Hylda

I found her in a thrift store, framed in a shiny metal frame and covered with a sheet of thick glass.  She was young.  Pretty, too.  Garbed in a delicate white dress, she wore a broad bonnet, the type worn early in the twentieth century.  Edwardian, I believe.  Maybe 1905 or 1906.

Hylda Schmeling

The frame seemed in good condition but a strip of clear tape skimmed the top.  When I turned it over, I found another photo hinged to the back.  This one was in muted colors and portrayed a young woman.  Her short wavy hairdo captured the essence of the 1920’s. The girls sported similar smiles, similar eyes, and each had a partially hidden dimple in her chin, a subtle angel’s touch.  Given the time span of the two pictures, and the similarities, I knew they must be of the same girl.

Who was she?  How did her lovely images come to be on sale at Goodwill?

I lifted the colored photo taped to the frame’s back and was pleased to find writing.  Someone had scrawled the name “Aunt Hylda Schmeling” across the cardboard.  All doubts about buying the photos vanished.  Little chance Hylda’s lost relatives would venture into the GW and see her there.  For $2.99 I was eager to give her a home.

Later I made some online searches for more info about this charming girl. The unusual spelling of her first name, and the city where I found the photos helped. I learned more than I could have hoped.

Hylda Jenson

Born in October 1899, Hylda appears in both the 1900 and 1910 census.  Like her mother, Anna, she was born in Wisconsin.  Her father, Henry, was born in Germany.  One census lists Henry’s occupation as “own income.” So, she wasn’t poor.

In 1916, Hylda Schmeling sang soprano in a chorale at her high school.  In 1917, she married Paul Jenson in Winnebago County, Illinois, just across the state border.  In 1918 a write-up about the Junior-Senior banquet at her Wisconsin high school reads, “Music was furnished by…Hylda Jenson…and several other skilled pianists.”

The questions raced.  Why did she marry in Illinois instead of Wisconsin, where her family lived?  Did her German father object to her marriage to a Swedish Paul Jenson?  Was she happy in her marriage?  Hard to believe otherwise, given her glowing face and sparkling eyes.

Then, in a scanned copy of her 1918 yearbook, I stumbled across yet another entry for Hylda Jenson, nicknamed “Jens”. Her Senior class picture reveals the same sweet smile, the same dimpled chin.  Next to it reads:

“This little lassie is a wife
And sees no more of courting life;
Her hubby’s in France,
Awaiting the chance
To put an end to all this strife.”

So Paul went off to war.  Is that why they married so young?  Did he ever come home to her?  Or did she live out her years as a young war widow?  Sadly, Hylda herself died in 1934 at age 35.  Were there children?  If not, is that why her charming photographs ended up on the dusty shelf of the thrift store?  None left to mourn her now.

Whatever happened in her life, we know that someone once loved her.  She has a story to tell; I hope to tell it.  Maybe my words won’t reveal her true story, but given when she lived, I hope she would find it amusing.

I often find my inspiration in old photos such as Hylda’s.  Where do you find yours? 

Traveling American

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.” ~ Henri Matisse

Last week we had a sudden death in our family. I needed to travel from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin so I went online to make airline reservations.  Since I had to fly in two days, the fares were close to $1,000; normally it’s a $300+ flight.  Someone mentioned a “bereavement fare.”  I called the airlines, gave the information they needed and was booked on a flight at a closer to normal fare.

Soon after the funeral bad weather thundered across the Midwest.  Massive storms dumped snow and ice.   Shortly before I was to leave for a 2-hour drive to the airport, American Airlines called with news.  My flight was cancelled and I was re-scheduled on a Tuesday flight.  I stayed in my hometown another night.

On Tuesday, the first leg of my trip was delayed.  That delay jeopardized my connecting flight.  The agent at the counter quickly put me on standby for an earlier flight.  Subsequently I was seated on that and made my connection.

Several years ago my husband traveled a lot for his job.  His words of advice came back to me.   “You just go with the flow.”   So during my Tuesday travels I did that.  I also watched other travelers (a favorite activity of writers, I think).  While many sat back with books or laptops, or simply rested, others whined — about everything.  I heard way too many gripes about airlines overbooking, lost luggage, and delayed flights.

It is because of those complaints that I’m writing this post.  Throughout my journey I saw only kind, professional helpfulness.  My sincere thanks to American Airlines and its hardworking employees.  Thank you…

  • to the ticket agent who walked me through the bereavement fare and booked my original flight
  • to management for the call notifying me of the weather related cancellation and rescheduled flight
  • to the agent who offered a standby change so I could connect to my final flight
  • to those who de-iced the plane, the mechanics and ground crew who kept things safe
  • to the flight attendants who brought me a sense of security
  • to the pilots who kept the flights on course
  • and finally, to the baggage handlers who brought my suitcase home safely.

