The Occasional Tales of Ailsa B du Bois

From Ballarat to the world beyond…

  • The Author

  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1 other follower

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

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!

Posted in Art, Autobiography, Cuisine, Culture, Travel | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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!

Posted in Art, Autobiography, Cuisine, Culture, Travel | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Autobiography, Culture, Travel | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Snails, Caves, Flora and Decoration in Northern Maroc

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 28, 2009

This morning we drove to a village 30k from Fez, and walked through a food market selling various things, most notably baskets and baskets and yet more baskets of live snails, all slithering hopelessly, with the fattest girth’s and the biggest shells I’ve ever seen.  After a stop for a strong café au lait at an outdoor café by a river in a fragrant garden, we drove to a mountain and went into some caves where poor Berber families live.  It was very cool in there, and smelt delightfully minty thanks to the Morrocan penchant for endless cups of extremely sweet black tea, with 3 or more sprigs of mint squished into each little glass.

Driving back to Fez, I observed yet again how rich and fertile this land is; so Mediterranean after-all.  There are endless orchards of olive trees across the land, and so much citrus: particularly orange, lemon and apricot.  Orange trees even decorate city streets.  Along the side of rural and city streets alike, there are beautiful Jacaranda trees everywhere, with their lavander flowers, and underneath these are endless Bouganvillia bushes and Oleander bushes, and so everything seems peppered with vibrant pink and purple.  There are also lots ond lots of little red flowers eveywhere, and on country roads lots of tall single stemmed white flowers, standing upright sometimes as high as two metres, with the white flowers as wide as saucers.  It is really a very beautiful landscape.  There are many grand boulevards in the nouvelle sections of the city of Fez, and more money being spent currently on further public infrastructure such as this.  It is a lovely city, and it is easy to appreciate why the Fessi people (as they call themselves) are so proud of their city. Culturally, this is a land of Arab and Berber people, with a surviving Jewish minority, but predominantly it is of course an Arab Muslim Kingdom.  It is fascinating, and we are learning a lot about Moroccan culture, or at least from a lay-person’s perspective it seems like a lot, yet obviously it is just the tiniest glimpse at the surface.

The intricately detailed mosaic tile work, the hand painting and the carving of wood and marble here is absolutely extraordinary, and everything is adorned with almost insane attention to detail.  The artisan work here is honestly the very finest I have seen anywhere in the world, and of course this is why I’ve wanted to come here for so long.  It is such a pleasure to see this sort of work displayed everywhere we go.  The tile work and wood work is so complex and multi-faceted, and the repetition and symmetry of symbolism and colour is truly striking.  There is also an obsession here with grand gate-ways and door-ways, so you could easily take endless pictures of just gates and arches to fill a coffee table book.  Also, the sandstone fortress walls encasing so many ancient Imperial and Medieval cities here are so romantic, in that very exotic fashion that so influences our child-hood understandings of the tales of the Arabian nights, and it is all real.  Morocco is a beautiful and richly coloured nation.

Posted in Culture, Travel | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Inside the funky, cool medina…

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 28, 2009

Yesterday we spent the majority of the day within the 16 (distinctively un-) square kilometres of the ancient medina in the oldest part of Fez.  Fez was settled in 808 A.D. and it really does show: there are 9,400 known streets within the medina, and it is a medieval maze of the purest surviving type.  These alley-ways are very narrow, and often covered or semi-covered with an ensemble of bric-o-brac wooden planks.  The walls that enclose each building within the medina tower up about 3 to 4 stories, at all sorts of irregular angles.  Everything is crumbling, and the pathways are cobbled and uneven with broken and dishevelled sections underfoot.   One must tread even more carefully than in a New York street, and putrid waste is often under-foot.  It is a step way back in time, to a genuinely medieval way of life that you rarely witness elsewhere; except maybe Cairo or Calcutta by memory, or possibly also Damascus, I’m told.

