Friday, November 27, 2015

Friday, Two Things. Both Teases...

I'm hurrying over to a morning baby-sitting gig and you're all hurrying off to join those crazy Black Friday crowds...or spending your online time today checking out what's 50% off where. (You're not, all of you, are you? Tell me I'm wrong. Or tell me how sensible you've been and what carefully planned purchases you saved oodles of dough on.)

I did finally cross the threshold of fashion purchasing again, but only one garment, ever so cool, exactly what I'd wanted but even better in the execution. Suspense will just have to mount until I'm ready to model and photograph and do a little show and tell. But I can tell you this was a considered purchase that I'm super pleased about.

And let me continue in the teaser vein by showing you a photo of one of the wonderful portraits we saw in a recent Paris exhibition. I'll tell you the artist's name and a bit about her life and times (there, I gave you another tiny clue) in an upcoming post. A not-yet-written upcoming post. Is anyone else finding that someone's turned the treadmill speed up lately? I feel life moving along much more briskly.

Better run. My daughter will be leaving for work about now, and Dad will be trying to get dressed for work and feeding little people breakfast., a guaranteed banana-on-the-sports-jacket situation. Nana is needed!

Happy Friday! I hope it's a better colour than, you know . . .(although it's hard to debate the appeal of solvency!)


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Word-less Wednesday Walk in the Garden. . .

Much as I enjoy writing here, it was a pleasant respite to have Dottoressa at the keyboard for a change -- her post on Coffee in Croatia gave an intriguing glimpse into another country and its culture, and I also enjoyed reading her responses to commenters.

 I'm working on some words at the moment, shifting back and forth between some aspects of my recent travels that I hope you might still be interested in and sorting out the changes that retirement is making to my priorities. Meanwhile, of course, the quotidian domestic is ever with us, luckily, and occasionally I'll want to post on that. Sorting. List-making. Sorting.

 For which a ramble around the garden is always useful.

Should you want more words, I've posted recently on Paris (an art exhibition and a little love story) and my daughter has (finally) posted on the time we spent together in Bordeaux.  I wrote a short post on recent Fiction Therapy I've indulged in, over on my reading blog.

And Annie is never at a loss for words -- they're always entertaining. Duchesse takes on the Iris phenomenon from a fresh perspective. My Bordeaux friend posted a strong riposte to those who would chastise her for being outraged at the attacks in Paris.

But for now, if you'd like, we can just ramble. . .
First, a bit of "borrowed landscape," if I might use a horticultural planning term purloined from much greater ambitions. Modest as this rough copse might be, I've always felt very lucky at having this scrap of "wild" just over the property line, comprised of a beach access easement and a patch of yard our neighbour's left uncultivated.
 Moving back to wander our own garden, I'll point out a few things to you, but generally try to keep quiet and let you look. You might notice the way all the seasons are encompassed in this fall garden: the rhododendron bud above pointing to next spring, while the Mexican Mock Orange (choisya ternata) remembers the summer in its second blooming, while the blackened leaves of the False Indigo (baptisia australis) seems a sure harbinger of winter.
 Fall, though, with its rich palette, is clearly in charge. . .

 even if the green lichen climbing up this old cedar trunk might seem to belie its command.
The Sedum Spectabile (Autumn joy) holds onto a last flush of colour
 and the ornamental maple leaves dangle decoratively from bright limbs...

 Every November, I smile in self-congratulation that over a decade ago I planted numerous winter-flowering fragrant plants. This Viburnum bodnatense (Pink Dawn) is an absolute act of grace on a grey February morning, but already against a clear, cold November sky it's got my adoration.
 Tall grasses should be in everyone's garden if they're at all adaptable to your climate -- not just for the foliage and the great speared inflorescences, the rich golden and bronze tones in the fall, but also for the movement these grasses add to a garden with any breeze.
 And rose hips!

And hawthorn berries -- I've had so much pleasure watching a variety of birds bobbing on the hawthorn branches, tugging these bright berries for what I suppose is a sumptuous meal. They've left enough, though, for gleaming in the sharp fall afternoon sunshine. . .
 And cotoneaster . . .
 And hawthorne berries again . . .

