the Booker shortlist and Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Booker Prize for Fiction is a literary prize awarded each year for the best original novel written in the English language. The winner of the Booker Prize is generally assured international renown and success; therefore, the prize is of great significance for the book trade.

Looking for good new books to read? See the London Review Bookshop Booker Prize Shortlist 2020 link below. Despite its dull-sounding name, the London Review Bookshop is one of my favorite bookshops in London (probably because it has a divine cake and coffee shop attached to it.)

As for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I just wanted to say that it was thanks to Bill Clinton that she served on the Supreme Court. It was he that nominated her in 1993 (when he was President.) What a calamity that she should die less than two months before the presidential election! Who will the Orange Blowhole appoint to replace her?

I wonder if Americans are aware that the whole world, not just the USA, is waiting with anxious anticipation the defeat and swift departure of Donald Trump on election day.

Listen up, Americans! We’re counting on you!


Turner at the MJA

TURNER. Paintings and watercolours from the Tate.

There are times, especially after a pandemic and a lockdown, when I find myself craving art. I want to be in a beautiful setting looking at beautiful creations be it paintings, sculptures, crafts, ceramics, calligraphy, photography, or anything else.

In this brutish world, it’s important to nourish the soul and feel uplifted and inspired. Can you imagine a world without art? It would be a dark and desolate place … sort of like the inside of Trump’s head, bleak and vacuous.

So I will go to the Turner exhibition at the much-loved Jacquemart-André museum, I’ll book my ticket online and choose a Monday which is the late-night opening, and I’ll wear a face mask.

Undoubtedly the greatest representative of the golden age of English watercolor, Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851) exploited the effects of light and transparency on English landscapes or Venetian lagoons. Celebrated by his contemporaries, he continues today to move many admirers. This exhibition reveals the role played by watercolors in Turner’s life and art, from the youth works he sent to the Royal Academy to the fascinating luminous and colorful experiments of his maturity. For a modern audience, these are among his most radical and accomplished works. Thanks to outstanding loans from London’s Tate Britain, home to the world’s largest Turner collection, the Jacquemart-André Museum hosts an exhibition of sixty watercolors and ten oil paintings, some of which have never been seen before in France.

Because the paintings are on loan from the Tate, I began thinking about great art and how it’s transported from city to city, museum to museum. I did some googling and came up with this interesting article written by Andrew Dickson. It’s entitled – How to move a masterpiece: the secret business of shipping priceless artworks

The article even mentions the transporting of the Mona Lisa from her home in the Louvre to Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art in 1963 … at the request of Jackie Kennedy.

Curators at the Louvre were aghast after they heard that Jackie Kennedy had charmed the French culture minister André Malraux into agreeing to loan the Mona Lisa to the US in 1963 (many threatened to resign). Even the director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC was unwilling to take it, apprehensive about the risks. In the end, ……

offending women and meddling authoritarian figures

Two startling events occurred within the same week in France, and they both involved meddling authoritarian figures who tried and failed, thank goodness, to monitor, humiliate and discipline two women for two entirely different (and ludicrous) reasons.

Two days ago, a French woman named Jeanne was barred from entering the famous Musée d’Orsay art museum. Why? Too much cleavage. That’s right. A portion of her boobs was showing. This in a world-class museum that hangs famous paintings of naked women and men on its walls (Degas, Renoir, Manet.) I was not aware that in France women’s bodies were regulated and condemned in this way. Where are we? In Saudi Arabia? This is a slippery slope that needs to be stopped in its tracks. Next thing you know, Jeanne will be needing a male guardian to accompany her while she wears an abaya (I’m exaggerating to make a point.)

When will authority figures leave women (and their bodies) alone?

To be fair, it was not the fault of the Musée d’Orsay, but rather one individual, a ticket agent, who happened to be a woman. Two other agents intervened, one of them a security guard, who defended their colleague. A security guard? Was this a terrorist situation? Were Jeanne’s breasts a potential security threat? The absurdity! The situation got out of hand, Jeanne stood her ground, and a compromise was made: if she put on her jacket to cover her offending bosoms, then she’d be let in. Needless to say, the incident went viral, the Musée d’Orsay became a laughingstock, and someone from the Communications Department pinned the following tweet on their official Twitter Page –

Nous avons pris connaissance d’un incident survenu avec une visiteuse lors de son accès au musée d’Orsay. Nous le regrettons profondément et présentons toutes nos excuses à la personne concernée que nous contactons.

We learned of an incident that occurred with a visitor when she entered the Musée d’Orsay. We deeply regret this and offer our apologies to the person concerned that we contact.

A museum official then telephoned Jeanne to give what she called “a very sincere apology.” Jeanne said she was satisfied with the phone call, but the museum’s brief tweet failed to recognise the “sexist and discriminatory” nature of what happened.

As for me, I’m thinking: (a) how did the museum official get Jeanne’s phone number? (b) for someone who works in the Communications Department of a world-class museum, he or she can’t write very well; (c) as a goodwill gesture for the trouble caused, Jeanne should have been offered a free pass; and (d) I hope those agents are not only reprimanded but reminded that we do not live under a repressive authoritarian regime but in France whose national motto is Liberté, égalité, fraternité!

