Archive for May, 2011

What to Pack

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

I am taking a break mid-pack. Tomorrow Tom and I head off on a three-week travel adventure and I am already stuck. What does one pack when spending one week in Holland (current forecast temperature range 14-20 degrees with rain later in the week), one week in Germany (17-22 degrees but sunny), and one week in Crete (22-25 degrees with lots of sun)? The temperatures may not sound that significantly varied but as soon as you add sunshine, cloud, rain, wind etc it can make a big difference. Currently there is going to be at least one 14 degree day in Holland which will require a jacket but is worth taking a jacket for just one coolish day? OH THE CALAMITY! Looks like I will be packing my entire wardrobe. The next question is should I take boots? Probably not… I think I will survive without them. But what if a sudden cold spell hits Holland (which is highly likely considering the weather patterns that country tends to have) and I am left freezing without thigh-protecting shoes? This is all too hard. I think I need to go for a walk to some shops and eat a crepe. I won’t be able to have one for three whole weeks and that could cause grave mental distress. We can’t allow this.

Anyway, I’m not sure when I will next have internet access so it may be a while until my next entry. In Holland we will be staying in a little fishing village with my parents while my Dad makes a wooden surfboard. There’ll be plenty of poffetjes (spelling), herring (for Tom), and bike riding. Then it is Koblenz in Germany with Tom’s parents where we will most likely visit a few castles. The pièce de résistance is Crete where I get to go swimming (FINALLY!) in glorious blue waters, eat delicious Greek food and ride around on the back of a scooter. I am beyond excited. Bring on the fun times.

A Wonderful Discovery

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

I just had one of those ‘wow’ moments where something truly brilliant springs into your life out of no where. I was looking up photos of William and Kate’s wedding cake which took me to a French website that talks about make up and styling. This was already brilliant in itself, but in the side column was an ad for a website called… wait for it… Jessicurl. A girl called Jessica has set up a website providing solutions and support for those with curly hair issues. The name is genius – never before have I seen my name morphed with such grace. I think you should all pay Jessicurl a visit because apparently “we have the right to remain curly.”

Jessicurl

Jessicurl – Love your curls

And the Arrogant Frenchman Award Goes to…

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

… the over confident waiter who destroyed a perfectly nice evening at Hotel du Nord last night! Congratulations!

Congratulations

Not.

It was Harald and Heather’s (Tom’s parents) last night in Paris and they treated us to dinner at Hotel du Nord. Previous visits to this restaurant had proven positive and I spent the day looking forward to my meal. The first disappointment was the discovery that they have recently changed their menu so everything I had been planning on eating was no longer available. However, it is always good to try something new so I got over this quickly enough.

We were served by a friendly and efficient girl who took our orders and we waited with anticipation for our meals to arrive. My dinner arrived first, delivered by a guy who has been at the restaurant every time we’ve been there and who has a generally grumpy disposition. As he handed me my plate, he said something to me in French which I didn’t quite get the first time so I asked him to repeat himself. And so he said exactly the same thing again, which I understood to be, “There aren’t any other dishes ready.” to which I looked surprised and said “Ok.” and he walked away.

And so I waited for a few minutes for everyone else’s food to arrive but it didn’t and so I started eating to avoid my food getting cold. And I ate. And ate. I had about a fifth of my food left on my plate when the original waitress looked at our table and noticed that I was the only one with food. She frowned, we said, “Where’s the rest of the food?” and she went off to the kitchen to look for it. She returned to apologise and say that it was on its way (so it hadn’t been cooked yet), and I finished my meal. And then he appeared. Monsieur Grumpy came over to the table with a disapproving look on his face and said to me (in French), “Do you speak French?” to which I responded with “Oui.” He then proceeded to tell me that when he had brought me my meal he had asked me whether the dish had been ordered “separatement” (separately) and therefore it was my fault that no one else had their meal. This was said in a very accusatory tone and I sat dumbfounded as I was told that it was my fault that their communication systems between waiters and kitchen had clearly broken down. Of course, less than perfect French speaking skills failed me and I sat saying “Errr…” and shaking my head as he screwed up his nose at me and sauntered off.

I don’t think I have ever been so blatantly blamed for something that was out of my control in such a public venue before. It took me by surprise and my frustration and being unable to explain myself resulted in me getting over emotional and then came the tears. This, of course, led to outrage from Tom who then called the guy over and started pointing at the whimpering girl and trying his best to tell the guy off in French and English. The waiter just shrugged and made fun of Tom’s attempted at French and walked off again. Harald made the the final call saying “Ein arsch” potentially slightly too loudly. Anyway, the NICE waitress tried her best to calm the situation and gave us free dessert (hooray!) but the waiter seriously needed to be taught a lesson in what-not-to-do-to-your-clients. He could have just given me a dirty look and mumbled under his breath how annoying foreigners are, but he didn’t need to come and tell me it was my fault when 1. it wasn’t and 2. he never asked me if the dish had been ordered separately. One thing about listening to second languages is that you listen very careful to each word that is said in the sentence and he DID NOT say ‘separately’.

