Paris: Art, Food, Sex and Death

I spent the weekend of my 30th birthday in Paris with my husband. We had a phenomenal time and saw many awesome things.

Art

DaliAll the famous works that I know are spread few and far between – I saw some of my favourite’s when I visited New York a couple of years ago – but in addition to those famous few there are many, many museums full of lesser known works. An artist produces maybe three or four pieces that achieve fame and in addition a body of work that spans a lifetime, and, in some cases, a multitude of styles.
We visited the Orangerie and saw two rooms of 360-degree Monet. (Would that be 720-degrees of Monet?) In the basement they had an assortment of works by other artists including some lively Renoirs and some wispy Laurencins. I had previously been unaware of Marie Laurencin and there’s something in the colours she uses and the way she portrays faces – skin in white shaded with grey, only touches of pink to put life in the skin, black bullet eyes – that I found compelling.
After that we moved on to the Musee d’Orsay, a building that is a stunning work of art in its own right. We wandered through galleries of sculpture, Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. My favourite room was the dimly lit room of works executed in pastel. These images seemed to succeed in appearing both soft and textured, both misty and precise.
The following day we were in Montmartre and, after dodging the attentions of the String Men and shunning (as is our custom) the Funicular in favour of marching up the stairs, we visited the Espace Dali. My familiarity with Dali comes only from his oils. This gallery concentrates on his sculptures, illustrations and engravings. It was a fascinating space to wander around and interesting to see the themes that trail through years of work.

Food

http://www.flickr.com/photos/su-lin/

In Paris there’s a restaurant or bistrot on every corner. We ate out every night and every lunch time. After having been on a mostly vegan January beforehand (as a resolution to knock off some pounds) it was great to just indulge in whatever food I wanted.
We were always ravenous after a day of marching around the city and wandering through its museums and in a hurry to replenish our energy. What was funny, was that no matter how hard we tried not to turn up early – pushing it another hour or half hour after the time our bellies cried out for food – we were always the first dinner customers through the door. In one case we arrived 10 minutes before the restaurant opened and had to sit in the vestibule for a while. In another case we didn’t feel so bad about our earliness when two other parties arrived within half an hour of us, until we realised they were English too. Seems like us Brits just can’t wait for our feed.
There was plenty of variation in the food that was on offer. The only restaurant chain I noticed was McDonalds. All the rest seemed to be independent businesses. For lunches we ate mostly French cuisine. In the evenings we had French, Italian and Lebanese. My favourite was the Lebanese restaurant. We opted for the set menus, comprising ten mezes to share, a main and a dessert. It all tasted awesome and we got through two bottles of red as well.

Sex

http://www.flickr.com/photos/pietroizzo/Paris is not just the city of love, but also the city of lust. And that aspect of the city can be summed up in two words: Moulin Rouge. For my birthday we went out to a show at the Moulin Rouge. We hadn’t organised it in advance and I was surprised that we could order tickets the day before. I think we got lucky with it being January, because we’d read that during the high tourist season people have to book up to three months in advance. The pricing takes advantage of the name. Evening dress was required and each ticket came with a half bottle of champagne.
We took the metro to Blanche and stepped out into the blazing neon that is Pigalle, a soiled wonderland full of cabaret clubs and sex shops overlooked by the red windmill. The show was due to start at nine, so we found a little Italian place nearby to eat. After our meal – and the caffeinated bullets that were listed on the menu as coffee – we wandered over. Had we wished to double the price we could have had our meal at the Moulin Rouge. When we arrived the diners were already seated at the tables closest to the stage, those of us who only sprung for the after dinner show were shown to tables at the back.
Then commenced two hours of dancing with no intermission – I was exhausted just watching it, so I bow down to how fit theses dancers must be to do it twice a night every night. In between the dances there were variety acts: an acrobat, a ventriloquist and a juggler. All very entertaining.
The best part of the night had to be when a giant water tank full of snakes rose from beneath the stage. A young woman – near naked of course – was ‘sacrificed’ to the snakes. She then spent a good ten minutes in underwater gyrations escaping from snakes that wanted nothing more than to escape from her. These creatures probably spend all day chilling in their nice cosy tank only to be suddenly pinioned under a spotlight and then repeatedly grabbed by the neck and yanked to the centre of the tank and forceably coiled around someone. It was pretty cool though and afterwards the tank sank away out of sight and the stage slid back into place in a smooth and impressive show of engineering.

