Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Great Enterprise

I've always wanted to tackle or, more accurately, dissect and discuss, the Royal Family's famed June 1791 attempted escape from what was essentially captivity in the Tuileries Palace in Paris.  The topic has seemed too large for me to do it justice, but I have a new book that's so fascinating that my already tenuous hold on my mental health pretty much depends upon me getting this all out of my head.

So, plan is:  I'll take it chapter by chapter and just write at will.  I'll think of my new project as "The Great Enterprise" which is how the escape plan is referred to on the night of the departure by Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Comte and Comtesse de Provence when they met for dinner hours before they set off.

Lenôtre also wrote Paris in the Revolution which, I've mentioned, includes detailed, very detailed, descriptions of places and situations.  His quest for exactitude absolutely speaks to my soul.  I so need to understand EXACTLY.  It's a little quirk I have.  So, I'm totally psyched to be reading primary source details about the flight to (rather, that prematurely ended in) Varennes and the prospect of recording them here.  Maybe then I'll be able to sleep at night.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Château de Digoine

Architectural Digest December 2014 issue features a spread on a newly restored Burgundy château owned by a French television producer slash collector whose choices reflect a love of history not merely of monetary value nor beauty.  Pardon me for being so crass as to bring up money, but maybe Hollywood should rethink salaries.  According to the article, the producer, Jean-Louis Remilleux came from "modest circumstances."  He's come a long way.  I haven't seen the homes of Tom Hanks nor Stanley Kubrick, but doubt they measure up.  The French producer knows how to spend it well, though.  Architectural Digest quotes him, "I have a nostalgia for a time I never experienced... Antiques are not dead things.  They teach us a lot about how we lived and thought." He completed this little fixer upper in a year and said of his "addiction," "it's cheaper than cocaine and better for my health."

Remilleux lives in the château, but parts of it are open for visitors. How spectacular!  If Burgundy were within walking distance of Paris, I'd love to take the tour. Damn my navigation limitations!  I'd love to see the Marie Antoinette room with its Alexander Kucharsky "image" (that makes me wonder whether or not it's an original) of the Queen mourning Louis XVI.  It's mentioned in the article, but not represented in the photos.

The canapé beneath the mirror belonged to Madame Geoffrin in whose salon gathered the brilliant artists, politicians and intellectuals of the 18th century.  If only furniture could speak...

The bed once belonged to famous French Revolutionary Madame Roland. Its setting at Château de Digoine is more sumptuous than that in her relatively humble home would've been.  I wonder what Madame Roland would've thought had she known where her bed would end up.  I bet she'd have feigned indignation, but strutted, internally.

Treat yourself to this Architectural Digest article with its sumptuous photographs of the home and collection and interview with the château's owner, Jean-Louis Remilleux.  If you're like me, reading it and viewing the pictures will provide a character-building, envy-squelching opportunity.

Thanks to Tea at Trianon blog for bringing the article to my attention.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Christmas Vacation

Christmas 2014 is over, but I still have a week of vacation left and our children are still home.

Wreath is slightly off-center.  Par for the course.  So close, yet so far away, Madeleine.  And, what's with the unlit colored lights string?  Actually, this is an old picture.  The porch looked better this year.  Still, if I don't stop looking at Southern Living before the holidays, implement a suicide watch next November.

Elf ornament from my childhood Christmas tree
Elf on a Shelf's Grandpa

This was Jessi's fifteenth year of tearing wrapping paper off her Christmas stuffed animal with her teeth before gnawing it until the squeaker falls out and we have to snatch it up before she chokes on her gift.

We had Christmas morning at about two p.m., because first we had to go to the barn.

My French toast casserole was a triumph.  

The smell of spray starch evoked memories of 
Dessi ironing my older brother's Norfolk Catholic button down shirts 
and made ironing my mother's linen napkins feel like an honor.

Micah and Shuyang wrapping gifts

Watching Shuyang hang her first Christmas ornament was a great, but hearing her giggle at her first viewing of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation was even better.


