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Monday, October 31, 2011

I hate Halloween

Does anyone remember Schleprock from Bedrock? He was a character in the Flintstones, always walking around with a black cloud over him. And of course bad luck followed him everywhere. I think it was the basis for my belief that whatever energy you are injecting into the universe is almost exactly what you receive back.
So, ever since I was a little girl I have hated Halloween. It is such a strange tradition: dress up as a scary creature and go door to door demanding sweets. Non payment results in eggs or soap or worse on your neighbors windows and doors. Creepy.
Tonight I met my friend for a drink, and tried not to be bothered by the yucky made up faces in the bar. Left early, and managed to walk into the middle of an egg war right in front of my place. Yes I am now wearing egg yolk on my white leather jacket.
So what is the lesson: stay in bed next Halloween? Join in the fun to project better energy? Or just accept that one day a year  I may need to dodge an egg, look away from a scary monster, and run like hell if a vampire is following me home!

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Week in Paris. And then it was Sunday

Roman Aqueduct

I had big plans for Sunday. I  was going to meet my friends at the Area Bar for the final rugby match between New Zealand and France at 10, possibly have brunch, and then head off for a full day of sightseeing. The previous night's fun had an impact though, and I started with the latter.

The Paris if you Please group had a "Fun in the Fourteenth" walk  to view particularities of that arrondissement. Sab, our organizer did a great job of planning the day, including the provision of questions and answers to what we would be seeing. I am including below as photos so you can share in the fun.

We started in Montsouris Parc.

Thomas Paine, The Golden Age

Old Petite Ceinture Line
Montsouris Parc

Quarry Miner, Montsouris Parc

Spanish astronomer Arago and
marker for The Meridian Line

The Meridian line made famous again in Davinci Code
Weather Station Montsouris Parc

A Wallace Fountain
Indicator of Roman and Medicis Aqueduct
And then on the streets we saw various sources of water. The remains of the Roman aqueducts were impressive and plentiful

Roman Aqueduct

What a pleasant surprise
 to see street art by our own organizer!
Yeah Sab!

A less happy sight but also surprising,
 a large active prison right in Paris. Who knew?

When the numbering system did not allow for additions, they added
bis for the second, ter for the third and quater for the fourth repeat of a number.

Of course we finished with dinner. We even picked up a couple
of new people to join us! Yum Saravanaa Bhavan!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Week in Paris. Saturday was day 6

So French history, Canadian beer, Indian food, salsa - what's next?

Saturday evening was "Think Globally, Eat Locally" at Andre and Shelly's apartment. You may remember Shelly, she was the organizer of the Thai Lao dinner a couple of weeks ago - my neighbor from Antigonish.

This was a glass jar mini-meal, meaning everyone was to bring a glass jar to drink from. Some guests brought cool jars, others an ordinary jam jar. I alas had no proper jar, due to the absence of food that ever enters my home. (Rumour has it that this is my reason for being mouse-less when my neighbours have many.)

In any case no matter the vessel it was filled and refilled all evening with champagne and then wine. Home made cheese crackers with tequila red pepper jelly were provided, followed by chili and fresh baked garlic rolls. Delicious. Dessert was chocolate cake with cherry sauce and creme - yum!

The food was good and the company even better. I met people from France, Italy, Canada, United States, Australia, Romania, Chile, Ukraine, Laos, and a few more I think. Everyone was so welcoming and interesting - I had a grand time. By 11 a few of us were doing our best to help Shelly finish off the wine. What a good time.

Made me miss the rugby final the next day though...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Week in Paris. Friday that same week - Day 5

When I first moved to Kansas City I had to find several things in order to feel comfortable: music, the wine store and spicy food. I will admit to being worried about all three. The night I arrived I could find only country and gospel on the radio, and the food choices appeared to be BBQ and fast food. Uh-oh what had I done?

It all got better of course. Kansas City is the home of great jazz and blues, and in fact every kind of music is easily found there. Although there are a number of good wine stores my sentimental and practical favorite became RedX, home of groceries, hardware, souvenirs and hundreds of varieties of wine. It remains the only grocery store I ever saw people smoking in while buying groceries, but that is another story.

Now for the spicy food: well my first positive sign was Chipotle. Okay good that helps. Much to my delight Mexican food, both traditional and Tex-Mex appeared on every corner, along with really good Margaritas. Spanish tapas, especially La Bodega  became a favorite, along with the best sangria I have enjoyed. I feel like there is a recuring theme with the liquids. And then Thai food presented itself in a perfectly respectable fashion.

