Vernon is in Normandy on the Seine downstream from Paris. It’s castle, built in 1204, served to protect Paris. The mill ground flour, which could then be readily transported on the Seine. It is a very short distance to Giverny, where Monet established his studio and residence. There is also a museum of Impressionists.
The first mention of the town dates to Roman times. The town was referenced circa 750 by Pepin the Short. The name might be Latin or Celtic in origin. In French today ‘verne’ is a speckled elder tree. In English it is a proper name. (I add this as non-native English speakers read my blogs).
There is a small dock for pleasure crafts, as you can see in the photo. The mill sits on a bridge destroyed following the D-day invasion. A new bridge crosses the Seine to town center, a charming village.
Dating from the 11th century, Notre Dame is a good example of a Gothic church. The lead glass windows are impressive modern pieces, replaced also as a result of WWII bombing. The rose window is flamboyant thus of later Gothic origin. The stained-glass windows are contemporary. The originals were replaced after World War II bombing raids. The many half timber buildings are mostly from the 16th century.
We had lunch in a picturesque restaurant with some good examples of Normandy cuisine. Andouillette is tripe in a sausage casing. I stuck with steak pomme frites, however. I asked for it medium and they got part of it right. They grilled it a bit more but it turned tough. The frites are the best I have had anywhere ever! Peg ordered fish delightfully grilled, and a side of polenta with a bit of cheese.
I find our evenings with friends in Paris especially charming. Could it be the views?
Tonight, yes, with a balcony facing the Tour Eiffel at night when the weather permits an open window to the balcony. The Tour flashes at night and the searchlight on top spins 360 degrees.
Could it be the wine? Well, there is that. The French often start with champagne, although in this case it was a white wine.
Perhaps the cheese? (The French usually serve butter with the cheese, this was an especially rich butter.) I am forever shocked when the cheese comes out. I’ve already had enough to eat, what with the snacks while we wait for the wine to age, the night to darken, the dinner to finish its oven time, the conversation to get past the what’s new stage.
The conversation never lags, in part because of the catch up conversations, the latest news about children and friends, and the news about the news. Joining us: the Romanian boyfriend, offering another perspective on things, shall we say, with a story about a disappearing ship.
We have been to Romania twice, once in 1998 and again in 2004. In 1998 the country was dirt poor. There were few goods in the stores, and they had trouble making change for lack of currency. We had a wonderful dinner in an Intercontinental hotel, with a live band. It cost a mere $20, an amount then far beyond the means of the locals. We were the only ones in the place for most of the evening. It was so intimate that Peg sang with the band. She has a lovely voice which I rarely get to hear. By 2004 things had improved some and things are perhaps a bit better now but still some emigrate.
We’ve met quite a few Romanians in our travels in Europe. They look for better opportunities. Most seem to struggle in the west though. The next day we met another, the husband of a consultant, one of the few we have met who makes a good living in financial tech. We know two restaurateurs in Valencia, both succeeding but working endless hours. The consultant was born in Venezuela, whose disintegration goes far beyond even what happened to Eastern Europe during the transition to a market economy.
Another evening was just with Americans, with equally charming views.
Mark is an exceptional cook with a neat apartment on’Ile Saint-Louis. During the summer on the right bank there is music every night, lovely if you are me and there for an evening, but for those residents who can not tune it out it’s another matter. Likewise with the lights from the tourist boats, and for metro riders who hear Have Naguila and Those Were the Days over and over again.
I might tire of a tian if I had one every night, but never having the experience, it was highly rewarding. I shall quote Mark on the serious matter of French cooking: “The tian is the name of the round baking dish. Anything that’s made in it, then, is a tian. This one was a tian méridionale, basically the same veggies as a ratatouille… No browning; the veggies cooked slowly with olive oil and their own sugars until they caramelized.”
The wines were superb. Mark’s friend is a delight, someone whom we’d not met. Here as at chez Agnes the conversations just flows. Other Americans friends were there, whom we’ve known for going on 20 years. They have spent far more than that in Paris for about 6 months at a time. She in particular likes warm winters so they return to Florida. She is a trained and very fine chef, about which I could go on and on.
