Thursday, December 30, 2010

Some Thoughts about Georgette Heyer Mysteries.

I know that only about .016 of the people who read this blog will actually be interested in this, but that's the beauty of blogging. It's kind of a narcissist's picnic, it doesn't matter if anyone is interested or not.

So, in December I've been reading Georgette Heyer mysteries, of which there are twelve or so. Although I had read everything else by her, I had only read 2 of her mysteries before. This is kind of odd because I have a special fondness for British mysteries written between and just after the world wars. Plus, I have a life-long affection for Georgette Heyer.

When I say 'affection' for Georgette Heyer, let me just add this little anecdote. When I worked at a bookstore, a couple came in and asked me (no pressure) to help them choose a last book, for a friend who was dying. He wanted something he hadn't read before, something with some depth - not a comedy- but not too dark, either. At the time, I thought to myself, if it were me, I would want to reread some Georgette Heyer.

I say this only to let you know how seriously I take my Georgette Heyer. And why it's so odd that I hadn't read her mysteries before.

I've found the Heyer mysteries to be interesting on a number of levels. Which I shall now proceed to enumerate, for the .016 of you who have not yet turned to some other, more rewarding task.

In the first place, they are kind of flawed as mysteries. In the seven I've read so far it's always completely clear to me from the beginning who the murderer is. This is not because I'm brilliant but because of the way Heyer sets things up. The tricks she uses are obvious to me, a veteran reader of this sub-genre, so there's no mystery at all. This does not impair my enjoyment one iota - figuring out whodunnit is not important to me at all.

In the second place, there's a very interesting and rather odd thing she does with her continuing character, Detective Something Beginning With H. Although he's a continuing character, the stories are from the POV of the characters inside the current story. He comes in near the end, to solve the case and he is never developed as a character.

This is quite different from any of the similar mysteries of the same period by Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, Marjorie Allingham, or Agatha Christie. In all of their books, the detective is the central character and you get to know him (or her) very well. The books are really as much about them as about the plot.

However, this is more than compensated by some wonderful characters in the books. Particular favorites of mine are the family in Footsteps in the Dark, or the brother and sister in Death In The Stocks (I think that's the one that has the brother and sister.) But I've enjoyed them all.

Except for one, Penhallow, which is a very strange book. I read somewhere that Heyer wrote it in a couple of weeks to fulfill a contractual obligation. There is none of the charm, the fun, the wit I expect from Heyer. And the murderer is never caught. You know who it is, there's no secret about it. But the mystery isn't resolved. In some ways it's not even a mystery - it's more of a study of a horrible family.

It's interesting, too, to read mysteries of this period (Heyer wrote in the 30's to 50's) before forensic science had begun. No DNA, no science of blood spatter or forensic anthropology etc. The most scientific they get is fingerprints. And, even though I don't really bother about whodunnit, I had one teensy weensy moment of irritation, when the detectives seemed to be ignoring the fact that their primary piece of evidence against a character had been wiped completely clean of fingerprints. This went on for chapters before they realized what I had known all along - if it had no fingerprints on it, it was a clear indicator that he was being framed. Duh!

Finally, it has been quite interesting to see Heyer's cast of characters out of regency costume. She has a wide range of characters and she moves them around as needed. The foppish, immaculately dressed and sarcastic man is sometimes a villain (The Reluctant Widow - a Regency) and sometimes a hero and the love interest (Behold Here's Poison - one of my favorite mysteries, and one which I had read before) etc. On the other hand, there are characters in the mysteries who just wouldn't fit into Regencies at all. The worldly wise, slightly damaged heroine of Duplicate Death, just wouldn't work in a Regency. In fact, most of the heroines are too sophisticated and knowing for most of the Regencies. And the lesbian couple and the gay men in Penhallow - well, not in the Regencies. At least, not overtly in the Regencies.

So, that's it. I see that Why Shoot a Butler has finishe downloading on my Kindle, so I'm off to start another one.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Blizzard Warnings! Tra-la-la

I'm feeling so cheerful because we have blizzard warnings. As a Minnesota girl, I always feel the winter here is a bit... wimpy. It has most of the dreariness and disadvantages of a'real' winter, but lacks the extra excitement of life-threatening blizzards.

