Friday Fun: Writers’ Residences in Rhône-Alpes

I am fortunate enough to be living (for the time being) in an extremely beautiful part of France. Although the region Rhône-Alpes is a relatively recent administrative invention, the diversity and beauty of its landscapes and its historically autonomous status (parts of it belonged to Savoie rather than France) have been attracting writers for centuries. This Friday I would like to introduce you to some of those and their favourite homes.

Voltaire's chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. From culture.fr
Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. From culture.fr
Rousseau's country retreat at Les Charmettes near Chambery became a pilgrimage site.  From culture.fr
Rousseau’s country retreat at Les Charmettes near Chambery became a pilgrimage site. From culture.fr
Antoine de Saint-Exupery's childhood home in Saint Maurice near Lyon. From Terre des Ecrivains website.
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s childhood home in Saint Maurice near Lyon. From Terre des Ecrivains website.
Paul Claudel's Chateau de Brangues, in a village that Stendhal wrote about in 'The Red and the Black'.
Paul Claudel’s Chateau de Brangues, in a village that Stendhal wrote about in ‘The Red and the Black’.
Gertrude Stein's refuge from Paris during WW2, Bilignan near Belley. From Tourisme Belley-Bas-Bugey website.
Gertrude Stein’s refuge from Paris during WW2, Bilignin near Belley. From Tourisme Belley-Bas-Bugey website.

Finally, two villas for which I couldn’t find current pictures. The first, the ivy-covered manor house Boringe on the shores of Lake Annecy, completely captivated Hippolyte Taine. For twenty years he spent March to November there and wrote every morning in his study.

BoringeTaine

The second is on the shores of Lake Geneva, near Evian, where Anna de Noailles spent her childhood summers. It was here that she met Marcel Proust in 1899 and this is the place she returned to time and time again in her writing.

Villa Bassaraba, from Comtesse de Noailles fan blog site.
Villa Bassaraba, from Comtesse de Noailles fan blog site.

The information for this post comes from the beautifully illustrated book ‘Dans le pas des écrivains en Rhône-Alpes’ by Anne Buttin and Nelly Gabriel, published by Glénat. They mention so many other writers who lived, studied or passed through the region (Baudelaire, Camus, Huysmans, Stendhal, Simone Weil and many more).

 

 

Friday Fun: University Library Bucharest

Something a little different this Friday – a lesson in modern history, as the 25th anniversary of the fall of most East European Communist states takes place this year (and I will spare you the ‘am I really so old, it feels like yesterday’ monologues).

biblioteca-centrala-universitara-bucuresti

Today I want to take you to a journey in the South-East corner of Europe, to Bucharest in Romania. This is the University Library in the heart of the capital in its renovated reincarnation. But it didn’t always look like that…

25 years ago, in December 1989, as Romania was struggling to shake off the shackles of the Ceauşescu dictatorship, the library (BCU, as it’s known in Romanian) suffered from its central location and proximity to the Communist Party headquarters. A fire devastated the building, destroying more than 500 000 books from its collection, as well as countless manuscripts of famous Romanian writers.

bcu-la-revolutie

 

I remember a librarian telling me that she was going back into the burning building and carrying out books with her bare hands, tears streaming down her face, as if they were her children.

 

BiblCarol-2_7
From getlokal.ro

Fortunately, an appeal made by UNESCO in 1990 led to an outpour of sympathy, support and book donations from all over the world: 100 000 books donated by private individuals and associations in Romania, 800 000 from elsewhere.

biblrezistenta.net
From rezistenta.net

Just behind the library was a Secret Service stronghold and listening centre (now integrated into the library extension). The bullet shots attest to the heavy fighting that took place there during those confusing days in late December. I had to write my thesis in another library, as the BCU was closed for many years following this disaster.

From romaniadacia.wordpress.com
From romaniadacia.wordpress.com

The library reopened in 2001. The refurbished old reading rooms are pretty much as I remember them… except for the laptops on every desk, of course.

bibluniv

 

The new wing is perhaps less ‘atmospheric’ but much more user-friendly. And I like the combination of open shelving and book ordering system. After all, a library without shelves to browse is a bit lifeless, isn’t it?

biblunitatea centrala

Unless otherwise specified, all the pictures are from the website of the library http://www.bcub.ro .

 

 

Friday Fun: Artists’ Studios

As writers, we may be able to write in a bustling café, on a crowded kitchen table, in a cave with poor lighting, even in the shower with the right tools . But if we did have an artists’ studio, with perfect lighting, wouldn’t we be able to write even better?

Simon Starling, from the Independent.
Simon Starling, from the Independent.

