Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Holiday Celebration at the Governor’s Mansion

We came back to Atlanta on Monday evening, 28 December, after having spent a fun week with our daughter and family in Columbus, Ohio. Sunday night, the night before we left Columbus, it snowed. Early on Monday before we drove to the airport, I just had time to take a couple of pictures.

This is the way the street looked upon our departure –

Click on picture to enlarge it

and the view from the aircraft.

When we landed in Atlanta, it was cool but quite sunny, just as when we left Atlanta a week earlier. I wished it had snowed especially when we visited the Georgia Governor’s Mansion the week before Christmas. The mansion was beautifully decorated for the season and the Holiday celebration. Because of the mild weather there were still some roses in the garden.

and a gorgeous tree still had his glorious fall colors.

We are a long way from Ohio and the snow. Actually it is 600 miles or 965 kilometers from Atlanta to Columbus, Ohio. So, let’s enter the Governor’s Mansion (I took so many pictures that I’ll have to place them in various collages. Please click on the pictures to see them up close,)

The home of Georgia governors was completed in 1968 on an eighteen acre estate in North West Atlanta, in the Buckhead area, one of Atlanta’s poshest neighborhoods. The 30 room Greek revival style home is furnished with a fine collection of antiques from the Federalist Period. The mansion is decorated during the Holidays and this year the theme was to depict the vibrant hues and spirit of the season.

Each room had a different theme with brightly decorated trees.

A candy room was guarded by toy soldiers.

The tables had been set with elegant china and crystal. We would have loved to sit and start sampling the savories which were going to be served.

Instead we observed the teddy bear family watching the electric train running at the base of the tree below.

Musical groups from across the state were performing for this festive occasion. The day we were there it was great to listen to holiday music from the Roswell High School Chamber Orchestra, the Voices of Vaughn and the White County Intermediate School.

Don't forget to click on the pictures to enlarge them

Then we all took a cookie break. The cookies had been home-baked by the tour hosts and were served with spiced cider. As soon as a cookie was picked a server would replace it.

As we were close to leaving this beautifully decorated mansion I took some final pictures. I especially liked a table arrangement in front of a tall antique mirror. I shot some close-up pictures of the gorgeous sterling silver candelabra and the ornate silver pitcher. If you look closely in the center of the pitcher you can see my reflection as I took the photo.

There were many Christmas trees in various rooms, each one decorated with sparkling ornaments. For most people Christmas has already passed, but not for all. As I mentioned in my last post, the Eastern Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar (which is 13 days after the Gregorian calendar used by most countries) will celebrate their Christmas next week, on 7 January (members in the USA, Armenia, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Republic of Georgia, of Macedonia, Moldova, etc.) Long after the stores have stopped their Christmas music and people are no longer sending Christmas cards, the Orthodox Christians are still waiting to celebrate Christmas (approximately 1,500,000 people in the US.) To them, including members of my father’s family, I wish a very merry Christmas and place the Christmas tree collage below:

Reluctantly we left the mansion and walked back to our car.

We left the holiday celebration at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion a couple weeks ago and now we are seeing the end of 2009 as well as the first decade of the 21st century. In just a few hours we shall celebrate the New Year. While I was in Columbus I found some vintage postcards with New Year greetings. So please accept the following cards as virtual cards to wish you a Prosperous 2010. I hope the coming year will include more happiness, good fortune, joy, and love than you can imagine.

The card below was sent in December 1909 by Lois Bailey to her cousin Miss Mildred Reibel of Columbus, Ohio. The card is 100 years old but the wishes have not changed.

