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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Today I was in a hurry

Today I was in a hurry. I had an appointment with a cardiologist in a strange neighborhood called Bagnolet. I did not know exactly where I was going or how to get there. I was nervous about what the Dr. would tell me. I was closely following my metro map - first a bus, then a metro, then another metro then another bus...

In one of the metro stations I heard a woman crying out. "S'il vous plait. S'il vous plait". I saw a blind woman and her guide dog. Lost in the metro station. She knew where she wanted to go but did not know how to get there.

I have done this before. I walked up, asked her if I could help. Having been lost for awhile by this time, she was upset. Her dog was stressed. I asked if I could guide her a bit (in my only passable French). When she agreed I led her and her dog down a hall, up two flights of stairs and finally left her waiting for her train.

Of course my immediate stress about not quite knowing how to get where I was going went away. And you know what replaced it?

You might think I felt gratitude for my situation compared to hers.
Or a new-found sense of challenge about my little adventure into new territory.

Instead I got a chance to reflect on my current  feelings about being lost. Not knowing where I want to go. How on earth will I ever know how to get there? Wherever there is.

Damn it I don't even have a dog to guide me.

Today I was in a hurry. I didn't know exactly where I was going. I didn't know exactly how to get there. But somehow a blind woman lost in a metro station managed her journey with a little help and so will I. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Porto Post

Port cities hold a special place in my soul. The history is long, fascinating and often hard. Porto hit it on all counts. The battles of religion, royalty, and other bad guys created a fiercely independent people who knew how to disguise whichever historical element might do them harm on a given day.
Two religious orders were forced to build side by side
to be permitted at the gates of the city
Porto history includes a period of dictatorship during which this staue of Justice was created, without blindfold or scales for example. The rigidity of the dictator rule is strikingly at odds with the splashes of joyful color elsewhere throughout the city.

Each tree in the garden
represents a different
human emotion.

In fact the diversity is woven into the very fabric of the city, with the former Crystal palace replaced by what locals refer to as the UFO, a rather unattractive sphere used for sports, but leaving behind the Garden of Emotions. 

A view over the world
from a window of the former
Crystal Palace

There are beautiful tiles everywhere, usually found where the money is. One exception here is a home where tiles were hidden during a long siege. Post-siege the owners found the tiles and applied them to the exterior walls. Of course the rightful owners claimed and tried to remove the tiles to relocate them to a more deserving manor, but gave up when they realized the tiles would not survive the removal.
Humble home, beautifully tiled.
Tiles everywhere - look up!
Tiles by Dutch artists

 We of course had many enjoyable meals, but none better than lunch cooked by "Mama" at this little abode. Entréés, mains, shared dessert, a bottle of wine, all for 10€ a person. Great food at an excellent price, and we felt like we were in someone's welcoming home.

Highlight was a walking tour Porto free walking tour with guide André da Silva. Knowledgeable, kind and helpful, we all saw some behind the scenes we would have otherwise missed. At one point we came upon The Garden of Virtues. I felt a stong presence of an older hiistorical, perhaps biblical people. In fact this was once a Jewish cemetery, then  a private garden attached to a mansion, it is now available to rich and poor.

There were a few stairs...
Having walked a million miles
we came to a gate, closed and locked.
So we climbed over it.

The Garden of Virtues

Memorable Sunday morning moment. Fifty or so brides parading sdown the street, one just a little different from the others.

Lello Bookstore
This beautiful bookstore was the inspiration fr J K Rowling's staircase in the Harry Potter series. For some reason you are not allowed to take photos, so don't tell on me.

Of course no trip to Porto would be complete without lunch at Taylors (best view in town), and a little tasting session.

The view from the terrace at Taylors

My actual tasting was much more modest than this photo suggests

Walking along the river a still typical scene of a porto boat. Tradition meets modern engineering.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Mozart En Plein Air: The Magic Flute

Sometimes it is good to push your luck.

Last month it was a chance to see cinema en plein air. Imagine a huge screen and thousands of well behaved people gathered in a big park in Paris. Everyone has a picnic supper including wine. For 7 euros you also get a nice folding deck chair and a warm fleece blanket. The opening short film is truly bizarre, and the feature film is set in Buenos Aires. I say that to let you know it was not a happy film. Come on have you ever seen a happy film set in Buenos Aires?

The picnic was good, the park nice and the company excellent. The air was chilly but the fleece blanket took care of that.

Fast forward to Friday Sept 13, La Flute Enchantee, again in plein air, this time at Les Invalides. My friend Carole called during the day to see if it would be cancelled due to the rain. The lady assured her that it would stop raining at 5PM. She was so convincing we headed out to the opera.

Hotel des Invalides

During the first song it started to rain, just a little bit. Before the planned intermission they had to stop the show to let the rain have its moment on stage. We all huddled under the beautiful arches while we waited for better weather.
Don't be fooled by the glamour - Parisiens are tough
No matter the downpour, we all waited out the rain..

