Sunday

pluie à rotterdam

Sometimes you go on vacation for so long it becomes very regular, like home. You grocery shop at your regular store, you work, you go out sometimes with friends. So sometimes you need a vacation.. from your vacation. The nice thing about being in Europe is the ability to hop a train for a modest fare and end up two countries over, two hours later. So it is with the Netherlands, my most cherished vacation spot, a place a few years ago I thought I would never go and now have gone twice.

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Gare du Nord

It calls my name, equally nice in the fall as it is in early summer. The clean air North Sea air breezes through town as the easy going locals zip by on bicycles usually with a partner hitching a ride sidesaddle on the back. Many a kind and smiling face greeting me around town, the gentle tune of the melodic Hague church bells like a pleasant memory floating through the air to greet me through the patches of ever-drizzling rain. I don’t think it stopped raining the whole weekend, though my spirits couldn’t be dampened. We hopped over just for the weekend so say hello again, snack on street food and acquaint ourselves with the newly re-opened Mauritshuis museum in den Haag.

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Den Haag Centraal

I was tempted to see the collection last year as it toured while the museum was under renovation. The closest stop was New York and it was a very tempting 12 hours away, though I’m glad I didn’t because getting to see the works in the new space was a real treat. The Royal collection is small, compared to the massive retrospective department-stores-of-museums in Paris, and is housed in a 17th century residence, now owned by the government of the Netherlands. The museum houses a stellar collection of paintings, mostly Dutch Golden Age, including some very famous favourites such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson and Fabritius’ Goldfinch.

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Het meisje met de parel (Vermeer) 1665

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The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp (Rembrandt) 1632

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The Goldfinch, aka “puttertje” (Fabritius) 1654

The museum was absolutely packed, especially with snooty art types like me who refrain from snapping selfies and linger in front of works contemplatively scratching their chins. They were also all above a certain age.. I won’t say which. The only way in which the flighty consumer types that normally frequent the said massive retrospective department-stores-of-museums in Paris are superior, is that you can bet that they won’t spend more than 2.6 seconds in front of a painting, so if you want a look, you just have to wait around for your turn. With snooty art types this could mean waiting for a very long time. That’s okay though because there were a number of truly excellent works that I could just stand in front of all day.. well at least until my legs fall asleep.

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Vanitas still life (Claesz) 1630

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Old Woman and Boy with candles (Rubens) 1617

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The Messenger, aka “Unwelcome News” (ter Borch) 1666

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Wooded landscape with cottages (Hobbema), 1665

There were a number of works which I have never seen before, and it’s always nice to make new friends and be surprised. I’m afraid my SO is rapidly becoming my artist’s assistant, helpfully scribbling down titles and observations for later digestion. My notebook came home full of Vermeer, Rembrandt, Claesz, Jordaens, Leyster, Rubens, Steen, Hals, as well as some new pals such as Beuckelaer, van der Weyden, van Aelst, ter Borch, de Vlieger, and Hobbema.

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Spruistraat

Retiring from the Museum we shopped around the slick cobbled pedestrian streets of den Haag, checking out the celebrations leading up to St. Nicholas’ day on Dec 5th, featuring Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) and his racially inappropriate sidekick Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet’s origins lie somewhere between a liberated Ethiopian slave to Moorish origins, to the more modern preference of his helpful little face blackened with soot from climbing down chimneys. Regardless local folks seem to like dressing up in Victorian garb and blackface playing carnival music and tossing candy out to the little kids.We followed this parade from a distance, trying to figure out what was going on until we stopped for nieuwe haring and the folks behind the counter explained the tradition to us.

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Similar to traditions back home, children leave shoes by the fireplace on St. Nicholas’ eve in hopes of waking in the morning to find a treat inside in exchange for good behaviour. Though if you’re naughty you don’t get a lump of coal you get beaten with a switch by Zwarte Piet. The children usually leave out a carrot or some hay with a thoughtful bowl of water for Sinterklaas’ horse, a cup of coffee for Sinterklaas and a beer for Zwarte Piet. Despite the fact that traditionally Sinterklaas was accompanied by just one Zwarte Piet we have Canadians to thank for throwing a Sinterklaas party after the liberation of the Netherlands, encouraging a whole slew of Pieten to roam the streets.

