The Secret Garden

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Sssshhhhh…..this is my most favourite spot in Paris.  Frequented largely by Parisians, I don’t want it over-run with tourists.  So if you promise to keep this address to yourself, I’ll tell you about it.

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It’s called the garden of the Royal Palace – le jardin du Palais Royal – and it’s a sublime sheltered retreat tucked behind a courtyard near the Louvre.  The long, rectangular garden is hemmed in by elegant arcades that border its perimeter. Exclusive boutiques are to be found in 18th-century shopping galleries.  As well as two or three restaurants.  And other treats.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 047Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 048Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 058I love the faded grandeur of the buildings.  The author, Colette, lived in one of these upper apartments overlooking the garden.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 066Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 063

You could easily spend half a day here. There’s a beautiful fountain in the middle. Tree-lined allées that provide shade.

Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 053Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 040There are little squares of rose garden in which to sit to read a book, contemplate life, people-watch, write your memoir.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 072Where young princes once strolled, local boys today play soccer.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 069And at the far end, near the entrance, is an inner courtyard containing the controversial columns designed by artist, Daniel Buren.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 035Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 033I like the irreverent interplay between modern and classical.Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 036Paris Secret Passages June 17, 2013 041

I love the jardin du Palais Royal.  It’s French, it’s fabulous, it’s forever.  Pour toujours.

The Ile Saint Louis, Batobus and the river

Here are photos of the main street of the Ile Saint Louis, its architecture and the surrounding river. The Ile Saint Louis is a small, natural island located in the middle of the river Seine.  The closest metro stop is Cité.   Cheaper and more flexible than the Bateaux Mouches excursion boats, I recommend the Batobus.  You can hop on and hop off at one of the 8 different riverside stops.  Photos and ticket prices are in one of the photos. These photographs were taken during a heatwave in August 2013.  As for their display, click on each one to enlarge it.

Berthillon ice cream

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Yesterday was hot. Very hot. And I took the day off work, not because it was hot but because everyone takes time off during July-August.  After my Pilates class, I headed to the river and to Berthillon glacier (ice creams and sorbets) located on the small island of Ile Saint-Louis in the middle of the river Seine.

Paris, Friday August 2, 2013 085Paris, Friday August 2, 2013 081What’s funny is that the original Berthillon ice cream parlour is closed during July and August!  Isn’t that a hoot?  Luckily, the Ile Saint Louis is served with a half-dozen outlets.Paris, Friday August 2, 2013 059

You either line up and purchase your ice cream take-out or sit inside and have it served to you.  It was so hot I had to sit down and order an apple juice while perusing the list of a dozen or so flavours ranging from fig to litchee to mandarin orange. Sorbet, or sherbet in English, has 30% less calories.  I ordered mango and cherry sorbet.

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Isn’t this the most gorgeous-looking sorbet?  Eating Berthillon is an event because the flavour is so intense and the taste sensation so startling, you swear you’re eating a real mango and real cherries. Once the fruit sorbet eaten, I ordered a single scoop of réglisse. Never having tasted licorice ice cream before, I was curious. (I thought it would be black – photo below).  Again, the flavour bursts in your mouth.  One scoop is 3 euros 50, two scoops 6 euros 50.  For take-out, one scoop is 2 euros 50, two scoops 4 euros.  

I like that the word “flavour” in French is parfum.  I like that metal and not plastic spoons are used.  I like the edible wafer cup (coupelle en gaufre) that the sorbet is served in and I like the pitcher of water that’s offered.

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Afterwards I strolled the streets of the Ile Saint Louis and then made my way down to the river.  A hot wind was blowing.  …….to be continued.

too hot to stay indoors…

What do you do on a hot July Saturday when you want to be near a park and some water?   Why, go to Bercy, of course!

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I discovered Bercy Park (Parc de Bercy) when it opened in 1994 and love it for its elongated lawns, diverse gardens and close proximity to the river Seine.  Midway through the park, there’s a cool and peaceful arbor overlooking a small pool. This is where I like to go, taking my pages with me, to sit quietly and work on my book project.  I have some rather exciting news concerning my book project.  Earlier this week I learned that an editor – and not just any editor, but a New York editor who is also an American novelist of some renown (a New York Times bestselling author, if you please)  – has agreed to work with me.  This will involve coaching me about structure and the organization of material, showing me how “less is more”, explaining how to “show and not tell”, and basically helping me whip my book into shape.  Once I get her permission, I’ll tell you her name.  Let’s just say that I’m excited.  And more motivated than ever. 

