Thursday, July 30, 2015

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Art of the Brick

Nathan Sawaya's The Art of the Brick exhibition is currently on at Porte de Versailles. It is incredible to see the talent that this lawyer-turned-artist has when it comes to creating these amazing sculptures - using nothing but Lego pieces. From Rodin's Thinker to Da Vinci's Mona Lisa carefully crafted to astounding similarity to the real sculptures. My children loved it, especially my nine-year old. I would highly recommend it as one of the things to do with the kids. Word of warning: with the sweltering temperatures we have been having, the Porte de Versailles - being an exhibition hall is not very well cooled. Go with your bottles of water - they will come in handy.
The exhibition runs until 30 August, 2015.
The Art of the Brick
1 Place de la Porte de Versailles
Pavillon 8/A
75015 Paris.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Taking stock and readying myself for 'les vacances'

Funny how when everyone is winding down and readying themselves for their two months of vacation, I feel at my most inspired. I want to spend at least four hours - plan big! - writing everyday; to finish reading a book every two weeks; to go to an art exhibition every week; to try a new restaurant once a week; to write an opinion piece once a week; in between finding ways to keep my children entertained - whilst still letting them use their own imagination - and whilst all the while pondering the insanity of the northern hemisphere's two month long summer vacation.

I am setting no lofty goals of what I want to have achieved by 2016, or 2017, get the picture. This time it is more measured steady steps on how I want to pace my writing; my undertaking to get fit again; a promise to myself to read more (of everything); but an even smaller though more significant goal: to be kinder to myself. It is often very easy to look at my life, evaluate, and for some reason since becoming a trailing/traveling/stay-at-home spouse and mom, come up short in my achievements. It does not help that in the mere definition of my role - no matter its importance to the people in my life - I have not 'leant in'. Sorry for having let the side down there Sheryl.

So I am leaning in in other ways: being present in my children's presence. iPhone, iPad, TV - I am going to have to share my time with you for a while; I think we should see other people; it's not you, it's me. I am holding myself even more accountable when it comes to my writing and to delivering on the goals I set myself. I am taking stock and planning and not overwhelming myself with the endless non-ticked off items on that list created more than twenty years ago on the things I should have achieved by this point in my life. I will get to it.

Wishing you all a restful vacation, and hoping to keep posting as and when that inspiration hits - which I am hoping will be more than it has been.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

When a default is not quite a default

I have been watching the news and the reporting on Greece's situation - at the moment the highlight is on it now officially being in arrears with its debt payments to it creditors. It is amusing to see the euphemism being applied to what is effectively a 'failure to pay' its debts being referred to as 'in arrears'.  Of course it is a very neat euphemism for 'in default' for the very first developed country to default on its debt payments. So now we wait for Sunday's referendum when the Greek's will decide whether they proceed with more austerity and more money from the troika, or take a path less traveled in voting against the lenders' austerity measures to easing the Eurozone's financial woes.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Taste of Paris retrospectively

Building up to last month's Taste of Paris event, the organisers of which  had gone to great lengths in advertising on billboards, television and other social media platforms, I pre-booked tickets online and tried not to get too caught up in the  hype. Day one of the event was fairly lacklustre in attendance, and I dare say, in the offerings. There was an enormous champagne bar, courtesy of Laurent Perrier - and only one other drinks stand - which was really more like a corner café when compared to the LP stand. The only other places where you could have wine was the wine tasting stands, or the whisky stand if that was your thing. That alone should have been an indicator that the event had been pitched at a more wealthy audience, and touting more haute cuisine than simple good food.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Below ground dining at La Petite Cour, Paris 6th

I met a friend here for lunch recently and can say that I will definitely return. I made reservations for a table on their expansive terrace - highly advised in the warmer seasons. La Petite Cour is in the 6th Arrondissement, on a sub-terrain level of the city - one of the many hidden gems of the Paris dining scene.
The food was excellent. Starters of scallops served in their shell with a vinaigrette dressing, fresh asparagus with a poached egg, followed by a grilled cabillaud on a bed of greens - all very light and healthy, until we finished off the meal with a cafe gourmand and a caramel and chocolate tart.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Lunch in the neighbourhood - Le Saint Ferdinand, Paris 17th

