Americans in Paris: part 1 of our trip to France

Ah France!  The country of my dreams, thanks to a wonderful teacher in high school who instilled a love for that country.


Monsieur McConnell was a Frenchman, or at least a Francophile, in what appeared to be Scottish skin.  He taught all the classes of French at Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria, Virginia, for quite a while until joined by another colleague.  By that time, I had continued on to the higher levels and his classes were the only choice.  Lucky us!   What stands out is the last year of our classes – beyond Plus-que-parfait, Passé compose, and Imparfait verb conjugations (yes we learned those, too!).  The 4th year Français was a year of immersion in culture.  We conversed only en français, created or ate French food nearly every week, and learned about the history of the country, from Clovis to de Gaulle, who was President of France at the time.  Hugo, Voltaire, Molière, St. Exupery, all came alive in that classroom. When the holidays rolled around, we sang “Un Flambeau Jeanette Isabella” accompanied by Mr. McConnell on his autoharp.


Mr. McConnell’s specialty was art (well, maybe his specialty was languages and music, but he certainly knew a lot about art, too!), and everything remotely affiliated with the French “stream” – which included all the European painters and sculptors, from Romanesque to modern – came alive via slide shows, reproductions, and visits to the National Gallery of Art.  We learned about the symbolism of colors in early Gothic and Medieval art, and wove our way right through Poussin, Fragonard, David and Ingres to Manet, Monet, Guagin, Toulouse-Lautrec, Matisse, Degas, Rodin, Seurat, Utrillo and Chagall.


These are lessons that have stayed with me right up to this day and, when the synapses are all firing (if you don’t use it you lose it), I can manage une petite conversation, as well.  So, imagine my happiness when we learned we would mount a visit to our friends who live near Lyon, with a short trip to Paris beforehand.  Oui!  It was my first.


We had only 2 ½ days in Paris, and saw everything on our ‘short list’: The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Musée d’Orsay, Les Tuileries, Place de la Concorde, Champs Élysées, l’Arc du triomphe, La Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame, Musée de Moyen Age, the Latin Quarter, Rodin Musée, L’Orangerie,  Montmartre, Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, and a boat ride on the Seine.  We met some great people from Paris, Norway, the Czech Republic, and even Cleveland, Ohio!  We walked much of it, even the entire length of the Champs Élysées and up all the steps of  l’Arc du triomphe. We lingered over late dinners and enjoyed leisurely lunches.  We had only un petit incident with a pickpocket without any luck on his part.  Yes, we spent only 2 hours in the Louvre but saw all that was possible at each of the other museums we visited. (And frankly 2 hours at a museum as big as the Louvre was enough.) Once again, staying in a non-tourist area (the 10th arrondissement) allowed a glimpse of ‘real’ Paris, if such a thing exists!  A wonderful experience at the B and B, with a charming, helpful and articulate host who prepared breakfasts that should be framed, (they were so artistic) simply capped it off.


Back then, I am not sure if any of us had any idea of the extra work and time Mr. McConnell put into his teaching so that we could experience ‘France’ with as much reality as American teenagers in the 1960’s could. Remember, this is before the internet and easily accessed information.  Whatever Mr. McConnell presented, he had to do the research first.  By hand.   But I am quite certain of this:  his words ‘stuck’ and his love of teaching (so entertaining) shone through.  He was, frankly, brilliant.   I am a teacher and my daughter-in-law is a teacher, so I have some idea now of just how much of himself this man brought to his fortunate students.  But then I didn’t.  It’s time to say, ‘thanks’.   So les chapeaux off to you, Monsieur Adair McConnell.   Merci, merci!


les petites déjeuners artistiques; our host, Jozsef; courtyard of B and B


Day One

scenes from le Louvre



at the Eiffel Tower



Pont Neuf, Les Tuileries, Pont des Arts, The Musée d'Orsay


The Musee d”Orsay was being renovated, but most of the upper galleries, with all the impressionism, had been moved down. There was also a top-notch (and very popular) exhibit of the works of Édouard Manet, who is often confused with Monet.  As my father would say, “Not the same animal, at all.”


