Hertford House: The Wallace Collection

Hertford House, Manchester Square, London

A light rain made us hurry our steps up Bond Street, past the tempting array of small restaurants and into Manchester Square to Hertford House, home of the Wallace Collection.
We had learned much about Sir Richard, son of the fourth Marquess of Hertford at various events organised by the Richard Wallace Trust (Lisburn) and this was our first time at his London home. We recognised the building immediately as it bears very close resemblance to his home, Castle House in Lisburn, now occupied by the South Eastern Regional College.

Another clear sign was the presence of a Wallace Fountain to the right of the entrance. We had arrived. Inside, what struck most was the sumptuous elegance of the place. A gorgeous red carpeted staircase with marble columns on each side. We went upstairs leaving the armoury collection for another time. There were several galleries. Art everywhere. And left to us as a philanthropic legacy. Wow!

Boucher's The Rising of the Sun (1753) caught my attention and kept it! Then I discovered the treasure of Ruben's Rainbow Landscape (1635). The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Franz Hals had been the subject of a hugely expensive bidding war between Sir Richard and the Rothchilds. We won!

The Wallace Collection is a very visit-able gallery. Compact enough for a short tour but large enough for sustained and lengthy inspection. We only had a couple of hours and had promised ourselves a visit to the courtyard restaurant and cafe for a pot of tea. It was an elegant and leisurely affair. Indulgent? Sure, but not extravagant. We had refreshed our imagination in the galleries and now it was time to satisfy the sense of taste. We left reluctantly. It was a long overdue first visit.We will go again soon and stay longer next time.

L'Empire de la Mort: The Paris Catacombs

We numbered 60 people at the last réunion of the Cercle Français de Belfast. Early comers were treated to a selection of French songs performed by Ruari Gallagher. Ruari hails from Belfast and has spent the past few years in the south of France. His vocals and guitar accompaniment went down well and we hope to invite him back soon for one of our Extra! events.

The Dark Horse Coffee Shop was soon packed and Philip McGrory got the technology going for his talk on the Paris Catacombs. He began by taking us through the early history of the site as one of Paris's main limestone quarries. He explained that in 1780, the main cemetery of the city, the Cimetière des Saints-Innocents near Les Halles was forced to close due to its dire threat to public health. The decision was taken to remove remains of those buried there to the disused quarry site and to establish an Ossuary. Remains from other cemeteries were added with the result that skulls and longbones of around 6,000,000 people are preserved there.

Using pictures and web sources, Philip escorted us on a virtual tour. We visited the Workshop and saw how quarrymen cut through the stone to leave pillars of rock standing to support the ceiling. We stopped at the Quarrymen's footbath, a spring where workers drew water for mixing cement; We moved into the Ossuary, marked by a sign over the doorway instructing, " Arrête c'est ici l'empire de la mort". We stopped at the Sepulchral Lamp one of the oldest structures in the catacombs. Quarrymen lit fires in the lamp to create draughts and currents of air. He brought us to Gilbert's Tomb, a piece of reinforcement work designed to look like a stone sarcophagus. And of course we viewed those skulls and longbones. Philip had sourced the biblical origins of the text on the picture above and, thinking about it, we spared thoughts for people now long gone. Finally, we exited to a quiet Parisian street which showed little awareness of what lay beneath.

A show of hands revealed others had also been and all commented on the respectful silence of the place, several metres below the metro and the nearby Place Denfert Rochereau.

Our evening came to a close with several people saying they had not known that the catacombs existed. They mentioned that they would be paying their own visit the next time they were in Paris.

Thanks Philip for a thoroughly researched, fascinating and respectful tour.

CFB programme launched

The opening event to launch this year's programme for the Cercle Français de Belfast took place on Tuesday evening in the Dark Horse Coffee House in the Cathedral Quarter. Nearly 50 people turned up and several took out membership on the spot. The programme is a varied one and many of the speakers were present to explain what their talk would cover.  Check out the planned events here.