You all made this emotionally draining trip easier.

Some folks seem to believe that the purchase of a ticket in life buys nothing but smooth sailing.  It usually does but sometimes bad things happen beyond control.  When they do just go with the flow and thank the person who guides you through, whoever that may be.

For now I’m saying thank you to American Airlines.

A Writer’s Valentine

My passion is writing romance. I grew up on boy meets girl stories. I watch romantic movies, read romance novels, and write happily ever after stories. For years, I’ve been a member of Romance Writers of America©.  Most of my close friends read and/or write romance.  Finally, and most important, I have been married to my own true hero for well over thirty years.

I should be able to come up with a unique and heartfelt way to say “I love you” on Valentine’s Day.  What can I give him?  And what will he give me?

As I ponder the questions, I don’t imagine that he’ll bring home a bouquet of long-stemmed roses.  That’s okay. I carried white roses on my wedding day. In our years together, he’s brought home roses for birthdays and illnesses, for Valentine’s Day, and sometimes for nothing special.  Nothing special flowers are best of all.  There are times when a soul aches for roses, but not now.

With Valentine’s Day on a Monday, we have no plans for a dinner of prime rib and champagne in a candlelit restaurant.  While the setting is romantic, it is winter, bitter cold, and we’ll both be tired from work.  I’m thinking crock-pot soup, sandwiches, and a Netflix movie.  Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

We’re beyond buying silly ties and heart-patterned socks and pj’s. There was a time for that, true.  But no more.  Chocolate truffles and bon-bons are out, too.  I’ve managed to lose over fifty pounds this past year.  I feel better than I have in decades.  I’d like to keep it off for me, and for him.

So what will I give him for Valentine’s Day?  I believe I’ll tell him –

~ for all the compliments you’ve given me, deserved or not, boosting my fragile ego

~ for the three sons we created and raised together

~ for trudging off to work in frigid pre-dawn hours, day after day, year after year

~ for the thousands of conversations we’ve had and will keep having until we can no longer talk

~ for the many many adventures we’ve shared

~ for championing the good causes and being my hero

Yes, quite simply I’ll say…for all that and more, I love you

Birth and Death

Last week massive storms ripped a 2,000-mile swath across the land. On Tuesday at 1:32 am, in the middle of the heavy Wisconsin blizzard, a text message appeared on my cell. It was from my brother. “At the hospital,” his words read. I didn’t actually see the message until I woke around 5:30. By then more messages revealed that, a few hours earlier, my niece had given birth to her second daughter.

Out of the snowy dark came the glorious wonder of life.

A few days later, I received another sort of message from a dear friend, also in Wisconsin.  “My son died yesterday afternoon,” she wrote in part. “I was with him and sent him on his way.”

Out of the snowy dark came the terrible wonder of death.

I understand the joy my niece feels. After all, I’m a mother with three children of my own.  Only a newborn baby can bring such a glad fullness to the heart.  The memories of those early hours never leave.

When I learned of the birth, I wanted to hug my niece and her new daughter. But hugs will have to wait until my visit in May. My grand-niece will no longer be a newborn then, but I will hold her and welcome her into my life.

It seems to be a time of new babies in our family.  A happy time. Sadly, it’s also a time of passing. In the last few years alone, we have lost four loved ones.

Through those losses, and others, I understand a little of what my friend feels. And, just as I wanted to hold my newborn grand-niece on learning of her arrival, I wanted to hug my friend in comfort at her loss.

Life and death touches us all at the most basic level.  They are shared experiences.  Sometimes I am awed to see the depth of caring generated by others when babies are born, or when people pass from this life.  To me those feelings reveal the inherent goodness in humanity.

As a writer, it is something I hope I re-create in my stories.

Welcome, Avaeh Nicole!  Rest in peace and love, Jimbo.  ∞

Winter Muse

I’ve always been fascinated by winter. I’m not sure why.  Maybe because I was born during the month of January.  It could be because my parents were from northern Minnesota or that their ancestors all hailed from northern Europe.  From my Wisconsin childhood, I recall snowbound winters and a few temperatures of 30 below, not wind chill. Whatever the reason for my fascination, even though I most enjoy the crisp, colorful months of autumn, I feel most at home in winter.

This year I should be ecstatic.  Winter has walloped the land with blast after blast of vicious storms.  The wicked weather has caused schools and highways to close. On ice-coated highways cars crash, and trucks jackknife.  Downed power lines send tens of thousands into the black, cold night of an earlier time.  Not good, but I never said that I liked winter, simply that it fascinates me.

I grew up hearing stories about the deep snows and blizzards of Minnesota.  My grandparents and great-grandparents were farmers. In their youth on the northern plains, they had no central heat. Indoor plumbing consisted of a kitchen sink with running water. As a child, my mother attended a one-room schoolhouse where they warmed wet mittens and cold lunches on the wood burning stove. Imagine the smells created by that steamy mixture.

