Monday, 28 September 2015

Paris!

"One night in Paris
Is like a year in any other place.
One night in Paris
Will wipe the smile off your pretty face.
One girl in Paris

Is like loving every woman.
One night in Paris

May be your last!"
   --10CC,  "Un nuit en Paris", 1975
 
Yanno all those things that people say about Paris being beautiful and enchanting and magical and romantic? They're true. I'm going to try and show you how and why.
 
I learned something about myself on this trip, and that is that I apparently have a thing for sculpture. It became immediately apparent that if an object ever had contact with a chisel and mallet or was cast in bronze, I was going to photograph it. And not just once. No. I was going to document the fuck out of that sculpture. That's how I experienced Paris, through its plentiful sculpture, so be prepared to see this magnificent city through that particular lens. I'll try to make it entertaining for you.  
 
After resting from our exertions at the British Museum all day Tuesday, we flew out of Gatwick at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning. Stoo was a real mensch and got up at 5:00 to make sure we got to the airport in time. (To be fair, he may have wanted his house back for awhile. Can't blame him a bit.) We had breakfast at the Red Lion in the airport next to a group of Essex boys who were gleefully tossing down bitters at 7:15 a.m. Britain is truly a civilized nation.
 
Anyway, we get asked a lot why we didn't take the Chunnel, and the answer is that the Eurostar was both more expensive and took longer than the plane. The flight from London to Paris took less than an hour. Also, the train was delayed on the French side of the Chunnel for fifteen hours by Syrian refugees who had wandered onto the tracks. They had to shut all the electrical down in case the refugees climbed on top of the train, so the doors couldn't open. All of the passengers were trapped inside for all those hours, while officials figured out what to do with all those unfortunate refugees. A sad and frustrating situation all around.
 
"Bonjour. Monsieur!
Paris really welcomes you,
It's the best room in the house...
... Forty-Two, Quarante-Deux
Rue de St-Jacques
All our girls are how you say,
Good in the sack
."


We landed at Charles de Gaulle around 9:00 and took the train into central Paris, where we had booked a sweet flat in an 18th century building on rue Sommelard. The flat was conveniently located in the Latin Quarter a block away from the Musee Cluny de Moyen Ages. When we walked to the corner and looked up rue de St-Jacques, we could see the spire of Notre Dame just over Petit Pont a few blocks away.

Cathedral Notre Dame from Rue St. Gerard in the Fifth Arondissement  
We had lunch in a little Asian place offering sushi and pho. I ordered my meal successfully en francais entirement, and did not end up eating a rubber shoe sole with soy sauce and toasted sesame seeds (that's how I know I did it right). Also, I just need to say this: all those things you hear about les Parisiens being snotty assholes? NOT TRUE. They were really, really lovely. They were warm and welcoming and very hospitable to us. Now, that might be because we were trying really hard to use as much French as possible, but we did not encounter any sac de douche francais during our three days in Paris. Honest. 

Also? I was told by one of the serving staff at Le Loulou Friendly Diner that she did not know I was not a native French speaker until my vocabulary ran out and I had to revert (reluctantly) to English. That is a point of pride to me. Je parle le francais tres bien. Woot.
 
Anyway, after lunch, we met our host at the flat and stowed our luggage. He gave us the run down on various things to see, where to get the freshest croissants and warned us about the "Roma children".
 
"Beware of zem," he said, and although I brushed it off then, it was to become significant later on.
 
In the meantime, adventures were to be had. We were still tired from the British Museum the day before and having to be up at crow piss to catch the plane to Paris, so we took a bus tour of the city to get the lay of the land. I didn't get very many photos during the bus trip--the angles were all off, and I really just wanted to be in the moment. Also, I fell asleep. BUT! I will say that while the Champs-Elysee is not much more than a noisy boulevard full of cars and posh restaurants and shops, it was deeply moving to reflect on the fact that it was up that street that Hitler rode when he invaded Paris. One could still see in one's mind the thousands of Parisiens watching that motorcade go by and thinking, "What the fuck does this mean for me and my family?" Very solemn. And not that long ago.
 
In fact, historically, it was only last week when one compares it to places like St-Severin and Notre Dame. In briefly exploring the Latin Quarter, we encountered St-Severin first, and I fell in love with this little guy:

Gargoyle of St-Severin

We planned to do Notre Dame properly the next day, but with it being so close to the flat, we went by on Wednesday and checked out the exterior elevation.

