Wednesday, October 31, 2012

France trip - Part III

I have a complaint about Paris. In many places in Europe, you can find a really nice coffee shop pretty early in the morning for a lovely breakfast. ,Last year in Barcelona, one street up from our hotel, my husband and I would go to Mauri  (a beautiful coffee shop from 1929) at 8am for wonderful coffee and I always had a sweet bun with pate de foie gras and a boiled egg (ok, I think I just lost some readers now, please bear with me, I eat funny…)
Now I thought I’d do the same in Paris, and dreamed of this Parisian coffee shop with wonderful crisp and buttery croissants. I headed out onto the streets on the first day with Sandy on my quest for such a place and it was like a ghost town! Everything was closed! So every day, I had my breakfast surrounded by couches with bed sheets on them. Oooompphhh! I was not a happy chappy! Parisian people, I will return – and next time I want my dream croissant in a nice setting waiting for me. Be warned.

On Monday, I headed alone to the Marais district. I had not been there in my previous visits to Paris, but it is certainly on my list for my next visit. I specifically wanted to visit the Place des Vosges, which is arguably the most beautiful square in Paris. It is the only one where you can step on the grass and it was filled with people enjoying the day, soaking some sun, people with babies and children, older people with their grandchildren playing ... Everyone taking it easy, enjoying the moment. And so did I.

The square is completely surrounded with beautiful arcades where you can find quaint boutiques, artisan ateliers, art galleries, trendy restaurants… Around the area there were brasseries, more shops, Jewish delicatessen full of food treasures.

After a few hours, I headed to the Père Lachaise cemetery.
You see, I had a special assignment: a picture of The Lizard King's (that's Jim Morrison for those born yesterday) grave to send to hubby. And here it is:
Very unassuming, hey? Can you believe they have maps for the cemetery, because there's so many people visiting to see the famous people's graves?
I like taking pictures of the lovely angel statues and others, and I'm planning on using some in my pieces. But maybe I won't tell anyone where I took them...

I think she looks so peaceful... 

 And I like the way it looks like he's watching over someone.

The following day we flew to Toulouse and then had another hour's drive to Durfort. Cathy was driving, I was navigating from the front seat, and Mary from the back. Cathy made a few French enemies navigating the roundabouts but we made it safe and sound and had a lovely trip through the beautiful French countryside.

We stopped in a neighboring village for lunch - we knew there would be nothing in Durfort - and had a wonderful meal and got to know each other better and bonded.

And we arrived in Durfort. La Cascade is a beautiful rustic house with stone walls and wooden shutters, quiet and romantic. The perfect setting for a lot of things - jewelry-making included, although I'm not sure the neighbors appreciated all the hammering we did...

The front of the house...

The back of the houses and the small patios were so inviting...

And every night I would be lulled to sleep by the sound of the cascade outside my room... Bliss...
I was so ready to start some jewelry-making the next day!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

France trip - Part II

The next day, some people were planning on travelling about an hour to a flea market just outside of Paris; I had made up my mind not to travel on anything but the subway throughout my Paris stay but mostly on my two legs who really needed a workout. Plus I so wanted to go to a museum. I dismissed the Louvre, because although I would love to go, I know you have to plan your trip and head straight to what interests you most because it’s a whole world inside. And I hadn’t planned it properly. After all, I only knew I’d be going to Paris for a year…
The Musée d’Orsay was at the top of my list – it’s set in an old train station and the architecture is exquisite. The size was manageable, plus I knew I’d find paintings by Vincent van Gogh there – and that I couldn’t pass.

Sandy, who was my roommate, decided to come with me and by this time, we were navigating the Paris subway in true Parisian style. Well, minus my Paris Visite card that would never work and was replaced three times, and the map in our hands.