These are my wishes for you -

"…le seul fait de rêver est déjà très important,
Je vous souhaite des rêves à n’en plus finir et l’envie furieuse
d’en réaliser quelques-uns,
Je vous souhaite d’aimer ce qu’il faut aimer
Et d’oublier ce qu’il faut oublier
Je vous souhaite des passions
Je vous souhaite des silences
Je vous souhaite des chants d'oiseaux au réveil
et des rires d'enfants
Je vous souhaite de résister à l'enlisement, à l'indifférence
Aux vertus négatives de notre époque.
Je vous souhaite surtout d'être vous.
L’aventure c’est le trésor
Que l’on découvre à chaque matin.
-Jacques Brel, 1968 (Belgian singer, 1929-1978)

I shall try to translate it -

the mere fact of dreaming is already very important,
I wish you endless dreams and the fervent desire

to achieve some of them
I wish you to love what/who needs to be loved
and to forget what/who needs to be forgotten
I wish you passions
I wish you silences
I wish you bird songs upon awakening
and the laughter of children
I wish that you can resist quagmires, indifferences,
and the negative virtues of our time.
I especially wish for you to be yourself.
Adventure is the treasure
Which you discover in each morning."
-Jacques Brel, 1968 (Belgian singer, 1929-1978)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmas Cards

Since I was a wee girl I have been collecting postcards. It started with the collection of vintage postcards given to me by my grandfather. I have many vintage cards but also new postcards. I like to send postcards – and receive them of course. In this country people do not send as many postcards to their friends while on vacation as is done in Europe. But they do send many Christmas (post)cards.

In France not many Christmas cards are sent (at least when I lived there) because, unless one is a practicing Christian, Noel (Christmas) is considered more as a children’s holiday – for Santa, or as a family celebration. Close family members and close friends may exchange one or two gifts.

Most French people send Happy New Year cards during the whole month of January. New Year celebrations are also more popular than Christmas, at least in Paris. There are always elaborate parties with family, friends or at restaurants and clubs to celebrate New Year’s Eve, which is called “Le Réveillon” and also “La Saint Sylvestre." Champagne flows freely – oysters on the half shell and foie gras are consumed with pleasure. At midnight everyone kisses under the mistletoe. On New Year’s Day (Le Jour de l’An) family and friends get together for another big meal and exchange presents.

Armenian families, just like Russian and Greek families celebrate Christmas on January 7th, according to the Julian calendar followed by the Armenian/Russian/Greek and other Orthodox churches. The Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar adopted by most countries, the United States included.

Card From The Four Gospels, Armenian early 17th century

Nowadays, since we are retired and our family is not large, we do not receive many Christmas cards – maybe 8 or 10 at most. But this week I posted 50 cards in the mail. I sent some to old friends and some family – who rarely answer - but then again to perfect strangers. If you have read the short story by Truman Capote “A Christmas Memory” you will recall that his cousin and he would bake 30 fruitcakes. Who were these cakes for? Here, quoting from the story: “…the larger share is intended for persons we’ve met maybe once, perhaps not at all.” As you can see in the following paragraph, I, just like Truman Capote and his cousin, have found a way to send good cheer to persons I have not met.

I enjoy cards so much that I think other people must be pleased to receive them, too. Many people are lonely and fighting some depression at this time of year. Living in Georgia I am fortunate that the Ga. Department of Agriculture sends a free monthly news bulletin called the “Farmers and Consumers Market Bulletin.”

In their first issued every December they list the names and addresses of “Special People.” These are people, especially the elderly and shut-ins, who often find themselves without loved one to share holidays. The Bulletin writes that although their circumstances may vary they would all like to receive cards from readers. Then they list about 200 names and addresses throughout Georgia. I pick about 35 names, usually from tiny towns and send them a pretty Christmas card with a hand-written greeting. I used to send more than 50 cards but with the increase in the price of stamps I have had to streamline. I have been sending cards like this for years – am not sure when I became aware of the Special People list, but maybe 15+ years ago. It is a ritual at Christmas time and I anxiously wait for the list.

Below are two of the cards I sent this year to family, friends and the Special People. I would like to send a card to each of you, but since I do not have your address, this will be a virtual Christmas card of good cheer.

