The Occasional Tales of Ailsa B du Bois

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Archive for the ‘Autobiography’ Category

My impressions of Hobart & past observations…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on January 3, 2011

When I was last in Hobart (circa Oct 08) I had dinner with some work colleagues, one of whom was a quiet mannered Scot.  We were sipping pre-dinner bevvies on the upper deck of Mures Seafood Restaurant on the waterfront, and I was waxing on about how gorgeous Hobart was, when he suddenly announced “I dooooh-n’t like it”.  The Scots can be masters at brevity.

“But what about the stunning landscape and the wealth of heritage buildings? Doesn’t it remind you at least a little of Scotland?” I asked.  “Yeeees,” he said “That’s exaaaactly… thaaaaat’s the raaaay-zonnn I doooon’t like it.  It’s too much like hoooome – except that it feels waaaarmer, safer and cleeenarrr.”  Puzzled I thought “What’s not to like?”, but he was adamant it was too similar to his homeland, and too out-of-date.

Granted, the apartment complex I stayed in that trip did appear to have been decorated by my Auntie Pat, which is fine if you’re partial to conservative touches that have not altered one bit since the very early 80s.  The thing that struck me as most odd was that all the appointments were clearly very new, less than 18 months old at a guess, yet all the choices were so plain and dated, tipping over into drab.  I found it odd to think that the owner or managers had purposefully gone out and spent a whole lot of money on making the decor look a time capsule from 1981.  Despite this proliferation of old-fashioned, conservative interiors though, it seemed to me that where pockets of new century (naughties) built and social culture existed, they were right on the money.

I’ve long felt that Tasmania doesn’t quite fit with the geo-physical genre of the rest of Australia.  It has so much more in common with New Zealand I think, and I recall being told in year 12 geology that there’s some speculation that the fragments of land, or tectonic plates to be more precise, upon which Tasmania & NZ rest may possibly have floated over from the South American sub-continent many eons ago, as apparently may have the Philippines, which resonated with me. It could be a bunch of baloney, but I’m inclined to see it as feasible.

I should mention at this juncture that I failed Year 12 geology miserably, having a far keener interest at the time in the extra-curricular pursuits while on geology camps and excursions.  I paid very little attention to the formal scientific instruction I was meant to be receiving. So grankly this little gem of unsubstantiated hear-say is the only thing I really gained from the whole year of geology studies.  I’ve always been a A grade arts & social sciences student, but suffering  a big mental block with regard to natural science and mathematics.

In any case, when I reflect on my visits to Hobart, twice on business and once on a shoe-string budget holiday, I always have it in my mind that there are some quite slick cafs and restaurants about the place, though I must admit that my business trips to Wellington & Hobart often blur in my mind, so maybe when I’m thinking about Hobart I romanticise it, and unwittingly and very generously extend the cosmopolitan merits of New Zealand’s capital city to Hobart, which is simply wrong.  It’s the landscape that does it – so similar environmentally as cities in so many ways, yet clearly Wellington offers a vastly more diverse array of shopping, cultural and employment opportunities.  I adore Wellington, and if I were a Kiwi, that is where I’d choose to live.  I’ve been there about 6 times, so I have a reasonable handle on it, and one thing I do know both cities share is the intensely ferocious winds that come of the respective harbours.

I do however get a bit weary of the predictable tourist goods that Hobart offers visitors: a dozen varieties of fudge springs immediately to mind.  And the real estate prices are so inflated… I mean it’s definitely worth the money in world terms for the stunning views, the over-all charm and character of the city, the convenience and user-friendliness of the place, and so on, however in the context of the very limited earning capacity most people would have once living there, it really makes no sense to me.

I know that a significant amount of retired academics, antique dealers, government policy administrators, gourmands and the like have shifted to Tassie from major mainland capitals in the past 10 years or more, and have been able to pay the price, thus rationalising it, but at the end of the day I can’t see how the real estate values make sense within the Tasmanian economy.  But that’s just my take on it.  Maybe there’s something I don’t know…

It will be interesting to review the place while on holiday for a change, and with my hub with me, and get his take on it.  My hunch has always been that he’ll be entirely seduced by the place, as I have been, despite its provincial shortcomings (which in turn feed into its very sweetness), so it will be interesting to see what he thinks.  We’re not about to pack up and move there, but the sheer beauty of Tasmania is tantalising.