 Sandy is truly talented - her work is beautiful, imaginative and well-crafted - no wonder she was chosen to be part of the Ice Resin Creative Team this year. Yeeahh! Go Sandy! Plus, she is a giver - always helping out and doing things for others. She was so wonderful in class to everyone, helping people with their projects and showing them new techniques, including me.
Sandy's admirer
Outside the museum, we stopped to see a mime and Sandy gave him some money. He motioned for her to give him a kiss and leaned. When Sandy approached to kiss him on the cheeks, he quickly turned his face and she ended up kissing him on the lips!

Cheeky (or is that lippy?) mime!

The museum was fascinating! Full of exquisite sculptures -  many of the human form. I was mesmerized by the level of detail, the folds in the skin and yes, even some cellulite, haha, that someone could carve out of a stone… As we entered, there were numerous signs not to take photographs, but rebel that I am (read: usually respectful of those rules, and not keen to get into trouble) and seeing so many people with camera in hand, I immediately pulled out mine, and was also immediately caught and told to put it aside. Jeez, a girl can’t feel just a little mischievous for one tenth of a second…

Pretty soon, both Sandy and I were crying. No, the security guard did not strike us with his baton after my camera indiscretion.

Rather, she was standing in front of James Whistler’s Whistler’s Mother, and I was standing in front of van Gogh’s Starry Night… It was not, after all, my favorite painting – the one at Musée d’Orsay was his first version of the famous painting, and is much more serene, but the same fundamental themes are there. The one I love, which is in NY’s Museum of Modern Art, is much more troubled and haunting, the lights in the sky look like whirlwinds – it was painted in the asylum at St. Remy when his mind started slipping away. Why is it that madness seems to be so often associated with genius? And what does that say about us, struggling jewelry artists? Does it mean we’re crazy, or that our work is crap? Well, I don’t have any pieces selling at Sotheby’s for millions of dollars, so I guess I won’t be checking into St. Remy anytime soon…
We had a lovely lunch outside on a sidewalk café, where the friendly waiter insisted Sandy had the chicken because it was the best thing on the menu. Turns out it was a whole chicken! I had the quiche Lorraine, and when I told him it was very good too, he replied “yes, but the chicken was better!”. Ah, French waiters – they always have to have the last word.

Onto to the subway we went, and headed to Montmartre. The subway station is not for the faint-hearted. It is a steep spiral of stairways, and at every turn you expect it will be the last but it just goes on round and round. Has some pretty cool graffitti, though.

We took the funicular to the Sacré Coeur, and where immensely lucky that there was a service going on at the time. The basilica was filled with the sound of this French angelic voice, and the organ in the background. Truly magical moment, that made my heart burst with happiness from all the beauty pouring through my senses.

The day was coming to an end, and we joined Susan, Jen and some more members of our gang for a lovely dinner at a Montmartre restaurant. This was, of course, preceded by us wandering the streets surrounded by prostitutes and pimps trying to find the address and the restaurant name that the gals had sent us. Finally, a nice guy who must have felt sorry for the look of desperation in our faces stopped to help (then again, we were in the red light district - did he really stop to help? gulp...) and pointed us to a restaurant where, alas, we found them!

Next, Place des Vosges and Pere Lachaise cemetery (no I’m not creepy visiting cemeteries, I’ll have you know it atracts hundreds of thousands of visitors a year…or do I need to check myself into St. Remy?).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

France trip - Part I

So I got back home last Sunday night, and have not posted yet because I spent the last two nights trying to upload photos to my Facebook account. The internet connection here is so slow that by the time I’ve uploaded everything, man will have landed on the moon. What’s that you say? He already has?!? Wow!
See how information transfer is slow around here?...

I arrived in Paris in the afternoon of September 28. I had briefly considered marking my route and taking the train and subway to make my way to the hotel, but quickly dismissed it thinking I’d be exhausted from the long flight Maputo-Lisbon, then connection to Paris. Plus I knew a bunch of people had arrived in the morning and would already be gathered at a nearby restaurant when I arrived, so I wanted to make it there quickly!
I confess I took a step back when I arrived at the hotel – it’s a nice building, but when you go in, there’s a room with a small reception desk, a long table with plastic chairs for breakfast, and some sofas covered with what seemed to be white bed sheets! I guess since it was the Hotel des Arts, we can call the sheets artsy… (although I was thinking more of the other word that goes with artsy...) The room was clean and the location is great, close enough to a subway station, so it was all good.

