Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Grande Tour

The sea sparkled with thousands of diamonds set on cobalt fading to sapphire. Jagged dessert sand colored rocks lined the shores where we picked our way along looking for a place to soak in the Adriatic sun. While the thought of laying out on rocks all day with nothing but a sarong seemed uninviting and definitely not our idea of relaxing into the sand as your toes dig in, the rocks were actually quite wonderful. You could find a rock shaped as a seat, one on a slight incline like a lounge chair or one where the sea constantly sprayed over you to keep you fresh and cool. Where were we? The most beautiful place I had ever been and where a month later I am longing to go back-Rovinj, Croatia.

Croatia had been on the top of my list whenever anyone asked the "where do you want to visit while you are in Europe" question. Why? Well, first of all, I had heard that it had one of the most beautiful coastlines in Europe. A coast line where Roman nobility used to escape from Italy. Why wouldn't anyone want to go to a place where the Italians escaped to? Second, I hadn't heard of hardly anyone who had been there. And selfishly I wanted to discover a place. (In fact, to be honest, I am still rather selfish about Croatia and don't want to share it, maybe I should rewrite this and make it sound miserable...) My good friend Heidi was to be my fellow adventurer and we researched and researched getting to Croatia. Finally, we settled on a plan. We would head to the northern, less popular, part, Istria. Istria is just across the Adriatic sea from Venice. I created a wish list of things to see in Rovinj and Istria from rock climbing, going to art walks, wine tasting and truffle hunting. Of course, I didn't get to do all those things but what we did do did not disappoint.

The second we walked into the center of Rovinj, with bright colored housed lining the sea-literally right up against the sea and sail boats, fishing boats and yachts lining the tiny harbor. With its slippery, dangerous cobblestones winding up to St Euphemia church crowning the village I knew I had finally arrived in the Europe I had dreamed of. The pace of life, the colors, the smells, the sound of southern European and eastern European languages mingling together and very, very little English fulfilled all my heart desired in seeking a European immersion.

Heidi and I took advantage of our time in Croatia, sunbathing, swimming in the sea so filled with salt that when you laid on your back with your arms out and face full up to the sun you needed only the tiniest flick of the wrist or foot to stay afloat, and if it wasn't for the fear of drifting out to sea one could easily fall asleep. We rode bikes through Himalayan Cedars along the coast, got caught in numerous thunderstorms, made friends with the restaurant owner over grappa, missed boats and had every experience two care free, adventurous girls could have. It was a trip we both know we will be talking about in our 80s.

After a week in Croatia we sadly crossed the sea by ferry boat. After Croatia, Venice and Verona held no charms for me. I hate to say it, I know I sound spoiled and I fully admit I am-but I was not quite as impressed as before by cathedrals and I was more annoyed than ever by throngs of tourists. Fortunately, we had booked our hotel on Lido Venice an island and what may as well have been a world away. Here we did dig our toes into the sand and swam along on the other side of the magical Adriatic. The high point of Verona (the home of Romeo and Juliet) was my first opera on the sun-warmed steps of the ancient arena. Although getting lost, eating peches with espresso and then pounding on the side of a bus to get it to stop for us was up there too.

Before we knew it, we were off the Heidi's European home, Barcelona. I loved how metropolitan and forward thinking this city was. I was truly inspired by the architecture of Gaudi. Fortunately, here too, we took in some beach time and tasted the sun and salt of the Mediterranean.

Then back to Paris. Where Heidi and I explored some parts I had yet to experience and Heidi did not once see a tourist-we visiting the Parisien's Paris.

I think its clear from this entry how truly inspiring and beautiful Croatia was. I really can't wait to go back and visit this precious discovery and I am so happy it fulfilled our dreams.

I come home in two weeks and am planning two more blog entries. I look forward to seeing you all!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just to let you know I am Alive...

Hello beautiful people. This will be remarkably short. I haven't posted because I have been doing a mad dash around Europe before I return to the states September 30th. Which, as much as I long to see friends and family, I am incredibly sad to leave this beautiful land.

