Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pure color

What could be more pure a blue than the common cornflower? 

Or a more rich purple than these purple cauliflowers?

A mix of warm hues from these gerbera daisies.

What colors are in your world this bright summer day?

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The stones of Venice

What's that bump in the corner?
The English art historian and all-around aesthetic know-it-all John Ruskin was so taken with the city of Venice that he wrote a three-volume treatise on the city's art and architecture. Titled "The Stones of Venice," Ruskin reviews every palazzo and church, describing in detail the various architectural styles of the city - Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque - and weighs in with his own theories of moral and spiritual decline as viewed through the lens of art and culture.

Any visitor to Venice is struck by its bricolage of stone, ruin, plaster, marble and stucco. It's as if a thousand years of houses are built on top of one another, bricked over, added onto, tumbled-down. A stone sill is salvaged from one ruin to build another house. A gothic window replaces a Byzantine portico. It's all a jumble, and the mellow tones of the stones and bricks lend a rosy, soft tint to one's overall view of the city. It all looks so beautiful, so romantic, so decrepit.

On a walking tour of the city, as we strolled down the Calle di Boteri, our tour guide, Fiona pointed out something - a kind of bricked-up hump in the corner where one house meets another. "Any guess what that is?" she asked.

"Some kind of drainpipe?"

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday evening walk

It's a beautiful Saturday evening, a bit past 7:00. The sun is just setting, throwing a golden glow over the hills.

Just a girl and her dog, taking an evening walk in Topanga.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Old Aunt Vicky's attic of treasures

The Victoria and Albert Museum's permanent collection numbers over 4.5 million objects, which should tell you something about what you'll find here. It is officially called a museum of decorative arts and design, which, if you read between the lines, means that it's the world's greatest hoard of stuff.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Whole hog

After such a wonderful vegetarian experience at Rasa, what next but to explore the other end of the food spectrum?

St. John's Bar and Restaurant in London's Clerkenwell district is just around the corner from the Smithfield Market, London's wholesale meat market that has been operating here since the 12th century.

View from a window

Click to "embiggen"
A vaporetto on the Grand Canal passes the beautiful 15th century Ca d'Oro, pulling into the dock, on a clear summer morning.

This was the view from our window in Venice.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Vernacular cat art post

My friend Heather is the proud owner of a folk-art painting of a cat. This painting has been the subject of much critical discussion in her family and circle of friends. Heather maintains it's a masterpiece of American Vernacular Art. Her husband disagrees.

But I have to thank Heather for creating, in our bloggy circles, a new category of art - Vernacular Cat Art. During my travels, I've been on the lookout for examples, and so I proudly present to you this wonderful piece.

It is a piece of fabric taken from the fuselage of a French World War I fighter plane from 1914. It is part of the collection in the Musee de la Vie Bourguignonne Perrin de Peycousin, in Dijon, France.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When you gotta go

Stay hydrated - but find the facilities!
 We're back in the United States after a trip through four European countries - Italy, Switzerland, France and Britain. And while travel is always a wonderful way to expand your horizon and encounter new cultures, some travelers are leery about the cultural changes they might encounter....in the bathroom.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Jet lag

Venice from the air
The first time I ever made a trans-Atlantic flight I was in my mid-thirties. We flew from Seattle to Oslo, in business class on SAS. A pretty comfy flight, actually. But after changing planes in Copenhagen, and finally arriving in Oslo, I was a total mess. When it turned out our accommodations weren't as we expected, I burst into tears.

The next time I flew across the Atlantic, we flew from Seattle to London, direct. We landed at Heathrow and took a cab to a friend's home near Wimbledon. I remember I gamely tried to stay awake and converse, but within the first hour, our friends and [The Man I Love] sent me off to bed. After a four hour nap I was almost coherent.

Pink Saturday - Kerala pink

"I adore that pink! It's the navy blue of India," goes a quote attributed to style icon Diana Vreeland.

The little restaurant on Stoke Newington Church Street is the flagship restaurant of the Rasa restaurant chain, and its facade is painted the bright pink that Vreeland admired - in America we'd call it Barbie Pink.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

He's back home, too!