 

ChanderConstruction
Studio for wildlife illustrator, Chander Construction.
Georgie Wolton's studio, planetpropertyblog.co.uk
Georgie Wolton’s studio, planetpropertyblog.co.uk
Josh Keyes studio, Bookish-ambition.blogspot.com
Josh Keyes studio, Bookish-ambition.blogspot.com

Bonus point: all those paintings/illustrations/pictures are really inspiring! But perhaps, after a while, you just get so used to them hanging around on your walls that you no longer see them. Over at dVerse Poets, Björn has us re-examining the familiar, disassociating ourselves from it, so that we can see it with fresh eyes once more. I’ve chosen the third of Tolstoy’s techniques  – use of dialect or a foreign language – to create this sense of ‘strangeness’.

Tablouri, desene, întinse pe jos,

pe pereţi, o dezordine în care nu găseşti

şi nu gândeşti

nimic

decit inspiraţie.

Nani? Hontoo?

Bitte schwätz langsamer…

(Just playing around in Romanian, Japanese and Swiss German. Translation is roughly: Paintings, sketches, scattered on floors, on the walls, a mess in which you can find and think nothing but inspiration. What? Really? Please talk more slowly…)

Friday Fun: Never Enough Reading Nooks

Because no bedroom is complete without a comfortable reading nook (even though I do like reading in bed too)… especially when it comes with a view.

From homedit.com
From homedit.com

Because even a jungle lodge in Belize needs a place where you can tuck into a book, away from mosquitoes…

JAM Design
JAM Design

Because, according to Domaine Home, even film stars like Jessica Alba need some downtime in their own library… (and if I had a library like that, I wouldn’t even bother to go out to be a film star).

 

jessicaalba_kariwhitmanDomaine
DomaineHome.com

For the more modest, a little home office in the corner can become a reading nook…

From Coastal Living.
From Coastal Living.

But sometimes only a garden pavilion will do, when you want to get away from it all, and finish your book…

From homedit.com
From homedit.com

Finally, to put you in a Christmassy mood, here is the ultimate chalet reading nook… Warning: if you have a house like that, I may never want to leave!

www.hometweaks.com
From Hometweaks.

Friday Fun: Gates, Walls and Freedom

I’ve always been fascinated by doorways and gates, especially if someone is trying to close them in front of me. I cannot resist peering in and imagining what lies beyond.

In this period of celebration of 25 years since the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of Communist regimes in most of the East Bloc countries, events which marked me profoundly and changed the course of my life, I do wonder if the landscape we espied beyond those walls quite lived up to our euphoric expectations. Or if it ever could.

But I do know that I am forever grateful that we could open those gates and discover for ourselves.

 

The world is all gates, all opportunities, strings of tension waiting to be struck. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

From Blessedwildapplegirl.com
From Blessedwildapplegirl.com

Explanation separates us from astonishment, which is the only gateway to the incomprehensible.
(Eugene Ionesco)

David Freedman sculpture gate.
David Freedman sculpture gate.

The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind. (E. B. White)

From English Spirit.
From English Spirit.

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion. (Albert Camus)

Architecture Art Design.
Architecture Art Design.

Look on every exit as being the entrance to somewhere else. (Tom Stoppard)

Leith Hall Gardens, from their website.
Leith Hall Gardens, from their website.

We are afraid of the enormity of the possible. (Emil Cioran)

This is dedicated to East Berliner journalist Thomas Otto, whom I met in late October 1989, and who had the first open and honest political discussion with me. ‘All you need is more choice…’

Photo from 1989, used by Prof. Sonja Kuftinec.
Photo from 1989, used by Prof. Sonja Kuftinec, Institute of Advanced Study, Univ. of Minnesota

 

Friday Fun: Writing Desks and Cabins, Of Course

It’s been such a busy week! What better way to end it (and look forward to the half-term holidays) then with a few pictures of the places where we have been so good and hard-working…

Copyright: JAM Design.
Copyright: JAM Design.

No, I’m not sure what that over-sized gemstone is doing under the desk, either…

Domainehome.com, apartment in the Dakota Building, NYC.
Domainehome.com, apartment in the Dakota Building, NYC.

Blue, blue, electric blue … is the colour of my room… Yes, it might give you migraine after a while, but what a joy to come home to! (And did you notice the bottles?)

www.decoist.com
http://www.decoist.com

Ah, that’s much calmer, monochrome, almost Zen…

www.decoist.com
http://www.decoist.com

A great combination of feminine charm and masculine practicality. But can I exchange the dog for a cat?

Writing Shed, from Flavorwire.com
Writing Shed, from Flavorwire.com

Preferably in a forest, far, far away from here, with no Internet connection…

Have a lovely weekend!

