Venice

28 04 2009

Oh, Venice, you creepy little picture postcard of a city.

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Imagined me some sentries up in them square windowbits

So we arrived in Venice by train, but I wish we could have sailed into it and entered through this gate. I think Venice in general made me feel very boat-happy because you kind of have no other choice. Got to love a place where there aren’t any wheeled forms of public transport.

Since Lydia was too sick to come with us to Venice, Alana and I were able to luxuriate in a prettily-decorated room with a bed so huge that even sprawled out, the two of us hardly entered each other’s personal space all night. It surpassed hostel-y standards in other ways too, like with the little packaged toiletries (including a shoe sponge — even hotels never give me shoe sponge) and the friendly dude from the reception who gave me complimentary tea.

I vaguely remember consulting the list of monuments/sights to catch in Venice but the guidebook we had suggested walking tours which we took but I think both of us ended up more preoccupied by the non-monument-specific stuff e.g. colors and textures (me) and laundry (Alana). Actually both Lydia and Alana were bizarrely fascinated by the sight of laundry fluttering outside windows. Aiyah, said I, go Singapore can walk around and look at laundry all day. So instead I took pictures of pretty buildings that had more character than the people walking around by far.

Shutters!

Shutters!

A little square we kept passing by mistake

A church.. we saw too many for me to remember which one's which.

Truth.

Truth.

Toys, unloved

Toys, unloved

Pooh has better luck.

Pooh has better luck.

The last two pictures of toys aren’t really of Venice per se, but they get to the heart of the biggest issue I had with Venice, namely the sense that people don’t actually live there. Virtually everyone was, like us, ambling around with guidebooks or maps and speaking more French than Italian. The Venetians seemed for the most part to be ducking furtively into buildings or shutting windows, with the few exceptions of the little island we Waterbus-ed to the second day where neighbors and construction workers having conversations provided some evidence of daily Venetian life.

Geometry.

Geometry.

I love the crack and peel, and that ubiquitous rose paint that so many buildings had.

I love the crack and peel, and that ubiquitous rose paint that so many buildings had.

What a random picture of me. I think we just got off the Waterbus.

What a random picture of me. I think we just got off the Waterbus.

Carpark.

Carpark.

Palazzo Ducale

Palazzo Ducale
Yeah, it's pretty lush.

Yeah, it's pretty lush.

Work in progress, more pics to come after I get some reading done!





Chartres in pictures

13 04 2009

Took a daytrip out to Chartres with Lydia and Lauren today which is about a 40-min train ride out of Paris. It’s most famous for its Gothic cathedral, the Notre-Dame de Chartres. You notice straight away that it’s a lot more weather-beaten and grungy than the Notre-Dame de Paris, but according to Wiki the cathedral as it stands now isn’t even the oldest version, the original having been destroyed before 1205.

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External view numero uno

I took a couple of photos of the vitraux (stained glass windows) from the inside too, but Weird Lighting and Dying Camera were my downfall.

One of the famous vitraux

One of the famous vitraux

We’d bought paninis (all the way from Paris, so a bit soggy, but still good!), dessert and oranges so when we got off the train in Chartres first thing we did was have us a picnic in the pretty garden attached to the cathedral. It has multiple tiers, each separated by a path of pebbles and is bordered by a wide stone ledge beyond which falls away and sprawls the rest of Chartres.

Jardin de l'Evêché

Jardin de l'Evêché

Better view of tiers

Better view of tiers

Lauren had a Le Guide Vert book that suggested a walking path through Chartres but since it’s such a small town and it was one of those lazy days where you don’t really want to have to devote what little life force you have to maps and books (or that could just have been me, haha, I was bloody tired) so we just let the town take us where it wanted. We found a sign indicating “Historic Quarter” and followed the arrow…  ended up ambling for an hour or so along teeny streets lined by quaint houses with primary-colored shutters, found the river Eure that runs through Chartres and stumbled upon another abbey along the way.

Spring has come to Chartres.

Spring has come to Chartres.

Abbaye St. Pierre

Abbaye St. Pierre

Random bridge

Random bridge

Cute shutters

Cute shutters

Wandered by chance into the Collégiale St. André which I assume is an art school because there was an art exhibition going on inside and all the pieces were centered around similar motifs so could have been some kinda student project.

Here thar be art exzibit.

Here thar be art exzibit.

Traveling as a way of "reading" the world.

Traveling as a way of "reading" the world.