As always, comments welcome. I do hope you enjoyed this late fall stroll through a garden that's getting ready for winter. Stay warm!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Kuniyoshi in Paris

Writing that little Paris love story the other day and then having a virtual coffee with regular reader and commenter Dottoressa on Saturday (if you haven't yet read her guest post, I hope you'll find time to, soon. It seems to have been a big hit!) has me in the mood for some armchair memory travel. So much I haven't yet shared with you about our experiences in Paris, Bordeaux, Rome, and Turin.

First up, over the next few posts (woven among posts on the here and now, back home), a quick review of some art exhibitions we were lucky enough to view and some thoughts on when to plan and when to rely on serendipity. 

On major expositions and planning? If you're not going to get up early and be front of the waiting line, you should buy your tickets ahead of time. We didn't do this, and I was already practising my "I told you so's" as we approached the Grand Palais hoping to see either the Picasso Mania show there or the Louise Vigée Lebrun expo. Given the hour we'd walked under chilly grey skies, we were pleased to see that just across the street, the Petit Palais was hosting an expo that looked intriguing and had no line-up.

Serendipity strikes again! Kuniyoshi, Le Démon de l'Estampe (Kuniyoshi, Daemon Print-Maker) was marvellous, a sumptuous, entertaining display of the rich narrative art of 19th-century Japanese printmaker Kuniyoshi that also showed the influence of Kuniyoshi's coloured woodblock stamps on the Impressionists and made connections with a tradition of printmaking among such French artists as, for example, Odilon Redon.

Here are a few of my favourites from that show.

For the lovely domestic intimacy and the delights of the detailed textile patterns

Humour, chubby children, more delicious textile patterns -- note the prawn or lobster crawling from the hem of her kimono, and the large crab crawling over her sleeve, the fish tail . . . 

Skulls on the robe, very early Alexander McQueen, no?

This one is titled "Comment plier un Haori" -- or, How to fold a Haori (the traditional kimono jacket)... Here's a close-up detail...

Several other prints also dealt with Style, as with this How to Wear a Kosode

I loved this image of mother and child, again with striking attention paid to pattern-matching that would surely spur even Jenna Lyons on to new heights.

 Its title (in French, at least) is Brume Matinale à Komagata, or Morning Mist/Fog at Komagata.

I'm not showing you the stunning narrative panels, wildly fantastically and brilliantly detailed, depicting adventures with mythical monsters, evil men and women as well as good dressed in wondrously patterned garments to inspire a rich tradition of manga (Japanese comics) and perhaps even numerous catwalks. . .

And speaking of which, let's close this brief review with these absolutely delightful portrait-caricatures of Chats en Vogue Faisant des Mines or Fashionable Cats Making Faces
 The show continues at Paris' Petit Palais until January 17, 2016, should you be planning to take advantage of some of the discounts on flights and hotels that will surely be available in response to the recent attacks. After all, the City needs our support, tourism being one of its most important economic drivers. And the rewards, in art exhibitions alone, are nothing short of magnificent.

So, questions: Do art exhibitions form an important part of your travels? Or are you fortunate enough to live somewhere that brings a wealth of world-class curation right to your doorstep? Had you heard of Kuniyoshi? Are you a fan of manga? Would you travel to Paris over the next few months, if you could afford the time and the costs of travel?

Of course, I'm just throwing out questions to generate a conversation, as you know. Feel free to invent your own and answer them or comment on any aspect of this Monday morning post or just say hello . . .  Wishing you a good start to your week. . .

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Let's have Coffee-- in Croatia!

Thanks so much for your kind comments on my Paris Love Story. After the recent tragic events in that city we've visited so often and love so dearly, I wasn't sure whether I could continue with the many posts I'd tentatively planned about our recent time there. But for some reason, I kept flashing back to the image of Pater waiting for me at Notre Dame, and somehow the personal and particular allowed me a re-entry. I've decided to go ahead and unroll those pieces on restaurants and exhibitions and travel thoughts in general, over the next several weeks -- Paris will continue to depend on tourism, after all, and if Parisians are making the effort to resume their daily lives, I hope my posts-to-come can pay them some small tribute. 

Meanwhile, though, we'll make another stop, elsewhere in Europe. A few weeks ago, Lisa responded to one of our mutual blog readers, a faithful (and bright and erudite) commenter who goes by the nom-de-plume Dottoressa, that perhaps D might write a guest post for her. I greedily piggy-backed on this suggestion, and the Doctor and I began an e-mail conversation that has resulted in this treat for you today.  Dottoressa's one apprehension over accepting my invitation was that English is a Second Language for her (she has several languages -- I'm envious and admiring!). I think you'll agree that she needn't have worried. I changed the spelling of one word throughout, but otherwise, this charming insight into Croatian culture is as written by D.