Maybe its because of these true stories that many of my own fictional tales are mainly set during the winter months.  To me, the season signifies a time of change, and of conflict.  In historical works especially, life is a continual struggle. While the primary trouble in my stories is always between people, winter provides a great background.  It adds conflict to an already conflicted tale.

Weather of any kind helps to set a mood in stories.  It adds to the realism.  It can be the gentle touch of a spring rain, the glaring heat of July’s sun, or the whipping winds of winter.  Generally, winter works best for me.

Writers, think of your own stories.  Do you have a recurring season that inspires your work?  Please share. 

Secrets

In writing a novel, there are many ways to enrich the characters.  Some writers fill notebooks with complete details.  They include every aspect:  height, weight, hair and eye color, college attended, hobbies, astrology sign, mother’s maiden name, father’s occupation.  The writer plans carefully and leaves nothing to chance.  All this detail, whether or not it is eventually spelled out in the book, helps to make the character real, both to the writer, and subsequently to the reader.

A few years back at a conference workshop, I heard a statement about character development that I found far more helpful than creating long lists of detail.  “Give your hero a secret,” the speaker said.  “What does he not want anyone to know?”  A secret adds rich layers to a novel.

On Sunday my husband and I took a bus into New York City to meet up with our oldest son.  We enjoyed the day, walking around together, stopping into shops and cafés, seeing the sites.  As we paused for several minutes to look out over a snow-covered Central Park, a thought occurred to me.  Cities, like characters in a novel, have secrets.  These secrets can be anywhere.

Who sleeps in a snow-covered maintenance shed in Central Park?  What lies buried under mounds of uncollected garbage?  What crime was just committed backstage of a Broadway play, or in the halls of justice? Essential to the plot, these are all secrets in setting.  They are simply waiting to be revealed.

On our ride home, I mused over the term “setting secrets.” I realized that I had several ingrained in my own stories.  A construction site hides a murder victim.  A farmhouse conceals a kidnapped child.  A small town denies its guilt over an injustice.  In each of these stories, I believe my description of the setting became deeper, and darker, because the setting hid a secret.

I’ve heard it said that thinking of your setting as a character will add richness to your story.  Take it a step beyond that.  As you do for your characters, give your setting a secret, too.  See what happens. 

The Will to Write

The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will. — Vince Lombardi

Legendary Green Bay Packers’ Coach Vince Lombardi understood success and he understood what it took to achieve it.  It takes willpower to coach a team to the SuperBowl and win – twice.  Willpower, and always keeping an eye on the ultimate goal.

It also takes willpower to write and publish a book then another, and another.  Raw, butt-breaking, stick-to-it willpower.   Best-selling author Madeline Hunter once said that she had never seen a writer who persevered not eventually publish. Since then, I have observed others and seen first-hand the truth of her words.  Writers who persevere do eventually publish.

When I think on my experiences in writing my first book, I’m awed that I ever finished it. It was a daunting job, even with the assistance of a decent critique group.  My second book came easier.  My third, written in only eight months, seemed even simpler, although the middle is still mush.  Perhaps if I had pushed myself harder to polish and actually sell those early efforts, I would have had more success with those that followed.  But, somewhere along the way I let life intrude.  Again, again and yet again. 😦

About a year ago I received a medical wake-up call.  It made me examine my life and where I was headed.  I started eating healthier. Over the next several months, I lost a whole lot of weight, and gained a whole new wardrobe. 😀   My husband and I had long talked about a dream trip.  In October we flew to Paris.  But where is my writing in all of this?  It can’t just sit idle.

I’ve had this innate need to write for too long to let it just fade into oblivion.  I won’t allow my obituary to say “An amateur writer, she wrote several novels that were never published.”  I ache to churn out characters and stories that will not just lie buried in some computer file, but will be read and enjoyed by many.

So I’m writing again, daily.  My newly created characters are talking to me.  They’re taking actions that reveal who they are.  They’re getting into trouble.  Forcing me to plot just how I’m going to get them to the point where they finally declare their love.  Just now I’d be thrilled if they’d even talk to each other in a civil manner.  Regardless of the grief they cause, I am writing about their lives and will continue until their story is told.

I will finish this book.   Writers who persevere do eventually publish.



Mothers & Daughters

I’m thinking of her today. Her gentle voice and proud image linger about me.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter can follow many paths.  A childhood friend was incredibly close to her mom. The two of them talked, laughed and shared silly secrets. Yet another good friend and her mother were like strangers; they barely spoke. At various times I have envied both. Why?

She was generous in her legacies. I cannot fault her for that.