A traditional Christmas card -

or a more modern style one -

Inside it says: "perfect love, perfect peace, perfect joy to you"

The Eiffel Tower in Paris is 120 years old this year. Last month when we were there around 8:00 pm at night the Eiffel Tower lit up and sparkled like a Christmas tree then there was a light show with vibrating colors surrounding it. This show is to celebrate the Tower’s birthday and is taking place from October until the end of December. It was a fascinating display that I wish you could all see so I found the link to it and if you click on the picture below you should see it. This is the first time I attach a video link so I hope it will work. Enjoy -

So A Merry Christmas to all my blogging friends who come from many parts of the world – I hope I won’t make a mistake when I say some of your greetings:

Joyeux Noel (French)
Shenoraavor Nor Dari yev Pari Gaghand (Armenian)
Puthuvalsara Aashamsakal (Malayalam)
Buon Natale (Italian)
Fröhliche Weihnachten (German)
Feliz Navidad (Spanish)
God Jul (Norwegian)
Zalig Kerstfeest (Dutch)
Milad Majid (Arabic)
Glædelig Jul (Danish)
Nadolig Llawen (Welsh)
Srozhdestovm Kristovim (Russian)
Feliz Natal (Polish)
Bada Din Mubarak Ho (Hindi)
Vesele Vianoce (Slovak)
Selamat Hari Krismas (Malay)
Maligayang Pasko (Philippines)
Craciun fericit si un An Nou fericit! (Romanian)
Noeliniz Ve Yeni Yiliniz Kutlu Olsun (Turkish)
Kellemes Karácsonyi ünnepeket és Boldog Új Évet! (Hungarian)
Hyvää Joulua or Hauskaa Joulua (Finnish)
Hristos se rodi (Serbian)
Geseende Kersfees (Afrikaan)

To those friends who do not celebrate Christmas, I wish you happy New Year festivities.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Wishing for snow

The picture above is not what we would see walking outside today (no snow yet) and it is 60 degrees F (15.5 C.) This was a picture I took one day last year in January. We were so surprised to see snow covering our garden that morning. I hurried outside and took some pictures because it was not very cold and it would soon melt.

Also last January I took the following series of snow pictures - this was our back yard then; you can even get a glimpse of our neighbors’ lake in the background -

Click on image to enlarge it.

and part of our barn

one of the bird feeders

looking toward the front of the house

and the side of the house

then we took our cat Cody so he could smell the snow – he was terrified.

A few hours later the sun was peeking out and the snow was already melting. So sad – in the Deep South snow is not a frequent visitor.

Growing up I do not remember this much snow in Paris either – there would be some snow for a couple of days, but it would not last too long. I do not have pictures from that time but found the one below (free photo courtesy of Life.)

My mother’s friend, who was a furrier, gave her some rabbit fur remnants. So mum made me a fur cape, a fur hat and a fur “manchon” for my hands. I don’t know what you call this in English but you can see what it looks like in the painting below. It is called “Dame au Manchon” and was painted in 1880 by Berthe Morisot, French painter (1841-1895.) I loved my cape and was always wishing for snow, or at least some cold weather, so I could wear it.

Mother made another cape, years later, for my daughter. Here is a picture of Céline in her white fur cape.

When I moved to San Francisco, there was not much snow in winter either. My boyfriend lived in Montana and his family invited me there for my first Christmas in the USA. When the plane approached Great Falls it circled above the city but everything looked white from the sky. When the aircraft started the descent we could then see the great city trees covered with snow and decorated with vibrant lights. This was fairyland to me.

But that was many winters ago. Now in Georgia – I am wishing for snow – one or two days would be good so we can go out – listen to all the muffled sounds and look at everything turned clean and white.

