Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The search for non-existent Italian restaurants in Paris

Before I start on my anecdote of our difficulty in finding a restaurant in Paris, I have to mention something about my blog traffic in the last few days.

This is a modest little blog which I hope will grow in popularity over time, but it is sort of schizophrenic. It is my literary blog where I will opine my thoughts regarding the craft of writing and the business of publishing and marketing, as well as nitpicky thoughts I have on the Harry Potter series, and discussing my progress on a series of novels based on the legends of Charlemagne.

I noticed yesterday that my blog traffic had increased tenfold what it normally generates. It also does not appear that there was any one blog that I can credit for linking to me or highlighting one of my posts.

Nope, it appears that for some reason there are a lot of people Googling the phrase "conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand." Somehow or another I've risen to being the second link for that cluster of words.

Hey, whatever.

I do a lot of Googling and I am sure that if the NSA reviewed my search history they would be scratching their heads trying to follow all of my disparate interests and/or researching arcane trivia.

So for those who are new to this blog and are interested in my L.O.O.N.ish thoughts on Harry Potter, go right ahead and read them in the archives. Please note that the acronym of L.O.O.N. contains both "obsessive" and "nitpickers" in the title and realize that it accurately describes my thoughts on the Potterverse.

Now, back to reconstructing my trip to France. This is as much as a mental exercise for myself to serve as diary of sorts as well as potentially serving as recommendations for others who might wish to follow my footsteps and know what to expect.

I spent countless hours in the months before we left trying to determine exactly how to make the most of my time in Paris. I knew what days the various museums were closed as well as their hours. I also tried to consolidate our steps and group the various landmarks together whenever possible.

We still walked so much that our legs ached.

A few months before our trip we started taking walks at a local park trying to get in shape for what we knew would be steep climbs in mountainous areas. I did not expect that just the sheer distance in Paris would be more challenging than trekking up mountain top villages.

After the long day of sightseeing on Tuesday, I was exhausted and hungry. One thing that I did not plan within an inch of its life was where to eat. We had gotten some recommendations from friends, and had brought several guide books with us, but I knew that any of those sources could quickly be rendered out-of-date if restaurants changed owners or went out of business.

Before we left California, my husband and I had lunch with the parents of one of my son's schoolmates. Her parents had lived outside of Paris before moving to our town a few years ago. Jacques and Jodi shared with us many insights about France, and at one point in the discussion my husband asked about Italian restaurants in Paris.

Jacques dismissed it entirely and said that there were not any.

I did not fully appreciate Jacques's dry sense of humor until after we were in Paris and saw several Italian restaurants. Every time we saw one, Scott and I would say, "there's another non-existent Italian restaurant."

Given the long history between Italy and France, starting with Rome's conquest of Gaul and the Roman occupation for centuries to the more recent defeat of France at the hands of Italy in the FIFA World Cup - I can understand that there might be some residual resentment by Frenchmen against Italians.

Tuesday night I thought it would be nice to have my husband choose where to have dinner. I
asked Scott if during our walks in the day if he had seen any restaurants he liked.

He did. He saw an Italian restaurant on the Ile Saint Louis. He sounded confident because thought he knew exactly where it was.

We crossed over the bridge from the Isle de la Cité onto the neighboring island. During this walk we passed two different men trying to garner money by their musical talents. These were scary dudes who sang loudly and had no observable talent. One man had a guitar, the other was surrounded by multiple instruments, none of which made any melodious sounds.

I was grateful that they were on the other side of the street and we made a mental note to retrace our steps and remain on the same side when we returned to our hotel.

Ile Saint Louis is a small island with a single road bisecting its length, a road circling its perimeter, and small streets that cut across its width. It does not take long to walk the entire length of the island.

We walked down the center and passed by one Italian restaurant. It was not the one Scott had in mind.

Once we reached the end of the island, I started to doubt his confidence in knowing where this restaurant was.

We started to go down the various side streets, to no avail.

I was getting hungry. I was also getting a tad cranky.

I needed to eat. What I did not need was to spend another hour walking around Paris in the dark searching for a restaurant he thought he had seen earlier in the day. We had covered a lot of real estate that day and at that point, I was ready to eat just about anywhere.

Scott then said that I since I was angry I should choose a restaurant. I was not angry with him, I was just tired and hungry and needed to eat something.

We walked back down the center of the island and after reading a few menus I saw one that did not look too expensive. I recognized some of the items and knew there were a few I would enjoy. It had a fixed price of 30 Euros for soup, salad, appetizers, a main course, dessert, and wine.

I thought that was a good deal and so we walked inside blissfully ignorant that it was a landmark restaurant with a colorful history.

We ate at Le Sergent Recruteur .

The waiter greeted us at the door and asked if we would wish to sit at the front, middle, or back of the restaurant. Once again the vacant stare in my eyes gave me away immediately as being a tourist and he asked his question again, this time in English.

I felt terrible that I could not even handle that simple of a question. We tried whenever possible to use whatever words we knew in French, so we ordered our meals in French hoping that our pronunciations sounded good and not horrible on our waiter's ear.

His smile seemed to indicate that he appreciated our attempts.

We sat in the back of the sparsely populated restaurant and from that vantage point we were able to engage in full scale people watching.

Our waiter recommended that we go with the Prix Fixe menu rather than order things individually. We did not really know what to expect, but agreed.

We were presented with a tureen of soup, a dish of pat
é, a basket of fresh vegetables and salad dressing.

Literally the basket was filled with heads of lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, as well as hard boiled eggs.

Two more baskets were brought, one with various breads and another with sausages. There was also a knife and a cutting board.

Basically we were to create our own salads, carve off slices of meat and bread. Anything we left in the baskets would be taken back to the kitchen and its contents replenished for the next customer.

That would not go over well in the States. At least not with the health departments.

I remember years ago of a famous restaurant near my hometown that was cited for reserving food. They had "family style" chicken dinners where not only did the chicken come out to the tables served on platters to be passed around, but side dishes of potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, and sauerkraut. I knew that if someone did not touch one of the side dishes that there was a good likelihood that once it returned to the kitchen that it might be served again.