Terry and Jessi

Blog Fuel

Heath Lee, author of an upcoming book about POW wives/fellow French fanatic/new friend, sent me a package of French treats - the book about Josephine, a small book about French style, and a pin - for no reason... just because she's awesome.

My brother, Michael, knowing my close ties with Virginia Beach, sent me a book that features VB postcards - very cool and sentimental.  

David, English major son and newly robed lawyer, who shares my love of words and compulsion (before I got lazy, bc no one reads my words anyway) for finding just the right word, gave me Garner's Modern American Usage - sure to lead me to words that provide the satisfying mental click that occurs when I'm able to express myself exactly as I'd like. 

Micah, daughter who knows me like a well-read book, selected an assortment of especially significant blog posts - on family, horses, childhood, history - and had them made into a book. Nothing could have meant more to me both for the motive and the content.  She said all the time she spent putting it together was the reason she got an A and two Bs, rather than the three As she wanted, when grades came out.

Listen to Your Mother

~ Marie Antoinette at about the age at which she wrote the Count Rosenberg letter ~

It pains me to acknowledge that Marie Antoinette wasn't perfect.  

But, so what, who likes perfect people anyway?  

Her tendency toward mockery and cattiness reached back to her childhood in Vienna and was no secret to her mother.  That irreverent spirit may've been one of the characteristics Empress Maria Theresa had in mind when she wrote to Louis XV, Marie Antoinette's future father-in-law, requesting patience for the fourteen year old archduchess who would soon be in his care... "Her intentions are excellent, but given her age, I pray you to exercise indulgence for any careless mistake."  The Empress had tried to nip that playful mischief in the bud by separating her youngest daughter from her sidekick, the Empress' second youngest daughter,  Maria Carolina, in the children's wing of the palace.

It was one thing, though, to hear through the grapevine that her daughter, the Dauphine, then Queen of France, giggled with her ladies over the nicknames she assigned various members of her household.  It was entirely different when Marie Antoinette wrote to Count Rosenberg, an old friend of the Austrian Imperial family, bragging that she'd manipulated her husband, the King of France, the poor man, "le pauvre homme," into giving her permission to meet with the duc de Choiseul.  The letter is an illuminating example of her interference in the workings at court, as well, as she told him of her machinations regarding the appointment of her close friend, Princesse de Lamballe to a post that should've, by tradition, gone to another family.   

Marie Antoinette to Count Rosenberg, 13 July 1775

I was not at my ease, Monsieur, when I wrote you my last letter because it was to go by post.  I must go all the way back to M. d'Auguillon's departure to give you a full account of my behavior.  That departure is altogether my work.  I had had enough;  that nasty man kept all sorts of spying and unpleasant talk.  He tried to brave me more than once in the business of M. de Guines;  immediately after the judgement, I asked the King for his removal.  It is true I didn't want to use a lettre de cachet, be he gained nothing by this because instead of staying in Touraine, as he wanted to do, he was asked to keep going all the way to Aiguillon, which is in Gascony.

You may have heard about the audience I gave the duc de Choiseul at Rheims.  People have talked about it so much that I wouldn't be surprised if old Maurepas was afraid he was going to be sent home for a rest.  You may well believe that I didn't see him without first telling the King, but you will never guess the stratagem I used not to look as if I were asking for his permission.  I told him that I felt like seeing M. de Choiseul and that I was only puzzled about the day.  I managed it so well that the poor man settled himself the hour at which it would be most convenient for me to see him.  I think I used my prerogative as a woman to the full.

At last we are going to be rid of M. de la Vrillièrre.  Although he was hard of hearing, he still heard that it was time he left, for fear he might find the door locked against him.  He will be replaced by M. de Malesherbes...

I have made a great loss... in Mme de Cossé...  Mme de Chimay has replaced her. 

I have quite another project in mind.  The maréchale de Mouchy will be leaving, I'm told.  I do not know who I will take in her place;  but I have asked the King to take advantage of this change to appoint Mme de Lamballe as Superintendent.  Imagine how happy I am;  I will make my intimate friend happy and will enjoy it even more than she.  This is a secret;  I am not yet telling the Empress. Only the Emperor knows;  insist that he tell no one - you can easily see why..."