The pleasure of a short stroll around the neighbourhood and a late afternoon family lunch over the weekend. As much as the advice to anyone who wants a decent meal in the very many Paris restaurants is to make reservations - there are still some places, especially the neighbourhood bistros, which can always accommodate the hungry flâneur - stroller. One such place was Le Saint Ferdinand recently. We walked for a while, came across a fairly secluded but animated square with three restaurants within a 50m radius, made a choice and sat for lunch.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Musée Picasso, Paris

I had friends from South Africa visiting Paris two weeks ago, and it was during our moments visiting the tourist spots and walking around Paris, that I felt that thrill I once did before I moved here. The old adage that living in a place is a far different reality from visiting it still holds true. I have become somewhat jaded in my perception of Paris, but since last week I have a renewed appreciation for all things Parisian. Wanting to not lose even a moment of that renewed curiosity about the city, I planned a Sunday outing with my children - something we used to do often before our blasé attitude towards Paris and its many monuments became the norm. The Musée National Picasso was our art and culture excursion yesterday.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Touring Chinatown, Belleville

A guided walking tour of Belleville a couple of weeks ago revealed a world I would otherwise not have stumbled upon. Belleville straddles the 13th and 20th arrondissements. I have only been as far as the Père Lachaise cemetery and the Hotel and Bar Mama Shelter. This tour revealed an entirely different side to the Belleville I know.
A walk around is a sensory feast - from the open air markets selling everything from the 'Made in China' plastic ware to heaps of dragon fruit  to the supermarkets with their shelves lined with products both exotic and unfamiliar;  the working ladies - seemingly incongruous- plying their trade in the middle of the day right next to the école maternelles and children's parks, on the leafy tree-lined boulevards.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Eating at Les Chouettes in the Marais

Having read several reviews for Les Chouettes - which I thought to be the adjective, meaning fantastic or terrific , but when I saw the logo realised they meant the noun, meaning owl. Either way, it is a relatively new hip and cool addition to the Marais dining scene. I made reservations for a Saturday lunch and we ventured out for a family lunch. One thing I absolutely loved was the set-up of the restaurant. From the outside, it is fairly nondescript - nothing about the exterior warns of the nautical feel within. Once inside it looks like you're on a cruise liner. It has three levels: the ground floor has the main restaurant with its own bar, the first floor has another bar and more seating, on the third floor are quite reading corners and couches. I could definitely see it as a perfect place for a meet-up for drinks with friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

On being a shoplifter

"Browsing bookshops then buying online is a 'genteel form of shoplifting'", this according to David Nicholls, in an article in The Guardian from some weeks ago. He was speaking at the London Book Fair and bringing attention to the disappearance of bookstores, on how their numbers are dwindling more and more in neighbourhoods as the convenience and cost-effectiveness of e-reading has taken on. A bit of a harsh statement, I thought, feeling guilty.  In my defence, my browsing more often than not, always results in buying -  then in the further browsing of the books which I go on to download on my Kindle.

Even as a big offender when it comes to this form of 'shoplifting',  I will choose paper over electronic in a heartbeat. I love bookstores and libraries - always have. I can browse for hours in bookstores, wishing it were possible to be locked up in them with copious amounts of coffee and food, and just me and the books. Nothing thrills me more than the purchase of a new book in paper form - but the reality is that I cannot buy more books in paper form anymore - not as many as I would like to anyway. I no longer have the space in my house and the near-nomadic life I have does not lend itself to moving with boxes filled with books. So I have reluctantly fallen in love with my Kindle and the ease with which I can have my personal library in my hand without ever having to worry about leaving all those books that I buy behind.

Even with the convenience of e-books, there is a certain pleasure to be found in browsing. It is in seeing a title that immediately pulls; in running your fingers over the cover; and in skimming to a random page to determine whether the writing draws as much as the appearance, well that is something that Amazon and its click-of-a-mouse ease of purchasing cannot offer, but it is what we will eventually be left with. That thought leaves me feeling sad. I really wish there could be a common ground found between publishers and writers; between the behemoth-sized bookstores and the smaller independent booksellers, to allow for book lovers to indulge their passion without the guilt of knowing that they are not only pirating writers' incomes but are also contributing to the demise of bookstores.

