Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What a month!

September 2014. What a month!

Alex moved out on the 1st, into a great condo space with Penny, leaving an empty room behind.

My birthday on the 7th. Already? I've heard the older you get the faster time flies. I never really believed it before, but it doesn't seem that long ago I was celebrating my 50th.

Celebrated my birthday in Paris! After 8 incredible nights, it was off for a week in London! What a vacation. I am still going through photos and absorbing some of the experiences. This holiday will linger for awhile. It certainly broadened my perspective.

Work-wise, although I am still with the public service, I resigned from my home position, ended my secondment, and accepted a new job. I stepped 'down' from management into a position that pays slightly better, offers more holidays, and a better chance for work-life balance. Started the new job  determined to set healthy habits (like eat lunch and leave work on time). So far so good!

Thankfully last weekend we were able to relax at Toronto Island and totally unwind. Drop anchor, dinghy through the islands, enjoy the 'Indian Summer' temperatures, have Alex overnite on the boat, enjoy dinner with friends, ride our bikes, read, hang out. Lovely.

Tonight, a restorative yoga class, and early to bed.

horoscope for the year ahead:
You have very strong values, and others know it. Your persistence is the major key to your success, but good money management is also a big contributor. Extremely sensitive to your surroundings, you pick up signals that fly over others' heads. You are generally quite organized. You are competent, hard-working, and very proud of the work you do. Some may find you critical and tough-minded. On the inside, however, you are passionate and emotionally sensitive, and you don't always show your more vulnerable side. You tend to attract relationships in which there is an imbalance of power - either you are controlling or dominating, or your partner is. Power struggles may be a theme or pattern in your love life until you learn to demand equality. Famous people born today: Grandma Moses, Buddy Holly, Chrissie Hynde, Shannon Elizabeth, Michael Emerson, Evan Rachel Wood.
Your Birthday Year Forecast:
Your attitude towards life evolves and transforms in significant ways with transiting Pluto trine your Sun. What used to satisfy you may not continue to do so, particularly if your goals have been superficial or a poor reflection of your inner desires. You are no longer willing to make compromises in the important areas of your life, particularly with regards to career and your life path. You are more determined this year, and it's an excellent time for getting rid of bad habits. This is a year in which to get your life back on track, as you have the willpower to do so. Others are bound to recognize your leadership skills and talents, or, at the very least, your potential. You want your life path and your objectives to reflect what you're really about. You benefit from being more decisive than usual, and your ability to concentrate and focus help you to achieve what you set out to do. A new project or goal begun this year has a good chance of being successful and long-lasting.
You have a stronger focus on, and dedication to, work in the period ahead, sometimes taking it a little too far. Taking the time to pull yourself away from your pet projects or work will help bring more balance to your life, and will ensure that you don't neglect other important areas of life. However, you can make significant headway in specific areas this year, and you are likely to feel a strong sense of direction and purpose.
This is a good period for bringing more order and organization to your life. Success comes from hard work and detailed attention.
However, with Mercury square Pluto in your Return chart, there can be some intensity in your thought patterns and interactions with others. Try to avoid coming on too strong with your opinions. You are hungry for deeper meaning, but a suspicious attitude, or making mountains out of molehills, won't serve you well. Some secretiveness is possible. At times, you may have a troubled mind and some mental anxiety. On the other hand, it can suggest the ability to engage in deep, penetrating communication this year. Mercury governs speech, and you will need to watch what and how you communicate. Something you write or say could lead to opposition from others. Your need to investigate and read between the lines is strong this year. It's best used for research and increased awareness of psychological motivations, both of others and yourself.
You can be highly creative and original this year. You are especially dynamic and might often experience bursts of energy. Activities that require fast reflexes or spontaneity can thrive. You are bolder and more courageous. You are naturally competitive, but not in an aggressive or antagonistic manner. In fact, you are easy to smile in this period of life, and you more readily drum up enthusiasm than you do opposition.
This is a year in which you make important changes and improvements to your life. It's a standout period for focus and commitment. Both work and "play" are emphasized, so that striking a nice balance is within reach. You can be especially creative this year, and others tend to be attracted strongly to your more unique traits. Big, and even pivotal, changes can be made towards self-improvement goals, as your willpower is stronger than usual.