Trees in a Winter Landscape, Aleksander A. Borisov (1815-1892)

Here is a stanza from the poem “Winter’s Spring”

I love the snow, the crumpling snow
That hangs on everything,
It covers everything below

Like white dove's brooding wing,
A landscape to the aching sight,
A vast expanse of dazzling light.
- John Clare, English Poet (1793-1864)

La Charrette, route sous la neige à Honfleur - 1867, Claude Monet

And for my French speaking blogging friends, here is the last stanza from the poem “La Neige

Qu'il est doux, qu'il est doux d'écouter des histoires,
Des histoires du temps passé,
Quand les branches d'arbres sont noires,
Quand la neige est épaisse et charge un sol glacé !
- Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863)

And for my Jewish blogging friends I’d like to wish them a Happy Chanukah.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Return to Vaux le Vicomte

When I was a child my parents drove often to a small town south of Paris to visit my cousins. It is about 17 miles from the outskirts of Paris but really about 40 miles (65 kms) from the center of Paris where we lived. Even though it is close to the capital it is amidst sugar beets and wheat fields and feels like one must be miles away. It was great fun for me to play with my cousin who lived with her grandparents (my grandmother and her grandfather were brothers and sisters. ) When we were about 16 years old her grandparents bought her a “velo Solex” which is a bicycle with a small motor on the front wheel. This is what I found on their UK site: “The Solex is a powered bycicle, not a moped. It was invented in 1946 in France, as a low cost, reliable transport for a decimated country. It is a classic design which, since its invention has sold over 8 million, mainly in Europe and Scandinavia. They have a tremendous reputation for being fun, reliable and economic. “ Below is a picture of a man riding a velo Solex in Paris, circa the mid 50s by the looks of the cars.

The priest where my cousin lived was upgrading from a velo Solex to a Mobylette to visit his flock. My father bought his Solex for me so I could ride with my cousin whenever I visited her. We had so much fun on our Solex which got about 100 miles to the gallon – we would often ride to Maincy where the castle of Vaux le Vicomte is located. Maincy is a little town about 6.5 miles away (11 kms) which we would reach by riding over a long road bordered with tall Plane trees. In those days the interior of the castle could not be visited but the alleys and the woods around it could.

Picture of some of the road and gardens below -

We rode there many times but I never took any picture of the castle. The castle was so familiar to us but we never knew its history – we just knew that it was owned by a sugar magnate. My cousin married at 18 years of age and a few years later I left for my visit to the United States. Our velo Solex were sold.

Below is the castle of Vaux le Vicomte and its gardens viewed from the sky (courtesy of the castle.)

Click on the picture to enlarge it
When my mother moved into a nursing home in the early 2000s, she selected one close to my cousin’s new hometown (close to the town where my cousin grew up.) When I visited my mum my cousin drove me around and we went to the castle of Vaux le Vicomte of course. That week was called “Journée du Patrimoine” and entrance to the castle was free. France’s national heritage week occurs usually the 3rd week of September and millions of visitors are allowed free access in local heritage sites, like castles, etc. This is when, after so many years, I was able to visit the interior of the castle, learn its history, take pictures and buy some postcards. This year again, when we went to France at the end of last October, we stayed with my cousin and we went to Vaux le Vicomte so my husband could visit it too, but unfortunately it was a Wednesday when the castle is closed to visitors.

Here is the picture of what we found – the gates closed.

The history of the castle and its owners is a long one, but I’ll try to be short (if I can…) The construction of the castle began in 1658 and ended in 1661. It is the most elaborate house built in the mid 17th century in France. It was built for Nicolas Fouquet (1615-1680) who was Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance. Fouquet came from a rich family, had a keen intelligence, loved the arts, letters, pictures, tapestries, flowers and was a patron of many artists, poets, authors, etc. Among them were La Fontaine and Molière. Fouquet invested his immense fortune in the building of this palatial castle. He selected 3 great artists: architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun and landscape gardener André Le Notre. Le Notre cleared 100+ acres from the wild woods of the estate to create an innovative garden with a sweeping view of more than a mile long (3 kms.) He used a geometric plan containing vast vistas, fountains, statues, orderly boxes of shrubberies, lawns and fountains. This was the birth of the elegant French landscape gardening style which would become the “jardin à la française” used in many European castles, grand houses and other elegant estates around the world. The Swan House in Atlanta has a garden à la française.

