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One of France's most beautiful villages: Gourdon


Perched on a steep mountain peak in Southeastern France sits Gourdon, a tiny medieval village that begs you to stay awhile and take in its quiet expansive beauty. Initially not on my list of places to visit in Provence, a local had recommended Gourdon, insisting that it is the one destination not to miss in the region...

Gourdon is designated one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (the most beautiful villages of France). It has an unobstructed view of the valley of the Gorges du Loup below and the Mediterranean Sea just beyond. On clear days you can even see the contours of the Island of Corsica on the horizon. Within its walls of magnificent stone is a centuries old chateau, narrow streets filled with the vestige of a simple provincial life and artisanal shops selling local delicacies, perfume, lavender, glassware and soaps. I love the working sundials projecting time on sun bathed façades. 

So allow me to pass on to you this must-see mountain-top village. The winding drive toward the summit alone will take your breath away...

Printable Calendar: November | Novembre 2012


merci seemed appropriate for November, the month of Thanksgiving... choose between the two calendars and share one if you'd like... simply download (below), print and cut on the dotted line. Enjoy!

Writing | l'Écriture

Writing and French ecriture
Writing and French ecriture

The rigorous writing exercises called l'écriture in the French school system begin in the early years of maternelle (preschool). However numbing it is for my son to labor through lettres and chiffres (numbers), I must say that in the age of computing and typewritten words, I find it wonderfully gratifying to see so much attention paid to handwriting...

Apart from being so lovely to look at - especially on those chalkboard menus beautifully decorated in flourishes and pretty loops - did you know that many of France's businesses still routinely use graphology (handwriting analysis) to identify the character of prospective employees? It's really true! And even though many believe it is highly unscientific, isn't it worth putting pen to paper every now and again...

La Maison: French shelter magazines

Maison Française Jul/Aug 2011. Photos by Bruno Comtesse
Art & Décoration, Oct 2012. Photo by Christophe Rouffio

This is the first post in a new series called La Maison, posts that I hope will tickle and inspire your palette for a French-inspired home. Through my French family and travels within France, I've been greatly influenced by the way the French decorate and live in their homes, and this space is to share with you observations, ideas and resources I've picked up along the way. Some of the most striking things I've noticed and love is how history (through personal artifacts and mementos) and nature (taking outside elements indoors) play a healthy role within the French home; how they upcycle and display old and worn materials; their creative and simple ways of using textiles and color; and their natural way of layering textures. It all makes for a warm inviting living space.

So today's resource are some of my favorite French shelter magazines, the ones I  read like good novels with worn and dogeared pages. Particularly inspiring are the Côté Maison and Maison & Déco publications (below). Regardless of the season or year, their content is swooning material that continues to inspire long after issue dates have passed...

The nice thing is if you can't get your hands on a print edition, many French shelter magazines are now  viewable online. Plus they include sections from their newsstand counterparts, sharing scrumptious recipes, regional trends and profiles. Here are my favorites:

French Flea Markets (Part II): A Social Affair


So French vide-greniers aren't just about a village's annual purging of (common household but often very beautiful) unwanted wares and collectibles, creating a buying and selling bonanza where almost anything can be bought and sold,... no. Like every good market, the atmosphere is also filled with tasty food and rekindled friendships. Stands in the middle of parking lots are set up like zinc bars, where you can step up to the counter and request un café or an Orangina, for example. Cotton candy machines are strewn about advertising the sinewy pink gold in bold letters: Barbe à Papa! Tables are loaded with batter and jams serving up warm Nutella crêpes. And last summer, my husband's family friends (who rented a table for about 10 euros to sell their children's old toys), served up chips and Kir (crème de cassis with white wine) for a surprisingly early aperitif cocktail - it was around 9:30am when we showed up!

At the end of the day shoppers and vendors alike, along with their bundle of new treasures and a bit of extra cash, reacquaint themselves with old friends, share a drink and some laughs - which maybe what some were actually seeking after all...

