Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Many Sounds of Music…

I was asked the other day what we did for the Fête de la Musique and the response when I recounted our adventures was so enthusiastic that I thought I would share them with you as well.
First, a little background information….each year, June 21 marks the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere. The word “solstice” comes from “sol”…the first syllable of the French word for sun…soleil… and the Latin “stare”, meaning “to stop.” It’s the longest day of the year in these parts…a day when the sun seems to stop in sky.

We know now that the sun doesn’t move and it’s more a matter of the earth being at its greatest tilt…towards the sun for the northern hemisphere and away from the sun in the southern hemisphere…resulting in winter in Australia when it’s summer in France. Early civilizations chose that day as a time for joyous assembly with sporting games, music, and dancing.

In 1982, Jack Lang, then the French Minister of Culture, decided the summer solstice would be a great day to celebrate all things musical; his idea grew and today, in more than 100 countries, June 21 is hailed as the Fête de la Musique. It’s a major happening in the environs of Paris; public transportation runs all night, the majority of the events are free, and they are held in every imaginable place…from isolated street corners to the courtyards of lofty museums…some are scheduled performances, while others are spontaneous.

Moustaches…J-P’s favorite pet store…got in the spirit of things with this poster featuring a feline version of the “Blues Brothers” in their window…
It’s just a great day, one where music fills the air! An event
that celebrates all genres of music…classical to punk…symphonic to electronic…emanating from amateurs and professionals alike. Everywhere you turn there are guitars, drums, accordions, pianos, violins, cellos…every imaginable instrument.
We began at noon with a pique-nique salsa in the fore-court of the Musée des Arts et Métiers in the 3rd arrondissement…for a lunch with a decidedly Cuban beat!

cubansalsamusiciansA group of fourteen musicians from Cuba…Will Campa y su gran union…were on stage while dancers from the School of Cuban Salsa demonstrated the way the Cuban Salsa should be done…cubansalsadancers2…they made it look so effortless…cubansalsadancers1Of course, we all gamely tried to replicate their steps…although, filled with all that picnic fare….the results were far less than spectacular…but fun nonetheless.
Then we walked over to the Jardin du Luxembourg…luxembourgsign … where the kiosk pavilion was decorated with banners that gave the schedule of events.
Each year, France celebrates a different culture and 2011 is the year of the Outre-Mer….or “over-seas”…referring to the French over-seas territories…exotic places including Guadaloupe and Martinique in the Caribbean, Tahiti and Bora Bora in French Polynesia, and the Reunion Islands in the Indian Ocean.
The first group on stage was Te Hina O Motu Haka from the Marquise Islands…

polynesian group…singing and dancing…in traditional costumes and native tattoos…
tahitian dancer
After that, the stage was filled with a Creole group named Gospel Forever…
…the park reverberated with foot tapping, hand-clapping music…
gospel group
A group from Guadaloupe by the name of Negoce was next. They were accompanied by a fantastic quadrille of dancers in traditionally-inspired dress…
guadelupe squaredance
It was quite reminiscent of an American square dance…complete with a colorfully-dressed “caller”…only she punctuated her instructions with maracas…dancer callerThe dancers were wonderful…
dancers…and because the Jardin du Luxembourg is the “back yard” of the French Senate, the dance floor was soon “invaded” by government bigwigs…
dignitarydance …in a French equivalent of if American politicians John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi decided to join in on a square dance performance on Capital Hill.

After Roger Raspail  and his group from Guadaloupe…it was time for a performance by “Sully et les Chamanes”, a Parisian group that pulls on their réunionnais roots to create a true Bal Créole. To get into the spirit of things, each performer ceremoniously indulged in a shot of rum beforehand…

sully  …here’s Sully with the rum not far behind.

Then, on our way home for a little something to sustain our strength…when what should we see but a team from Michel and Antonin building a pyramid of mousse…chocolate mousse. To publicize a new product, buckets filled with chocolate mousse were being used to create an impromptu sculpture in the forecourt of the Pantheon.
mousse at pantheonWould we like a couple of buckets to take home? Oui, s’il vous plâit!