One other thing that restaurant did was sell "come back" chicken to the town locals. Literally they sold chicken out of the back of the restaurant that had "come back" from the table.

Like I said, the health department in Michigan did not care for that practice of reserving food. I cannot see that baskets of sausage being reused would go over any better here in the States.


For the main meal I had duck confit and Scott had boeuf bourguignon. The meals were not fabulous, but they were tasty. At that point, all I wanted was a good meal that would not be too expensive. It filled both requirements. I was too tired to properly enjoy a gourmet meal.

Along with those infamous baskets of food came wine. As we finished our bottle of wine the waiter playfully made sounds of an alarm bell going off and promptly brought us a second bottle.

We actually finished that second bottle of wine, but we timed it so that we would not test whether or not our waiter would bring us a third bottle.

We felt guilty at first for having consumed that much wine, but we then watched as a nearby table of two women ordered their dinner. They had different choices in wine, so each were presented with their own bottle.

Later we read up on the restaurant and discovered that the free flowing wine was part of their history and served as the "recruiting" portion of the name. They would get young men drunk and sign them up for military service.

Scott and I worried that the next morning we would be hung over, but surprisingly enough we weren't. We also did not feel as if we had really drank two bottles worth of wine. That is because I am sure that the alcohol content was not that high in their house wines. At least, not the same amount of percent alcohol that we have grown accustomed to with our love of good California Zinfandel.

Then the waiter brought out a platter of cheeses before we chose our desserts.

One thing that struck me was that there was only one waiter in the entire restaurant. He was hopping the entire night. The owner delivered our main course, but otherwise he stood with his arms folded in the background and watched the waiter try to keep everyone satisfied.

I waited tables back in my college days, so I am sensitive to these things and it appeared to me that many times in France that there simply were not enough staff in restaurants to comfortably serve all the customers.

Once we left the restaurant, Scott began describing the area he thought the mythical Italian restaurant had been. It was a small park lined with quaint little restaurants. He had read one of the menus in the window and thought we should come back there later. He even mentioned me petting a dog in the area.

Then I knew where he was talking about.

The previous day when we came back after visiting the Tuileries, we crossed over Pont Neuf to the
Isle de la Cité and came to a small park at its western point.

We both thought it was a peaceful area that seemed removed from traffic. I thought to myself at the time that it would be nice to come back and eat at one of the restaurants. However, I wanted to defer to Scott to chose our first real dinner in Paris since I had determined everything that we saw during the day.

He simply could not remember the details of where this park was. He mixed up when he saw it as well as which island it was on. No wonder we could not find in on the Ile Saint Louis.

The joy of being jet lagged and having sight seeing fatigue. You forget what you have seen and where it was.

Oh, and as it turned out...the restaurant he was interested in did not serve Italian food after all.

Just one more thing for us to remember and laugh about in the years to come.

Next post will be about our walking tour of Paris, the walls, the Cluny, and the crypt.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Tuesday afternoon in Paris: A park, a museum, two churches and a monument

I have so much more to share with everyone about my trip to France, so bear with me as I juggle with other commitments for my time to bring forth my anecdotes and share pictures.

Previously, I posted about a morning well spent at the Institut du Monde Arabe. We left there feeling quite hungry. I wanted to purchase food for a nice picnic lunch and eat at an historic site on the way to the next place on my itinerary.

We crossed the Seine again, and passed through the Isle Saint Louis, and came to the right bank. Paris is an amazing city filled with life and art everywhere you turn.

Here is a small garden park that we came across. It is the Jardin de l'Hotel de Sens.

We found a small bakery and bought two baguette sandwiches with meat and cheese, then we bought some grapes from a grocer. Using our Frommer's map we navigated our way to the Place des Vosges and enjoyed our lunch Parisian style. It was a popular spot with many other people picnicking as well. It was therefore also popular with pigeons.

Unfortunately, we were enjoying ourselves and happy to sit and relax that we forgot to take pictures of that famous landmark. For those unfamiliar with the Place des Vosges, you can see images here. According to an official Paris Monuments webpage:

"Paris' original attempt at urban planning, the Place des Vosges is now its oldest square. The square symmetry of the square, with its ground floor arcade, consists of 39 (some say 36) houses - each made of red brick with stone facings. Its construction was under Henri IV from 1605 - 1612. The site was originally occupied by the Hôtel des Tournelles."


It is also reportedly the same site where King Henri II met his untimely demise. He took part in a joust and a sliver from a lance pierced one of his eyes which led to his death a few days later. Accidents happen, even to royalty.

The reason I wanted to see the Place des Vosges was more than to find an oasis in the middle of a metropolitan city. It was to help me comprehend the size and scope of the area inside the ancient city walls of Paris. That park was near the extent of the walls built by Philippe August on the right bank.

The fortifications for Paris changed over the centuries and it poses difficulty for me as a novelist. I am adapting classic poems which were written during the Italian Renaissance by poets who were terrible historians and worse geographers. One of the biggest challenges is deciding when to correct their historical errors, and when to include historical inaccuracies because to change them would be to open up the plot to extraordinary complications.

The walls of Medieval Paris have been one of those headaches for me.

That leads me to our next destination the Musée Carnavelet. This museum is dedicated to the history of Paris and has many artifacts through the ages.

Boiardo and Ariosto did not realize that during the time of Charlemagne that the only fortifications protecting Paris surrounded the Isle de la Cité.

Here are two images of Paris showing the Isle de la Cité as well as the populated left bank and largely vacant right bank. This is the Roman city of Lutecia.

As you can see there are a lot of potential targets for looting and sacking by invading armies.

That is what happened when the Vikings attacked Paris in the ninth century. They ransacked the left bank.

Now look at a map that is in the public domain of Medieval Paris surrounded by fortified walls.

My plot is complicated enough without the invading Saracen army having the ability to sack the left bank. So after a lot of mental gymnastics about the matter, I decided to keep the protective walls around Paris for my story even though they were not there during the time of Charlemagne. There will be a disclaimer, but after all, I am telling an epic tale about a war that never took place so I will need to have a little poetic license as well as some historical latitude to tell the tale.