Postcards and photos provided by the castle and friends of the castle

Painter Charles Le Brun decorated the castle in a lavish and dazzling style. The interior rooms were furnished with elegant furniture, paintings, tapestries and statues. Later on he was to be employed by the King of France and was the originator of the Louis XIV style.

Postcards and photos provided by the castle and friends of the castle

Unfortunately Nicolas Fouquet was not to live in his beautiful castle for long. He was extremely successful with a brilliant mind and a generous spirit. He was very ambitious and loved refinement and luxury. This created extreme jealousy among the advisors of King Louis XIV (1638-1715) who plotted against Fouquet hoping to bring his downfall. King Louis was only 23 at the time and easily influenced. He was persuaded that Fouquet was embezzling funds from the royal coffers (which was not true) and decided to imprison him. First, though, he accepted an invitation to visit Fouquet’s castle at Vaux le Vicomte. Fouquet organized an extremely elaborate and magnificent party in honor of the king on 17 August 1661. All the guests praised Fouquet for the beauty of his castle, the décor, the music and they applauded greatly the final fireworks. This displeased King Louis, the “Sun King”, greatly because he felt “upstaged.” On 10 September 1661, 3 weeks after the party, the captain of the King’s Musketeers, d’Artagnan, arrested Fouquet on the orders of Louis XIV.

The “Mousquetaires” (Musketeers) were a French infantry type soldiers equipped with a musket. They were popularized in the Alexandre Dumas’ book “The Three Musketeers.”

Pictures of the corps of Musketeers (from re-enactment at the castle)

Nicolas Fouquet was sentenced by Louis XIV to life-imprisonment in a small fortified prison where he died in 1680. His wife was exiled and Louis XIV was then able to seize, confiscate and even purchase 120 tapestries, the statues, and many other things from the castle. The Sun King then hired Fouquet’s trio of artists Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Notre to come to Versailles and built a palace which would be even grander than Vaux le Vicomte. Versailles palace became one of the largest in Europe. On the postcards of Vaux le Vicomte is printed: “Le Chateau qui inspira Versailles” (the castle which inspired Versailles.)

Below is a portrait of Louis XIV painted by Charles Le Brun in 1666, the castle of Vaux le Vicomte on top and the Palace of Versailles in the bottom.

Mrs. Fouquet was exiled but recovered Vaux le Vicomte 10 years later. She sold it in 1705 to some noble family who kept it until it became run down. Mr. Alfred Sommier, a sugar magnate, was the winning bidder when the castle was sold at public auction in 1875. By 1908 he had it totally restored. The castle is now owned by his direct descendants, the glamorous Count and Countess de Vogüé, who continue the work to preserve Vaux le Vicomte. It is the most important private property listed on the Historical Monument List of France. When we stopped by last month you could see that the right side of the building was being restored. I took the pictures below.

Click on any picture to enlarge it

The estate is opened from March to November. Electric club cars can be rented to further explore the garden. Special events take place as, for instance, the “Day of the Great Century” where visitors can come wearing costumes from the 17th Century, as in the pictures below.

The castle of Vaux le Vicomte is available for hire by private parties like corporations or celebrities. Non famous people (as my cousin’s nephew) can have their wedding pictures taken there. Well-known people like French basketball player Tony Parker had his wedding ceremony there in July 2007. He married a Mexican-American fashion model named Eva Longoria, who I believe also does some acting on soap operas in the US. (their photo courtesy of French newspaper Le Figaro.)

Vaux le Vicomte celebrates Christmas and is opened on three week-ends during the Holiday Season. The interior and the garden are decorated and illuminated.

Then it is closed during the winter months and can be observed through the gate only.

Many years ago, when my cousin and I rode to Vaux le Vicomte on our Solex bikes, we rarely saw anyone there. We would not have imagined that years in the future the castle would be open to visitors and we would come back and discover its interior – its exterior is part of our childhood. It will always stay in our memory like a cherished sepia photograph.

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