Making our way along the Pont de l’Archevêché…rentaboat …the evening’s festivities were in full swing with boatloads of music-lovers. No time to dilly-dally though as we had buckets of mousse to put in the frigo…French for our teeny excuse for a refrigerator.
Since we were home anyway, we ate dinner and then walked it off by heading back across the river…
quai …where the Quai Montebello was beginning to attract music-lovers in search of spontaneous musical happenings. Tempting, but we had a specific destination in mind…the Collège des Bernardins…a recently restored thirteenth century abbey in the 5th arrondissement. Now used as a cultural center…
interiorcollegebrndn …the evening’s program offered a type of music that we had never experienced…a group of Mongolian musicians were giving a performance. It was Mongolian folk music…The Song of the Steppes…
mongolianmusiciansintro …performed by musicians in native costumes…left to right, Enkjargal Dandarvaanchig, Nasanjargal Ganbold, and Naranbaatar Purevdorj. The music was amazing. Evolved from centuries of long, solitary evenings spent by nomadic horseback sheepherders, it is fairly unknown to the western world…isolated for seven decades by the domination of the region by the former U.S.S.R. How to explain the sound? It’s almost supernatural…the voice techniques have labels to describe the six different modes of diphonic chants…the musical instruments have names like bishguur and  morin khuur…and the effect is positively hypnotic…a sort of Mongolian version of Home on the Range.

The rigors of Mongolian throat singing necessitated that the performance be given in fifteen minute long sessions with a short break in between each song. 

A quick couple of photographs of the instruments during a break in the performance…the bishguur is a Mongolian oboe…

mongolian instruments4mongolian instruments3…while the morin khuur is called a horse fiddle due to its traditional, carved horse-head ornamentation.
Enkjargal spent his break time signing CDs…

Their music was mesmerizing and filled our heads as we once more hit the streets…
airtahiti …walking  past the offices of Air Tahiti, we switched tunes…

…and then headed back across the river… quaimontebello …where the impromptu jam sessions were gathering momentum.

We ended our evening with a Brazilian samba class/performance in front of the Hôtel de Ville….braziliensamba…and then it was time to say Boa Noite…Brazilian for “good night”…and head home so we could dig into our buckets of mousse…
mousse Music and chocolate…a great duet!

We have since tried in vain to describe the Mongolian throat singing…only to end up hurting ourselves in feeble attempts to demonstrate the sound with our untrained diaphragms…but I did find this link on the site of the Collège des Bernadins
Wait a few seconds and you’ll hear a sample from that evening’s concert…admittedly, without the visual benefit of being there in person, it is difficult to tell where the musical instruments end and the vocals begin…but it will give you the idea.
Stayed tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection or check out the results at

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Adventures in Brittany

We’re back from Brittany and while, as usual, Jean-Pierre is using our website to do his annual report of what transpired…he didn’t use all of the photographs and thus, I have some to share with you.
As always, we had a marvelous adventure…good friends, good food, good times!
We ate well, including…a new discovery for lunch…

…an old favorite for dinner…0911foodsaumonjardindete
…always leaving room, of course, for dessert…0911foodccommuffins
We enjoyed our explorations of the region…
…travels that reaffirmed that no matter how many times we have been to Brittany, there are always discoveries to be made…whether it’s an historic path to explore…
…or a re-visit made in a different light…

We took a class in making crêpes…
and came across the customary bruyère and ajonc0911heatherandajonc
…along with the traditional hortensia
…but we also found other floral delights that are not traditionally Breton…
0911exoticflowerplovan   …everything added up to make for a wonderful trip!

Stay tuned for further adventures...

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Today’s Headline reads “Une Journée Extraordinaire”…

…but that’s somewhat of a misnomer as it’s been more like the past few months that have been extraordinary…extraordinary, that is,  in the sense of the history of Quimper faïence.  We have just returned from Brittany and I am still busy getting back to what passes for normal, but I interrupted the laundry to make this quick posting…

I took this photograph of Jean-Pierre Le Goff…on the left…conversing with Jean-Yves Verlingue during a visit to the newly re-opened Musée de la Faïence….Jean-Pierre and Jean-Yves
I was going to use it to illustrate a posting about there being a new Jean-Pierre in our lives since on the seventh of July, Monsieur Le Goff was named the new owner of the HB-Henriot factory. The other Jean-Pierre is our feline Chief Financial Officer…
j-p with mosaic

Monsieur Verlingue is the former owner of Les Faïenceries de Quimper, a partner in the Faïenceries d’Art Breton, and a driving force in the successful re-opening of the museum…not to mention the son of Jules Verlingue and the father of Bernard Jules Verlingue…the curator of the museum…whew…that’s a lot of history!.

The roller coaster of events began earlier this year, when the HB-Henriot factory entered into receivership in February. After months of consideration, the Bankruptcy Court gave the keys to M. Le Goff on the eleventh of July.  I actually brought all my notes with me and was going to make a posting while we were in Brittany, but of course, I was having waaaaaay too much fun to do that! I was going to tell you that M. Le Goff is 57, was born in Paris of Breton parents, and his wife is from Douarnenez. A naval engineer, he went to school in Nantes. Up until last year, he headed a firm that is involved in naval hydrodynamics. The French Ministry of Defense is included in his résumé and his foray into Quimper pottery is apparently not the first time he has purchased a business on the brink.