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Lola Bikes and Café

We departed our rented flat early on Sunday, forgoing a cold shower as the hot water heater was inoperable, and strolled up to the so called best coffee in the Netherlands. It also doubles as a serious bicycle store because, hey, you can pursue two passions at once. SO had a good time checking out all the bikes and gear, pointing out the superior composition of the metal in particular bike gears or somesuch. I decided I liked the pink one for.. reasons. The coffee was truly excellent and we happily lingered way longer than intended. Back on the train we traveled to nearby Rotterdam to check out the town and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen.

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rotterdam at night

Rotterdam has a very different feel, the majority of the buildings very contemporary with lots of skyscrapers. A huge amount of old Rotterdam was destroyed by bombing and subsequently rebuilt in modern fashion. The city has much less warmth and character somehow, probably a figment of my imagination as I’m known to be very sensitive and have a tendency to personify and anthropomorphise.

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The “little” Tower of Babel” (Bruegel (the Elder)) 1563

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The Wayfarer (Bosch) 1500.. the only museum to house Bosch in all the Netherlands

Boijmans is a huge museum with a very diverse collection, ranging from medieval to contemporary and every facet in between. It has a lovely selection of Bosch and Bruegel, including the famous “little” tower of Babel and the Wayfarer who is said to be choosing between debauchery and virtue. Some other favourites of mine include van Dalem, Koninck, Havicksz, and Daubigny.

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 landscape with dawn of civilization (van Dalem) 1570

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An extensive landscape, with a river, (Koninck) 1664

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The cascade of Mahoura, Cauterets (Daubigny) 1873

The museum also houses a very nice selection of French Impressionist works including featuring a nice but unusual MonetMaison du Pêcheur” featuring a very nice seascape with cabin on a very uncomfortable angle lending the impression you are in some danger of leaning too far into it. The collection also houses some very nice works by Sisley, who is rapidly becoming a favourite of mine.

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la Maison du Pêcheur, Varengeville (Monet) 1882

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Le moulin à eau Provencher à Moret (Sisley) 1883

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Un verger au printemps (Sisley) 1881

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Moonlit city square in Cherbourg, (Sidaner) 1934

A bit father down in the collection there is a really nice Sidaner, an intimist painter whose “moonlit city square” is expertly illuminated, and its quiet volumes of night shades a rare achievement in my opinion. Apart from the very broad range of styles and endeavours there is also a lovey collection of very modest floral still lives which are uncomplicated, delicate, and very lovely.  

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Peonies (Fantin-Latour) 1882

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Polder with mills near Overschie (Gabriël) 1898

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Cineraria (van Gogh) 1885

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In the vegetable garden (Mauve) 1887

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Study of the Trunk of an Old Tree, (de Gheyn II) 1600-1610

If you decide to go museum hopping don’t forget that art feeds the brain and the heart, but not the stomach so around 3:00 we were losing steam and remembered that humans require nourishment to walk around for hours and hours and had to resort to overpriced museum café food. Oh well. After exhausting the collection, and the soles of our shoes, we wandered around Rotterdam taking in the weird architecture and public sculptures before picking a restaurant with maximum comfort and slow service for some r&r in the form of Phở

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normandie

When you have to catch an early train, it’s only natural that bar next door gets rented for some crazy hootenanny and the dj pumps music all night. What’s worse is the French love for disco and trying to sleep while they’re belting out showtunes or somesuch. That being said, waking up early enough to catch our train was aided by my excitement, a feeling reserved for trips, birthdays, Christmas and the the last day of school. I have become quite blasé about the latter three so I hope travelling never gets old. The ride to Caen is about two hours. Having not seen my S.O. basically at all during the week, the train ride went by all too fast, talking and joking the whole way, laughing so hard I had tears welling up and all my strength employed to avoid orangina shooting out my nose.

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We are the Dead. Short days ago we lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow

Arriving at the station, we managed to figure out how to buy bus tickets to Courseulles-sur-mer despite the language barrier and not being able to find the station door. We had some time to kill after so we walked around downtown Caen, ending up at a église st-jean, complete with crazy modern stained glass and courtyard with late-blooming poppies. Back on the bus, which was more like a coach, we had a nice lolling sojourn through the northern countryside. It’s not uncommon to pass a world war cemetery in almost every town, neatly kept with straight rows of brilliant white crosses. The town themselves are pretty small and the houses almost exclusively stone with terracotta or slate roofing. The towns maintain a quiet old-world charm and of course, there is the perpetual church steeple poking out at rapid intervals.