Monday, September 29, 2014


We were touring the Palais Garnier when our guide remarked how fortunate we all were that Rodin had been rejected - twice - by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. That rejection meant he wouldn't be trained to turn out pieces in the Neo-Classical style that adorn the interior of the Palais. Instead, he would go on to create his own distinctive form and make way for modern sculptors. I'd never really placed Rodin on a timeline before, and was surprised his ground-breaking works were produced as recently as 1860-1911.

Just a few days later, at the Musee D'Orsay, I was standing at the  Gates of Hell plaster, which we would see in bronze at the Musee Rodin a few hours later. It wasn't really planned, but what a great sequence of viewing! And another eye-opener. There was the familiar Thinker, positioned on the Gate, that I have admired for so many years at our own AGO. I had not realized the Thinker was part of a larger composition.

At the Musee Rodin, we wandered the large garden to enjoy the sculptures in the green setting. Rodin himself arranged that Hotel Biron permanently exhibit his sculptures for posterity. In addition to the expansive gardens, there was a gallery devoted solely to marble works, and another large building full of sculpture on display. While we were there,  a retrospective explored connections between Mapplethorpe and Rodin.

By reading the fine print along the way, I was intrigued by connections I hadn't made before. Rainer Maria Rilke, the great poet, was a friend and private secretary to Rodin. There was also the love triangle between Rodin/Claudel/Beuret, which would make a fascinating short fiction. Claudel was a gifted sculptor in her own right, and both modeled for and apprenticed under Rodin before they became lovers. Rodin refused to give up Beuret, the mother of his son. Some believe this may have been part of the reason Claudel went mad and was institutionalized after their affair. Heartbreaking.

Just a week later, we would see Rodin's Burghers of Calais on the grounds of the Palace of Westminster in London. I wandered over to take a long look, admiring the expressions and the upturned hand on one of the figures.

I had not realized at the time, but many believe Claudel to be the artist who sculpted the hands and feet of the Burghers. Also, not realizing it at the time, our Paris apartment was literally steps away from where Camille Claudel lived and worked, on Isle St-Louis. Now I have to go back for a return visit!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Home Again

A very busy two weeks in Paris and London, literally walking miles every day. We didn't plan our itinerary too much in advance, but we did have a list of things we wanted to see. Having limited time and a lengthy list made for some exhausting days. No time for souvenir shopping in either place, although I did come back with thousands of digital images, wonderful experiences, and lots to think about.

It would have been ideal to be able to visit these cities just before heading off to university, to give context to studies of history, art and music. Being there made the subjects more of an experience, versus something read about on a flat, printed page. I could imagine what it would have been like for people attending mass in Notre Dame through the centuries, or what it might have been like to mudlark on the side of the Thames for treasure when the tides went out.
Both cities are so rich with history everywhere you look. In London, just having a drink at the local pub could be mind boggling. And history layered on history.... Plaques on doors and alleyways noting Lawrence of Arabia lived here, or the Rose Theatre was erected here in 1587, or the Clink was first built on this corner in 1104. In Paris, we stayed at St-Louis-en-I'lle, just across the street from the church built in 1624 and around the corner from our apartment, was 17 quai d'Anjou, where Baudelaire used to host his hash parties. (I tried to snap some photos but the guard at what is now the Paris Institute stopped me from entering the courtyard).

Churches and palaces modified through centuries to accommodate new faiths, evolving tastes and new knowledge. Museums like the Louvre or the Victoria and Albert that seem to stretch on for miles. Cathedrals built on the sites of Roman temples built over tribal lands.