HB-Henriot happened to be closed for their annual summer vacation when the final decision was made…of the fifty employees, the agreement was that twenty-six would be retained. ..including a team of five painter-decorators reporting to one chief painter. Then, this week, a name change was announced…HB-Henriot is no longer and the new name is Henriot-Quimper. Then, I had just finished digesting that when M. Le Goff up and bought la Faïencerie d’Art Breton!

So, there’s no more HB-Henriot…the firm located in the Locmaria neighborhood of Quimper is  now Henriot-Quimper. The nine employees at FAB…which is now a subsidiary of Henriot-Quimper and 100% owned by M. Le Goff …will stay in their current location in southeastern Quimper, but the plan is that they will eventually move their operation to Locmaria, operating from the same building….Henriot producing haut de gamme pieces…the upscale, hand-painted items…and FAB making bread and butter items…including the traditional, personalized lug-handled bowls…the names still hand-painted, but the decoration applied with decals.

There’s sure to be more to report in the coming months….including a new logo…as this new enterprise begins to take its first steps…
j-p baby

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

Friday, June 3, 2011

Yippee…the Quimper Faïence Museum is Back in Action !!!

I know…I know…I’ve hardly done any blogging for the past month…but I’ve been busy…doing this, that, and everything else except writing. But I wanted to interrupt my stupor to share some great news…the Musée de la Faïence in Quimper will re-open to the public on June 6, 2011!

The museum first opened its doors in 1991 and regular readers of our Quimper-devoted website……will no doubt remember the photographs of the many spectacular expositions that have been mounted there…each encompassing a specific theme to take advantage of the more than 3500 pieces in the museum’s collection. Quimper’s Musée de la Faïence is a private museum and, therefore, was dependent upon the support of outside benefactors…local enterprises, banks and insurance firms, etc…for its operating expenses.  In the spring of 2007, four of the five businesses that had underwritten the cost of bringing forth those marvelous expositions were caught in the global economic slowdown and had to withdraw their support…forcing the museum to suddenly and sadly close its doors.

During those four years many different avenues were explored…until, finally a solution was found and the museum can open once more. Here’s the cover of our invitation to this evening’s opening ceremonies…
The exhibit is entitled Odetta…Les Grès d’Art de Quimper…translation: Odetta…the Stoneware Art Pottery of Quimper.

Since its opening, the Musée de la Faïence has been to a Quimper collector what Cooperstown's  Baseball Hall of Fame is to a Little Leaguer.  Heaven on Earth.

To stimulate economic growth, the French government recently initiated a system similar to what many U.S. universities call an endowment fund. Immediately recognizing the implications, Jean-Yves Verlingue...who from 1956 to 1983 owned the HB factory/Les Faïenceries de Quimper...sprang into action. The tax benefits connected to the endowment fund...fond de dotation in French...suddenly made fund-raising efforts on behalf of the museum much more interesting will at last be open to the public once more.

Contributions from individuals are welcome as well...and though I hear you saying "But there's no tax benefit for me because I'm not subject to paying French taxes"...there is a roundabout, but very real benefit that comes from having such a prestigious museum dedicated to the subject of your adds an incalculable value to your collection.

So, FYI...for as little as 50 euros,  you can contribute to the Fonds de Dotation du Musée de la Faïence de Quimper and assure the museum's continuation...not to mention that contributors enjoy free entrance, invitations to events, etc. Contact me if you would like further information.

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May Day in Paris

The first of May is a holiday in France…it’s the day officially set aside for the observance of the Fête du Travail…their version of Labor Day. But nowadays that aspect of the holiday has come to be somewhat overshadowed by a flower…for it’s also the Fête du Muguet…the day when everywhere you look, you see muguets de mai…also known as lilies of the valley. They grow wild out in the woods, but on the first day of May, they invade the city.

Here’s the view outside our window:

Muguet1 It is customary in France to offer friends and family a small bouquet of muguet as a gesture of caring and as a way to celebrate Spring. This harks back to King Charles IX when,  in 1561, he offered all the ladies of the Court a sprig of muguet. Actually, the practice harks back even further…back to when May 1 was New Year’s Day on the Celtic calendar and Celts would give sprigs of muguet to each other as tokens of good luck. Today, it has evolved into a fund-raising opportunity and an enterprising young lady by the name of Lara has set up her stand on the street below one of our windows. Think of it as a sort of French take on the traditional lemonade stand. This is the one day when it is permissible for anyone and everyone to sell flowers on the street without a proper license.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASunday strollers along Pont Marie welcomed this impromptu stand and took advantage of the opportunity to purchase some sprigs of muguet…a symbol of hope and happiness.
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAny other day and the merchant would have been “run out of Dodge” in less than five minutes!