From her I learned the value of family. She was an at-home wife and mother with a large family. At a time when bottle-feeding was rampant in America, she breastfed her babies. When store-bought Wonder Bread became the national favorite, she kneaded and baked wholesome homemade bread and cinnamon buns filling our home with an awesome aroma. Our childhood meals always saw us seated together around the table. As a young mother through the 1950s and 1960s, she regularly used her Kodak, snapping pictures of all those she loved and recording our history for posterity.  Throughout her life, she treasured family and family gatherings.

She also loved to read. Another cherished legacy, one that led to my writing. From my earliest days, I saw scores of books on the shelves of our living room – REBECCA, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, JANE EYRE, and a magnificent edition of the complete works of William Shakespeare. In junior high, I brought home Victoria Holt’s MISTRESS OF MELLYN from the school library; that started our shared immersion into gothic romance and then romantic suspense. How she loved those books – a rambling cliff side mansion, a dark, brooding hero, a heroine in danger.  Sometimes, I think she saw herself in the role.

From her I learned dignity, self-esteem and stubbornness.  She took great pride in her appearance. Each morning, and whenever she left the house, she would preen in front the mirror, freshening her make-up and hair. For nearly four decades she sold Avon cosmetics. It brought in some cash, but it also brought luxury into her life. In her last years, after we all convinced her she was too ill to continue with it, she secretly signed up again and struggled to sell for another year.

Still, there were aspects of her character that I rejected. Parts of her were a puzzle I could not solve, a riddle I never understood. Sometimes, I think I will spend my remaining years trying to understand her, and our relationship. Penance.

It’s now been 3½ years since she left us. Today, she would have been 83.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.  ∞

 

A New Year

It’s Sunday, January 9th, and my house is still decorated for Christmas.   I got a late start.  When I finally got around to decorating, I scattered seasonal décor with a light hand.  Instead of a 6-foot tree, I set up a table tree in our bay window.  Elsewhere our Christmas stockings, my Jim Shore Santas, two red poinsettias, and a bunch of candles spread holiday cheer in our home.  With the sparkle of the tree lights and glow of the candles, it was enough.

Now, even though Christmas is more than two weeks gone, I’m not ready to put it all away.  Call it the afterglow.  I’ve always loved reading through holiday cards and letters after the holiday.  Just as precious are the late arrivals that season our mailbox between Christmas and the New Year.  I take time to enjoy my new gifts, especially the books and CDs, bath and body products, and assorted kitchen gadgets. I love wearing my Santa socks, and posting new pictures of babies and toddlers on our refrigerator.

Still, there is a time to put it all away and bring in the New Year.  Just not yet.

In the spirit of welcoming 2011 though, as I hung my new calendar I made a few resolutions.  Mostly they pertain to health and writing.  I WILL continue to eat healthy and to lose a few more pounds. I WILL finish my latest book by April 1st.  And I WILL blog weekly.

This last resolution caught me by surprise.  It came in response to a challenge posted on WordPress.com, challenging us to increase our blogging time.  WP suggested we blog daily, or weekly.  I knew I’d never make the daily gig.  It’s enough for me to scribble a few more paragraphs on my book each day.  But a weekly blog?  Still, I have a good friend who’s been doing just that since she set up her blog in 2008 and she’s now published.  It’s about putting commitment and scheduling into one’s mindset.  A good idea.

So, dear reader, watch for a new blog each week.  Come summer, watch for an even healthier me.  And finally this spring, watch for word of a finished book.  My resolutions are lofty ones so could you please send a few positive thoughts my way?  I’ll hold your hand, if you hold mine.

Now, if I hang some hearts from the branches of my small tree, do you think I can keep it up until Valentine’s Day? 


A Simple Christmas

Christmas is coming. To prepare, I hung this year’s evergreen wreath on our door and on my Facebook page.  🙂   Here it is for you to see, along with my greeting for the season.

Merry Christmas to All!

For us, the season will be simple.  Not just because we traveled overseas in October, or because we have repairs scheduled for our aging house.  It will be simple because we believe Christmas shines brightest when celebrated simply.

Oh, we honor our traditions.  Just after Thanksgiving, we drive north to a tree farm in the foothills of the Poconos.  Inside the barn-type shop we share a cup of hot cocoa then examine every wreath displayed before deciding.  Do we want large or small this year?  A gold ribbon?  Plaid?  Brilliant Red?  Pine cones or gold balls?  Silly perhaps, but it’s become a tradition to look, consider, contemplate, and discuss.

The wreath is important.  It’s one of the few outward displays of Christmas in our home.   We keep things simple — the wreath, a fake (but life-like) tree,  stockings hung by the chimney, and some background Christmas music while I bake.  That’s about it.  We do celebrate plenty on Christmas Day, but that’s for a later post.