Anyways, things to come: my mad dash has been 5 days in London, 7 days in Rovinj, Croatia, 2 days in Verona, 2 days in Venice (where I am writing from), 3 days in Barcelona and back to gay old Paris.

Obviously, there will be a lot to share, I don't even think it will all fit!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Fete de la Musique (For Emily)

I climb out of the Odeon metro stop and instantly hear "Smells like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana covered by a cute 16-18ish boy band-so cute, wearing plaid flannel and a Nirvana T-shirt. After listening for a couple minutes I cross over to my favorite allee (Cour de Commerce) with its bright multicolored twinkle lights strung over cobble stones. Typically empty, it is now crowded with outdoor seating and a band playing "I Can't get no Satisfaction." I take a right onto Rue de St Andre des Arts and I pass a few more bands doing more covers of American songs when I happily stumble across my favorite band of the night, Otway Ross. This three piece indie rock band played original work and were really good. Even the habitually staunch Frenchies couldn't help bopping along to funky tunes, one including a song about not thinking he's creepy if he smiles, just trying to be sweet. The lead singer looked as if he had been plucked straight out of California. Sandy hair, short sleeved plaid button down paired with jeans and flip flops. The drummer in the middle with sunglasses perched on his head throws my American group theory when he is called Seamus and the bass player, definetly French with his petite build, slicked hair and cigarette dangling from his lips. (I looked the band up today, and they are based in France, but the lead singer spoke very bad French, so expats perhaps?) After bopping along till the end of their set I head towards St Michelle, hearing everything from rap to steel drum groups.

Turning left at the Seine, I make my way towards the Louvre hoping to culture it up with some opera or orchestra. A reggae group plays in front of the Eglise St Germain l'Auxerrios at the far east end of the Louvre. I cross Rue de Rivoli to the Comedie Française thinking I am sure to meet with an orchestra in the square-none. But in between the square and the Grand Palais a choir takes advantage of the acoustics in the alcove.

Back to the Louvre, where sadly, I find nothing! In front of Arts Decoratifs an exclusive looking group dance with cocktails in their hands to unimaginitive DJing under purple lights-so right bank.

Back to the left bank. I cross over in front of the Musée D'Orsay and walk towards Solferino. I hear what sounds like wannabe old school jazz (think Amy Winehouse) which turns into more thumping. A night club like atmosphere has taken over the street, where at least this time there are real performers. Being on my own and not fond of being picked up I push my way through the cigarette smelling (typical) and rose scented (oh the parisiennes love of parfume) crowd.

I turn left onto St Germain, I am really hoping to hear some jazz! I come across a Latin American group beautifully staged in a courtyard with incredible light installations, but not my type of music. Arriving at St Germain des Près and the oh so famous Café Flores and Café Duex Magots, where this a boy of about 10 playing his electric guitar to White Stripes (mind you, its about 1130 at this time). He proudly competes with a much larger production in front of the church across the square.

I take a seat at café Bonaparte to soak in the last bit of atmosphere and get a petite crème before I have to catch the last train out of Paris. Despite being nearly midnight and Monday, Paris looks like 3pm on a Saturday afternoon. There is a definite fete atmosphere and it feels more like a welcome to summer than a music celebration. While observing the fashion and attitudes of the super cool St Germainites, I ponder the lack of ability of the French in delivering good new music. (Disclaimer-I am aware of exceptions, Madeline Peyroux and Pheonix to name a couple- I am just talking stereo types). But as far as music goes, especially modern music, the French do not have the edge. One thing I have observed about the French is they have sought the best- quality, procedure and structure-and in so many ways have it right and nothing can touch the essence that is French. But with this well deserved superiority comes an acute inability to think outside the box and those who try lack originality and often miss the mark. Often it is a cheap and unimaginitive imitation and I am sorry to say feels a bit euro trashy. Sadly, some even try to mess with what is already perfection within itself - why accompany Le Vie en Rose on an accordian with a boom box!?!