Friday Fun: Time for Some Chateaux Again!

I know you’ve all missed my ever-so-useful posts about acquiring the chateau of your dreams in France or thereabouts. Fear not: I’ve continued avidly collecting information and pictures (my future as an estate agent seems secure!).

Chateau in Figeac, right about in the middle of France.
Chateau in Figeac, right about in the middle of nowhere. Sorry, I mean France.
Same property as above. I'd be content with this little outhouse!
Same property as above. I’d be content with this little outhouse!
chateauRochechouart
Chateau in Rochechouart, Limousin, near a famous crater. No, it won’t fall in!
Inside the Rochechouart castle, you can find all the medieval comforts you might expect...
Inside the Rochechouart castle, you can find all the medieval comforts you might expect…
... and a few you might not. I would die for that library!
… and a few modern ones you might not. I would die for that library!
Price available on request – need not apply if you have less than 21 million euros at your disposal!

And, finally, one that is not for sale. It’s been converted into a hotel and restaurant, it’s not that far away from where I currently live… so I still dream of having a civilised supper with friends on the terrace at some point…

Chateau de Divonne.
Chateau de Divonne, divonnelesbains.com
Credits for all of the pictures above, excepting Divonne, is from the property website http://www.avendrelouer.fr.

 

 

Friday Fun: Reading Nooks

Another week of school and it has felt like three weeks in one! And that’s just for me, the mother, let alone for the poor boys. While we still struggle to get into something resembling a normal routine, here are some pictures to help us dream of getting organised.

alittleshelfofheaven.com
alittleshelfofheaven.com
domainehome.com
domainehome.com
designsfreshome.com
designsfreshome.com

A ladder, a ladder, because any self-respecting library has got to have one, right?

Domainehome.com
Domainehome.com

For those long, blissful soaks… Just make sure you don’t drop your book in the bathtub!

decoist.com
decoist.com

If you need to get away from your guests, here’s reading nook with a view in your dream house in Estonia…

Friday Fun: Barn Conversions

So many of you liked the barn conversion picture I posted last Friday that I thought I would go out and take pictures of more barns in the area for you. They are a bit different from barns in the UK or US: there’s a lot more stone involved, for one.

This is usually the starting point - just four walls crumbling.
This is usually the starting point – just four walls crumbling.
This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.
This is your basic conversion: doors and windows all kept to the original size.
This is the more ambitious and modern version.
This is the more ambitious and modern version.
This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.
This is the version which combines tradition and modernity.
And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!
And this is the farmhouse wing right next to the barn above. Pure charm and my ideal living space!

One little confession: When I first moved to this area, I dreamt of owning a chateau with a vineyard on the hills of La Cote, overlooking Lake Geneva. With this view.

From The Guardian.
From The Guardian.

By now I would be quite happy with a converted barn in my area, slightly further away from the lake and without a vineyard (but maybe an orchard?).

The truth of course is that I will never own any property in this area, as the prices are exorbitant. But hey, we can always dream a little…

Friday Fun: A Walk in the French/Swiss Countryside

I live in a rural area on the Franco-Swiss border, but the proximity to Geneva makes it a popular place to live, so there are always building works going on. Given the nice weather today (we have not been blessed with much sunshine this summer), I thought I’d take a walk through some traditional local villages. And document it with pictures, before they completely disappear under the weight of new blocks of flats.

Today’s walk started and ended in Grilly, a village bearing the name of a medieval lord de Grailly, who owned approximately a thousand hectares of land straddling the Versoix river (which nowadays forms the border between France and Switzerland) and controlled the trade route between Lake Geneva and the Jura mountains.

20140822_140506
Sunflowers with the Jura mountains in the background

 

If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.
If you turn to face the other way, you get this view over the Alps.
Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)
Border stone: now marking the border between the cantons of Geneva and Vaud. Formerly marking the border between France and Switzerland (dates from 1808)
Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.
Bridge of Grilly over the river Versoix, marking the Swiss-French border. Madame de Stael fled on this path – formerly the trade route between the lake and the mountains – from France to her family property in Coppet in 1792.
Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.
Farmhouse in Chavanne des Bois, Switzerland.
Chateau de Chavanne - in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.
Chateau de Chavanne – in fact, a large manor house with adjacent farms. I bought a bag of plums from the farm shop here to eat along the way.
Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)...
Opposite this charming old house and garden in Sauverny (France)…
...you'll find the inevitable new development.
…you’ll find the inevitable new development.
The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.
The path from the mill in Sauverny to the village of Grilly, bordered by oak trees and corn.
Village houses in Grilly, France.
Village houses in Grilly, France.
A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?
A refurbished barn in Grilly. What do you think: very covetable or a modernisation too far?