So without further ado, as they so often say in introductions, here she is. Grab your coffee and let's all pretend we're joining Dottoressa in Zagreb. . . Wouldn't that be wonderful?!

Hi! I'm Dottoressa from Zagreb, Croatia, EU. I am honoured to be invited as a guest of the Materfamilias blog , so I stopped by to have a cup of coffee with you. It is not a mistake, just wait a minute and see for yourself.

Visitors to Croatia from all around the world (we are a small, but very beautiful country next to the Adriatic Sea) assume that we are coffee addicts (and from our point of view we certainly are not) and find our coffee culture (yes, it's a culture!) quite peculiar.

Coffee in Croatia is more of a social event than a simple beverage with caffeine. Café (or coffeehouse) is the place we go to when we want to meet with friends to talk and have a laugh (or solve a problem with their help), to make (or break) a business deal, ask for a favour, go on a date (or sign divorce papers), or simply take a break and read the newspapers. And if someone invites you for a cup of coffee in Croatia, she/he usually picks up the check (we seem to be nice people, don't we?). However, if you don't drink coffee , no problem, because you'll go for a coffee and have a soda, some wine, beer or water (you can drink tap water in Zagreb, it is good and one usually gets a glass of water with the coffee) and even green or herbal tea. If you are a black tea lover (like me) and a connoisseur, it would be wise to bring your own tea bags. I apologize to all our cafés which may have good tea blends to offer. Let me know!

Something small can go a long way in our cafés. We may drink an espresso for more than an hour, enjoying every little sip ever so slowly (and our waiters take this as normal!). An average espresso shot is 1.7 fl oz and contains 77 mg of caffeine, which you can compare with Starbucks’ coffee sizes. A ‘short’ is 8 fl oz with 180 mg of caffeine in it and a ‘grande’ is 16 fl oz (wow!) with 330 mg caffeine (by NCA). Look at the photo:

Small package of Airways next to an espresso and a cappuccino (espresso with milk foam)

We have our favourite cafés (I have a couple of them in Zagreb and one at the seaside, even in London. A couple of weeks ago I had an excellent espresso with cream - I know, I know! - at the Saatchi Gallery Mess café, when I went to the Mademoiselle Privé exhibition.), a favourite barrista (espresso brewing specialist) and a waiter/waitress. We may know their names, and they know the type of coffee we order!

One of my favourite cafes:

Coffee came to Croatia with the Turks (who unexpectedly came to ”visit“ our neighbours in Bosnia) through Vienna (the biggest part of my country was then in the Austro-Hungarian union). Vienna was our capital and role model for almost everything, from dresses, hats, music, architecture to, well……coffeehouses! The first coffeehouse was opened in Zagreb in 1748, with many to follow. They were places where gentlemen and much later-Quelle horreur!- ladies, too, would spend their time drinking coffee or hot chocolate, reading foreign newspapers, meeting friends and chatting about politics, culture, fashion (and about friends who were not there, of course! Some things never change.).

Since the 1970’s a lot of us went on shopping trips to Trieste, a beautiful Italian town. We had a thirst for fabulous Italian shoes and purses, Italian fashion, jeans, pizza, gelato and, here we are again, Italian espresso. While trying to copy the things we liked, we failed with shoes and purses but mastered the art of preparing pizza and espresso.

Do we exaggerate with coffee and caffeine? No, I am serious now! Average person drinks between 1 and 3 cups a day. A lot of people drink tea, Nescafé or brew Croatian coffee at home, which we call Turkish coffee (and there is an art to brewing it, too, but this is another story).

I have a professional Saeco espresso machine at home (not a junkie J) and drink one cup at home in the morning (the most delightful way to start a day!), and then maybe another cup with friends or at a busines meeting (I sometimes even pretend to drink coffee at a busines meeting, but please, don't tell!).

Early morning coffee in the centre of Zagreb (my own photo)

and here's one that shows the crowds drinking coffee on a Saturday morning, again in the centre of Zagreb (photo courtesy of Putpodnoge)

When you come to Croatia and notice full cafés and their terraces, even in winter time, don't be fooled. We work very hard (if we have jobs at all). These are students, the retired, unemployed - the rest of us are simply on a coffee break or at a busines meeting!
If you wish to explore more how expats view Croatia and live in it, here are two blogs you might want to look at : Chasing the donkey and Zablogreb.