Up the Champs Elysées - transport, woman begging, l'arc, view to La Defence, King Tut


Day Two

the amazing Sainte-Chapelle! (favorite church ever!)


orchid from our b&b; palais du justice, l'arc in our 'hood, Notre Dame


While Notre Dame was lovely also (we stayed through part of the Mass for the Ascension of Christ),  with some amazing relics and carvings (not to mention the rosette windows), we so enjoyed the Musée du Moyen Age, housed in the former l’hôtel de Cluny.  This is not a hotel, but the headquarters/residences of the abbots from the Cluny Abbey (Burgundy) when they were in Paris.


les fruits de mers; Cluny Museum (of the middle ages) - Latin Qtr.



Lady & the Unicorn (Sixth 'sense' part) tapestry, Dürer stamp, The Annunication


By afternoon, we were at The Rodin Museum with verdant gardens – a nice respite from the sun.  Rodin’s work is so powerful and evocative.


Hôtel Biron at the Rodin Museum, The Kiss, detail from one of groupings

We finished with l’Orangerie, a tribute to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, but also a home for other great art from Picasso, Renoir, Rousseau….really, is there anywhere in Paris that great art is not?


details of Water Lilies, Picasso The Adolescents, a young artist


We were not completely finished with the day, however.  After this, we climbed on one of Les Bateaux Mouches for a ride down the Seine, with approximately 1000 998 other people.  And then topped it off with dinner at Chez Francis while we waited for the Eiffel Tower to begin twinkling.  Chez Francis wasn’t the top of the food chain, gastronomically speaking, but it has an unimpeded view of the Tower….location, location, location!

Bridges, Twinkling Tower, Bateau, St. Genevieve, from the back on Pont de la Tournelle

Bridges, Twinkling Tower, Bateau, St. Genevieve, from the back on Pont de la Tournelle


Day 3


We finished our stay in Paris with a morning trip to Montmartre, that hilly part of Paris that was (is) home to artists, Sacré Couer Bascillica, windmills, great food, and, now many tourists!   We found tasty boulangeries and creperies, interesting art, a movie shoot, and some unexpected sights!   Parisian writer Marcel Aymé lived in Montmartre, and is immortalized with a bit of artwork not far from his former home.   He wrote  Le Passe-Murailles, which roughly translates as “the walker through walls,” a short story about a man who discovers in mid-life that he can pass through walls.   The windmills were part of the culture of the hill, which housed many bakeries that needed, well, flour to create the small brown bread of the same name (galette) sold with a glass of milk.


Sculpture, artist, pâtisserie, Le Moulin de la Galette, Sacre Coeur

We left Paris but not before we took a few more photos of the environs.


metro station, crepe maker, le Moulin rouge, fire fighters in our neighborhood of Paris

On the way to Lyon

We left by the Gare de Lyon to Lyon, on the French high speed train (CVG):  two hours nonstop!  (oh, how I wish the US would get ‘on board’ with rail travel!)  The Gare had a great little ‘refreshment’ stand, sponsored by the water companies we are sure, to encourage people to rehydrate.  We were only too happy to oblige!


Gare de Lyon, place de la bastille monument, rehydration station


Et bientôt, Lyon!

The French in Graz, or what language do we speak now?

When our daughter was almost 15, she participated in an exchange program to France:  touring Paris, other cities down toward the south of France and a few weeks home-stay with a French family.  She came home a confirmed Francophile/phone (and I had someone with whom I could hone my many years of studying that language).

