Things Automotive

A few years ago I wrote about parking in France. It has not changed. My conclusion about parking in France is that a driver can park a car anywhere as long as 1) the car doesn’t block traffic or a pedestrian crosswalk; and 2) the driver puts the blinkers on. In fact, I think in many cases the driver can ignore rule 1 if he or she obeys rule 2.

I will post pictures of cars illustrating one or both rules as I see them. For now, the subject is the parking lot at the Bois-le-Roi train station.

Parking is, oh, “limited” here. In fact, some drivers park a mile away and walk to the station; always a pleasure in the weather we’ve been having. So any tiny patch of open ground in the actual parking lot is fair game, as shown in the pictures below.

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This driver would have to back up about 200 yards from this spot before he or she could turn around.

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Before I took this picture, there was surely a car to the left of the white car; otherwise, the white car would have taken the whole open area.

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Clio

On another subject, here’s our ride for this trip:

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This is a Renault Clio 4, the same as we’ve had the last couple trips; this time we even got it in our favorite car color. We really like this car and wish Renault would export it to the United States. If anyone is interested in the nitty-gritty, we do a short-term lease with Renault. On a short-term lease, the cost is pretty high for the first 21 days (something like $49 per day), then drops to $15 per day after. Our average cost for the 91 days we’re here: $22.09 per day. That’s for a brand-new (4 km at delivery) car with GPS, fully insured, including roadside assistance. Pretty hard to beat that deal, I can tell you. If you ever need a car for more than three or four weeks, this is the way to go. We get the car through RenaultUSA (http://www.renaultusa.com). It is absolutely painless, but if you run into a problem during the leasing process, the RenaultUSA folks are great to work with. Their office is in Elmsford, New York, the small town where Craig and Annie live, and we stopped in to see them when we were in New York. Great folks.

Posted in Bois-le-Roi | Comments Off on Things Automotive

A Ramble to Sancerre

Today we drove with Mary and Gilles to Sancerre, about an hour and a half south of Bois-le-Roi. The motivation for making this trip was simple: buy some Sancerre wine from a small winery that we know and appreciate. So off we went.

The Town of Sancerre

Sancerre is a small and pretty hilltop town.

Looking at the hills of grapes from Sancerre.

Looking at the hills of grapes from Sancerre.

It is also a dying hilltop town. If it weren’t for the area’s famous white wines, I suspect Sancerre would have been a ghost town long ago. Now, it’s set up to handle tourists who come to try-and-buy the wines, and I suspect July and August see Sancerre crowded. But a rainy June weekday, not so much.

Beautiful street, but empty of people.

Beautiful street, but empty of people.

The weather has, so far this trip, been, oh, “crappy” might describe it. Today was more of the same, though we did have some sun breaks…

Oh-oh, that sky looks awfully dark...

Oh-oh, that sky looks awfully dark…

Get out the umbrellas!

Get out the umbrellas!

Now Sancerre is deserted and wet.

Now Sancerre is deserted and wet.

 

Oh, well, time to go get some wine, after a stop for lunch and to buy some cheese.

This is a brag photo: there are twenty-two types of cheese in this display case. Laurie and I have had nineteen of them, and will have the twentieth tomorrow night. Not bad for furriners.

This is a brag photo: there are twenty-two types of cheese in this display case. Laurie and I have had nineteen of them, and will have the twentieth tomorrow night. Not bad for furriners.

Then it was on to our favorite little winery down here. This picture shows why we call it the anti-Napa winery:

Note: no hats or shirts for sale, no fancy tasting room (this is the same room where they bottle the wine), no tasting fee (in fact, we bought enough that the proprietaire gave us each a bottle free). Just excellent wine. Excellent wine!

Note: no hats or shirts for sale, no fancy tasting room (this is the same room where they bottle the wine), no tasting fee (in fact, we bought enough that the proprietaire gave us each a bottle free). Just excellent wine. Excellent wine!

The view from the tasting counter. Equipment for bottling and corking, and in the back, many bottles from vintages not yet labeled or ready to sell. Not exactly like the tasting rooms of Napa Valley.