All of that said, in just 5 more sleeps we’ll be there, and I can reappraise it all.  Knowing that January is their warmest month & its forecast to be 16 to 24 degree with rain forming, which is probably as sunny and bright as it gets… Tasmania is known to be green for a reason.  It’s a wee bit wet a lot of the time, I do suspect.

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Packing for Tassie…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on January 2, 2011

For my hubbie Laurie’s big 50th birthday milestone, I asked him what he wanted to do in celebration.  To my considerable surprise he chose a holiday, specifically a relaxing get-away with a handful of long-term friends to Wineglass Bay on the stunning natural coast-line of Eastern Tasmania.  (I expected him to want a big party, but clearly age has brought him to his senses at last – I’m really not sure if I should be pleased by this pragmatic approach or slightly saddened).  Anyway, as we’re DIWOOKs (Double Income With Only One Kid)… And yes, I just made this acronym up because I’m a bit of a cad…, we figured most of our single friends wouldn’t want to come on this sort of trip with us, and we don’t know any couples with kids that would either, so we decided it made most sense to invite Laurie’s two oldest pals that are in long term relationships and who we suspected might be likely to find the tranquil pleasures of the Island State appealing and furthermore might be interested in spending precious holiday money doing it: Cam (who was Laurie’s share house mate in a Redfern terrace when we first met, and Laurie’s best man at our wedding) and Ali (who actually introduced us to each other at a Darlinghurst bar in Sydney about 15 years ago).  Another consideration was how many people we could possibly fit in a hire car, and most importantly in a nicely appointed rental holiday house.  7 seemed to be the magic number.  So, as it turns out there’ll be 7 of us at Wineglass Bay: One DIWOOK couple, two DINK couples (hetro & gay respectively), our adorably chatty 7 year old daughter and a new game of Cleudo.

I guess this is what middle age is all about.  And yes, I do think it’s just possible (however ambitious) that Laurie could to live to be 100 (His father is currently 79 and globe-trotting about constantly, on all manner of indulgent cruises through Alaska, Central America, Asia and the Mediterranean, and annually spending time in LA hanging out with the family of Flea from the Red Hot Chile Peppers.  When at home, he’s still off travelling all over the state, when he’s not in Queensland of course, or shopping at organic farmers markets or playing gulf or renovating houses – In a word he is ‘fit’).  I DO hope Laurie has his genes.

So,we’ve booked 3 nights accom in Hobart at Somerset on the Pier (a posh wharf apartment style number on the waterfront), then 3 nights at Freycinet Haven (a 4 bedroom holiday home elevated above Coles Bay, in the Wineglass Bay region), then finally 2 nights accom at Somerset at salamanca (perfect for tumbling out of the front door directly into the hum of the Saturday morning Salamanca markets).  All the accom pics look gorgeous, and I eyed off Salamanca on the Pier with close range interest last time I was in Hobart on business (for a deadly dull psychology conference), and told myself this was where we should stay if we visit on a family holiday.  The Henry Jones Art Hotel looks great too, and I’ve had dinner there, but as it’s all ambient lighting & sophistication, I figured the idea of an apartment on the pier is a much brighter option for a kid.  There’s only so much art Jemima can stomach – We drag her to enough gallery launches as she can stand, so Somerset on the Pier it is.

We land in Hobart a day before one couple and two days before the others, so we’re doing our own thing in the beginning – Taking a day trip to the Huon Valley south of Hobart.  I visited Cygnet and surrounds about 13 years ago, with a Uni friend, and thought it was stunning, so at last I’m able to show it to my loved ones.  I like the fact that it’s making a profile for itself on the Australian gourmet food circuit.  My recollections of the Huon from last time are very positive, though shrouded in cool misty fog.  It seemed wet a lot of the time.  I saw fresh oysters clinging to the rocks in the estuaries there, and the old apple barns made an impression on me as well.  It should be a very nice day drive in our hire car meandering from berry farm to apple orchard to quaint country bakery – that’s the spirit of the ‘sneak peak at the Huon Valley’ plan anyway.

