Tag Archive | Rueil-Malmaison

French Friday #34: A little bit of perfection

Just a short walk from our apartment building in Rueil, was a lovely little park called the Parc de l’Amitié — Friendship Park. As far as I could tell, the only reason it was named that was because there was a sign in the center of the park listing “sister cities” of Rueil in different countries. Fair enough. As I entered the gate on the east side of the park, a meandering little sidewalk took me around the periphery, lined with the most beautifully-scented plants. I’m no botanist, so I have no idea what they were, unfortunately, but they smelled heavenly. I loved to take my time walking down that path, with multiple prolonged pauses just to inhale. I probably would have stood out there longer if I didn’t think people would start wondering about me. The eastern end of the park had several benches stationed near the path and a gentle hill in the middle with a few shade trees. It was a wonderful place to sit and enjoy a sunny day (especially if everyone else was at work).

Parc de l'Amitié, Rueil-Malmaison

Near the center of the park, the path split around a large rock. The path on the right led up to a poorly-maintained Japanese rock garden. Partially enclosed, it mostly served as a giant ash tray for the teenagers who liked to make out on the benches. Best avoided. But the path to the left of the large rock wound through some large, fragrant bushes (I really need to find out what’s planted there) and up to a little pond spanned by a steep yet charmingly perfect little red bridge. I loved that bridge. It seemed as though hardly anyone lingered there, so often I could sit and daydream by myself.

I want to live there.

Even though I felt as if I could stay there all day, there was more to the park just waiting to be enjoyed. Continuing on down the path, I’d find myself in a great lawn of daffodils. At that point, I could no longer resist — I’d kick off my sandals and walk in the cool, lush grass. Once I found a spot not overly-occupied by daffodils, I’d plop down and try to soak in the soft breeze, the warm sun, the beauty of the flowers all around me and their scents…

Just across from the daffodil lawn was the rose garden with over fifty varieties. A walk through that end of the park in summertime was truly a treat. Beyond the rose garden was the local music conservatory. The location couldn’t have been better. On warm days, the students would crack the windows of their practice rooms. Gentle strains of a violin, flute, or piano would drift down across the blooms, swirl around me in the soft breeze, and then drift away with the perfume of the flowers. It really doesn’t get more perfect than that.

(Please don’t use any photos without permission)

If you can’t afford it, fake it

For almost as far back as I can remember, my dad has sold paint and because of that, paint has always had some influence on my life. On road trips, my brothers and sister and I would flip through the paint decks that always lived in the car and laugh at the silly names. My first set of blocks were actually 4″ x 1″ x 1/2″ paint samples that my dad had painted and no longer needed. I thought they were great — there were all different colors! We always got to choose the paint colors for our bedrooms and my parents weren’t afraid to try out new paint techniques in theirs. There are a lot of really cool things you can do with just paint. And, if you don’t like it, it’s just paint! No permanent damage done.

When Mr. Gren and I moved to France, our church, Emmanuel International, was in need of some redecorating help. The main building had been a house and the sanctuary was in an attached carpenter’s workshop. These had been converted into church use decades before, but still weren’t quite as fresh and inviting as they could have been. We spent several of our first days in France with paintbrushes in our hands. Paint dries pretty quickly in 100F weather.

Emmanuel International Church in Rueil-Malmaison

At some point in the church’s history, someone had decided that “emerald isle” (Thank you, Benjamin Moore color deck) would be a fabulous color for the carpet. No matter that that particular shade of green doesn’t really go with anything else. But, that’s what we were stuck with. On the far end of the sanctuary was the baptistry where someone else had done their best to fancy it up with faux columns supporting a gothic-inspired window.

Not bad as far as architectural interest goes

This photo is from a later renovation. At the time that Mr. Gren and I arrived, the ceiling beams and the gothic baptismal window were trimmed in a hideous yellow akin to that ladder in the corner. Now, maybe you like yellow. Maybe you think yellow’s not all that bad. Have you already forgotten the emerald green carpet? It was kind of a stomach-turning color combination. I was fairly certain I could improve the look.

Once upon a time I had seen on TV or read online or in one of my dad’s brochures a faux finish painting technique that mimics the look of marble. If anything needed a faux marble finish it was those sad little faux columns. I did a quick search and this page has a very good step-by-step instructions on how to DIY: How-To Faux Finish. I found a couple different shades of green paint, plus some white and black, and a glazing medium. I won’t explain the whole process since the above website does it better than I will anyway. The only real difference is that I used a feather for painting on the veins.

On the way to marble

Doesn’t look so hot, does it? But now, check it out from a little bit farther away once I had finished the whole process.

Already looking more believable

Touching up the green around the column really made a difference, too.

All done

The green on the trim is unfortunate, but you work with what you’ve got. Just try to ignore that part! My little pseudo columns turned out pretty well. So well, in fact, that people who had attended the church for years didn’t even bat an eye; the marble sold itself! A couple of years later, the sanctuary required extensive renovations, and, in that process, the offensive green carpet was ripped out and replaced with a more palatable beige. All of a sudden, the green trim and marble didn’t make sense anymore. So I repainted it all white and replaced our serpentine with travertine. After all, it’s just paint.