But tonight, we are promised 60 mph winds, 20 inches of snow (up to 4 inches per hour) and coastal flooding between 11pm and 4am. All this, and the possibility of power outages. As long as my Kindle, computer and phone are charged (which they are) I'm happy. We have food, booze, and reading material. And candles. And blankets.

The COG, needless to say, is not as cheerful about the prospect of snow. He is worried about clearing the snow so he can get to work tomorrow and the possible effects of power outages on the sump pump and the pipes.

He's a realist. I'm a romantic.

Friday, December 24, 2010

This Homely Object...

This homely object is simply a can, with the safety edge removed (so it has a sharp edge) and with holes poked in the bottom/top. It's a simple and effective chopper. I use it several times a week when I want to chop or chop and mix things like nuts or fruit.

It was made by my Grandfather for my Grandmother, I don't know how long ago. I'm sure neither of them thought of it as a precious object, and I imagine it was just one in a series of similar objects he made for her in a long marriage. For me, though, it has great value. When I use it, I always think of Grandpa and Grandma and their home. I have very little family stuff - I've always lived too far away to benefit from house clearouts and handouts and that might make this more precious to me.

But I think what really makes it precious is that it connects me in my small daily tasks with my grandparents in their daily life. It contains a resonance of their long knowlege of each other through many years. It's the kind of little useful thing that partners do for each other. And, by extension, it connects me with a long line of ancestors going about their ordinary, daily tasks back into the distant past.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Full Lunar Eclipse

When I went to bed last night, it was with reluctance. I knew that I'd be sleeping through the first total lunar eclipse on a winter solstice with a full moon since 1378 (the last total lunar eclipse on a winter solstice which wasn't a full moon was in 1638). So this is a rare event.   I thought about staying up for it, I really did, but, in the end,  I decided to watch the videos.
Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse from William Castleman on Vimeo.

I never look at something like this without imagining how it might have appeared to my distant ancestors - the ones that lived in caves.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Cookies (and candy)

I've spent the last few days making Christmas cookies for the trays I deliver to various places. This year the places are: The COGs workplace, the local library, A local company that allows us to store the books donated to the Friends of the Library for our sales and some friends of the Son of.
Above is one of the boxes, below is a close up of the adorable chocolate covered cherry mice. I love making these, they're so cute.

Here's what I made:
Louise's Lebkuchen
Mom's Apricot Balls
Mom's Date Balls
Congo Bars
Chocolate Chip Cookies
3 kinds of Bark: White Chocolate with Peppermint Chunks, Dark Chocolate with Fruit and Nuts, Marbled Chocolate with Peppermint Chunks
White and Dark Chocolate Dipped Pretzel Sticks (with red and green sprinkles)
and, The Mice.

I didn't get around to making Candied Ginger, Candied Orange and Lemon Peel, Aunt Helen's Pecan Puffs or Rum Balls.  I'm going to make some of these tomorrow, at least that's the plan. I may also try Ina Garten's Fleur de sel Caramels.

This depends on whether I have someplace else to give a tray to.  I enjoy the cooking, but I don't want it in the house.

Friday, December 17, 2010

International Glanza Spotting

This is for Vivi and Homo Dommi - Note the Glanza hanging above the vegetable stall in a market in Toulouse.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Buried House

I took this picture walking through the dunes on our way to pick cranberries. That rectangular shape a little left of the middle of the photo is a chimney.  The entire house has been covered by sand, but it's still there underneath the dunes.  On the way back from picking, we walked up to the chimney from the other side. You can look down into the house. It was completely black, so we couldn't see much, but next year I'm taking a flashlight so I can see better.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Pick Cranberries


On Thanksgiving morning we picked cranberries in a bog quite far off the beaten path. This involves walking a couple of miles in on the dunes - what looks like snow, here, is really sand. It was cold, but lovely. There is something so satisfying about picking wild berries.

The COG and Son of walking on the sand.
A glimpse of ocean and shore en route.

The picture below shows what a cranberry bog looks like.  It's the green area fringed with a touch of red. This is not the Top Secret Location, off the beaten path where we picked.  This one is right next to the path.