This year, as I’m again immersed into a daily writing routine, I’m grateful to limit shopping time, and much of that online.  With our children grown, home is quieter than in years past.  (A bittersweet thought.  I do miss the bustle of three young boys.)  I’m limiting what is done to what must be done.  Simple.

My characters’ conversations now buzz in my mind.   For me keeping the season simple gives me more time to write it all down. 

Book in a Week

Reading about the RWA Kiss of Death Chapter‘s online Book in a Week (BIAW) gave me a tingle.   The timing looked perfect. It would start on Post-Thanksgiving Monday, a work holiday for me.  I haven’t written much this year.  Could be a much needed jump start.

Registering was easy enough.  So was reading the KOD online article archive.  Patricia Rosemoor graciously hosted Sunday’s pre-workshop.  Motivating!

On Monday morning, I rose early.  Of course, before I could start writing I had some chores to finish from the weekend but they wouldn’t take long.

When I finally sat down at my computer, I stared at a blank screen.  No surprise.  Despite Sunday’s strongly worded advice, I still had no inkling what storyline I wanted to pursue.  As a historical writer, I wasn’t even sure about the time period.  I took a deep breath, grabbed my coat, and flew out to visit some thrift stores.

Sometime around 1:30 pm, hunger called.  I pulled into a diner parking lot then picked up my purse and one of the books I’d just bought as an aid to motivation.  Inside, as I waited for my salad, November’s sun poured through the window. I flipped open the pages of the suspense and started reading.  Along with my delicious salad, I was soon wolfing down the story.  It had been ages since words tasted so good!

A long time later, I walked back out to my car.  An idea began to emerge. (Cue Alleluia music!)

Yesterday I wrote just over 2,300 words.  I’m posting this in my blog because I need to share, to shout it aloud.  I’m writing the post on my lunch hour so I’ll have tonight free to devote to my story.  Feels good to say that again.

Wish me well. 

Giving Thanks

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~ John Fitzgerald Kennedy

A few days ago I left my office and found the sky awash in glorious shades of pinks, oranges, blues and purples — an unusually spectacular November sunset.  Desperate to capture the vision before it faded, I raced home.  Only a five minute drive yet endless.  In the house, I grabbed my Canon and rushed onto our deck.  In the short time since I’d walked out from work, the sky had already changed.  Still, I was able to snatch an image or two.

I love the sky, especially during the changing minutes of sunrise and sunset.  The  particularly beautiful images are a gift of nature.  I’m grateful that such brilliance still graces our world.

When I see such sights I think of early Impressionists — Manet, Renoir, Monet and others.  These brilliant men worked with their passion.  They brought nature’s light onto the painted canvas and created a whole new style of painting.

 

I believe that we’ve all been given a gift in life, some natural talent that carries with it a strong passion.  Some find that passion in art or in the written word.  Others find it in music or the study of science, in medicine or cooking, in animals, children, technology…the list is endless.

Pursuing our own passion lets us more fully develop our inborn talent, however humble or grand.  In that way we give back that which we have been given.

It is the ultimate gesture of gratitude. 

Paris Day 6 – Last Day

If I don’t write about our last day, perhaps a part of us will remain forever in Paris, and so I’ve delayed this entry.  But time travels on, doesn’t it?

On Monday morning, October 18th, we rode the metro from Les Halles station to St. Michel-Notre Dame.  From there we walked the short distance to the Palace of Justice where Sainte-Chappelle is located.  Because of its location within the walled yard of a government building, security seemed extra tight.   The scanning was akin to airport security with belts, all metal, and cell phones needing to be removed before walking through the scanner.   Day bags were also scanned, just as at the airport.  Once through security, we walked back outside and toward the exquisite chapel.

Sainte-Chappelle (or “Holy Chapel”) was started by King Louis IX in the early part of the 13th century to house holy relics of Christ.  It was completed in 1248.  It served as both a royal chapel, and a place where the holy relics were kept and exhibited once a year.  Though it has been damaged by fire and flood, by the French Revolution and the ravages of modern pollution, it is a wondrous monument to faith and to the beauty mankind can create.   In the upper chapel especially, the mood was hushed with awe and reverence as we all gazed at the glorious windows.

From Sainte Chappelle, we strolled outside, through the courtyard, and toward the Seine.  We walked across the bridge to the Left Bank, then down the steps.  We’d decided to take a cruise.

After our cruise, we parted for a few hours.   My husband strolled over to the Musée de l’Armee and a visit to Napoleon’s tomb, while I roamed through the narrow streets and small shops of the city’s Left Bank.

In the late afternoon, we met back in our comfortable apartment on Rue St. Honoré, and dined at home on quiche and ham.  A quiet evening, our last night in Paris.

Paris Day 5 – St. Eustache & Dinner

Sunday afternoon we returned on the RER train from Versailles to the St. Michel-Notre Dame station then transferred to our home station at Les Halles.  We had not yet visited Sainte Eustache, a Gothic/Renaissance cathedral built between 1532 and 1637 and rivaled in Paris only by Notre Dame.   Sunday seemed an appropriate time.