And now to packing…  Well that starts tomorrow, but for now I have a list scratched on the back of a torn old energy bill (paid of course), and that’s a good start. Item 1, tick… Item 2, tick…

More from me later… 🙂

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Back in Ballarat Again…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 11, 2009

We’re now back safely in our little, old, gold-rush city of Ballarat in Victoria, where it’s hovvering between minus two degree and plus four degree celcius.  It’s a frosty, crispy, misty affair, and oh so different to the scorching forty degree days we were experiencing only a week ago, on the other side of the world.  It’s been an absolutely amazing trip, and a lot of stimuli to try to reconcile, and make sense of, in a relatively condensed period of time.  We really packed immense cultural diversity into this trip.  I have so many vivid, and intensely visual, memories that will stay with me forever, and help inspire me for a long time to come.  Taking time out like that is so great for achieving some clarity on various personal aspirations, and Laurie and I certainly got a lot out of it that we’ll bring to fruition over the next several years of our lives.  Our daughter says she’s coming with us next time, and we’ve assured her we are never leaving her again.  She leapt into my arms at the airport, in her pyjama’s, and looked wildly happy to do so.  She’s so thrilled to have us back again, of course, and we’re extremely happy to be back with her again too.  Her reading has progressed in leaps and bounds since we left – she can now read whole paragraphs, and sounds her words out really well.  Must have something to do with all those postcards we sent her…  No… Seriously, it’s thanks to my Mum & Dad’s diligent, daily help with her homework and her bed-time readings while we were away.  We are so incredibly fortunate to have their support.  That I know for sure!

Anyway, it’s back to the routine of daily work and life for us both from Monday onwards.  So, now that I’ve recovered from my insanely strong 3 day bout of jet-lag, and culled my travel photo collection down to 1,110 images (!), I realise it’s probably time to put this little travel blog to bed.  It’s only been a partial insight into what we’ve been up to, of course, because you simply can’t document everything.  Initially, I started writing this blog ‘thing’ for my parents and my daughter, but then found that my brother and his wife were interested, and that my husband’s boss was interested, and that various friends were interested, and so it seems that various people have read it, and hopefully got something enjoyable out of it.  It’s such a bizarre thing to write what is essentially ‘a dear diary’ that is open for anyone, anywhere in the world to read.  It’s just been my own subjective take on things, obviously.  As I really don’t know who has been reading it, I’ve never endeavoured to cater for any tastes or view-points, other than my own.   In any case, I hope it’s been of value to those who have read it, or at the very least interesting…  I know I’ve enjoyed doing it, and if I can come up with a new topic to write about in due course, that may possibly be of broad interest, I’ll be giving it a go again.  In any case, farewell for now, wishing you well, and thank you for reading!

p.s. Planning a Hong Kong trip in a few years time…  (interested in seeing beyond the airport terminal!)

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Arte Reina Sofia, The Crystal Palace & Other Observations…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 4, 2009

This morning we´re off to the contemporary art mecca here, the Reina Sofia, which will likely eat up several hours.  Picasso´s Guernica is the star piece there, but there´s all sorts of other jewells as well.  They have a feature exhibition on at the moment of the sculptural work of Juan Muñoz.  He makes strange and amusing people who are slightly shorter than real people, in dark grey fibreglass, and there is a whole room full of about 70 or more joyous looking Chinese men in Red China uniforms (they´re all sculptures) and you can wak in amongst them, and imagine you´re hanging out with Mao´s army during a uniquely happy moment.  Sounds simultaneously spooky and uplifting to me, so I must experience it.   After that we´re going to check out the Crystal Palace in Parque del Retiro, and then view the antique Railway Station, which is said to  be fabulously  evocative of a far grander period of train travel.   After that Laurie wants to go for a late luch back at our new favourite Huertas taverna, Maceiras, for seafood paella and cerveza.

Last night we had tapas ol fresco, as it was such a  warm night, and the food was outrageously good.  We had mussels in provencial sauce (the best I´ve ever tasted), grilled mushrooms with speck type ham & herbs, and honey glazed aubergine, which was the just the best.  We are also finding the quality of the wine here to be very good; both affordable and deliciously velvety.  I now fully understand why the Brits love Spain.  It is a sort of paradise, it seems to me.  The locals are quite irreverant and quirky, which I like.

