Our transition between summer and fall has brought change and instability in the weather. It is raining, it is sunny, it is warm, it's time to start the fire. But of course no destructive forces, as in so many other locations. In fact, most of our days offer us beautiful skies to enjoy.
Our neighbor in Montmirail sent us this photo yesterday. Here is our house, all closed up for winter.
On the other hand, here is a photo I took today, a view of our place in Portugal as seen through the fig orchard:
They forgot to have winter over here!
Sébastien entertained us with his Spanish guitar ballads.
While Emily and her family were staying with us, we invited our Breton friends, Françoise and Bernard to join us with their daughter Gwenola, her husband Sébastien and their two children, Ancelin (10) and Joseph (7). The children had wonderful fun together. Here they are having dinner on the terrace at the "children's table."
Bernard took many wonderful photos of the few days we spent together. I will post a few of them over the next days as they are jolly fun.
As I post this, I'm sitting here.
Window at sunset.
This weekend Wendy and Margot's Parisian friends Pascal and Pascale came to stay. It was wonderful weather and in the afternoon, after the sun had left our front terrace, Pascale dragged our chaise longue cushion out into the middle of the Place, and we all joined her. It was warm enough to get a tan.
When we took our day trip to the Western Loire Valley, we made a short detour a few minutes north of Angers where the Sarthe, Loir and Mayenne Rivers come together. I had heard that during spring there is a lot of bird activity in this region. I was not disappointed. We saw hundreds of birds, including an egret and this juvenile gray heron who was just off the partially flooded road.
Our Australian friends Margot and Wendy are staying with us for 9 days. We will be doing some projects in the studio.
Our friend Nelly came to do some cyanotypes and photo gravures. She made 8 prints in one short day.
Back home, and it's a beautiful sunny morning.
Old apple orchard in Montmirail with bee boxes under the trees.
These last days have been bright and clear and look spring-like from windows. However, outside the temperature hovers close to zero and there is a chilly wind that blows.
An inspiring winter morning...view over our valley.
Snowy Sunday morning in Montmirail
Cyanotype, alternative photographic technique. The photo was taken at Rembrandt's house/museum in Amsterdam, where you can watch a docent do printmaking on an antique printing press or, as here, make oil paint from powdered pigments and linseed oil.
The back of our house on another foggy morning. Is winter beginning to become tiresome? Well, yes and no.
Another foggy day in Montmirail. We're sticking close to home and working in the atelier. I have lots of new projects started. I love the energy boost I get from a sense of a new beginning this time of the year.
On December 28, the day before James flew back to California from France, the family took an afternoon to visit the newly opened Foundation Louis Vuitton, a huge museum and creative center in the Bois de Boulogne, the largest park in Paris. The day was bright and crisp. The exhibition was of the Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson's light sculptures/installations. It was marvelous. Below is a brief slide show of the new building designed by Frank Gehry and a few of the sculptures, with some family portraits thrown in for good measure:
The Loire river stretches east to west for about 1,012 kilometers, making it the longest river in France and the 170th in the world. I think of this majestic river, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean near St Nazaire, as the geographic division between northern and southern France. The Loire Valley during the Renaissance period was the seat of power and government. It is why there are so many châteaux along the banks of the river. Nowadays the Loire Valley is known as the garden of France, because of the vineyards, orchards and fields of vegetables which grow in abundance in its temperate climate.
We most often visit the more easterly towns of the Vallée de la Loire since we live a little north of Blois, Amboise and Orleans. That makes an easy day trip for us. In June, when we had friends from California visiting, we decided to go further west to a stretch of the valley we don't generally frequent. We discovered that it was no strain at all to get there, explore, have a leisurely lunch and dinner and still get back home just after dark. The autoroute makes the journey quite efficient.
It is a massive Château Fort, with a formal medieval strolling garden in the castle moat.
Made of schist and limestone, it was definitely conceived to withstand attack. Construction began in 1230 and it served as the fortress and residence of the Dukes of Anjou into the sixteenth century.
The astonishing Apocalypse Tapestry is housed at this Château. It is both the oldest tapestry in France and, at 100 meters in length, the longest in the world. It was produced in the twelfth century and depicts the story of The Book of Revelations. It is truly breathtaking. A few of the sections are lost to history, but most of it is well preserved and carefully restored.
We had a very satisfying lunch at the Monument Café, which is located in a pleasant garden on the château grounds and serves a buffet of charming little salads and small plates of savory concoctions.
The trip from Angers to Saumur, our next stop, was scenic. We drove along the river, going though small hamlets, sharing the road with many bikers. The Loire Valley is a favorite biking destination due to its relative flatness. On the way we stopped by Gennes to see the ruins of a Gallo-Roman amphitheater.
The Château of Saumur looks like a wedding cake sitting on top of the hill above the river and city. The views are spectacular. The town is grand.
We hadn't visited this castle before, so I was keen to go inside, but first we spent some time out-of-doors, first sipping a Perrier-Menthe at the café and then watching the exercising of some very beautiful horses. This is the headquarters of the National Horse-Riding School. They train horses and riders in classic dressage and jumping.
The château itself is not furnished, but as in so many of these historical locations, the details, like the tile floors, are stunning.
The architecture and interior elements are masterful.
We ended our day with dinner at a sidewalk café in Saumur named Brasserie de la Bourse. A thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience.
By the time we were leaving, the sun was golden over the western Loire.