oh, and by the way, this building just happened to be a police station. We’re not sure why we looked up, but we could have easily missed this. The statues appeared to be very fine replicas of Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. [We did an online search later for the original, which is held at the Musée du Louvre.]

Corner view - atop a police station

Corner view – atop a police station


Statues along the building

Statues along the building

Following a very nice lunch, we took the steps up to the promenade.

To say this park is amazing is quite an understatement. It’s quiet, peaceful and overgrown, yet manicured (but not to the extreme). The walkway is lined on both sides with trees, bushes or ground cover, many with beautiful dainty flowers. Archways are present throughout the nearly mile-long walk.

Archway on promenade

Archway on promenade

Drooping casually over the sides or tops of the archways are wisteria, climbing roses (of all colors) or ‘snowdrift’ clematis.

Archway at the  Promenade entrance

Archway at the Promenade entrance


A trellis of roses

A trellis of roses

The walk was delightfully fragrant and at about a 3rd story level, the tops of buildings provide you with a unique look at the city.

Rooftops along the promenade

Rooftops along the promenade

Park benches are placed throughout the promenade, and during our walk, most were occupied by people sitting with their faces to the sun, reading or just relaxing. It didn’t take much to see that they were enjoying the beauty of this space and the warmth of this Spring day.

From the Bastille, we took a detour to the Place des Vosges, the oldest planned square in Paris. This residential square was completed in 1612 and is surrounded by houses all designed the same.

Where the rows of houses meet

Where the rows of houses meet


Houses on Place des Vosges

Houses on Place des Vosges

A bronze of Louis XIII sits in the middle of some very old Linden trees and the square itself is surrounded by Lindens trimmed into square shapes.

Henri XIII bronze

Henri XIII bronze

The square is open along one street, but if you want to exit the square through one of the other three sides, your only choice is the side opposite, through an archway that goes under the center houses with a roof line higher than the others.

Place des Vosges - Entrance  opposite

Place des Vosges – Entrance opposite

The warmth of the sun begged us to keep walking, so we continued through the Marais down Rue Saint-Antoine toward Rue de Rivoli. We stopped for an espresso at a cafe in a very old, small cobblestone square off Rue Caron called Place du Marché Sainte-Catherine before continuing on to the Hôtel de Ville metro and home.