But over all, I really enjoyed Fete de la Musique for the music, the atmosphere, the extremely late sunset behind the Eiffel Tower as well as pondering all that is French. (PS I'm sure what was really lacking, was not taste, but good friends! Love you and miss you all.)

Friday, June 4, 2010


Two weeks ago I expanded my exploritory territory with a quick trip to Itlay. Hopefully, it is the start of further treks. I love, love, LOVE Italy. The language is so beautiful, the people are so friendly and there is plenty of good food, wine and sunshine.

Carly and I stayed in an apartment in the Trastevere quarter of Rome. Trastevere is characterized by superabundant vines scenting the air with their sweet jasmine and creeping up buildings painted faded shades of gold, copper, pink, and honey yellow that deepen as the sun rises then begins to set. Many of the streets are too small to drive down and the bold car that attempts this feat must toot his horn in the politest way possible in order to clear pedestrians from his path.

Saturday commenced in traditional European fashion-at the market. Thanks to Carly's adeptness in the Italian language (after gaining a petit mastery of French I am definitely moving on to Italian-so musical) we quickly make friends with the vendor selling grapes the size of kiwis, beautiful juicy tomatoes, salad, oranges and so on. Really I don't know why we make candy - nothing beats Jehovah's own sweet concoctions. After procuring our ripe bounty, and marriage proposals, we made our way to the cheese vendor. Carly loved that the people continued to speak Italian to her, not only to sharpen her skills but to experience a warm Italian welcome and encouragement. Of course, we obtained our buffalo mozarella and olives and could barely contain our excitement for dinner time.

After this essential shopping we made our way up the Tiber toward the Vatican and our goal: the Sistine Chapel. Afer baking in the sun for over an hour and winding our way through the cathedral, we rested our feet at a bench as we gazed up at the art of Michealangelo. Honestly, you are in the presence of genius and greatness when seeing this art. Even the throngs of tourists and the constant shushing of the guards could not detract from the brilliance of this masterpiece. The dome is adorned with nine biblical scenes, along the sides of the walls are the prophets and below these tapestries of scenes from Jesus ministry. Behind the alter is "The Last Judgement." What was the most amazing to me was the depth of the figures, they really looked liked three dimensional sculptures and not flat paintings, giving tribute the Michelangelo's superior talent in sculpting. I was also impressed with how he interpreted biblical stories. It is amazing to think of what it will be like to talk to many of the artists who obviously meditated on these accounts and were able to bring them to life with so much emotion.

On our last night, of course Carly and I had to have a good Italian dinner. We decided on a small tratorria in the Trastevere with three little tables on the street providing a prime people watching spot. Our waiter promptly sat himself down in the third chair at our table and did not let us down in our expectations of real over the top flattery. After letting us know that he would choose our wine (of which later in the night he helped himself to a glass of) he commenced in choosing our cheese, and our main courses. He was right in letting us know that we do not know he knows what is best. I was worried that the food would not live up to its hype and I was so wrong. All of the flavors were so light and complimentary, nothing overpowered. Our fiesty waiter entertained us all night long, despite being told off by his superior. At one point he stole a guitar off a couple street musicians and composed a song right there with which to serenade us. Allthough the words consisted mainly of la, la, la and were peppered with amora, it entertained and sufficiently embarassed us. Of course after a bit the rest of the group joined in creating a little italian jam session. And so ended our time in Italy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Wine Country II

Disclaimer: I didn't do this post soon enough and have had other remarkable amazing things happen since, so it may not sound as awesome as it truly was.

While in Bergerac I was able to spend one beautiful day in Bordeaux. Marc's dad Michelle took me to the train station early in the morning and I spent the hour-long train ride looking at vineyard after vineyard in the clear morning sun. Everywhere was a bower of lilac, hyacinth and "boule de neige." In the ten days we were in Dordogne and Bordeaux the vines went from small looped branches to bright green leaves with the promise of grapes soon to come.

