where we've been and where we're going

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fashionable Marketing

L lived in London for a few months while studying fashion in undergrad, so it was particularly fun to explore fashionable London with her. On Thursday we spent the afternoon in Soho, stopping in fabric and trims stores, as well as RD Franks, a fashion bookstore. Of course, we also browsed boutiques and clothing shops that were out of our price range to dream the day away. And I bought tea, for a person must drink and purchase tea in Britain, no?

On Friday we visited the Spitalfields Market, a market for handmade goods and designers with a different theme each day. Fridays are Fashion and Art. Quite a few booths were disappointingly mass-market goods, but there were quite a few booths in which you were able to speak to the artists about their work. I bought a perfectly marvelous purse handmade from lovely vintage fabric, as well as a dress and a cute top. With a willingness to wade through the mass-produced goods, there were some really nice finds. Of course, it’s not as diverse as Etsy

Saturday morning is the time to go to the Portobello Road market, made famous in my mind by my childhood experiences with Bedknobs and Broomsticks, a movie I recently rewatched and enjoyed much less than I did as a child. Unfortunately, I think we ended up on the less interesting end of the market, which mostly consisted of goods that seemed to fall off the back of a truck and fewer curiosities. By the time we arrived at the interesting end of the market, it was noon, my arches were falling, and the market was stressfully packed with people. I’d do it differently next time, but I did enjoy wandering and watching.

Monday, July 20, 2009

St. Vincent, Rockin' Out

Leaving Paris, we headed to London for the beginning of a week-long tour of Western European political institutions. I’ve always enjoyed London, but never loved it, which is okay. It makes other places better when not everything is amazing, right? A friend of mine, L, lives in Cork, Ireland, and she decided to meet me in London for the four days I was there, and I’m so grateful! She is a great travel partner, and I really had such a great time exploring with her. Having been there twice before, I had already done the touristy stuff, so I just wanted to wander, explore, and discover the city as someone might who lives there, and I left with a much better impression of London than I had previously had. Verdict: I’d be happy to live there, even with the rain, especially to trade visits with L in Cork.

I arrived with the group at St. Pancras Station, which is right next to King’s Cross Station, but whose façade was used as King’s Cross Station in the Harry Potter movies, since it is much prettier. I met L at the dorms in which we stayed and we headed to the Institute of Contemporary Art to see St. Vincent in concert. It was an intimate concert with maybe 100-150 people in the audience (correct me if I’m wrong, L), but she rocked it like there were a thousand. It was so incredible. What a great show.

She’s a really inventive artist, distorting traditional sounds to find the sounds she wants, with a really guttural feel. I’ve liked her albums a lot, but seeing her live was totally different and enthralling. Her guitars are dirty, her drums and intense, and her musicians look super nerdy but can each play at least three instruments. I’m so glad we did that. Here’s a video of one of her songs:


and L's post on the show:


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Moments in Paris

This is my last post about Paris for this trip, as we left and traversed Western Europe for the last week and a half of the trip. In honor of this, here's a slideshow of moments in Paris. I tried to capture a bit of the feel of Paris by taking photos of moments around the city (a few of these photos are from one of our students, KW).

During the last week or so in Paris, it was outrageously hot. Not outrageously hot comparatively to either St. Louis or Atlanta, mind you, because it never got hotter than, say, ninety degrees Fahrenheit. However, the French don’t believe in air conditioning. In the states, when it’s hot, you just try to avoid going outside and sit around inside where it’s cooler. You might be hot in the transition to your car, but you have an alternative. In Paris, if it’s ninety outside, it’s ninety in your room. And if you live on the sixth floor, as I do, it might even be hotter. And it’s ninety in the restaurant. And like a thousand on the packed metro. So you cold shower three times a day, you go to museums, which might have AC, “You sit in your room in your bikini,” as my friend F says, and you spend as much time outside as possible, since it might be hot, but at least the air moves in the out of doors.

On a lazy day after an adventurous trip to a better grocery store than the one by my residence and standing in the freezer section for ten minutes longer than necessary, I took a long walk for the afternoon. With the intention of checking the Canal St. Martin off of my list of things to do, I began at the Parc la Villette, a park that is almost outside of Paris proper. (All of these photos are in the last post, by the way.) This area of Paris is not touristed, which was lovely and felt like being a part of the city. Lots of kids played in the fountains to keep cool and kicked “footballs” around. There’s a science museum and a museum of music (with a café and ice cream), though I didn’t visit either. There’s a very overdesigned but cute garden.