One thing I meant to mention when in Paris is how gorgeous it is to find men playing the accordian in the plaza´s and in the metro.  It really adds an overt European charm to day-to-day life, and while I realise its a bit cheesy, I really like that they hold to these traditions.  I also really like the fact that they let real ´live´painters sit in the Prado, and create copies of their favourite master-pieces.  It´s amazing to watch these people work, and really good for the children to witness how its done.  Madrid is a really lovely life-style city.  I passed a jazz band playing ´Summer-time, and the living is easy´in the park yesterday, and I think that sums up the mood here perfectly.  Off to a photographic exhibition in Centro tonight, then for a stroll up into Chueca, the gay barrio of Madrid, with bars galore.  Window-shopping and sight-seeing is always fun.  Even from our little Juliet balcony, outside our 3rd floor hotel window, there are interesting things to see happening down below on the street.  If only we didn´t need to sleep!

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The Magic of Madrid: City of the Garden of Earthly Delights

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on June 3, 2009

Here in Madrid, Laurie and I have found a city that we love and claim as our type of city…  Madrid is a lovely size, with gorgeous grand green boulevards, beautiful architecture, happening lane-ways, very warm and sensual climate, and the people are so relaxed and sexy while barely being conscious of it.  The food is delicious here as well, but then we do love tapas, and especially authentic tapas, like we had today at an old socialist institution of a Galecian tapas bar.  The octopus in quality olive oil with paprika was the best thing I´ve ever tasted, and sincerely melted in your mouth.  The music everywhere we go is great too.  Just walking along the streets is such a delight, because no-one cares what you´re doing, and people are just doing their thing, it seems.  The pace of this city is just right, in our opinion.

We arrived yesterday at about 6pm, and from the minute we disembarked at the architecturally hip airport, and taxi´d into the city, we knew that we´d made the right choice in stopping off here, and that this will be a really enjoyable 4 nights.  It actually reminds us a lot of Melbourne, if you can imagine Melbourne being sultry, sexy and Spanish speaking, with Museo Jambon (Ham Museums!) every block or so.  Today we went to the Museo de Prado, and saw their lush collection of classic art, most of it from the 1400s to 1600s.  Goya, Velazquez, Rubens, Raphael, Caravaggio etcetera, and the prize for me was seeing Bosch´Garden of Earthly Delights. I feel somehow that although this complex and intricate painting was by a Dutch artist, it has found it´s home in the perfectly appropriate city for a work of this type.  We´ve seen numerous trannies, tattoo parlours, impressively clean looking street hookers, and Ramones style rockers that look like they´ve just stepped out of the Tardis, along with oh so civilised string quartets busking in the streets, homeless men asleep in door-ways with literature half read in their laps.  Tonight we´re going back into Huertas for tapas then on to a jazz bar.  We´d love to see flamenco but the price is steep, so we´ll do that next time we visit Spain (yes, always planning…).  We went to the tranquil Real Jardin Botanica today, and also saw a punkie girl photo exhibition. All very interesting.

Tomorrow, or Friday, we´re off to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Palace, and I´m running out of Euro coins now, so this blog is about to end abrubtly!

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The Marrakech Express & Sizzling in the Souks (Markets)

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 31, 2009

On Friday we boarded the train to Marrakech, which was a 7.5 hour affair, so hardly an express!  It felt a bit like a black’n’white Hitchcock film, for some reason; Islamic women in full Purdah, American Marketing Managers, French and Spanish tourists and us, set against a passing landscape of parched tones.  The most notable thing about passing city after town after village across Morocco is the proliferation of satellite dishes astride each building’s roof-top.  Each building, including those make-shift shelters in shanty towns, has at least half a dozen dishes crammed onto the roof-top.  As we travelled further south, the physical beauty of the land became quite similar to that of out-back Australia.

On arrival in Marrakech we were collected and transferred to a beautiful Riad hotel (a very secure 3 story house with an internal garden, and intense decorative tiling), just a few minutes from Jemaa el Fna, the great square.  In the evenings this enormous public space comes alive with snake-charmers, musicians, story-tellers, fire-eaters, henna hand-painters,outdoor restaurants, and eye-sizzling smoke fumes from the barbecued meats.  It’s a blaze of sounds, sights and smells.