Just prior to leaving for Paris, I’d heard from a distant cousin who shares my love of genealogy.  She wrote that if we had a chance, we should visit St. Eustache because of ancestral ties.  The guidebooks subsequently revealed that Mme. de Pompadour and Richelieu were baptized at St. Eustache. So were my seventh and eighth great grandfathers before they came to Quebec in the mid-1600’s.  When I read her email I smiled.  In the photos we’d seen of the apartment we’d already reserved, one window view showed St. Eustache.

The roof of the grand Cathedral was a daily sight for us from our 6th floor apartment; seeing it up close was awesome.  In the cooling air, we walked around the outside then stepped inside for a tour around the roped off perimeter of the seating.  Parishioners were seated but all was hushed.  A posting told us of an organ recital at 5:30, followed by the 6:00 PM Mass.

The pipes of a large wall organ echoed gloriously inside the huge church.  Later we were asked if it was doom and gloom or alleluia music. Neither and both, I think, and purely magnificent.  The sounds seemed to transport us back in time to an earlier era.

Mass was spoken and sung (beautifully) in French, of course.  Since neither of us are fluent in the language, we did not understand many of actual words.  But from the order of the Mass and from the intonations, we did understand the prayers, and their meaning.  Very moving.  Spiritual.

After Mass at St. Eustache, we walked over to a nearby restaurant,Au Pied du Cochon.  Although the restaurant was crowded we did not wait long for a seat.  We dined on beef and duck and vegetables, and shared a small bottle of Bordeaux.  Afterward we enjoyed dessert – creme brulee at its finest, and rich chocolate.   The suited waiter seemed amused when I wanted to take home our small empty wine bottle (labels make a memorable souvenir).  As we finished, our waiter brought us small glasses of Grand Marnier.  The fine orange liqueur provided the perfect ending to a delicious meal.

Monday would be our last day in Paris. I didn’t want to think of leaving.

Paris, Day 5 Early – Versailles

Sunday we took a day trip out of Paris to the Palace of Versailles.   Château de Versailles is located about 20 km. southwest of Paris, and started as a hunting cottage for Louis XIII.  His son, Louis XIV, the Sun King, transformed it into a lavish palace.  In 1682 it became the seat of the Royal Court and the French government.  Louis XV and Louis XVI enlarged both the palace and the gardens.

For a shorter walk, our guidebooks suggested we take the RER train to Versailles—Rive Gauche.  The train was filled.  After about 30 to 40 minutes, we arrived at Versailles—Chantiers.  The train stopped. It was not continuing to Rive Gauche.  Everyone eventually got off, some of us confused since the signs said this was the Rive Gauche train. Instead, we were directed to walk straight, through the town and toward the Château.  The walk took about fifteen minutes.

As it had on previous days, our Paris Museum Pass helped bypass the long line for tickets.   Just as we passed through security I heard a plop on the floor ahead, looked down, and saw a man’s wallet.  I picked it up and saw a Texas driver’s license.  My husband yelled “Texas!” to the crowds ahead, thinking the Texan would turn around.  No one responded so he gave the wallet to Security.   In the crowded tourist spots of Paris, we saw many warning signs about pickpockets.  Hopefully, the owner didn’t assume his pocket had been picked, and was able to claim his wallet.

The palace courtyard was vast, windy, and cold.  We followed the crowds  into the royal halls.  English audio tours allowed us to key in to each of the Salons, learning a bit more about the palace, and those who had lived there.  The Hall of Mirrors was especially stunning.  Just after the Queen’s bedchamber, where Marie Antoinette had given birth to her children, a ceiling restoration was in progress.

It’s difficult for me to describe my feelings as we walked the halls of Versailles.  The lavishness is beyond belief.  Rich, sumptuous. Seeing it helped me better understand the horrors that came in the French Revolution.  The story of the palace preservation for history is equally remarkable.

After the self-guided tour we stopped into a crowded cafeteria to grab a sandwich and salad.  We ate then stepped back into the courtyard with a plan to tour the gardens.   A bitter wind swept in.

There was to be a fountain exhibition at 5:30 PM, one of the last of the season, but it was only early afternoon.  On a warmer day we would have enjoyed seeing the lighted fountains, and the domain of Marie Antoinette.  But so much remained to see in Paris and only one day remained.  We strolled back through town toward the train.

Paris, Day 4 – The Louvre & More

Early Saturday morning rain fell on Paris. We woke to the sounds of it on the roof.  A good day to keep inside, touring museums.   We fixed a quick breakfast in the apartment then walked five blocks toward the Louvre.  The gray clouds were swept away with a moderate wind and the temperature was around 47 F.