It’s also at the outside edge of the Canal St. Martin. From here, you can jump on a boat that will cruise all the way down the canals to the center of Paris, leaving you at the Musee d’Orsay. Unfortunately, I missed this boat, so I just walked for a while. I probably walked three miles down the canals, observing people, listening to music, and watching the locks change the level of the water for boats to move through. There are lots of parks and people along the canals and restaurants and cafes where a person can sit and watch people. It was lovely, though I think if I were to do it again, I would either be sure to catch the boat or start closer into the city and walk out, or something like that.

The last day before leaving Paris was the premiere of a very special performance at l’Opera Bastille. The Opera commissioned the great modern artist Anselm Kiefer to do an installation/performance in honor of its 20th anniversary. Those of you in St. Louis will know Kiefer’s huge work in the art museum that has been both in the modern section and in the main hall: it looks like bookshelves with shards of glass throughout the papers and scattered all over the floor. I really love his work, and was really excited to see what he would do for the opera.

It was a work entitled Am Anfang, or the Beginning, and it emphasized that the beginning of things arises from the end of the previous, focusing on the trials of the Jewish people. It began with an enormous painting and moved to have slaves building a wall very slowly and a dancer moving slowly throughout. It was narrated entirely in French, which made it difficult to follow, but I certainly got the point. It was so beautifully staged, in very stark contrasts, and with gorgeous lighting. It was done in conjunction with a very dissident and disturbing work performed by the Orchestre de l’Opera de Paris.

At curtain call, Anselm Kiefer himself was there! I adore having moments like this, in which I’m able to be part of something special. I felt super cool, like I was rubbing elbows with the elite, even though I didn’t get any closer to him than 30 yards. I was still moved, both by the work and the experience itself.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Parisian Cinema

During my last week in residence in Paris I was able to take in a few films as part of the Parisian experience. First I saw Woody Allen’s new movie, Whatever Works (not Parisian), at La Pagode (very Parisian). La Pagode is a movie theatre that was built by the owner of La Bon Marche for his wife over a hundred years ago. It resembles, surprise!, a pagoda, with Japanese style roofing and a lovely outdoor terrace, where movie-goers can have tea before showtime (we would have, if they had served us). The window detailing looks art nouveau to me, but it certainly fits the theme. The theatre itself is also lovely, with gold detailing and a celebratory atmosphere.

The movie was in the original English with French subtitles, of course, though it seemed that most of the audience didn’t need the subtitles. There were little cracks at the expense of the French, at which they laughed louder than we did. It was an okay movie, better than I expected, but still way down on my list of Woody Allen films, but the experience was worth the show. At the end, not a single person rose to leave the theatre until the credits were almost entirely through. It was a very respectful engagement of the entertainment and appreciation of the art. I love seeing films in this manner.

I was also able to attend a show that was part of the Paris Film Festival, called Sell Out! that was introduced by the director himself. It’s a Malaysian comedy about the choice between making high art versus commercial art. And a musical! It was extremely witty and well written, and the director’s choices were very elegant and insightful. It was very poorly acted, but highly enjoyable despite this. Here’s the trailer, which is very representative of the movie. It also has my favorite song, Money.

Not only did the director introduce the film, but he also stayed to answer questions we might have after the movie. It didn’t seem like the audience was full of critics asking incisive questions, but no one there seemed to be a movie novice, either. It was really interesting to hear about his thought process and choices, pointing me to things I hadn’t noticed while watching it. Cinema feels more cultural here. Like it did when I lived in St. Louis, and like I miss desperately in Atlanta.
Photos of the theatres and the festival, as well as the Canal St. Martin, Amelie’s canal that I wandered along on a lazy Friday:

Saturday, July 11, 2009


We went to Strasbourg in order to view a hearing in the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights and talk to someone at the Council of Europe. We arrived late on Tuesday with only enough time to walk to the old town and have dinner. On our walk, though, I was reminded how quaint and beautiful Strasbourg is. It's so lovely, and so very quiet at night. We walked past the Cathedral, which I had somehow managed to miss the last time I was in Strasbourg, and found it astounding. It's really a remarkable gothic building that towers over a square like the giant over Jack. I was very impressed and so wished I would have had the time to visit it and go inside. Sigh.

