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More Than Books

One of the things I love most about French Affaires is the spirit of community--with a French twist. Whether it's Francophiles gathering stateside for a French wine and cheese pairing class or a visual tour of the best of Paris or a talk on magical gardens in Provence...or whether it's a group of friends on a French Affaires culinary trip to Paris, we come together to experience each other through something French and beautiful.

Over the past year, the French Affaires Book Series Dallas has been the community vehicle par excellence. We have read a variety of French-related tomes, gathered in the most interesting of French-related local venues, met hosts of French heritage or a deep devotion to la belle France, and best of all, connected with others who share a passion for things French.

A Motor-Flight Through FranceIt's hard to choose a favorite book from our reading list so far. Our spirited discussions reveal a variety of perspectives and preferences and opinions about France. In April, we toured France through the eyes of famous writer Edith Wharton via her travelogue, A Motor-Flight Through France. Our group's main takeaway was her beautiful language, her original and expressive turns of phrase that even today aptly capture the images of deep France. From the "ancient swarthy churches" of the Auvergne to northern French villages "with old houses stumbling down at picturesque angles from the central market-place" to the cathedral of Beauvais which is "like a great hymn interrupted," her account made me want to jump in a car and crisscross France on the spot.

When Wharton reached Dijon in la Bourgogne (Burgundy), I was particularly taken with her vision of les pleurants (the Mourners) on the tombs of the Dukes of Burgundy. One of the most profound and original achievements of sculpture in the 14th century, these large marble tombs house arcades of carved monks a little over two feet high, each an expression of grief as well as monastic devotion:

"At Dijon...each pleureur in the arcade beneath the tomb of Duke Philip is a living, sentient creature, a mourner whose grief finds individual utterance. Is there anything in plastic art that more vividly expresses the passionate medieval brooding over death? Each little cowled figure takes his grief, his sense of the néant (nothingness, void), in his own way. Some are wrung and bowed with it. One prays. Another, a serene young man, walks apart with head bent above his book--the page of a Stoic, one conjectures. And so each, in his few inches of marble, and in the confinement of his cramped little niche, typifies a special aspect of the sense of mortality--above all of its loneliness, the way it must be borne without help."


And our group oohed and aahed when I shared that a selection of these compelling figures would be journeying to America for the first time ever in 2010. Talk about a book coming to life!

It is interesting to note that the Mourners have never left Dijon--until now. Under the auspices of FRAME, the French Regional and American Museum Exchange, "The Mourners: Tomb Sculpture from the Court of Burgundy" will display forty sculptures from the tomb of John the Fearless (1342-1404), the second duke of Burgundy, currently housed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Dijon. This exhibition will open in the Great Medieval Hall of the Metropolitan Museum in New York in the spring of 2010 before continuing on to visit six American FRAME museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art from October 3, 2010 to January 2, 2011. Of course, I already have the dates on my calendar.

To celebrate the Mourners' visit to Texas next fall, we'll create some more French group experiences here in Dallas with various exhibition-related activities and educational events. And we may even whet our appetites for their coming with a pre-exhibition trip to Dijon to see other Mourners figures in situ (more info to come on this French journey). In the meantime, our French Affaires community will continue to come together--over books, wine, travel, and other French "gourmandises" (delicacies). Come and join us!

French Take-Out ~ La France à emporter™

The Elegance of the HedgehogThe French Affaires Book Series Dallas is a great way to have a little bit of France here in the U.S. Our summer pick for August 2009 is The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It was a bestselling novel in France and has gotten great press in the U.S.

Whether or not one has finished the book, our book club gathering is interesting, informative, lively and delicious (we always have French refreshments of some sort!). There are a couple of spots remaining for the August 18 session--and we'll be announcing the Fall 2009 Book Series line-up that night. For more information or to sign-up, please click here.

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