Cathedral Notre Dame

So much as been written about Notre Dame, I hardly have the talent to add anything of consequence. But seeing this remarkable façade made my heart skip a beat. I could scarcely believe I was there, standing where thousands upon thousands of people have stood before me, gazing up at the intricately carved figures, each of which were carved by hand by anonymous medieval craftsmen. And the structure alone! Erected without the use of hydraulics or power tools of any kind! In our 21st century world, we are jaded by skyscrapers and office towers, but in the Middle Ages, it must have seemed to the average man or woman that this cathedral soared to the heavens. Magnificent!
 
Every inch of Notre Dame's façade is sculpted--I was going to say embroidered, which of course is wrong, except that really, the sculptures are like a rich stone tapestry of kings and queens and prophets and saints, of devils and angels and allegorical creatures. Some of these will appear in another post, but my favourite scene on Notre Dame's face is of St. Denis, the patron saint of Paris. According to legend, Denis was a bishop in Paris in 250 C.E. when he was martyred by a bunch of Romans, who cut his head off while he was preaching. Undeterred, St. Denis picked his head up and finished the sermon. The sculpture below shows St. Denis in a pretty typical posture, holding his head in his hands. What I LOVE about the scene is the angel next to him; she's supposed to be comforting him, but she can't quite bring herself to touch him and looks frankly a little squicked out by the whole scenario.


"Jesus, Denis, that's going to leave a mark on Monday, eh?"
 
Next Episode: Paris Day 2

 

 

Guns 'N' Roses: A Red-Necked Wedding Extravaganza

We interrupt our adventures in Europe to congratulate our friends, Wes and Jodi, on their nuptials, celebrated Saturday night at the local community hall.

I will confess, I had some misgivings about this celebration. The groom is a man of earthy, rather rural tastes, which is occasionally somewhat at odds with Jodi's bellydance aesthetic. I was curious to see how those two visions would reconcile.

As it turns out, it was really lovely, somewhat whimsical, and often elegant. Don't get me wrong, there were still elements of the absurd: the groom, his best man and the groomsmen all wore camouflage hunting boots and their boutonnieres were made with shotgun shells and bullets (because what says enduring love like weapons of destruction?) And the table runners were also of camo fabric. However, this blended in perfectly with the rest of the "fall wedding" décor, which was simple and rustic, including mason jar hanging lights, birch branches, fall leaves and bulrushes.

The bride and groom
The ceremony was brief and to the point and had several moments of humour. The weather, which had been a little surly with rain earlier, decided to co-operate and gifted the happy couple with sun and warmth. The couple have been together for some years, yet it was really nice to see how genuinely happy they were to be married to each other.

And the party that followed was quite impressive. The wedding party was led into the hall by Shahenda, bellydancer extraordinaire, who danced with a 20 lb candelabra on her head. Like this:

The spectacular Shahenda doing the shamadan dance
 
The evening was resplendent with bellydance performances, tons of drink and a pile of really incredible food. I mean, this was a spread, people. The d.j. was really fantastic, and it wasn't her fault that the groom wanted so much country. But it could have been much worse. For example, there was no Bryan Adams and no Celine Dion.

Also, given the quasi-redneck timbre of the wedding, I am pleased and astonished to report that there was only one cowboy hat and NO BALLCAPS. Not one. I couldn't believe it. Seriously. Well done, people.

The Fragrant Missus and I spent the evening with the bellydance crowd and their signicant others. I laughed A LOT. Goddamn it, those people are fun. We danced and ate and drank our faces off and had a really, really fantastic time. It was truly a celebration with a conspicuous lack of douchebaggery. (If this keeps up, I might have to alter the name of this blog to Intermittent Douchebaggery. But we'll see.)

Anyway, Jodi and Wes; thanks for a terrific party. May the years bless you with love and health and laughter. You raq.

Sunday, 20 September 2015

The Britain Trip--Part Three: The British Museum and Covent Garden

*Just a note to mouse over the photos, as I often include additional captions that you may find amusing/informative/stupid*

The day following the epic birthday party was intended for recovery, and we used it as such. Mostly, we cleaned up the mess in the back yard, put away all the booze and contended with beer shits. It was the only time I felt under the weather during the trip and it was my own damn fault. I regret nothing!