The view from the tasting counter. Equipment for bottling and corking, and in the back, many bottles from vintages not yet labeled or ready to sell. Not exactly like the tasting rooms of Napa Valley.

The happy tasters.

The happy tasters.

How much did we buy?

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Lots.

When we were here in 2013, we wanted to go try some Sancerre, because in several Chief Inspector Maigret books the Chief Inspector drinks Sancerre. We were on a trip to the neighboring city of Bourges so we came to Sancerre region and tried some. I have to tell you, it was an epiphany for us previously-not-white-wine-drinkers. We love this wine, and it opened up the world of white wines to us. We have tried many since and though Chablis has gained on it, Sancerre remains our favorite white wine and one of our favorite wines, period. A lovely, crisp Sauvignon Blanc wine.

Gien

On the way home we stopped at Gien, famous for its faience – glazed ceramic ware. We stopped at a place that sells “Deuxieme Choix” (seconds), and discontinued lines. Even at that, this stuff is seriously expensive. I liked best an espresso cup/saucer combination, at about $50. Didn’t spring for it. Given those prices, you can guess what this table setting cost:

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My SWAG: somewhere in the $5,000 – $7,000 range. Didn’t spring for that, either.

A nice day. Returned with lots of wine and more good memories. What could be better?

Posted in Rambles | 2 Comments

Paris and Le Corbusier

We made our first foray into Paris this week – went in Monday morning and just returned (Wednesday afternoon). Paris is Paris; we’re always so glad to be back in the city.

One motivator for coming in this time is that the Fondacion le Corbusier gives a tour in English on Tuesdays, and we really wanted to be there for that. Since few people outside us architectural crazies know who Le Corbusier was, a few words…

Born Charles-Édouard Jeanneret in Switzerland in 1887, he took the professional name of le Corbusier in 1920; at that time it was common for professionals to take a pseudonym. Mostly, he wanted to be a painter and founded a school of painting he called Purism. Though he dedicated himself to Purism, only he and one other painter really adopted it, and for good reason: it isn’t very interesting.

But his ideas for buildings were interesting from the start. For some time, I was disdainful of le Corbusier for one reason: I read an article about his 1920s plan for Paris: he wanted to raze the city from the river north and build 40-story apartment buildings, with subterranean streets and lots of park areas. That idea of razing half the most beautiful city in the world rankled badly. Then…last trip we visited the Museum of Architecture in Paris (a not-well-known and wonderful museum) and in it is a apartment unit from a building le Corbusier designed and built for workmen in Marseille. It is simply a marvel. It is small, efficient and pleasing from any point-of-view in the apartment. As I have a biding interest in affordable housing, this fascinated me, and fortunately the museum had a number of other exhibits on Corbu. I bought a small book on him and started reading up.

After all this, I learned that the Fondacion le Cobusier, which is located in one half of a building he designed in the 16th Arrondissement of Paris, had just added an English-language tour one day a week. So, we were there for the tour last Tuesday. It was beautiful.

First, here’s a picture of a building built just a few years before Maison la Roche, the le Corbusier building we visited, was designed and constructed:

A house near le Corbusier's Maison la Roche. Probably a close contemporary of Maison la Roche, built in the late 1880s or early 1900s. Maison la Roche was built1923-1925.

A house near le Corbusier’s Maison la Roche. Probably a close contemporary of Maison la Roche, built in the late 1880s or early 1900s. Maison la Roche was built 1923-1925.

Here’s the building we saw yesterday, designed and built between 1923 and 1925:

This is actually two living units, separated at where you see two garage doors. On the left was the home and exhibition rooms for Raoul Albert La Roche, a supporter of le Corbusier's Purist movement (about the only supporter) and on the right the home of le Corbusier's brother.

This is actually two living units, separated at where you see two garage doors. On the left was the home and exhibition rooms for Raoul Albert La Roche, a supporter of le Corbusier’s Purist movement (about the only supporter) and on the right the home of le Corbusier’s brother.