I was also interested in jewelry and artifacts from the Merovingian period.

One thing that disappointed me was finding out that the wing dedicated to the Medieval period was closed for renovation. In order for me to get to the area with the prehistoric and Gallo-Roman period, we had to pass through the ages. I simply did not have time to pay any attention to the French Revolution, or even the Hundred Years War as I was focused on seeing as much as I could in the short time I had in Paris.

Our next stop was the church of Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais on the right bank near Hotel de Ville. There has been a church on this site since the seventh century, although it is hard to see if there are any remnant of that previous time left standing. The outside shows three different columns. The bottom level is Doric, the second is Ionic, the topmost is Corinthian.

This church also had pointed Gothic arches and stained glass

as well as murals and statues.

We left there with still some time to spare before places closed for the night. We headed back to the Isle de la Cité and the Conciergerie. This was the site of the palace for the Merovingian kings. I had hoped to see something like "Clovis slept here," but that was not to be. As you enter the building you go into the ground floor to the Salle des Gens d'Armes.

The sign tells the story that this room dates to the 14th century and that it is the oldest surviving medieval hall in Europe.

The focus of the monument is its role as a prison during the French Revolution and that Marie Antoinette was one of their most famous prisoners. That was interesting, but that was not the time period I wanted to know about. I asked one of the women in the gift shop if she might answer a few of my questions, and she tried.

I told her that what I really wanted was to see anything that dated back to the Merovingian times, and would love to see where any chambers that once belonged to Clovis. She said that if any still existed it was not open to the public.


So that left me with knowing the place the palace and the citadel would have been, but not seeing what it looked like. I did not see any historical images, drawings, etc. of what it may have looked during the time of the Merovingian kings. (I mention the dynasty prior to the Carolingian kings since Paris was not favored by Charlemagne and he did not make it one of his palaces.)

C'est la vie. That means that because it is no longer there, I have to allow myself to create what works best for my plot needs.

The last stop we made that day was for the joy of seeing stained glass. Sainte-Chapelle is a small church nestled in the middle of the Palais du Justice compound. Here is the impressive looking exterior.

Here is a short history from the official Paris Monuments page:

"Built by Louis IX in the 1240's to house relics from the Holy Land believed to be the Crown of Thorns and part of the True Cross, this small gothic chapel is one of the inspiring visual experiences of Paris. Much of this is due to its stained glass windows which essentially surround the entire upper floor.

The chapel itself is now surrounded by the Palais of Justice on the Ile de la Cité near Notre Dame. It has two "tiers", the first one at ground level being rather dark and close, the second one having radiant tall windows, as well as a small balcony."

The ground level of the church seems dark, and I would wonder why anyone during the Middle Ages would choose to worship on the ground floor of Sainte-Chapelle when they could have gone to Notre Dame. Or even Saint-Gervais-Saint-Protais.

The first floor serves as the gift shop.

For those who were nobility and were allowed to venture up the spiral staircase to the second floor, your eyes could feast upon the colors radiating the room from the glorious stained glass .

Then it was back to our hotel, take a short rest before heading out in search of dinner. That is a story in and of itself for next time.

Until then...


Sunday, October 21, 2007

J.K. Rowling talks, people listen...

I am going to pause from posting about my trip to France and weigh in ony my thoughts to recent remarks by J.K. Rowling.

So if you have come here to read about France you can find those posts here, posts about the business and craft of writing can be found here. If you are a fan of the Harry Potter series and have read all seven books - keep reading. Otherwise, back away now lest ye be spoiled.















That should be enough blank space to prevent people from reading things they do not want to learn about prematurely.

J.K. Rowling is on a publicity tour of the U.S. and has revealed things about her completed series that she had been coy about before.

First revelation:

She spoke about her series having Christian themes.

"To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious," she said. "But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going."

Yup, I knew that. I knew that shortly after joining the fandom and reading a post on HPfGU's regarding an article in The American Prospect which in turn had quoted from an article published in the Vancouver Sun. Here's that quote:

Is she a Christian?

''Yes, I am,'' she says. ''Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books.''

Seeing that quote led to my longfelt belief that Harry Potter would have to be willing to sacrifice himself for the good of the Wizarding world.

I knew he was going to die.

It was only after Book 5 and the mention of the permanently locked door (containing the Power of Love) that I started thinking that he might be Resurrected to Life.

My friend John Granger author of Looking for God in Harry Potter can run a victory lap around Harry-haters such as Richard Abanes who wrote books claiming that the books were a bad influence on children. The Harry Potter series is in fact a great influence for children because it is great storytelling and has had an incredible impact on literacy. So take that Mr. Abanes - you were wrong!

Second Revelation:

Dumbledore was gay.

Did Dumbledore, who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fall in love himself?
JKR: My truthful answer to you... I always thought of Dumbledore as gay. [ovation.] ... Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald, and that that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was. To an extent, do we say it excused Dumbledore a little more because falling in love can blind us to an extent? But, he met someone as brilliant as he was, and rather like Bellatrix he was very drawn to this brilliant person, and horribly, terribly let down by him. Yeah, that's how i always saw Dumbledore. In fact, recently I was in a script read through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying I knew a girl once, whose hair... [laughter]. I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, "Dumbledore's gay!" [laughter] "If I'd known it would make you so happy, I would have announced it years ago!"

Jo also said after revelation: "You needed something to keep you going for the next 10 years! ...Oh, my god, the fan fiction now, eh?"

My reaction: Hmmm, I missed the boat on that one. Of course, I had not spent much time contemplating Dumbledore's love life or lack thereof. The most was an inchoate idea that perhaps he and Minerva McGonagall had a covert relationship. I considered that they might be secretly married and for appearances sake, they kept it under wraps. Or they could have just been a couple but without marital ties. Guess I was wrong on that score.

Dumbledore was gay and had been in love with Gellert Grindelwald. That will stir up a lot of plot bunnies and I am sure that within a month Fiction Alley will be filled with fanfic dedicated to Dumbledore/Grindlewald scenes from their younger years as well as their infamous duel. Whether or not they were lovers at one time was not specifically stated by Rowling.