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“here is the church, here is the steeple”

We slowly made our way into Courseulles-sur-mer, getting off at ‘Place de 6 juin’ the date, of course, of D-Day. The square is the very centre of town, where the pier, boardwalk, each access, carrousel and town monument meet. There is a croix de lorraine just across the quay to commemorate the return of Charles de Gaulle to France 14 June, 1944. We arrived at high tide, the brisk and salty sea air greeting us with pleasant acquaintance.

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At the centre of the square is a Canadian Sherman tank, pulled from the frigid waters of ‘Juno’ beach some 25 years after it sank during the commencement of operation Overlord. It was of course cleaned and restored, now adorned with the insignia of the troops that fought and died here including the Royal Winnipeg Rifles, Regina Rifle Regiment, Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada, and North Shore (New Brunswick) Regiment. The tank itself is now enveloped in a pillow of flowers, often red and white organized into the Canadian flag. Also placed nearby is a German Kwk 39 anti-tank gun with obvious signs of battle damage, also restored.

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For it’s early in the morning and I’m far, far away.

Making our way to the Juno beach centre, we waited for the swing bridge to let some sailboats in and we checked out the catch of the day, at the plethora of stalls erected right beside the fishing boats docked in the river. Arriving at the centre you can hear the waves crashing along the shore, the gentle breeze rustling the long grasses. The landscape has long since returned to tranquility, though the centre acts as a reminder to us the events of the war.

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Juno Beach Centre

The tour begins with footage of the landing and an audio representation of that the soldiers would have heard preparing to land on the beach, the sound of the sea spraying over the boat, heavy artillery exploding and rumbling nearby.. the tour encourages you to also learn about Canada’s fragile military and economy predating the war to further appreciate the difficulty lying ahead.

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The centre of the tour had a trove of information about the different ships, tanks, aircraft, formations, payload, propaganda, home front and war effort from a Canadian perspective. It was absolutely fascinating to discover the attack and defence strategies, and certain difficulties unique to north america such as trans-atlantic transportation of supplies and how to diminish u-boat damage. Also, that Canada went from having basically no air force to the 4th largest during wartimes. We also attended an emotional video giving an in depth detailing of the Juno beach events.

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The final room was a relievingly lighthearted Canada factoids room for those not acquainted with our culture. There was a great amount of hockey gear and curling rocks, let me tell you. It was my great pleasure to encounter other Canadians accessing the tour. You can easily pick them out because if they want to get by you while you’re looking at something they linger first trying to wait for you to finish what you’re doing, then slip by you giving ample berth while saying “sorry”. There were also a lot of toques.

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the shepherd will tend his sheep, the valley will bloom again

We also attended a tour of two recently excavated German bunkers. The first was built early in the occupation so it was not built as a defensive post but to aid in the organization of potential invasion of England to the north. The structure was built using French labourers and whatever materials they had on hand, some parts brick, some concrete, even railway ties for beams. It is speculated that the French tried to sabotage the building by placing the cinder blocks on their sides so the walls would have hollow pockets. The walls also had wood interlaced for hanging up maps and fixtures.We also visited a bunker built much later in the war, at a time when German occupation of France was shakier and they were preparing heavy defensive fortifications.

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escape hatch

This bunker by contrast is solid cement, with two heavy metal doors that double as a gas proof chamber, a gun slit facing the only entrance and 365 degree parascope. Our guide told us that it was expected of soldiers to do 36 hour shifts in the bunker so there were also fold down beds and a small stove for comfort. The bunker walls are 3 metres solid concrete and the only emergency exit was a small tunnel filled in with sand, so if you were trapped at least you could start digging your way out. Apparently in allied training it was instilled that if you see a grate or opening into a building that you should throw in a grenade to clear the room before entering. Once the Germans caught on to this practice their bunkers, as this one did, had false grates installed that lobbed the grenade back out at the intruder. It was also equipped with a gun nest, each pointed on angles across to beach to create crossfire.