Monday, we visited the British Museum. We caught the train into London and made our way along busy, noisy streets replete with Londoners going about their business and Victorian and Edwardian era buildings. En route to the museum, we saw scenes like this:
Oh, look! An old Building such as we never see in western Canada!!!
It was my first day in London--I took pictures of everything!
And also this:
I flt like this after the birthday party.
British grafitti--same level of stupidity as at home.
There was initially some concern that we were lost, but the Fragrant Missus is like a homing pigeon in terms of knowing where she's going, so eventually, we (and several thousands [I may be exaggerating somewhat] of other people) arrived at the British Museum. It has an imposing edifice, like many buildings in London.
"Don't make eye contact! She's in the mood to tear your face off!"
A detail from the front elevation of the British Museum
The museum itself is free, although donations are gladly accepted. I chose to support the Museum by giving myself backstrain with the many books and curios I purchased at the gift shop. I think of it as the "Exit Fee".

Anyway, I had thought that we would go in, see the Medieval stuff and call it a morning. What an idiot. Bitches, this is the British friggin' Museum!!! One does not merely "see the Medieval stuff and call it a morning". NO! One is drawn deeper and deeper into each exhibit, tempted and teased by some of the most incredible works of art this planet has produced since our forebears learned how to hold a chisel or a brush. 

And it was a deeply moving experience for me, as an amateur historian and scholar, to see some of the items that I had heretofore only read about in books or seen online. These things had, up until now, been abstract, mythical, almost theoretical. But now, they were right there in front of me, almost close enough to touch. Here was the Dunstable Swan "in person".
I fuckin' love the Dunstable Swan
The Dunstable Swan, English 14th C., enamel and gilt
Here also was the Sutton Hoo helmet, both the original and a restored reproduction. Here were the Lewis Chessmen, and, in other exhibits, statues of Pharoahs and giant scarab beetles and the most exquisitely carved Japanese netsuke, and yes, even a big, honkin', sonafabitchin' Moai from Easter Island.

I will forever be haunted by this image of the emaciated Buddha from the Asian exhibit:
Can we get this poor bastard a sandwich?
Emaciated Buddha Punjab, 2nd-3rd C.
But yanno, when not rhapsodizing about my adventures in other locales, this blog is actually dedicated to douchebaggery. And we had been very fortunate in that we had not really been exposed to any so far. But at the Museum, this was to change.

Whenever anyone asks me what I did not like about my trip, I am stuck for an answer until I remember the fucking tourists. Fuckin' tourists. I hate 'em. I hate 'em when they come to my hometown, and I hate 'em in other places. There's too many of them and they wander around aimlessly, like cattle on a Mumbai street. Or they stop abruptly to look at their fucking phones at the top of the crowded escalator. And they scuff their feet along the marble floors so that their soles squeak and a supposedly quiet day at the Museum ends up sounding like gym class. 

It was an interesting juxtaposition, however, looking at these dull, shuffling pinheads and wondering how the fuck we ever managed to create said works of art, given the obvious lack of talent in the represented genetic pool. Most of these people had no discernible comprehension or appreciation for the magnificence they were viewing. And it's not because I didn't see anyone else weeping over the Dunstable Swan like me. Still, they were doing their thing (usually in my fucking way) and I was doing mine and that was that. It was tolerable, even for an elitist snob like me.

But then there was this fucking tosser who decided he was going to be funny while I was trying to take a picture of this remarkable work:
"It's my uniquely ethnic and cultural celebration of life and death and I'll cry if I want to.
Life and Death Gallery Room 24
I can't recall any of the details about this carving. I usually make notes or snap a shot of the exhibit card, but while I was trying to get this shot, I had to back up a few times to make sure I had the proper angle and that it would all fit in the way I wanted. And because I realize that I am not the only person who might be looking at the object, I try to be situationally aware and look around to make sure I'm not stepping into anyone else's shot or view. I'm not one of *those* tourists.

And that's when I noted the fucking wanker behind me putting his foot out to trip me.

I straightened immediately and looked directly at him. He appeared startled to be caught, as did his Essex Girl companion. 

"Really fuckin' funny," I said to him, and the both of them moved off quickly. I waited to see if he was going to respond with anything more than a smirk, because I already had my rejoinder loaded in the breech ("Nice choice, darlin'--your friend here has had the clap so often, it's more like applause"), but they left the gallery and I was free to pursue my obsessive picture-taking.

We spent roughly five hours at the British Museum, really only scratching the surface, and then we decided to walk over to Covent Garden (no "s", there's only one garden. Well, actually, there isn't any garden at all anymore, but there used to be only one. Only tourists say "Gardens", and we've already established how I feel about tourists. Fucking tourists). 