Death

http://www.flickr.com/photos/dotbaz/Having been to the highest point of Paris, we thought it only fitting that we visit the lowest point of Paris. Beneath the south part of the city are miles of tunnels and caverns that were once the quarries that provided the stone to build the city. Some parts of these tunnels were, starting in the 18th century, transformed into warehouses for the bones of 6 million Parisians. These parts are open to the public as a tourist attraction. And if that sounds a little morbid, well maybe it is, but it’s not unprecedented – there was a time when a common entertainment in the city was to file past the windows of the morgue and look at the laid out bodies of those pulled from the Seine.  This was intended to be for identification purposes, but drew plenty of voyeurs. I guess I could now count myself as one of that number after my visit to the Catacombs.
The entrance is in a little green hut opposite the Denfert-Rochereau metro station. The hut houses an admissions desk and the top of a spiral staircase. One hundred and forty steps down and you’re in the beginning of the catacombs. There are some displays describing the geological history of the area. Then come the tunnels. There’s a walk of about a mile, twisting and turning, before coming to anything interesting. At this point there are carvings of the views of ports done by some of the quarry inspectors and the quarryman’s footbath – a groundwater well. Then come the bones.
“Stop. Here is the Empire of the Dead.” These are the words that are carved over the portal into the ossuary. After that point it is quiet and the somewhat disconcerting. The walls of the corridor are formed entirely of stacked bones. A block of end-on leg bones topped with a layer of skulls, then another layer of end-on leg bones, more skulls, and so on. The bones that made up one human being are only in vaguest proximity to one another; the bones are at least sorted by cemetery of origin. They were transported with some respect, the burial mass was intoned by the priests accompanying the bone carts, but this stacking seems somewhat less respectful – especially when you get to the places where the workmen indulged in a little pixel art. There are hearts, arches and crosses laid out in skulls in the walls. We kept walking, and walking. After a way the sheer number of bones numbed the initial feeling of unreality.
Eighty-some stairs later and we were back in the land of the living.

Animated

I thought I’d update this post to be a little more verbose. Original post can be found below the horizontal rule.

I’ve been getting to grips with vector graphics lately. The impetus for this is that my husband is creating an Android app and needs some UI elements. Check out his blog for pictures of some playing cards I designed.

Today I felt like I was on a roll, so I whipped up a quick animation or two to match the logo of his website: MakerGeek. Inserted below. Unfortunately WordPress doesn’t play animated GIFs, so you have to open them in their own tab to watch them spin.

Version1:

Version2:

Method:

All of this was done in Inkscape and GIMP. I do have Synfig Studio on this box, which would have done tweening for me, but I haven’t yet got comfortable with it. So I chose to create each individual frame in Inkscape. It’s a 2.5 second logo at 24 fps = 60 images. Because it’s a fairly simple animation I really only had to draw one picture and manipulate the colours and rotations of various elements to get the effect I wanted.

Once all 60 frames had been created I opened them as layers in GIMP and used the animation option in the ‘Save as GIF’ dialogue to transform the layered .xcf into an animated GIF. (Though magic with ffmpeg will get them into .avi or another more useful format.)

I’m pretty chuffed with the results and full of grandiose ideas for animations that I could make with this new-found method and enthusiasm – though I fear that a lack of skill and artistry may let these ambitious ideas down.

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My first crack at animation. Neither WordPress nor Facebook seem to want to display it in it Giffy glory, but if you right-click on it and open in a new tab it will play.

Standing desk

About a fortnight ago three articles about standing desks all hit my Twitter feed from different directions. Since the article a few months ago about how sitting for more than three hours a day shortens your lifespan the idea of a standing desk has been lurking at the back of my mind. The appearence of these articles was the final push to give it a try.

The next day I was working from home so I took the opportunity to try out a makeshift standing desk. Here’s the mark one desk:

OK, so it’s a bit hacky. I didn’t really have an idea of the optimum height of things so the keyboard and mouse started out on top of two boxfiles and I added hardbacks to the pile until the height felt comfortable. Another layer of books went on the pile after I took the picture above.

Standing to work was more comfortable on my legs than I would have expected. The only aggravation that I had was to my wrist. The initial setup had the mouse too low which put my wrist at an odd angle. The later setup was an improvement, but the damage had already been done and mid-afternoon I was sitting to work again.

That weekend I tried a new setup in the study. The mark two desk:

This one is better. I’ve been working at it for two weekends and I’m typing at it now. It’s pretty comfortable, but not perfect. When we move house I’m going to have handyman husband build me a bespoke one. What I’ve learned from this one is that the keyboard level needs to come up two inches and the screen level eight inches.

The standing desk makes me shift my position an awful lot. And I take more breaks. I feel like all of these things are better for my health and energy levels, but I haven’t been able to quantify the effect it has had on my productivity. I’ve definitely got a lot done over the past couple of weekends, but would I have done less sitting down – I don’t know. However I am going to carry on with the experiment, at leat until we move.

Birthdays

I am older now. My 28th birthday came and went last week. I celebrated with friends, flowers, wine, and oysters. It’s good to be a little older and hopefully wiser, saner, and stabler.