After the programme was announced some of the participants took to the floor to provide commentaries on photos they had taken on a recent trip to France. Amélie had submitted a photo of a château in her native Franche-Comte and urged us to go visit; Hélène, an inhabitant of Paris showed her photos of the Basque Country and a beautiful coastal chateau close to Biarritz.  Helene's contribution was closely followed by Michael who this and every year heads to Provence in search of Azur blue skies. That colour was much in evidence in his photos of Avignon and Uzes, in the Languedoc.  Claudine shared some fascinating photos of another chateau, concentrating this time on its use as a prison for some well-to-do offenders. Claudine's husband, Seamus followed up by showing pictures of his gardening efforts around the family home near Blois. Finally, Jim shared a photo montage of French country windows set to music with accompanying captions which he translated.

There is something about  evenings such as this when members share their experiences and enthusiasms. Many of those attending complimented the night and the programme. Relaxed and informal, the atmosphere of the Dark Horse could have matched a grand café in Paris and certainly there was a buzz of conversation in both English and French.  We need to do more of this.

Were you there? Do you agree? See you next time!

À la prochaine!

Olives au chocolat

Didn't know these existed - olive shaped and coloured chocolates with roasted olive centres. They came as a thoughtful holiday gift in a nicely packaged metal tin. Different - a far remove from the chocolate eggs we get here. The sweets are produced by La Cure Gourmande in Frontignan in the Hérault Département in the South of France.Will order some more. Next time I'll keep you some.

Wallace Fountain, Castle Gardens, Lisburn


Couldn't resist trying out a new picture app to draw this Wallace Fountain in Lisburn.


French books on line

I've been using my Kindle reading device for over a year now. Although I love books I am not one of those readers who refuses to have anything to do with the electronic variety. One of the things I thought I would do when I was given the Kindle would be to use it to download French books. A year ago that wasn't so easy because there appeared to be some restrictions on buying from the www.amazon.fr store. Usually there was a message in French to say that the title was not available for your country and that the site was for use by people in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

People I knew had the same experience and others around the world reported something similar online.

Sure enough yesterday I visited Amazon France to see what if anything was available, determined that if there was no Kindle availability I'd opt for a hard copy. There was the message on the Kindle store, "Ce titre n'est pas disponible pour votre pays."

Now, the title yesterday was a top seller and i was keen to get it. Before opting for the hard copy which presented no problems for ordering, I wondered what would happen if I added the title into my main account. I did and it turned up. Moments later, I downloaded it and began reading.

A fluke? No. I decided to try some titles further down the list and some older books. Same result. Not available for purchase from France but downloadable locally. So now I'll be able to get speedy access to current French texts and authors. That should help pass bus or train journeys for the next while.

Meantime, I'm off to track down and install a French e-dictionary to fully assimilate those new words and phrases. I know I'm a fan of both formats but a Kindle in one pocket and an Oxford-Hachette in the other doesn't light it for me.



La Fête à Wallace Park, Lisburn

photo: Rym Akhonzada
The bandstand in Wallace Park, Lisburn was the focal point for 14 July Bastille Day celebrations. Organised as part of the City's Park Life programme to encourage use of public spaces, it was pleasing to see the many "citizens" who gathered to occupy the bandstand area. The idea was to create a café style atmosphere by creating a round of patio tables covered in red checked cloths. A large public address system squeezed out French accordion music while people organised themselves with refreshments.

A coffee truck was stationed nearby and seemed to be doing quite a trade in not only coffee but ice cream. Local restaurant Periwig had prepared a French themed menu of treats including a liver pâté parfait served on toasted brioche; fishcakes; macarons in a variety of colours and profiteroles served with hot chocolate sauce.

Anthea McWilliams of the Sir Richard Wallace Trust moved to the stand to tell the story of Sir Richard and his connection to both Lisburn and Paris. She referred to his legacy of the "peoples park" itself, to the Wallace School which she attended and to the Wallace Fountains, his enduring gift to the people of France. Anthea shared details of the Wallace walking tour and encouraged everyone to give it a go.

