Monday, March 28, 2011

Book Review: Harvesting the Heart

I just finished this book, Jodi Picoult 's second novel, published in 1993.  It gripped my heart, and that has nothing to do with the title...  It's an incredible strong story about motherhood, and about how fragile life and human relationships can be.  Paige's mother left her when she was only five years old, and this is probably some of the reason that Paige don't think she can take care of a child.  I say some of the reason, because this is not a simple story.  It's filled with complicated characters, with their different kind of emotional luggage, and as I said earlier, the novel just gripped my heart.  
Jodi Picoult is definitively now one of my favorite authors, and I'm just so happy that she keeps on writing.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunset in springtime Vineyard.

Just before the sun sets over the vineyards in Bailly, Bourgogne, seven kids having lots of fun together, soon about to say goodbye to each other.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Village Walk

The first weekend in Vincelottes, our good friends from Paris came to visit.  Our rental house had more than enough space for all 11 of us!  Sunday morning, after a lazy breakfast, we went for a walk, through the village and up in the fields above.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Picture of the Day: Closed Door. Winter Blue.

Taken a couple of weeks ago, in Irancy, a neighboring village to Vincelottes, where we lived, this picture struck me when  I first saw it, even before I thought of picking up my camera... 
It's a closed door.  It's blue.  There is a tree without apparent life, because it's still winter.
Today, it's spring her in France, it has been for three days now, and as the weather warms up and the leaves come out, I get that same melancholic feeling, coming from an unknown place,
and this is the image of it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I'm discovering a French town I knew nothing about: Saint-Etienne, less than an hour's drive from Lyon.  For a week now, I've lived here, and I start to know my way around town.  Every day my husband leaves for work at the university, dropping off our three youngest kids at their school.  My eldest daughter leaves earlier, on the tram.  Then, I work from the apartment for a few hours, before taking the tram downtown and meeting my husband for lunch. We've found a favorite spot: Le Bistro du Boucher, at Place Jean Jaurès.  Today we sat outside, enjoying the spring sun, the view of the cathedrale and the cherry trees all dressed in pink for the season.
Then I read or write some more, usually in a café, before picking up my children.   Today we walked to the big square in front of the city hall, where there is a carrousel, and as most French children, they got some goûter, brought by me: Fresh croissants from the nearby bakery.
Back home in the apartment, there is shower/bath time, and it is a challenge, when there is only one bathroom...  But, that is a learning experience too, to live together, all six of us, in a rather small space.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, there is no school for my youngest, and the two middle kids only have class until 11.30AM.  We'll probably have lunch with my husband, and then we plan on visiting the planetarium, where there is a show on "the birth of the universe".

Monday, March 21, 2011

Book Review: L'élégance du Hérisson

I just finished L'élégance du hérisson by Muriel Barbéry.  (The English translation is The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and the Norwegian:  Pinnsvinets Eleganse.)
I saw the movie made from this book  before reading it, something that is rather unusual for me.  When a movie is adapted from a book, I prefer in general to read the book first.  One of the reasons is that I want to create my own pictures while reading.
Well, here it was ok.  Partly because I didn't mind carrying the movie's images with me, partly because I added lots of my own, since I already know the scene, - the upper class Parisian apartment building.
I love the language of this novel.  It's very elaborated, often even very difficult, and I couldn't possibly read this book while being tired or distracted, because whole streams of thought would get lost.  Whether this goes for the different translations, I wouldn't know, but the original, French text, is not an easy read.
As I already wrote, when I reviewed the movie, we meet Paloma (in the book she is 12, one year older than in the movie) who wants to kill herself, and who calmly and very accurately, describes the people around her.  Then there is Renée, the concierge, who doesn't want people to know how she really is: A woman who loves great literature,  Japanese movies and dark chocolate.  A woman who knows more about the arts and about life than most people, but who plays the role of an ignorant, non-educated and plain concierge, somebody not worthy of  being treated as a human being...  Well, one day young Paloma discovers her secret, that they are, in fact, twin souls, and then there is Kakuro Ozu, the friendly Japanese man who completes the picture.
Read this book.  Really, read it, and make sure to be well rested and alert while reading it.  There is so much.  So many thoughts, so many wonderful ways of looking at life.

My Little Schoolboy. / Le Petit Écolier

We live in France this month.  I say "live" and not "stay", because we really live here.  We eat, sleep, work and go to school, do laundry, groceries, visit with friends and still experience lots of new things.

And, I, who was reluctant by the idea of leaving my youngest in a French school, well, look at his face on this photo, taken when I picked him up one afternoon.  This is his teacher, who sings "Frère Jacques" to him when it's nap-time, and who have him draw pictures in sand and paint with his hands.  He just loves this!  And he already pronounces "Mamma" more like the French "Maman", counts to 15 in French and says "Bonjour Madame" to the receptionist.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

A Pilgrim?