Some of the trip highlights were spent wandering through the parks. Beautiful green and blue spaces to rest and recover. Public transportation integrated into waterways, and riverbanks along the Seine and the Thames both claiming public lands along their edge. Gardens and parks on arteries further afield. Paris has about 10% dedicated to public green space, such as Luxenbourg or Jardin des Plantes. London has 35,000 acres, or almost 40% of its surface area, dedicated to green space; there must be incredible pressure to yield  to new development. With the densities of these cities the parks are essential. I hope London manages to preserve their gardens and parks. 

Incredible wealth on these streets, especially London, where houses in downtown Belgravia sell for 80 million pounds and Maserati are parked out front on the curb. The average house price hit $500,000 pounds during our stay, with headlines crying out against the extra stamp tax and high salaries needed to even get a toe on the property ladder. There was definitely more hustle and traffic in London. Rush hour was flooded with moms taking their uniformed kids off to school, road warriors on bikes, men and women in suits. Roads flooded with cars, doubledecker buses stalled, people doing business on their cell phones.

In contrast, Paris was much more laid back. The business people seemed to have time to take lunches in cafes, and the pace of walkers on the streets was much less frantic. We met several visitors who travel there on at least an annual basis, some mentioning more than 20 visits. Staying that frequently, you might as well invest in some real estate. Prices there have been falling in recent months but with costs per square meter ranging upwards from EUR 8,500, it still makes Toronto look affordable.

Speaking of Toronto... it is great to be home. Our 'city within a park', our comfortable bed, our garden. Feeling more connected now to these two cities across the Atlantic and to the history of European nations. Why does it make me somehow happier to know I am just a little speck in time, in this great big sea of life?

The wonder of it all.

Friday, September 19, 2014

London Calling

Day One: Looked out the window of our Paris apartment one last time, then it was off to the EuroTrain/chunnel and London. What a great way to travel! Checked into our flat across from Battersea Park, and visited the Masons Arms gastro pub just around the corner. Back to the flat to unpack and settle in.  Day Two: Hop on/hop off to take in the London sites... Big Ben, Bloomsbury, Green Park, Hyde Park, Harrod's, The London Eye, the Thames. Hopped off at Buckingham Palace for the changing of the Guards, walked the gardens and saw a pelican. Visited St. Paul's Cathedral just as a choir was singing Mozart's Holy Eucharist. Walked around Picadilly Circus (well-named, indeed!). Day Three: Cruise down the Thames to Greenwich. Maritime Museum, Royal Observatory, Greenwich Park. I love the carved figureheads and ships' badges. English fish and chips for lunch. In the evening, a birds' eye view at sunset of all the sites we've been taking in on the London Eye... Day Four: Trip to Little Venice, and then a canal boat tour through Regent Park and down to Camden Locke. On to Westminster, for a London Walk in the 1,000 year old city, looking at the Palace and the Abbey. Stuck around for Evensong and its beautiful choir. Then off to Albert's for a cider before heading home to Battersea and dinner at home.  Day Five: Out to the Cotswolds (Minster Lovell and Burford) for a taste of the English countryside and medieval villages.  Then touring around the quads of Oxford colleges & the Bodliean Library (which houses all books published in Britain) & Sheldonian Theatre (designed by Christopher Wren). My neck is sore from walking around for hours looking up and up. Dinner at the Naz to satisfy a craving for Tikka masala.  Day Six: The Tower of London tour with a Beef Eater, and then time to wander around and look at the Crown Jewels, the Armoury, the Dungeon. We spoke at length with the Beef Eater in charge of looking after the Tower's Ravens. Then it was off to the Borough Market to sample some great food (especially loved Neal's Yard and sampling English cheeses!). A walk past  The Globe Theatre. Mudlarking Bankside in Southwark while the tide was out, and then a very quick run into the Tate Modern before it closed to look at a Surrealist exhibition. Dinner at the Boqueria for Spanish tapas. Day Seven: Basically walked the entire day. Through Battersea Park, The British National Museum and the Victoria and Albert. If I was wearing a pedometer I think it would read 40+ km for the day. Such great sights, too. The Peace Pagoda in Battersea; the Rosetta Stone, Easter Island statue and Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon at the British Museum; entire tombs and colossal marble arches at the V&A. The scale of the exhibits in these museums is massive, so the buildings need to be huge to accommodate them. Day Eight: Packed up our bags in the a.m., stored our bags in 'left luggage' at Paddington Station so we could walk through Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, ate lunch at Harrods, nipped in to the V&A for another look, then the Heathrow Express for the flight home.
... details to follow...