How do you like your coffee? Do you have problems finding it when travelling? Have you been to
Croatia alreadyJ?

Thank you so much, Dottoressa. It was delightful having coffee with you this morning. I hope that someday, perhaps, we might meet, in person, and share a real cup or two. . . 

 As always, I welcome all comments to this post. Feel free, since this is a guest post, to direct your questions or your responses directly to Dottoressa, but I will be moderating as usual and also happy to chime in if you have comments for me. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Paris and Pater and I, one fall afternoon...

If you've been reading here for a while, you probably know that Pater and I prefer to travel carry-on only whenever possible. Our system was challenged returning from this last trip (perhaps more on that later; he will have to be more weight-conscious!), but we've made at least 20 international flights this way. We've managed up to seven weeks out of our limited wardrobes, and this past trip managed to dress fashionably enough for opera in Rome, dinner in Paris, lunch by the river in Bordeaux. We also had practical enough gear for running through Paris to check out the new Gehry Fondation Louis Vuitton; for cycling 60 kilometres to have lunch at a market town near Bordeaux; and for keeping up with our daughter pushing a stroller through the busy streets of Rome.

If you guess that it's much more difficult for me to decide what to pack than it is for my husband, you are so right! When I checked with him a few days before leaving, he hadn't yet packed but knew what he'd bring. Black v-neck pullover, 2 pairs of slim-cut dark denim jeans, a linen jacket, grey and black T-shirts, a few button-up shirts in linen and cotton, linen pants, and a mid-weight, tightly knit black wool cardigan, Hugo Boss, zip-up that would keep the chill off on its own but could also be layered under his (light, rainproof) overcoat. Shoes for everyday walking and a pair to pass muster at the opera. Running gear. His laptop. And so few toiletries that I get him to carry my overflow.

All well and good, but whether I simply envied the ease of his decision-making or, more insidiously, wanted to practice some sartorial imperialism, I sulked a little that he wasn't packing the gold-ochre Levis we'd bought in Bordeaux summer before last. Let's give me the benefit of the doubt and say I just enjoy the eye candy of variety, and with his build, my guy wears clothes well. I had to admit, though, that his "capsule wardrobe" (the quotation marks should indicate clearly that he never, but never, thinks of his packing in such terms. No time, when he packs a few hours before the flight!) was much more practical. Coloured jeans were a luxury our small cases wouldn't support.

So we packed ourselves up, did our two flights for a total of 14 hours in the air and 9 hours of time difference, and we were in Paris, in the Marais, happy, if jet-lagged, to have two days to catch our breath in a favourite city before heading to Bordeaux by train. Our only full day there (we had five days again at the end of our 7 weeks) was a Friday, and we squeezed in a long run in the morning, lunch at a new favourite restaurant, did some shoe-shopping (for him, not me! I know!) and in the afternoon, not surprisingly, we napped.

But I was set on picking up a special edition of Le Chocolate Français's gorgeously packaged bars, available for a limited time, and only at the Bon Marché. I forced myself out of my cozy bed at 4 planning to walk from the Marais over to the 7th-arrondissement department store with ample time to meet Paul for dinner. Truth be told, despite my fatigue and the reality that I was shocking my iPhone's fitness app by pushing the day's kilometres above 25, I knew I'd enjoy walking the route, soaking up the Paris vibe, the early September difference from the spring rhythms of our usual visits

The other truth that has to be told, though, is that I was cranky that Pater was going to continue
napping. It made no sense for him to come with me, and I had told him he didn't need to. I even knew I'd enjoy strolling at my own pace, stopping to look at windows with no apologies necessary, more than I might enjoy his faster-paced, longer-legged companionship. I didn't make a big fuss, but I was a bit sulky and he was a bit annoyed, and I headed off knowing that distance might be a good thing.

Working my way through the Marais's cobbled streets, admiring textured, richly coloured Fall fashions in ingeniously decorated windows, smiling at French Bulldogs on leashes, at grey-shorted boys and pleat-skirted girls on sidewalk scooters, noting the soigné athleticism of cyclists in pencil skirts and high heels, I let go of my mood, admitted just how petty I'd been, and texted a quick apology as I walked across Pont Louis Philippe. By the time I got to Saint-Germain, he'd texted back suggesting he meet me halfway on my way back, for a glass of wine or a beer somewhere before dinner.

