Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our 25th Anniversary at Reims Cathedral

We are in Paris for the holidays 
and this past week the Chef and I celebrated 25 years together
with a trip to the French countryside and Reims (pronounced Rance) Cathedral,
lunch on the square
and a complimentary glass of champagne. 

Our first date 25 years ago
involved Champagne Cocktails. 
And this week, as we stood a couple of blocks from the square in Reims
perusing menus in restaurant windows, wondering where to have lunch
before touring the church on our anniversary,
a man walked up, handed us a brochure and told us
if we took it to a certain restaurant on the square 
and showed them the picture, we would be treated to a glass of champagne. 
Not having found anything else we were interested in,
we wandered over to the restaurant and had the perfect lunch,
at the perfect place, right on the square
... with champagne. 

Angels were smiling on us.
And if you look closely, you'll see that
 the very first figure to the right of these doors 
looks like it could be one of the Smiling Angels of Reims. 

Below is a picture of the famous Smiling Angel
on a votive holder.

The cathedral was built in the 1200's
over the site of an earlier church
where Clovis (the first king of the Franks)
 was baptized in 496 A.D
(the original being built about 400.)

It is the church where the Kings of France were crowned. 
Like Chartres, a labyrinth was built into the floor
but here it was later destroyed. 

In its number of statue-laden portals,
Reims is second only to Chartres.

In 2011, the cathedral celebrated its 800th anniversary
with the installation of 6 new stained glass windows
by German artist Imi Knoebel
and nearly 6 months of celebrations
including light shows, concerts, performances, exhibitions.

Click HERE for a Guardian article
 (his first newspaper interview ever given)
with Imi Knoebel (a man of 700 colors) 
and a photo of the actual windows.

During the first world war, 
it served as a hospital
and many of its stained glass windows 
were sadly damaged or destroyed. 

With help partly from the Rockefellers,
it was restored and reopened in 1938. 

And above, the gorgeous Marc Chagall windows in the very far end of the cathedral. 


Tomorrow starts 2017, ready or not. 
In numerology, 2016 equals a 9
which is an ending year. 
And with all of the loss this year, 
it certainly has been that. 
Loss upon loss upon loss...

And with 2017, I'm wishing you a magnificent one!
A new beginning, a cycle of abundance and joy
giving the future now what we want to reap. 
I wish for you all the miraculous beauty you can hold within your heart.

A vous, Bonne Annee!!
Til next year....

(Photos copyright: Kirsten Steen
Info via Wiki)

Monday, November 28, 2016

No UFO's in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

According to both The Local and The Telegraph,
the little Medieval town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the Vaucluse dept of Provence
 is upholding the 62 year ban on flying saucers, and/or flying cigars. 

In 1954, after a man reported having seen two beings 
who looked like deep sea divers embarking from a cigar-shaped space ship,
 then Mayor Lucien Jeune declared the ban,
"Any aircraft known as flying saucer, or flying cigar, 
which should land on the territory of the community
will be immediately held in custody." 

And current Mayor Claude Avril is
"not going to touch the ban."
More known for its wines at the time, 
the ban's publicity brought journalists and the public alike
who probably also enjoyed the wine. 

Having spent a little time in Chateauneuf-du-Pape 
the summer before last while spending two weeks in Provence, 
I can attest to both the fine wine and the charm of the hillside town. 
Aliens need not apply!


This election season has bowled me over
and I'm still trying to find my equilibrium...
so I'll take whatever I can get. 
Hope you're finding what you need to get through. 

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen) 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Must See French Films of the Millennium~ Part 2

So here is Part 2 of's list of Must See French Films of the Millennium:

* Jeux d'enfants (Love Me If You Dare, 2003)
* Paris Je t'aime (Paris, I Love You, 2006)
* Le Nom des gens (The Names of Love, 2010)
* La Guerre est Déclarée (Declaration of War, 2011)
* Camille Redouble (Camille Rewinds, 2012)
* De Rouille et d'os (Rust and Bone, 2012)
* Mon Roi (My King, 2015)
* Divines (2016)

Sad to say, I've only seen two of these this time. But that will change. And what I LOVE about doing these posts is that I always learn something interesting... LIKE a group called Lost in Frenchlation hosts French films with English subtitles some Friday nights at Cinema Studio 28 in Montmartre.
They'll soon be showing at several more independent cinemas to help give the international community more neighborhood flavors. When they realized that for most Internationals in Paris, it's difficult to watch French films because of the lack of English subtitles so they decided to rectify the problem themselves. For more on how they got started, click on Je t'aime me neither.
And you can find Lost in Frenchlation on Facebook Here.