London Birds

One of travel's pleasures is coming upon the unexpected, and in London I was surprised by the birds. In Paris, there were pigeons everywhere but the bird market, so I expected the same in London.

The first day, near our flat in Battersea Park, there were bright green parrots squabbling in the trees. We saw them again the next day, at Buckingham Palace St. James Park, along with mute swans, moorhens and coots. Most surprisingly, a pelican! Beautifully coloured common magpies were hopping around almost everywhere.

Then at the Tower of London, the Ravens. Their wings are clipped due to the superstition that the Tower will fall  if there are not six ravens on hand to guard it at all times. Now there are eight, just in case. Huge, black, barking and ominous.

The birds may be captives, but they are well tended and fed meat with bloody cookies regularly. There is even a Yeoman Warder Beefeater tasked with the responsibility to look after them.

To even qualify for the position of Beefeater, you must have served 22 years in the military as a senior or petty officers and hold the Longservice and Good Conduct award. There have only been 400 Beefeaters to date, so it is quite a distinction to join the corps.

We chatted at length to the Yeoman in charge of these creatures. He actually had an arm patch of a Raven on the sleeve of his uniform.  Shortly after joining the elite security team. their current keeper noticed the birds had taken a liking to the newcomer, so 'took him under his wing' and trained him. Initiation included spending time in the cage, birds pecking. Duties of the Raven Guard  include feeding, clipping, monitoring the Ravens overall health, investigating their deaths, introducing new birds, protecting the existing flock, and occasionally recapturing and returning birds to Tower grounds. Just the week before, a pair had hopped over the wall and the Beefeater searched for five days to bring them back (wearing plainclothes). He knows each of the birds by their size, shape, call, and personality, and spoke about their moods with affection.

A few years ago, a fox managed to get on the grounds and kill two birds, causing security to be 'beefed up'. The average raven life span is about twenty years, while the current age of the oldest Tower Raven is forty-seven. They seem to have great disdain for the tourists.

Part of me can't help but wonder if the Tower Ravens were jailors or guards in their past lives.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sacred Music

Notre Dame
A bit of research prior to our travels showed there was a Sunday Gregorian Mass in Notre Dame, and I wanted to attend. I had envisioned monks in heavy robes and deep voices, but the nuns were doing the chants, voices ascending. To spend an hour just sitting and absorbing this amazing cathedral was a privilege. Centuries of worship must concentrate energy, which may be partly what draws these daily crowds. Hearing the music, looking at the soaring buttresses, admiring  the stained glass, and just simply being in the space was exquisite.

Sacre Couer
Then by design or chance, when we were visiting Sacre Couer I took a seat in a front pew to admire the altar and art of the Basilica. Within a few minutes, a sung Eucharist was beginning. It was just serendipity, and not planned. Nuns again, beautiful voices. Everything was in French so I didn't understand the content word for word, but this was a Catholic mass, so although it has been many years, I certainly had a sense of what they were celebrating. As I sat I had time to take in the gold and stained glass, and to wonder how mosaics of Stars of David had come to the walls gracing the pulpit.