French Friday #6: To market, to market

On Tuesday, my family and I went to check out one of the four farmers’ markets that occur each week in our city during the summer. We go with high hopes, but always come away disappointed. We have to commend our city for attempting to have regular markets, but they leave a lot to be desired. We chose to visit this particular market because there was supposed to be live music, which I thought would be fun for the kids. The band was listed as “bluegrass,” which is not normally my genre of choice, but if it’s lively and upbeat, it could lend an energetic atmosphere to the market. Instead, it turned out to be one man singing sad, mellow ballads. Way to bring down the mood, dude. There were only about ten stalls total: milk, honey, rock jewelry, bagels and flowers, and then the rest were all selling the same vegetables on the same tables under the same tents. It took us about two minutes to walk from one end to the other, only because we were creeping along. The kids got a free carton of milk and the girls drew on the street with sidewalk chalk and that was it. They try here, they do, but I think they’re missing out on all a market could be. They could use a visit to a real European market. To a French market!

Your Rueil markets

The French appreciate fresh produce and fresh food in general; even with the influx of convenience foods in recent years, most people still shop frequently throughout the week. They have to — their kitchens and refrigerators are so small, there’s no sense buying in bulk. But there is so much more to the market than just the produce!

Greeted by flowers at the top end of the Rueil market

The town where we lived was Rueil-Malmaison, a suburb of Paris. We lived in centre ville, and three times a week (Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings) we were treated to a fabulous market. I made my first visit in July 2005, shortly after we moved from the States. I didn’t know what to expect, never having been to anything like it before, so I was a little intimidated. It was probably the best time of year for my inaugural visit because the town was half emptied out in the annual French tradition of les vacances. When they vacate, they really vacate. Because of that, the market wasn’t nearly as busy as it was the rest of the year. Everything I had read said to choose a vendor and then establish a relationship with them with repeat business, but there weren’t really any tips on how to choose a good one. What if I chose a vendor and he turned out to sell me mushy potatoes and wilted lettuce all the time? Would I be stuck with him? How do you break up with the vegetable guy? That’s some kind of pressure. Fortunately, I chose possibly the best produce vendor out there. I never did get his name, but in my head I called him Monsieur Legume (Mister Vegetable). He was so good-natured, he probably would have even liked that nickname. I nervously approached his stand — several long tables pushed together, stacked high with strawberries, plums, peaches, nectarines, melons, apples and more, and behind him was an artful displayof onions, several types of lettuce and other greens, carrots, and potatoes. I don’t remember what I bought that first time, but I do remember how Monsieur Legume set me at ease right away. He asked why I wasn’t on vacation, too, and I replied that I had only just arrived in France! He was intrigued and of course, wanted to know where I was from (an American who speaks French?! Et sans accent? Pas vrai!) and he called me Mademoiselle, which I found endearing. 🙂 “Sold! Give me one of everything!” Ok, not really, but I was convinced that he would be a vendor worthy of my patronage. Nearly every week, I would come with a vague idea of what I wanted, he would make suggestions and carefully choose each piece of fruit or vegetable before he weighed it and placed it in my market bag. During busier times, he had helpers: his very tall son whose name I forgot, a grumpy man who really wasn’t in as bad a mood as he appeared, and a girl a few years younger than me named Sue-Ellen (“Mes parents ont regardé beacoup de “Dallas,” she explained with an embarrassed smile.)

Waiting in line at M. Legume's stand towards the end of October. It was a popular place!

After my weekly visit to M. Legume, I would then take my time to wander the rest of the market. I could easily spend an hour down there, checking out all the different stalls. All of the food vendors were housed under the central covered area. Among them could be found several fruit & vegetable stands (each with different wares and displays); fresh seafood lying on beds of ice; naked chickens and other poultry sitting side-by-side in a case; honey and beeswax products; gourmet candies and nuts; charcuterie (cured meats); cuts of beef and lamb; towers of cheeses; fresh-made crêpes; par-cooked seafood casseroles encased in pastry (I have no name for these, but they were really good); eggs, sausages, and more. You really could buy everything you needed for the week right there.

"Fruits from Orgeval" and "Cheesemonger." And pretty pottery in the foreground.

Then, on the perimeter of the market, things got even more interesting: cut flowers; potted flowers; baby clothes; sewing supplies; tablecloths & napkins; jeans; toys; purses; men’s shoes & women’s shoes (with flattened boxes to stand on while you tried on your size); hats, scarves and gloves; boxes of socks to sort through; handmade jewelry and trinket jewelry; dresses and sweaters hanging with portable changing rooms nearby; pottery; antique furniture; porcelain dishware for every purpose (garlic keeper, anyone?); vacuum cleaner parts and dish gloves; hair accessories and sunglasses; books; flower pots; clothes for young girls; clothes for old women; CDs and DVDs. If you could think if it, it was probably there. Wouldn’t you want to go to a market like that? This market happened all year round, rain or shine, unlike most markets here that run just through the summer. Admittedly, I didn’t linger as long on a rainy February day, but the market always merited a walk-through just to see. Some vendors set up just every other week, swapping out with others, so there was always something new to look at.

And note the French fireman in navy blue on the left inviting people to the firemen's ball. Wouldn't you want to see him, too?

The market was a social event, even if you didn’t know another soul there you felt a part of the community, a shared experience with hundreds of other people. I remember walking down the main street in town, and feeling the energy and excitement growing in the air as I neared the market plaza. Once I rounded the corner, it felt like stepping onto a carnival midway: Everyone was enjoying the morning out, the opportunity to bump into friends, the possibilities awaiting at the many, many stalls. My kids would not have been bored at that market, even without music. I can only hope that someday our city’s markets will live up to all that they can be.

And to Monsieur Legume and Sue-Ellen, wherever you are: Vous me manquez.