Inspiration: Victor Hugo's "Demain, dès l’aube"

tulip petal

Henri Vidal's Statue of Cain

Victor Hugo's original manuscript of Tomorrow, at Dawn
Victor Hugo's original manuscript (1847) published in The Contemplations

Yesterday was one of those days when inspiration drifted slowly out of reach, slipping further away with each exhale. I had received news that a friend was hospitalized, and the doctors gravely concluded that his heart has simply become too tired. Such a sad description for someone normally so full of vitality...

Walking along a carpet of golden leaves under shimmering autumnal sunlight, it was difficult to feel anything but blue.

For me, there is enormous consolation in art and the written word. So I turned to Victor Hugo's Demain, dès l’aube (Tomorrow, at Dawn). It's not an uplifting poem, but it offers solace within the realm of love, loss and longing. The piece was written by Hugo for his beloved daughter, Léopoldine, who died from a boating accident, and in it he travels to her tomb. The poem is simple in its wording and rhythm, somber in tone, yet enormously tender and evocative. It offers comfort through reconnection. So I took the journey with Victor Hugo... and by the end found that inspiration (and hope for my friend) was waiting there for me. In fact I realize it hovers constant, always nearby...

Demain, dès l’aube (Tomorrow, at Dawn) - by Victor Hugo
[The original French is followed by an English translation] 

Demain, dès l’aube, à l’heure où blanchit la campagne,
Je partirai. Vois-tu, je sais que tu m’attends.
J’irai par la forêt, j’irai par la montagne. 
Je ne puis demeurer loin de toi plus longtemps. 

Je marcherai les yeux fixés sur mes pensées, 
Sans rien voir au dehors, sans entendre aucun bruit, 
Seul, inconnu, le dos courbé, les mains croisées, 
Triste, et le jour pour moi sera comme la nuit. 

Je ne regarderai ni l’or du soir qui tombe, 
Ni les voiles au loin descendant vers Harfleur, 
Et quand j’arriverai, je mettrai sur ta tombe 
Un bouquet de houx vert et de bruyère en fleur. 


Tomorrow, at dawn, in the hour when the countryside becomes white,
I will leave. You see, I know that you are waiting for me. 
I will go by the forest, I will go by the mountain. 
I cannot stay far from you any longer. 

I will walk the eyes fixed on my thoughts, 
Without seeing anything outside, nor hearing any noise, 
Alone, unknown, the back curved, the hands crossed, 
Sad, and the day for me will be like the night. 

I will not look at the gold of the evening which falls, 
Nor the faraway sails descending towards Harfleur. 
And when I arrive, I will put on your tomb 
A green bouquet of holly and flowering heather.

French Flea Markets: A Sea of Stories


Vide Greniers are a marvelous breed of brocantes (flea markets) in France. Generally, they're held annually and fall on a Saturday or Sunday during the summer months, one village at a time (to prevent competition).

Looking out into the sea of stalls at a vide grenier is like swimming through history, wading through the memories weaved into every article of clothing and household item. Each worn marble and chipped porcelain plate was once collected individually and prized for a moment in time. The stories that fill your mind are what make vide greniers so enchanting...

Though at last summer's vide grenier in Châtillon-Coligny, among weathered leather-bound books, oxidized watering cans and greying embroidered linens, I overheard a woman disdainfully say that everything looked like it had come from her grandmother's basement. My mother-in-law isn't a big fan of brocantes herself. She grew up around all those (beautiful) objects that today she merely finds old, blasé and dull. In fact, I spotted the exact same red teapot on sale as the one she offered to give me, the one she used as a teenager many many years ago that sat lonely in her garage until I gratefully accepted to take it back to the States. I wonder if one day we'll feel the same way about the things we use everyday... 

Fall | l'Automne - Part I


October marks a spectacular shift in Nature's wardrobe, making it nearly impossible not to take a seat and stare at her ensembles of golden yellows, burnt and chalky oranges, with reds peeking through standing by, sure to dazzle in the coming days...

I hope you're enjoying Fall's splendor where you are!

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