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In 1944 the bunker was right on the water and locals can remember as children jumping off the parascope into the sea, but nowadays the beach has shifted greatly and there is now a barrier of sand in front of the bunkers so you have to use your imagination a bit to picture how the beach looked way back then. We finished our tour on the shore where we got to see the buoy indicating the shoreline at low tide, which is much farther out. Upon deployment, the entire beach was riddled with anti tank and anti personnel mines some 5 ft apart, blockades, razor wire creating what was dubbed a “devil’s garden”.

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Just before deployment there was heavy bombardment to reduce the German numbers by an estimated 60% though in effect only reached 5-15 % depending on the area. Despite the odds, the fortifications on the beach were overcome and the troops moved inland to liberate Courseulles-sur-mer. The Canadian troops lost 356 men, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner, though the losses were lower than estimated from the devastation of its predecessor mission operation Jubilee in Dieppe. Despite the difficulties and objective failures Juno beach alongside Utah is considered to be the most strategically successful of the D-Day landings. Walking the sands where such a critical and painful battle was fought is truly a moving experience. The land is now so beautiful and the town so gentle and quiet it is hard to imagine what it was like, which is why I personally believe it’s important to keep listening to the stories and remember the sacrifices made.

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We made our way around town to to our rented room. We decided to try out airbnb for the first time. We got a private room with key in an old converted garage with facilities shared with the homeowner. Our host was very nice and accommodating. I did my best to speak French and we understood most of what the other was trying to say. Airbnb is of course much less expensive than a hotel which suits us just fine. That being said any money we saved on the room we probably promptly spent at the most hit-or-miss restaurant I believe I’ve ever been to.

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We decided since we were “on vacation” that weekend we would live a little, by which I mean order a drink with dinner. Big spenders! We both got the house cocktail which turned out to be cheap champagne spiked with curacao and a generous profit-margin of juice topped with a stale candy and sugar rim. It has got to be one of the worst drinks I’ve ever had. Next came the complimentary bread. It’s basically expected to get free bread with your meal here, and being France the bread is always fresh and delicious. So when I tell you that the bread was so stale that no pigeon would eat if you can see why we started to become suspicious of this place. Next came the complimentary appetisers brought out to us by the chef. Maybe the chef should spend more time cooking and less time schmoozing because the only thing the app was good for was a raised eyebrow and hearty laugh. I think they were supposed to be maki.. I think. Being by the sea didn’t help this dish any. I think it contained rice that was made three years ago that they found behind the radiator. Or it might have been tiny pebbles, I’m not sure. If you go to pick up your app and it crumbles into a pile of dust you know something is wrong.

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However, next came the oysters. Thankfully all they had to do was open them for me to enjoy a wonderfully delicious treat fresh from the sea. SO had some kindof yummy bouillabaisse. It was stewier than most but he seemed to like it. Our main was some kind of tiny braised fish on a bed of lentils, which were quite yummy. The fish was decent. For dessert? Bread pudding. Now I’ll give them a break because it’s not a french dish. That being said, they’re only a stone’s throw from England and also bread pudding is easy, who can’t make that? They took a slice of old bread, presumably the same stuff they served before dinner and instead of soaking it in cream to make it soppy and delicious they kindof.. toasted it? Then drizzled cream on top? I’m not quite sure what was happening there but the tiny after dinner mints were good. Here’s a tip to enjoying a shitty restaurant : a) don’t read the bill too closely cause you’ll just get mad b) make fun of everything relentlessly.

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croix de lorraine

Anyway, late in the day the tide was going out and the inlets had become rapids. We strolled along the now widened beach to tiptoe thru the seaweed and find cool shells. We wandered home and settled in for a good night’s sleep, lulled by the patter of rain that amazingly decided to be nice and hold off until we were tucked in.

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Our host was still asleep when we left early, trying to get a leg up on our journey back to Paris. The bus took us on the reversed journey, this time the cities quieter and more cars at the church parking lots. Arriving at Caen we stopped first for pain au raisin before heading up to the Chateau de Caen. The Chateau is an 11th century fortification buit by William the Conqueror. It saw several engagements during the Hundred Year’s war, and the keep pulled down during the French revolution. It was also used as a barracks during WWII and was heavily bombed at that time. It is one of the largest castles in western Europe.