I proceeded to the restaurant and immediately recognized Susan Lenart Kazmer. After all, I have her book, follow her blog, have her DVD, love her jewelry and she is as welcoming and flamboyant in person as she looks on the screen and print.
We had wine, cheese, introduced each other and ended up staying in that place for dinner as well. Everyone was tired, and some people had taken hours to get to the hotel on the subway/train option. Not good when you’re carrying hammers, pliers, anvils and such…

That first night, Susan had a bunch of prayer boxes with words inside for us to choose from. We couldn’t peek to see the words, supposedly the words would choose us, and would be the words we needed at this point in life.

My words were Playfulness and Gratitude. And that got me thinking. I guess I don’t play enough, really. Although I think I’m playful and I’m known among my friends for my laughter. But I also tend to be quite serious and responsible most of the time. I guess making jewelry is my playtime. But I should really lighten up on other aspects of my life and play more.
As for gratitude… for sure, I’m not always grateful for all I have. Aren’t we all guilty of that? Getting wrapped up in the “I wish I could”, “I wish I had” and not looking around to see the beauty that surrounds us? So go on now, right this minute, think of three things you’re grateful for. As I write, I’m grateful I met new friends, that I had a chance to see my family in Portugal, that the sky was so blue in Paris and elsewhere. I’d love to know your 3 things. Drop me a line, won’t you?

Next morning, we went to the Portes de Vanves flea market, with Jen Cushman leading us through the Paris subway maze. Jen is exactly as I pictured her to be, warm, gentle but assertive, and looking out for everyone.

Now I’m not really a flea market person. Not that I don’t love them, it’s just I’m not so good at pinpointing interesting items amongst all the chaos, unless they jump into my lap and speak to me. And as in this case they would do it in French, I probably wouldn’t understand them either J
Still, I bought a few things I really like: a 1920’s brooch which I will use as a bezel, a small ivory carved tube with a delicate crystal perfume bottle inside which I have no idea what to do with yet, an old Bible with some nice images to use in resin, antique lace, an old leather small pouch, some small frames I intend to use as bezels as well...


After lunch, some people wanted to go back to the flea market, others wanted to do other stuff, and I decided to go to the Galeries Lafayette, with my new friend Cathy Allen. Cathy is a beautiful gentle soul with a devilish sense of humor and I feel blessed I met her.
The Galeries Lafayette is a huge department store in Paris; I had just glanced inside on my previous trip to Paris because it was Christmas and it felt like the inside of a can of sardines. And I’m too small to be smashed between fellow sardines and covered in tomato sauce or olive oil… It was very busy now, but manageable. And I got to take pictures of the exquisite glass dome and the gilded balustrades inside.


We all met up back at the hotel that evening, and headed out. We stopped near the Eiffel Tower for some gorgeous pictures. I love how colorful and happy we all look – it seems everyone got the memo to bring scarves and clothes that would look cheerful together!

Susan, me, Jen, Cathy and Patti
We made our way to the Bateaux Mouche, the boats that take you on a cruise of the Seine river, either by day or night.
I had done it before by day with my hubby. But night time is magical, with all the buildings illuminated in all their glory. It was also the only time in my trip I almost froze my ass off!
Even the moon was on our side that night – it was a beautiful full moon… Thank you moon! Hope man didn’t hurt you too much when he landed on you...

Like Cathy said, it was better than the Jungle Ride at Disneyworld!!!
On my next blog post, the emotional Musée d’Orsay, mimes, and wonderful Montmartre, where beguiling cathedrals, bohemian artists and prostitutes share the same hills.