As we approached the vast museum, we saw a camera rig, filming a car driving.  Not sure if it was for a film, or a commercial.  One of the many trucks behind the Louvre said “En Location.”

Our Paris museum pass let us by-pass the growing long line to buy tickets and proceed fairly fast into the museum.  Like most spots we’ve visited, we had to go through a security check, including a bag scan.   Then down the escalator and under the tall glass pyramid.

I’ve been in many museums but never imagined the enormity of the Louvre, until we started walking toward the room that held the Mona Lisa.  Our guidebooks told us to stop there first since crowds increase as the day goes by.  The room was already half-filled.   The Mona Lisa is beautiful and serene, but her protective glass filters any real clear view.  Sad.  Still,  I’m glad I saw her.

We walked on through gallery after gallery of magnificent paintings, stopping mainly at favorite artists, or periods of art.   Periodically, we had to consult our maps to re-orient ourselves.   I enjoyed seeing artists studying the masterpieces, learning from them through sketching and painting the works.  Like a musician learns by playing, and a writer learns by reading others’ work.

After a late lunch at the Louvre Cafe, we walked outside and through the Jardin de Tulieres toward L’Orangerie, a museum that houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works.  In the vast gardens, we strolled by statues both classic and modern, and by beds of flowers still in bloom.   The air was crisp, breezy, and approaching cold.  Everywhere we heard the sounds of a multitude of languages.

In his last years, Claude Monet was losing his sight but he planned one final series of paintings from his gardens at Giverny.  Eight huge paintings are hung on curved panels in two rooms at L’Orangerie.   As we walked around the rooms, we found ourselves awed by the timeless beauty of these works.

Downstairs in this museum are other magnificent works by Monet’s contemporaries and friends — Manet, Degas, Cezanne, and Renoir.  Magnificent!

On a long stroll  “home” we window shopped at the fine shops along Rue Saint Honoré.  At some point we decided to eat in, to just relax and unwind in the apartment.  We stopped at a shop that sold deliciously prepared items and enjoyed a quiet evening.

Sunday brings a day trip to Versaille!

Paris, Day 3 – Filled with wonder

Friday morning started with a metro trip down to Cluny-Sorbonne. Before our first site, we felt the need for American coffee.  At a Starbucks we found Café Allonger or Café Americain.  We sipped our still strong brew and ate breakfast on the cafe’s second floor surrounded by university students studying, talking, debating, and laughing.

Outside other students were marching.  Not sure why.  Costumed in assorted dress, they seemed to be having a great time — singing, shouting, and laughing.  As we left Starbucks, two of the groups came together with shouts and hugs.

We strolled over toward the National Museum of the Middle Ages or Musée de Cluny.   We took a short walk around a park across the street then went inside the medieval building, checked our coats, walked through the gift shop and into a room filled with masterpieces.

Awesome is too tame a word to describe the wonder that is Cluny. Room after room of paintings, illuminated manuscripts,chalices, statues, and the ornamentation of medieval churches.  And then then there were the centuries old tapestries!  We stepped into the large, darkened room that held the Lady and Unicorn tapestries and once more were struck with breathless awe.  Literally.

Guidebooks say to allow one hour for Cluny.  We were there over three and could have stayed all day,  but other wonders called.

We headed north, walked along the Seine, then crossed over the bridge to Notre Dame.  In the courtyard outside the Cathedral, a string ensemble played classical music.  The lines moved quickly into the church.  There was a Mass in session but still visitors strolled around the perimeter of the inside of the massive, majestic Cathedral.

The Tower was closed Friday, but the man at the gate assured us it would be open throughout the weekend.

Due to the late hour, we skipped Sainte-Chappelle for the day and headed instead back toward our apartment.  We had wine and cheese to pick up.

In the early evening hours, our niece and her boyfriend showed up.  They are studying abroad — she’s in Vienna and he’s in Madrid.  They flew to Paris for a long weekend and arranged to meet with us.  (BTW – she’s blogging about her experiences in Vienna.) We had a great visit!  Something magical about meeting up with family while traveling overseas.   After a brief but wonderful visit, we walked with them to the Metro so they could meet up with friends for dinner.

We enjoyed our own late night meal in a cafe near our apartment.   Omelet, a hamburger, and salads — such simple fare but truly the best ever.  The French are masters at the art of cooking.

Saturday we’ve reserved for the Louvre, Sunday is Versailles, and Monday we’ll return to see Saint Chappelle and the Notre Dame tower, and a few other places.  The time is going too, too fast.

Day 2 in Paris

Late start this morning but we needed the extra few hours of sleep.  In the apartment, we had a quick breakfast of yogurt and coffee.  French yogurt is delightfully rich.  Wish I could bring some home.  We set out on foot for Musée D’Orsay.