I could not tell you how many thousands of people live their lives in there, but I can report that every little merchant shop is 2 metres-wide and maybe 2.5 metres deep, and they go on and on beyond the stretch of imagination, each competing for the surely finite local consumer dhurum.  There are an enormous range of goods and services within the medina; whole alleys of the most ornately embroidered and glittering wedding jalaba’s, and huge glitzy wedding chariots and oversized thrones for the married couple, made of tin, it seemed to me, but covered in the sparkliest of adornments.

The Moroccans are oustanding artisans and craftspeople, and countless people toil by hand on the most detailed of repetitive tasks: some highly skilled, and others not so skilled.  We observed carpet makers, tanners (sulpher and natural dye), silk threaders, ceramacists, tailors, barbers, jewellers, goldsmiths, tile makers,copper-smiths, dentists (eek…),  sweet-makers, cherry sellers, nougat-makers, nut and spice sellers, fish-mongers with their unrefridgerated seafood crawling with flies, chicken and pidgeon breeders, butchers with whole marinated raw ram’s heads hanging from their stalls, and so on and so on…  Merchants, vendors, tradespeople, and the poor, all sênd their lives in this congested environment, scratching a living together.

As you trudge through the medina, up sloped paths and around sudden corners and down steps in the dark, and momentarily out into a shot of blinding sunshine, and back into the yellowed half light again, one must be ready at any moment to stick quickly against the cold, dank, side walls to avoid the poor, wretched mule or donkey that charges past, wobbling with a body loaded with potatoes, or carting a large metal carriage of bags of rice or cous-cous, or one must make way for the grisly motor-bike laden with bags of fresh mint, or tobacco or whatever else they may be carrying along somewhere in a great hurry, to service someone.  And be careful not to step on an old one eyed cat, or a litter of adolescent kittens, that slink about, keeping the potential rat problem under wraps.  Elderly Berber women with their facial and hand tattoos indicating tribal affiliation and marital status sit cross-legged under foot, peeling vegetables or stringing beans,  and all in all this is a very fascinating place to visit.  The Arabic music plays and the aroma’s of all varieties, add to the experience.  So many people living their lives inside the medina, down darkened alley’s and behind grand closed wood and metal gates that are often over 1,000 years old.

Gorgeous, dusty looking children run past you constanatly, some saying ‘Bonjor Madame’ as French is taught here as the second language fro, Grade ” onward.  Blind men beg of course, and some entertain in traditional Berber dress, with swirling bells on their lttle hats, hoping for baksheesh.  Many women of the veil wear their scarf over their face often to protect themselves from the dust it seems to me, as many carts clatter past with loose plaster and concrete dust aboard, and you never know what you might inhale next.  Most of the homes here do not have internal water, so women and children collect water from the communal pumps.  You could get seriously lost in the medina, and frankly anything could happen to you.

I could type on for hours about the medina, but this tri-lingual key-board is rather challenging: part French, Arabic and English in lay-out and conventions – It’s a bit of a brain-twister for me.  And so, I conclude that the funky, cool medina is a sincerely fascinating place to visit, and everyone should do so, at some point, to get things into perspective!

Posted in Culture, Travel | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Autobiography, Culture, Travel | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Autobiography, Cuisine, Culture, Travel | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

A Sunny Day in Le Marais

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 21, 2009

We had a beautiful afternoon today, strolling throughout Le Marais; saw many ancient buildings of significance,  ate pistachio macaroons, spied upon the precincts of the very rich, the Palace Royal, and saw the latest La Chapelle photography exhibition at Le Museo de Money.  We then checked out the quirky items at Collette, a cool urban design goods store.  Caught the very shiny clean and hip Met up to Isle de la Cite, came back up to earth beside the Seine, and crossed over onto the Left Bank.  Sauntered over to the Notre Dame, went for a caramel with salt sherbet (in a petite waffle cone), then stopped for une càfe at a bar, and then strolled happily back through the discreet gay districts of Paris, with our friends’ Fred & Philippe.