Anyway, Tom came home and wrote scathing comments about the waiter on La Fourchette. We all agreed that the food was great and the waitress who actually served us was lovely so other than the ‘arse’ we had a good time. Just a pity about arrogant waiters, I guess.

Important Stuff

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

I often feel bad about not keeping more up to date with the latest news in Perth and so while eating my lunch I have just scanned the West Australian newspaper website to see what is happening. All I learnt was that there was a budget release and in England a man tried to take a pony on a train. I am really hoping someone can explain to me why a man taking a pony on a train is the fifth most view story on The West website. He didn’t even get it onto the train because the train officials said no. Where is the story?! At least I don’t feel so bad about not keeping up with the news. There clearly isn’t any.

Discovering Dali

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

Yesterday while wandering through Montmartre, we went into the Dali gallery which houses a collection of Dali’s work. There aren’t any particularly exciting works, but it is a nice showcase of his less well known pieces. I quite enjoy his view on life although I suspect he would have been a bit of a challenge to work with. I did enjoy his take on the Old and New Testaments – having visited the Louvre a few days ago and seeing painting after painting of Jesus on a cross, Jesus eating supper, Jesus as a baby etc, I found Dali’s version light and refreshing; almost comical.

There was also an installation piece of a chapel which when you first see it looks like a genuine chapel that has been there for centuries. It was actually made from cardboard and plaster and he had used a trompe d’oeil affect to create the allusion of space. While it appeared to be a big chapel, it was, in fact, a very small area and just like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, it just got smaller and smaller the further back you went. Very clever.

At the end of the gallery you arrive in the boutique where you can purchase your very own Dali masterpiece. A few spare thousand Euros can buy you a great conversation piece. While I like his work, even if I had the money I don’t think I would buy one. It would be difficult to find the right place to hang it and it would always just look like the mass-produced postcard copies that you can buy in the gift shop on the way out. Maybe one of his lesser known scribbles… What am I talking about? I have plane tickets to purchase – I’ll leave the art to those who know what they are doing.

Work Stuff

Monday, May 16th, 2011

I am quite pleased to discover that some of my words have finally been published. Last year I worked for UWA Business School (which ended up not only providing me with work, entertainment, human contact and intellectual stimulation, but also the opportunity to stay at Les Récollets in Paris) working on some promotional documents for their new 2012 courses. It was a long and sometimes frustrating experience but it appears to have paid off as they have produced one of the final brochures using most of my words! Nice to know Zaum is still making some sort of impact. I need to start doing more writing. My brain is turning into mush and all I think about is my next meal. Breakfast…

More Visitors

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

I’m not sure what it is – perhaps it’s me, perhaps it is my location – but all these people keep coming to visit. I’m usually quite confident that they make the effort in order to spend time with me, but once they’re here all they want to do is visit large towers or eat baguettes. I don’t understand.

Anyway, while my parents are long gone and are currently rubbing Voltaren on their sore butt muscles from excess bike-seat (they did a 12.5 hour bike ride the other day. Holy moly.) Tom’s parents have happily agreed to replace them. They are in town for 10 days and as they haven’t spent the same amount of time in Paris as my folks we’ve been hitting the hottest tourists sites with vigour. Tom’s Dad has a mobility problem so the best solution to get around involved one of the ultimate tourist experiences possible – the open top tour bus.

 

On the bus

Totally Tourists.

Normally I am very anti-tour bus, mostly because you look like a complete drongo sitting on top of a bus taking photos as a ‘remarkable landmark’ zooms past. However, I had to agree that it was an easy transport solution to get everyone around to see the highlights of Paris. The bus tour is divided into four separate routes and covers a large portion of the city. You get to see most of the famous parts of Paris and can get an overall feel for how the city fits together. I did enjoy one of the routes in particular as it took me to places I am yet to explore. The commentary was fairly average but I think that is due to the speed of the bus and the timing of the information. Walking tours definitely allow you to have more time to stop and learn and explore. But overall a good option for our situation.

 

Bus Tour

The view of the tourist

Now my Aunt and Uncle are in Paris as well so I have even more family to catch up with. I like it. Visitors are fun and generally in good moods because they’re on holidays. Makes a pleasant change to grumpy Parisians.