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Do you notice a difference between Maison la Roche and the first building shown? Both are, in my (always) humble opinion, beautiful buildings, but in completely different ways.

One of Corbu’s architectural design philosophies was the architecture of a building should reveal itself to a person as he or she walked into and through a building. As we toured Maison La Roche, different views opened up and, for me, at least, every one of them was beautiful. It seemed to me that no matter where I looked, the spaces I saw were beautiful, of perfect form. Here are a couple pictures from Maison La Roche:

The exhibition room of M. La Roche's house. Here he exhibited his collection of Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris and Lipshitz paintings, as well as Purist paintings of le Corbusier and Ozenfant.

The exhibition room of M. La Roche’s house. Here he exhibited his collection of Picasso, Braque, Leger, Gris and Lipshitz paintings, as well as Purist paintings of le Corbusier and Ozenfant.

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DSC00080DSC00071 DSC00074I haven’t made it clear that le Corbusier was likely the most influential architect of the twentieth century.  The break you see between the first building and his style drove architecture into the Modern era, where it continues today. Now, not all buildings are as beautiful as his; I can easily find Parisian atrocities that evolved from Modernist architecture. But le Corbu surely was a visionary and the world is better for his vision (I think).

Okay, enough about le Corbusier. Suffice it to say that I’ve become a fan.

Now, to finish up the day and this post… We went to dinner with Mary and Gilles, where we met their son Eric, who we know well. Dinner was great, with excellent food and wine and conversation. When dessert time came, I ordered rice pudding because, well, I like rice pudding. It arrived in a humongous pot. The picture below is after I had eaten a rather large portion; the pot was completely filled when it arrive á table.

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Now that’s what I call a rice pudding! Even with help from Mary and Laurie, I couldn’t eat more than a third of it. I want to point out, though, that it was fantastic; certainly one of the best rice puddings I’ve ever had. Unfortunately, “doggy bags” are a no-no in France, so I had to leave a lot of it. Can’t wait to go back, though; I’m skipping the first and second courses and going straight to the rice pudding.

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Bois-le-Roi

Last year I posted some meanderings about our current home of Bois-le-Roi, so just a few notes here. Bois-le-Roi is about 35 minutes by train south of Paris, with a population of about 5,600.

Our “home away from home” in Bois-le-Roi:

The cottage in which we're staying. Penny and Pierre's children called it "Snow White's Cottage" when they were kids, so we've named in chez Snow White." That's our bedroom window at the top.

The cottage in which we’re staying. Penny and Pierre’s children called it “Snow White’s Cottage” when they were kids, so we’ve named it chez Snow White.” That’s our bedroom window at the top.

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Our "dining room."

Our “dining room.”

Lunch time! We eat every meal we can outdoors, weather permmitting.

Lunch time! We eat every meal we can outdoors, weather permmitting.

Cheese plate! This is a small amount of cheeses that Gilles brought back from Auvergne. Clockwise from the top: St. Nectaire, Saler, Tomme de Brebi, Bleu de Laqueuille.

Cheese plate! This is a small amount of cheeses that Gilles brought back from Auvergne. Clockwise from the top: St. Nectaire, Saler, Tommes de Brebi, Bleu de Laqueuille.

Here is an example of one thing that fascinates us about France: we went for a walk with our friend Mary yesterday. We walked a little bit into the forest that surrounds Bois-le-Roi and came upon these two stones, about a half mile apart:

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What’s fascinating is that no one knows what they are, when they were placed there, nor why. The one of the left has “778” carved into it; the one on the right “777.” Maybe they marked the boundary of the forest, but no one knows. Gotta love a real-life mystery, don’t you? Mary says there are many of these markers in the area.

That’s a quick look at our current digs. We really like this town, a typical small French town; nothing special, really, but still…special to us.

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Flood Update

We walked to the Chartrettes lock yesterday to see how things were progressing. Answer: getting better. The Seine is down by six-eight feet below the locks and much of the surrounding banks that were under a lot of water Saturday are now dry. Some comparisons:

This is looking at the locks last Saturday:

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Yesterday we could actually see the locks. On Saturday, the areas along beside the lock and the grassy area were under about six inches of water.