Count Rosenberg was horrified by the Queen's casual disrespect for the King and passed the letter on to her mother who wrote her a reproachful letter two weeks later.

Empress Maria Theresa

Maria Thesesa to Marie Antoinette, 30 July 1775

Madame my dear daughter,

The courier goes a day earlier as it is carrying money to the [Austrian] Netherlands;  I wanted to tell you at the earliest possible opportunity how the too magnificent present of the hair of my dear children pleased me;  it is perfectly worked and does honor to the artisans of Paris and to my dear daughter, who wanted to treat her old Mama.

But how little that pleasure lasted!  I cannot hide from you that a letter you sent to Rosenberg upset me most dreadfully.  What style!  What frivolity!  Where is the kind and generous heart of the Archduchess Antoinette?  All I see is intrigue, low hatred, a persecuting spirit, and cheap wit - intrigue of a sort a Pompadour or a Barry would have indulged in so as to play a great role, something which is utterly unfitting for a Queen, a great Princess of the House of Lorraine and Austrin, who should be full of kindness and decency.  Your too early successes and your entourage of flatterers have always made me fear for you, ever since that winter when you wallowed in pleasures and ridiculous fashions.  Those excursions from pleasure to pleasure without the King and in the knowledge that he doesn't enjoy them and that he either accompanies you or leaves you free out of sheer good nature - all that causes me to mention in my letters justified concern.  Now I see it all too confirmed by your letter.

What a tone!  "The poor man!"  Where is the respect and the gratitude you owe him for all his kindness?  I leave you to your own thoughts and say no more, although there would be much more to be said.

Nor do I mention the secret you are trying to keep in regard to your appointment of the Lamballe.  I wrote you what I did for your own good.  Two Piedmontese sisters-in-law, one of which has provided an heir to the throne, and the other leading the wisest and quietest life which earns the approval of all sensible people, and all foreigners, and you want your Superintendent to be another Piedmontese?...

Your happiness can vanish all too fast, and you may be plunged, by your own doing, into the greatest calamities.  This is the result of your terrible dissipation, which prevents your being assiduous about anything serious.  What have you read?  And, after that, you dare to opine on the greatest State matters, on the choice of ministers?  What does the abbé do?  And Mercy?  It seems to me that you dislike them because instead of behaving like low flatterers, they want you to be happy and do not amuse you or take advantage of your weaknesses.  You will realize all this one day but it will be too late.  I hope not to survive that dreadful time, and I pray to God that He end my days sooner, since can no longer help you but cannot bear to lose or watch the sufferings of my dear child, whom I will love dearly till my last breath."

For the record, mother wasn't above pressuring daughter to use those feminine wiles to get what mother wanted from Louis XVI.  Nor was she, early on, above showing a lack of respect for him in her letters.  All the same, Marie Antoinette's life would've probably ended differently had she heeded her mother's warnings.

I have Marie Antoinette's and Maria Therese's correspondence in book form, because I prefer holding a book in my hand to reading one on a screen, but some of their letters (among others) can also be found at this website.  You could also order Secrets of Marie Antoinette, by Olivier Bernier on Amazon.com  which contains the expanded collection.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Wandering around France with Keeper

My little dog's name is Keeper, because when I tasked Micah with finding me a puppy ("You know what I like, go find me a puppy.") the summer before she went away to college, she found two.  I took them both home overnight to get to know them better and kept this one.  Thus, the name.  He's half Bichon Frise and half Shih Tzu.   Mind wandering, habitually looking to snag a French angle, I thought maybe I should've named him Bijoux - French for jewelry, and a combination of his two breeds, sort of.  Bi Tzu.  We could call him Bee.  

That led wandering mind to G. Fouquet's early 20th century art nouveau jewelry store relocated from Rue St. Honore to Musée Carnavalet in Paris and the day I visited it with my sister-in-law, Michele, in March 2012.  

The design of the fashionable store was as much a showpiece as the jewelry they displayed.  
Not my style, but interesting.

Michele peeking out the front door of the reconstructed jewelry store.  