Last week, I was in Vézelay, an medieval town which is an important pilgrim destination. The basilique, Ste-Madeleine, is the largest romanesque church in France,  build over the remains of sainte Mary Magdelene, and because of this the town has had pilgrims coming for centuries.  In addtition to this, Vezelay is also an important stop on the road to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and the 2nd and 3rd crusades started here.
The town is surrounded by mysticism, and many are those who claim to have experiences out of the ordinary here. The light, the air, there is something special about the small town, perched on the "Eternal Hill", overlooking the valleys and vineyards.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Little Brother and Little Big Sister

These pictures were taken last week in Vincelles, the neighboring village to Vincelottes.  Beautiful spring weather and happy, playful kids.  
I just love my son's expression on the two next photos: Love for and security with his (little) big sister. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Book Review: The Solitaire Mystery (Kabalmysteriet)

I read, our rather listened to this book for the first time six years ago.  (Audio books is the most wonderful invention!)  Now, I just finished it (listened again)  for the second time, and this is really one of my all time favorite books!  For those of you who doesn't know the Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, make sure to get acquainted with his writing!  This novel, intended for young readers, is written in 1990, several years before "Sophie's World", his world wide bestseller, and both novels are acclaimed, not only by the intended teenage public, but also with those among us with a few more years of life and experience.
The book is about philosophy, yes, but where this is really obvious in "Sophie's world", it's more subtle in "The Solitaire Mystery".  In this book, philosophy is not so much a topic as a basis for everything.  It's just there, all the time.  Who are we?  Where do we come from?  Why are we here?  These are the main questions, but they're baked into a family saga that spans several hundred years, a strange fairy tale and a contemporary story about a teenage boy and his dad, driving through Europe searching for the boy's mother, who disappeared years ago.
There are so many aspects, so many threads, and it's just wonderful how the whole is woven together, with suspense, history, geography and humanity.  What is a family?  What is is being a human being?  Who made us?  Aren't these questions the core of almost everything?  I think they are.
We listened to the book in the car, while driving from Norway to France, and everyone was totally absorbed in the story. (Maybe except for the three-year-old, who would choose to talk to himself or fall asleep while we listened to the book)
Hereby recommended!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Picture of the Day: The Embrace

Pablo Picasso: L'Etreinte. (1903)

During my lonesome weekend in Paris, a month ago, I visited Musée de l'Orangerie , a museum I hadn't seen in about 13 years.  
This pastel, by Pablo Picasso, "L'Étreinte" caught my eye, and I went back to see it several times during my visit.  A rather small, pale picture, it could easily be overseen, when most people only come to the Orangerie to see Monet's "Nympheas", but it hit me more than any other painting or drawing that morning.
It was made in 1903, during Picasso's Blue Period, and "blue" can be interpreted in several ways, both from the cool, bluish palette of colors, and also from the frame of mind of the artist at that time.  His friend Carles Casagemas, a painter from Barcelona, was dead, and when Picasso came back to Paris, he took over his friend's studio there.  Grief over a good friend's death, the cold light of that place, maybe even the shadow of his friend, all of this has certainly influenced Picasso's work.
Look at the couple.  They are naked, in more than one sense of the word.  They are embracing, but not really getting close.  Her pregnant belly comes between them, and I can feel the quiet, unspoken despair of a condition that should have been a happy one, but instead this pregnancy just adds to their already difficult situation.  "How on earth are we going to manage?..."

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Picture of the day: Good Night Vincelottes!

From my corner on the bedroom floor, where there is, sometimes, a spotty wi-fi access, I post this picture, taken  just outside my door here in the village of Vincelottes.  I assure you, it's not a wildfire, just the sun setting behind the trees on the other side of the river Yonne.
Tomorrow we leave this place. I'll miss it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

1 Mom, 4 Kids in Paris

Last Friday, after a few days here in the village, we went to Paris, only a couple of hours' drive, for the day.  That is, my husband had a meeting in Creteil, a town south-east of the capital, and he dropped us off not far from there, a Vitry-sur-Seine, where we took the RER train the last 20 min. or so to Paris, while he went to work.
We took the train to the Invalides Station, and came out to the grand sights of the Invalides Sanctuary and the Alexandre III bridge.

Kind of strange feeling, actually, to find myself back in Paris again, but this time alone with my four children.  It had been almost 4 years since we last came here as a family, so apart for it being Jonatan's very first time, it was in also a discovery for Samuel and Alma, since they were so much younger the last time we came here.

