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.