Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lindsay Lowend and the electrocuted dog

Last week we went to see Lindsay Lowend play at "La Bellevilloise". This venue, in the heart of Paris' 20th arrondissement, is three blocks away from where we used to live on the rue de l'Est so I know the neighborhood well.

"Un rond, c'est un carré qui a mal tourné", rue de l'Est
© Perry Tak - 08/2007 Les rues de Paris

We found a parking spot on the rue des Pyénées, right next to the Place du Guignier. A guignier is a kind of cherry tree although the only cherries I've ever seen in this place are in the stalls on market day.

place du Guignier - "Ceci n'est pas un Magritte"
© Jacques Deneux - 04/2009 Les rues de Paris
La Place du Guignier may seem calm and picturesque but for me it will always be:

The place of the electrocuted dog

after an incident that took place on Sunday, 27 January 2013. One of our neighbors, a middle-aged woman, owned a small, black, yappy dog. The dog would stand at the sliding glass windows on the second floor and bark incessantly at passersby, in particular at those accompanied by dogs which happened to be our case. That evening the neighboor took her dog for a walk in the square around the corner from the apartment. The weather had been damp, through a kind of "capillarity", some stripped wires electrified the metal manhole cover. When the small, black dog (yes, I know the photo accompanying the article shows a white dog but it is a stock photo, the dog was black), anyhow, when the tiny dog walked across the electrified manhole cover he received a discharge of about 180 volts. The woman tried to rescue her dog and she also received an electrical shock but she was not killed. It was, indeed, a rather tragic occurrence and one that certainly marked my memory. This story, however, did not impress the person accompanying me.

As usual, Lindsay Lowend's show was great...

 and I even got my picture with him!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Eiffel Daughter

In the town where I live there is a long-standing oral tradition that Gustave Eiffel worked on one or several of the villas along the esplanade. It is mentioned by a number of people and in a number of places. Some of these people and some of these places do not always apply the sobriquet "oral tradition", in the hope that — repeated a sufficient number of times — through iteration the oral tradition becomes verifiable fact. It is also said that Gustave Eiffel came here on vacation and that is totally possible, but design a villa? Eiffel was an engineer, not known for being an architect, and after the success of the "Tour" why would he want to do a balcony in a beach town, as tony as Mers may have been à la Belle Epoque? And exactly what villa is it?

Henri Rivière, "La Tour en construction, vu du Trocadèro" Musée d'Orsay

Inventaire Picardie

In a much earlier post on this blog I wrote about Edouard-Jean Niermans, a well-known, bona fide, architect that indeed did design a number of villas in Mers-les-Bains, one of them — named after his children — was built with the hope of providing the family with rental income:

Villa Jan et Villa Hélèna

Inventaire Picardie

Inventaire Picardie

Jan being this Netherlandish native's spelling of his son's name and Hélèna being his daughter.

Since moving here on a full-time basis I have become quite interested in researching the other architects who designed villas in Mers and whose work can be attested through written documentation, a non-negotiable requirement in my scholarly "déformation professionnelle" warped mind.

Théophile Bourgeois

Inventaire Picardie
There is, for example, Théophile Bourgeois from Poissy in the suburbs of Paris, the architect responsible for the villa "Bon Abri" in Mers and who also built a number of villas in the region, in the wooded development known as the "Bois de Cise."

Inventaire Picardie

from Les villas de Villennes et leur histoire

Monsieur Bourgeois published a catalogue describing all the different models of villas that he could build for his clients. The descriptions of the villas went into great detail regarding the prices of the various options offered in order to appeal to all budgets.

All this brings us back to Monsieur Eiffel and his connection to Mers-les-Bains.

Les Algues

The villa most often identified with Gustave Eiffel is called "Les Algues" (aka Seaweed…sounds so much better in French). Les Algues is a quite unprepossessing villa; its current state does not recall its former glory.

Les Algues ca. 2000 Inventaire Picardie

According to the inventory conducted in 2002 by Elisabeth Justome, Les Algues was built between 1896 and 1899 for Maurice Toussaint Legrain, an army officer living at 184 blvd Haussmann in Paris.

Les Algues ca. 1900 Coll. D. Cayeux
And M. Legrain just happened have been married to...Gustave Eiffel's second daughter, Laure Eiffel, thus, making M. Legrain, M. Eiffel's son-in-law. So, it is plausible that Gustave Eiffel came to visit his daughter on vacation at Mers-les-Bains. Now, whether or not he designed their villa is quite another story and one I cannot tell at this time without further research.