So now I am in Paris, searching for spice. I visited every Asian restaurant within miles, and was very disappointed. Curry was more like tomato sauce or ketchup, not even worth eating.

Then it all changed. I went to a very good Thai restaurant, Num,  and then another The Banyan Tree. And then Indian restaurants: Saravanaa Bhavan - so good I went twice in a row! And now an added bonus: a friend who cooks Indian food! Yes Friday night was home cooked Indian food, and salsa dancing  because what else could follow that act?

So in case you are following, Monday night historical French food and wine, Wednesday Canadian beer and Friday home made Indian food followed by a little salsa dancing. Stay tuned for the International tasters tour!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Week in Paris. And then it happened day 7

Throughout my life there have been a few common themes.
I move around a lot.
I change boyfriends.
I change my hair color.
I switch jobs frequently.


Until today.

In Paris - well Suresnes actually.

But here they have McChevre wrap! Not great, but a goat cheese wrap at McDonald's (here they call it McDo)  is a whole new experience for me. No chicken, no McRib, no McLobster - just chevre. Go figure.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Week in Paris. Wednesday that same week...

So Monday evening was all about French history.
Wednesday was the monthly Canadian meetup group at Le Sous Bock in the 1st. It is a casual tavern with 20 beers on tap and over 300 bottled.
20 beers on pressure over 300 bottled beers and 40 different types of whiskeys.
20 beers on pressure over 300 bottled beers and 40 different types of whiskeys.
20 beers on pressure over 300 bottled beers and 40 different types of whiskeys.
Sous -bock comes from the word for coaster, to keep the condensation from dripping all over the table, especially if you consume several beers!
So tough place to be a wine drinker but likely a good choice for a Canadian meetup.
Here is the strangest thing: there are no Canadians at these meetups. This month the organizer, one guy and me; everyone else is from France.
Now I love French people, and like to hang out with them. However when I go to a Canadian meetup it would be nice to well you know, see some fellow Canadians. Just like if I go to a "learn to speak French" meetup it would be great to have French speakers there. You get my point.
So, a nice evening sitting with French people speaking French, mostly to themselves.
What more can I say?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Week in Paris. Monday night: La Fermette Marbeuf

Some of my friends might imagine life in Paris in a certain way: cafes, fashion, wine, etc. I know I had a very unrealistic notion before I came here. Now I can tell you that life in Paris can be as varied as you want it to be. I am going to talk about my past week over the next few posts, starting with Paris, moving to experiences around Canada, India, and perhaps others.
 Monday night I had dinner at a beautiful French restaurant, La Fermette Marbeuf in the 8th. I can imagine some of you by now are wondering if I do anything except eat. The answer is yes, but much of the social life here revolves around the table. Restaurants here do not expect you to eat and run; instead people arrive a bit late for the reserved time, take forever to order, and are found hours later lingering over their coffees. Conversation is flowing the whole time. Here I never see a couple sitting across the table from each other with nothing to talk about. I am not sure why that is different here but it is.

La Fermette Marbeuf was built in 1900, and contains some of the most beautiful features I have seen, including this beautiful atrium; it has a true ambience. Being there made me think about how I had imagined Paris, la belle epoque, romance, food, wine... c'est la vie!
And indeed this is a part of Paris and part of its history, but not something local Parisiens experience regularly, or at least I don't think so. I am very lucky to be introduced to some of these gems by my friends and colleagues.

Several people at my table had the 5 course menu degustation.  I showed great restraint and had only three courses: Langoustine bisque, filet of salmon, and 3 wonderful cheese to finish. Our waiter had a bit of an attitude, but the manager was wonderful and made everything right. Along with my colleagues, my boss, his boss and wife, we had a very enjoyable evening. \Just as we left the restaurant at 11, the lights on the Eiffel Tower started their hourly sparkle show. What's not to like?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Choose wisely

How are you spending your day? This is the only today you will ever have. Are you looking at something beautiful? Eating something delicious? Spending time with someone who has a positive impact on your life? I can happily say yes to all three questions.

Happiness comes from such simple pleasures. This morning I was on rue Mouffetard thanking Christophe for the delicious chicken he cooked yesterday for the enjoyment of my friends at dinner last night. I bought eggs "plein air", grainy bread from my favorite bakery, and the best yogurt ever from the fromagerie.

