Archive for the 'Outings' Category

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.


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.


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 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 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.

Itchen Way again

Map showing the Itchen Way between Eastleigh and Winchester

Click on the image to get to navigable GoogleMap

Despite all good intentions Dan and I hadn’t done the Itchen Way walk for almost 18 months. So a fortnight ago we set out to do the walk with a couple of friends. I thought I’d post about it as my previous post on the subject, Itchen Way: Eastleigh to Winchester, is one of the more popular on my blog.

The last time friends had tried to do the Itchen Way between Eastleigh and Winchester they had reported footpath closures, so we set out on a slightly different route from Eastleigh to Brambridge – shown in green on the map.

If you’re interested in walking the Itchen Way then I’d recommend visiting the What’s Happening – Itchen Navigation website for links to newsletters and a schedule of works to find out which bits of the route are likely to be closed.

Hat Fair 2009

English Gents @ Hat Fair 2009

English Gents @ Hat Fair 2009

Another year, another Hat Fair. It’s becoming something of a tradition for Dan and me. We first went together in 2007, when we were first getting together as a couple. (Though the main thing that I remember from that year is being ridiculously hung over from the night before when I went to Point in the Park in Eastleigh and stayed up until 2am drinking wine.) I bought a hat, all was good fun. Last year was pretty cool as well.

This year I had two goals – 1) Get some cool photos on my digital SLR, as it was last year’s Hat Fair that inspired me to want one, 2) Get a new hat – my awesome Hat Fair hat of awesome got broken at the Isle of Wight festival, soI needed a new one.

Well I got loads of photos which will be uploaded to flickr at some point, but I failed to get a hat exactly like my old one.

In terms of acts my favourite this year was the English Gents, pictured above, they did some truly amazing acrobatic feats. Brilliant.

Haggis and Charley seemed less awesome this year. It was the same old patter, and their hearts didn’t seem to be in it this time.

We also saw a troupe of four whose act centred around one of the girls being bad at all the acrobatics in a scarily clumsy fashion which probably took twice as much skill to pull off. It was good and funny until they went into a long skit on bottles of water, which lost our interest so we wandered off to see some other acts.

There was an interesting mechanical structure in one corner of the field which I thought might have an interesting show associated. Unfortunately when the show came on it was quite boring and quite far up its own arse. Another thing we walked away from early.

The rest of the acts were pretty good, we stayed to the end before coming home to make chilli and watch zombie movies.

Handmade @ Winchester

Pendant from All Fired Up

Pendant from All Fired Up

Today I swung by the Handmade craft fair at Winchester Guildhall. Because my primary destination today was the Hat Fair I’m afraid I didn’t give the craft fair and its Makers the full browsing time they deserved.
There was so much good stuff there, I did a quick lap and had a look at most of the stalls. There were several stalls with stunningly beautiful creations and I grabbed cards from three of them.

All Fired Up had some beautiful pendants made of dichroic glass. So beautiful that despite my intent not to buy anything I got myself a blue and pink multilayer glass pendant – pictured above.

Swell Vintage had a lot of interesting jewellery. No pieces that I would have bought then and there, but I loved the style of the antique pieces and as soon as I got home I checked out the Swell Vintage gallery. Unfortunately the Etsy shop was closed while the Handmade fair was on, but I’ll be checking back there on occasion

RHE Designs also caught my eye. The prints and cards on offer all struck me with their gorgeous use of colour.

It looked like an awesome event with many skilled creators. The sight of so many beautiful things is both inspiring and slightly scary – I don’t knowifI could ever produce such high quality items.


No 1 Court

No 1 Court

On Thursday I woke up ridiculously early (5.30) and caught the train to Wimbledon in order to queue for a grounds pass.

I had an awesome day.

In fact I hadn’t even needed to get up that early at all. The queue was only 467 people long when I joined it – I know that level of precision because when you join the end of the queue you get given a queue card with a number on, to discourage queue jumping. With Murray not playing and Centre Court tickets to the women’s not available at the gate there was less interest.

I met some lovely people in the queue, Ben from Canada, Joel from Bradford, and Katie and Ian from Wales. We chatted while we were waiting in the park and stuck together through security and through the turnstiles before going our separate ways.

I met up with my mum and my sister, who had gotten tickets in the ballot, on Henman Hill. We saw a seniors doubles match on Court 2. But then Mum, who wasn’t feeling well, left to go back to the hotel.