After three weeks at summer camp, living the life of the dog pack, playing with a girl-shepherd named Kyra, Jack is back home with the pink, hairless monkeys who control his food supply and walkies.

He's also a little "jet-lagged", but he's happy.

The Housekeeping Chronicles - Transitions

"Les Raboteurs de Parquet,"  Gustave Caillebot, 1875, Musee d'Orsay
Before telling more about our travels, I'll report a recent transition in our domestic life.

We arrived home yesterday evening to discover than in our absence, our housekeeping couple committed what we determined was a "fire-able" offense.

Actually, to be fair, it was probably just Eigh, not Oeuf who was responsible for the act. When we left town, Eigh begged us not to suspend their services during our vacation, citing financial difficulties. So we left with a list of minor tasks, some of which were busy work, like watering potted plants.

I won't go into the gory details, but after a 15 hour international journey, we walked into an aftermath of disorder, dirt, and damage, created by Eigh's rash decision to perform an unrequested major home "repair", for which he lacked both the knowledge and craftsmanship.

This morning we called to inform him their services were no longer required. Insurance claim to follow.

He responded to the call with the usually hedging and argument and passive-aggressive guilt tripping we've come to expect from him, and since he needed to come by and pick up some tools he'd been storing here, we prepared ourselves for a drama-filled personal encounter. So we agreed to an appointed time, put put the tools on the porch, and waited to hear the doorbell

The time came and went, and we looked outside - the tools were gone and the house key was properly returned.

"Looks like he knows how to do this. He's probably done it before," commented [The Man I Love.]

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

We're home

Wrought iron finial from the Victoria & Albert Museum collection

We're back in LA now, but too tired to say more than that. Our trip was not without complications, but also ended up well. And our arrival was also not without complications - but ended up well. More later.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Here comes the sun

The sun came out - if only briefly. Here's me in the central garden at the Victoria and Albert Museum. So much more to show, but so little time to write!!!

Thanks to Thunder for reminding me about this song.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rain rain rain

London, July 2012. This is the plaza in front of the Tate Modern adjoining the River Thames. Pouring. Rain rain rain.

We thought we'd go see the Tate Modern, then take the river taxi to the Tate Britain, down the river. But when we arrived, soaked, at the Modern, the place was filled with groups of school children, all smelling of damp flannel blazers, sitting in groups on the floor of the great concrete ramp, eating their lunches. We toured the galleries of surrealist painters, watched a Damien Hurst video of insects being incinerated on electrical wires, then decided to go right back toward our hotel and find a pub.

The one we found had this sign up. "Enoy the British Summer."

Uh huh. Damn, it's wet!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Up on the roof

Don't forget - you can click all photos to "embiggen"
The train takes you to a dreary looking suburb in Southeast London, and when you descend to the street, what you see makes you wonder what's next. Your guide leads you past the Jamaican produce stand, crosses in front of a zooming double decker bus, and walks toward a tatty looking multiplex cinema -  but just before the entrance, he veers right and goes round to follow signs to the car park.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

London Bridge melange

Click all photos to "embiggen"
We're here in a small hotel right near the London Bridge station, where you can catch a train, the tube, a bus, or part of the London Overground transportation line. Very convenient! But - very chaotic and noisy, too. Right outside our window there's a skyscraper going up, the already narrow sidewalks are made narrower still with construction scaffolding and barriers, The railway trestles pass over the streets, and beneath the spans, the Borough Market has been operating since roughly 1014 AD.

Here are vendors of all kinds of food, both fresh and prepared. You can buy a fresh peach, a basket of flowers, a a duck sandwich, a Pimm's cup or some Thai green curry.

Spanish ham - complete with pigs trotter
We watched a butcher shaving thin slices of cured ham off a pig's leg. We peeked at the charcuterie, and at the place that sells meat pies.

It's all so colorful and great to look at that it draws all kinds of sightseers and photographers - who often photograph one another!

We grabbed a sausage on a stick and sipped a cup of hard cider. The constant roar of trains overhead punctuates the environment.