St Paul's Cathedral
Again - at St. Paul's in London, we wandered in during the last half of a sung Eucharist. This time, a Mozart Opus with a men's choir singing verses in Latin. I found myself at the back, looking at the silhouette of the congregation with my gaze drawn up to vaulted ceilings. This time the sombre tones were reminding me of the (mostly) men buried here, including Christopher Wren, the architect who rebuilt the cathedral after the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Westminster Cathedral
Again again.... at the end of the Westminster tour we heard that Evensong would be in just a half hour if we wanted to stay. We did. This time there were no tourists milling about the periphery, and the service took place in a smaller setting. The men's choir sung in Latin, and the priest welcomed His Excellency from Malta who was seated with other guests of honour. On the way out of this structure we walked over the spot where Darwin was entombed, and past the tribute to Sir Isaac Newton. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier lay at the entrance in a place of honour.

Being in these sacred places and listening to the sacred music made me think of the millions who sat in these place before me, royal and common, devout or politically motivated, with self-interest or the good of the world at the heart of their intention. I also wondered at and about the churches themselves, the sculpture, stained glass, paintings and architecture. So much beauty.

We visited other churches on our travels in Paris and London: Sainte Chappel, St. Louis I'lles, St Etiene, St. John the Baptist in Berford, Saxon Saint Kenselm in Lovell, chapels in Oxford. Are there modern day equivalents? I can think of none. Our common spaces are less divine and not built to last centuries: coliseums, shopping centres, subway cars, parks. Less permanent and ambitious. Less divine.

Today people with great wealth to bequeath tend to sponsor universities and hospitals to be remembered, and churches are careful not to flaunt their riches with so many who need help in their daily lives. A recent exception is the Aga Khan Centre in Toronto that opens gardens and a museum to the public September 18... today, in fact.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Paris log

I have seen glimpses these last eight days of a Monumental Paris, a Sacred Paris, an Historic Paris, a Literary Paris, an Art Paris, Gardens of Paris, Foodie Paris... An exhausting eight days! So tired at night, but I still can't sleep because I don't want to miss anything. Too busy to shop for souvenirs. 

Tomorrow morning, up early to pack and off to London.

Day One: Arrived at our place on I'Ille St-Louis and had a short nap before walking over to the hop on, hop off L'Open Bus Tour. The bus and boat routes were a great way to get our bearings and see all the monuments. Every turn something new and amazing. Spectacular! Such splendour! The Eiffel Tower surprised me. After seeing so many photographs I didn't think I would be so impressed, but this icon has such impact when you see it in person. Day Two: More hop on, hop off. Montmarte, Left Bank, Marais, St. Germaine. Montparnasse. Opera. We got a little off the tourist tour to check our St, Martin Canal. I love the batobus at night, the same monuments all a-glimmer. The moon is almost full, adding a special element to the night sky. Patisserie! Fromage! Vin! Crepes! The street musicians! The grafittee!  Day Three: Today was my birthday, and we sat for a Gregorian Mass in Notre Dame. The voices soared in this sacred space. The service was in French, so it might as well have been in Latin. I thought of the millions of souls who have shared this space over centuries. Then off to the Sunday Bird Market for colour. Brunch of crepes and strong cider. We are still using the hop on hop off but are now calling it the "hop off, get lost" ... Luxembourg gardens... Cemetary Montparnasse Day Four: Today we started taking the Metro, off for a tour of the Opera Garnier. I have wanted to see the Chagall ceiling for years, and it did not disappoint... and there is Moon Room in the Paris Opera.... how perfect! An amazing lunch at Le Grand Cafe Capucines. Visiting Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison in Pere Lachaise. On to Sacre Couer, such a beautiful church, the light of the stain glass glowing on the stone walls. And Montparnasse, where all the artists and writers hung out in the 20's and 30's. Seeing the Eiffel on the skyline, in the distance, like a jewel. Day Five: Must have walked ten miles today! Musee D'Orsay. Rodin Musee. So many masterpieces, dizzy and overwhelmed by Rodin-Van Gogh-Renoir-Monet-Pissaro-Toulous Latrec. The Gates of Hell plaster in the D'Orsay, followed by the bronzes in the garden.  Invalides. Ending the day with champagne in the Eiffel Tower, seeing the full moon in the sky. Taxi home. Day Six: Versailles. The scale of the palace was beyond my imaginings. The gardens, so vast! We rented bikes and rode past the boats in the Grand Canal to the Petit Trianon, the smell of autumn in the air. Dappled sun. Then dinner at a local restaurant, just steps from our Paris apartment. Day Seven Started with Sainte Chapelle, then the Bastille Market, walk in the Marais, tour the Louvre, take in the water lilies at the Orangerie, walk through Tulieres to Pont Neuf, dinner at home and then out to Shakespeare and Company & a walk along the Seine. Day Eight A Paris Walks tour, of Hemingway's haunts... Now I will need to re-read The Moveable Feast and Paris Wife, tackle Joyce's Ullysees and try Orwell's  Down and Out in Paris. An afternoon wandering the Left Bank, the Marais again, and then checking out the Stravinsky Fountain at the Pompideau Centre. A picnic on the Seine of wine and cheese, and a night cruise to enjoy the shimmer and glimmer.
... details to come