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Caen

It now houses two museums and a church, and you can see the ruins of other structures such as the keep, William’s residence, ramparts and curtain walls, and the two fortified doors. There is still ongoing work to excavate the bottom of the walls and more ruins are still being uncovered. The walls are incredibly high and you can peer thru the bow slits into what would have been a moat, though these days just grass. The stone stairs heading up the ramparts and towers are so worn from literally a century of use they are very curved.

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super neat.

It’s a huge area which was great fun to explore. The art gallery at the top houses a nice collection from many eras in French history, which matches beautifully with the lineage of the castle. Afterwards, we strolled around town, the majority of stores being closed but lounging in parks and cafés is not a bad way to spend your afternoon. We finished off the day at a nice restaurant in an old area of town on rue du vaugueux ie) beggars row.

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It’s a small and narrow pedestrian street with old shifting houses, once known for squalor and crime. It also once housed a bar owned by Edith Piaf’s grandparents, and the woman who murdered Marat. It now houses a number of nice restaurants while maintaining the enclosed medieval structures. We had some nice wine, confit du canard, terrine de poissons, croustillants de chèvre chaud and ile flottante which is a whipped meringue cake soaked in thin caramel sauce. I really need to learn to make this back home! Before having to catch our train back we made sure to watch the sun set behind the glimmering houses from the parapet.

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les étapes nombreuses

One of the nice things about having co-workers in a new city is the excuse to go out for social time. As promised by our Korean friends we went out to a restaurant of their recommendation. We managed to get a table, somehow and as the night went on the line out the door got longer and longer.

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jantchi

For good reason, too, the food was really nice. SO and I had a hard time picking what to order, on one hand since learning how to make bibimbap we wanted to know how it’s done at a nice restaurant, but on the other hand there were so many new things to try. We settled on bulgogi and it was amazing. It came to the table raw on a big cooker thing. We were scared. But after enquiring with our Korean guides as to how to eat it we were happy. The food also came with a selection of appetizers which were also really yummy. I don’t remember them all but included yangnyeom tongdak, japchae and of course, kimchi.

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out for a stroll aka. thinking about math

We also met up with our friends last weekend in Montmartre to enjoy what might be one of the last sunny and warm weekends of the year. We met up at Abesses, the main subway access and sort of central hub. There’s always something going on there and on that particular day it was a thrift market. I love Paris! Lots of tables set up with all sorts of strange and wonderful things to dig thru.. painted glasses, old lighters, books and prints, glass negatives, fur shawls, rollerskates and my favourite, a stuffed goat head riding in a soapbox car. I really should have got a picture of that.

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We climbed the 222 steps from Abesses to Sacré Coeur. It’s always a lovely thing to look at. We strolled thru the interior of the church. I checked out the murals more this time, and they were really nice. I also got to see a cool statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon. The Basillica explicitly states no photography, though I think I was the only one who obeyed.

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tiny streets, the way medieval paris was laid out before the war…s

We then strolled around the top of the hill checking out the tiny winery, various stores and goings-on. We got lunch at a busy restaurant and though it was pretty touristy I got the best croque madame I’ve ever had. Even the couple next to our table were like, ‘what’s that I want to eat that’. We also stopped and got candied peanuts, being made fresh by a street vendor. They were much like beer nuts from back home, one of my most loved snacks.

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pls ignore purse strap. it was crowded

We eventually decided no trip to Montmartre was complete without checking out the dome at the tip top of Sacré Coeur so we paid the € 8 for the privilege of climbing the two spiral staircases summing 300 steps total. Now, that sounds pretty cynical but it was really awesome. First of all, spiral staircases are inherently cool and there is a distinct lack of them back home, probably because they’re a slip-trip-and-fall hazard… OHES training ftw! Anyway, it goes straight up probably 200 steps, then you get out on to the roof of the main chapel and get to walk by the gargoyles and bird shit, across the roof to another spiral staircase (going counter-clockwise which is more difficult somehow) to reach the summit.

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om nom

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Paris has like.. 3 sky scrapers.

If you think the view from the top of the hill is grand, try standing on top of the largest building around. Holy shit. Not only can you see basically all of Paris proper but can pick out the various elevations changes and figure out the arrondisements accordingly. Plus due to what is probably a lot of smog and a little sfumato, the ends of the landscape take on a cool blue glow. Plus it makes the Eiffel tower look puny, which makes me feel good as I irrationally think the tower is lame.