On Saturday, we met our Marrakech guide, Mustafa, who was an absolute hoot; very candid and entertaining.  He took us to the run-down Bahia Palace, once a splendid mansion built in 1866 for a former slave who had risen to a position of importance in the government of Moulay Hassan. We explored the tranquil inner courtyards, fragrant with orange blossom, and the many salons and chambers.   We listened to stories of live was there; a man with 5 wives and 24 concubines, belly-dancers fattened with suet, young and old eunuchs, and musicians forcibly blinded to ensure their attention to the quality of sound…  It was very interesting, but needs a lot of money poured into the rejuvenation, curation & decoration of the space to really bring the past to life in a more compelling fashion.  We then walked to the Marrakech Museum, itself a former palace, and in far grander repair.  This space remains truly beautiful, and houses a fine collection of Morrocan art.  Largely though, and with few exceptions, I’ve noticed that while the Morroccans are very good indeed at creating exquisite furnishings and finishes, they then leave the splendour to decay, with no attention whatsoever to maintenance.  It’s such a shame, because everything starts of in finest form, and then it’s all down-hill there-after.  That said, though, they are at least relatively clean in terms of sweeping the streets each morning, and as far as developing nations go this is kind of like the top-shelf option.  The taste and wealth is very discreetly kept behind locked and guarded doors.  It’s an intriguing dichotomy.  And the French have a very big hand in the tourist economy, that is for sure. Marrakech really is a play-ground for the wealthy French.

Today we’re heading back to the souks, despite the intense afternoon heat, to ponder the treasure-trove of goodies within.  Thank Gosh we didn’t come here in Summer – it would be an intolerable furnace.  When all is said and done, there’s really not a great deal to do here other than walk around the streets of the old medina and browse the souks, and that’s really what it’s all about – just being here amid this exotic culture.  Tomorrow we’re going to see a garden owned by the late Yves Saint Laurent, and then spending the balance of the daywandering about and relaxing in readiness for our flight to Madrid on Tuesday.  Morocco has been both fascinating and fun, and I’m glad we came.  It’s a visual feast.

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On the road from Casablanca to Fez, Maroc.

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 26, 2009

We’ve just arrived in Fez, following a fascinating 2.5 days travelling through Casablanca, Rabat, Meknes and Volubilis.  We’re having a really amazing time; and have seen so many things already and we still have 7 more days here!  Having spent a month in Egypt many moons ago, it’s not entiurely exotic for me, but still it is a distinctly different time and place.

Casablanca is a white walled, blocky type of city beside the ocean, adorned with endless palm trees, but unfortunately it is merely an entry point for the nation’s commerce.  It is filthy, with few redeeming features to speak of other than the incredibly enormous and gracious Mosque of Hassan II.  This religious site is something to behold, and up to 25,000 worshippers can pray there at one time.  The architecture and the grandeur of it is stunning.  Following our breath-taking surveyance of this fine Mosque, we drove to Rabat, further North along the coast.  Rabat was a joy, and we saw an impressive Mausoleum, the original settlement of Rabat, and some fragrant gardens, and a walk through the Kasbah by the sea.  This was surprisingly like picture postcards of Santorini or Mykonos in Greece, I thought, with all the blue and white stucco painted walls, and we emerged to a sunny, elevated vista, overlooking the ocean and thousands of young people enjoying the fine weather.   In the late afternoon we wandered through the Rabat Souk, and bought a few sparkling trinkets for our daughter.  In the evening we went to another traditional Maroccan restaurant, and enjoyed tajine with some fellow travellers.

This morning we left Rabat, and drove for 2 hours to Meknes, where we toured an ancient underground prison, and lerant a lot about how lucky we are not to have lived in Morocco at that time.  After seeing various interesting sites, and also having a fabulous roof-top luncheon, of exquisite warm salads, we then drove on for an hour or so up into the mountains.

Volubilis was once a provincial Roman capital, a distant outpost of the empire, prominently sited along the edge of a high plateau in a gorgeous olive rich valley. Is was an impressive Roman site and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explored the many public buildings and at the House of Orpheus we saw fine mosaic floors intact.  It was really extraordinary, actually. We have been on the go non-stop all of yesterday and today, doing a great deal of walking.

So much more to report about everything, but Laurie and I are keen for an apricot, fig and lamb tajine now; so must dash!  It has been a very active day.