While we're on the subject of jewelry, this is our March 2013 private Versailles guide and a mock-up of the Queen's famous necklace, that of the Diamond Necklace Affair.  It was in one of the rooms on our back room tour of the chateau.  I love the expression on the guide's face.  Serious about the subject.  She liked us, because we (Elissa and I) were serious and she could tell that we know more about French history than the average tourist.  I hung on her every word and dragged as many out of her as possible.

She seems to be saying, "Now let me get this just right." which I appreciate.

The Diamond Necklace Affair story is outlandish, by any standards.  As convoluted and outrageous as it was, it was damaging and was an important step stone toward the French Revolution and the demise of Bourbon Monarchy.

Gossip and slanderous libelles had so sullied Marie Antoinette's image that when she unknowingly became a central player in a scam involving...

1) a royal descendant born into poverty turned prostitute/con artist
2) a fabulously wealthy, well-connected Cardinal de Rohan, former ambassador to Marie Antoinette's mother's Viennese Court where his immoral and disrespectful behavior earned him the eternal disdain of mother and daughter
3) the royal jewelers Boehmer and Bessange who created, at the request of the previous king for his mistress, a monstrosity of a diamond necklace, that they peddled, unsuccessfully, to the world's rich and royal
4) an occultist named Cagliostro who claimed to have been reincarnated
5) random other oddball characters

.... people found it conceivable that it was true.  Some of those that knew it wasn't true nevertheless relished seeing their enemy Queen unfairly persecuted.

A few of the tantalizing scenes that captivated Paris' attention for months...

1)  The queen's routine burning of a note from the jewelers asking for payment for a necklace she hadn't purchased
2)  The Cardinal's arrest, in his pontifical robes, as he prepared to say Mass at Versailles
3)  The Cardinal's secretary's speedy and surreptitious burning of incriminating evidence as instructed by scribbled note penned by a panicked Cardinal
4)  a prostitute/Queen lookalike hired at the Palais Royale,  den of iniquity/residence of the King's traitorous cousin, the duc d'Orleans
5)  said prostitute, not fully aware of the significance of her role, impersonating the Queen in the garden of Versailles
6)  the Cardinal living in relative luxury in the Bastille while his powerful family stood shoulder to shoulder in his defense
7) Jeanne de la Motte's public branding after the Parlement de Paris trial and her subsequent descriptive pornographic publications describing fictional Versailles orgies and such

Though Marie Antoinette was completely innocent, the accusations were believable enough to a public who'd been fed a steady diet of mistruths and exaggerations - some of which were rooted in Marie Antoinette's frivolous behavior.

You might enjoy this cohesive summary of the famous story.  If you really enjoy it, let me know.  I'm always in the market for a new best friend.

I could wander on and on about this for hours, but will wrap this up with something I read somewhere (in the book "Marie Antoinette:  The Journey by Antonia Fraser, I think).  Its slightly raunchy tone might be the reason no one has ever acknowledged the humor I see in the story. Whenever I've gotten up the nerve to relate it, listeners seem to cringe a bit.  Not all that much more than they cringe when I summon the courage to tell any French Revolution anecdote, though, so maybe it's not too offensive.  During the 18th century there was a popular style of very long necklace often gifted to mistresses by their aristocratic lovers.  They were called "la rivière" (the river) because they appeared to flow to their source.  That's pretty clever, I think.  Also, the French word for jewelry, "bijoux," is French slang along the lines of "the family (female) jewels."  Libelists and cartoonists of the Diamond Necklace Affair era gleefully used the play on words when linking the diamond necklace to Marie Antoinette.

And, on that note, I'll wander away...

"You asked me what I want this year..."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

 One hundred fiftieth year of Christmas wreaths at Arlington

And, now my father beside her, gravestone not yet laid.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Fabric of my Family

For some years, until David was in junior high and basketball began to interfere with vacations, we often spent a week or so at Terry's parents' cabin in Ruidoso, NM, during the summer. When I say cabin, I mean one that was built during the Depression by an uncle who needed a place to live.  One that has no running water.   I loved it.  Coal Miner's Daughter, Amish, are my preferred way of life. Or so I tell myself until something shiny catches my eye on Ebay.