Sorry for the pictureless post…

20 03 2009

But I feel compelled to have an entry today because it is the very momentous Jour du Macaron! I’m still annoyed at myself for not having found out about this day of miraculous fortune because it would have meant free macaron samples at some of the best in the biz. Comforting myself with the thought that I got three Pierre Hermé macarons for free, though. Heh heh hehhh. Since I was with Lydia and Sam, we managed to try 9 flavors:

  • ‘Arabesque’ : pistachio praliné center, apricot cream and smooshy bits of apricot, pistachio biscuit (my favorite)
  • ‘Satine’: orange, cream cheese and passion fruit
  • ‘Ispahan’: rose biscuit, lychee cream and raspberry bits
  • Olive oil and vanilla: olive oil biscuit and olive oil-vanilla cream, another favorite
  • Marron et thé vert matcha: chestnut biscuit, chestnut and matcha green tea cream
  • Mandarine et baies rose: so I just wordref’ed it and baies rose are pink peppercorns! which explains the unexpected but good spicyness that went oddly well with the orange center, guess the principle is kind of like the passionfruit-basil combination at Gerard Mulot
  • ‘Americano Pamplemousse’: distilled essence of grapefruitness, down to its bitter bite
  • Chocolate and foie gras: what it says. I didn’t like it, but it made me keen to go back to try the normal chocolate macaron coz the part of the ganache untainted by foie gras was yum
  • Chocolate and yuzu: dark chocolate (again the great ganache) flavored with yuzu citrus. The yuzu ruined it for me but then I’ve never liked orange-citrus combis so no surprise there

After the macaron gobblage (which took place at a gorgeous fountain square thingy opposite the road from Hermé, we went to the Musée du Moyen-Age at Cluny, housed in a place that used to be a hotel and still retains architectural features from ye olden days… Gothic doorways, non-functional well, etc. All in all a good day :)





Les morts et les macarons

12 03 2009

Last friday (yes, I’m slacking off in the blogging department but oh well) I had a superbly chilled out yet fulfilling day. It was great weather, still a little bite left to the winter-waning air but the sun was unquestionably out to play. Perfect day for a stroll through a cemetery, specifically the Cimetière Père Lachaise, which I thought for some reason was within walking distance from my house but really it is not. It’s pretty big as far as cemeteries go — its circumference spans 3 metro stations — and tourists flock to it because a bunch of famous people are buried there, such as:

James Douglas Morrison, 1943-1971

Jim Morrison, 1943-1971

Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946

Gertrude Stein, 1874-1946

Stein’s grave was surprisingly underwhelming compared to the other “celebrity” graves…

Edith Piaf, 1915-1963

Edith Piaf, 1915-1963

From second husband Theophanis Lamboukas, or Théo Sarapo.

From second husband Theophanis Lamboukas, or Théo Sarapo.

Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900

… all those lipstick marks kinda look like chicken pox scars from afar. But they’re not. I also really liked the geometric ad-logo-ish angel which is so different from the other, more classical representations we saw in the cemetery.

"Wilde at Heart", teehee.

"Wilde at Heart", teehee.

I’ve always found the idea of spending time in a cemetery kind of morbid but there was something beautiful and intimate about the cobblestoned streets, moss-covered steps and statues that I guess kinda sloughed away my personal misgivings. It’s also apparently a cemetery for families who were noble or otherwise just rollin’ in the monehz because some graves were pretty extravagant, as well as a couple of war memorials and commemorative statues dedicated to those who died in Auschwitz and Dachau etc…

Wall dedicated quite generally "Aux Morts" ("To the Dead")

Wall dedicated quite generally "Aux Morts" ("To the Dead")

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Statue friends!

I hope this isn't supposed to be an angel because all I see is a tongue lolling out of a cloak.

I hope this isn't supposed to be an angel because all I see is a tongue lolling out of a cloak.

I wonder what those little chambers are for. Probably altars? Some of them were filled with trash, which was sad to see.

I wonder what those little chambers are for. Probably altars? Some of them were filled with trash, which was sad to see.

Meep. Sweet.

Why the wolf?

dscn1125One of the war memorials, forgot to capture the name -.-

Couple of war memorials. Can't remember what was written on the plaque but pretty sure they were related to WWII in general.

Auschwitz memorial

Auschwitz memorial

After about an hour and a half, Lydia’s cramps were killing her so we dispersed. I went back to Bastille in a semi-convoluted train ride because I couldn’t decide what to do after but ended up meeting Sam for old lady snack time. We bought a box of 8 macarons (€13.00) at Gerard Mulot and sat down on a bench in the Place des Vosges to savor them.