During the second act the leading lady, Pamina slipped on the rain-wet steps. I know it hurt. She jumped back up and sang her heart out.
In fact the entire cast, wet and cold as they were, continued to traipse around the slippery stage and sing like the professionals they are. We huddled miserably in our seats, unable to open our umbrellas for fear of blocking our neighbours' view. But we stayed and were rewarded handsomely with beautiful voices, lighting and scenery. Not for those sensitive to Mother Nature's whims, but really worth seeing.


Au naturel

Notice Napoleon watching over it all.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Flying High

Saturday morning I got the call at 7:15 "all clear to fly". Good. I was already up, showered and dressed. Managed to run into Simon as he was boarding the metro mostly by good luck after having missed the agreed upon metro by one minute, and headed to Boulogne to meet our friend and pilot, Arnaud.

A nice drive to Etampes and we were at the airport. Lots of friendly rabbits hanging out and also a hangar full of planes.

Lots of planes
Not ours thank heavens
Also not ours but rather nice

I think I am bigger than the plane!

I have been speaking happily and confidently about our upcoming adventure. Now I realize how small our plane is.

Okay no worries, we'll just put a little leash on it to take it to the runway, top up the gas, do a thorough check, turn the propeller until the engine catches, and get ready to go.

Last chance to change my mind

During the pre-flight briefing Arnaud gives the following instructions:
  1. Please don't vomit all over the plane
  2. Please do not touch the joy stick or put your feet on the pedals
  3. Please do not talk to me when I am talking to the control tower
  4. Please do not pull the cord that releases the parachute. There is only one parachute. It is for the plane not you.
Okay. Got it. It must take a lot of trust to believe the average passenger won't do something stupid, like pull the parachute release.

Do I want to drive? No thanks you are doing just fine..
No auto pilot here. The real pilot has work to do.

Lots and lots of farms
A surprising number of chateaux
Looking at all the farms surrounding the chateaux makes me believe I have stepped back in time. People really still live this way? In a real chateau? And they are not even royalty. I hear that a chateau can support a whole village of people.

What a great way to spend a Saturday morning! I am very lucky tobe living this amazing life.

Monday, August 26, 2013

On Doing a CIty

The Traveler's spirit is offended
by your "doing" a city or a country in a weekend
oh yes I have been there
you say
and I think I saw pretty much everything
And yet
just yesterday I walked down my own street
and saw a beautiful mural on a building
I really saw it
after four years
and I looked closely at the little boy in front of Franprix
playing just a few notes at a time on his little accordion
before stopping to extend his hand to passersby for pay
and I saw my beautiful friend waiting for me at our meeting place
a stand out in any crowd
all amidst the backdrop
of what you saw on your way past or through
Just imagine
what we could see in a lifetime

Sunday, August 25, 2013

They don't know

When they look into her eyes
and see confusion and fear
they do not know how those eyes once danced with merriment

Or that she feels betrayed by unsteady legs that once carried her 
running to school and even recently up stairs  
maybe to protest the 12 hours a day standing at work

That her voice now too quiet to hear
once embarrassed us with its volume
and also called us in from playing when darkness fell

How she could do math in her head
faster than my sister with her slide rule
and knew how a book would end from the first chapter

And so today I sort through the pieces
and wonder what is disease
and what is still  her

I smile at the day she slipped from her wheelchair to her knees
and quipped to the worker who asked her what she was doing 
 “I thought I would say a few words for you while I was down here”

And yet sadly today at the restaurant
she refuses to eat salad; she says
there are bugs in it just chomping away

I see that help is unsolicited and unwanted
and yet when it does not arrive
she is hurt by the lack of caring, of attention

Mom in summary
still the same complicated confounding
collection of all that is woman, that is present, that is her.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Next! French Drivers License

Having lived through a rigorous immigration process in the US and more recently in France I thought I was prepared for anything. Then I tried to get my French drivers license, which for some was apparently as simple as "Hello Madame yes we realize you drive on the opposite side of the road in Australia but here is your French license immediately".

My experience was more like " Once you have completed all of the documents please return a few more times so we can tell you some additional documents to complete. And once you have all of those we will tell you that you need a letter from the Canadian Embassy stating that you had permission from the Canadian authorities to live in the US for the period of time you were there."


So I explained that in Canada we are allowed to move to any country we choose, as long as that country accepts us. Not good enough. I need the letter or no driver's license. Okay. So I asked the Canadian Embassy for said letter.

WHAT??? We don't give Canadians permission to live in other countries.

Yeah I know.

So having failed miserably at the straight echange I get to take the legendary French driving course.

First the paperwork, which takes approximately 1 month to process and begins only after the submission of  4 photos, 6 stamps, 2 A5 envelopes, proof of residency, visa, passport and foreign drivers license translated by an accredited translator.

