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Wednesday, September 18, 2019

French attic windows

Today's blog is about attics. And to spark your imagination, I'm offering pictures of attic windows in Paris and in Viroflay, the suburb of Paris next to Versailles where I stayed this summer.

The French do attic windows in tremendous style, like they do so many other things.

What do I think of when I think of attics? Mr. Rochester's crazy first wife in Jane Eyre was an incredible attic dweller, completely secret even to people who lived in the house below her. She had wild hair, and when she was angry her lips and eyes became inflamed. Eventually she burnt Mr. Rochester's incredible home down.

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Look at the top row of windows. Who lives up there now? What goes on up there? What scenes of seduction, murder, childbirth, played out behind those windows in the course of history? Maybe those windows never had a home behind them but instead were storage for papers from the offices below. What do those papers have written on them? What miscarriages of justice did bureaucrats come up with against their enemies that could be discovered today? The injustices would have been perpetrated centuries ago, with no way to even begin to make things right now.

We had an interesting attic in the big house I grew up in. It had an unheated, uninsulated attic, which my parents promptly stuffed with furniture and boat gear.

In one corner was a little room closed off, with a small radiator, a window, and a long worktable. My brother claimed it and used it as a radio shack at first, building short wave radios and listening to conversations from around the world. 

Eventually he moved in completely. The table was strewn with radio parts. The room smelled of solder. He hid out from the family there.

When my brother went to college, I immediately moved into the attic room. At this point the room held a dresser and a twin bed in addition to the long table. I would spread my papers out on the table. I opened up my portable typewriter. I sewed there. Or I laid on my bed and read. I would play my music loud. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" was a constant.

My poor mother used to climb two sets of stairs to knock on the door of my tiny room and tell me it was time for dinner. Teenagers! I was so incredibly self-involved, fleeing to my attic room, avoiding chores, so unwilling to help out with the work of a home and a family. 

I loved that attic room, though, and nowadays attic windows still speak to me. They evoke a feeling of creativity -- a space to spread out and make things. Quilts. Books. Blogs. 

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So many attic rooms to choose from...I'll take one that gets sunlight.

Look at the interesting roof shape on the left. That's the room I want, with the circular window.

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Maybe you want an attic window that has a statue outside it.

Here's that same attic, zoomed in on.

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In some Paris buildings, the rooms under the eaves were for the hired help. A female maid is called a "bonne," and the room she stayed in was called the "chambre de bonne". These get rented out now. Often they're six floors up--no elevator and a shared toilet. 

This is an attic window in Viroflay. Isn't it exquisite?

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Here are two interesting attic windows in Virofly.

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If I owned this house, I would open those shutters and let the light pour in.

Same with this house.

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More attic windows in Viroglay

Here's a modern house, with big sheets of glass for doors and windows.

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An adorable attic -- let me up there!

A home in local Viroflay stone, with a French-style eyebrow window in the attic.

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Wouldn't it be cozy to live behind that window, under those eaves?

Yes, a balcony of my own. Exactly what I need.

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An older home in Viroflay, with local bricks and tiles.

How do they keep the shutters at those perfect matching angles?

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This was taken in Paris. They attic overlooks the Seine. Can you imagine how much it costs to rent?

These attics look over L'Arsenal boat basin, near La Bastille.

I'd love to live in that attic, too.
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Viroflay again. 

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Viroflay. The sun gives the local stone a warm glow. I crave to live in that attic! How about you? Do attic windows make you start to think about what goes on in that house? : ) Comment below!

Monday, August 19, 2019

Yet Another Beautiful Historic Library in Paris!

Craving France while In Search of the American Dream

By Norma Jaeger Hopcraft

I need France. Something happens to my writing that I treasure. Brooklyn (where I live) and Manhattan (where I work) are such harsh environments, while France has a grace, elegance, ease, breathing room, that I love. I feel hopeful there. Gratitude comes easily as my gaze shifts from one beautiful building to another.