One of the lovely consequences of her travel was the beginning of a long-term friendship with our friends, Chantal and Andre.  They mothered and fathered her in France when she was a typical goofy teenager, and helped her with her French vocabulary.  Over the years, we have watched and celebrated, via photos and packages, mail and email, the Christmas holidays, their move to a new city, new jobs and enterprises, our children matriculate through high school and into higher education, their oldest daughter and our son marry, and most recently, the birth of their first grandchild, a boy, and the anticipated arrival of our first grandchild, a girl.

They’ve been once to Montana, and our children visited them again during respective short and long-term residencies in Europe.  So we were thrilled when they wrote to say they could visit us in Austria, while en vacances in Italy.  Between our trip to Spain and a planned meeting in the Salzburg, Austria area, the timing was perfect!

The French occupied Graz at least once before, Napoleon in 1797, and laid siege to the Schloßberg in 1809.  The Austrians successfully defended against 8 attacks but had to surrender after Austria was defeated by Napoleonic forces at the Battle of Wagram.  All the Schloßberg fortifications were ordered destroyed but the bell tower and the civic clock tower, often used as the symbol of Graz, were spared after the people of Graz paid a ransom for their preservation.  The Schloßberg is marked with plaques with references to Bonaparte and to the French in general.

Napoleon’s troops didn’t have a GPS to find Graz.  Our French had one but it was fairly useless for direction into the Leechwald where we live! Our French arrived the day before Easter Sunday, bearing not arms but gifts:  French cheese, wine, salami, house gifts, Italian Easter Bread and best of all, themselves!



Andre and Chantal on the funicular up to the schloss

busker at the top

never have seen a Renaissance busker with a program before!













Chantal, who's an artist, loved the artistic bird houses!

Bill, Chantal and Andre













the gardens in Graz are coming along!


The second day of their short visit, which was Easter Sunday, we took a trip out to the Piber Horse Farm, about 25 km from Graz.  It’s the farm where the Lipizzaner Horses are bred and raised until they are about 4 years old, at which point, stallions who seem ready are sent to Vienna and the Spanish Riding School to continue their training.  The mares stay on the farm to raise more foals!  The stallions return to Piber when they are 25-28 years old to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

It was a gorgeous day!  Piber has a schloss (palace), an old church, a small but informative museum, and the farm!


the little church in Piber


and the Schloss










We tried a little driving practice while we waited for our tour. Kein Glück, es war gebrochen!

Chantal tried her hand at braiding. Very important skill (for Moms and Lipizzaner owners)!

Andre tried out the wind up merry-go-round




But the real attraction at Piber is, of course, the horses.  There were some new or soon to be new additions to the Lipizzaner family.  The foals are born black or brown.  At about 6 months they would join other 6-month old foals and their moms in a cohort of black, brown and white.  Later, they would be branded, depending which of the of 6 Piber stallion ancestry lines they are born out of.    And (gasp) some would be sold!  One in about 100 is born black and stays that way.  I wonder if we could get a discount on him?

4-day old foal and Mom

We're soooo cute!

Buy me! Only 12.000 € !

the 1/100 throwback to the black horses!

brands, first of which dates back to Leopold I

pretty nice retirement, n'est-ce pas?


I don’t think we can ever resist seeing the inside of these Austrian churches!

Romanesque beginnings, baroque overlay

Lots of people were coming in their holiday best to Piber.  This is a traditional Styrian look:  green for the intense green of the land, blue for the sky and sometimes dotted with pink for the wildflowers.

The last day of their visit, Chantal wanted Sachertorte.  Never mind that it’s in Vienna, many specialty bakeries or konditorei try their hands at the famous dessert.  We found a great konditorei – no Sachertorte that day,  but it did have some awesome desserts.  We  brought them back to split up after lunch.  We also shared with Kristina via Skype! She was, after all, the reason for our original connection!

Philip Konditorei: cakes, breads AND ice cream!

mmmmm (no translation needed)

Skyping the desserts

Although we weren’t sure, having just arrived back from Spain, what language we were speaking  at any moment, there are some things that simply transcend differences in dialects and les langues maternelles.  Friendship is one of those.

guys and engines - everywhere the same!