Le Marais is labarynth of cobble stoned lane-ways, and every crevice is enchanting.  The apartment block we are staying in was built in 1788, and the buildings on our rue are all built at slightly, but noticably, different angles.

At  8ish 5 of  Fred’s friends came over, opened exquisite Champagne, and then we all grazed on fois de gras (again) and paté, dried pork sausage and cherries.  Great people and great conversation.  Portugese French, Irish French, Belgium French, Normandy French, French New Yorker and an authentic Parisian French woman – a fabulously cosmopolitan group; each with their own unique life story and perspective. Eventually we all left for dinner together at a nearby bistro, with excellent ambience.  We do like it here.  It is all so supremely stylish, and everyone speaks and dresses well.

Posted in Culture, Travel | Leave a Comment »

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!

Posted in Autobiography, Culture, Travel | Leave a Comment »

The Guggenheim, The Whitney & Hell’s Kitchen

Posted by Ailsa B du Bois on May 17, 2009

What a lovely day we had – grabbed a cab (as they are very cheap here) to the Solomon Guggenheim (an art gallery to die for) and saw a bit of the permanent collection, which was out-standing.  However, what was really breath-taking was the space itself of course.  This is the iconic, bright white, circular 1959 gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (one of my most favourite modernist achitects’, and the man who most inspired Australia’s Harry Seidler).  Incredibly, we lucked in on the 50 year anniversary retrospective of Wrights’ work, built and unbuilt (sketches, plans, elevations, models, film, the lot!).  This was an absolute feast for an architectural freak, such as myself.  My Grand-father was a builder, and so as a 7 year old I spent many a day studying 1960s architectural magazines, which were all highly modernist and ‘futuristic’ at the time.  I even attempted my own innovative triangular floor-plans, but nothing like Wright’s!  His is the genius; no question!  Following a glorious 3 hours at the Guggenheim, we lunched in the cafe there, on tuna and caper brioche, which was mouth-watering, then popped over to Central Park to have a peek at the most familiar, but still unreal, vista across the Jacquie O Reservoir to the condo’s on the Upper West Side.  We then taxi’d to The Whitney, which really knocked our socks off.  The merits of its giant box like quality only become truly apparent from the inside.  We saw some really great stuff; amazing works by several highly accomplished contemporary artists; a lot of it political in one way or another.  This gallery was a real surprise to me; much better than I was anticipating.  After 1.5 hours there, we wandered through Central Park, past the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party monument, the toy boats on the Conservatorty Water, and past the Children’s Zoo.

After a brief interlude back in our ship’s cabin like room (it’s only 3.5 x 3.5), we noticed a street fair happening outside, 10 floor’s down, so ventured out again.  Wow!  This was a lovely surprise experince, that we could never have found out about from any guide book.  We walked ultra slowly down through 9 blocks into the heart of Hell’s Kitchen, among an endless ocean of locals, enjoying roasted corn on the cob, fried onion flowers, Italian sausage, curly fries, epinada’s, caramel corn, deep fried Oreo’s and gosh only knows what else.  The whole of 8th Street looking down was populated by the multicultural colours, sights and sounds of NYC inhabitants.  There was a massive range of side-stalls with games for kids, and gold-fish for sale, and even 600 thread count Egyptian cotton bed linen for $20 (so naturally we felt compelled to buy a pack).  The whole street fair thing went for about 15 or more blocks I’d guess.  So many people.

In the evening we caught up with a woman I work with, who’s just moved to Chelsea, from Sydney, and we had a really lovely evening of cocktails and tuna sashimi, tempura oysters, chicken tepinyaki and so on.  It was great to spend time with her.  Came back to the Patio Bar here afterwards, at the Hudson, among the vined walls, and thought about how mind-blowingly wonderful this city is to visit.  We are having a spectacular time.

Posted in Art, Autobiography, Culture, Travel | Leave a Comment »