The COG 'picking' cranberries.  He probably thought I wouldn't notice his lovely new little camera.  I didn't really mind because he took some nice photos.

The Son of actually picking cranberries.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Morning - more Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Here's another version. I keep listening to these because I love all the intermingling tunes. This one has 7 voices, if you count the Handel in the background. Does anyone recognize the Handel piece, I can't quite place it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Music for a November Saturday

I don't know what to call this, but it's incredible. Click twice on the screen to watch it on You Tube,  for some reason it only shows part of the screen.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Pet Peeves: one more thing

We did have a banker suggest to us that the best thing to do with security questions (and what he did) is to have a strong password that you always use, regardless of the question.

What was the name of your favorite school teacher -  A37_beAr&

What was the name of the city you grew up in - A37_beAr&

What is your favorite restaurant - A37_beAr&


Probably a good idea, but we've never implemented it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Pet Peeves: Ridiculous Security Questions

The COG is filling out a banking thing online and he has to choose four security questions from a list.  We hate hate HATE these security questions, which are required by many online sites we use.  A security question should have one unique, clear and singular response.  These do not. Plus, they must have been written by someone raised in a two-parent family in the suburbs, who never moved, who went to one elementary school and one high school etc and who has not lived more than 3 decades.

These are the choices on the list from which the COG must choose four questions, plus a few of my objections to each one:

In what city was your high school?  The COG didn't attend high school because he was educated in a different country and, thus, attended grammar school. Also, city names are a little more complex and non-singular in that country because it is so old. My family moved, so I attended high schools in two different cities.  

What is your mother’s middle name? What if your mother had more than one middle name, or used her maiden name as a middle name?  Which one do you choose?   What if you were adopted? How would the Jolie-Pitts answer this question?

In what year were you married?  What if you were married more than once, or never married?

What is the name of your best friend from high school? Please, was this list written by a 12 year old?

What's the name of your favorite restaurant?  There are people who have a favorite restaurant? 

What was the name of your favorite school teacher? The 12 year old writing again? I can barely remember the names of my school teachers, much less pick a favorite.

What's the name of your first pet? Which one -  the one my Grandparents had when we lived with them? Then there were two cats, how would I remember which one was the 'first'?   The COG never had a pet growing up, his parents had animals only after he left home. 

What model was your first car?  Why would I remember this?  I'm not sure I know the model of the car I'm driving now. Also, strange by true, there are people who have never owned a car.

What was the zip code of the town you grew up in?  Zip codes were first used in 1963.  There are many of us who grew up before then, in zip-code-less towns. Second, others of us grew up in countries that do not have zip codes at all.

What was the name of the street you grew up on?  Which time? We moved a lot and I've done a lot of growing up.

The COG once had trouble with this one on a different site.  When they asked him at a later time for the answer to this 'security question' he kept getting it wrong. Why?  Because he grew up on 'Brick Yard Lane,' so that's what he answered. It turned out that it would only accept 'Brick,' a single word response.

We have had security questions on other sites which asked for your favorite film, your favorite song, your favorite book,  and your favorite color - these are just plain stupid questions. Actual adults do not have only one 'favorite' anything and, thus, cannot answer these questions.

I know security is supposedly for our protection, but  so often, and in so many ways,  I feel much more harrassed by 'security precautions'  than I feel endangered by the problem they say they are preventing.

I send this plea to the universe... there must be someone out there who can think of a different way to do this.  Please, please do it. You'll make a fortune, while making me happy. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Halloween in Salem

Halloween is Big Business in Salem.  Despite the fact that the whole point of the Salem Witch Trials is that the accused people weren't witches; despite the fact that every single person who was actually tortured and hanged for witchcraft maintained their innocence until the end (And the fact that none of the few people who confessed- under torture- to being witches were hanged.), Salem seems to be the world epicenter of modern witches. Or at least witches whose knowledge of history is a bit vague.