I am sure that relationship will be explored in a myriad of ways. It also adds another layer of meaning to the lines in book 7 in the Daily Prophet interview with Rita Skeeter (p. 26, Scholastic hardcover edition):

"Very dirty business indeed. All I'll say is don't be so sure that there really was the spectacular duel of legend. After they've read my book, people may be foreced to conclude that Grindelwald simply conjured a white handkerchief from the end of his wand and came quietly!"

I predict that there will also be Dumbledore/Doge fanfic soon flooding the internet.

Honestly, there were only three characters that I really considered as showing outwardly gay characteristics in the series.

First was Gilderoy Lockhart with his shocking pink robes, penchant for using peacock quills, and a stated fondness for the color lilac. Then again, possibly Lockhart only had eyes for himself. Ye old Lockhart/Lockhart ship.

Second was Professor Grubbly-Plank. With her pipe smoking ways and her brush cut, it seemed to be waving a rainbow colored flag to say, "she's a lesbian."

Third was Rita Skeeter. Although I cannot say exactly what her sexuality was - because the idea of Skeeter engaged in any sexual activity is not something I wish to consider at all. However, with her "thick fingers" "heavy-jawed face," "surprisingly strong grip"(all from page 303 Scholastic paperback edition) and "large mannish hands" (p. 307) I was led to believe "That's a man, baby!"

Now onto the last revelation which is actually more of J.K. Rowling's authorial intent which many articles seem to focus on the idea that Rowling announced that she married a man like Harry Potter.

Questions about love were also directed at Rowling herself. When asked by an 18-year-old 12th grader, "Which of the Potter characters would you marry?," Rowling giggled. "The truth is, in my younger days, I dated Ron more than once," she admitted, giving an inside look at why Hermione (the closest character to Rowling's younger self) might be attracted to Harry's best friend. "He's fun to write, but not so much fun to date." And once she had learned her lesson, Rowling said, "I married Harry Potter," referring to her second husband, Neil Murray. "He's up there [in the wings]. I just mortified him," she laughed. "But he looks like Harry would look like, at a certain age. I married a very good person and a gutsy person. And that's who Harry is."

Fans might think that's even more reason why Hermione should end up with Harry — but Rowling said she always knew that Ron and Hermione were meant to be together, just as she thought Harry and Ginny were meant to be together. "I thought it was obvious, but apparently there are Internet wars about this," she said. "And they get very vicious." Rowling said she was unaware of the shipping wars for years, until someone suggested she take a look at the fan sites. "It was scary!" So many readers wanted Hermione and Harry to be a couple, Rowling said, that "I got hate mail ... from adults! Not people your age. You at least understood."

And for those who didn't, she explained. "Harry and Ginny are real soul mates," she said. "They're both very strong and very passionate. That's their connection, and they're remarkable together. Ron and Hermione, however, are drawn to each other because they balance each other out. Hermione's got the sensitivity and maturity that's been left out of Ron, and Ron loosens up Hermione a bit, gets her to have some fun. They love each other and they bicker a bit, but they enjoy bickering, so we shouldn't worry about it."

Yup, the shipping wars got vicious.

I am sorry that she received hate mail from adults. I am. I wrote to her and tried to be as diplomatic and forthright as possible in explaining the phenomenon of shipping.

I do not know if she ever saw my letter.

However, she has her own part in fanning the flames of the situation and turning what she knew was a heated situation into an inferno. I am referring to the Interview From Hell that I wrote about previously. I will just reiterate that it is not advisable for authors to tease your fans and then insult them. I did not appreciate her telling fans like myself to go back and re-read her books because we must have missed things. I lost my enthusiasm for the series in one quick quip. I am now a recovering Harry Potter addict. I have not eschewed the series altogether, but I do not have the same interest or passion on the subject.

However, the larger issue for discussion here was that the shipping wars demonstrated the passion that she created between the fans of her books with those characters she created. However, it still does not appear that she truly understands the phenomenon. Even after all the letters she will have received.

:wipes brow:

It seems she still does not understand why many fans wanted to see her hero become romantically linked with his best friend. Hermione was the most fleshed out female character in the series and one that readers grew to love - bushy hair, bucked teeth, and all. Those readers who were bookish females (like myself) found themselves identifying with Hermione.

A large part of the debate centered on which boy - Harry or Ron - would be better suited for her. Or which one it appeared that she preferred.

I thought Harry was better for her. I also thought she was demonstrated a devotion to him bordering on obsession. I did not see that same level of commitment from Hermione towards Ron.

We also knew that Jo Rowling on many occasions said that she patterned Hermione's character after herself. So the idea that Jo dated a Ron-like person, but chose as her husbnad a Harry-like character is not unlike some of the shipping debate rounds.

Many of the shipping debate rounds.

I also wish to state for the record that one of the reasons I did not like the Ron/Hermione interactions in the books (at least the first five when I was ship debating) was due to the bickering.

It annoyed me.

I did not find it to be anything that I would consider to be bantering. Not at all. Sniping, barking, and snarling, yes. Playful banter? No.

The statement that "they enjoy bickering" is something I dislike intensely.

There are times that my husband and I bicker, but it is never something that I enjoy.

I dislike watching people bicker. My in-laws remind me at times of two chihuahuas barking at one another.

It is not the same as playful banter. Not at all.

Bantering is fun. It is pleasant to engage in and enjoyable to watch.

So Jo thinks they like to bicker. :shudders: If you say so Jo, you are the author afterall.

I must say however, that there was something in which I can say "I Was Right!"

I knew deep in my bones that in order for Hermione and Ron to be a couple that he would have to respect her political thoughts regarding house-elves. It was, in fact, my first post on the infamous H/Hr vs. R/Hr Debate Thread on Fiction Alley: The Politics of House-elves.

Feel free to read it. I had summed up my argument with:

(U)ntil Ron recognizes that he is propping up an unjust system he cannot be someone that I think would be romantically suited for Hermione.


Ron needs to See The Light. Until he does, I can’t see any future with him and Hermione.

I felt really good when Ron and Hermione's first full on kiss on the mouth was after Ron said that they should make sure that the house-elves were safe from the final battle. At that point Hermione gave him a bone-crushing hug and smooch.