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Lunch at Le Jules Verne (within Le Tour Eiffel) and a cruise along the Seine

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 22, 2009

This morning Fred, Philippe, Laurie & I were all tremendously excited to get into Philippe’s Renault and zip over to Le Tour Eiffel for our very special lunch at the critically acclaimed and celebrated modern French cuisine restaurant, Le Jules Verne.  We skipped the 2 hour queue, and went straight to the restaurant’s exclusive elevator up 134 metres along the angled leg of the tower.  We were very lucky to be given a prized window table, and to be blessed with a clear, warm day.  The view over the Left Bank was to die for, and the cutlery, the plates, the glass-ware all innovative and highly modern.  We opted for a set menu, which is written up as 3 courses, but was in fact 5 courses (2 of which were dessert).  Each course was accompanied by a dedicated glass off wine or sauterne, appropriate to the texture and taste of the specific meal.  We were offered a delicious array of unique breads and croissant type creations to have with the main course, and it was seriously sublime.  Upon leaving in an advanced state of gentle euphoria, ‘ladies’ are presented with a gift of 3 madeleine’s (petite sponge cakes of delicate consistency).  Alaine Ducasse is the Managing Chef, and his expertise certainly are evident here in terms of creative direction and supreme quality and attention to detail.  It is true that it cost a week (or two) of an average salary to indulge in this way (and I heard a very urbane French Canadian man at the next table remark that they’d lapsed on a mortgage payment to be there, which is fair comment!), but it was well worth it, in every respect.  We will never forget this special day, and it was so lovely to be able to treat our friends’ who are getting married next Friday.  This gesture of an extraordinary luncheon within a global architectural icon, was our way of wishing them congratulations, a happy future together, and also to say thank-you for hosting us, and being so generous with their hospitality.  It is such a joy to be here in Paris, with these two absolutely wonderful people.  And it must be said that this whole dream-like experience is an exceptionally rare treat.

After lunch we floated down to the general look-out area, and took some happy snaps (some of which I will upload onto FaceBook).  We then seperated to glide off in different, but comparably dreamy, directions.  Laurie and I skipped another queue (which looked to be up to an hour long), and used our pre-paid tickets (courtest of Fred) to board the Bateaux Parisienne for an hour’s boat cruise up to near the Champs-Elysées, and back again.  Most relaxing, though in fact we felt so relaxed we could have quite easily fallen into the Seine and floated away blissfully…  But, we didn’t!

Next we wandered over to a little market street called Rue Cler, and observed old fashioned style butchers, fish stores, fruit and veg stores, chocolatiers, patissereies and florists’.  It was like the little red beetle children’s books I have from the 1960’s: so sweet.  We felt we had to buy something, however small, so when we found a huge, but completely unpretentious, cheese store, we ventured to purchase a round of Neufchàtel, fromage artisanal au lait cru, fabrique en Normandie.  We looked with some slight discomfort at cheeses with thick patches of furry mould, and while we have no doubt they may be delicious, it’s just a step too far for our Anglo sensibilities.  Anyway, we’re home now in Le Marais, and Philippe is cooking dinner for us: goat’s cheese with crusty bread, then fish for main with thick white asparagus.  All this walking we’ve done may well be erased by these gastronomic  ways of ours, but we are on vacation, and so ‘Voilà’!

Other observations of today include witnessing a thief, dressed in a suave fasion, running like hell on wheels from under the Le Tour Eiffel, almost crashing into Laurie on his way, and being pursued at a ferocious speed by 3 men dressed in black, with gold and hot pink Eifell Tower key rings jangling by the dozen from their belt rings, and off they all went, crashing through the otherwise genteel park of Ecole Militaire…  On the Met home we changed at Operà Station, and witnessed some almost frightening crush of humanity trying to squueze both in and out of the Met doors.  But all things considered, we’re finding the public transport here very civilised.  The mood on the Met is friendly, and relaxed, and people chat away comfortably.  Also the African French in the inner city are very cultivated and stylish, diverse in their physical beauty, and hold the integrity of the cultures’ from which they have emigrated.  It’s really nice to see.

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Parading Around Paris

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 20, 2009

Here we are in our friend Fred’s generously sized 4th floor 2 b.r. apartment in Le Marais, the 3rd arrondissement of Paris: the ancient city centre.  Fred kindly collected us from the Charles DeGaulle, and then spun all around central Paris, like a human pin-ball at the wheel, giving us a guided tour of all the land-marks, all at once.  The 6.5 hour flight really threw us, as you leave at 10pm NYC time and arrive at 11.30am Parisian time, but having had only about 2 or 3 hours sleep if you’re lucky (being bolt upright in cattle-class AA chairs: horrible).  Very disorientating.   Fred took us to a café for lunch oppositie the Square du Temple.  We were presented with enormous Croque du Monsieur de Salmon with Oueff, and thousands of ‘frittes’, each! 