And since Divines' director Houda Benyamina won the Caméra d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for this film, might have to start with that one.

Cinema Studio 28
10 rue Tholozé
75018 Paris
Cash Only, No Cards!

Monday, October 24, 2016

List of Must See French Films of the Millennium has published a list of Must See French Films of the Millennium which include:

* Mesrine: Killer Instinct and Public Enemy #1 (2008)
* Entre les Murs (The Class, 2008)
* Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have, 2002)
* Les Intouchables (The Untouchables, 2011)
* Martyrs (2008)
* Les Choristes (The Chorus, 2004)
* Polisse (2011)
* Bienvenue Chez les Ch-tis (Welcome to the Land of the Ch'tis, 2008)
* Un Prophete (A Prophet, 2009)
* Amour (2012)

I've only seen about a third of these but as we are planning/hoping to be in Paris for the Christmas holidays this year, I may try to get a few more in before then. They've also published a Part 2 which I'll post later. I've included the trailer for one that we were actually told was a Definite Must See by French friends some time ago. It's a bit silly but since I often say the French sense of humor is akin to a 14 year old boy, it fits perfectly. One of the others we were told not to miss was Les Choristes which is a lovely film.

Two that I would add and particularly loved:
Little White Lies (Les Petits Mouchoirs, 2010, otherwise known as Le Big Chill by the Sea) and
Haute Cuisine (2013)

Highly recommend both of these!

And since it's been way too long since we've been in France, I finally did something I've been wanting to do: signed myself up for online French classes. I just went to check things out and found a really reasonable monthly price through Babbel. And while other versions just seem to wear me out, I really enjoy working the class programs. It's exactly what I've needed. And it's up to you what you want to learn with plenty of options. Wish I'd gone there sooner! If you're interested in learning a language, check out Babbel.


Click the link below for trailers and descriptions of above films:

Must See French Films

A bientot!

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Fines on Paris Metro

According to
fines just went up in the Paris Metro. 
So many people dodge travel costs 
(over 220,000 people/day costing 1 million euros/day),
transport chiefs are going to make it hurt more if caught. 
And the hike in fines not only targets those who don't pay
but also those who make too much noise, talk too loud, play loud music,
don't muzzle their dogs, beg or forget their bag on the metro.
They are so tired of having to issue alerts for suspicious bags
that usually (thankfully) turn out to be nothing, 
they will now fine you if they have to issue an alert due to your forgetfulness. 

Fines for not having your metro ticket 
if stopped by the controls now
is 50 euros. 
Up 50% from when we made the mistake of not keeping our ticket 
in our pocket until we got outside the metro. 
Note to self: 
When traveling the Paris metro,
make sure to keep your used ticket on our person 
until you have exited the station. 
You can use the extra 50 euros on entertainment in Paris! 

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Jonesing (and Prayers) for Greece

I've been having some serious hankerings...
And they don't just come as small wisps or threads of a daydream.
They come hard.
And transport me...
as if Scotty just beamed every molecule of me 
from where I am to where I want to be. 
I can be in the middle of my day
and suddenly I am there, here on my favorite walk in Nafplion.
I can smell the dry wild herbs on the warm air
and taste the tzatzkiki of any restaurant in town. 
I'm walking along the alleyways of the Old Town
or perusing books in the Odyssey Gift Shop on the square. 

This walk is one of our favorites. 
The water is never-ending along one side
and on the other, a steep wall of chalky, orange-streaked cliffs
with the occasional wild tuft of bright magenta bougainvillea. 
I know it's been too long since I've been there
 when I find myself transported several times a day
...all week long. 
Hoping for a quick trip before the holidays begin
but it hinges on so many other things coming together in just the right way:
jobs, the health of loved ones, perfect timing.
I just keep picturing all the things I love and miss
and myself walking among them! 