Cool metro station

Next stop was brunch with two girlfriends at Nomads, Place du Marche St Honore. Food was good if overpriced - service was indifferent at best. The company though was so good we moved to a bit of shopping, strolling, and a glass of wine at Cafe Ruc. One friend is very happy with where she is right now, the other is having some "life questions" present themselves to her. We doled out to each other in equal measure support and, as Mom would say "a swift kick in the arse".  The main point was, "choose how you want to live your life, who you want to include and let the rest go". Perhaps a second glass of wine would have made us all more profound!

The afternoon concluded with a beautiful walk home along the Seine, a pause at Notre Dame, and a walk back down rue Mouffetard. There really is no place I would rather be.

My advice is, choose what you want to do this very minute. Tomorrow you can do the same thing.

Just another night in Paris

Walking to my friend's apartment in the 1st, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am to live in Paris. First I stopped on rue Mouffetard to buy a hot off the spit chicken from Christophe. I have bought many roasted chickens there, and only today realized there are two different types. I am not clear on the details, but I think it has to do with size. Then I walked past the Pantheon, the Sorbonne, Fontaine St. Michel, Notre Dame, very close to Hotel de Ville, and admired the Eiffel Tower on the horizon. Every city has its charm, but Paris  is over the top on beauty!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Think Globally - Eat Locally

I recently joined this meet up group for open minded food travelers, on the advice of my new friend Nona. The group dines at various places, trying a variety of cuisines, drinking wine, and enjoying each others company. There are hundreds of members, but only 12-20 can attend any one event. The guests are selected by the organizer, Shelley, from a list of those who register. I was somehow chosen for dinner Wednesday!

The restaurant was Thai Lao, a Thai restaurant with Laotian connections I guess. I arrived at 7:30 and introduced myself to Shelley, who immediately picked up on my accent. Sure enough, she is from Antigonish Nova Scotia, not at all far from my home town of Truro. Just goes to show you can travel a long way to meet a neighbor.

We were lucky to have Damdy of Laotian roots in our midst to select the restaurant and menu in advance. We started with a salad, a pork and a shrimp appetizer, then enjoyed rice, fried rice and sticky rice with a spicy ground beef dish and a delicious coconut curry fish dish. There were two desserts - the one I tried was delicious but I have no idea how to describe it. The other was very gooey and apparently also good. All that plus lots of good red wine - who could ask for more? I really enjoyed the evening, and as always met some interesting people from all over the world.

Stay tuned for more meet up encounters

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What I Learned on my Sri Lanka Vacation

           1.     It can take 6 hours to drive 200km
2.    Spiders grow to the size of dinner plates (we saw a bigger one than this but it wouldn't fit on this page! 
  Swear to God!

  1. 3 The internet is not to be taken for granted

4.      Frogs and geckos are cute compared to spiders, bats, centipedes and flying cockroaches

     5.      If you sit still long enough someone will offer you exactly what you need, even if you
            don't know exactly what that is.


    6.   If you sit still for too long you will have something crawl on you
   7.   The moment to make sure there is a flashlight and candles in the house is at least 5 minutes before the power goes out       

                    8.   When a gorgeous young man invites you to party,  
                                      you may be the only invited guest

    9.   If a guide offers to show you new construction at a 2000 year old site 
                         there might be something fishy.

1 10. It feels good to be taken care of.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage - very sad