We had dinner at a place called Le Hanneton (Chez Denis), a small place recommended by the trusty guidebook. We ate traditional Alsatian food, which was so flavorful and delicious compared to some of the food I'd been eating for so long in Paris. Oh goodness do I love flavor. I had a Baeckoffen (sp?), potatoes, carrots, onions, and beef baked in some sort of alcohol in a crock. Delicious. Some meal tasting revealed the flammenkuchen (tartes flambees) and the baked munster were also yummy (though I personally thought mine was best). Service was brusque and sometimes rude, but I thought the food made up for it.

We had meetings all the next day, with a yummy but forgettable lunch at Jardin de l'Orangerie, and so no time to explore the city. I was sad for this, but it's all the more reason to return, non?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Dancing Fleas

We visited Les Puces on a Sunday morning (L&D plus me) for a bit of antique shopping. Les Puces, or the fleas, is a gigantic market composed of (I think) 15 sub-markets that branch off the rue des Rosiers on the very northern perimeter of Paris. Each sub-market has about 150 vendors in booths in winding alleyways. The place is just fascinating. Every booth has something different and new. There are art nouveau furniture dealers, crafters, postcard sellers, beads, trinkets, vintage clothing, kitchenware, artwork, and junk. So much junk. We walked into one booth market "Curiosities" to find scientific instruments and snakes in formaldehyde. Amazing. I'm so glad we went.

We then spent the rest of the day in Montmartre. We had lunch at La Sancerre, which was crowded and more expensive than I expected, but boy was that cheeseburger delicious. It was a bustling bar with lots of people there to congregate and be seen, especially on the terrace. Unfortunately not many vegetarian options for my friends, who were beginning to get tired of cheese and bread...even though we still had fondue that night for dinner.

We did a tour of the great things of Montmartre: the Moulin Rouge, Amelie's haunts (her apt, her cafe, her greengrocer, her Sacre Coeur moment), a million stairs, and the APC surplus store for fashion at half price. I stress, a million stairs. Montmartre can be a killer if you don't plan to make it easy on yourself.

That evening we went to a traditional French cabaret Au Lapin Agile. No naked ladies. A bunch of people sat at a table and sang rousing traditional French country songs and shanties and things, engaging with the audience and having a great time. There was a bit of poetry and comedy, but mostly group singing. We had a good time, and I felt very cultural, but something was a bit farcical about it all, and not intentionally. I don't know. It was all in French and enjoyable, but difficult to follow and a bit expensive for the reward. For the same price I could have seen an opera and bit much more satisfied.

The next day I worked in the morning and then met another friend at L'Orangerie for conversation and art. I had never been before (I could take or leave Monet) but everyone always reports that it's something remarkable. And it definitely is. It has two giant oval-shaped rooms with Monet's waterlilies. The natural lighting is breathtaking, so I only recommend you go when it is sunny in Paris (which is 50-50) and not when it is closed on Tuesdays. It was really quite remarkable to see the kind of depth an artist can put in such a gigantic work. Amazing. The museum also had exhibitions downstairs, in which I discovered two new artists I had not known but now enjoy: Chaim Soutine and Didier Paquignon. Beautiful.

After a coffee next to La Madeliene, I met L&D at the Palais Garnier for a ballet, La Fille Mal Gardee. It was lovely, and pretty traditional, though not quite worth the standing ovation it received. Afterward we trekked to Le Bistrot Victoire, on the recommendation of The Frugal Traveler. The service was pleasant and the creme brulee delicious, but our meals were nothing to get excited about. And I'll be honest, I hated my meat. But everyone's experience is different....

I'm so glad L&D came and had me as a part of their honeymoon...I had such a great time with them, and Paris is so much better shared!

Monday, July 6, 2009

A Circus Indeed

With L&D in town, I had an excuse to put work aside for a few days to explore the city with them. L has exceptional fashion taste and interests, so we spent a day shopping in La Marais. La Marais has both the best food and affordable fashion shopping in all of Paris, in my and others' opinions. We also happened to be wandering during the semi-annual sales in Paris, so it was a good time to be out. We were able to visit both chains (APC and Kookai, for instance) and vintage stores, which were a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, I did not think ahead and a great deal of establishments were closed for the Sabbath on Saturday, so we were not able to experience falafel or any other great food. Instead we ended up at Bar de Cirque on rue Amelot in the 11th for pizza. We had the strangest service experience I've ever had. No fewer than three people asked us what we wanted, put in our order separately, and confirmed our order. Nevertheless, both our drink order and our pizza order came back wrong. And we weren't complicated: we ordered three vegetarian pizzas. That's it. No special order, not even three different pizzas! Yet we received three (yummy) margherita pizzas. Unexplainable. Then all three different people charged us different amounts. Amazing. Disastrous. Don't do it.

