Sunday, August 24, 2008


And I'm safely back home in Pennsylvania.  Heavy suitcases full of stroopwafels and all!  The journey was pretty much uneventful: I did refrain from punching a loud woman from New Jersey in the Amsterdam airport, so I'm counting that as one of my good deeds for the day.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Normandy is Fine and Fair

Today I did a non-conservation thing and went to Dieppe, in Normandy, to see the English Channel.  To be more precise, Dieppe is up upper Normandy, Haute-Normandie.  Ten points to whoever starts singing the next phrase of the title (Mark, Mercedes, Beth, here's looking at you).  And here is our handy Map of France!  Again!

I am now acquainted with almost every single train station in Paris: Gare du Nord, Gard de l'Est, Gare de Lyon, and Gare Saint-Lazare.  There are a few, maybe two, other train stations I have not yet visited.  Each one serves the trains headed in different directions.  Gare du Nord, for example, handles the trains to and from areas north of Paris (like the Netherlands).  The images below are from Gare Saint-Lazare, the train station that deals with Normandy and England.

So, I went to Dieppe to see the sea and the cliffs, and I was not disappointed.

I had never been to a 'beach' made out of rocks before!  Very exciting!  It was just a difficult to walk on as a beach of sand, perhaps a little more difficult, but there was the added bonus of not getting any sand in your shoes.  All-in-all I think I like rocky beaches better.

Rat of the Sea.

The cliffs at Dieppe are the other half of a set made by the cliffs at Dover.  Made up of white chalk, they are apparently quite fragile.  There were large chunks of chalk scattered among the rocks on the coast nearest them, and there were signs everywhere to inform visitors of their instability.  For a moment, I almost took a giant lump of chalk with me, but I quickly realized that this was crazy.  I did pick up a few smaller rocks (two only) for Dad.  He likes rocks.

You may recall the name 'Dieppe' courtesy of your American History class.  In August 18, 1942, there was a large, disastrous military offensive by Allied forces attempting to take a bit of the coast from the Germans.  The majority of the people killed/captured were Canadians, and later in 1944 Canadian forces returned and liberated the city.  Even after all the time that has passed, Dieppe has not forgotten than, and there are Canadian flags all over the city.  Even floral ones.  It makes a nice bridge into the what and where of my next year. 

This is the Chateau-Musee de Dieppe.  The castle itself is pretty cool and seems to be a conglomeration of many different historical periods.  I came in through an entrance near sea-level and got to climb all sorts of twisty staircases before reaching the upper levels.  Good times.

I have no idea what era these cannons date to.  They were just sitting out in one of the courtyards.

View of the city from the castle.

The Chateau-Musee, instead of being interpreted historically (as I thought it would be), is actually home to a really bizarre arrangement of objects.  Carved wooden bas-reliefs, ivory figures, cameos, from 18th century furniture, prints by George Braque, paintings by Pissaro, a few pre-Columbian ceramics.  It was a really strange visit, and the main exhibition was contemporary art.  It was nice, and highly unexpected, but I think a historic interpretation would have been much more fun.

This little church perched high on the cliffs opposite the Chateau-Musee, on the other side of the Dieppe harbor, is the Chapelle de Bonsecours.  I walked up and visited.  It was a long walk involving lots of stairs.

Chapelle de Bonsecours was built in the 1880s and is apparently the only church in honor of sailors.  It is dedicated to Mary.  It has been destroyed at least three times by sea storms and is rebuilt each time.  It is very narrow and high, and all of the hangings inside are dark blue.  Since it was built, people have been leaving plaques expressing thanks for narrow escapes of in memory of sailors and fishermen lost at sea.  It is amazing that even today sailors and fishermen can be lost at sea.  I suppose some things just cannot be controlled or predicted.

I am quite tired, as the train trip back to Paris was not as smooth/fast as the trip to Dieppe.  I also have to brave the Metro with the Baggage again tomorrow.  Back to Amsterdam, then the next day back to Pennsylvania!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I've been curious about the croque-monsieur since the 9th grade and M. Foulkrod's French class.  Jean-Claude, Pierre, and Marie were always dashing about, inquiring after each others health and inviting each other out to lunches that frequently included the mysterious croque-monsieur.

Today I was wandering about Chalon-sur-Saone and I paused outside an random bakery.  Inside they were selling croque-monsieurs.  And, one of my goals here in France has been to find and eat a croque-monsieur.  So, score!

I had a general vague idea that the croque-monsieur is like a grilled cheese sandwich with some ham thrown in too.  I definitely did not expect it to be covered in cheese too.

Unlike America, where the best grilled cheese doesn't even contain real cheese (here's looking at you, Kraft Singles), the croque-monsieur contained at least two cheeses, both of which were very unique and neither of which I could identify.

The interior of the croque-monsieur: ham and more cheese, this time a creamier cheese.  It could even be the same cheese as is on top, only not toasted.  I'm American, what do I know about these things?  Nothing, that's what.

I'm thinking that a really good croque-monsieur would contain the requisite ham, but instead use a nice sharp Vermont cheddar, a la cheese toast.

This looks like a 1970's nightmare: the dull green, the woven brown background, the bad lighting.  But really, it is a yummy pistachio custard in a little glass jar!  I bought some at a supermarket the other day.  I really like foodstuffs in glass: go Brockway, even thought this glass was not made there!  Woo!

Pilgrimage: Chalon-sur-Saone

Today I traveled south to Chalon-sur-Saone, a small city in far south of the Burgundy region of France.  I have supplied a map for your convenience:

The main attraction (for me and my conservation-laden agenda) in Chalon-sur-Saone, and therefore my big reason for returning to Paris, is the Musee Nicephore Niepce.  