Despite slowing down in the happy familiarity of Rue du Four, Rue de Sèvres, I was at the Bon Marché shortly after Paul and I had agreed on a meeting place. Just as well we had, because despite its crazy wealth of culinary offerings, the impressive chocolate section, shelves and shelves of beautifully wrapped delectables, the particular bars I'd trekked across town for hadn't yet arrived. Uh-oh! Is she going to get cranky again?

I'll admit (hmm, I've had to do a bit of that here, haven't I?) that I was disappointed and annoyed. The special-edition packaging (gorgeous illustrations of Paris made to be coloured, in keeping with the new craze for adult colouring books) would have made these bars the ultimate stocking stuffers. And the launch had been advertised on Instagram for weeks and weeks, the date and place precisely announced.

On the up side, though, my case would stay much lighter without a stash of chocolate bars to haul around for the next seven weeks. And I had a date with someone who would be right where he'd promised. . .

Sure enough, when I walked into the huge plaza in front of Notre Dame, scanning the crowd of tourists relaxing to the gentle folk strains of a guitar-playing busker, Parisians cutting through and around them, not too impatiently, on their way home from work, I spotted him standing on his own. Dear, familiar man, whom I do get too impatient, too cranky with, at times, and who will either be tolerant of me or push back, depending on his mood. It's such an intricate, intimate dance, 43 years in the making, some 15 or so trips to Paris together forming some of the steps.

He doesn't see me walking towards him until I'm within an embrace's reach. And by then, anyone watching might imagine our relationship much newer than it is. I can feel my face light up, my smile spread. No, not just because he's here, although I'm happy to see him, looking forward to our dinner. But when I spotted him there, all those ancient saints gazing down from their stone arches over the venerable doorways, I saw what I expected to see: his short brown coiffure at sufficient height (6 feet) to be spotted without too much trouble; a black v-neck pullover; a tan-coloured messenger bag, its leather worn rich with use.

And his pants? Now that I didn't expect at all.

Gold Levis!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Monday, Monday...

I still don't have any words that can pass the filters I impose on myself for this blog. There were emotional bumps in the weekend sisters' road trip, although watching my 21-year old nephew compete in the Seattle International Comedy Festival (one of 32 competitors chosen from over 500 applicants!) was wonderful. Of course, my personal bruising pales in the context of Friday's tragic events in a city I love and have visited often. Those events, in turn, are only part of an only too evident stream of tragedies, and they will inevitably and sadly be followed by retaliatory actions that will surely be ineffectual.

So Paul has joined me in the city, and we're spending the day with grandkids. It's tempting to write sentences here about children and hope and humanity and love, but they too quickly descend into the banal and sentimental and the facile. Words only seem to reveal my privilege and naïveté; I don't trust myself with them this morning.

Ditto the photographs of Paris I thought of closing this post with. I know I'll "come around,"* because that's what our systems seem programmed to do, but for now, I think I'll be in a metaphorical Child's Pose, just accepting the woundedness. Easy enough, really, when the wounds are as metaphorical as the pose....

So regular programming will return, and probably within a day or two. For today, I'll be cuddling a little one. Hugs to you all....

*Do you know Steve Earle's song, "I think I'm Comin' Around." I heard it first through the version he recorded with Emmy Lou Harris, but he and his ex-wife Alison Moorer have also performed it movingly, and I was lucky enough to see them sing it in concert a few years ago. Hope in the midst of sorrow, very real, human, a haunting resignation with a recognition that one will re-enter ...

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Look for the Helpers

I had intended to post from this weekend road trip I'm on with my sisters. But yesterday was a long day that saw us settled in a beautiful spot just in time to read of the devastating news in Paris. There is nothing I can or want or feel compelled to speak, out of this sadness. One of my sisters, though, quoted Mr. Rogers' memory of his mother telling him that in the face of disaster, we should Look for the Helpers. And then not longer, checking on Facebook, we saw that another sister, one who hadn't been able to join us, had posted this
It is not enough. I know. But thank God it is always true. There always are people helping. I feel moved today to be one, in as many little ways as I can find. Moved, too, to note and appreciate those who help in much bigger ways. 
Bon courage, mes ami(e)s, Bon courage!

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