Here’s where I like to sit and write or read a book.

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On the other side of the river from Bercy Park, there’s an open-air swimming pool called the Josephine Baker.  It’s on a barge.  Connecting the right and left riverbanks and leading to the pool is a wide footbridge (photos up top) called the passerelle Simone de Beauvoir.  On this particularly hot day, the breeze blowing in off the river as you crossed the bridge was very welcoming. 

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Back to my flat at the end of the afternoon for a glass of chilled rosé and melon from Provence which, as I write this, brings to mind John Keats’ poem, Ode to a Nightingale.  My father, after a few glasses, used to recite this to us around the dinner table –

…Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim…

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mmmmm….tastes like summer. Bye for now.

July 14 – Bastille Day

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Spewing blue, red and white smoke in their wake, Air Force jets pass directly over my building every year on July 14th, France’s national holiday (video below).  The noise is deafening.  Tonight there will be fireworks and public dances throughout the whole of France.

Bonne fête, everybody….Vive la France !!

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loving London – final post

According to the French Consulate, there are approximately 300,000 to 400,000 French people living in England.  And I kept bumping into them as I made my way around the country’s capital.  And here’s the funny thing – they’re far more friendly and garrulous in London than they are in Paris.

Walking along the Fulham Road one sunny morning, I spied the relatively new Whole Foods Market across the road.  Starving because I hadn’t yet eaten breakfast, I popped in to have a look around.  The first thing I saw was this gleaming espresso machine.  I ordered a double espresso with whole milk.

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As I walked around with my coffee, I saw a bar with counter service offering charcuterie, cheese and pickles.  It looked like my kind of place.  I climbed onto a high stool, glanced at the menu and ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with onion chutney. And – quelle surprise – the man standing before me was a Frenchman.  We chatted while I ate.  Pascal is originally from Brittany, but has been living in London for a decade and a half.  Like most of the French people I’ve talked to, he’s in no hurry to return to France.  By the way, the sandwich, served with pickles, was extra.  Merci, Pascal !

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According to a BBC article, here are a few reasons why the French stay in the U.K. 

a gateway to globalization and also as a way of breaking away from stifling French bureacracy.

far more choice and flexibility

If you want security and beautiful long vacations, stay in France.  But if you’re seeking adventure and wanting to learn new skills, come to London.

I pondered that last comment and decided that, at this stage in my life and my career, I preferred beautiful long vacations.  But there’s no job security in France or elsewhere.  Believe me, I know.

Here are three French teenagers on their way to the Lycée Français Charles De Gaulle, wholly owned by the French Government, in South Kensington.

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A friend of mine told me about a book event scheduled to take place in one of my favourite London bookshops. I went early for late-afternoon tea in their renowned cake shop. The London Review Bookshop is located in Bloomsbury, just down the road from the British Museum.

IMG_4634Their cakes are divine. Here’s a slice of “no-wheat rose and pistachio” and below that a “deeply satisfying chocolate and Guinness” slice. Oh my!IMG_4633IMG_4630I chose Apple and Earl Grey cake served with Iron Buddha, “an intensely floral Oolong tea”.IMG_4623IMG_4624IMG_4627

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll’s, Alice in Wonderland, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, Professor of English Literature at Oxford University, led a talk about his latest book entitled The Story of Alice. It’s a double biography of the author Lewis Carroll and his subject, Alice Liddell. Joining him was Vanessa Tait, author of The Looking Glass House. Ms. Tait is the great grand-daughter of Alice Liddell. As you know, Alice Liddell was the real-life inspiration for Alice. Here’s Ms. Tait here, the woman standing on the left.

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SPITALFIELDS

Straddling central London (The City district) and London’s East End, the Spitalfields quarter is old, historical and interesting.  The problem though, as is clearly evident, is that important bits of this fascinating district are being eaten away by land developers and, as a sad result, its history is being erased.  I had been talking about the subject with a staff member of Raven Row, an art exhibition centre that I had visited, located at the end of a Spitalfield’s lane. As The City (London’s financial district) expands, old brick houses, lanes and shops are being demolished to make way for soulless office towers.  Below are a few of these narrow lanes and brick buildings.  What you can’t see are the office towers that literally surround and dwarf the diminishing historical area.  It makes for an odd architectural juxtaposition.

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BISHOPSGATE INSTITUTE

Now this place is after my own heart.  If I lived in London, I would be a member.  If I had a lot of money, I would make a generous donation.

Every city in the entire world should have a place like this!

Bishopsgate Institute’s vision: Dedicated to opening minds, challenging perceptions and enriching lives.