Next the 256 page study guide, (price 15€) in French of course, mandatory, which has at least 10 pages describing the meaning behind dotted lines, depending on the length of each, the distance between the dotted lines, how to measure your speed based on the number of broken lines you pass per second ( you know you are going 90 kmh if it takes 1 second to pass two dots and two spaces in between), and the secret signals these patterns provide including upcoming solid lines. I am in trouble.

Third the classroom sessions and accompanying on line exercises. for 559€ and 35€ respectively.

Then the first written exam. I was not quoted a price but I am sure there is one. Many fail. A mandatory wait period, and then restart.

Once I have passed the exam I can begin to take driving lessons, minimum 8 hours. In a manual transmission. If I don't take the exam in a manual transmission I will have a restricted license. And then of course the driving exam, which most people fail at least one.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Yesterday's wine

More than a year since we decided to do a special taste test we finally made it happen.

It all started with a visit last year to Beaune. On Sunday morning before leaving for home Alison and I found ourselves at yet another wine merchant sampling the local goods while our friends did some important museum tours. While sampling we were informed of a recent study done comparing wines from Borgogne decanted, or simply opened 1 hour, 4 hours, 12 hours and 24 hours prior to drinking. We were surpised to learn that every wine expert participating in the blind test preferred the wines opened 24 hours before.

So of course we had to try it.

On a Thursday evening I bought two good 2011 Mercury 1ere Cru and opened one. On Friday evening I opened the other an hour or so before the guests were to arrive.

Each of us received 1 glass with the 24 hour opened wine and a second glass with the newly opened version. I was the only one who knew which was which. 

The results?

  1. Everyone could tell there was a difference between the two.
  2. Most of us knew which one was opened first becasue it was softer and had a more generous aroma.
  3. Half of us preferred the wine opened longer. Half preferred the newly opened.
Try it yourself and see. I believe the rule applies only to wines from Bourgogne, but it could be an interesting experiment with any wine.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Nebbiolo don't tell everyone

Upon moving to ParisI wanted to make a big effort to meet people quickly. Having moved 17 times in about as many years I know how important it is to get established quickly and make friends. I was lucky to discover MeetUp, an idea with post 9-11 origins, created  to help people make real life connections using the internet. It works.

This week I dined out with Paris Urban Adventures at Nebbiolo.
I was the first to arrive, typically Canadian, and had a nice chat with Frederico, who just opened the restaurant a month ago along with his wife Sonia. The business is the perfect marriage of Italy and wine (him) and France and cuisine (her).

We started with this lovely sparkiling wine Alta Langa, a champagne
style but not from Champagne which was surprisingly delicious
with parmesan dipped in the best ever balsamic.

The Gavi di Gavi was paired with the Burrata,
a super creamy mozerella and puree of beets.

A Valpolicella Ripasso
that puts most others to shame
to go with the black rice salad.

And the Amarone.
Just delicious.
Served with veal and fingerling potatoes.

The cheese course, a Testun I think with grape must..
By this time I am forgetting to take photos of the wine
which is unfortunate. We had sampled quite a few wines by this time!
It was also very good, a Brachetto Piemonte served with fresh peaches. 
Frederico convinced us to pour some of the delicious wine into our peaches.
I can't sign off without mentioning the organizer, Camilla, who is warm, gracious and welcoming to all, including a local who joined us part way through the meal and the owners who by mid evening gave up on any supposed formailty they meant to keep and sampled the rest of the courses along with us. Great spot. I almost want to keep it a secret, but that wouldn't be fair to this couple who deserve every success in life. Thank you to everyone for a memorable evening.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Chateau de Chantilly - (out)side benefits

I have done some significant travel in July of this year including Montreal, Alberta, Connecticut, Paris, London, Wiesbaden and Tel Aviv. Imagine the surprise of my significant other when I suggested a day out of Paris last Sunday. This time though we went together.

 I live less than 30 minutes from the beautiful Chateau de Chantilly. Whatever took me so long to visit? And what else am I missing?

Once off the train you take a short walk through a park, past the Hippodrome,
Then you see this gorgeous stand of trees. What a welcome.

The walk  through the beautiful trees
is in itself an experience not to be missed
Then the chateau from afar
much like a fairy tale

Up close we are not disappointed

Brief pause for creme de Chantilly

And a walk through the woods to burn
the chantilly calories and enjoy the peace. 
You could spend hours here. We did. 
There are "rooms" designed for dining, games 
and other events.

Fountains galore

And sculptures to embrace the beauty of the fountains

Contemplating life outside of Paris.
A reminder to us to open our eyes and hearts to the beauty of nature. We live in what many consider the most beautiful city in the world, and were visiting one of the most beautiful chateaux.The chateau is home to one of the finest collections of ancient paintings in France (second after the Louvre museum),  And yet no matter how impressive the chateau its art, its library, for us the surrounding park was the highlight of our visit.