Inside thar be treasures..

Inside thar be treasures..

... so pretty. So doomed to demolition at hands of hungry Singaporean girls.

... so pretty. So doomed to demolition at hands of hungry Singaporean girls.

Top row, L-R: Hazelnut, Passionfruit-Basilic (bloody nice and actually tasted like basil which took me a bit by surprise), Nougat, Carambar-Reglisse (I don’t know how to translate this but it was a bit caramelly, a lot minty and with a tinge of licorice.

Bottom row, L-R: Chocolate (it was dark chocolate! WIN), Pistachio, Pear-Caramel, Coffee.

I really enjoyed the passionfruit basilic one and loved the deep chocolate flavor of the chocolate macaron which wasn’t as cloyingly sweet as most. The noisette was also as good as I remembered, and works better in this mini-version than the massive one I bought many, many weeks ago which was about 5 times as big and served as a meal replacement that day.

After that we went to watch Milk at the Bastille and it was very moving and good and I am perfectly a-ok with Sean Penn winning the Oscar for Best Actor for that film :)





Translation fail

7 03 2009

With my Saturday already condemned to staying indoors getting reading done for my Maghreb class, it doesn’t help when I look up the word decaler and wordreference.com helpfully informs me that it means:

  1. to bring forward [date, departure time];
  2. to put GB or move US back [date, departure time];
  3. to move [sth] forward [object];
  4. to move [sth] back [object].

How can a word mean both “move forward” and “move back” at the same time, how.





Sunshine cannot bleach the snow…

1 03 2009

…Nor time unmake what poets know.

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sad truth, since there are many things I consciously don’t take pictures of in the hopes of eventually letting these memory pictures fall like so many withered leaves, but sometimes that just makes my mind rebel and hold on to things even more. Minds are dumb.

Anyway! Landscape pics are boring except when I post ‘em.

A buncha Alps

A buncha Alps

The single neverending mountain road

The single neverending mountain road

Taken seated, watching the ski chairs climbing up those lines

Taken seated, watching the ski chairs climbing up those lines

I wish I had taken more pictures of the people I was with because a considerable hunk of my host mom’s family were along for the trip and they were all incredibly nice and generous, but I failed to do so because:

  1. Too shy to weasel my way into their tight-knitness. I feel like my childhood shyness which I mostly manage to overcome now in English-speaking situations returns in full force when I am thrown into a bunch of French-speaking strangers — with only 4 full days I didn’t really feel comfortable enough to be whippin’ out my camera, especially since noone else was.
  2. I spent the bulk of my time bruising myself in a variety of ways — sledding, sliding down on my ass, snowboarding — so I thought I would spare myself the added stress of making sure my camera didn’t get totally smashed on one of my falls. Also a subconscious attempt to avoid embarrassing footage of me.

Despite the epic fail with regards to people-filled pictures, I can vividly enough remember:

Elizabeth, one of my host mom’s nieces and our driver back and forth from Paris to St. Nicholas. She was a bit intimidating because she’s one of those no-nonsense kind of women; there was more than a little scorn in her eyes when she saw me dressed to go to the mountains in my grey Calvin Klein coat (warmest coat I brought here but nowhere near enough) and silly city-girl leather boots that wouldn’t survive 5 steps on glacial mountain road surfaces. Which is not to say she wasn’t perfectly polite and nice to me, coz she was, but I felt permanently sheepish in her presence.

Pierre and Dejan, brothers and 2 of host mom’s grandchildren. Don’t think Dejan took very kindly to me coz on the first day, Pierre asked me jokingly, “Il est moche, oui?” And I said “Oui!” thinking moche meant cute (it sounds like mochi, which I love, so I think that’s how the word association went in my head). Apparently it means the exact opposite. Dejan was henceforth stupendously silent in my presence, but could also have been because he is a 15 year old boy and we therefore had maybe 10% in common. That 10% in common is our mutual love of chocolate. Even then we diverge coz he prefers Toblerone to Kinder Bueno. Why do people like Toblerone so much?