Here’s Jeanne and her offending breasts, hours before heading off to the Musée d’Orsay. Love the restaurant!

A second incident occurred involving a different woman (an author in Lille) and yet another meddling authoritarian figure. I’ll write about that in my next post.


Porto photos

I’m back in Paris on my noisy street (at either end there’s construction work going on: drilling, hammering and a lot of dust … ugh!) In my head though I’m still on that beach. It’s nice to have a go-to place, a peaceful haven somewhere in the world to which you can escape, if not in body then in mind. I’ll be back, Praia da Barra! A few final photos:

I started off my vacation in Porto, a city I preferred over Lisbon. It’s smaller, more compact and intimate. Some great graffitti –

The bridge, spanning the Douro River, is on two levels. You can cross it on foot. This waterfront area is a “feel-good” place. You can take boat cruises, have a meal or a drink, or just stroll and feel the wind in your face. It’s in a part of the Old Town called Ribeira.

There’s something pleasantly ‘Old World’ about Portugal’s cities, something I had felt in Lisbon two years ago: a simpler life from a past era, yet totally modern and contemporary.

I can’t tell you how relaxing it was to stroll the city center in the sunshine and the wind. I took an old trolley car ride then alighted in this square and bought a necklace from a woman. During the lockdown, she told me, she made dozens of them.

In a shop, I bought a long black dress on sale. No, I didn’t buy the boots!

photos – Portugal – batch one

Here’s why I fell in love with Praia da Barra. Coming from noisy, polluted, high-density Paris, I felt like I was in a dream. It was a cleansing of the mind, body and soul.

I’d begin my day with a brisk walk along this beach (strong wind blowing in off the ocean). Then I’d stop off at this place for caffe latte.

Then I’d move up to the wooden walkway and walk the rest of the way back to the hotel, the lighthouse and the pier.

Here’s the long jetty (pier? quay?) below. I’m not sure what to call it. But it makes for a great walk while the waves crash on the rocks below and the gulls wheel over your head. And the wind! You should’ve seen my hair by the end of the weekend. Full of knots.

I stayed here, at the Hotel Farol. I will return next year. The entire 11 days that I was in Portugal, the weather was perfection: hot, sunny and a constant cool wind.

Here’s the fantastic brunch I was served in the hotel restaurant:

I went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. The starter was olives, cheese and tuna pâté. The main dish was roasted cod served with potatoes mixed with olive oil, onions, peppers and olives. I’m not a fan of their young, slightly effervescent Vinho Verde (green wine.) Douro wine is best. Douro is one of the most beautiful wine regions in Portugal (and home of their famous port wines!)

The next morning I had this for breakfast, phyllo dough pastry filled with egg custard.

MORE PHOTOS TO COME. Thanks for stopping by! If anyone’s considering a vacation in Portugal, I wholeheartedly recommend it. No, I’m not commissioned by the Portuguese Tourist Board (but I should be.) 🙂

Here’s a 33-second video:


back in Porto, a weird hotel situation

Had they told me in advance that I’d find myself entirely alone in an old Porto building, I would’ve booked elsewhere. Had they told me in advance that the beautiful back garden would be out of bounds due to a photo shoot, I would’ve booked elsewhere. I must admit that the garden was a big attraction for me, gardenless as I am in Paris. Had they told me that the back door wouldn’t lock ….

But no one said a word. When I descended the three flights of steep wooden stairs from my room at  5 pm, I saw no signs of life whatsoever.

“Hello?” I called out, my voice echoing in the high-ceilinged foyer. It’s an old house, high and beautifully refurbished, and entirely empty. I walked from room to room, hoping to come across a fellow traveler, a staff member, a friendly cat, a parrot in a cage. All that greeted me was the sound of my own footsteps on the polished parquet floor.

I don’t know about you, but part of the fun of travel is people-watching and sitting at the bar at day’s end enjoying a glass of the local wine while hobnobbing with the bartender or the person on the stool beside you. And then ordering dinner and having a nice meal in the hotel restaurant, if there is one. I can’t tell you the number of interesting people I’ve met and befriended while travelling (hey, Lori!) Lori lives in California. We met decades ago in Nice. Hey, Melanie! Mel lives in New York City, we met a long time ago in Switzerland. Hey Caitlin! Caitlin’s a fellow blogger and Canadian who lives just north of NYC. We enjoyed a meal together in Paris one New Year’s Eve. There are many others, men and women. I must say that North Americans are the friendliest, the French the least so.

So to find yourself all alone in a big old guest house in an unfamiliar city is kind of anticlimactic (and scary). It was the garden door that precipitated my move to the hotel across the road. It wouldn’t lock. After the photo shoot had ended, I went into the garden to look around. When I had finished, I couldn’t lock the door. I must’ve stood there for 10 minutes fiddling with the key and the handle,  but to no avail. Already nervous at the idea of spending the night alone in that tall empty house, and now cognizant that the back door was unlocked, I just grabbed my things, walked across the street to the beautiful Baixa Bessa Hotel and checked in. Have I seen too many Alfred Hitchcock movies? Maybe. But as I sit in this hotel garden enjoying a glass of crisp white wine from the Douro region while perusing the dinner menu that the waitperson brought me, I can say that I’m happier here.