The other milestone that occurred last week was that, had he still been alive, it would have been my Grampi’s 100th birthday. My Grampi, my father’s father, died when I was 11. He was my favourite grandparent. I celebrated his birthday quietly and thoughtfully, and reflected on the following facts:

  • Many of the characteristics that I am proud of in myself come from him: sense and style of humour, storytelling tendencies, smarts. Though there are some characteristics from that side of the family that I’m not so happy with  – short, hot temper and migraines, mainly.
  • When Grampi was my age, the Second World War was starting. The world has changed so much since then, in good ways and in bad.  I find it very hard to imagine the world that he grew up in.
  • That I really wish I’d had the chance to know my Grampi when I was an adult. We really adored each other when I was a child. I wonder what he would have made of me as an adult. He was great fun to play around with when I was a child. I know he was a really great person for an adult to sit down and have a laugh with. But I never got to have that experience.  I am really thankful for what I do have. A good relationship and good times had and still to have with my Dad and my aunt, and all the other members of the family. When we get together it’s easy to see those bit of Grampi in all of us, in the way we laugh together and the stories we tell. He’s in a lot of those stories – my Grampi was kind of legendary.

House decluttering and apocalypse planning

Box and packing tapeDue to Dan’s job move in the London direction, we are putting our house in Eastleigh on the market. Despite the fact that this is really Dan’s house which I moved into later, I’ve been able to put my stamp on it in certain places and I’ve really come to love it as a home. But everything has its season and the end of my season in Hampshire is in sight.

To get back to the point, we are putting the house on the market and in order to make it look more attractive and salable all received wisdom says that we should make it look uncluttered and anonymous. Last week I went through a frenzy of tidying, throwing, and giving things away. This reached his peak when Emmaus arrived at the same time that I had an estate agent over to value the place and I gave Emmaus the sofa that the estate agent was sitting on from under him.

Every room but one has had this treatment. The remaining room is the study, aka Kat’s den of books and craft supplies.This poses a problem, because I love to hoard. I love to declutter too. A lot of my life is finding a balance between that momentary high of getting rid of clutter followed by the less momentary but still quite short-lived happiness of having a tidy room, and the warm glow of satisfaction I get when I can put my hand on exactly what I need at the time I need it because I have stored said thing for just this occasion. (I apologise to those reader patiently waiting for the apocalypse promised in the title – I do keep getting sidetracked. Rest assured the apocalypse is coming.)

So I love to hoard. Especially books. You never know when you’ll need them or want to reread them. Dealing with my book clutter was a challenge. I rolled up my sleeves and set to work sorting into three piles: give away, pack away, leave out. The line between pack away and leave out was a hard one to manage. We don’t know how long it will take to sell our house. What if I pack away too many books and am left with nothing to read? I’m already (less than 12 hours later) regretting having packed away some of my reference books that I now want to refer to. I should have thought about it harder at the time, but I was on a roll and they fit the spaces in the box perfectly.

The ‘give away’ pile ended up larger than I expected. Dan and I negotiated back and forth over quite a few books. The argument for getting rid of a lot of the reference books was – ‘We just look that stuff up on the internet anyway’. The discard pile grew. “But what about when the zombie apocalypse comes and there is no internet” I objected. That put things in a slightly different light. Which books did we need to keep in order to refer to when running for our lives or rebuilding society?

  • ‘Guide to knife throwing’ – extremely useful in the case of zombie apocalypse. We’d need to be proficient in all methods of zombie extermination. Plus, ‘I still have the throwing knives and target’. Verdict: Keep.
  • “Alan Titchmarsh’s How to be a gardener” – useful for when all the supermarkets have been raided and we have to grow our own food to survive. Even with all the resources of the internet and our books, we can’t keep plants alive. Last years crop consisted of mostly chillies, a couple of tomatoes, three strawberries, and the one radish that the slugs didn’t get. If an apocalypse comes which requires us to grow our own food, our only option might be to kidnap Alan Titchmarsh himself and make him grow food for us. Or eat our books. Verdict: Give away.
  • ‘Encyclopedia of Magic’ – useful if the zombies possess childlike awe and fascination for the art of magic. One of us could make shiny coins disappear as a distraction while the rest of the party make good their escape from the zombies. As I’ve never seen this scenario play out in a zombie movie, I’d estimate its chances of success are limited. Verdict Give away.

OK, that last one was a reach, but lists look prettier in odd numbers.

The upshot is that I’ll be bringing a pile of books into IBM Hursley on Monday to give away. So if you’re interested in cooking, gardening, Garfield, choose your own adventures, or Tom Clancy and his spin-offs there might be something for you.

2011 Goals

So I’m back on the blog and it’s been a while.