Today, Salem delights in the nickname 'Witch City.' The town is full of Goths, Wiccans and costumed role-players who stroll the streets waiting for tourists to take their pictures.  It's also full of businesses who make a living off 'witchcraft,' psychic readings, tarot readings, spell shops etc.  Halloween is, naturally, the focus of the Salem witch year, when Haunted Happenings... ummmm... happens. You are probably asking yourself- 'What is (or are) Haunted Happenings.'  Well, it is (or are) 5 weeks of various events, culminating in Halloween Hell.  Locals avoid Salem like the plague during these weeks.  On the night itself, you could not pay me to go there.  However,  we did go to the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem a week before Halloween and  here are some pictures taken outside the museum.

They are pretty self-explanatory except that the tall brown witch is a 'living statue'.  She just stands there perfectly still,  making you think she is a statue, then she moves slowly and it's a little creepy. The first time I walked by her she winked at me.  It is kind of cool.

Autumn in Ipswich

It has been so beautiful here these past few weeks. Everywhere I go - the simplest errand - I am just stuck by how beautiful it is. It's not just the colors, but the low golden light through the colored trees and the texture and variety of the undergrowth now that there are fewer leaves. It's also the way the houses, and bridges, and rivers etc. look next to the trees. And the sound of dry leaves underfoot and the kind of peppery/smoky smell of autumn.

None of these pictures really capture it - the COG has done a much better job, but it's really just impossible.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Last Night at Last Year At Marianbad

In looking for a clip for my previous entry, I think the film started to grow on me. It has me thinking about it....

Not sure how I feel about that.

Last Year At Marienbad

The COG and I watched Last Year At Marienbad last night.  I remember when this film came out - it won the Lion D'Or at Venice. Every one said it was brilliant. I even had a LYAM haircut. (Still do, as a matter of fact.) But I was too young to have seen it when it was new, and it just passed me by.

So, finally,  we watched it.  That is, I watched it. The COG watched it, too,  but periodically he fell asleep. Then he would wake up and ask me what had happened to which I would reply, 'nothing,'   Once he left the room for 10 minutes to feed the dog and make tea and he didn't miss anything.  Pretty much nothing happens. Even when, for one moment, you think something has happened, it turns out that it didn't happen after all. At least, I think so.  Maybe. I'm not sure.

It was clearly influential. Those old Calvin Klein Obsession ads, although they had much meatier plots and were in color, owed something to the film.

And here's the thing - the French is wonderful. Very clear, not too fast, not idiomatic, but still spoken rather than formal French.  Interestingly everybody uses vous, even the lovers. If they are lovers.

I'm still not sure. Maybe he was mistaken. Or a stalker. Maybe she was lying or really had forgotten.

And then, there was the game of pick up sticks people keep playing.  What was that about?

Here's a bit from the beginning of the film. Not that it matters where it's from - this is pretty much the entire film in a nutshell. Please click twice on the link so you see the whole screen at YouTube. For some reason it only shows part of it here.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

This Week in the news in Brighton

The strikes and protests in France are getting all the headlines, while protests occuring elsewhere do not make the international news.  I am hereby doing my part to address this problem. 

Headline from the Brighton Argus Friday 22 Oct: 

Two Arrested After Protesters Glue Themselves to a Bank.

Two people have been arrested on suspicion of aggravated trespass and criminal damage, after two protesters glued themselves to the doors of RBS bank in North Road, Brighton.
The protesters each glued one hand to either side of a doorframe and linked their hands to create a human barrier at 3.10pm on Wednesday 13 October.
Detective Rex Petty said: "The protesters' barrier prevented people leaving and disrupted the work of the bank, upsetting both staff and customers.
"The pair left after a customer barged past the couple, who unwittingly caused the protesters' skin to be left on the doorframe.
"I am keen to trace this man, as he may be able to provide further evidence. Anyone who was in the bank at the time of the offence who has yet to speak to us is urged to come forward."
A 27-year-old man from Manchester and a 22-year-old woman of no fixed address were arrested two hours later at Brighton railway station. They have been released on bail until 11 November.

Names of Buildings in the Emperor's Private Paradise

I love the names of the buildings in the Emperor's Private Paradise.