Monday, April 6, 2015

On putting down roots as an expat
It is Spring and in readying myself for a new season I have been tossing, restoring and organising. The closets, the book shelves, the digital storage. On the physical side, this has been a fairly quick and easy process - we live in an apartment, so the closets and bookshelves were done within days. On the bookshelves it has been about finally letting go of those books I have hung on to for years, but which I am now fairly certain I will never read.
The organisation of the digital storage is what had me thinking about what putting down roots as an expat means. Our memories of the past seven years are all carefully curated in digital form. If we leave tomorrow, our worldly possessions in France can fit into a few boxes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Traditional Easter lunch at La Societé, St.Germain-des-Prés

Not quite a traditional Easter Sunday lunch, but it was for us in that coming here has become something of a tradition.
My family is fairly loyal to restaurants that are consistent in their quality of food and service.  Four years later, and one of our favourite restaurants still remains La Societé in St. Germain-des-Prés. It is by the brothers Costes and has the exactly same menu, and clientèle as L'Avenue on avenue Montaigne. For drinks we are equally faithful to Bar Costes in Hotel Costes on rue St. Honoré.
You'd probably walk past La Societé in winter- when the only indicator that there may be a restaurant hidden away in the random building is the valet parking sign. It's discreetly tucked away in what I think is a law office building. During the week, the crowd is the fairly staid and serious type, and over the weekend it's the hip and fashionable. But is is always laid back and unpretentious.
Decor is dark and austere perhaps - dark wood and leather chairs, but the service is always friendly, the staff young and energetic, and the food does not disappoint. We love it for that. Today, not in any mood to rustle up a traditional Easter lunch we went for lunch, and I realised that in all the years we have been in France, it's one of the restaurants which I really like that I have not yet written about.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Snapshots of Lisbon, a city steeped in maritime history

Monument of Discoveries, Belém
I have been sitting on this write up for a while now, just trying to workout how I felt about Lisboa before I put it down. My first impression was that the financial crisis has hit Portugal harder than it has some of the smaller European countries  - and this is after a visit to Greece. It seemed a bit rundown, or perhaps I came with high expectations. However when I mentioned this to a friend of mine, she also had the same opinion - when she compared it to her native Italy, and her husband's native Spain. Patriotic sentiment aside, I have since learnt that Portugal is often referred to as the 'poor cousin' of the western European countries.

Overall it was an enjoyable four-day family getaway - The foodie in me especially loved the food. I learnt a great deal about the city's maritime roots as the point of departure for many an explorer, and as a port city during the more robust trading years towards the end of the Middle Ages. I have definitely learnt that not all European cities are created equal. Lisbon left me with an impression of wanting to see more of what the country has to offer though. I would like to return to Portugal one day, but this time to visit its northern city Porto, or to see some of its beaches in the Algarve or make a trip to Sintra, Evora and Aveiro to name a few.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Books: PELT AND OTHER STORIES by Catherine McNamara

Title: Pelt and Other Stories
Author: Catherine McNamara
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

In between my getting stuck into the novels on my TBR list, I have also been dipping into my collection of short stories - that wonderful genre that allows you to escape what may be a too serious, too tedious, or simply too long novel and lose yourself in other worlds in a fraction of the time.

I have mixed feelings about Catherine McNamara' s collection of stories. There are some I really  liked, and a great deal more that I found myself not enjoying one bit towards the end.
McNamara writes of a world I remember with fond memories - West Africa, more specifically Ghana. Her collection of short stories moves easily from Ghana to Australia to Italy and back again to Ghana and so on. The bulk of the collection though is based in West Africa.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Putting the words on a page

In the past week I have had numerous conversations with different people in my life about the challenges of 'getting the words on paper' or onto whatever medium. I have not been writing as often and as consistently as I would have liked. Last week my efforts were upended by a new computer and the ensuing setup issues - of course I could have always resorted to the old pen and paper but that would have been too easy.

