Autumnal Adventures in August

Paris hasn’t had much of a summer. Temperatures have hovered around 60 degrees and most “summer” days have felt autumnal: cloudy skies, trees losing leaves, bouts of rain. So rather than sticking around the capital for the weekend, I went northwest to Normandy, a region practically tailor-made for autumn. There are signs for famous apple cider at nearly every turn and rainy, blustery days are relished. After all, rainbows have a tendency to peek out over green fields and infinite, sandy beaches alike.

On this trip, we stayed at the Chateau du Pont-Rilly, a manor built in 1765 that rests at the end of an almost-kilometer-long driveway that’s dotted with peacocks and potted plants. The next morning we drove to Le Mont Saint-Michel, a grand castle and abbey built in the eighth century atop a small island jutting out into the mouth of the Couesnon River.

Back in my apartment in Paris peering out at the grey sky, I already miss the sweeping, historic countryside. Somehow, the weekend was generally sunny too.

(All the photos are taken by me. Click on any of them to enlarge and move into a slideshow mode.)


The Beauty-Happiness Connection — The Atlantic

“Le Déjeuner,” an early painting by Claude Monet, isn’t particularly remarkable when compared to some of his other works. His “Les Nymphéas” series, for instance, includes nearly 250 large-scale oil paintings of the water lilies at his flower garden in Giverny. From his Thames-facing room in London’s Savoy Hotel and from a terrace at Saint Thomas’ Hospital across the river, Monet also painted his famous “Série des Parlements de Londres”—nearly 100 versions of the Houses of Parliament, playing with reflections, perspectives, shadows, and color schemes.

But “Le Déjeuner” is a simple painting. It depicts lunch at a country home. There is a silver teapot, a glass, and a bowl of fruit on the table. A child sits on the ground nearby. A woman in a white dress glides past in the background. The painting merely shows a slice of a bourgeois family’s afternoon.

Yet it is beautiful for its very mundaneness. The usually humdrum act of taking lunch is elevated  because it is rendered with detail, because it is frozen in a grand tableau.

Beauty tends to feel like something that must be found in special places—parks and museums, galleries and exotic cities. Lunch is not a place one would normally think to look. But finding beauty in normal activities can bring deep happiness to life, studies show.

Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic


To Work Better, Work Less — The Atlantic

Toiling away for more hours diminishes productivity. Why do so many do it anyway?

Between 1853 and 1870, Baron Haussmann ordered much of Paris to be destroyed. Slums were razed and converted to bourgeois neighborhoods, and the formerly labyrinthine city became a place of order, full of wide boulevards (think Saint-Germain) and angular avenues (the Champs-Élysées). Poor Parisians tried to put up a fight but were eventually forced to flee, their homes knocked down with minimal notice and little or no recompense. The city underwent a full transformation—from working class and medieval to bourgeois and modern—in less than two decades’ time.

Every August, Paris now sees another rapid transformation. Tourists rule the picturesque streets. Shops are shuttered. The singsong sounds of English, Italian, and Spanish float down the street in place of the usual French monotone. As French workers are required to take at least 31 days off each year, nearly all of them have chosen this month to flit down to Cannes or over to Italy, Spain, or Greece, where the Mediterranean beckons and life hasn’t stopped like it has here.

Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic


The Surprising Ways Your Name Affects Your Life — The Atlantic

Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic

At the hookah lounge. By Cody Delistraty.

Commercializing the Counterculture: How the Summer Music Festival Went Mainstream — Pacific Standard

With painted Volkswagen buses, talk of “free love,” and other reminders of the Woodstock era replaced by advertising and corporate sponsorships, hippie culture may be dying, but a new subculture—a sort of purgatory between hipster and hippie—is on the rise.

At the bottom of a dirt path marked by a yellow question mark painted crudely onto a circular piece of wood, a soothing voice can be heard: “The power is in the exhale. Release yourself. Lose yourself.”

“Now,” the voice says, “Feel your heart move into your neighbor’s heart. Now bring it back to yourself once more.” It is 1 p.m. at the What the Festival in Dufur, Oregon, and an afternoon session of “Good Times Yoga” is being held in the Illuminated Forest. Trek deeper into the Illuminated Forest and you’ll find a Japanese tea lounge; a makeshift Buddhist temple; and various art installations, like a wooden unicorn, a life-size stag made only of mirrors, and a massive dream catcher. Emerge from the trees to discover a hookah lounge furnished with vintage couches and coffee tables. Continue further into the middle of the festival—passing the organic coffee vendors and the fire twirlers until you get to the pool party helmed by a chilled out DJ—and you’ll be reminded that female toplessness is technically legal, that not everyone makes wise tattoo decisions, and that questions like, “Who here is on acid?” are sometimes answered with resounding cheers and a sea of raised hands.

Read the rest of the story at Pacific Standard


The Importance of Eating Together — The Atlantic

After my mother passed away and my brother went to study in New Zealand, the first thing that really felt different was the dinner table. My father and I began eating separately. We went out to dinners with our friends, ate sandwiches in front of our computers, delivery pizzas while watching movies. Some days we rarely saw each other at all. Then, a few weeks before I was set to leave for university, my father walked downstairs. “You know, I think we should start eating together even if it’s just you and me,” he said. “Your mother would have wanted that.” It wasn’t ideal, of course—the meals we made weren’t particularly amazing and we missed the presence of Mom and my brother—but there was something special about setting aside time to be with my father. It was therapeutic: an excuse to talk, to reflect on the day, and on recent events. Our chats about the banal—of baseball and television—often led to discussions of the serious—of politics and death, of memories and loss. Eating together was a small act, and it required very little of us—45 minutes away from our usual, quotidian distractions—and yet it was invariably one of the happiest parts of my day.

Read the rest of the article at The Atlantic


Can Creativity Be Learned? — The Atlantic

Prevailing theories on creativity focus on methodology, or amount of practice. But new studies suggest artistic talent may be more hard-wired than we thought.

At 2 a.m. on June 16, 1816, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin awoke with a fright.

Mary was 18 years old and spending her summer at the Villa Diodati at Lake Geneva with her stepsister Claire Clairmont and the writers Lord Byron and John William Polidori. Her future husband, Percy Shelley, was staying nearby. They had intended to spend the summer swimming and sunbathing, but a year earlier, Mount Tambora, a massive volcano in Indonesia, had erupted, dispersing nearly 1.5 million metric tons of dust into the atmosphere, blocking the sun, and sharply decreasing temperatures worldwide. It had such devastating effects on global weather patterns that 1816 came to be known as “The Year Without a Summer.”
Although the inclement weather foiled the group’s outdoor plans, the four of them contented themselves with indoor activities and took to reading scary stories, most notably fromFantasmagoriana, a French anthology of German ghost stories.

“It proved a wet, ungenial summer, and incessant rain often confined us for days to the house,” Mary Shelley wrote, in her introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein; Or the Modern Prometheus. “But,” she added, “Some volumes of ghost stories, translated from the German into French, fell into our hands.” On the suggestion of Lord Byron a few days later, the four of them decided to try their hand at writing their own scary stories.

Read the rest of the story at The Atlantic

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