The Gate of Spreading Auspiciousness
The Pavilion of the Purification Ceremony
The Pavilion of Prosperity
The Pavilion of Picking Fragrance
The Studio of Self Restraint
The Bower of the Ancient Catalpa
The Hall of the Brilliant Dawn
The Hall of Fulfilling Original Wishes
The Pavilion of Sharing Beauty
The Bower of Three Friends
The Pavilion of the Jade Green Conch
The Building of Luminous Clouds
The Building of Extending Delights
The Building for Enjoying Lush Scenery
The Supreme Chamber for Cultivating Harmony
The Bower of Purest Jade
The Belvedere of Viewing Achievements

and last, but not least,

The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service

In the Emperor's Private Paradise of the Forbidden City

The COG and I went to an exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum on Friday. It was, frankly,  incredible.  In the 18th century, the Emperor Qianlong, made himself a secluded and luxurious private garden to serve as his retirement home.   He was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world and a devout Buddhist. (Tho' the COG expressed doubts that these two things are compatible.) At any rate, he had incredible taste and wealth and this garden is a jewel.

The Garden of Tranquility and Longevity, as it's called, is a walled garden with 12 or 15 buildings set on several acres in one corner of the Forbidden City. It is not opened to the public, nor will it ever be.  The exterior has been maintained, but the interiors were neglected since the 'People' acquired it in 1924.   A couple of years ago the Chinese government began restoration with funds from the World Monument Fund.
The picture above is a room from a theatre / party / gathering place in the garden.  The building is called 'The Studio of Exhaustion from Diligent Service', which I think would be a fantastic name for our house, too. Though our house does not have exquisite carved wood screens or hand painted murals. The mural on the ceiling is painted to look like wisteria is hanging down from an arbor. Probably quite a nice effect in the cold winter of Northern China.

The stuff in this exhibit will not appear anywhere else outside of China and it's breathtaking. Not just pieces of furniture, but wall murals and architectural elements - doorways etc. The mural above shows the use of perspective, learned from Western artists. The Emperor was very fond of little jokes like this - the doorway framing it is real - wood inlaid with something precious- making the mural look as if there's a room beyond with family members in it.

One of the interesting things about the exhibit were little videos about how the conservation and restoration were done etc. But everything else was interesting, too. Both the pictures are from the web, btw.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bridges and Stiles

When I walk, I think. During the hike we took to Alfriston, I was thinking about names. My maiden name comes from the word 'bridge', my married name, from the word 'stile.' Both bridges and stiles are structures built to connect or span boundaries.  And I married across a border and ... etc  Something cosmic in all that.  These are the kinds of things I think about when walking.

Anyway, I was thinking about this because of all the stiles we crossed over, like the one in the picture between two fields near Alfriston.  These are very common in England, where there are a lot of public right-of-ways that cross over privately-owned fields.

By the way, I learned the word 'style/stile' from my paternal grandmother who used to recite a poem/story about an old woman who bought a pig. It had a repeating refrain, 'piggy won't go over the stile and I shan't get home tonight.' ( Click here if you want the whole amazingly gruesome poem.) If you look at the picture of the stile, you can see why the old woman had trouble getting the piggy to go over.

Anyway, on the Alfriston walk we also saw another kind of stile called a 'kissing gate'.  You have to have a certain level of fitness to cross over a regular stile - you must climb up and down. Plus, if you are pushing a stoller or a wheelchair it's difficult at best.  But a 'kissing gate' is easier to go through.

This is how they work.  Imagine a square bounded by 4 posts. 

                                                   A                B

                                                   C                D

Two sides (connecting posts A & B, and B&D) are fenced.  The fourth post (C) has a swinging gate, which moves between A and D.  To go through you move the gate until you can slip around it by standing in the corner by B, where the gate doesn't reach. I snapped this complete stranger standing in the corner (B), about to come through (between C and D.)

I have no idea why it's called a 'kissing gate.'  There is no kissing involved in the traverse.  And I'm not sure it would have helped the old woman with her piggy. In fact, I think that's the point - animals can't get through them, but people can.

Back in Rouen

Next to the tower where Joan of Arc was imprisoned in Rouen, I was pleased to discover this plaque. It commemorates the birthplace of Cavelier de la Salle, the French explorer whose name is known to all American school children, and (judging by the COG's indifference when I delightedly pointed it out to him) unknown to English school children.

