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France - History and Art

Okay, I just responded to a thread in General Europe on books about France. We're heading to France in May and June of 2019, and are eager to read as much as possible before we go.

I just ordered two of Ross King's books from our local library: "Mad Enchantment," about Monet's Water Lilies, and "TheJudgment of Paris" about Impressionism. Any other suggestions?

I just finished Barbara Tuchman's "A Distant Mirror,"and may reread it whenever DH finishes it.

Thanks for your help. Those of you who know me know how I love to "over-prepare."

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For history, Stephen Clarke's 1000 Years of Annoying the French is a humorous, and yet surprisingly comprehensive and accurate general history of France. I read it with virtually no knowledge of French history, and learned a lot in between laughs. He's an expatriate Brit, and often refers to the rivalry between his birth country and his adopted country, which explains the title. I've read Ross King's book about the Last Supper and the Duomo, but now I'm looking forward to the ones about Monet and Impressionism, thanks for that tip!

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Discovery of France, Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World Warby Graham Robb
Paris, paris David Downie’s book on contemporary Parisian subcultures and places
Bohemian Paris, Picasso, Modigliani, Matisse, and the Birth of Modern Art by Dan Franck

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Okay, I just ordered the Robb and Downie books from the library. I'll keep checking on the others. Thank you all.

And Helen, Ross King also has a dandy book on the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. I think it's called "Michaelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling." Great explanation of frescoing, as well.

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Oh perfect, thanks Jane! Downloaded it from the library just now. We are off to Rome in two weeks, just enough time to read about the Sistine Chapel.

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I'm loving "Paris Paris" by David Downie. What a wonderful collection of essays. Would it be too trite to call it a love letter to Paris?

I've already marked at least two museums to go visit, one of which was also noted in Piu Eatwell's "F is for France." Can't find her book "They Eat Horses, Don't They?"

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1869 posts

We love to read, watch movies and listen to the local music before we go to. Even though we had a year to prepare, I felt there still wasn’t enough time. We did Norway, Scotland and Ireland. Ireland was second visit and we already knew history and music. Norway we watched The Last Place on Earth and thats it! I feel I did not know the history when we were there. In contrast, we watched a 10 part BBC series on Scotland. It makes such a huge difference in my enjoyment of a place!

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You may like a book I just finished - The Little French Bistro: A Novel by Nina George. It's a story of a woman of a certain age whose life takes a new direction in the Brittany region of France. There's lush descriptions of the countryside and sea, and main character Marianne finds courage she never knew she had. I couldn't put it down, it made me feel as if I were living there with her. Very uplifting story. Good descriptions of everyday life and food.

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Thanks, Kathy H. I'll add it to my list. Right now I'm working on Ross King's "The Judgment of Paris," a very thorough look at the rise of Impressionism. Lots of detail, lots of background, and fascinating. It's not a quick read, though, and my reading time is quite limited these days.

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Glad you feel the same way about the David Downie book as we do. It’s exceptional, but then everything he writes is excellent.

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8670 posts

I know you said "books" but I'll add to see the movie Is Paris Burning. I thought the movie was pretty slow but it was interesting because I had done the Paris Walks program on Paris and the Occupation and it was interesting to add that view to the narrative from the Paris Walks guide.

The movie was of course based on a book which I have not read.

I like the idea of Hemingway better than actually reading his books but I enjoyed Moveable Feast mostly because I also walked around that neighborhood with a Paris Walks guide.

I have Saving Mona Lisa by Gerri Chanel on my Kindle app but have never opened it. I'll get to it some day!

And ~siigh~ altho I am not really a big movie person, nor do I like Owen Wilson OR Woody Allen...I love Midnight in Paris.

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Pam, I hope to find the book. Neither of our local library systems has the book or the movie, so I'll have to try interlibrary loan. I imagine the film is available online, but our wifi is too slow to stream it.

Tell me why you like Midnight in Paris? I haven't seen it, and promised myself over 40 years ago that I would never have to watch another Woody Allen movie. I don't know Owen Wilson (we don't get out much.)

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Jane my experiences with the two Ross King books were so different. I was intreagued by the start of the impressionistic movement so I stuck it out with the Last Judgment book (although I LOVED his Michaelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling and Brunelleschi’s Dome). I finished Mad Enchantment right before our July Paris/Giverny trip and it was so much more readable and added immensely to my trip! Right now, post trip, I’ve picked up Paris; the Novel by Edward Rutherford and I’m really enjoying it.

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Lane, I think we might have seen that. Our local "art" theatre showed a series of short films a few years ago that fit your description. But I'll look it up to be sure. Thanks! I have a number of favorite movies about Italy, but we're new to France studies.

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Someone made me watch Midnight in Paris because I, too, had promised myself:

-I would never watch another Woody Allen movie either. Were we together when we decided this?

-Owen Wilson held no interest at all as I knew him from silly over-the-top comedies that I thought probably appealed to people 30 years younger than I, lol.

-I didn't realize it until I got into it but it also contains time travel, a device which I pretty much hate.

So that sets me up for a triple whammy of dislike!

OK, so the opening scenes of Paris are breathtaking. Just beautiful. I know you've been before and it just distills the beautiful light of Paris over the familiar buildings and scenes.

I really got hooked when the time traveling taxi picked Owen up from the steps of Saint-Etienne du Mont behind the Pantheon and he meets up with the fabulous writers and artists in Paris in the 1920s. I REALIZE this is fiction (or is it, lol??) but somehow it gave me a better handle on the fact that for instance, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda, Salvador Dali etc were all in Paris and knew each other during that time frame. I guess I'd just thought of each artist linearly and separately without considering really who they might have socialized with, etc.

Anyway, it's a sweet story with beautiful Paris in the background. Makes me long to go back just to think of it!

I usually watch it on Netflix but asked for a copy last Christmas because for a while it was not on Netflix, and I was having withdrawal, lol.

This is off-topic but if you all are there when Paris Walks presents the one with Jefferson and Franklin in Paris it's very interesting as well if you can work it in!

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I didn't care for Midnight in Paris as Owen Wilson was all wrong but the scenery is exceptional.

I highly recommend the book of Is Paris Burning? It's a real page turner even though you know the ending.

If you're into wine, George M Taber's Judgment of Paris: California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine is a good read.

I also recommend David McCullough's The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon, and Janet Flanner's Paris Was Yesterday.

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Pam, I was going to recommend David McCullough's "The Greater Journey" to you, but I see Grier beat me to it. It's a dandy, about all the American artists, writers, and even doctors living and working in Paris over decades. DH and I were just talking about how good that book was, reminding ourselves to reread it before our trip.

Grier, thanks for the tip on Taber's "Judgment of Paris." We saw the film based (loosely) on the events; I think it's called "Bottle Wars." Fun movie. And I'm looking for "Is Paris Burning," the book.

I'm about two chapters from finishing Ross King's "Judgment of Paris," about the earliest days of Impressionism, and the library informed me that "The Longest Day" (book, not movie) is finally available.

Mona, I've stuck it out with "Judgment" as well, but it was not an easy read. I did find it fascinating. King ties the artistic trends of the period from 1863 to about 1873 to political, social, and economic trends. Which means, among other things, the Franco-Prussian war and the Paris Commune revolt. Heavy, but interesting.

Anyway, Mona, I'm glad to hear that "Mad Enchantment" is an easier read. I returned it to the library when I realized how long it was going to take me to read "Judgment," but I'll request it again.

Thanks all. We're like diveloonie - we wallow in books especially, but also movies and music before a trip. And wine. Gotta study up on French wine! :-)