For more pics of this and another favorite walk,
Click Here.

Both the Northern and Southern Peloponnese have been suffering from 
severe flash floods this past week
all the way from Thessaloniki to Sparta and now Kalamata and Lakonia.
Haven't heard anything about our little town
but the weather report for Nafplion 
was calling for thunderstorms this last weekend. 
Hoping our roof fix holds up! 
Prayers for the souls who have lost their lives this week 
and for those dealing with the aftermath and possibly more to come. 

(Photo copyright: Kirsten Steen)

Monday, August 22, 2016

Anniversary of Pompeii

In honor of this week's anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius,
(August 24th, 79AD)
I am re-publishing this post on Pompeii.

Growing up in the relative poverty of the American Hippie movement,
Europe was an exotic and distant planet to me
and one I barely dreamed of ever seeing.
My heart raced and I believe I may have even drooled slightly
when my 3rd grade teacher filed us into the library
and read to us about artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci,
the places they lived and worked
and the creations that fired from their brilliant, brimming minds. 

As long as I can remember, pictures of far-away lands fueled an ache inside me,
a fierce longing that churned and burned, roiling like lava itching to spread itself out onto the planet. 

When I was 14 and living in San Francisco,
an elder from my extended family handed me a book,
 and told me to read it. 
by C.W. Ceram.

Then he told me about a place described in it that I'd never heard of;
about an ancient city buried in ash; about Pompeii. 
The book was a bit hefty and dense for a teen to slog through
but I kept it for decades and never forgot the incredible story of a city buried alive,
lost to the world and found nearly two thousand years later. 

So visiting Pompeii was a dream come true for me,
A place I thought I would only ever see in books.

(Temple of Apollo
built in 2nd century BC.)

(Statue next to Temple of Apollo)

By then, having realized my dream of living in and traveling through Europe,
I was still in awe when I arrived at Pompeii,
at actually seeing the place I had only heard about. 
And while having seen many of the famous ruins of Greece,
I still wasn't prepared for the astonishing volume of buildings still standing,
not just 'ruins' but entire walls and fountains, columns and reliefs
still displaying their colorful paintings and intricate mosaics. 

This past weekend on August 24th, between noon and 1pm,
was the anniversary of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius 
and the complete burial of two entire cities
(Herculaneum being the second.)
(And apparently now the day of a 6.0 earthquake in Napa Valley!)

On this day in the year 79 A.D.,
in the Campania region of Italy,
the baths were open and people gathered for lunch. 
There had been a few warning signs,
small earthquakes, water sources drying up
but they hadn't recognized them. Tremblers were common. 
To them, Vesuvius was just a neighboring mountain.

While the citizens of Pompeii sat down to lunch,
the skies darkened and hot ash and rock fell from the sky. 
People ran through the streets with pillows over their heads for cover.
Many escaped the city
but those who stayed, about 5,000 of the approximate 20,000,
were caught in the deadly wave of red-hot ash and gas on the second day.
This pyroclastic flow, reaching temperatures of 475 degrees celcius 
and moving at 100 miles an hour,
killed instantly those who stayed with their city. 
Their bodies, surrounded and buried by the hot ash,
left an ashen crust with cavities large enough for technicians of modern day
 to pour plaster casts of the body's exact positions,
sometimes even facial expressions. 

What's left of the city itself
is a stunning glimpse into ancient Roman life. 

Pompeii was founded around the 6-7 century BC.
(though some of the oldest carbonized tests date back to the 8th century BC.)
The houses of Pompeii were used by the wealthy
which accounts for the size and beauty of the interiors;
Holiday villas for wealthy Romans. 

Some of the homes were equipped with 'alcoves'
specifically for sexual entertainment
and in 1599, during the digging of a channel,  a few frescoes were uncovered
but were considered so salacious
they were re-covered and left for a few more hundred years. 

Many of the wealthy townhouses
had ornate fountains and dazzling mosaics and frescoes...

