France

Abbaye de Fontenay

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The first time I visited the Abbaye de Fontenay the old walls were dripping with blood-red creeper. Afternoon sun warmed the cloisters, and yellow roses bloomed outside the old dormitory. The chapel was silent but for the footsteps of a few other visitors, and faintly green from the light coming in through the high windows.

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The second time, months later, we awoke in Burgundy to the first flurries of morning snow, and drove for hours as these drifts gathered into a full storm. At last we arrived in the little valley where Fontenay is hidden away, stepping through the doors a mere fifteen minutes before it closed for three hours over lunch.

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The place was empty but for the woman at the ticket desk, and we plunged into it like giddy children, excited by the snow and solitude. A medieval Christmas chant played in the chapel, lit by softest candlelight. Melting snow dripped from the cloister roofs, and the gardens were slippery with frost. Smoke wound out of a chimney and the only sounds were our own footsteps over the gravel paths as we ran from room to room to see it all, and our breathing as we paused to take it in.

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France

Quiet Moments in Champagne

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Amidst the barren plains of Champagne there lies a little moated castle surrounded by lush woods, where waxy-leaved orchids tumble through the trees and woodruff flowers in the shade. Every morning we woke to find our windows clouded with a dense grey mist that rose up from the waters and settled over the formal gardens. As it began to clear we could see blossoming apple trees in the distance; up close they were laced with dewy spider webs.

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Breakfast was an array of fruits and cheeses, with coffee served out of china cups. Days were spent beneath the vast canopies of the ancient trees on the lawn, or reading on the daybed in our old room. In the evening we dined in the Orangery, the candlelight all the more glowing for the champagnes and company, as we made the most of our then-rather-rusty French to discuss that favorite Gallic topic: the nature of love.

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When all was said and drunk, we meandered up the worn, winding stairs and through the empty halls, feeling, for a moment, that the whole place was our own.

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Afar, France, From the Archives, Home

Nostalgia

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I always catch a bad bout of nostalgia at this time each year. There’s something about the cooling air and changing winds that stirs up memories—not just images and words, but scents and feelings as strong as they were the first time around. It’s a beautiful, moving and troublesome sensation that never fails to leave me restless. It’s not exactly a yearning for times past, but rather the slightly overwhelming feeling of so many recollections arising at once. As my memories become more potent, my dreams become more vivid, and I find myself yearning for some intangible quality that falls somewhere between wanted to experience again and wanting to experience anew.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

This morning alone I’ve been back at my childhood home as warm sunlight comes through the windows, I’ve been putting on my school uniform, and pouring cream into my coffee. I’ve been wandering the cloisters of Mont St Michel, and exploring the standing stones at Carnac, walking through the gardens in Rennes, swimming in a chateau moat, rolling in the fallen leaves in Central Park, wandering the ruins at Tintern Abbey, and the climbing the stairs of Broadway tower.

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

I’ve met a variety of old lovers and forgotten friends, I’ve wandered the quiet streets of Oxford and the ruins of Godstow Nunnery, walked along Aldeburgh beach, fled from a herd of charging buffalo, rested by the fire at Barnsley House, and even revisited old dreams in new ones. I’ve nodded to a variety of past selves, and feel content that they’ve more or less resolved into who I am now (with a few inevitable outliers).

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

But then, this morning I’ve also woken up next to my husband, ground coffee, written a letter or two, and watched a misty sunrise over the California hills. I image these moments will also flavour future memories when they arise unbidden decades hence.Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

Nostalgia, Rennes, France www.bluemesablog.com

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France

Pauses in the Palace

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Beyond the crowded bustle of the palace and halls, Versailles has a thousand hidden corners. The grandeur of the place is remarkable, but the little places where light and shadow fall over marble, where the pastel frescoes are a little faded, or the morning sun glints over the chandelier are more beautiful still. I love spending moments by the fountains in the gardens, or in the quiet halls of the Grand or Petit Trianon. Rest by the water or against the cool columns of the Temple de l’Amour. Look up at the ceilings and out of the windows. Arrive early in the morning and spend the whole day lingering where no one else takes the time to pause—in Versailles, in your own home, anywhere.

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

Versailles, France The Grand Trianon, Le Petit Trianon and the Temple de l'Amour www.bluemesablog.com

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Food, France

Dehillerin, Paris

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

[A Note: Today it is my pleasure to introduce you to William, who will be contributing the occasional guest post to the blog.]

I feel ambivalent about eating in Paris, with its discourteous waiters and tourist-trap bistros, but my enthusiasm for the Dehillerin kitchen store is entirely unreserved. Dehillerin was founded in 1820, and crossing the threshold is like stepping back in time. It’s immediately apparent why the store exercises such magnetism over celebrated chefs, from Julia Child to Joel Robuchon—as well as an awed succession of tourists and culinary pilgrims. Copper turbot kettles, duck presses, and other paraphernalia seldom seen in a modern kitchen are all around. Everything from sautĂ© pans to oyster knives displays an old-fashioned, over-engineered solidity. All that planished copper is undeniably beautiful, but it isn’t for decoration: this is kitchen kit designed to be used. Consider the series of K Sabatier knives, beginning with a paring knife and increasing by increments, culminating in a ten inch chef’s knife. The blades are high carbon stainless steel, which takes and holds a great edge; you have a choice of rosewood (my favorite) or stained beech handles; and their balance is impeccable—all for disconcertingly sensible prices. Knives made for cutting, not for display. But the same observation might be made about any of Dehillerin’s utensils and appliances. Visit next time you’re in Paris. Come with a shopping list, but expect to find something you didn’t know you needed.

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

Dehillerin, Paris www.bluemesablog.com

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France

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

Beyond the palace, the canal and the sweeping gardens, further than le Grand Trianon and le Petit Trianon, rests the quiet Temple de l’Amour. Since I always seem to find myself at Versailles with a raging fever (or perhaps always insist on going even when I have a raging fever), I will forever consider le Temple de l’Amour as a place of respite. There I can recline on the sunny steps, rest my forehead against the marble, and recover from the journey through the visual feast that is the palace, and the long walk through the majestic gardens. So peaceful is that place that I’ve even been known to doze off beneath the state of L’Amour.

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

Le Temple de l’Amour, Versailles www.bluemesablog.com

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