I was right about that. He evolved as a character to the point where his political opinions matched hers.

I may have been wrong on other accounts in where the books were going, but I knew some things.

I knew they were based on Christian and Alchemical themes.

I knew Harry had to be willing to sacrifice himself.

I also knew that in order for Ron and Hermione to be a romantic couple they would have to see eye-to-eye on The Politics of House-Elves.

I pounded on that subject time and time again. That it all came down to politics.

And I was right. :-)


Friday, October 19, 2007

Bonne Chance France en Coupe du Monde de Rugby!

Before the game begins, I wanted to go on the record and wish the French national team good luck in their match today against Argentina in the second to last match in the Rugby World Cup.

I will admit that I do not understand much about the game of Rugby, but after being in France during September I was surrounded by Rugby Fever.

We were in Paris the night of the first match which was France versus Argentina in Saint Dennis at the Stade de France. The energy was palpable. We heard horns blaring from rugby fans as France scored, and later we did not hear any more cheering. I took that as an ominous silence.

After returning to our hotel room we caught the end of the game and realized why we had not heard any more jubilant cheers. France was behind. They never caught up. The first game that opened the Rugby World Cup had the host country France losing.

I found that to be sad.

During my stay in France I had the opportunity to watch many of the rugby games and found it far more exciting than American football games. It is brutal, the game hardly ever stops, and no one wears padding or helmets.

I watched in amazement to see multiple passes, tackles followed by multiple passes and more tackles without the game being stopped. There would be pauses in the play, but definitely not like American football where there is more time waiting for the play to happen than the plays happening. American football constantly is stopped with each tackle or incompleted pass with officials regularly coming out to the field and measuring whether or not sufficient yardage was achieved. Rugby you just keep playing. To me, that is far more exciting and I wish that the game were played more in the U.S. than it is.

One thing that I do not understand are the fouls. The game itself looks so violent that it was surprising when no fouls seemed to be called due to physical contact that in at least basketball would be considered a personal foul. Later when a foul was called I could not recognize what had happened that was necessitated its being called that had not been needed before.

I can understand the appeal to watching rugby as a sport more than I can soccer (also known as non-American football.) That game is not as appealing since the scores are so low. I do not find it as exciting to just watch people run around the field. In rugby, they are not only running, they are tackling.

As I watched the French team, my eyes were drawn to one player. Whenever he was on the field I watched him and not the ball. That player? Sebastian Chabal.

He may not be the best rugby player, for he does not seem to have the stamina to play for the entire eighty minutes of the game, but he is the most captivating. I could almost smell the pheromones rolling off of him.

I watched him score in the game against Namibia and he simply would not allow himself to be tackled by his opponents. He plowed through them as if they were children and not full grown men.

He was amazing.

I was not alone in finding him irresistable. Some of the television commentators gushed about Chabal and said that he was a national hero. They also showed how YouTube videos were now springing up paying homage to the him.

Here are a couple of examples of Chabal in action on YouTube.
My current favorite

Example Two
and example three

His shoulder length hair, full beard, and fierce demeanor led commentators to spend a lot of their discussion about Chabal's looks. One said something about his dreadlocks.

Umm, no. He does not have dread locks. He has sweat locks. In other words, his hair may only look like they are fasioned in dread locks but that is due to his sweat.

He was also refered to as a Gallic caveman. There are even T-shirts for sale with Chabal as a Caveman.

I am sorry, but I categorically disavow using the Cave Man Icon to describe Sebastian Chabal.

No, no, noooooooo.

Think tribal chieftain, or my personal preference is Frankish warrior.

I knew that going to France would help me to finish my novel, but I did not expect that watching a sporting event would cause me to rethink my characterizations. My mental image of Orlando is now Sebastian Chabal.

I would not be surprised if Chabal is cast in upcoming movies, because he is so eye catching. Hollywood? Give him a call. He speaks English and contrary to what sports commentators would like you to believe, he's sounds intelligent as well as a fierce athlete.

The other aspect of my story was influenced by my physiologic response I felt in watching him. I realize now that after a major victory in war that women might respond similarly to those who proved themselves worthy on the field of battle. I am not talking about conquered women, but instead the women who were on the side of the victorious army. This led me to rethink a scene that I had written with Rinaldo and I added a chamber maid wanting to show her gratitude and avail herself of his powerful energy.

It changed what to me had been just a transitional scene into one that revealing character and human nature. It also shows once again that the image of the Chivalric Ideal is something few if any warriors ever lived up to, if they even tried. The scene has now come alive in ways I would not have expected.

Thank you Chabal, and bonne chance France!

Edited to Add: Unfortunately Argentina won again 34-10. :Hangs head in sorrow.:

Yes, I am officially a Francophile.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tuesday morning in Paris: a museum with history, art and engineering

On our first full day in Paris our first object was to get a cup of coffee.

Hotel Dieu offers room service at 8 Euros per person, but we thought that was a bit pricey for espresso and a croissant. We decided instead to find the cafeteria ourselves. It was one floor below where we normally would exit the elevator, and it was small. Cozy to put it nicely.

I ordered deux cafés et deux pain du chocolate. Hey, we were in France I wanted to take advantage of consuming as much fabulous pastries as possible. I forget the amount, but it was about four or five Euros. Far less than what we would have paid for having it brought to our room.

I prefer regular coffee to concentrated industrial strength shots of espresso. Later, I discovered if I ordered café au lait that I would get the volume and dilution I desired. Of course that was done with merely adding milk to it.

The chocolate laced croissant was wonderful. In fact, I do not think I had a bad croissant anywhere in France. C’est manifique.

Then we set off. We walked outside and were giddy to see once again Notre Dame Cathedral greeting us.

I had a few guide books of walking tours of Paris and so I knew to look for certain things that I would not have otherwise known. One was Number 10 Rue Chanoinesse where the famous couple Heloise and Abelard met and became lovers.

Abelard had been her tutor and after it was discovered that she was pregnant, her uncle was none too pleased. He hired some men to teach Abelard a lesson and in the process he was castrated. Heloise entered a convent, Abelard a monestary, but they continued to write letters to one another for years.