A real honest-to-goodness log cabin.  Side view.  Terry and me by the front door on the right.

Looking at old pictures, I'm always struck by the clear remembrance of textures.  The first thing that comes to mind when I look at an old picture, even some from fifty years ago, is how the different items felt to the touch.  

 Occasionally, we left the relative safety of the cabin and camped, in an old Army tent, on Monjeau (a mountain).  This picture doesn't make clear how terrified I was all that night with nothing between us and a serial killer but a thick, musty-smelling, army drab colored tent. And, Terry's .45 which he carried tucked in his pants.

I'd just read A Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule - about Ted Bundy - and the most innocuous hiker seemed like a psychopath ready to make us headline news.

On this day, Micah and Terry climbed a huge outcropping of rocks with a dangerous drop and a spectacular view.  We normally did, too, but that year David and I stayed with our dog, Buster, at the bottom.   Terry took a picture of Micah standing with her head thrown back, eyes closed and arms spread wide.  She wrote a story about that day for a 4th or 5th grade assignment that Fall in which she poured all the feelings, that are evident on her face, onto the page.  I was going to add it to the blog, but pulled it out of a scrapbook and discovered it's six pages long.  It ends with "My dad and I stood up and together, hand in hand, and began the steep decline down The Rock.  I will never forget that wonderful moment." and her teacher's comment, "This is a masterful narrative, Micah.  What a wonderful talent you have!! A+ 100"

The Monk and Big Bunny, behind us on the bottom bunk, make frequent appearances in vacation pictures.  Travel light, we don't.

Some of my favorite memories of Ruidoso, and of my children's childhood, in general, are of reading aloud to Terry and the kids at night.  There's a Texas Library Assoc. list of recommended school age books called the Texas Bluebonnet Award list- they're all so great - though, sometimes, I thought, maybe kind of heavy and thought-provoking for children. We read them anyway. So good!  Oh, that reminds me of how much I loved school book fairs!  I wonder if elementary schools still have book fairs.  And, when I was in elementary school myself, how much I loved the Scholastic book order. Makes my heart pound just to think of it!

For Ruidoso, I chose titles like Summer of the Monkeys by Wilson Rawls and Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, that fit the setting.  My reading aloud skills have disintegrated with disuse, but I used to be pretty good according to my audience.

This is David on what may've been his first trip to the cabin.  One of my favorite pictures of him - with his DD towel.  It was monogrammed with D's, the set a wedding gift, and David eventually pulled all the monogram threads out, leaving a rough, knobby section of material.  I still have that towel. Terry's parents were with us as evidenced by the dominoes on the table, an interrupted game of the West Texas staple, "Forty-Two." I love the simple furniture in the cabin.  Straight out of the 40's or 50's, I'd guess.

Micah, wearing the sweatshirt David is wearing in the picture, above, of him holding his towel (he called it a "tadder") in the kitchen.  We're sitting by Eagle Creek which is, I think, my favorite place to hike in Ruidoso.  That water is icy cold and the kids always stripped down to their underwear and played in it and loved for Terry to hold them upside down and dunk their heads in it.

A good friend from Norfolk visited me in San Francisco after I first got married.  At first, really, the main thing we had in common was that we'd shared a boyfriend, off and on.  But, we began to correspond after I moved away and became good friends and she came to stay with me.  In fact, she visited twice, the second time drove with us to Lubbock when we moved there from SF.  Anyway, she and I both bought the shirt I'm wearing in the above - me in red and her in blue - in SF.  It was the best shirt I've ever owned.  We recently got back in touch (through fb, naturally) and both talked about how soft and comfortable it was.

David, a picnic, a book, Oreos, and velour.  I still have his little tennis shoes, too, with holes in the toes from pushing himself and stopping himself on a little riding toy back home.

Monjeau lookout.  Don't judge me for that fanny pack.  I wish those things weren't pariahs now.  I'd love to wear one in Paris.  So handy.

Micah wearing more of David's hand-me-downs on the same Oreo picnic...  Though it's not my favorite very baby picture of her, it's one of my favorites of us together.  Easy to see why.