On the other side of the Seine, we had roasted chestnuts, prepared by Fabrice, and on the famous Champs-Elysées Avenue, we had lunch at Pizza Pino, one of my favorite places to eat in Paris.  Big and obviously catering to tourists, yes, but with a very friendly staff, great service, wonderful view, and delicious Italian and French dishes.  No problem at all coming there alone with four hungry kids, since several waiters helped me haul the stroller up the stairs, and we got the most perfect table, with lots of extra space.  Since the place was packed, we had to wait for our lunches, but they brought my toddler fresh rolls, butter and bread sticks so he could start eating.

Leaving the restaurant, Jonatan fell asleep in the stroller, and we enjoyed a sunny walk on the broad sidewalk of the Champs-Elysées.  Up by the Arc de Triomphe, we went down Avenue Iéna and then cut into rue la Pérouse, where I showed the kids the place I lived when I first came to Paris, in the fall of '93.
Then, strolling down Avenue Kléber, we arrived at Place Trocadéro, where you find the most amazing view of the Eiffel Tower.

I mentioned the strange feeling of being alone in Paris with my children, but actually it wasn't that strange at all, it was in fact familiar and normal.  And, as I pushed the stroller containing my sleeping toddler, I realized that this is how my motherhood started.  For the first 2 1/2 years of being a parent, I spent my time walking the sidewalks of Paris, either carrying a baby, pushing a stroller, or holding the hand of a toddler.
How wonderful it is, such a feeling.  The known, the already felt; the not-so-special but very nice emotion of feeling at home.
I think you leave a part of your heart in the place you're defined as a parent, and well, Paris was my first home as a wife and as a mother.  This city definitely holds a large piece of my heart.

Later in the day, my husband picked us up down by the Seine, and we all drove up through Boulevard Saint-Germain to the Latin Quarter, and  we walked to the Île de la Cité island to visit the Notre Dame.Then, after nightfall, we sat down on a sidewalk café, and we feasted on yummy crêpes and sipped hot chocolate before we regained our car and took off, through the City of Lights, out on the A6 road, back to Bourgogne (Burgundy.)

My daughter is the photographer!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Swan River

For a couple of weeks, we stay in the village of Vincelottes in Bourgogne, France.  Our house is on the shore of the river Yonne, and I walk by the water every day.  On our first night, I took the children out there, and they were all thrilled to see all the beautiful swans swimming by.  Later, we found an island in the middle of the river, with huge trees, small waterfalls and shady areas just perfect for playing.  Since, all they want is to go out there, build houses with the drift wood and branches they find on the ground, and collect fresh water shells and pretty rocks.
In the morning, I love getting up before the rest of the family, or with just my youngest (who usually is the earliest riser anyway) and go for a walk, just when the sun rises over the village and the birds start singing as if their lives depend on it. Then, when the bells in the church tower strike eight, we head home, with fresh croissants  and bread for our breakfast.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Village Life

After three days of travel, we reached the village of Vincelottes Tuesday night. 
The trip went well.  Our kids do great in the car, so hundreds of miles are not at all a problem. 
First day was by car to Oslo, then we had the afternoon and first night on the big ferry to Kiel, Germany.  We enjoyed the swimming pool, play room, and my daughter and I had a most interesting dancing lesson! They announced free dancing lessons on the ship, and we, expecxting a crowd, was very surprised to be the only ones there.  But, it turned out to be just perfect.  It was just the two of us and the dance teachers, and it was lots of fun.  After a full hour of hands-on teaching, we were able to stumble away in a cha-cha-cha!
Next day was all about Germany.  We drove more less non-stop, only paused to have lunch, buy ice cream and other necessery actions.  In the car we listened to an audio-book by Jostein Gaarder: The Solitaire Mystery (Kabalmysteriet.)  We spent the night in a family run hotel in the town of Bad Homborg, near Frankfurt. (The house used to be the residence of the Prince of Wales in the late 19th century!)  Then, on Tuesday March 1st, we arrived in France, and we found our village, by the shores of the river Yonne.  The place is an old stone house, and the village of Vincelottes is charming and drowsy.  We buy the croissants for our breakfast in the next village, Vincelles, only a 15 min. walk on the other side of the river.  We have a huge kitchen with a massive wood table, lots of rooms and space to live in.
My husband goes to work in Auxerre,  a short drive away, we enjoy the French food, the cosy house and the beautiful surroundings, but there is one problem: We were promised internet access in the house, and there isn't any.  A huge problem for my work, and for my kids' school assignments. We're currently working on different options, but in the meantime I'm sort of cut off from the world, except these few minutes as I´m writing this.
Maybe it's a good thing, not to be able to be connected all the time, I don't know. 
Tomorrow we're actually going in to Paris for the day.  While my husband attends a meeting there, I'll take the kids around the city.
Hopefully I'll be able to post some pictures soon, when or if I get some internet moments again.
Have a wonderful weekend everybody!