I will quote a small passage from a letter Heloise wrote to Abelard.

God knows I never sought anything in you except yourself; I wanted simply you, nothing of yours. I looked for no marriage-bond, no marriage portion, and it was not my own pleasures and wishes I sought to gratify, as you well know, but yours. The name of wife may seem more sacred or more binding, but sweeter for me will always be the word mistress, or, if you will permit me, that of concubine or whore....God is my witness that if Augustus, Emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess forever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his Empress but your whore.

From The Voice of the Middle Ages: in personal letters 1100-1500 edited by Catherine Moriarty, Peter Bedrick Books, 1989, page 166.

That was not something I expected to be written by a woman who took the veil. With passion like that, no wonder their love letters are still read to this day.

After taking that small detour, we continued on our way by walking over a bridge to the neighboring island of Isle Saint Louis. It is a small island which has a street that goes on its perimeter, one down it center, and others that bisect it. We walked down the center of the island looking at the various shops and restaurants just to get a sense of what was in the neighborhood of where we were staying.

We then crossed a bridge to the Left bank and had to stop to take a picture of Notre Dame from a distance.

Our first stop was the Institut du Monde Arabe. It is one of the many museums covered by the Paris Museum Pass which you can purchase for two days, four days, or six days. They must be consecutive days. I had at first thought of going to see the Conciergie on Monday afternoon until I realized that if we bought our pass on Monday that would not cover what we planned on seeing Friday. So, we waited until Tuesday morning to buy our four day Museum pass.

Negotiating our purchase of the passes and assuring the woman that we wanted to see the special exhibit was difficult enough for us to manage using only French. I did not try to ask if they had any English speaking tour guides. I wanted one, but felt a little intimidated.

I wanted to appear as if I belonged, and did not want to stand out like a sore thumb as an American tourist. Even though I was one.

The special exhibit is still going on until this Sunday and it is incredible. It is entitled
Furûsiyya: Chevaliers en Pays d’Islam – Collection de la Furûsiyya Art Foundation.

We walked downstairs and saw magnificent examples of weapons and armor with fine artistic detail. The image they chose to adorn their program is of a warrior's mask.
The exhibit included jewel encrusted daggers, ornately decorated shields, intricately carved ivory horns, as well as archers rings.

As we entered we not only saw the incredible art, but a camera crew. They were setting up and were soon began filming interviews. We had to watch where we walked for fear of tripping over electrical cords.

My husband was afraid to take out our camera for fear that museums did not want pictures taken of special collections. Since we were surrounded by a camera crew, it was not the time when we could simply blend in. In fact, the film crew would have probably preferred not to have any people milling about in the background and we did not want to give them any excuse to kick us out.

We were not sure if they were from a television station or if there was a documentary being filmed. Either way, rather than push the issue of whether or not we could take pictures, I settled for holding on tightly to the program and bought a book about the collection.

We did however, sneak two photos from the exhibit.

One was of an ax with amazing artwork adorning its blade

Another was of a pommel for a sword

Most of the artifacts were from past the time period for my novel which is at the beginning of the ninth century. However, since about half of my characters are from North Africa, it is important that I try and get a sense of their world as well as that of the Franks.

Later we went to see the regular exhibits of the museum and had to take the elevator upstairs. The building itself is a marvel of glass and steel. Trying to walk up the stairs can give you a strange sense of vertigo due to the monochromatic look. One exterior wall is filled with a series of apertures that vary in size and are regulated by motors. My husband is an engineer and he was fascinated by this.

Here is an image of one large panel.

Here is a close up of one aperture.

The motor that is behind the mechanism can be seen here:

The full impact of these panels can only be appreciated from the outside. My husband thinks that it resembles a Persian rug.

The beauty of the building is matched by the beauty of the artwork and artifacts from all over the Islamic world. There are examples from Africa, the Arabian peninsula, as well as parts of Asia. There was pottery, sculpture, mosaics, jewelry, and rugs.

Both the mosaic and the statue of Eros were from Tunisia in the 2nd century AD. Clearly the Roman influence was felt in North Africa as it was in Gaul.

Too soon we had to leave because we were hungry for lunch, and we had many more sights to be seen that day.

If there are any readers in France who will be in Paris before this Sunday, I urge you to go see this special exhibit before it ends.

Next time, I'll show you sights from the Musée Carnavalet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

More on Saint Namphaise and Polnagreff

The technology of the internet is a powerful thing.

Soon after a reprint of my blog posts on Saint Namphaise were published on the French Entree website I received an email from an owner of a Bed and Breakfast near the village of Pradines (close to Cahors). She was inspired to do some investigating on her own.

First thing was the strange statue in the courtyard of Hotel Dieu. It seems that its exterior changes each year with the graduation of each medical school class.

That makes sense to me now. Medical students have a strange sense of humor, I have known enough of them over the years.

She also looked into what she could find on Saint Namphaise and was gracious enough to allow me to reprint her message on my blog. She found an academic article about him as well as photographs of statues and paintings of him. Unfortunately, I did not find any of that artwork on my trip and so I do not have the rights to them.

You can however, click to view them. (There are links to photos with the academic article as well.)

I realized after reading her message that I forgot to say how Saint Namphaise died in my last post about him.

He died tragically as most good saint stories demand. You simply must be martyred in some gory manner and he did such a death. He was gored by a bull.

The hammer he held in his hand that flew into the air obviously did not help him survive such a close encounter with a horned bovine.

Here is her email message:

Hi Linda,

I was totally amazed at your chasing saints in Quercy ! I happened to hear about it on Frenchentree website. From there, I visited your most interesting website. Congratulations on your finding that hotel in the Hotel Dieu Hospital. We are Parisians and had never heard of that hotel.

Now, I felt sorry not to understand the reason of that strange statue in the hospital courtyard. So, yesterday I wrote to the hotel and here is the answer I got today :


merci pour votre message.

concernant la statue, à l'origine elle représente un célèbre chirurgien, Dupuytren. Elle est régulièrement redécorée par les étudiants en médecine. Cette année ils ont choisi de lui donner l'allure du célèbre chanteur Polnareff et l'ont intitulé Polnagreff en raison des différentes greffes pratiquées à l'Hôtel Dieu.

en espérant avoir répondu à votre demande,


Catherine Jarrige

So, now we know that's this statue of the famous French surgeon Dupuytren is redecorated every year by medecine students. This year they gave it the look of Polnareff and made a pun on words because of the greffs !