Bonjour de Paris! Flew here on Monday from Ukraine’s beautiful capital. Staying at a friend’s house while she is visiting family in the US. Yesterday we went to Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. There is a community of retired barge owners and workers, and the boarding school for the children of same, still in operation. There are lovely views of the Seine as well as some neat old buildings. Barges continue to operate on the Seine and other rivers of France.
Kiev is a beautiful city and a center of industry, science, education, and culture. it has a thriving high-tech industry and quality universities. There is an extensive public transportation (a bit inconvenient from our location however), including a metro system. What struck me right off is the large number of superb buildings.
Russia underwent an industrial revolution in the late 1800’s, as a result of which Kiev became a center of trade and transport. Sugar and grains were main products of the trade and the transport system, mainly the Dnieper River and rail lines. During the Soviet industrialization the city also prospered, when as it happened the city population switched from Russian to Ukranian in large measure due to migration within what was then the Ukranian Soviet Socialist Republic.
It suffered heavily during the Great Famine when millions died, and Stalin’s purges eliminated much of the intelligentsia. The Nazis murdered at least 34,000 Jews, with another 70,000 civilians meeting a like end. An astounding 8 million died during WW2, when both the Nazis and Soviets engaged in scorched earth policies. The city is just 100k/60 miles south of Chernoybl, barely escaping fallout due to the prevailing winds at the time.
Perhaps the most famous of its landmarks is the 11th century Byzantine style Saint Sofia Cathedral, named after the 3rd century Hagia Sofia church in Istanbul, to which there is little if any resemblance. There are 5 naves, 5 apses and 13 cupolas and original mosaics and frescoes. From the late 12th c until the early 17th it was in poor repair, when it was renovated in the distinct Ukrainian Baroque style. It and the Kiev Cave Monastery were Ukraine’s first World Heritage sites.
Kiev dates from as far back as the 5th century, with signs of habitation from the Stone age. It has been ruled by Khazars, Vikings, Mongols (who destroyed the city in 1240), Lithuania, Poland and Russia until 1918, then after three years of independence, in 1921 it was taken by Soviet Russia, remaining under its thumb until the iron curtain rusted away other than the Nazi occupation.
Today, here we are again with Russia, which took Odessa, an important port on the Black Sea. The country’s residents, other than perhaps the Russian minority, look nervously at its large, militarily powerful and increasingly aggressive neighbor. In the capital, at least, there is much pro-EU sentiment, which in its turn makes for nerves in Moscow.
Despite appearances, at least in the capitol, Ukraine is a poor country, with a per capita income of just $8000 (2013), versus about $11,000 in Russia and $50,000 in the US. Militarily there is a huge Russian advantage, of course, as well as in population – 42 million versus 145 million. It gets all its natural gas and transport fuel from Russia. The natural gas pipeline from Russia to Europe goes through the Ukraine, making it strategically important both to the EU and Russia and thus to the US.
Today we visited St Cyril Monastery on top of a hill on the north side of Kiev. It dates from the 12th century. The frescoes date from as early as the 12th century. This first piece is the most dramatic. It is so clean and bright that I can not imagine it is from the 12th century.
The Soviets destroyed the cathedral in the 30’s, and in a telling moment, the Ukrainians rebuilt it to match the original after the fall of the rust ridden Iron Curtain. We can see it in all its glory today.
The interior is almost as astounding as the exterior
In 2013 protesters took refuge here after a rally against the then President Viktor Yanukovych. The next day they emerged and were joined by more than 1 million Ukranians, who then chased ole Viktor from office for his pro-Putin policies. Guess who was advising Viktor on his pro-Putin policies and did the same for some guy who is now living in the WH.
This band played in our neighborhood last night. I would call their music Klezmer, although I do not know what they call it. Klezmer is a musical tradition of the Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern Europe dating to the Renaissance. We do not possess musical notation of the earliest forms, however when Jewish musicians came to the US their music was influenced by jazz. To strictly define Klezmer is difficult but I like to say I know it when I hear it, although it is rather difficult at times. These days bands often consist of a clarinet, sax, fiddle, drum, accordion and a trombone. Last night there was a bass guitar and a flugelhorn. Hammer dulcimer and bass fiddle are traditional. I have never seen a horn mounted on a fiddle, but I have now!
The friendly crowd was enthusiastic, dancing, enjoying some of the excellent beer you find everywhere in Poland. A good time was had by all.