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Paris Moon - September

A harvest moon in Paris!

The Paris Opera Garnier had a Moon Room, gold and black, with creatures of the night sky: bats and owls. What a wonderful surprise on the tour.

Today, after a visit to Musee D'Orsay and Rodin, we are planning to end our day at the Eiffel to watch the moon rise over the city. I've been enjoying my view these last few days as it positions itself above the Seine or beside Notre Dame or hovering above the church just across the street. Belle lune!

officially full September 9

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Foodie dreams of Paris and London

In London, I'd like to taste the official national dish: chicken tikka massala.  And feast on fish and chips in an old English pub. 

I've asked around and gotten recommendations for pubs and restaurants, and thanks to Laura B, Lyn D. and Joh R. these are now on my list:
  • Ten Bells, near Old Spitalfields Market http://www.oldspitalfieldsmarket.com, with original tile work on the walls and a very clever painted copy of the tiles where the wall had been damaged (Jack the Ripper's old neighbourhood)
  • Ye Olde Mitre at 1 Ely Court. It is down a laneway and out of the way but you can find it if you are looking.
  • Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet St is also ancient.
  • George Inn on Borough High Street in Southwark... Rumour has it that Shakespeare drank there.
  • Magic Garden, Battersea (close to where we are staying) 
  • Ottolenghi  (Islington, Notting Hill, Belgravia) 
  • Gordon's  Wine Bar (47 Villiers Street, just up from Embankment tube station). The oldest wine bar in London, dark and romantic.
... And of course, Afternoon Tea.  Ideally at Kensington's Orangery.
In Paris, the main foodie attraction for me is cheese. Hundreds and hundreds of different kinds, with 56 different cheeses protected under French law. To make it a bit easier, fromage is sorted into 5-10 basic types, depending on who is doing the sorting (Hodgson lists 6 different kinds of uncooked, unpressed cheeses). 

I'll be avoiding the stuff made a la industriele, and sticking to fermier, artisanal or cooperatives.

So much chevre and so little time!  Rolled in ash, paprika, juniper berries or herbs de provence; definitely a crottin de chavignol from the Loire valley; and Delice de Pommard with mustard seeds. Also on a mission to try the stinkiest Époisses & Livarot.

"A cheese may disappoint. It may be dull, it may be naive, it may be over-sophisticated. Yet it remains, cheese, milk's leap toward immortality."
Clifton Fadiman
(American writer and editor; New Yorker book reviewer)

Basic primers for French cheeses:

Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Alex brought the bottle back for me as a gift when we traveled to Spain earlier this year. I wanted to save it for a special occasion, and tonight is the perfect dinner to uncork and share.

He and Penny have invited Rob and I to dinner, at their new condo, just having moved into it a few days ago. Spaghetti is on the menu.

I'm still in shock that he has left home. Officially I am an empty-nester.

Of course I'll see him regularly, but his room is empty now. There is no more guitar leaning against the couch, waiting to be picked up and strummed.

A new phase, an adventure for us both.

I have no doubt he will fare well, he's ready.

My son, my sun.