Concerning Saint Namphaise, although I'm far from being passionate by history, I became very interested by your research through French little roads. And I thought maybe you didn't get all the information you might have wished to find because you looked at Google.com and not at Google.fr with "French" as your preferences. Here is what I found :

the legend

more serious from the Historical Society of the Lot

very serious again from the CNRS (centre de recherche scientifique) (in fact it's the same thing!)

When St Namphaise was digging lakes

the story of St Namphaise : (the article was written almost at the time you were in Cajarc ! you might have met the webmaster Christophe Laurens.)

in the blue part about the digging

the official church monography

a very funny article where we learn that your saint was able to cure epilepsy

a few lines about Quissac

the photo of his statue !

Incredible ! do you know that he was killed by a bull ? (read at the end, "à gauche")

another beautiful picture

some more about the crypt

there is even a book telling this story but unfortunately it seems the sale on e-bay is over

Well, it was very exciting to look for all these documents, I just hope it might be of some use to you.

Now, just a few lines to tell you who I am.

I live half the year in Pradines, near Cahors and half in Paris. I am now a retired English teacher and with my husband Francis we run a B & B, and love to welcome foreign guests. I was born in Senegal where I have lived for 22 years. I also lived in Britain, in California and in Brazil.

If ever you come back to France, we'll be delighted to meet you. My husband doesn't speak English but I can imagine you're going to improve and anyway you can communicate with few words, can't you. I loved your description of your effort in French !

All the best for your book.

Kindest regards.

Agnès Sevrin-Cance

Agnès et Francis Sevrin-Cance
Chambres d'hôtes Téranga
notre site : www.chambresteranga.com

Her website looks wonderful. If anyone is inspired to want to follow my footsteps, you might want to stay at her place. I can say that the area is spectacular.

I shall try to post more on Paris soon.


Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Paris, the city of light and fire jugglers

I'm going to continue blogging about my trip to France while the details are fresh in my mind.

Now however, I am going to try and recreate where we went chronologically. I started by sharing with you my story about Saint Namphaise because that was my favorite.

I was surprised a day after I first posted an entry on my blog on the Gouffrey de Lantouy to receive an email from a webmaster in the Quercy region asking for permission to republish the essay on his website. He found out about my post due to the wonder of Google Alerts. If you are unfamiliar with that little wonder of modern technology, go to www.google.com/alerts and sign up to receive notifications whenever the topic of your choice is posted to the internet.

You can read the abridged version of my blog posts on the French Entrée website here.

Now to recreate our journey including pictures from our trip, my husband requests that I put forth the following message: All photos Copyright (c) 2007 Scott C. Nevin and Linda C. McCabe, All Rights Reserved.

Not all the pictures are as good as that the mystical one showing the Gouffre de Lantouy, but in deference to my husband's wishes and in the desire to maintain marital harmony I shall include that proviso. Should anyone wish to reuse these photos, just ask me and tell me in what context it will be used.

:Ahem: Now that those formalities are concluded...

We landed in Paris on a Monday morning and had been traveling for somewhere close to twenty-four hours. Yes, we caught a few hours of really lousy sleep on the plane, but still...we were not on our top form. The goal was to stay awake until nightfall and then sleep until morning. It was our hope that we would then overcome jetlag and force ourselves onto Paris time and no longer be on Pacific Coast time.

After getting through Customs and claiming our luggage, we forced ourselves through the sea of humanity that was Charles de Gaulle International Airport.

We first found an ATM to have Euros in hand to pay for the van and for spending money. For those who haven't traveled to Europe before and are still thinking that you should exchange your dollars and/or bring travelers checks, do not waste your time. You will pay a fee for purchasing money when you can just use your bank's ATM and it will calculate the exchange rate for you. Yes, you may have to pay a withdrawl fee, but that is just a different fee you have to pay. Also, travelers checks are not used very much any more. The easiest thing is to just pray to the Money God and have it spit out the paper Euros in your hand when you land.

Our hotel had arranged a shuttle van to pick us up and deliver us to the hotel. All we had to do was call once we arrived.

The hotel we stayed at in Paris was incredible. I stumbled across it by accident as I was planning my itinerary of historical sights and museums to visit. I did a Google search to follow up on Hotel Dieu the oldest hospital in Paris that was founded in 651 AD. I was surprised to find out that this working hospital also has fourteen hotel rooms.

It is the only hotel on the Isle de la Cité and it is next to Notre Dame Cathedral.

Here is a photo showing its lavish courtyard.

To get to the hotel section you have to enter through the main entrance which is also marked for emergencies, turn down a hallway, pass that magnificent courtyard, walk up a flight of twelve stone steps, go down another hallway filled with historic woodcuts such as this:

Then you enter a hallway and take an elevator to the top floor. There you will find two doors, one to Cardiology and the other to the Hotel-Hopitel.

There is another courtyard which isn't filled with the extensive plant life, but it is still impressive. You can get a sense of the columns and arches that I've never seen before in hospitals.

You can see in the center of that picture a colorful statue. Here it is from the front side in all of its "glory."

I think it looks a tad out of place, but who am I? Just an American who thinks this statue looks strange given the historic setting.

I'm not sure who Polnagreff is, but another blogger claims it is a play on words for a French singer. His blog has a lot more pictures of Hotel Dieu's wards than I took. If you are interested in seeing more about the hospital, check out his blog.

The rooms in the Hotel-Hopitel are are non-smoking, have private baths, and if you are lucky like we were: skylight windows that overlook Notre Dame.

Yes, we were heard the bells of Notre Dame all the time. I was a little afraid that they would be ringing throughout the night, but we didn't hear them after 8 pm, nor did we hear them before 8 am.

The bell ringing was nice. We would hear it ring to mark each fifteen minutes. Usually at the top of the hour you would hear a nice melody and then the marking of the hours. I became enchanted with the sound.