After another musical interlude, Natasha and Alison from Interlinguani, a local language teaching school organised a glove puppet show in French for the many children who had come along. They then entertained them with a story, encouraging them to learn and use simple French words. They offered prizes of chocolate, checking first with mums and dads that that was okay, to those who were the loudest, the quietest and those who got the French just right.

To the left of the bandstand there was a constant queue of parents and young children lining up to have their faces painted. Moustaches were everywhere, Pierrot faces and some aristocratic Marie Antoinette looks too.

Interlinguani shared a gazebo with the Cercle Français de Belfast. Rym, Director of the school was kept busy meeting parents and supplying their children with colouring-in pictures and pens. Alongside, Hilary from the Cercle was just as busy, blowing balloons. A lot of her effort was punctured however as several youngsters burst their balloons to discover the little paper message in French that had been placed in each. Nearby, leisure staff had roped off a piste de pétanque and several adults and children tried their hand at throwing boules, many for the first time.

Back to the stand and the Bailies Mills Accordion Band had taken their seats to play an assortment of French standards including the occasional rendition of La Marseillaise. Beret and marine shirted musicians had dressed for the part adding touches of good humour to the proceedings.

Anthea took to the stage again, this time to read from the Richard Wallace Storybook created by the Trust. Its simple style and illustrations appealed to the children and were also appreciated by their elders. More puppets and story time from Alison and Natasha, then back to the accordionists to bring the event to an end.

Carolyn, event organiser with Lisburn City's Leisure Services, was pleased at the turn out. She was particularly pleased that so many French nationals had participated. Although a hundred or more people had attended, more important than the number was the fact that people had got together around the bandstand to enjoy the occasion and use the facility. Given his close connections to France, no doubt Sir Richard would have been pleased that his people's park had been the focal point for a successful local celebration of La Fête Nationale.




Bastille day: Wallace Park, Lisburn


Lisburn City's events team has planned a Park Life series to encourage as many people as possible to make use of the various parks and gardens throughout the city. With events taking place on Saturdays and one of those on the 14 July, it was a good opportunity to celebrate France's Fête Nationale and Lisburn's connections with France. The extract from the Park Life booklet above provides details of what is on offer.

Planning next year's CFB programme

Enjoying a coffee with Philip at the Dark Horse Coffee Shop. Also working on setting up website for Cercle.

Quincy soit-il.

Quincy is a lovely village in the centrally situated Cher département of France. Some friends from the village stayed with us a while back and brought us some of their local wines including this one from the Domaine de Villalin, vendangé à la main by the wine making couple Maryline and Jean-Jacques SMITH.

We thought to put the wine away but then there were those rather nice accompanying glasses.

All of that led to a little opening ceremony for the vin noble. Transported back to the Région Centre, to Villalin and Quincy, we thought of distant friends and the gift of their terroir.

Bottle finished. Quincy soit-il.

Paris. Story book with a difference

With springtime finally arrived it's been nice to enjoy some continental style weather. For some reason, the month of May always puts me in mind of Paris. So in addition to looking up flights and places to stay it is also a time to bouquiner my book shelves and imagine myself there.

Last Christmas, I got a lovely book as a present. Paris, the Story of a Great City by Danielle CHADYCH and Dominique LEBORGNE is a book with a difference. With superb photographs and informative text, its real delight is the integrated folders containing pull out facsimiles of historic documents.

Talking about the fine weather earlier, it was interesting to pull out an extract from a booklet relating to the Great Flood of 1910. It includes a photo of flood waters reaching up to the arch of the Pont Alexandre III. Another facsimile is of a board game relating to Paris monuments from around 1820. Yes, it's time to revisit!

With the recent présidentielles having been much in the news and the country coming to terms with differing hopes and expectations, it was good to see a chapter on The Builder Presidents, who left their legacies.

A story book then with a difference, and while not the real thing, perhaps the next best to being there.

Time to pull out the stops and go.....