Like Paris, London and Rome, Bordeaux is situated on a river (la Garonne) which makes a C curve through the city. My first impression was formed as I walked from the station toward some cathedral spires dotting the skyline. The streets were dirty, dark and I was a bit worried. I made my way past the Saint Michelle cathedral (the spires I initially saw) where there was a gypsy market. People spread clothes out on mats, selling for 1€ a peice, but probably dug out of someones garbage bin. You could also find old discarded furniture, appliances, books and CDs. Not really my type of market. Although I was intrigued by the people. Very dark skinned and weather beaten, leather like. I would have loved to learn more about them, but alas my language and courage failed me (courage to the point that I wouldn't even take out my camera to snap a couple pictures, which I thoroughly regret). From this quarter narrow winding streets spread out like spokes on a wheel, all curving away and concealing the destination. I started off down one hoping it would lead toward the river.

Out from the dark streets from the St Michelle quarter and onto the Quai Richeleu where an entirely different atmosphere greeted me. Beautiful, tan people jogging along the boardwalk, fountains and buildings influenced by Haussmann architecture. In american terms if Paris is New York, Bordeaux was Palm Beach. It had its own mini Champs Elysees and as already stated the newer parts felt a bit more Parisian. But the people were tan and not thin from smoking instead of eating, thin from drinking wine instead of eating then going out for a run. Instead of wearing black, the women wore bright colored dresses with wide rimmed hats and the men wore linen.

In this quarter I stumbled into my type of market. About a mile and a half of antique booths spread out before me. I once heard the antique markets of Paris described as Paris' attic and this was Bordeaux attic. Each booth set up its furniture as if it was a home and it was like walking through home after home. At lunch time the vendors sat at the tables in each booth and ate cheese, bread, ham and drank wine-I could not have thought of a better way to sell furniture. There were also antique linens bleached by the sun, funky clothes and jewlery and my treasure: a pair of '68 Lanvin sunglasses.

My favorite place we visited was St Emilion. Deep in the vineyards of Bordeaux this beautifully preserved midevil town has an incredible view of vineyards spread over rolling hills from a cathedral rising out of a natural mountainside. That was another thing I loved about the ancient architecture. The buildings seem to be extensions of the rock masses they are built out of. They are not just plopped somewhere like Dorothy's house thrown out of a tornado. So much planning and centuries of building make these strutures formidable, cold and breathtaking. Stone steps are smoothed and grooved by generations of footsteps.

After taking in the view, we had lunch at a bouille-bouille. Here you eat whatever is served for the day. Unlabled bottles of wine are poured freely from the vineyards that the fellow patrons have just come in from working. Little attention is given to decoration (we were sitting at a plastic table on plastic chairs). The central room is reserved for locals, each of whom sits in the same place every day.

More adventures coming soon!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Wine Country

I spent the last 10 days in the south of France in a town called Bergerac. It was so beautiful and peaceful. The home we stayed in was built in the 17th century. The walls and floors were stone with the wooden beams in the ceilings and walls exposed. French doors from everyroom opened onto a terrace. We set up our table there and staged some of the most beautiful and simple days I have ever experienced.

Our days started around between 8 and 9 am. Marc would head off to the boulangerie and get fresh bread for the day as well as pain au chocolate and croissants. Marc's mom had the house fully stocked with perserves of figs, from a tree in her back yard as well as prunes. (I also had Pruneax for the first time-prunes in a liquer, sooo good). Breakfast would leisurely pass and then off we were to a local market. When we came home we would start lunch. After an hour of preperation, while we sipped on an aparetif (of martini or beer) we would sit down to another leisurely lunch. Afterwich, the children are sent off to bed, and Marc, Helen and I rested on lounge chairs drinking coffee or tea and reading or studying. Then the kids are up and its time for goûter (a small meal at four or five that is meant to hold you over to dinner) and after the family would go for a walk while I went for a run.

And how I loved my runs. Through vineyards and vales where the french doors of the country homes were opened invitingly and revealing tables set with hydreangeas and lilacs, past farms where sheep grazed and chickens waddled out onto the lanes. All of the homes have names not addresses, the crickets competed with my ipod and with every deep breath my lungs were filled with the heavy sent of lilacs, hydrangeas and chestnut.