A friend and fellow blogger Mama Loves Paris was unrestrained in her advice: "You can do it girl, just start and keep on writing!". I have slowly been putting the words down after spending an inordinate amount of time reading up on tips about writing from more sources than I dare to count. If only I spent my time more wisely.
Here are the tips I liked and which I have decided to apply to my writing habits going forward:

  • Hold yourself accountable
  • Have the courage to write badly
  • Treat writing as a job. Be disciplined
  • Be without fear. Too much fear and all you'll get is silence
  • Have more than one idea on the go at any one time
  • Finish the day's writing when you still want to continue
  • The way to write is to actually just write
  • Don't just plan to write - write!
That entire list pretty much sums up what I have not been doing for the last couple of months.
But change is in the air. So here's to holding myself accountable and to just putting the words on a page!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

On Reading South Africa

André Brink (1935 - 2015). Photo source:
In making my ambitious plans to read everything and anything this year, I decided that one of my reading forays would be into reading South African writers. I have not read that many South African writers and amongst my list of writers to read was of course, André Brink. Then on Sunday I saw a newspaper article announcing his death and suddenly there was this new urgency to get on with Reading South Africa. I have just taken his book Philida from my bookshelf and I am adding the internationally renowned A Dry White Season to my list. I have to narrow down my reading list though, so that in trying to read everything, I don't end up reading nothing at all. As I write this, a copy of Marlene van Niekerk's 692-page book Agaat is next to my computer. To say it looks intimidating is playing it down. The bar-coded date stamp at the back states that I bought it in March 2008 - it not only sounds like a lifetime ago, but it feels like it too. I think my reading it is long overdue. André Brink  is next in my new quest.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Gastronomy: "Le Frank" at Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris

I finally got to see the recently opened Frank Gehry-designed glass monument that is the Fondation Louis Vuitton. It truly is a marvel to behold. There is an entire story behind how the lobbying for its construction went as high as the highest echelons of the National Assembly.
We finally went today. I took the initiative of ordering the tickets online, hoping to avoid any long queues, but we still queued for about thirty minutes - by which time my children were no longer keen on the idea of museum first, then lunch after. So we joined the queue for Le Frank - the Fondation's restaurant which has been named after the architect.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Urban artists pay hommage to Dalí

Being a sunny, if chilly day, we bundled up and headed out to Montmartre. My daughter, with her keen interest in street art or urban art was keen to see the Dalí Fait Le Mur exhibition at Espace Dalí. If you have ever been to this museum or rather space dedicated to Dalí's work, you will know that it is a very small space, and I wondered how they would fit a collaborative exhibition with the already extensive permanent collection of Dali's reproductions which are housed there.
They managed. If only just. The urban artists' works are juxtaposed alongside Dalí's many and varied sculptures and paintings. The artists, pay hommage to the surrealist painter who once asserted that "Surrealism is me", using the tools of their craft: pencils, stencils, installations, and adhering to the same non-conformist and provocative methods of Dalí himself.
If you are curious about Dalí and also have a combined curiosity about street art, go see it. Caution: It is a very limited space, so go on a quiet day. Images of the outing, which turned out to be a photo journey around one of Paris most famous tourist spots can be seen on Wanderlust in Paris. The exhibition is on until 15 March 2015.

Friday, February 6, 2015

On learning a new language

I had lofty ambitions of regaling you with weekly tales of my Sorbonne stories. But between daily grammar classes,  7:30am classes on writing and oral reinforcement,  lunch periods spent in the phonetics lab, mornings spent reviewing previous days' notes,  nights spent studying for weekly tests - all those ambitious plans fell by the wayside very early into my semester. It is now over, and yesterday as I sat through the 'graduation' ceremony (all pomp and ceremony for a semester course, absolutely loved it!) with past luminaries of L'Académie française looking down on us from their hallowed vantage points in the cornices, it felt good to have risen to the challenge. We were in good company - Founding father of La Sorbonne, Robert de SorbonneRichelieu, Pascal, Descartes, Lavoisier, Rollin ....
Would I repeat it again? Maybe, a very non-committal 'maybe'. It was a grueling four months - mind you not my first semester, but one which took a lot more of out of me than previous ones. I may not be too keen to resort to the classroom learning again for the moment, but I am living the learning everyday.