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Boaters enjoying new areas to explore Saturday:

DSC09929Back to dry(-ish) ground yesterday:

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We’re guessing another four or five days before the river barges start to operate again; the river is still running so fast that a barge would have a hard time. So many of them are holed up in St. Mammès, which is kind of the headquarters of the Seine River barges (pèniches).

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The pèniches made it through the flood far better than did many residents of St. Mammès. The water level reached about five feet above ground level of the houses nearest the rivers (Seine and Loing). Today we saw many houses with piles of water-logged junk in front waiting to be hauled away.

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Settling in Bois-le-Roi

We made it, safely and soundly! The flight over was fine: left on time, the meal was actually tasty (not unusual on Air France), we arrived on time, contacted the car-lease company without a problem, a van came to pick us up, the car was ready (bright red, our favorite color for a car), and the drive to Bois-le-Rois uneventful. The only hitch was arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport and seeing a loooooooooooooong line for passport control. I guessed it at 90 minutes, but then another section opened up and it was only 50 minutes. The most frustrating part: there were twenty stations available – two passport officer positions per station – and exactly half of them were staffed. This with way more than a thousand people in line and more arriving every minute. Oh, well, at least we knew we wouldn’t have to wait for our luggage.

Last week in New York we kept hearing disturbing news from France: strikers had closed six of eight refineries, so gas was not going to be available; the air traffic controllers were going on strike the weekend we were to travel, and the Seine was flooding. In the event, getting gas is no problem; the French government evidently bought-off the controllers, and the Seine didn’t quite flood Paris. But the river is the highest it’s been in decades, and many up-river towns are, indeed, underwater. We crossed the Seine in Melun and could not believe how high it was.

So after a fine “welcome back” breakfast chez Germain, we walked down to the locks on the Seine at Chartrettes. We’ve seen the river high, but this was jaw-dropping.

The lock requires a dam that generally lowers the river about 12-15 feet between the levels above and below the lock. Saturday there was no drop, at all. Below, you see water running out of the main lock at Chartrettes.

Main Lock at Chartrettes

Below, looking upstream from a bridge across the lock. Normally, the area from the right side to the fence along the left is above water; the level in the lock at its highest is about five feet below what you see here. The locks are, of course, not operating and the water is flowing over the lock gates at both ends.

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The Seine here flows at about 2-3 miles per hour normally. Saturday I estimated it at about 15 miles per hour. So what you have is a river fifteen feet above normal level, traveling five times faster than normal, flooding banks on both sides, heading toward Paris, where it will join the Marne river – not as high, but way above normal – and enter Paris, where the Seine narrows to about two-thirds the width you see here. In Paris, the Seine peaked at about 20 feet above normal, flooding all the quai’s and closing the Louvre and d’Orsay museums, which are both next to the river. I saw a photo of the main floor of the d’Orsay, with about two feet of water in it.

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In the beautiful town of Samois-sur-Seine, where some people probably wished that the “sur-Seine” part of the name wasn’t so literal:

Sometimes river-front property is not so great...

Sometimes river-front property is not so great…

But the boaters enjoyed exploring what is usually dry ground:

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The strongest impression of all this is just how freaking powerful water is when it’s out of control. Nothing anyone could do was going to slow this river down or keep it from damaging whatever was in its way. Amazing.

Fortunately, the rains have stopped and the river level is dropping. Sunday we walked to the locks and saw that the level was down about a foot or foot and a half. Still, it will be days before the river traffic can start again; there’s no way a river barge could go up this river, and going down it would be out of control and at the mercy of the currents most of the time. Our péniche-watching will have to wait a week or so.

Anyway, we are glad to be back in France!

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Update and grandkid pictures

First, the update: the European news agency Reuters reports that the French air traffic controllers have called off their strike this weekend. We haven’t seen any corroboration of that and until I see it on the Air France site, I won’t be 100% convinced, but at least there’s some hint of good news.