Since 1895 we have been a home for ideas and debate, learning and enquiry; a place where culture, heritage and learning meet, and where independent thought is cherished.

Our mission is to provide welcoming and inspiring spaces for people with a thirst for knowledge to learn and flourish. Through our library, historic collections, courses and cultural events, we enrich, entertain, and stimulate independent thought in a vibrant city environment.

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As I walked down the halls stopping and staring at the then-provocative quotes uttered by visionaries, free-thinkers, authors and activists, some from a hundred years ago, I thought how relevant and topical they still are today.

I wrote down some of my favourites –

The word heretic ought to be a term of honour. (Charles Bradlaugh, politician and freethinker, 1833-1891)

Too proud to be enslaved to any, even a God, the Atheist obeys no Command but that of his conscience. (Charles Bradlaugh)

Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times. (Gustave Flaubert)

Always walk through life as if you have something new to learn and you will. (Vernon Howard)

There’s a wonderful library, open to all. Seeking refuge from the heat, and also to rest my weary feet, I went into the cool, hushed interior and sat at a desk. I ended up viewing slides of mid-19th century London – landmarks, buildings, streets, social and cultural scenes. They were, in fact, old glass sides that had been digitized and transformed into a slideshow. Fascinating!

I could spend hours in this place.  Below is the institute’s website.   Please go.  Londoners reading this:  please make a donation.  Because what’s more important than opening minds?  There are interesting lectures, courses, and cultural events.  There is also a cafe on-site.

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http://www.bishopsgate.org.uk

http://www.ravenrow.org/about/

A last favourite quote by Alvin Toffler – The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

“My country is my world, and my religion is to do good.”  Thomas Paine, 1737 – 1809, English-American political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States.

loving London – Part II

One of my greatest pleasures is urban walking.  When I’m in a city on vacation, I usually walk 6 to 7 hours a day.  But this time my knees ached, so I had to slow up a little bit.  While walking I like to gaze at beautiful buildings and streetscapes. Sometimes I’ll stop in front of a building just to admire its style and character.  And if it’s an old building, I try to imagine who lived there and what it must have been like a hundred or a hundred and sixty years ago when horses and carriages were parked out front instead of cars.  Ennismore Gardens is one such place, a gorgeous square I stumbled upon while exploring South Kensington.

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Intrigued by the beauty and history of the square, I did a bit of research and came up with the following.  In the late 19th century, the first residents were aristocrats and statesmen; in the 20th century they were joined by artists and actors. Development began in the 1840s and decades later the rest of Ennismore Gardens, including the private garden square at its centre, was laid out in the 1870s. The five-storey houses, referred to as “town mansions”, have porticos with Corinthian columns and a continuous railing creating a first floor balcony.  Of course in those days each house was occupied by one single family and its domestic staff.  But throughout the first five decades of the 1900s they were gradually converted into apartments.  You can’t really appreciate the grandeur of this square by these photos.

Ava Gardner lived at 34 Ennismore Gardens until her death in 1990. In 2011, the average house price in Ennismore Gardens was £3,345,000.

Running behind Ennismore Gardens is a row of mews houses (mews are converted stables and carriage houses). I had read that Michael Caine and Terence Stamp lived here (not together). I imagined how fun it would be to see one of them out watering his geraniums.  But I saw no-one as I walked along the cobblestones.  All I heard was birdsong and the distant drone of a passing airplane. It was a beautiful sunny morning and I was on my way to my most favorite of all museums, the Victoria and Albert.

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The V and A is one of London’s most beloved museums. Founded in 1852 and named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, it’s also the world’s greatest museum of decorative arts and design. Entrance to the museum is free, however some exhibitions you have to pay for.

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The gift shop alone is worth visiting and there are several excellent restaurants and cafeterias on-site. The gift shop showcases contemporary jewellery designers from all over the world.  I purchased this ring for its originality. A fusion of Turkish and Colombian styles, the turquoise and magenta agate gemstones are set in gold-plated bronze. The artist’s name is Karla Diaz Cano.

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Every time I walk in to this museum, I admire the gorgeous sculpture of blown glass and steel that hangs in the grand entrance. The designer is named Dale Chihuly and he was inspired by Venetian chandeliers. The sculpture was made in Seattle.  The last photo here is of the gift shop.

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NEXT AND LAST POST COMING UP – a literary evening to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland; a grilled cheese sarny (sandwich) at Whole Foods (made for me by a Frenchman); and the noble-minded Bishopsgate Institute.