On the way we saw this:
The next fucker who squeaks his shoe on the floor is gonna need this place
The Happy-Go-Lucky Funeral Parlour
Covent Garden was okay. I mean, there was lots to see, if you're really into shopping of a certain kind (i.e. flashy, chunky drag queen jewelry, handpainted silk ties featuring London landmarks, etc), and I thoroughly enjoyed the street musicians! But mostly I was interested in eating at this point. We got a seat in the basement of the Punch and Judy, which had come highly recommended by a friend of my sister's. I loved the atmosphere! Sadly, our experience was less than stellar--they didn't have any of the beers that I wanted to sample, and The Fragrant Missus's food arrived at the table cold. It needed to be sent back to the kitchen for re-warming, and the busy staff was resentful of her request. Maybe they thought we were American, I dunno. It's still no excuse.

But it was food, anyway, which was much needed before we headed off to the tube to find Hamley's on Oxford. I was on the hunt for marbles, of which I have a small collection. And Hamley's carries a selection of marbles by the U.K.'s only remaining marble producer, House of Marbles, located in Devon. Beautiful work. 

Our trek along Oxford street was arduous--we were footsore and weary, I was weighted down by my purchases from the British Museum ("My treasures, Precious!"), and although we were surrounded on all sides by opulence and prosperity, we also saw people covered in newspapers, sleeping on the doorsteps of shops like Louis Vuitton. It was a sobering view, just as it is as home.

Anyway, Hamley's did, in fact, have marbles (or "mibs", as we say in the marble collecting game), and I made a few purchases. Most of you know that I am an ardent fan of The Queen, but I was not prepared for this full-on creepfest:
Betty and Susan, the Corgi
What the actual fuck???
Yeesh. Creepy Lego Queen. By this time it was 9:00 p.m. and we'd been on our feet since before 9:00 that morning. We hopped the train back to the station at Brentwood, where we caught a cab to Kelvedon Hatch. The setting was eerily familiar though--the cab driver was a man of colour and some education who, upon hearing where we wanted to go, said, "Where is that?"

My response, in an obvious Canadian accent, "We're not from around here."

Next Episode: Gay Paree!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Britain Trip - Part Two: PARTY!!!

(Or, Tequila and Trampolines Don't Mix)

I awoke the next day (Friday) to pigeons doing their best Keith Richards impressions outside my window and decided it was an opportune time to whiz. When I emerged from the loo, however, I discovered my five-year-old niece, Sadie BumBum, standing in the hallway. She seemed uncertain about confronting a disheveled stranger in her toilet who had not been there when she went to bed the night before. To her credit, though, she just stood there, staring.

Groggily, I said, "Good morning, Sadie. I'm your Auntie Anne. Do you remember me?"

Probably not, because she continued to stare mutely.

"I'm going to stay with you for a while, is that okay?"

She nodded and bolted for her room, so I returned to mine and tried to sleep off the jet lag and all the beer from the night before.

Friday was a quiet day of preparation for the century's grandest 40th birthday bash. Stoo was expecting half of the U.K. to show up, or he must have been, judging by the amount of booze he laid in for the occasion. Hard liquor included scotch, vodka (several flavours), rum (spiced and un), Jack Daniels, sherry, vermouth, gin, tequila, Southern Comfort, and some hideous cinnamon and sour shots. Blech. Softer drinks included white, red and rose wines, ciders (Magners and two kinds of Strongbow), and various beers. With the exception of Corona, none of them were shitty beers, either. And all of these were available in quantity. I can honestly say, I have never seen this much booze assembled outside of a professional establishment, before or since.

Shmee, my sister, took us into the town of Brentwood, where we had lunch at The Merchant. My smoked mackerel and salmon pate was fucking amazing. In fact, I will say this about eating in Britain; forget eveything you've ever heard about shitty British cuisine. It simply isn't true. We had the most delectable meals during our time in the U.K., whether it was good old fish and chips or curries or locally produced cheeses...it didn't matter. The food was fantastic, and at least where we were, there was enormous emphasis placed on growing and eating both locally and fresh.

OMGOMGOMGOMG
The Chapel of St. Thomas Becket

It was also in Brentwood where I saw my first proper medieval building. The St. Thomas Becket Chapel was established in 1221, and constructed of dressed limestone and flint. It is mostly a ruin now, but I was enthralled. I touched it, sniffed it, admired it; I almost licked it. Still, it's been standing for 800 years and thought I might run he chance of contracting the Plague, so declined.