From what I can make out, the plaque says "In the Parish of Saint Herbland was erected the house where was born on 22 of November 1643 Robert, Cavelier de la Salle, [who was] assassinated in Texas the 18th of March 1687. He founded near Montreal, on the St. Laurent River, the town of Lachine. He descended the Mississippi River, an explorer and peaceful conquerer. He gave Louisiana to France.

According to Wikipedia (I  love Wikipedia), he was murdered by Pierre Duhaut, one of his own men during a mutiny in Texas. Also, the town may have been called Lachine because his dream was to find a way to China (La Chine, in French). His explorations of Indiana, Ohio and the Mississippi were part of that dream.

Also, he was accompanied by Father Hennepin, who (while travelling without de la Salle) was captured by a Sioux war party and who, at some point, was 'imprisoned' on an island in Lake Mille Lacs, where our family has a summer home.

Or maybe not - Father Hennepin (according to Wiki, again) was apparently a notorious liar.

Continuing the Bulldog motif

A rather charming looking pub in Kemptown, Brighton.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chilean Miner Rescue

Although it's mostly like watching paint dry, except for the moments when that capsule actually breaks through to the light ( and, not to mention the anxiety about what could happen) I've been watching the miners' rescue pretty much non-stop. I did take a break for sleep after the second man came up but I kept dreaming all night of miners coming out of our basement door, blinking in the light.


Monday, October 11, 2010

Meanwhile, Back in England

One day we went into London to see a Gauguin exhibit at the Tate Modern.  It was a perfect day - warm, sunny and lovely.  Here is the view from a balcony off the exhibit. That's Saint Pauls in the middle, at the end of the Millenium Bridge. Click twice on the picture to see it full screen size.

The Gauguin exhibit was an interesting counterpoint to the Impressionists in Rouen. Gauguin spent time in Rouen and knew a lot of the painters who were exhibited.

But the day itself - just walking around London - was the best part.

And if the panorama isn't enough, here's a little film from the same balcony. In this one you get sound effects, too. At the very end, notice the thatched roof of the Globe Theater on the right, sticking up in the middle distance.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


We went to Rouen for a fantastic exhibit at the Rouen museum - the Inpressionists in Rouen.  It was almost too much, so many many paintings by famous Impressionists of Rouen.  Most importantly, we saw 4 or 5 of the paintings Monet did of Rouen Cathedral. It was very good to see them together, a few blocks from the real cathedral.  The Impressionists liked Normandy for the light (and because it was close to Paris and cheap).

We thought about that we arrived in Dieppe, where the light was amazing.  After a couple of gray, rainy days in Rouen we took a morning train to Dieppe. The ferry didn't leave until 6:30pm so we thought we'd have a mosey around Dieppe. The forecast was rain all day, but by the time we got to Dieppe the sun was shining brilliantly and the color of sky and sea was unbelieveable. Turquoise sea and light periwinkle sky - it looked like the Caribbean.  This picture doesn't capture the dreamy brightness of the colors. Breath-taking.

We walked around the town for a bit, then headed for the ferry, which is a 10 or 15 minute walk from the center of town.  On the way, we discovered an old part of town on the cliffs above the ferry depot.  We stumbled onto the GR21 and hiked a way along the top of the cliffs. I took this picture of Dieppe Harbor looking in one direction and the one of the ferry in the other direction.

French Bulldog

A little Frenchie in Rouen.  Cute.

Joan of Arc in Rouen

Poor Joan of Arc. Nineteen years old when she was burned at the stake by the English in Rouen (which was English, then).  She was captured by the Duke of Burgundy and sold to the English, who imprisoned her in Rouen, in the tower shown in the first picture. She was 'tried', found guilty of heresy  and burned at the stake in the site of the Vieux Marché (now full of touristy restaurants as well as a market).  After her death she was declared a martyr and a saint and she is now a French national heroine.  The second picture is the outside of a modern church built on the site of her martyrdom. The remains of an older church are visible outside. The wooden beams of the interior (3d picture) are supposed to represent the flames that burned her. The stained glass windows are from the earlier, 13th century, church and have been incorporated in the new one. 