Then, I noticed at least on two separate occasions that the bell ringing did not follow the same melody. That instead of a soothing carillon, it sounded like someone was just clanging on the bells. One night at 7:30 pm it seemed as if it rang for five minutes straight. I was becoming annoyed when it did not stop.

I have no confirmation on this, but the only explanation that made any sense to me for such a dramatic difference in ring tones was if someone slipped the bell master some money so that they could have the opportunity to ring the bells of Notre Dame.

Enough on the bells and the noise, noise, noise!

The day we checked into the hotel, we dropped off our luggage and immediately left to try and get as much sight seeing in as possible. Our goal was to stay awake by walking. I knew that my mind wasn't really into doing a lot of historical research being as tired as I was, but I also didn't want to waste any time in Paris.

The first thing we did was visit Notre Dame. How could we not? There it was larger than life in front of our hotel. Even if it was built centuries after Charlemagne, I couldn't be that close to such a landmark and not go inside. Here is the front door:

The stained glass was amazing.

The entire cathedral was filled with ornate and beautiful artwork. It was dazzling to the eyes and yet it still could inspire private reflection.

There were also many statues of saints that graced the various alcoves. Here is Sainte Jeanne d'Arc.

And another image of her. The Maid who took up arms and inspired the army of France in the Hundred Years War.

Outside the cathedral is covered in statues. Here is the patron saint of Paris, Saint Denis. He's the one holding his head.

Then above the door are the kings in the Bible. During the French revolution they were thought by some people to be representing the kings of France. Since during the frenzy of that time anything to do with kings or royalty was attacked, they lost their heads. These statues have been restored and you cannot tell from your average street level vantage point that at one time they were mutilated.

We did not want to wait in the long line to go up to the bell tower, so we left the cathedral and we were really hungry. We went in search of food and walked past the numerous restaurants in the shadow of the cathedral because we didn't want to succumb to tourist trap food. We wanted something better than that. We walked around the island and found a salon de thé that served lunch.

My first real attempt at understanding French when it was spoken to me did not go the way that I had hoped. The waiter greeted us as we entered the restaurant and asked us if we were there for tea or for lunch. I had forgotten that déjeuner was the word for lunch in French. My mental gears were grinding and I remembered that petit déjeuner meant breakfast and I did not understand why he was asking if I wanted breakfast.

The vacant stare in my eyes told him that I didn't understand. He repeated the question in English.

I had this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. We were dooooomed.

One year of French lessons and I could not even understand that simple question.

I did not flog myself too badly because I knew that I was not at my top form. I was hungry and really tired. I hoped that I would redeem my linguistic skills later when fully rested and fed.

We sat inside the small restaurant and as we were reviewing the menu, some people who had been sitting at the outside tables left. I had wanted to switch tables because the pull of sitting at a Paris sidewalk cafe was something I felt I needed to do.

A woman came to take our order and I tried asking if we could sit outside. I did not have the right words to make myself clear and then she showed us a different menu. Scott thought that they must have different pricing for inside tables and outside tables. At that point, I decided, I will just sit here and order.

In retrospect, I think she was trying to switch menus to the tea and not the lunch.

I did my best to order in French and thought I did a reasonable job. Thing is, they had sold out of the quiche that I had wanted and the woman tried telling me which ones they still had. I did not understand what she was saying and after another attempt she left in frustration and the waiter returned and explained that she did not speak any English.

After the mix-up was settled, we had a wonderful lunch of saumon quiche, salade, and oignon soupe.

Afterwards we started walking again and we went to the right bank. I had a target which I had thought we wouldn't have time to visit, so I hadn't done much research on what it would contain but I liked the name Le Musée de l'Histoire de France. I don't know what I expected to see, but we arrived late and as I tried to buy tickets, we were directed to a door for the gratuit entrance.

The courtyard was pretty spectacular.

We quickly learned in Paris and later on in the rest of France, to keep your eyes out for artwork in the nooks and crannies everywhere.

Once we got inside all that was open to the public were ornate living quarters.

It was here that I saw for the first time in France my favorite Greek goddess, Athena. This is not my favorite depiction of her, but I did not realize that I would be seeing her again and again on my trip. She is everywhere in France. I do not know if I saw more depictions of Athena or of Joan of Arc.

It is the helmet and the sword that is the dead give away that the artist is depicting Athena.

There was a second portrait of her as well that looks even less than what I consider to be Athena's character. Here I get the feeling of that instead of Athena it is Aphrodite donning the helmet of the gray eyed goddess of wisdom and victory. Maybe the artist just preferred Aphrodite and every woman he painted wound up resembling her.

We left and Scott wanted to see the gardens in front of the Louvre. So we walked there.

It was then that our legs and feet started feeling sore. We walked and walked.

We didn't get lost because we had good maps, but we continued with our plan to stay awake by keeping busy. Here are the Tuileries.

There is also a triumphal arch in front of the Louvre.

Here you can make out the Ferris wheel the is centered in the arch.

The Tuileries Gardens is filled with sculptures. This is one of my favorites because it reminds me of the famous Laocoon statue. Yes, that is a huge snake that is coiled around the man and child. Pretty dramatic, eh?

I was growing hungry again, and I thought to just get a snack from a sidewalk vendor selling pastries. As I stood in line and looked at the offerings, I decided instead to get something more substantial. I chose the Quiche Lorraine.

It was sinful; drenched in butter and lighter than air.

Scott who only wanted a cookie from the vendor had a taste of my quiche and then proceeded to challenge me for every last bite.

That was enough for one day.

We needed our rest and would begin in earnest the next morning to see the various sights and museums I had chosen to visit.

One thing we were unprepared for was the reality that the square in front of Notre Dame is a gathering spot at night. There were sometimes hundreds of people just hanging out.

One night as we came back from dinner we saw a crowd gathered around some street performers who were juggling with fire.

Personally, it seemed a bit sacrilegious to be doing that in front of a church, but it was a crowd pleaser.

Sorry, but we didn't get a picture of that, however here is Notre Dame at night.

More on Paris next time...