Friendship needs no language except that of the heart.

Merci bien for reading!  Jusqu’à ce que plus tard!

© photos, unless noted, are property of the blog writer and may not be used or reproduced without permission.

Deutsch und mir

I’ve always thought of myself as a linguaphile, that is someone who loves language, learning new languages, and for whom auditory learning has been, over the years, relatively easy.  That is, until I met German.

Bill and I have been working on German, via Rosetta Stone and with a native speaker and friend, for about six months now.  Our last name, Germanic in origin, has not helped one bit.   It has been a formidable task.   I mean,  French has rules and, there, we are used to assigning gender to nouns via the use of different articles (le, la, un, une). I  learned French very easily, and well.  (back then)   We feel it’s very important to try to not only understand some of the language where we’ll be living but be able to speak some as well.   So we started by learning some simple nouns and the three German gender articles:  “der” or ‘ein’ (for masculine nouns), “die” or ‘eine’ (for feminine nouns) , and “das” or ‘ein’ (for neutral nouns).   “O.K.!” thought I, “Kein problem!”

Wrong!  I have never seen a more complex language as German!  Not only is there gender for various nouns but the article modifying that noun changes depending on how the noun, or pronoun is used in the sentence!  These are known as the ‘cases’ in Deutsch.  We know them more affectionately as subject, direct object, indirect object and possessive.

The accusative case is used for the object of the sentence. So, in this case (pun intended) , “der” turns into “den” and “ein” into “einen”. “Die” and “das”, thankfully, remain the same.     Enter the dative case, used for the indirect object of the sentence.  In the dative case, “der” turns into “dem”, “die” turns into “der” and “das” turns into “dem”. Also, “ein” turns into “einem”, “eine” turns into “einer” and “ein” turns into “einem”.  And in the genitive (possessive) case,  “der” turns into “des”, “die” turns into “der” and “das” turns into “des”.  I won’t even get into the ein/eine mix!

And this is just the nouns!  German verbs seem less complicated than the conjugation I remember in high school and college French, but perhaps that’s just wishful remembrance!  They do, for the most part, follow a pretty regular group of endings as they shift for the various subjects (I run, you run, he/she runs, we run, etc.)  But…there are the verbs that separate and put part of the verb at the end of the sentence.  So a sentence like, ‘He finally arrived at home on Friday evening, ‘ would be:

Er kam am Freitagabend endlich zu Hause an .

(or literally)

He -rived on Friday evening finally ar- at home.

Don’t ask me why this is so.  It just is!

The beauty of the German language, though, is that with all this precision it is supposed to be very easy to figure out what someone is saying!  As our teacher,  Herr Professor Will says, ‘it is all contextual!’  “Gut!” say I, as Bill posts yet another index card on the refrigerator (listing the German words for various foods) or places copies of menus, newspapers and bus schedules from Graz into the reading material baskets in our house.  What has happened to Audubon and The Smithsonian?

So, our friends who have been to Austria remind us that Austrian German is a little different from standard German.  Not only in inflection and accent, but also in the 1000 or so different words that are used!  And further,  the province of Styria (Steinmark), where Graz is located, has a dialect that is even more pronounced than others.   We’re already struggling with Deutsch, and now there is Österreichisches Deutsch?

Well.  We’ll do our best.  You’ve got to love a language that has no problems making up new nouns by combining old ones.  We’ll probably need to know Gepäckaufbewahrungsschein (luggage-up-hold-certificate) = luggage check ticket on our travels but not so sure about Windschutzscheibewaschanlage, as we won’t have a car!

If worse comes to worse, I plan to carry a small pad of paper with me and plenty of pens.  I figure all those years of playing Pictionary definitely won’t be wasted!  Stay tuned!

Auf Wiedersehen! or as they say in Austria, “Tschüs!”