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je t’aime

Then back down the 522 steps to get back to Abesses to check out le mur des je t’aime which has the phrase I Love You in over 250 languages. It’s really, really well done. Back home for more bibimbap and FTL.. and of course taking pictures of the view from my window late at night when I can’t sleep.

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les animaux de compagne

The trouble with having the flu on vacation is feeling guilty for staying home and ignoring any potential sight-seeing. After a few days of watching Firefly with French subs you think.. ‘hey I think I’m feeling better, I better go out and see that thing that is this weekend only!‘ A good idea if you’re actually feeling better, but the more I push the more the stupid flu pushes back. That being said, even though I feel like shit today I did see some cool things last week.

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We took a trip out to the west end of town, quite near the Eiffel Tower, to the house of Honoré de Balzac, French playwright and author. We were able to both tour his house and also view an exhibit of a selection of Daumier’s lithographs. Daumier is best known from his social and political satire in caricatures, paintings, print and sculptures. The collection displayed at Maison Balzac was a series of lithographs, printed in La Charivari, depicting the antics of Parisians bathing and swimming by the banks of the river. “Daumier, could not help but to caricature these innocent occupations and point out the comedy of some situations ridiculing those Parisians of all ages and from all walks, frolicking in the Seine” 1.

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« Le pècheur à la ligne est l’homme indépendent, perseverent et résigné, l’adversité ne le décourage pas, il combat tous les embarras qui l’entortillent; philosophe, il subit les orages et ne murmure jamais. »

« The fisherman is an independent man, perseverant and resigned, adversity does not discourage him, he fights against all difficulties; philosophical, he suffered storms and tempest in silence. »

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« Oui Madame, c’est comme j’ai l’honneur de vous le dire, je l’ai porté onze mois, qu’on croyait que j’étais hydropique; Dirait-on que ça n’a que six ans, il tient de son père, Tambour major de la 6ème Légion, chantant la Marseillaise par cœur et buvant la goutte le matin comme un petit pompier. Oh! n’amour, baisez vot’mère tout de suite. »

« Yes, my dear, it is just the way I have the honour of telling you. I was pregnant with him for eleven months and people thought I was dropsical. Would you believe that this is already six years ago? He takes after his father, drum-major of the 6th legion. sings the Marseillaise (national anthem) by heart and has a drink in the morning like a real fire-fighter. Oh, my little darling, come here and give your mother a kiss! »

a

« Excusez, regard’ donc la grosse Fifine qu’on aurait juré que c’était Vénus…
ah ben en v’là un déchet! »

« Hey, now look at that huge Fifine! You’d swear she was a Venus –
what a disappointment! »

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Afterwards we took a stroll down to Bois de Boulogne and sat by pond a while to rest. The weather in Paris is pretty temperate considering the talk of snow-storms back home that keep popping up on my facebook feed. The warm sunlight and gentle breeze made for a nice afternoon of napping in the grass or practicing how to whistle really loud. We watched row boats make their way along the pond, with men rowing women around with pond scrub clinging to the oars. We found some vélos and biked around the park passing a carnival. I love carnivals, but somehow when you have the flu, the smell of hot sugar and diesel doesn’t do much good. However, what does do good is fresh bread.. especially when it’s covered in melted cheese and floating on top of onion soup. That’s the best. Also, flan. I really need to learn how to make that.

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We also attended an IHP shindig on the 24th floor of a Paris U building. Not only were there stellar panoramic views of the whole city at sunset, but free champagne, nibbles, and of course, pleasant conversation.

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There were a lot of things going on this weekend, and I tried to go see a piece of them all. Of course I’m glad I went but it was probably a bad idea. Nuit Blanche was happening this weekend all over Paris. I have gone to the Toronto version a few times and it has ranged from somewhat interesting to horrible and useless, though I had some hope for Paris since you know.. everything in Toronto is pretty horrible and useless. The only thing I went out to see what the piece at Hotel de Ville (City Hall) which was a grid of glowing balloons contained in a mesh sheet being controlled like a kite by two guys. The piece is lighthearted and fun, lending itself well to the crowds of kids drinking vodka out of gatorade bottles and eating overpriced churros. Parisians already don’t seem to have a problem having fun in public spaces so the balloons, I thought, were a bit of silly overkill. Seems you can’t go two blocks without seeing a couple of young Parisians lollygagging around the canal sharing a bottle of wine.. or three.