I’m back in the harsh realities of Brooklyn. I live among minorities whose lifelong reality is dishwashing jobs, broom jobs, Starbucks, fast food jobs. Their human potential is wasted in menial labor that, for a white person, would be a high-school or college job, with something more interesting to look forward to.

For them, the menial labor is lifelong. The painfully low income is lifelong. Because of the color of their skin. The grief is palpable. It’s in the air I breathe every day as I get off at the Church Street Q station.

I particularly grieve the loss of human potential. Cures for diseases, beautiful symphonies, humanizing novels, are locked up inside these neighbors of mine. The restless young men I see milling on the street could run a company, or a nation. But they don’t have the education to unlock those skills.

If I could straighten out the New York City public education system, I would. If I could change everybody’s mind about the damage done to the world by racism, I would.

Instead of living in Brooklyn—where my rent is going up much faster than my pay, and I’m staring down the barrel of the gentrification gun and being forced to move, just like my minority neighbors—I would prefer to live in Paris, write in beautiful historic libraries, and feel hopeful.

I visited another historic library in Paris. L’Arsenal is located near Place de la Bastille. It’s the former residence of the Master-generals of the Ordnance, hence the word "arsenal." Its earliest books were first gathered in 1756! Therefore many of the books are older than that. In L'Arsenal, scholars can pour over books, journals, manuscripts, prints, maps and plans, sheet music. Here's more on the library:

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Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, near Place de la Bastille.

I didn’t have to do research on any of those documents, though that would have been fun. But I was there to write my own book!

L’Arsenal’s reading rooms, like the Richilieu’s (see post immediately below), are part of the Research Library of the Biblioth√®que Nationale de France. To gain access to these research libraries, I thought I was going to have to prove that I was in Paris to do research on the French Revolution or Napolean or some other French topic. I didn’t think that was going to work.

But when I told the gatekeepers that I was a writer, that I didn’t need to handle any of their manuscripts, that I just wanted to write my own manuscript, they issued me a card! The French have so much respect for writers. I bask in it when I’m there.

In New York, tell people you’re a writer and their eyes glaze over. They switch the topic instantly to the latest hit on television.

In France, tell people you’re a writer, and they ask what you’re working on with genuine interest. They listen to what you tell them, and they ask follow-up questions. It’s blissful!

At L’Arsenal, it was lovely to write a book while the people around me gently and lovingly rested old books on supports, called lecturns, and ever so carefully turned the pages. Handling manuscripts in itself is an art form, my friend Margaret, a scholar of medieval manuscripts, told me. You try to touch just the edge of the page. The method of binding, the materials used to make the pages, all give clues to the history of the book.

At L’Arsenal, the lecturns are covered in green velvet. At Richilieu, they are red.

Writing in Great Libraries while In Search of the American Dream

While writing my next novel, trying to make my American Dream of a successful writing career come true, it was great  to look out the window at L’Arsenal and see horse chestnut trees and beautiful Parisian buildings just across the way, with wrought iron balconies and mysterious attic windows. Stay tuned for a post on attic windows!

The beauty of the architecture within the library, and the deep love of books displayed by the scholars studying manuscripts around me, and the beauty of the architecture outside the windows all led to one of my happiest days ever writing.

Here are some more pictures from L’Arsenal:

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During my hunt for the library, I saw these impressive lanterns framing the doorway to the Horse Guards.

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Close-up of the lanterns. Aren't they beautiful? There are things like this to catch your eye all over Paris.

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Here's one doorway to the Horse Guards.

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In the entryway to the library, a stunning floor.

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Then go up these stairs...

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and up again...

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To the second floor, with big windows overlooking beautiful houses.

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Go down the hallway to the library...

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...and be told by the receptionist that you cannot take your backpack into the library. You have to store it in one of these lockers.

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In the room with the lockers is a spot for scholars to eat, overlooking a horse chestnut tree.

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Back to the library to be assigned a place to work. More next week! What do you think of this place so far? Comment below!