A symbol of humility, early in the twentieth century, French labor union leaders wore a sprig of muguet in their lapel as a way of indicating their allegiance to the cause, but today that association has been long-forgotten. Muguet is instead used to convey affection and along that vein, it is also the traditional symbol for thirteen years of marriage…known as les Noces de Muguet.

The custom of May Day muguet-giving is not confined to just France…muguet is the national flower of Finland and the painting by Franz Xaver Winterhalter shown below was commissioned by England’s Queen Victoria to commemorate May 1, 1851…that date signified the opening of the Universal Exhibition in London as well as the birthdays of two of those pictured…her son, Prince Arthur, who is holding a sprig of muguet and his godfather, the Duke of Wellington…May3 The muguet plant is highly toxic, however…you are supposed to wash your hands carefully after touching any portion of it…so it might be better to offer a loved one a pastry version…
May2…like these yummy little cakes topped with pseudo-muguets! And so we wish you a Bonne Fête du Muguet!

Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter/Joyeuses Pâques

love bunnies
Joyeuses Pâques is French for Happy Easter…and as many of you sit down to your festive holiday brunch,  here’s a bit of the history of how eggs, rabbits, and dyed marshmallow peeps came to be associated with the occasion. Yes, today is when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ, but the holiday actually has roots that go much further back. Back to when the coming of Spring symbolized a sort of re-birth after a long, hard Winter.

To the ancient Egyptians and Romans, eggs were a symbol of vitality and it was customary to offer painted eggs as gifts to commemorate the changing of the seasons. The tradition was reinstated by the Christians as a way to make use of all the eggs that had been stockpiled during Lent when the eating of meat and eggs was forbidden.  Children immediately took to the challenge of finding the brightly colored eggs that had been hidden. The French explanation for how the eggs got there went like this: normally the church bells rang each day to invite the faithful to services, but during the week before Easter, the bells were silent from Thursday evening until Saturday evening. That’s because the church bells had flown to Rome to get eggs. On their return back, they would drop the eggs so that they could be found by good little girls and boys! By the eighteenth century, French children were finding eggs that had been emptied and re-filled with chocolate.
In Germany, the eggs were left by a hare or rabbit…a long time symbol of fertility and re-birth. German settlers to the United States brought this custom with them and voila…the Easter Bunny is born! Other immigrants brought with them several related customs…like burying a colored Easter egg at the foot of a vine or row of crops in the hopes that the crop yield will be quicker and greater…or believing that if an egg is buried for 100 years, the yolk will turn into a diamond!
With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, Easter-related molds were produced and mass-marketed. The molds were both for general culinary purposes…like this rabbit-form glass mold…probably for pâté….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…but many more were produced for making chocolate…like this wonderful egg with a man-in-the-moon motif…
…or an egg to commemorate the rooster who helped to produce all those eggs…
Chocolate is now firmly entrenched into the French customs surrounding the celebration of Easter…reportedly at least 20% of the nation’s annual sales of chocolate occurs during this time. (And that’s no small amount since 97% of the French eat chocolate at least once a week).
And of course, it’s Easter chocolate as only the French can conceive…here are some examples for your holiday enjoyment…
…as seen in the windows of Lenôtre……a bunny wearing a toque de cuisinier…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA …waving gaily as he flies in a chocolate balloon over a chocolate Paris…
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA …priced at 390 euros, one would have to be a very, very good little girl or boy to find one of these creations!
Over at the next window, one finds his friend, the rooster…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA…who is much smaller, and not quite so expensive…but the chocolate map is much smaller as well and the Eiffel Tower that he flies over is not in chocolate as it is for the flying bunny. A very strong incentive to be really, really good!
Over at Patrick Roger’s…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA …there’s a chicken with chocolate “feathers” and a white chocolate “nest” and the shells of real eggs that have been filled with chocolate.
Last year, Monsieur Roger created an amazing chocolate “vegetable patch”…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
…with cheerful Easter potatoes…
…rows of smiling carrots…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
…and several marauding hedge hogs making quick work of shelling some chocolate-filled eggs…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA …and of course, except for the egg shells…every bit of the scene…including the farm house…was in chocolate!
And to think that I used to marvel at a Cadbury egg…Joyeuses Pâques!
Stay tuned for more behind the scenes adventures of The Meadows Collection…or check out the results at