Category Archives: foreign service life

The Sunday porch: French Legation

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The front porch of the French Legation to the Republic of Texas, Austin, Texas, 1934, by Louis C. Page, Jr., via Historic American Building Survey (HABS), Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

This house — now the French Legation Museum — is the oldest extant building in Austin.  It was constructed between 1839 and 1841 for Monsieur Jean Pierre Isidore Alphonse Dubois, a secretary at the French Legation in Washington, D.C., who was sent to Texas to investigate the benefits of establishing relations with the new Republic of Texas.

On Dubois’s advice, Texas was soon recognized as a sovereign nation by France and he himself was appointed as the King’s chargé d’affaires.  Unfortunately — and probably before he could ever occupy his house — he became involved in a number of political, financial, and personal controversies, culminating in the so-called “Pig War.” When the Republic’s capital moved to Houston in 1841, Dubois left for New Orleans, only occasionally returning to Texas.

The style of the house is a blend of vernacular Greek revival and Mississippi Valley French. It may have been designed by carpenter Thomas William Ward, who had previously worked in Louisiana.

At the time of the 1934 photos above, the house was owned and occupied by Miss Lillie Robertson, whose father had purchased it in 1848.  After Lillie’s death, the property was sold to the State of Texas in 1945.  It was then put into the custody of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas.  They restored it and opened it to the public in 1956.

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The same views in 1961, by Jack E. Boucher, also via HABS, Library of Congress.

By 1961, the Legation house was surrounded by a formal arrangement of boxwood hedges — perhaps having taken a lesson from  M. Dubois, the son of a tax collector,  who styled himself Count de Saligny after he arrived in Texas.

Today, the museum looks much the same.  Its surrounding park is 2 1/2 acres and is open to the public. Its wide gravel paths are sometimes used for games of pétanque. From the front porch, visitors can see the Texas Capitol Building and downtown Austin.

To scroll through larger version of the photos, click on ‘Continue reading’ below.

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Filed under a garden in history, American gardens, architecture, culture and history, design, foreign service life, garden design, landscape, nature, plants, The Sunday porch, vintage landscape

The winter garden: diplomatic cacti

Mexican Embassy cacti, Library of Congress“Mexican ambassador Don Manuel Tellez standing amidst potted cacti in the embassy’s conservatory, Washington, D.C.,” ca. 1925, by National Photo Company, via Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

More winter gardens are here.

After she left he bought another cactus
just like the one she’d bought him
in the airport in Marrakesh. . .

Next week he was back for another,
then another. . .

— Matthew Sweeney, from “Cacti


Filed under American gardens, architecture, design, foreign service life, nature, plants, vintage landscape, Washington, D.C., gardens

Our garden at work

I’m in Washington, D.C., where it looks and feels like winter, except for the ten gorgeous tulip magnolia trees blooming in a little park across from this Starbucks.

I’d give you a picture, but the camera of my Kindle, on which I’m rather laboriously typing, is not really doing them justice.

So, I thought I would show you a few more photos of the garden back in Kigali — set up for a recent event at our house: a reception and then a concert by the folk rock group Dawes, all on behalf of the U.N. Foundation and its program “Nothing but Nets.”  (This is a diplomatic residence.)

In the first slides, you can see the terrace and the tops of the tents down on the lower lawn.  Then, there are  couple of pictures of the tents being set up.  There is just enough grass so that they don’t need to put tent stakes in the flower beds.  A final shot shows the reason for the tents:  it poured rain during the concert.

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Nothing but Nets is a global campaign to raise awareness and money for the fight against malaria. It began in 2006 when Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly challenged his readers to give $10 each to buy anti-malarial bed nets. To date, six million have been distributed in Africa with the $40 million raised.

The U.N. was represented locally that evening by UNHCR, its refugee agency. There are 55,000 refugees in Rwanda, mostly from the Democratic Republic of Congo. They live in four camps, and Nothing but Nets has been distributing nets among them.

Dawes was terrific; you can hear a couple of their songs here and here.  The group will soon be going on tour with Bob Dylan.


Filed under African gardens, design, foreign service life, garden design, landscape, nature, our garden, Rwandan gardens

Beautiful Rwanda

The link to this video clip was sent to me with the note:  “What a beautiful country we are living in!”

I think you will agree.

RWANDA from MAMMOTH on Vimeo.

The film stops for just a moment at about 4 minutes.  Stay with it to see some wonderful footage of mountain gorillas.


Filed under culture and history, design, foreign service life, landscape, nature, Rwanda life, Rwandan gardens, travel

First look: Kigali, Rwanda

Muraho!  We have been in Rwanda 25 days today.

Our new home, as we expected, is beautiful. The garden is filled with wonderful plants and mature flowering shrubs that are familiar to me from previous posts in Africa and Latin America, although I have forgotten a lot of their names.  Some time on the internet should help with that.

The beautiful shrubs are filled with a variety of birds.  Unfortunately, some of them seem to live in the time zone we left behind.  We have the birds that sing at 2 a.m., those that sing at 3 a.m., 4 a.m. and so forth.  Ending with the ones who tap insistently on our bedroom window for several minutes every morning at 6. Continue reading


Filed under African gardens, foreign service life, garden design, landscape, nature, plants, Rwandan gardens