(House of the Faun)

The above photo shows the House of the Faun,
 excavated in 1830 by the German Arch. Inst.
which took up 3,000 square meters
(a full city block.) 

It is so called because of the dancing faun in the marble impluvium.
Fauns were considered woodland spirits or forest gods similar to Pan
or followers of the Greek Dionysus or Roman Bacchus.
The impluvium was the sunken section usually located in the atrium 
 used to collect rain water,
 the atrium being the open space allowing for light and ventilation. 
Water collected in the impluvium was filtered through the cracks into a cistern below. 
During hot and dry times, the naturally-cooled water 
could be drawn back up into the pool and used to cool the atrium
and the house. 

For times when the streets ran with water,
stones were placed to create 'crosswalks.' 

One set of buildings sustaining the least amount of damage
were the baths (discovered in 1958) also known as The Suburban Baths.
They housed a dressing room (apodyterium),
a lukewarm room (tepidarium),
a hot room (calidarium)
and a cold room (frigidarium.)
It also held an exercise and steam room.
And of course, some gorgeous artwork.

One of the many things I found most astonishing at Pompeii
were the huge quantities of artifacts still sitting on site. 
Shelves and racks and racks and shelves
and glass cases of pots, jugs, art and plaster cast bodies
sitting in the open, a museum in itself. 

Pompeii was a flourishing city and commercial port 
with much import and export trade.
Nearby fertile land provided abundantly with grapes, wine, olives and oil, wool, cloth,
animals, vegetables and cereal. 

Some of the foods produced and consumed by Pompeiians included
walnuts, chestnuts, garlic and onions, 
figs, pears, peaches, and grapes, carob and beans.

The same plaster cast process done on the bodies of Pompeii
have also been done on tree and garden plant roots
yielding information on their planting patterns.

Much of the wine, olive oil and grains were exported 
and Pompeii was known for their own specific wine
known as Vesuvinum:
vinum being Latin for wine and you can guess where the rest comes from. 

Mastroberardino, a family winemaker in the Campania region,
is working on recreating Pompeiian wines as they might have been in Roman times.
With permission, they are replanting the same vineyards using the same grape varieties.
They've uncovered underground cellars of terracotta jars 
used to store the wine beneath the ancient vineyards. 
I've got The Chef working on 
how to get our hands on some of these new Pompeiian wines
they're calling the Villa dei Misteri project,
named for one of the well-preserved, out-of-town villas
called the Villa of the Mysteries.
One of the heads of the project, Antonio Mastroberardino,
has been called "The Grape Archaeologist." 

We're hoping to take some friends to Pompeii for their first visit.
Having done this before with friends from Greece,
people who are used to their lands dotted with the many Greek ruins,
it is a gift to see the looks on the faces of those who have heard
but never really understood the full extent of the beauty of what has been preserved. 

And for myself, 
I'm just looking forward to my next visit. 
Each time I go, certain 'Houses' are closed to the public 
for various maintenance reasons
so each visit yields something new,
some miraculous new discovery.

Just as when I was 14...

the story of Pompeii is imprinted on me.

And after having been there,
their personal stories

keep calling to me...

And one day I will tell them. 

(All photos copyright: Kirsten Steen
Sources: Wikipedia, 
Judith Harris' 'Pompeii Awakened'
and DVD 'Pompeii, the doomed city.')

(Aside: After spending the better part of August 24th,
off and on, putting together this blog post,
The Chef found a local wine shop who carried a few bottles 
from the Mastroberardino family wines.
They are not from the Villa dei Misteri Project
---recreating the same varietals of grapes on exactly the same vineyards the Pompeiians used
of which very few bottles have been made and even fewer make it to the States
 costing in the $200/bottle range---
but they did carry Lacryma Christi del Vesuvio
or 'The Tears of Christ of Vesuvius.'
The name is derived from an old belief that Christ cried at Lucifer's fall from heaven, 
that his tears touched the land and gave divine inspiration to the vineyards. 
The deep lava gouges along the sides of Vesuvius make it easy to see why it got its name. 
And so far, according to archaeologists who have analysed the residue on the ancient taps,
this wine is the closest equivalent to that which the ancient Romans enjoyed.)