France

Posted by Ellen

On Monday, the skies over Paris got themselves all tied up in a knot and spit out baseball-to-softball-sized hail across the Ile de France.

The supercell wall cloud at the heart of the thunderstorm is shown in this photo snapped by a commercial airline pilot whose jet passed safely by, if a little too close for comfort. The cloud grew so tall it bumped up against the tropopause–essentially, the upper boundary of the atmosphere–where it spread out flat.

This sort of weather is a common summertime phenomenon across the Great Plains in the United States, but it's rare in most other parts of the world. For the past three days, however, France has been enjoying supercell storms in all their magnificence.

Posted by Ellen

In the wintertime around the French ski resort of Les Arcs, the sun sets early; to get his tromping done, Simon Beck has to wear a headlamp along with his snowshoes. He'll stomp the snow, guided by his orienteering compass, for days on end, from can to can't, filling pristine snowfields with enormous works of art as big around as six football fields and impossible to fully apprehend except from high above. 

Beck is an engineer by training and a longtime orienteer by profession. He roughs out the geometry of his designs using what he calls "a kind of reverse orienteering." Then he fires up the music on his MP3 player and slowly, painstakingly, stomps in the details.

He made his first snow designs in 2004. "The main reason for making them," he said, "was because I can no longer run properly due to problems with my feet, so plodding about on level snow is the least painful way of getting exercise.

"Gradually, the reason has become photographing them, and I am considering buying a better camera."

Posted by Ellen

Back in the year 1638, in the colonies that would eventually become the U.S. of A., Massachusetts Puritans were busily banning Anne Hutchinson and Swedish Lutherans were building a settlement in Delaware. But in Paris, on the other hand--ah, Paris--the French fashion industry was already edgy and extravagant, as evidenced by this illustration of headdress designs, published as part of a collection titled Ouvrage Rare et Nouveau Contenant Plusieurs Desseins de Marveilleuse Recreation sous Diverses Caprices et Gentilesses.

Posted by Ellen

The woman in this picture, Emilienne, shown here in 1922 with her daughter, also named Emilienne, was a French war widow; her husband left for the army in 1914, when little Emilienne was an infant, and was killed in action in 1918, mort au champ d'honneur. 

Little Emilienne remained small all her life, less than five feet tall, but lived to be ninety-seven in Dieppe, France, where she ran a waterfront cafe for sailors. "She ignored the meaning of a word like wickedness," recalls her grandson. "When I was five years old at her cafe, that's where I first tasted Calvados. I miss her deeply."

Posted by Ellen

That's the Eiffel Tower under all that sky, late in the afternoon of October 25, 2011.

Posted by Ellen

Pink stripes on his pants, orange flowers on his shirt, white shoes, a hint of a grin. His sense of style is perhaps not shared by many Parisians, but nonetheless, here he is, in Paris in the springtime.

Posted by Ellen

With a sky so propitious, what could go wrong? So many bridges to cross.

Posted by Ellen

Camille Doncieux was one of the favorite painting subjects of both Claude Monet, who married her, and Claude's close friend Pierre-August Renoir. Here, she reclines and reads for an 1872 portrait by Renoir.

Monet first met Camille in 1865, when he sought out models for his large-format figurative work, "The Picnic." They had two children together and finally married in 1870, around the same time that Monet and Renoir were working out the new approach to painting that became known as Impressionism.

Although Impressionism is widely associated with scenic paintings–sunlight sparkling on water, buildings reflected in the ripples–Impressionist-style portraits of Camille by both Renoir and Monet were much easier to sell in the earlier years than were the outdoor scenes. The two artists often used her as a model in paintings of gardens or city streets, perhaps to improve saleability.

Camille died young, in 1879 at the age of 32, from pelvic cancer. Monet painted her one last time on her deathbed. He and his two sons then retreated to his farmhouse at Giverney, where he remained somewhat secluded for the rest of his life, cultivating and painting his famous garden.