Friday, January 18, 2013

A Sunday Promenade in Dijon - Part Deux

A courtyard well, overcome with ivy

On the first part of this walk I gave you an architectural tour.  Now it’s time for the little touches that brighten the day and make it feel like a neighborhood and not just another anonymous street.

It looks like on Wednesday and Thursday there’s some kind of garage sale or moving sale.  What I want to know is where do I go to learn to write in this beautiful French script I see everywhere.

We seem to have a blues club in the neighborhood, but since it was a Sunday morning it was dark and locked up tight.  I’ll have to check back later to see who’s playing.

I don’t understand the tradition of these stencils that show up everywhere.  I’ve taken dozens of pictures – some humorous, some making political statements, some just honoring an artist.  I have no idea what this whimsical fellow represents, but he makes me smile on a cold walk to the market.  I'm sure he'll be gone by the time I return to France, replaced by another.
On a dreary winter day the moss shines on the large gate to one of many private high schools in the city.  This massive entrance used to protect the nuns in the convent connected to the church, St. Michel, which dominates the neighborhood.  It’s a residential high school, with the students in another building across the street.
A small commercial stretch, rue Jeannin, at the end of my street.  It has all the basics: four bakeries, a pharmacy, a small grocery store, a kebab shop, a laundromat, and restaurants representing at least five ethnicities.
I’m not exactly sure what rules of parking are in operation here.  I think I’ll stick with finding a well-marked spot on the street.  Perhaps this is why many of the sidewalks are made from that fine gravel like on a running track.

This absolutely confirms that Brad and I were right to buy this place.  I guess I know where I’ll find my drum-playing husband on Saturday afternoons when I get back from the market.

This final shot is one reason that a place like France draws me.  Every little village has some kind of statue or tribute to their sons who died in war.  I had crossed to the other side of my street and stopped for a moment to do something like put on my hat.  My eyes went up to this plaque I had never noticed before.
The translation says:

Here was the seat of the network

René Grenier-Godard

The home of Lieutenant
 René Grenier-Godard 16 1/2 years

Deputy Chief of network

Exterminated foully March 25, 1945

After 33 months of captivity at  Dora

French people remember

He died for your freedom

and the nine members of his family

and those of his network

An internet search to learn about him took me to the website for the Ministry of Veterans and War Victims, which keeps a list of those who died in deportation to concentration camps.  According to his entry, René Grenier-Godard died in Germany just shy of his 20th birthday.  He didn’t live long enough to fight epic battles, but he must have lived the kind of life that made his friends and neighbors want to remember him.

It’s difficult to avoid the weight of history in France.  The past always seems to juxtapose the present, for example, with my space-age digital kitchen in my ancient apartment building.  But back at home in the U.S. it’s so easy to have no context for where you live.  I do know that playwright Tennessee Williams briefly lived a few houses up from me.  And in Forest Park at the end of my street I can still walk through buildings constructed for the 1904 World’s Fair.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, to have visible signs of the history connected to the street on which you live?  Who came before?  How many sons and daughters died in defense of us?  Who grew up to do important things, even if not a household name?  Is there anything significant about the style of the houses worth noting?

I realize in the U.S. it’s a little harder to do that since many neighborhoods are less than a decade old.  However, we could work a little harder at treasuring our history a little more.  In a neighborhood near mine, the streets are marked by brick columns that say “Old Town Clayton.”  However, you’ll not find any of the beautiful clapboard farm houses and Arts and Craft bungalows that told the story of the growth of the area.  They’ve been replaced with condos and 3-car garages instead of wrap-around porches and front lawns.  I feel like taking a sledgehammer to those entry columns because the irony is killing me.

 However, the idea of dotting the community with a few more plaques might make us pause to think about where we live and not always be in such a hurry to plow it under in chase of the next new thing.

Do you have any particular place in your neighborhood that is plaque-worthy?  What stories are worth telling about a neighborhood where you lived?  Tell us in the comments box what you think is worth noting.  Any famous people that your area can claim?  Any events worth mentioning?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Sunday Promenade in Dijon


I love Sundays in my adopted town of Dijon, France.  The streets and sidewalks are quiet, except for a few morning joggers (Sunday is the only day I see them), so it’s possible to stand in the middle of the street to get a photo without being run over or to pause on a sidewalk without being plowed down by someone reading phone messages as she scurries down the street on business.  Kind of like texting and driving.  So on this first Sunday back in town I went out into the empty streets to explore my new neighborhood, camera in hand.  Come along with me on the journey.

While my apartment is within the boundaries of the historic district (no hanging laundry in the window to dry!), the neighborhood comes up short in the ancient-buildings-with giant-beams-in-the-ceiling front.  But that’s okay because I prefer my living space not to have a permanent 10º tilt in the floor.

My neighborhood primarily represents the belle époque era of architecture, lasting from around 1880-World War I.  It encompassed Art Deco/Art Nouveau in Europe and the Arts and Crafts movement in the United Kingdom and the United States.  When you think of France, you think of Paris and such iconic belle époque landmarks as the metro signs or the le chat noir.  I guess it appeals to me because my neighborhood in St. Louis got its start during this period, too, although American housing from that period looks completely different.

1/15/13_a   1/15/13_b

Let’s start with my building.  It was built in 1900.  I know that because French law requires at the closing of a purchase a recitation about the history of the building.  I can’t tell you more because that would require me to translate more than I want to.  The photo at the top of the post is the community faucet in the courtyard of my building.  It hangs over a trough carved out of a single piece of stone (sorry would have had to move bikes and garbage bins to get a good shot).  I’m assuming originally it was the only source of water for the building.  I don’t want to know about the toilet facilities of the time.

Next is one of the remaining pieces of ancient ramparts in the city.  It’s about as tall as a three-story house.  There’s a door at street level, but I can’t see what is hidden behind this wall.


A bit of belle époque architecture.  This is just the top of the house because many of these properties surrounded themselves with high stone walls.  The house is isolated at this intersection, surrounded by modern apartment complexes.  The brick and the ironwork mark this era of building design.


“Little pink houses for you and me.”  Sorry, don’t think this is what John Mellencamp had in mind.  But I love the pink brick and green wall as well as the combined angles and curves of the roof line.


I’m lucky enough to have some of this colored glass on my balcony.  These porch covers are all over Dijon, adding an Art Deco flair.  The photo was taken in the summer if you’re wondering about the blooming roses.  When you live in an ancient city like this, you don’t have manicured lawns and freshly painted front doors, but there are so many pockets of beauty amid the dirt of a few hundred years.


“This is not a pipe.”  Anybody here read John Green’s amazing, award-winning novel The Fault In Our Stars?  If I hadn’t finished it on the trip over (trying not to sob in public on the plane and train) I never would have noticed this.  First read, here, about artist René Magritte who first said this, then rush to your local library or bookstore or e-reader to get a copy of Green’s novel and read it right now because this quotation plays a big part in his story.  I mean it.  Read it.  Right now.


The temperature is dropping and it’s getting dark now, so how about we finish this tour of the neighborhood in a couple of days.  Get yourself something warm to drink and when the feeling returns to your toes, come back and tell us in the comments box about one of your favorite buildings you’ve encountered.  Is there a particular architectural style you love or is it the funky stuff like this.  And if you’ve read John Green, tell me what you think -- even if you didn't like it (no spoilers, please).

After my last post about Russia's adoption ban, I read that some people in Russia do think this is outrageous.  One of the marchers says he would love to adopt but can't afford it, so he doesn't think it's right that the children suffer.  Unfortunately, the political atmosphere in that country rarely lets what's best for the children rule the day.
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