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Instead of checking out any other Nuit Blanche things I went to attend an Idle No More : France Solidarity vigil at Notre Dame. I was surprised to hear there was INM support in France but there is a small group who put the vigil together to raise awareness and show support for the thousands of missing and murdered women, not only in Canada but worldwide. It was great to smudge and to hear the drum again and sing along. Plus a lot of people stopped by to check out what was going on and learn a little bit.

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We also went to check out Animal Expo which showcases different companion animal breeds and check out some cool vendors. TBH it wasn’t really all that enlightening, although we did get to see some cool European breeds we hadn’t encountered before, like Czechoslovakian Wolf Hound, Cane Corso, and Scottish Fold. However we spent most of our time with the Newfs, the Beagles and the Bassets because they’re the best.

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The Cat’s Prayer :

o my master , do not take me for a slave, because I have in me the taste of freedom
do not try to guess my secret , for I have in me the taste of mystery .
do not compel me to caress as I have in me the taste of modesty.
do not humiliate me, because I have in me the taste of pride.
do not forsake me, because I have within me the taste of fidelity
know how to love me and I will love you as I have in me the taste of friendship

1 http://parismusees.paris.fr/fr/exposition/plages-paris-selon-daumier

la Canadienne étrange

My SO has returned from Marseille finally, so my schedule has changed back from sleeping in late and sitting around in brasseries drinking bière and musing about artistic and historical conservation. Instead we caught up on life and looked at pictures of beautiful Marseille. It’s really gorgeous in the mountain and coastline regions and I was able to view many nice landscapes courtesy of my SO who trekked for hours to the tip top to capture them.

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holy foothills, batman!

Yesterday we also received another IHP student who needed a place for a night until he could get the keys to his apartment in Paris. Our apartment may not be the biggest but there’s always room for friends. So being his first day in Paris we just went out and walked about in the downtown, mostly around Île de la Cité where we were treated to ice cream and milled around watching the huge lineup to get into the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris (it extended out of the building and around the square). We walked around the courtyards and surrounding gardens and found a bench not completely covered in bird shit to sit a while and chat.

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ding dong

After a bit we departed to meet some more friends for dinner. Outside of the Notre Dame there was a superb statue street performer, who when you give some euros breaks his act and invites you over for a picture.

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“…la fille français is not amused by your antics”

We previously arranged to meet our friends for dinner, and agreed to meet at a métro stop. Now, in Canada there are usually one or two entrances to a subway station, but here there are lots. Usually around 5 or 6. So if you agree to meet your friends at the métro stop, they could basically be anywhere the a two block radius. Regardless once we located each other we headed off for dinner and ended up at a very busy Japanese restaurant. SO and I ordered Udon, and our friends had rice bowls. Super yummy! And somewhat reasonably priced, which is a difficult thing to find in Paris. Usually if you are just walking around a lot of the restaurants are usually € 30 for a two or three course dinner. In order for me to spend $45 CAD on a meal, it would have to be a really special occasion. So I’m not really accustomed to spending this much on dinner.. but SO and I managed to get our two Udon for € 33, not bad! We meandered a while after dinner, got some espresso and chilled and chatted, very nice. Afterwards headed home for some much needed rest.

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Île de la Cité

Today our friend left and we went out for a long walk, after the obligatory croissant and espresso of course. We headed down to the 20th and went to the Cimetière Père Lachaise and wandered through the tombs and had some interesting discussions on burials, last wishes, grieving and memorials. I know I have some strange and unusual opinions on such things. It’s definitely nice to have a SO who is equally weird. It’s not fun to have someone to balance you out, it’s better to match, imho. We discussed the importance (or actually lack thereof) of having a dedicated, visitable “plot” or tomb and instead entertained notions of rock climbing walls and water slides. Why not? We are generally in agreement that once we’re dead we’re not going to know what our final resting place will consist of, so what is going to matter is your legacy. Who doesn’t want a water slide legacy? Just sayin’.

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retour à la nature

We also determined it would be good to donate yourself to scientific research. That’s a pretty good legacy, too. Unless you just get chopped up by some first year who later drops out to join the circus. That must tarnish it a bit. My favourite plots were those reclaimed by age; ancient rock broken and crumbling, covered in tree branches and ivy, and even the big stones laid down return back to the earth and enshrouded in the embrace of nature. I like that.