What, or who to be more precise, is Nicephore Niepce?  Niepce (1765-1833) is one of the fathers of photography.  I say fathers plural because many gentlemen of leisure with scientific interests were experimenting in similar directions concurrently.  

Niepce was a native of Chalon-sur-Saone and a resident for most (I think) of his life, so Chalon-sur-Saone is understandably proud of its most famous resident.

Circa 1826 Niepce was messing around with bitumen and oil of lavender and ended up creating the first photograph.  Lost almost a century, the first photograph was rediscovered by a man named Helmut Gernsheim and now resides at the Henry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.  It also lives in a super-controlled environment, filled with argon gas or something anoxically-intense like that.  (FYI, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution also reside in anoxic environments.  And by the way, the movie National Treasure is jam-packed full of crazy.)

This is what the first photograph looks like.  Pretty crappy.  Makes one feel better about one's casual snapshots, doesn't it?

It takes some special tinkering to make a copy of the first photograph that actually looks like something.  This is a view out into the courtyard of Niepce's estate near Chalon-sur-Saone.  The exposure time probably took all day.

The museum was pretty fun.  There were some good shows, and a nice portion of the permanent collection was on display.  My favorite part was the segment where you could watch old French Kodak commercials on a little TV.  Old-timey commercials are really fabulously ridiculous.

Chalon-sur-Saone is also a tourist attraction unto itself, as it is part of the Burgundy wine country.  It is also very charming.  Old timber framed buildings, leaning out into the square!

The city's Cathedral, Saint Vincent's.

Part Romanesque, part Gothic, part 19th-century.  There were some very contemporary stained glass windows, which made me wonder if older ones were blasted out during one or both of the World Wars.

Chapeau store!  If only I had room in my bags, one of these chapeaus could have been mine.  Woe is me.

I really like the colors on this passage.

Weiner dogs must remain in the gutter, all other dogs are allowed on the sidewalk.  These were all over the sidewalks.

Looking back into the old part of the city.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Best Part of Paris

This is possibly the best part of being in Paris.  I and my high-non-functioning French headed to the bakery/pastry shop and picked up this gem.

And they are all wrapped up so adorably... it's like a present.

A present that is a raspberry tart.  Always the right size and the right color.

In Which I Visit Multiple Cathedrals in One Day

As the title may suggest, I visited multiple cathedrals today in Paris.

Saint Eustache: I just came across this massive cathedral while I was rambling around the city and decided to visit.  Cathedrals don't really pop out as surprises, at least in Europe.  It's pretty easy to figure out if one is nearby.

Saint Eustache is currently in the beginning stages of a massive and much needed restoration/conservation campaign.  This church even had a flyer with an article titled something like, 'Why are Saint Eustache's Side-Chapels in Such Bad Shape: an Explanation of Funding'.  Turns out that cathedral building is the property of the City of Paris, the actual Parish takes care of daily cleaning and heat/etc costs.  So it seems that the City of Paris has been lazy and cheap and let the structure fall into disrepair.  

Huge swaths of the wall paintings were faced with Japanese tissue (Japanese papers are awesome and used throughout conservation, facing means that the tissue is adhered to the front of something in order to keep pieces from falling off, this is more of a triage technique).  The same church bulletin had an article about the conservation/restoration campaign, so it was good to read that the cathedral was at last receiving some much needed care from the City.

Notre Dame: last time I was in Paris I merely viewed the outside of the cathedral.  Today I thought it would be nice to see the inside too.

I both accidentally and purposefully jumped the huge queue to get inside.  Accidentally, in that I did not realize there was a queue until I was more than halfway past it.  I entered the grounds in front of the cathedral from a different direction, which is why I did not notice.  Purposefully, in that once I did realize there was a queue I knew I didn't want to stand in it and kept pretending that I had not noticed it.

Watchful saints.  They did not mind the queue-jumping.


Yes, those are flat-screen tvs positioned along the length of the nave.  I can only assume that they are either 1). needed for the large crowds that gather for Mass or 2). in preparation for the Pope's visit in September.

Today's Cathedral Candle went to Saint Joesph.  I especially like this statue of him, a regular Dad with an axe on his belt, no doubt pulling a ball pein hammer out of Toddler Jesus' hands.  I can just imagine what they're saying, 'But Dad!  I was using it to fix the donkey cart!' 

Take away canddles [sic] are rather expensive.  It must be that extra consonant.  

Sainte-Chapelle: this is definitely my favorite in Paris, and therefore probably in the whole of France.  Not really a cathedral, as is it rather small, but I'm still counting it as one for today.  It is part of the current Palace of Justice... the Parisian headquarters of the international superhero association.  Originally the area was the seat of the earliest French kings, and Sainte-Chapelle is one of the only remaining original elements.  My bag was x-rayed before I could enter, and thanks to my handy little ICOM card, my ticket cost zero euros!  Fantastic!

Views from various angles.

Sainte-Chapelle, if you've ever had an art history course addressing the Gothic era, should ring some bells.  It was built between 1242 and 1248 by King Louis IX (1226-1270) and served as a royal chapel and a home for the relics of the Passion.  The gem of this collection of relics was the Crown of Thorns.  The pamphlet from the chapel informs me that the Crown of Thorns were acquired in 1239 and cost more than the entire chapel building.

Like several very old churches I have visited, Sainte-Chapelle has two sanctuaries.  The Lower Chapel was intended for the palace workers.  It is not very lofty and decorated with polychrome sculpture and blind trefoil arcatures and medallions of the apostles.  The Upper Chapel is amazing, and if you get the chance to visit, you'd best hope that it is a sunny day.  I lucked out: the day was beautiful.

Interior.  It is mostly stained glass, there are 1,113 scenes from the Bible here, basically telling the entire story in one massive go.

Love love love.