Anonymus, Laure Eiffel between 1883 and 1891, Musée d'Orsay

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My rather unfortunate armoire (part 2)

In our house we watch a lot of documentaries and docudramas about WWII in Europe…or perhaps I should say that these shows are on because someone else is watching them and I am not paying much attention to them because I am cooking, knitting, or doing something more interesting.

These shows often feature the requisite scene of Nazi officers in the occupied chateau or manor, sitting around the dinner table drinking the owner’s grand crus and smoking his cigars. Less often they show noncommissioned officer and barrack scenes, but in quest of authenticity, these scenes do sometimes appear; after all, the Wehrmacht was not solely composed of high-ranking officers wearing Hugo Boss.

Recently, while watching these barrack scenes; I began to have doubts about my beloved armoire. Fleeting glimpses of furniture in the background looked suspiciously like the corner of my bedroom.

Not having a French version of the Antiques Roadshow to which I could drag my armoire I did the next best thing: I went online and began searching…and searching…and searching.

 I typed any number of combinations of “ww2 armoiremilitaire allemand” and found pictures, lots of pictures. My formerly so-cute-full-of-history armoire had become a Wehrmachts Spind…yikes!

This armoire for sale has been fitted out with carved butterfly panels, much like the carved ships on my armoire, to hide the vents on the doors.

Back of the armoire with the butterfly panels. Note the military mark just below the vents

Back of my military mark but same vents...

Interior of the armoire for sale, note the piano hinge on the door.

 Interior of my armoire, same piano hinge on the door.

Latch detail on the armoire for sale.

Detail of my armoire where the original latch has been replaced with a decorative key lock. (which, according to the placement of the holes left behind, looks to have been similar to the latch on the armoire for sale)

After the German defeat, the French appropriated the things left behind by the Wehrmacht. I've seen blockhouses of the Atlantic Wall turned into museums, garages, living spaces. Why not?

Now I know that my armoire has a history, it is just isn't the history I originally imagined.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

My rather unfortunate armoire (part 1)

One day, shortly before moving into our apartment in the Villa Parisienne in September 2009, I decide we need an armoire. The apartment has no closets, I grouse, how about driving up to the Braderie de Lille after we move in? The Braderie de Lille, held the first weekend of September, is reputed to be the largest citywide flea market in Europe; surely I can find an armoire there. But then I broke my foot and the thought of walking for hours on crutches to find the perfect armoire is not very appealing.

So by a warm, end-of-August Sunday we drive to the Puces de Vanves, a flea market I far prefer to the Puces de Clignancourt. Its rather friendly size is certainly easier to do with crutches. But after hobbling the length of its two streets and not finding the armoire of my dreams I am ready to head back to the car. We pass a dealer who is taking things out of a van parked on the corner.

Then I see it. It is reasonably sized, it is quite battered and it calls out to me. It is MY armoire.

I casually sidle up as best as I can on my crutches; no need to seem anxious, it can drive up the price. The armoire is stained dark brown. The doors are decorated with carvings of ships.

Deep scratches run down the front of the right door.

 I imagine the armoire belonging to a sailor, the scratches from his parrot as he clambers to perch on top of it. On the back of the armoire a faded card is thumbtacked: “Mle Cailleux, 44 rue de Belleville, Paris 20e.”

The dealer sees me examining it and mentions that the scratches can be easily covered with “brou de noix” (walnut stain). No, I say to myself, the scratches, the stains, the imperfections, these are what make it unique. This armoire has a history…little do I know what kind.


Cent cinquante euros.

I look it over one more time and offer a hundred. He counters with one twenty-five but only if I pay cash. The armoire doesn’t fit in the car but he offers to hold it for a couple of days, until we pick up the van we’re going to rent to move our things to the apartment.

So for three years, in the Villa Parisienne, the armoire holds our clothes. When we move to La Luna, the armoire first holds sheets and towels. We now have the luxury of real, albeit small, closets for our clothes. I buy other armoires for our linens and decide to fit this one out for accessories and sweaters. I wonder if I should refinish it, I wonder if I should paint it, I wonder if I should put new fittings in the interior. After all, the bar for hanging the clothes is rather oddly placed and not very practical…

(to be continued)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Scallop season

Every year, starting in October, it is again scallop time. Unlike previous seasons, this year I've learned to shuck my own. Although I am far from an expert shucker, it is an activity both challenging and oddly satisfying.