We crossed the Seine on the Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge.  Hundreds of padlocks adorned the railings.  Many had hearts or initials and dates inscribed with permanent marker.  Tonight when we returned to our apartment, after shucking my shoes and propping my tired feet, I searched the internet and found that it’s a way for lovers, young and old, to express their love.  After locking the padlock to the bridge, they throw the key into the Seine.  The combination locks are apparently for those who worry about second thoughts…it allows them to return later and remove the lock.  🙂  Read this link for more info. (Great story scene!)

Lines were already long at Musée D’Orsay but we got in sooner because we were buying a Paris Museum Pass.   D’Orsay is a magnificent converted rail station  from the early 1900’s.  It houses hundreds of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings….Manet, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Cezanne, and many more.  Currently being renovated so some of the rooms were closed.  And much of Monet’s work is on loan to the Grand Palais for their special exhibition.  (Not a problem; it’s nearby.)  Also not quite as many Renoirs as I’d hoped for but still, so many masterpieces to see.

We ate lunch in Le Restaurant, the museum’s second floor world class restaurant.  Sea bass for him, while I savored a thin vegetable tart with a thyme sorbet.  Exquisite.  Service was like watching a fine dance.  Subtle, almost choreographed.  From the crystal chandeliers and gilt framed ceiling paintings to simple table settings, the decor was elegant.  A unique experience.

After D’Orsay, we walked over cobblestone streets and narrow sidewalks to Musée Rodin.  We were greeted by The Thinker, and many other fine bronze statues.  The gardens surrounding the museum building were peaceful, with roses in full bloom.  In October.  Only in Paris.

From D’Orsay we strolled to La Tour Eiffel – the Eiffel Tower.  After rushing through a gauntlet of pushy vendors, each with identical displays of multi-colored miniature towers, we made our way to the entrance.  Lines were long but moved steadily in Disneyesque manner.   On our ride to the top, we were surrounded by a group of Italian high school students.  Young, vibrant, telling jokes only they understood, they punched each other, then kissed cheeks as they met friends across the railings.

The top of the tower took my breath away, almost literally.  Just before the summit the enclosure is glassed in, but at the top of the last flight of steps the viewing tower is only wired in.  The wind was gusty, cold, but ah, the view!  While we were up there, day shifted to dark.  As we descended, the tower lights came on.

Tired now, well past my bed time.  Friday we see the medieval tapestries at Musée de Cluny, Notré Dame, Saint Chappelle, and more.  Bon Soir!

Bon Soir, Paris!

Roses from my husband

My body is confused by the time change. In Paris it is 4:20 am, Thursday, and I’ve been awake for three hours.  Outside even the motor bikes and occasional police sirens are silent.  In front of me sits the bouquet of pink roses my husband bought from a local vendor, a surprise when I returned from the nearby market. The flowers belong.   After the bustle of traveling yesterday, I feel a sense of peace, despite the time adjustment.  I feel at home.

This apartment on Rue Saint Honore is lovely, historic yet modern.  It is on the 6th floor and has a small roof top terrace.  In the distance we can see La Tour Eiffel and rooftops over Paris.

Rooftop terrace of our Paris flat

After our flight across the Atlantic, we took a Roissy bus from Charles DeGaulle Airport into central Paris and the apartment.  Later, we walked the neighborhood, ate at a creperie, and visited a few area shops.

Today we will visit Musée d’Orsay, the Rodin Museum, Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower…La Tour Eiffel.   For the next several days our schedule is filled.  But just now in these pre-dawn hours I’m savoring the comfort of this peaceful apartment, a cup of hot French tea, and my roses.

October in Paris

This fall we’re going to Paris. He’s traveled there before.  I haven’t.  I almost went once, to join him for a side journey after an early spring business trip.  Almost.  Instead, I slipped on a patch of black ice in our driveway and broke two bones in my ankle.  No walking for 8 weeks, per doctor’s orders.  So, while he was touring Musée du Louvre and gazing at La Tour Eiffel, I sat at home being well-cared for by our teenage sons.  It felt like a medically mandated house arrest.

Years passed.  We talked about Paris but never made the trip.  The time was never quite right in his schedule, or mine.

For health reasons, this year didn’t start out well for me.  But good things can come from bad.  Sometimes it takes a few bad spots to jump start us into doing things we really want to do,  like traveling to Paris.

Last month we made plane reservations for a week-long trip.  Later, we reserved an apartment.  We’ve searched hundreds of websites on what to see, what to wear, and where to eat.  Shopped for a new camera, some basic wardrobe pieces, a good pair of walking shoes.   And, I’ve signed up for a French course to refresh my memory of High School French.  I start class this coming week.  All fun stuff.

There’s a mystique about Paris.  A romance.  A wonder. I see it reflected on faces of those who have been there.  In late October, after our trip, look for it in mine.