We thought we would see rescued elephants; instead we saw elephants who need to be rescued.
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is not an orphanage. It is not a sanctuary. It is a crime scene, where elephants are bred for the amusement of humans. A blind elephant is chained by a front and back foot, forced to stand in one place day after day for people to look at. An elephant who lost part of his from leg from a land mine limps a few steps at a time around the park. Every elephant is “trained” with a bull hook. In order to have tourists pay for photos the workers fetch each elephant in turn by catching them in a tender spot with the bull-hook and drawing them to the unsuspecting tourists. An elephant is persuaded to lie down in the water, and a bull-hook is laid across his neck to convince him to say in place. He lies there for hours. Two young elephants are chained under a roof, too far apart to reach each other. They strain at their chains, trying to reach each other. An elephant is chained at river’s edge, the only one not allowed to enter the water, She spends the next two hours swaying, attempting over and over to immerse herself in the cool river along with all of the others. Tourists feed peanuts to the elephants, who are then chased away by the workers with the bull-hooks.
Elephant with bull hook
I don’t know much at all about elephants, but I know something about fear. These elephants are obviously terrified of the workers, and no doubt they should be. It is brutal and incredibly sad to watch.
This is not a good life for the elephants. It is also bad for the humans. The way we treat animals has an effect on us. By being economically successful with this approach, we become convinced that it is the right way, perhaps the only way. I want to believe these people, workers and observers do not know better. I want us to spread the word about operant conditioning, teaching, real teaching through positive reinforcement. I want us to let elephants live in the wild where they belong.
I ask for your help in educating tourists, so we stop supporting this abuse. We also need to educate the management on how to treat animals, to allow them to live in the wild, and, for those truly injured or orphaned, to offer them the best quality of life possible. Stay tuned for more info.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Friday, The Ellerton and Mt Sigiriya

The Ellerton Hotel, 18 km from Kandy is a treasure. Built in the early 1900’s, it offers three guest rooms in the main house. The Valley house, where a small tea factory once stood for bio-organic tea plucked at a certain phase of the moon, houses an additional three guest rooms. The view from the Valley house is beautiful. The estate was originally called Seethevalley, and had more than 1000 acres of tea. There are now only 13 acres of tea planted on the much smaller estate.

There was an interesting assortment of guests, including a couple en route to Autralia following a year in Bangalore, and two Canadian women who didn’t socialize much. Alison's theory is that just as there is a difference between joggers and runners, so too is there a difference between tourists and travelers. We met Jennie and Ed, a couple traveling from a 4 year stint in Shanghai to live in the UK. They are traveling with their 5 year old son and were great company on the first evening for drinks. Friday night we all had dinner together.

We were served a feast of vichysoisses,papadums, curried chicken., curried fish, dhal, aubergine, yam, green beans and rice, There was pannacotta for dessert. A frog sang to us from the window, a spider was retrieved from another guest’s room, and Ed captured a large moth that had been dive bombing us during our otherwise relaxing meal. I will not miss the “wildlife”.

The main adventure of the day was a 3 hour drive to Mt Sigiriya, an ancient monastery built in the third century BC. The mountain itself is impressive; one wonders why anyone would think to inhabit it. The entry includes bricked-in foundations of former water fountains. This was a very early example of Sri Lankan hydraulics technology. Four fountains were fed by two adjoining moats, creating what must have been an impressive entryway.

We were greeted by guides selling their service. Alison explained that she had been there before and was not in need of a guided tour. One guide responded “But you haven’t seen the new parts”. I guess he was right – we didn’t see any new construction in this site built more than 2000 years ago. We did see beautifully preserved frescoes, believed to be at least 1600 years old, and The Mirror Wall, with very faded art, inscriptions and graffiti.

There are 1200 steps to the top of the mountain. It was very hot, and in some places the steps are worn so unevenly you can imagine slipping to a dramatic demise. The view from the top is both beautiful and satisfying for having been brave enough to arrive.

Tsunami and Sea Turtle Rescue

Thursday morning we had our last wonderful breakfast prepared by Chandrani, and then said goodbye to our gracious caretakers and gorgeous home. We were heading to the next chapter of our Sri Lanka adventure.

Hikkaduwa was hit very hard by the 2004 Tsunami. It is just at sea level, so the water swept across the area destroying everything in its wake. Many people, mostly women and children, boarded a train thinking it would withstand the force of the water. It did not, and 1270 lives were lost as the train first rolled over and then was submerged in the wave. Today you can see hundreds of shells where homes once stood.

The Japanese erected this huge Buddha to remind us of the event and guide us on how to live following such a tragedy. Two men visited separately while we were there; it appeared that both had lost friends and family in the Tsunami. This really brought home to me how many were personally affected. To lose your friends, family, neighbors, your home, your source of income, is more than we could be expected to bear. Today the people here are looking forward.

Our next stop was a happier one. At the sea turtle rescue we were greeted by two volunteers from England and Scotland who chose a volunteer stint in Sri Lanka instead of a more typical vacation. When the turtle eggs are laid on the beach, locals either eat them or rescue them to sell to a turtle rescue. These 1 week old babies will be released soon under cover of dark to protect them from predatory birds.
We then had a 200 km drive which took 6 hours to complete. I kid you not. We drove on a narrow two lane road full of cars, trucks, tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and school buses –an interminable trip. We arrived in Kandy tired and pretty much fed-up with car travel. A cocktail made from local Arrack, passion fruit, angostura bitters and sugar at The Queens Hotel cheered us up somewhat.