I thought I’d start off this new year by talking about my New Year’s Resolutions and what I’m going to do to keep them. My resolutions can be boiled down to three key words: Writing, Happiness and Wellness.

In each of my three categories I’ve picked three things to track in order to keep my focus on these goals throughout the year. For each category I have two quantitative measures and one qualitative/catchall category.

Writing

My original goal for this year was to get a paid, in-print publish. Of course to do that I need to get things written, and more importantly rewritten and edited. Getting from first draft to second feels harder for me than getting from blank page to first draft. So far this year I’m managing to write fairly consistently two days out of every three. I’d like to increase that to every day.

My three metrics for writing are:

  • Fiction words per day
  • Other words per day (including blogging, articles, and plotting and planning)
  • What writing related activities I have done that day

 

Happiness

I like being happy, and I would like to happy for more of the time. It seems to come very easily to a lot of people. I’ve seen a number of internet articles that indicate that how happy you are on average is a fixed quantity and doesn’t change very much throughout your life. Some people are just upbeat and full of the bright side; others are anxiety-ridden worrywarts. (I put myself in the latter category). Well screw that – I’m going to work hard at being happy this year, and see if I can’t change my average happiness.  I’m hoping that working towards my other goals will rub off in the happiness department. Other than that I’ve not got any clear ideas right now about the things I can do to make myself more happy.

My three metrics for happiness are:

  • Average happiness in the day (0-100%, with 50% an average day)
  • Peak daily happiness (0-100% again)
  • What made me happy today

 

Wellness

In this category I’m mostly going to concentrate on physical wellness. The Happiness category should take care of psychological wellness. My goals here are to be more active, eat less and more healthily, drink more water, and get the right amount of sleep. I find it hard to keep all of these good habits, but I know that I feel orders of magnitude better in body and in mind on the days where I get three out of four of those things done.

My three metrics for wellness are:

  • Number of steps taken in the day
  • Waistline measurement (I’m not expecting this to change very quickly, but I’m hoping to see a two or three inches change in the year)
  • What exercise did I do today

 

You know what they say about good intentions, but I’m hoping to stick with these goals throughout the year.

Wedding dress

Now the big day has come and gone I can post about my wedding dress without worrying about spoiling the surprise for Dan.

Making my own wedding dress was something I was set on from the start. I can sew, so why pay stupid amounts of money for a dress you are only going to wear once. Not to mention that all the dresses in the one bridal shop I cruised through were fugly – every one of them in a ruched/gathered style and in the kind of off-white colour I had previously only experienced adorning the walls of student accommodation. Plus they all cost between three and four figures. While I’m not exactly sure, because my awesome Mum insisted on paying for the fabric, I’m pretty confident that pattern, notions, and fabric for my dress cost less than £100.

The dress is very simple. I opted for this partly because it’s my style, and partly to avoid making things difficult for myself in what were soon to become some very stressful months. The wedding was on grass, which could have been mud had the weather been inclement, so no train. The requirement for simplicity and lack of train meant that I pretty much had the pick of prom dress patterns. I went for a princess-seamed, halterneck style. The pattern was simple enough that it would do for both wedding dress and bridesmaid dress, so the plan was hatched to make identical dresses for me and Frances, but in mirrored colours. For me: white with a blue ribbon; for her: blue with a white ribbon. This tactic had the additional advantage of allowing us to effectively have a practice run of cutting out the bridal dress, in cutting out the bridesmaid dress.

Mum came down to help me with the cutting out and getting me started on the sewing by fitting the bodice for me, I had some fun with time lapse creating a video of us doing that. Once that was done I took the white fabric and she the blue and we got sewing. Mum made all of Frances’s dress and hemmed and finished off mine. She pretty much rocks.

The only hitch in the process, apart from the self-inflicted stress and angst, came early in the project – when out of nowhere a greasy black blob (only a mm or two across) appeared on the bodice fabric. Thankfully it was on the inside and not visible through the fabric, but it certainly put the wind up me.


What I’ve been twittering

  • Cursing my defective powers of deduction that it's taken many such incidents for me to twig that the little oven runs hotter than the dial. 2 days ago
  • Ruined flapjacks follow swiftly on the heels of dried out simnel cake. 2 days ago
  • Spoiler alert. @DanielWould got IDed. And it is all he is gonna talk about today on social media. 5 days ago
  • 4096, my greatest achievement today. 6 days ago
  • "The particle accelerator leads to the runway.' What crazy feng shui is that? Did someone misread 'collider' as 'corridor'? (Terminator 3) 1 week ago

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What I've been taking pictures of...

Wimbledon 2012 Day 10

Wimbledon 2012 Day 10

Wimbledon 2012 Day 10

Wimbledon 2012 Day 10

Wimbledon 2012 Day 10

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