Odd, but all the Joan of Arc stuff in Rouen made the city feel a little grim to me. It has always been a story that I disliked and I've avoided it as much as possible.  Thousands of Cathars died for their religion in Southern France -twenty thousand men, women and children in the city of Béziers alone - the entire population of the city.   Yet the death of this one person affected me more, somehow. For me, it cast a pall on the city of Rouen. Maybe it's because she had a name and an age and a known history that she was somehow more 'real.'  Years ago we saw the shop she bought her armour from in Tours. I kept thinking about that while in Rouen.  

Our Hotel in Rouen

Our hotel was in an old building right across the street from the Palais de Justice. Our room was the second window up from the word 'Hotel,' really two windows that angle into a point. The window was right next to our bed.

The second picture is the view from that window.

It was an odd little hotel. No reception area - you entered through a coffee shop/bar and the guy behind the bar checked us in and led us up a winding staircase (picture 3) to our room, which was a pretty good size. It was clean, had a big bathroom and....the view. It was a quintessential French hotel. As in so many old hotels, the walls were covered in textured wall covering that had been painted over - probably because the old walls were so uneven. The staircase was a tight spiral. The wooden treads may have been old , but the railings were new. It was quirky and kind of charming and... the view.

The hotel was closed for breakfast on Sunday, which we thought would be no problem. But it turned out that nothing was open on Sunday morning. We kept encountering little wandering groups of tourists looking for food. Most of them were French, so it wasn't just us.

We finally found a bar that could serve us coffee and then we bought rolls at a bakery by the market. Not a happy beginning to the day. We went back to the bakery and bought jambon beurre for lunch. That's ham sandwiches on a baguette, with butter. My favorite. The restaurants were open for dinner, thankfully.

Would I stay there again? Probably. Maybe not over a Saturday night.  In fact, I probably would not go over the weekend again. I'd go midweek when everything is open.

Aître de Saint Maclou

One of two magical moments in Rouen.

We wandered into this quadrangle without knowing what it was. There was a medieval gate, propped open and people were clearly going through it, so we did, too.  Down a little medieval alley and into this quadrangle.  Clearly it was something incredible, but we only found out later what it was. It was first a cemetary for plague victims in the 14th century, when 3/4 of the citizens of Rouen died.  When the plague struck again, they built around it on 3 sides to form an ossuary on the upper floor. Apparently, after being buried for a while, the bones were removed from the cemetary to make room for new dead.  The lower level was not enclosed - it was like a cloister. Later, the lower level was enclosed and the fourth side built. 

The strange decorations refer, of course, to the cemetary and ossuary and the stone columns supporting the upper level illustrate the Danse Macabre.  It's a little difficult to get information about it - most of the information online is in French as if it's a well known tourist site to the French, but not to the rest of the world. The sightseers there the day we were there seemed to be French.

It's now the headquarters of the School of Beaux Arts. The word 'Aître' is from the Roman atrium. 

A Magical Moment in Rouen

We had two magical moments in Rouen.

One was when we exited our hotel to go find a restaurant for dinner. The sky was full of starlings chirping madly as the cathedral bells rang in the background.

The starlings were fantastic. I was unable to catch the moment they started swarming in the sky, turning this way and that all together, as if they had a choreographer. They were all over the Palais de Justice. Each of the the gothic spires has lots of little points sticking out of them and there was a bird on each one, almost as if they were part of the ornate design. If you look closely in the still picture, you can see a bird on every little thing it was possible to land on.

Really magical.

Rouen and Toulouse.

Rouen was interesting and would have been more interesting if we had done our homework. We wished Sister Rose was there, because she would have done her homework and then she could have answered all our questions, without the need for us to do the homework. 

Maybe it was the weather, but the city itself is grey and felt a little grim, so unlike the warmth of Toulouse.  Funnily enough, it was very like Toulouse in other ways.  They were both important regional cities during the middle ages and, therefore, they were both centers of important events.  There is a cathedral from about the same period and other big old churches. As in Toulouse, the Romans were there, of course, but their impact was not so evident. In Toulouse, one has the feeling that the Roman way of life was embraced and retained as far as possible after the fall of the Roman Empire. Not so  in Rouen. 