After shopping, we stopped for a sit and mint tea at Riad Nejma, and enjoyed each other's company over some really delicious ice cream. We walked to Notre Dame with the hope of entering and managed to get there at the exact time they were closing the doors. Grr. We had another drink at another cafe, and then delicious dinner at Le Grenier de Notre Dame. Boy, I love that restaurant. I had the lasagna, and it was really something. We ended the night with jazz at Le Caveau des Oubliettes, one of my favorite places to be in Paris. I know it's touristed, but I don't care. I love interesting jazz. Let someone else listen to the standards.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

We took one of our three classes of students to a meeting at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg City two weeks ago. Wow. Does that even seem possible? Anyway, it was. After our briefings, we had lunch in the lovely, very European cafeteria, and had a tour of the building, which was amazing.

The theme of the building is transparency, so the spaces are very open and filled with glass. There are gorgeous works of art donated by various states, like a Rodin from France and a Miro from Spain. We saw three courtrooms, each bigger than the last. It was really something.

Afterward, we had a bit of free time in the city. Lux used to be a fortified city, so there is a ville haute, or high city, and the valleys below, on the other side of the walls. In the walls, there are tunnels one can go through, if one were to arrive before they close (grr). We looked over the valley, and then walked through the Judicial Center of the city to an elevator that took us down to the Grund. We crossed a lovely river and had a drink at Scott's Pub outside on the beautiful day. I spent most of the afternoon just walking. Enjoying. Breathing. I think Luxembourg is wonderful. Photos in the slideshow.

It is worth making special note that this was the day we all learned that Michael Jackson had died the afternoon before. If you know me at all, you'll know he was my fave. Oh, Michael Jacks, I'll miss you so much. Many very important moments of my life centered around MJ, and it's very difficult to grasp that we now live in a world without Michael Jackson. This is worse than when Gene Kelly died. Or Princess Di. Sorry Farah Fawcett. I'm sure you were cool too.

Because of this momentous event, all of Europe seemed to be celebrating his life. Cars would drive by with their windows down playing Billie Jean. Buskers played his music in metro stations. European versions of MTV played his videos all day. You would walk by bars with their doors open to hear Thriller. The weekend after a giant crowd gathered under the Eiffel Tower to moonwalk in his honor. I'll miss you, Michael Jacks.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Midsummer's Night

On the 21st, midsummer's night, Paris celebrates the Fete de la Musique by suspending its noise laws, running the metro lines all through the night, and throwing a gigantic party with music in every place a person can imagine music being played. It's on every street corner, in every cafe, in museums, churches, parks, universities, government buildings...everywhere. There's a vibrancy in the air one doesn't normally associate with Paris, a city that doesn't experience a majority of sunshine.

This year it fell on a very beautiful summer Sunday. I, to be honest, worked through most of it, hoping to have a good opportunity to stop and soak in the music with someone. I did go to the Luxembourg Gardens with a few of the profs, eating baguette and moutarde while people watching and listening to various troupes play music through the park. My self-guilt meant I finished the day with more work, but it was a lovely day to be in Paris as opposed to anywhere else.

Two great friends from high school, L&D, came to Paris for their honeymoon while I was here! It was lovely to see them, and they were a good excuse to put work aside for a bit to see things I hadn't yet seen in Paris.

On the night they arrived, I took them for a "stroll" along the Champs Elysees, starting from L'Arc de Triomphe. I place stroll in quotation marks as the minute we stepped foot on the Champs, it began to rain. Not drizzle. Hailstone-sized water drops fell from the sky out of nowhere. After a bit under a gallery and a stop to buy umbrellas, we found a bistrot at which to eat a pleasant meal. Wish I could remember its name, though it was very standard and not really worth recommending.

Afterward, we walked to the Seine and had a drink at Chez Francis next to the Alma Marceau metro stop. Sitting on the patio of this lovely (and reputedly delicious) bistro afforded us a glorious view of the Eiffel Tower frames by a few lush trees. We sat, we talked, we drank, and we watched the light show. It was a lovely way to begin their trip here. I highly recommend this relatively untouristed spot.