Madrid Part 6

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The Bulls

The reason we had to leave the art gallery was because we had bought tickets to see a bull fight. As I write this I know there will be people tut-tutting under their breath and preparing a speech about animal rights and how I shouldn’t actively support bull fighting as a sport. I wasn’t sure how I felt about watching the spectacle but was curious to see why the Spanish have been so passionate about it. For centuries they have dedicated themselves to bull fighting and matadors are highly regarded within the culture. On one hand it is the deliberate killing of an animal for the enjoyment of spectators, and on the other it has been deeply embedded in Spanish culture and is part of their way of life.

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros

We bought cheap seats in the top section of the stadium but could easily see the show. The stadium is a beautiful building in itself and it was worth the ticket price just to see inside. However, as soon as the first bull was released into the right and the matadors started their thing, I wished our seats were a lot further back.

Stadium

Nice stadium

I was able to form a very definite opinion of bull fighting within the first 15 minutes. Here’s what happens: A bull is released into the ring and three or four guys wave pink capes at it to get it fired up. This is apparently to test how aggressive the bull is and how it is going to behave. After a few minutes, trumpets sound, and two guys on horses come into the ring. The bull charges at a horse (since the 1930s the horses wear protective armour but I still don’t see how they don’t get hurt) and the guy sitting on the horse stabs a sharp pole into the back of the bull, making it bleed. This was when I stopped enjoying myself.

Bull fight

Annoying the bull

The bull is stabbed twice before the horses are taken off and the main matador comes out with colourful spears which he waves at the bull before stabbing them into the bull’s back. This is probably the only time that I could see any element of danger for the human as it is just the matador versus the bull and not a lot of space between the two creatures.

Once the bull has four or more spears in his back, the matador gets a red cape and a sword and waves the cape at the bull for a while, getting the animal really annoyed. Plus he has spears in his back and is bleeding so if I were the bull, I’d be pretty damn annoyed. Eventually the matador gets another, bigger sword which he eventually attempts to stab into the bull. Apparently he is aiming to get between the bull’s shoulder blade and through its heart. He generally missed and had to try again, basically making the bull bleed more and get generally more disgruntled. Once the bull eventually falls over, another guy shoves a small knife into the bull’s spine, apparently killing him instantly, and everyone cheers and the matador bows.

Bull fight

Out goes the red cape of death

It was awful. It was a display of man’s ability to control, tease, hurt and kill defenceless animals. At no point did the bull have a chance. The humans were always in control and unless the matador did something really stupid or the bull made a sudden, unexpected move, the matador is never really in danger. I was shocked by the pointlessness of it and will never watch it again. I’m not even sure I am pleased I saw it once – I felt sad for the animals and hoped they would charge into the audience and maul all of the stupid cheering spectators. Well, not really. No death of anything or anyone would have been nice. And it wasn’t just one bull who was killed – we stayed for 1.5 hours and watched four bulls being killed. I suggested we leave when the fifth arrived.

Madrid Part 5

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

The Galleries

The art galleries in Madrid are internationally renown and we managed to visit the Prado to see Goya’s work and the Reina Sofia to see Picasso’s Guernica. Madrid went to near the top of my favourite art gallery cities (following London who lets you in for free at all times) as they open the galleries for free every day for a few hours. We stuck to the free opening hours, as that fit with our time schedule and we could therefore spend more money on food, and I was surprised at how few people were there. Considering Madrid is one of the biggest cities in Europe, I never felt overwhelmed by people or tourists as I do in Paris. In fact, I kept seeing the same people over and over again. That never happens in Paris.

The Prado is a very impressive gallery but I can’t say I was overwhelmed by Goya’s work. Not my cup of tea but then I’m more a contemporary art person. I did particularly enjoy seeing Bosch’s triptych Garden of Earthly Delights. Considering it was painted in the late 1490s, the imagery used on it is quite extraordinary. It looked like something from a Doctor Who show. I could have stood in front of it and stared for hours.

Garden of Earthly Delights

The Garden of Earthly Delights

The Reina Sofia was wonderful – some of my favourite artists beautifully displayed in a very nice building. Guernica was impressive and deserved the attention and the rush to find it. However, I wanted to explore more of the gallery but we ran out of time. Oh look, a reason to go back!

A Quick Aside

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

On a side note, my parents have started their two-week bike tour of Holland. They are riding around on Gazelle dutch-style bicycles with a group of Australians with the main aim of discovering how those Dutch manage to make such good bike paths. Yesterday I used my new Velib card to hire the free bikes in Paris to ride around the city and it was one of the scariest moments on my time here. The bike paths in Paris aren’t quite as well planned as those in Holland and yet I know the paths in Australian cities are even worse. So I think we all need to get behind this team of bike-riders and get them to bring home the secret to a good path. Plus it’s just amusing to watch my folks riding around on bikes for two weeks, living out of panniers. Will my mother survive not being able to wash her clothes every day? Will my father drop his camera? All will be revealed on the Cycling Dutch Style website.