In the meantime, Grandkid Pics! After all, that’s what you’re here for, is it not?

Clara’s Daisy Girl troop was at the Memorial Day Parade which, because of nasty weather, was held in the local fire station.

Clara in her Daisy Girl outfit at the Memorial Day "Parade."

Clara in her Daisy Girl outfit at the Memorial Day “Parade.”

Almost always smiling. Almost...

Almost always smiling. Almost…

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Henry loves watermelon, even if he can't quite get it into his mouth.

Henry loves watermelon, even if he can’t quite get it into his mouth.

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Clara home from "Super Hero" day at school. She went as "Super Sister," which she certainly is.

Clara home from “Super Hero” day at school. She went as “Super Sister,” which she certainly is.

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Excitement Before We Even Leave

French air traffic controllers are going on strike this weekend, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. We leave here Friday, so things may be a little difficult. We likely won’t know what’s happening until Friday morning. Travel can be such fun, especially when the strike-happy French decide that it’s time for a few days off.

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Off Yet Again – 2016 Edition

Yes, we are heading off to France again this summer, so stay tuned and I’ll post updates on what we’re doing. We’ll be gone a shorter time this year: three months in France, and five days coming and going in New York, visiting Craig and Annie and getting serious grandkid-squeezing time with Clara and Henry. Our basic time-line:

May 29 – off to New York
June 3 – New York to Paris (again on my favorite airplane, the gigantic Airbus A380)
September 3 – back to New York
September 9 – back to Seattle

We’re vagabonds this year, doing more moving around that we’d like, but what the heck, it’s moving around in France and that’s not all bad. We’ll make rambles to Bordeaux, where we’ve never been (we hear they have wine there), and the small town of Monpazier and Cahors, then house-sit for the month of July in Samois-sur-Seine, where we were last summer. In July we’ll also return to our favorite town in France (and maybe our favorite town in the world), La Rochelle, then a few days in the Dordogne Valley. In August we’ll stay in Brittany for a week, visiting the town of Dinan for a few days, and renewing our love affair with Saint-Pierre-Quiberon. We hope to be able to visit Paris a few times, too; we’ve said that there’s something very cool about trying to plan an upcoming week or two and having “let’s go into Paris for a few days” as one of the options.

That’s Summer, 2016 for les Zumsteg. I can set you up to receive an email when I post something, so leave a comment or send me an email (john@zumsteg.us) if you’d like me to do that.

À bientôt!

Posted in Haven't Left Yet... | 1 Comment

Whoo-hooo! Grandkids!

We’re back in the good old US of A and visiting Craig and Annie and Clara and the newest Zumsteg, Henry. This is totally fun, and makes leaving France easier. Without further blather, here’re some pictures.

Clara’s birthday

Clara celebrated her 5th birthday on September 20, so we brought an extended birthday celebration for her. Craig and Annie said that Clara had coveted a role-playing kit, in this case a Hair Dresser’s outfit – yes, really. So we gave her that and it was a hit!

First, on with the outfit.

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Grandma helping Clara show off her birthday present from us.

Then, of course, everybody had to get their hair cut. This was, to say the least, a riot!

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Grandma was up first.

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At first, Clara was pretty serious about her work…

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Do not – really, do not – ask or comment on Granddad getting his haircut. Clara seemed to think it was slightly humorous. Granddad was not so sure…

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Clara’s problem cutting Craig’s hair was that there wasn’t much to cut.

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Annie’s turn in the barrel…

Phew, we all survived, but amazingly enough, Clara decided the next night that we all needed haircuts again. I’m going to be bald by the time I get home.

And…announcing Henry George Zumsteg!

Henry was born August 12, so he is seven weeks old. He is the smilingest seven week old kid I’ve ever seen. All you have to do is smile at him and he grins right back. Here’s Henry:

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It has been nothing but fun to see Craig and Annie and Clara and Henry. I could post another 300-400 pictures, but I think that might bore a few people.

Tomorrow we head back to Seattle, about 145 days after we left. We like these long vacations; might do it again next year…

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