After this Fred dispatched us at the Northern end of Rue Vielle du Temple (as he had to return to work) and we promptly proceeded to get completely and utterly lost for three hours amid the cobble-stoned maze of Le Marais.  We rambled hopelessly in the sultry sunshine, dazed with jet-lag, and incomprehension.  We happened upon an extraordinary exhibition called “Mary Goes Round” which was a female Tokyo inspired ensemble of LaChappelle-esque candy colours and giant fibre-glass ponies, with a strong fetish flavour. Very interesting we thought.  We saw so many curious things today, and traipsed unwittingly all around Le Marais, bumbling upon Le Boubourg (Pompidou Centre) and the Bastille and all sorts of mammothly significant  cultural & architectural icons.  It seems just as enchanting as when I was here 22 years ago (ouch!), but unfortunately more polluted with smog.  Still a delight to be here, but extremely expensive.  We will not be purchasing anything here, except food, vino and gallery entry.  I saw a meringe in a shop window today for AUD$7 – one meringue (very delicious, I am sure), but… it  was all of 7cm in diameter!  A can of coke is $7, and one glass of average wine in an average sort of bistro is $16 – You get the idea!  Anyway, we’re here to observe and enjoy; but not to spend more than we have to, with the exception of lunch at Le Jules Verne, in the Tour Eiffel, of course!!! :-0)

The Marais district is very arty indeed; galleries and boutiques everywhere, and many café’s.  It is a real mixture of the modern & old worlds, living comfortably together. Superb architecture, and very clean, and safe.   Gay, Chinese, and Jewish quarters all co-exist within it, along with BoBo’s, arts students, theatres and clubs.  I’ve learnt, much to my delight, that there is a social category for me here in French society: I am a BoBo.  This is the label for ‘Bohemian Bourgeousie’ – I can live with that quite happily, I feel!  It’s much more relaxing here than in NYC, and we are so lucky that Fred is accommodating us, and helping us with all sorts of inside info.  We’ve already learnt a great deal about the insanely generous social security system here – it’s bizarre.  A bunch of his friends are coming over this evening for Champagne and to inspect we ‘kangaroo’s’, but sadly we can not possibly go out with them for dinner and clubs afterwards, as we are seriously ‘pooped’.

I must mention that French key-boards are very confusing – all the letters are in different spots and the function keys are all different. It’s a very slow process updating my blog, as I keep having to go back and erase endless ‘q’s’… and inappropriate semi-colons, so forgive me in my presentation seems sloppier than usual while in Paris!

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Lower East Side Again, the MOMA & the MET

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 20, 2009

On Sunday, we ventured back to the Lower East Side by subway, to see The Tenement Museum and did a fascinating 90 minute walking tour, learning how new immigrants lived 135 or so years ago: not pretty.  However, the tour-guide was clear, knowledgeable and had strong impact, and we learnt a lot.  The part around Orchard & Allen Streets there is quite funky, with stunning gritty heritage street-scapes, and a handfull of really cool cafés.  Walked over to the New Museum after that for “The Next Generational: The Generation Younger Than Jesus.”  The space is amazing, and the purpose of the gallery is to be applauded for this particular exhibition – some interesting pieces, but mostly, I didn’t see much that was ‘new’. Its like yes, I get it: adolescent and early adult-hood angst, anomie and so on… same old stuff.  Nothing new about it at all.  But, still, its kind of sweet to see that the junior art world is still alive with Toyah Wilcox, Siouxie Sioux, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Warhol style creativity.   But it is simply not new!

On Monday we went to MOMA expecting it to be good.  We were excited and inspired by the first two floors (working down from the top), and feeling really energised by what we saw, but then it just kept going, and going, and it began to blow our minds to sawdust.  We have never, ever seen such a comprehensive collection of modern art in one gallery.  It was really too much, a complete over-load, but oh, what a gallery.  All the greats, and loads more to boot.  We would highly recommend the MOMA – it is unquestionqbly the best collection we have ever witnessed.

On Tuesday, our last day in NYC we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: NY’s pride and joy (justifiably) housing the largest and most comprehensive collection of all genres of art, in the English speaking world.  Sensibly, I elected just 3 wings to inspect: Modern, American and Medieval.  The Modern wing contained select Warhol, Pollack, Johns and so on.  This is an enormously gracefull building, with a stunning roof-top terrace with sensational views of Central Park, and a sprawling silver installation across the top.  Fabulous!

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