Tag Archive | Napoleon

French Friday #39: Walk this way

How many of you have been to France? How many of you wish you could? How many of you don’t care where you go just so long as it’s far away? Then come with me, let me take you on a little tour of my town.

Last week, I read a book called The Secret Life of Josephine, by Carrolly Erickson.

Now, this is a novel, so the author took some fantastical artistic liberties with the story, but I can forgive her because 1) She acknowledges in her own words that it is “frothy historical entertainment,” and 2) she wrote an actual biography on Josephine, so it’s evident that she can separate fact from fiction. At any rate, any book about Josephine has to at least make a nod to the Château de Malmaison, her beloved personal  residence. At the time, it was just outside the town of Rueil. It has been nearly 200 years since she died, so, as you can imagine, the growing town has crept up around the château grounds (largely expedited by the fact that much of the land had to be sold off in parcels after her son’s death). Officially, the town is called Rueil-Malmaison; they really are inseparable in spirit.

Reading about a location that is so familiar to me naturally made me homesick for France and specifically for Rueil. My heart ached to be there, to just take a walk, to enjoy the scenery. Then I had a great idea! Even though I can’t be there physically right now, I can visit with my eyes and a few mouse clicks thanks to Google Earth. If you have never tried this before, it just takes a quick (free) download to be able to use it. Once there, type in the name of a town you want to visit and, through the magic of satellite imagery, it will fly you there. Then, it gets better! If you click and drag the little yellow man down to the satellite (or map) image, it will take you to street view that you can just keep clicking along, “walking” down a street. It is admittedly creepy that Google has taken pictures of, well, just about everywhere, but I decided this time to suppress that shuddersome feeling and use Google to my advantage. Free trip to France!

Let’s start close to Malmaison, admiring the narrow walled streets along the way. Don’t forget to look side-to-side, peek over walls, and even look up occasionally. There are all kinds of things to see!

Click the screencap photos! (You’ll probably want to right-click and choose to open in a new tab, otherwise it will open right here).

Avenue Tuck-Stell, named for an American philanthropist and his wife. Be sure to check out the turret on the other end of the high wall!

If you keep heading this direction, you will come to a place where it shows Avenue du Château de Malmaison to the left. Turn there and you can walk up almost to the front gate, with a glimpse of the château at the end of the drive (If you want a small tour of the château itself with better photos, you can see my post about it here).

We’ll skip ahead a little ways to one of my favorite streets, the Avenue de l’Impératrice Joséphine.

Position yourself in front of gates to see some of the beautiful old houses built along this road.

I always loved how the street lights were hung so elegantly across the road. In December, they added Christmas lights across. So pretty! Keep walking on down this street and soon, you’ll get to see Josephine herself, welcoming you to the Parc de Bois Préau. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see blue gates on your right. Turn and take a peek into the beautiful park.

Last, I’ll take you to where I lived, in centre ville.

There's my building

If you go towards Boulevard du Maréchal Joffre and then keep following it, you will end up right in the heart of Rueil where you can see the old Mairie (town hall). I hope you enjoyed our little tour!

Now, whenever I feel that tug at my heart, I can go visit some familiar places and ease the ache a little bit. Several of the businesses have changed since we were there, but the buildings remain largely the same, and there’s some comfort in that. Not bad for free, right?

French Friday #10: Napo and Fifi say, “Make yourself at home!”

Look at this! Today is the tenth installment of French Friday! We should do something to celebrate. How about we take over the world. En avant!

(All photos by my family)

«La mort n'est rien, mais vivre vaincu et sans gloire, c'est mourir tous les jours.» "Death is nothing, but to live vainquished and ingloriously, is to die every day"

First, we need a headquarters. Choose somewhere that’s close to an established population center, maybe near – but not in – the former seat of government. After all, you want everybody to know that this is a new regime. Paris was officially the capital of France, but it had not been the seat of power since Louis XIV decided to take his toys and play somewhere else back in 1682. Versailles is beautiful, it’s true, but maybe not the best place to reestablish power after that nasty Revolution thing.  What about…

Driveway to Malmaison

The Château de Malmaison! Situated in the town of Rueil-Malmaison, it was built (and built and built) between 1610 and 1686, and came with a large domain. Good job, Josephine! You’ve got an eye for real estate! It’s a little bit of a fixer-upper, but we’ll have it looking great in no time. Hire a couple of fancy architects and a landscaper and voilà! your seat of power is ready. There’s going to be a lot of business to conduct, so let’s outfit this place with a suitable meeting room.

The Council Room

It has to look manly so what better decor than to mimic a military tent and then decorate the walls with friezes of helmets and weapons from glorious armies of the past. And also…

Madame la Mère

A portrait of your mom. Don’t worry, Josephine, you have your own portrait on the other side of the fireplace.

After a few intense rounds of Risk, we need some sustenance. Good thing this isn’t a real war tent. Instead of going to the mess hall, we can dine here:

Stucco paintings of Pomepeiian dancers decorate the walls of the dining room

I bet there were some good dinners served here. No mystery meat or unpalatable cafeteria gruel. And that table is like a mirror; that should promote good manners. After dinner, the gentlemen can retire to the billiards room.

This is my kind of room -- green everywhere!

And the ladies won’t be left out! There’s a lovely music room at the end of the hall decorated with Josephine’s favorite paintings, especially those of flowers, and a harp and harpsichord for your enjoyment.

Josephine received the harp as a gift.

After a long day of being the ruler of the known world, you’ll need a comfy place to retire for the night, but not too ostentatious.

The earliest known portrait of Napoleon hangs on the wall draped in Indian silk.

Josephine, you’ve got a nice little bed, too, also draped in silk. It’s a pretty good feeling to be so rich that you can just hang yards of silk from the walls.

This is the Empress' "ordinary" bedroom.

But, in the event that you are feeling ostentatious, you can always sleep in the other bedchamber.

Josephine had this room outfitted with its current decor after the divorce.

Once upon a time, Malmaison had a domain of 1,793 acres, but after changing hands a few times, the land was slowly broken off into private lots. Now there are only about 15 acres of land left around the château, but it’s still more than you’d want to mow by yourself.

Little stream that runs through the grounds at Malmaison, sadly, it is usually choked with leaves.

There’s lots more to see at Malmaison and entry is just 3€. Plus, you can also have a picnic in the Bois Préau, opposite Malmaison, and that’s free. If you ever go to Paris, take a day to visit the town of Rueil and the home of its most famous residents.

Back of the château looking out over the grounds towards Marly.