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“svp”

We endeavoured to go visit Fourier and Laplace and other stupidly famous mathematicians, but unfortunately they didn’t make the list of notable figures on the big map. C’est dommage! Of course if you follow the hordes of gum chewing swaggering half drunk weirdos up the winding hill and through the tombs desecrated by graffiti and scrawled names towards the sound of music playing out of some tiny dollar-store speaker, towards the smell of rotting heaps of flowers and cigarettes you will find Jim Morrison’s grave. It’s pretty disgusting. As much as I am a fan, and by fan I mean totally-obsessed-owning-every-possible-LP-and-book-and-poem-totally-encyclopedic-knowledge-filled-wide-eyed-super-fan, the disgusting decorum of these fans is sad.

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“haw!”

I don’t mind so much milling around smoking hash and drinking wine sadly humming Doors songs and thinking about this person you admire so much, it’s more the people who desperately want to take some kind of ownership of the space and endeavour to make their mark, whether its carving their name in some poor neighbor’s tomb, sticking their gum (and I mean thousands of bits of chewed gum) in some nearby ash tree, coating the bannisters that are in place to keep the rabble out in layers of meaningless stickers or leaving condoms, wine corks, cigarette butts and otherwise trash around the site or pinning it up somewhere so it doesn’t get swept away? How reprehensible is your demeanour that you think spewing your trash allover a cemetery is admirable? Not that Jim Morrison promoted proper behaviour, but standing up for things that are important to you and you feel need to be said, and sticking your refuse in somebody’s gravestone are two different things.

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“Victimes des révolutions”

Just outside the cimetière is the Square Samuel-de-Champlain which is a lovely hilly garden that houses the Victimes des révolutions, by Paul Moreau-Vauthier. This bas-relief sculpture is often mistakenly called the mur fédérés but is actually a tribute to the victims on both sides of the revolutions. It is meant to be a general monument, with ghostly anguished faces lightly carved into the wall, with the figure of a woman standing in front. The stones of the wall, however, are the actual stones from the wall where one hundred and forty seven “fédérés” (combatants of the Paris Commune, France’s oldest labour movement and socialist government that briefly ruled Paris after the Franco-Prussian war), were lined up and shot and thrown in a trench at the foot of the wall. Père Lachaise was the last remaining stronghold of the uprising, with a long and difficult battle fought in between the tombs and through the night, which ultimately ended in the horrible demise of those remaining few that surrendered, who joined the thousands before them that died in the gallows and on the streets of Paris. The anguish on the ghostly faces lightly carved into the wall fill your heart with dread and despair, contrasted with the goddess whose splayed body both enacts the execution and stands in front of the victims with arms extended as if to protect them. The bullet holes lodged in the stones speaks haunting tales to any viewer who beholds it, and while it isn’t specifically for the fédérés, they are a few of the hundreds of thousands of souls lost in the historical, political turmoil of France.

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marseille…marseille…

After a long and meandering walk through the cimetière we stopped into a nice restaurant for three-course lunch. I had caprese salad, chicken in mushroom creme sauce and crème caramel and a café au lait for dessert. SO had les œufs au mayonnaise, roasted pork with cauliflower casserole and chocolate mousse for dessert. Damn, french cuisine is so good. Afterwards, we found (much to my delight) a very mishmash and very thrifty street antiques sale. There were many boxes laid out to dig through the piles of old dishes, shaving kits, broken watches, figurines, old photos, violins, coffee grinders and anything-and-everything wrought iron. There were also occasional stands selling artisinal meats, cheese and crêpes. You seem to find the strangest places to spend money on a Sunday when all the regular stores are closed. We then headed back to the 19th, started dinner cooking and caught up on some work for the week as we waited. On Sundays, I sometimes find a modest sized chicken and cook it up for my SO and I, and am reminded of Henry IV of France who stated “I want there to be no peasant in my realm so poor that he will not have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” I often think of this quote when we sit down to our humble and yet delectably wholesome meal. Granted, I usually substitute a pot for an oven.. or these days.. toaster oven.

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another Marseille picture, because it’s fucking gorgeous, that’s why.