I am sorry my updates on the rest of the busy month of May are so late. In between work, babysitting, and everything else that I have been doing, I have not left myself with enough blog-editing time!
Following La Fête du Travail, the next May bank holiday was La Fête de la Victoire (Victory Day): an important day in France to mark the end of the Second World War, and to remember lost soldiers.
The family kindly invited me to accompany them to Normandy for the weekend, which provided another opportunity to take a break from Parisien routines. We had to leave as soon as I finished work on Friday evening, and one of the main Métro lines was temporarily closed for repairs! I had to take a different Métro, then an RER train, followed by a very packed bus, which took double the amount of time. Fortunately, my lateness did not matter at all, because we were travelling by car instead of by train. There was no point in rushing, and as my parents regularly tell me, it is often the case that “if you slow down, you can get there faster.”
I enjoyed getting to know even more of the cousins, aunties, and uncles who didn’t go to Brittany in April. Most of the children stayed in bedrooms in the renaissance castle pictured below, which I couldn’t quite believe, but I stayed in a comfortable gite (cottage) just down the lane.
We could not have been luckier in being given a guided tour of the château by the grandmother’s cousin. As we climbed up dusty steps and paced through pitch black rooms, we discovered the secret side of its history. Family anecodes were documented in the form of black-and-white photos, sketches, geneaological trees, and even original paintings that apparently belonged in the Louvre! The château was an absolute haven; a treasure passed down from generation to generation, and how lucky I felt to be included in this one-off special occasion tour, involving 25 of us, aged 2 to 82, traipsing up to the top of the castle towers you can see in the above picture.
On le Jour de la Victoire (Victory Day), we visited the musée du débarquement (D-Day museum) at Arromanches, which overlooks the remains of one of the Mulberry Harbours. The cinematic exhibition was particularly well done, and moved me. At work, coincidentally, I have been involved in translating some articles for a memorial project on the same subject, so visiting the landing beachs a few weeks prior provided me with a sense of context that I couldn’t find in a book.
I had to closely watch the younger children, who were climbing onto and into concrete bunkers, through very tight gaps. Inside, the bunkers were full of puddles but no daylight to see sudden steps or sharp edges. Needless to say, it was not the easiest part of the trip to chase them all – it may be a dyspraxic trait that I am less agile than many toddlers!
I also stayed up to watch the long-awaited results of la Deuxième Tour Présidentielle / the Presidential Election with the whole family (even all the little ones), and some neighbours. It was a moment in history that I was fortunate enough to share with a French family, listening to their debates, and asking them questions.
On Sunday afternoon, we celebrated the grandmother’s birthday with a delicious buffet in the castle grounds, with the whole family as well as neighbours and other local guests. It was such an experience – even if I did need eyes in the back of my head to keep tabs on all the little ones playing frighteningly near the unfenced stream.
All in all, it was another enjoyable weekend getting to know the children better, as well as experiencing more of French culture in the régions outside of Paris. It was great to have another break from the repetitive office environment, but it did take me a few days to get my energy levels back to normal after a physically and mentally tiring weekend.
Upon my return to Paris, it was the Nuit européenne des musées, so most of Paris’ museums were open and offering free entry, along with a variety of special performances, for one night only! Regrettably, I was not organised enough, so I ended up waiting in a queue for two hours, and only managed to go to the one museum, where I had been before: Musée de l’Orangérie. I did, however, get into the museum just in time for the second and final Japanese taiko drumming performance of the evening. Monet’s Japanese bridges and waterlilies provided the perfect setting for the music – it was well worth the visit!
A week or so later, I returned to Normandy to make a trip to Giverny near Vernon, which many of you will know as Claude Monet’s hometown. I had a wonderful time exploring the gardens which inspired the Impressionist artist’s paintings…
I found a free bench in a quiet corner of the garden, where there were fewer tourists, and I sketched for some time… until I heard the footsteps and voices of a large group of American tourists approaching. Their guide said, “Look, just there, where that girl is drawing, that’s actually Monet’s bench. This is where he would have sat.” What a coincidence, I thought…!
In my next post, I will give you a less retrospective update on my life in Paris.
A très bien tôt,