Back home it would be time to prepare dinner, once again sipping on an aperitif (it makes preperation so wonderful and gives those who are waiting something to taste). The kids would go off to bed and we would have a nice long french dinner on the terrace watching the sun set and chatting (in french) until about 11.

Anyways, it was a lovely time and everything was simple and leisurely. There will be more to come on this trip-Bordeaux, St Emillion (I can't wait to show you pictures!)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Picqu-niques and Tickets

This past weekend I experienced my first ever French picque-nicque/BBQ. The week preceeding had been one with madness and mayhem. Helen had her exams-a week long process of intense 7 hour testing on civilization, literature and linguistics and why an au-pair has been needed. Its hard to explain but so much expectation had been winding up to this particular week. So it finally arrived and with it arrived Charlie and Alistair getting sick, 2 out of 3 of the cars breaking down and winding up with Marc giving the Special talk on Sunday. I am sure you can imagine the tension. But as all things are with the Dubarry's handled very well. And to triumph Helen and Marc decided to invite some publishers over after the talk for a BBQ.

The Friday before Marc went to the National Bergerie, where one can order meat before animal has been killed and get cheese that was just made that day. The day of the picque-nicque it took four of us to get all the dishes prepared for eight adults and three children. Now I am going to tell you what we ate, but I feel that it may be a bit pointless becuase I know what images my American-bred brain conjures up when hearing of these dishes; let me assure you they are not at all the same as in America. For our aperitif, we started off with champagne and olives. Then had coleslaw-trust me its yummy!; pasta on a bed of spinach; roquette with chickpeas and sundried tomatoes; quiche; shrimp; and sausage. Followed by chevre and brie and finished with a pear and chocolate tart and coffee. I really hope to make this for some of you when I come home, but I know that even then it will not compare with knowing how close we live to where the food and wine originates. As well as the beauty of the day.

Now for the second portion of my post. I have had the unpleasant experience of having to deal with a 10€ parking fine. I got it last month and have to get it taken care of this week before we head to the south of France for a holiday. Unfortunately, this puts me in a situation where I have to deal with French beauracracy which is most unpleasant! To pay the fines one must go to a local tabac (where you can also get a café, cigarettes, magazines and post card as well as any tarif that must be paid to the governement). I went to one last week and stumbled through asking for what I needed and was informed that they didn't have any. I was thinking that perhaps tabacs don't carry this particular "timbre" and that there is some unknown tabac type that does. So today I bicycled my way to Ramboulliet (one of the cars is still broke down) and tried another tabac. Again, I was told that they don't have this "timbre." So I am peddling my way through the narrow, hilly cobblestone streets which months ago I thrilled at driving through, now let me tell you bicycling is an entirely different experience if not bordering on an extreme sport. I look at building fronts and read signs and hope that I will stumble across the magical place where I can spend 10€ and not have any run ins with the law. Finally, I end up at my school hoping I can find a friendly face to help out.

First, I have to explain just how the French are. They make things appear easy and accessible until you must try to accomplish a particular task. Their logic is circular and you must prove your worth of obtaining any knowledge of how the beauracracies work by either asking the right question-they will not divulge information freely, or being tenacious and nagging enough that they just want to get rid of you. Unfortunately, both require a rather adept use of the language, of which I am far from.

Even at my school, where most of the professors are of French nationality, which they proved by their unwillingness to help. But they too were not sure where to get this mysterious timbre. Fortunately, an American professor (from North Dakota) was ready to rally to my cause ("I have nothing better to do and I hate the beauracratic tape they make us deal with). Together we bicycled to yet another tabac where he had if not the right question, enough mastery of French to make himself a pest and found out that the tabacs are out of the timbres, they get delivered tomorrow (Tuesday) and my best chance of getting one is getting to the nearest tabac tomorrow before they run out! So tomorrow I will take another stab at it, and if I fail I will have to tell Marc and Helen that I have a ticket, ask them to send a check and confess my mistake! In the works of the French "byahch!"

P.S. Two days later three tabacs later and an early am bikeride and I was successful! Haha, take that French bueracracy!