Oh and Pierre was very cute and nice and ungrudgingly gave up a couple of days keeping me company on the baby slopes and teaching me to snowboard, which was a lot of fun even though it was accompanied by a lot of pain. I can now go straight and occasionally come to a safe stop. Pierre said with another day I could have probably done the medium slope, yay me. He was probably the closest I came to making a friend on the trip, we bonded over chocolate mousse and I guess the buds of human empathy nourished by my his all-access pass to my flailing vulnerability when sledding down tree-peppered slopes and my heavy reliance on him to prevent me from fatally wounding myself and, more importantly, other people (mostly half my height) on the baby ski slope. He was also kind of cute. Wee crush. Teeny. Minute. He was just very touchingly responsible, like sliding down the slopes first so that he could catch anyone (ok so it was 99% me) who couldn’t brake in time to stop hirself from flying onto the mountain road/into a boulder, apportioning our picnic lunches (he spent 15 mins thinking seriously about how best to split 3 Toblerones between 4 people — such attention to fairness!), and picking up the little kids who tumbled on the baby slope and got trapped between their skis. He was like an older brother to the World :D

Sophie, another of my host mom’s nieces, and her 3 sons, Adrien, Paul and Clement. Paul has Down’s Syndrome so I think it is testament to my improving French abilities that I could mostly understand what he was saying. He told me I was beautiful and had a tattered stuffed monkey named Rafiki who was so frayed that he lost one of his arms to an accident by Adrien.

Sylvie, Sophie’s partner of 3 years. I didn’t find this out until I got back and my host mom told me over dinner, so the entire time I was there I just assumed Sylvie was another niece who happened to look completely different from her sisters. Actually my gaydar twitched a lot but I just told it to shut up cos my host mom is v Catholic and it just seemed too implausible. But so interesting! PACS in action.

Sabine, Sylvie’s flame red-haired mom who was v friendly and had this massive puppy named Stella whom she couldn’t control at all.

Sylvie’s cousin and her 3 kids. Haha sorry for the lack of names, but I barely spent any time with them at all and I didn’t find out until I got back to Paris how they were related to my host mom’s family so finding a place for them in my head is kinda like sticking a square into a circle.

Part of the reason why I never got fully comfy there was because there were 2 very clear groups: female adults over the age of 45, and male adolescents aged 14-17, neither of which I fall neatly into. I mean, I was mainly with the boys all day cos they’re the ones who went up to the ski slopes and so we would always sled down to the village to rent our equipment and then take the ski lifts up together, but once back from the slopes they’d go ensconce themselves in the attic room of the bigger chalet where the presence of Wii acts, as always in our day and age, as the hub of social activity. Since I don’t really do video games and they’re so close in age and temperament that I didn’t like imposing myself on their easy fraternality I would kinda awkwardly make conversation with Elizabeth and my host mom, or read Rushdie by myself on the terrace. I felt a bit disrespectful crashing the other chalet, too, which was where all the action happened, since as a guest I felt obliged to stay where I’d been put. Only the last couple of afternoons I conquered my paralyzing shyness enough to just go chill in the attic and it was so nice in a lazy, loungey way entertaining Paul and watching the other boys kill each other’s virtual incarnations and throwing gros mots around willy-nilly. Kicking myself now for being too reserved to start hanging out with them from the start, since they were totally chill with me being there so I was just being paranoid for naught. Meh.

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Very glam in my ski combinaison and snowboarding boots

Hmm. This post isn’t nearly as filled with EXCITEMENT as I would like it to be, but it’s hard to transmit through a blog my daily doses of arenaline from zooming uncontrollably down vertical faces of the mountain and talking frantically to myself in my head while taking the tire-face up the ski slopes because when I let my mind drift I always fall. It’s hard to convey the odd mishmash of emotional somethings I felt when I was on the ski lift with Pierre and he said, “Nous sommes dans le brouillard” and I couldn’t shake the weirdness of the idea that I was one with the fog, or how fulfilling it is to come back after a day of whizzing and tumbling, peel off your soggy socks and have a blistering hot shower and then some chocolate biscuits and milk, or the satisfying combination of achy tiredness and warm belly full of food-ness that sent me to sleep every night. Is truly power of the Alps that I, once completely convinced that I’m born and bred a city girl, now look out disgruntledly on Paris and the Seine from my window and yearn for snow-capped peaks and soul-deep silence.





Take me home, country road

27 02 2009

Finally back where I can travel for the most part on a horizontal rather than vertical trajectory, surf the internet, use my phone for something other than Jamdat Sudoku, and go out without a ski combi. Just wanted to type up a quick post to let people know I’m alive… more detailed post + some pics to come when I’ve recovered from the 8-hour car journey and the now dishearteningly Alps-less view from my window.








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