My sister and I had a nice day watching various doubles matches on Court 1 and then a bit of Venus Williams on the big screen from the hill. But the absolute highlight for me was, as ever, Mansour Bahrami and Henri Leconte playing doubles on Court 2 towards the end of the day.

Bahrami and Leconte are amazing and hilarious. They do almost as much playing the fool as playing tennis, And this year their opponents almost matched them in silly tricks. Necking glasses of champagne on the court, mock-bullying the umpire, holding the net down to let serves go by and various other tricks. They gave good value as always.

Isle of Wight Festival

IOW 2009Last weekend I went to my first festival: the Isle of Wight Festival. It was a weekend of many firsts, my first time on the IOW, my first time camping, my first meeting with portaloos – yuk.

I had a great time! Saw some good bands that I hadn’t previously heard of, saw some great bands that I had heard of but hadn’t previously rated, deliberately missed out on a bunch of bands that I thought were over-rated.

Camping was more fun than I expected and I got some really good night’s sleep in the tent. Obviously I need a harder mattress at home. The tent got way too hot in direct sunlight – I’d wake up fairly early in the morning, but it would be the tent getting ridiculously hot that drove me out. The only downside of the camping was the portaloos, I don’t think I could camp for more than a few days in a row. The weather was pretty good too – only one or two drops of rain. Not sure what camping in the rain would be like.

I spent way too much money on random crap: 2 maxi dresses and 4 pairs of stripey socks. I love stripey socks. So much buying occurred that I ran out of money on the first day. Then my card wouldn’t work in their ATMs, uh oh. I spent an evening collecting cups (10p each to return for recycling) in order to get enough money for food. I did succeed in getting enough money for some grub, but I was too tired by that time. A friend loaned me money to tide me over the rest of the festival.

The cups thing is a very cool idea. If you’re concerted about it there’s lots of money to be had. It’s a good earner for kids. During the day there were loads of kids filtering through the crowds collecting people’s finished cups. Sometimes you could see these kids coming by the bobbing towers of cups that were above head height – probably nearly a tenners worthof cups at that point. I personally was a fairly poor cup collector – making only £4.

Post-festival downside – I got a really bad sore throat the following week. Bad enough for serious mickey taking from my colleagues (I squeak when talking and bark when coughing on sore throat occasions). Unlike the other member of our group who came away with a sore throat I don’t even have the excuse of kissing randoms to account for the germs I caught.

Glad to be back at home with my cats and my fella, but I don’t think that this will be my last festival.

Prism 2009

On Wednesday I went up to London with a coach trip laid on by college. We went up to see the Prism Exhibition at the Mall Galleries. The Prism exhibition is put on by the Opus School of Textile Arts.

I enjoyed it. I was awed, amazed, surprised, left cold and disgusted by turns.

I think I’d better qualify that last word first. I was disgusted mostly by the price that one of the most mediocre pieces was asking – some people are seriously delusional.

As for the other words above. I think I was 45% amazed and awed, 45% left cold, and 5% each surprised and disgusted. A lot of the exhibition was very good: innovative, interesting, aesthetically pleasing. But that said – a lot of it was mediocre, uninspired, unfocused and more of a local craft fair quality than gallery exhibition quality.

My C&G tutor set me three things to look for – as a way of learning more from the exhibition – 1) The piece that I love, 2) The piece I would like to have made, 3) The piece that I hated.

1) The piece(s) that I really loved were the colourful images of bodies by Prinkie Richards. They really appealed to be – so bright and vibrant and lively.

2) The piece that I would like to have made was one by Mary-Anne Morrison called Cosmic Spores. It is a beautifully simple and complex construction of black and white coils.

A lot of the ideas I’ve been having lately have been for 3D forms rather than 2D images which no doubt fed into my make-envy. Fortunately the 3D section of the course is coming up in this half term which means I may get to try out some fun things.

3) The piece that I hated… hmmm. There were a lot of pieces that I disliked or was unimpressed by, but mostly I think that was due to personal taste. There was indeed one piece that I really hated because it just looked like the artist had copied a photo in machine stitch (this was the piece whose pricing struck me as ridiculous) and hadn’t added anything personal or innovative to it. It was totally bland.

Anyway I enjoyed my day in London , both the exhibition and the wandering through Berwick Street fabric stores.

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