The road beyond the market is a walk-street where workers and tourists cluster outside the Market Porter pub, its Victoriana shadowed by the giant new skyscraper known as "The Shard" that rises over this part of town.

In fact, the whole area is a fascinating mixture of very old and almost sci-fi new - and on a rainy, unseasonably gloomy July evening, it had a feel similar to that of the downtown Los Angeles depiction in "Blade Runner" - a multi-cultural, historically layered, always moving and always changing place that our modern cities have become. And have always been, if you think about it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A new city!

St. Pancras station in London (Click all photos to "embiggen")
We arrived in London today! I've been so busy that it's hard to find time to update the blog, and I don't want you all to think the exhausted tone of my last post is the dominant sentiment here. We've just been constantly on the go!

Travel day

We're traveling today. See you later!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Vacation is exhausting! Big cities are stressful, even when one is visiting in leisure.

We're trying to fit a lot of experiences into a short series of days, and, frankly, it's overwhelming.

Lots of walking. Shopping. Lots of eating and drinking.

Incredible food. Amazing sights. Sore feet.

I am just plain tired.

Paris street art

On a wall in the 4th arrondisment in Paris.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Dining in a magical world

Detail from the walls at Julien
When you step inside the doors of the little brasserie, Julien, as its website says, you step into un monde féérique - a magical world.

Julien is located at number 16 on the narrow Rue de Faubourg St, Denis, just north of the great golden stone arch of the Porte St. Denis.

The arch, built in 1672, was erected to commemorate the military victories of King Louis XIV, and replaced a gate built in the medieval walls of the city. Naturally, urban renewal followed, and the street north of the arch, the Rue de Faubourg St. Denis, became a busy, high-class district.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ah, Paris!

Gargoyles on the belfry of the church of St. Severin
Saturday night, after midnight, the storms broke and we heard thunder and lightning crash above the sheltered medieval courtyard in Dijon. Sunday dawned with blue skies chased with fast-moving puffy clouds. We took the 11:01 TGV from Dijon, and as the high speed train bucketed across the rolling countryside toward Paris, the skies darkened and roiled with more stormclouds.

It only takes an hour and a half to cover the 163 miles between Dijon and Paris, and the speed is almost dizzying. The rain caught up with us briefly, streaking the windows with water, but soon we left it behind. We made it to our Paris apartment in time for an evening stroll and an early dinner.

The two garret windows at center are ours
Our flat is in a touristy neighborhood, so the evening streets are full of roaming camera-hung hoardes. Directly across our building is the beautiful old church of St. Severin - our garret windows look out onto the belfry.

If you crane your neck, you can see the top of the Eiffel Tower from one window, and from the other the towers of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame's towers, on the right
We found a grocery and provisioned ourselves for breakfast, then ate serviceable couscous and tagine at a tiny Tunisian joint. Later, we sat at an outdoor table of the brasserie on our doorstep and sipped a glass of wine while watching the crowds pour by.

Our street

The restaurants here are all geared to the tourist crowd, with menus in English, serving popular French dishes like soupe a l'ognion or "authentic" Savoyard fondue. We'll be wandering further afield for our fare, but in the meantime, there's nothing wrong with a glass of cheap rose and a dish of peanuts as we people-watch.

A trip to Beaune

How lucky can you get to have a friend who lives near the fabled Cote D'Or wine region in France? On our second day in Dijon, our friend Nancy drove us south to the town of Beaune, right in the heart of wine country.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Images of Dijon

Facade of the Church of Notre Dame
We're enjoying our time in Dijon. Here are some views of the city.

We spent the morning strolling through the streets of the ancient center of the city. Above is the cobblestoned Rue Verriere, lined with medieval half-timbered shops.

After lunch we went to the Museum of Burgundian Life. The inscription on the little faience plate above reads "I will always be amorous with a bottle of old wine."

Entering through one of the narrow streets that opens onto the central Place des Armes.

Carved wooden doors on the Palais de Justice
The buildings here are both ancient and majestic.

The Museum of Burgundian Life is housed in a former Bernardine convent. Here is the lovely garden in the central courtyard.

A bottle of wine with dinner.

Later today we will drive down to the town of Beaune for some sight-seeing.