Archives for November 2013

Thanksgiving in Paris

Canard we prepared at La Cuisine

Canard we prepared at La Cuisine

What do the Parisians do on Thanksgiving? Actually this very American holiday hasn’t caught on. There’s a shop called Thanksgiving in the Marais that serves American expatriate needs by providing turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and pies, as well as other American ingredients that are just plain missing in France – things like measuring spoons and brown sugar. This morning Brenda prepared a little speech in French to explain Thanksgiving to the dairy products vendor at our local market-now he knows! Word is spreading.

Here's our dry run cooking the canard at home (earlier this week)

Here’s our dry run cooking the canard at home (earlier this week)

For us, well we aren’t having Turkey this year, though dinde (turkey) is sold at the market. We don’t have an oven so we have to find something different that fits the occasion. On Halloween we went to a cooking school, La Cuisine, and found that the main course from that menu, Magret de Canard with Sauce au Vin, is easily prepared in our little kitchen (even though we have to open the windows and ventilate the apartment during preparation). Along with the main dish, we’re having Chanterelle Mushrooms with Herbs and Pine Nuts, Butternut Squash Gratin with Crème Fresh, Nutmeg, and Compté Cheese, Cranberry Sauce with Red Wine and Figs (Thank you David Lebovitz for the recipe !) Pour les dessert, we’re having a raspberry tort framboise. Our wine is a 2010 Hecht and Bannier Syrah from Minervois, where we were earlier this year with friends from Poulsbo on the Canal du Midi.

For me, I’m thankful to be here and that Brenda is doing the cooking. Happy Thanksgiving from Brenda and Hugh!

Concerts at Notre Dame de Paris

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

Notre Dame with about 850 people attending the chorale concert.

We’ve attended several concerts at Notre Dame de Paris. According to the church’s web site, sacred music has been an important part of Catholic worship for 1500 years. There is wonder in knowing that there have been perhaps 35 generations of worship in that place – many more if you count the Roman religious sites that existed there since about 50 AD. The gothic architecture has inspired people to look upward and consider their existence for a very long time, and the effect is no different today.

Sometimes when the mood of the music is right, I’ve found myself recalling the story of the Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame, thinking about the scenes with Quasimodo, La Esmèralda, and Archdeacon Claude Frollo. The darkened cloisters, candles and spotlights illuminating selected works of art help the drama to come alive.

Sitting in a concert can bring to mind some of the church’s long history. In medieval days those darkened cloisters were the meeting places for members of the congregation. One can imagine the bustle and noise of a church filled each day with people meeting friends and exchanging news and ideas. At night it was cold and sombre and dark. The church was also the chief source of education and learning that provided impetus for the growth of Paris’s Latin Quarter. The religious music program at Notre Dame is a continuation of that focus on education.

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame - now at the Cluny Museum

Kings heads from the front of Notre Dame – now at the Cluny Museum

During the Revolution, the mobs broke the windows and took everything of value from the church, including all but one of the bells. They also chopped off the heads and knocked down the statues of all the biblical kings that adorn the front of the building. The mobs mistakenly thought that the statues of biblical kings were those of the hated kings of France. In 1977, long after the figures of the kings had been replaced on the front of the building, the old heads and statues were rediscovered by workers digging around the foundation of a local Paris bank building. These relics of Notre Dame are now on display at Musée de Cluny. Napoleon chose the church as the site of his crowning and coronation as Emperor in 1807, as documented by the famous painting by Jacques Louis David. Even in our own short history in Paris, the church has become a familiar place to admire and visit, and going to concerts provides a perfect opportunity.

The 8000 pipe organ is one of the world’s largest and most famous, and the sound is magnificent. You can see and hear the organ in this U-tube video, which shows the instrument and explains (in French) some about how it works. I recorded a sample of a chorale concert featuring new compositions by 15 composers for a “Notre Dame Choir Book”. The concert music started out pretty dark and heavy with lots of minor chords, but fortunately the music became more hopeful as the night proceeded. The kids singing are between 12 and 14 years old, and they are really impressive. Here is part of the final piece, “Ô Notre Dame du soir” (Our lady of the evening – my apologies in advance for my poor movie making skills):

The lyrics are in French but translated were translated in the program as follows:

Our lady of the Evening,
Whose light shines forth after sunset,
Our hope through the night,
O joy!
Bestow your maternal care
upon us,
Shining star in the overcoming darkness,
O Queen of heaven!
Your tender smile
Is a reflection of God’s tenderness for His
children in exile,
Mother of forgiveness who gave us your Son,
Lead us to Jesus, the Light that was born of
you.
You who dissipate darkness,
O most compassionate,
sweet Virgin Mary!

A Visit to the Assemblée Nationale

Chambers of the Assembly

Chambers of the Assembly – l’hémicycle

Like our previous articles about the Sénat, Hôtel de Ville, and Sorbonne during the special weekend for Journées Européennes du Patrimoine, we also went to the Assemblée Nationale, the French legislative branch lower house. The Assemblée Nationale is not normally open to the public.

A little about the Assemblée Nationale – it consists of 577 members elected directly by the public in a two election process. All candidates compete in the first round of the election. Then in many cases the two candidates with the most votes in round 1 compete in round 2, though it’s possible for a candidate to win outright on the 1st round if he/she has a simple majority. Members serve a term of 5 years. The President of the Republic has the power to dissolve the Assemblée Nationale – a way to resolve stalemates, and the Assemblée has the power to overthrow the executive (the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Cabinet) through a vote of no confidence. In practice neither of these measures are exercised because the President and majority of the Assemblée are from the same party, and the President’s term coincides with those of the members of the Assemblée, so throughout his/her term, there is a majority from his/her party to defeat such a vote. A vote to censure the executive branch is usually a form of protest that can never pass. The Assemblée is presided over by the President of the Assemblée, currently Claude Bartolone. The President is from the majority party. He also has several vice presidents from the other parties.

The Assemblée meets in the Palais Bourbon, which is located along the Seine across the river from Place de la Concorde. The Palais was built by Louis XIV for one of his daughters, Louise François de Bourbon. Construction was completed in 1728. The President of the Assemblée resides in an adjoining building, the Hôtel de Lassay. Our tour visited parts of both these buildings.

We waited probably an hour in a long line outside before reaching the entry to the Hôtel de Lassay. We proceeded through the opulent public spaces of that building and then along the corridor joining it to the Palais Bourbon. All along the way there were placards in French explaining details of the spaces and how that space is used in the daily operation of the legislature. Too many details to cover for you. The highlights of the Palais Bourbon were the assembly chambers, with a huge skylight in the overhead. The library with ceilings by the famous French painter Eugene Delacroix was spectacular. It contained such works as the trial transcript of Joan d’Arc, an Aztec calendar, a copy of the constitution annotated by Robespierre, and numerous articles and manuscripts by Lamartine, Hugo, Clemenceau, Jaurès, and other famous French statesmen.

You can see a photo tour here, and there is a more comprehensive virtual tour on the French web site here.