Where Toulouse had Cathars, Rouen had Jeanne d'Arc - who was imprisoned, tried, and burned at the stake there.  Toulouse had the regional lawcourts, and so did Rouen.  In Toulouse, they have been sort of replaced by modern buildings, but some important parts are incorporated very nicely into the modern buildings.  In Rouen, they are still standing.  

Unlike Toulouse, Rouen was captured and then colonized by the Vikings, who became the Normans. This may be one reason the Roman influence is less evident. The area went back and forth between England and France a lot of times.  And then there was WWII.  Toulouse was not damaged as much as it could have been.   Rouen was badly damaged.  A lot of important stuff, like the damage to the Cathedral and the Palais de Justice, has been wonderfully restored. While Rouen still has lots of wonderful old buildings, part of the city was destroyed and not rebuilt, so it lacks that feeling of being in a complete a old city, which is so wonderful in Toulouse. And of course, the style of architecture is quite different in effect. 

Still, it's easy to get to and the shopping looked good. So, I'd go back.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Sesame Street meets Old Spice Commercial

I love this! It's not showing full screen on my computer, if this happens to you, click twice on it and you'll go to the You Tube site.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


In summary, we had a lovely time.

More specifically, we took the bus to Newhaven from a stop at the foot of our street. The ferry ride was very pleasant - about 3 1/2 hours. Arriving in Dieppe, it's about a 15 minute walk into town to the train station.  Took the train to Rouen and found a hotel.  They whole thing took most of a day - but it was amazingly unstressful.

Our hotel:  was odd, in a very French (and not bad) way, which I will blog later.  The most important part of it was that it faced the Palais de Justice, which was begun in the 15th century, added to in the 16th and 17th century when it was a royal palace, and then again in the 19th century. It was badly damaged during 2 nights of bombing in WWII, one before D-Day and one in August of the same year.  But it has been restored nicely.

The weather:  It would be untrue to say that it rained and was cold the whole time we were in Rouen. There were moments of mere drizzle and we saw the sun twice.  In Dieppe, on the way back, the sun broke through and we had a lovely, though unexpected,  hike to the ferry.

We started wadering around an old sector of town while en route to the ferry, but we ended up getting kind of stranded on top of the cliffs over the ferry port. We were actually on a Randonee route, very pretty walking high over the sea.  There were houses and streets, but we had trouble finding a way down to the ferry.  So we backtracked.

Oddly enough, this was one of the highpoints of the trip for me.  I am  not a city girl. I like being out in nature.  The picture here is of Dieppe,  taken from the cliffs on our walk.

We are home now, in our favorite coffee shop. Tomorrow we go into London for the day.

Taking a Break from Travel Posts

Lots of fun to watch, nothing to do with travel.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Off To France

Off to France for the weekend. We will not be taking technology, so I will report on this later.

Alfriston Clergy House

Alfriston Clergy House was built in the 13th or 14th century by a prosperous Yeoman Farmer as a family home. It's a medieval type building and it reminded me a lot of the Whipple House. Fireplaces were added to the Alfriston House in the 16th or 17th centur, which made it really very similar to Whipple House.

In the 15th century it became a part of a priory. hence it's name. It was the very first property acquired by the National Trust - in 1898.

Notice the lovely wooden door tops - they were probably added in the 16th or 17th century and I loved them.

Originally it did not have a fireplace, but a firepit in the floor - one of the pictures shows this. Cooking would have been done n an outbuilding because of the danger of fire. The pictures show the Hall, where everything would have happened. On one side of the Hall, the house had a Solar, or Chamber where the family slept. On the other side of the Hall, there would have been a buttery, a cheese room, storage and places for the servants to sleep.

A Perfect Day in the South Downs

The COG and I walked from Exceat to Alfriston and back again, on part of The South Downs Way - an ancient track that runs along the coast. We had lunch in a pub in a tiny village en route. We admired the 13th century church and Clergy House. The weather was sublime. It was a Good Day.