The thing is this: human beings need other human beings; in the end we are social animals. I didn’t come to this lovely country to be a lonely guest in an empty guest house, I came to engage and mingle with others. And now if you’ll excuse me, the waiter has come out to tell me that my dinner is ready: cod fish confit with a crust of pine nuts and breadcrumbs over roasted asparagus, spinach and tomatoes. Served with a red wine from the Douro region. Photos taken with my tablet.

If you come to Porto, I highly recommend this sleek, brand new hotel. It has a spa and a swimming pool too.


air. sky. wind. ocean. peace.

This is what I came for, and this is what I found. (I congratulate myself on my research and travel planning, it took me a while to find this spot.)

I left Porto at 11 am this morning and took the train to Aveiro, a town 15 km south. The trip took one hour and a round trip ticket cost me 7 euros. From Aveiro station I took a 15 mn taxi ride to this small beach resort called Praia da Barra where I am right now. From the moment I stepped out of the taxi to the moment I fell onto my hotel room bed from sheer and happy exhaustion, my mouth has been hanging open in awe. I’m awestruck.

First impressions? Everything is super clean and orderly. Friendly laidback people. Zero stress/tension. The smell of brine and grilling fish. The ocean up close. Fine white sand beaches … uncrowded!

I checked into the hotel and literally ran straight outside again, so eager I was to walk the long jetty past the lighthouse and feel the wind in my face and hair – a strong, cool wind blowing in from the ocean – while the sun hammered down from a cobalt-blue sky. Fantastic! I wish you could see the photos I took. I’ll post them when I get back.

The concrete jetty was long, and as I walked waves crashed onto the rocks on either side. Gulls wheeled and screeched overhead. This isn’t the lazy langourous Mediterranean you get in the south of France, this is the wild unleashed Atlantic, a different beast altogether. Posted on the jetty were signs warning people of high winds. Further down the coast are some of the best surfing spots in the world with monster waves.


Then I turned back and walked along the miles-long wooden walkway that runs parallel to the beach. I walked for a long while in the sunshine and then, starving, returned to the hotel restaurant. I was in for yet another surprise. Because it was 2 pm and I hadn’t eaten all day, I ordered brunch. You should’ve seen my face when the smiling waitperson carried an enormous platter to my table.

‘”Is that all for me?” I gasped, and she laughed. There were scrambled eggs and bacon. A fresh fruit salad of mango, melon, kiwi and strawberries. Freshly squeezed orange juice. A basket filled with croissants and rolls. Jars of locally made peach jam, strawberry jam, honey and Nutella. And a large caffe latte.

I sat for an hour and worked my way through that delicious bounty of food, and no I didn’t finish it all.

It’s now 10:30 pm and as I sit in my hotel room reading the world news on my tablet and learning of the rise in Covid numbers, especially in France to where I return on Friday, I experience a niggling feeling of unease. If I could, I’d like to be able to stay here, in this little slice of paradise.

chillin’ in Porto

Yesterday, I left the rental apartment at 10 am and returned, happy hot and tired, at 6 pm. In every way, it was a perfect day in Porto. First, the weather: hot, sunshine galore and a constant cool wind blowing in from the ocean. Yes, Porto is a coastal city, and those same screeching seagulls that I encountered in Rome last year are here too.

I walked for 7 hours yesterday, up and down hilly streets and all over. It turned out that the Serralves Foundation is not smack in the center of town, but on the west side, so I went by taxi and strolled in the beautiful gardens. They were just as gorgeous as the images I had seen on the internet. I’ve taken lots of photos of my Porto wanderings, but I’m writing this on my tablet and cannot upload photos.

Porto is not a glamorous city, but rather a real down to earth working city. The denizens are frank, no nonsense folk which I appreciate. Unassuming, no one hassles you in the street. Helpful and friendly if you approach them. The language? Really hard to speak or understand, it in no way resembles French, Italian or even Spanish. Lucky for me, many speak English or French because all I can say is obrigada (thank you), por favor (please) and bom dia (good day). Porto is a lot cleaner than Paris (the streets). I’m revelling in the fresh unpolluted air here.

The flight from Paris was perfect. Only one hour and 45 minutes. The plane was half full which made distancing easier. I still swear by the comfort and efficiency of EASYJET. We flew west to Nantes then all the way down the Atlantic Coast of France to Bilbao then onwards to Porto airport  where I had pre-ordered a car service through for only 16 euros. Food is cheap. It’s not haute cuisine, but tasty, especially the desserts and pastries. The beer is good. Self serve cafeterias dot the city, clean and convivial, where you load up your tray with a hot meal, dessert and drink for as little as 6 or 7 euros. No wonder many people choose to retire here.

Friday is my last full day in the apartment (super nice with a garden patio hemmed in by high stone walls upon which resident cats sit and stare down at me), then the week-end at the beach resort south of the city, then back to Porto on Monday to stay in a hotel for 3 nights.

No stress here, Paris and my job seem far away …

I’m wondering if I could live here.