Dinner was at a place with a beautiful view and quite awful food. We moved on to our hotel, The Ellerton, 18 kms away. Imagine driving down a series of increasingly narrow roads, lanes, pathways deeper and deeper into the jungle, higher and higher up a mountain in the dark. Our driver asked every person he saw for confirmation on our directions, and called the hotel repeatedly to make sure we were not lost. We arrived eventually and were greeted warmly by the staff. My room was gorgeous, but Alison’s was just okay. We negotiated an equally lovely room for her, unpacked, and joined a couple in the bar for a nightcap.
This morning I am sitting in the sun with Ben the Labrador. We have a wonderful view, a lousy internet connection, and a morning to ourselves.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pleasant and less pleasant surprises

Tuesday we decided we actually needed to leave the house and go to Galle. It is a fortress town originally built by the Dutch and later taken over by the British. Because of its high surrounding walls, the fortress part of the town escaped most of the Tsunami destruction elsewhere.

We planned to take a bus, but at the last minute had a guy at a neighboring hotel call a taxi for us. After some negotiating on the price (why do we bother when they actually know how to do this?) we were told he was 200 yards away and would come straight away. After 15 minutes we were getting impatient. Apparently the driver was 200 yards away having lunch, a point that was not communicated from the beginning. We got a little hissy and suggested that the delay would affect the price.
The driver readjusted our thinking. He offered to not only drive us for less than the originally negotiated price, but also to spend the day in Galle doing his own business and bring us back whenever we were finished. He told us not to rush, enjoy a nice dinner there and call him when we were ready. Another lesson for us: Time is relative.
We found some very nice shops, bought a gift for our host, and very nearly bought a fabulous necklace for Alison, before heading to the Galle Fort Hotel for a much needed cocktail. This was a charming place with only 12 rooms and an excellent bartender. While sitting out as the sun was setting we were bothered a bit by mosquitoes. The duty manager noticed and brought us a very nice rose scented mosquito repellent cream along with a nice after-bite balm, both at no charge. If you sit still long enough someone will offer you exactly what you need.

We Checked out the menu – very British (and dare I say boring?). We were advised to go to Serendipity for local food. Upon entering we saw one large communal table, which was fine, and no alcohol, which was less fine. Change of plans – we would head back to Hikkaduwa.
Our driver was already waiting for us at the designated spot, and recommended we go to "Refresh" in Hikkaduwa. He accompanied us to a beautiful beachside restaurant which we had not discovered earlier in the week, and made sure we were being taken care of before leaving us to our dinner, which was the best we have had so far here.

Hopped in a tuk-tuk to go for our nightcap at Top Secret, and were joined at our table by 3 men, a Swede and 2 Sri Lankans. They admitted they were already quite drunk but sat with us and talked our ears off for an hour or so. We left them to come home, keeping an eye that no one was following us. Upon arriving at our locked gate we attempted to rouse our night watchman. While repeatedly banging on his window and our gate, 3 men appeared on motorcycles and stopped just across the road, watching us. Of course we were sure they were somehow threatening, so we banged louder and woke the neighborhood dogs, and eventually the night watchman. I am pretty sure he was drunk. We decided to just lock our doors and hope no one was going to attack us, since he quite obviously would be no protection on this night.
We noticed something strange on the floor, but the light was dim so we agreed to call it flora vs. fauna for the evening.
Then the power went out. This is a big old house, and we were already on alert from the night’s events. Now it is a big old pitch black house. And we could not find matches to light the candles. And there was no flashlight.  The moment to make sure there is a flashlight and candles in the house is at least 5 minutes before the power goes out! Back to the night watchman, woke him up again, and asked him for a lighter. He came into the house, watched us light a couple of candles, and then offered us the only flashlight. We accepted. We also decided to sleep in the room with 2 beds, not that we were frightened or anything just for practical purposes you understand. Of course by the time we went to bed the power came back on and we called off the alarms. Well Alison did. My body decided to stay on high alert for the whole night just in case any remaining danger should present itself.
This morning we got a proper photo of our late night visitor. It wasn’t flora.