The next day, Shmee went off to have her hairs did, and in her absence, we decorated the house and yard. Or yards, rather, as the fence separating Stoo and Shmee's backyard from that of Stuart and Wendy Brooks was removed to make one big party palace. Again, Stoo went all out. There were so many Canadian flags in the garden, one could be forgiven for thinking it was Canada Day! Only, there was no Bryan fucking Adams or shitty beer, thank ghod.

People started arriving around 3:00 p.m. By that time, the bartenders had arrived and were busy pouring copious amounts of booze down the throats of partygoers. The caterer was working on getting the grills hot so that we could indulge ourselves in chicken, sausages, burgers, and lamb. The weather was gorgeous, probably the hottest day we had throughout our trip (in contrast, it snowed that day in Canada. That's right, it fucking snowed in fucking August).

Things were blasting along. There was food.

Stoo orders the help about
There was drink.

John Smith, I love you.
There was live entertainment.

Mr. Dan Evans, ladies and gents.
There was dancing.

Me and the gallant Mr. Stuart Brooks. I'd emigrate for this man.
There was cake. A beautiful cake. 

Canada represents, eh?
There were no obvious douchebags. It was glorious. The party was only missing one essential ingredient... 

Mariachi Fiesta!
Yes. Stoo's final surprize was a mariachi band.

And the appearance of the mariachi band resulted in unbridled enthusiasm, which took the form of Shmee running from guest to guest saying, "There's a fucking mariachi band in my fucking garden for my fucking birthday!!!" 
Fuckin
"There's a fucking mariachi band in my fucking garden for my fucking birthday!"
The band played many of the mariachi standards, including "La Cucaracha" and "La Bamba," and, inevitably, "Tequila". Now, I haven't been on speaking terms with tequila for many years, not since a house party where I got so loaded on shots that I publicly opined that if a certain ADHD stepson couldn't be medicated, educated or otherwise modified in his behaviour, I should be allowed to eat him. I meant it satirically, a la Jonathan Swift, but my satire was not appreciated, least of all by his mother. Tequila is a bad influence.

But when there is a fuckin' mariachi band in your sister's fuckin' garden on her fuckin' birthday playing fuckin' "Tequila", and you're in the U fuckin' K, you fuckin' do tequila shots with your fuckin' sister and her fuckin' awesome friends. Possibly it can be said I didn't need to do quite so many. However, it was absolutely worth it to see how impressed the bar staff were by the fact that I was still standing after the last one. And believe me, the Brits are a hard drinking race of people.

Certainly, I didn't need to then crawl onto the kids' trampoline and thrash about trying to grab their toes while they screamed. That wasn't my wisest decision. I don't know how long it lasted, but I do vaguely recall stopping before I spewed everywhere. And at some point, Wendy Brooks and I were reclining on the trampoline with a little boy of about four, looking up at the mild British night.

It was, as Stoo, would say, the nuts.

Next Episode: London and the British Museum

Monday, 7 September 2015

The Britain Trip - Part One: Arrival

On August 19, the Fragrant Missus and I flew to the U.K. to visit my sister and celebrate her 40th birthday. This was a sooper sekrit plan and had been months in the making, as her husband, Stoo, had started planning it shortly after the New Year. It was agony, keeping it to ourselves for five whole months, but we did it, and what follows over the next little while is a chronicle of our 17 days in Britain and Paris. Some of the writing here has appeared already on my Facebook page, but bear with me--there will be additional info and some photos here that didn't appear during my very sporadic updates during the trip.

We flew out on Iceland Air. It was a six-and-a-half hour flight over Canada's tundra into Keflavik, Iceland. It was a bizarre experience being on a flight on which English was not the primary language. It was like travelling with Vikings. In fact, when the Fragrant Missus asked me for a translation, I said, "We come from the land of the ice and snow where the midnight sun and the hot springs flow." Then I added, "Duh."

Anyway, the flight was excellent. There were lots of movies to watch and a trio of tall, slender, angular flight attendants. The only challenge was the security line up in Keflavik, which took so long that our connecting flight to London Heathrow was in its final boarding call by the time we made it upstairs. I was tired and cranky and prepared to go all Erik the Viking on someone, but it was all good in the end.

Two and a half hours later, we touched down in London at precisely noon. Our flight was required to circle over north London for about ten minutes prior to landing. My sister lives in Kelvedon Hatch, a borough of Brentwood, which is also north of London. By this time, I was quite anxious to get off the plane. We hadn't slept a wink, and were sore, cramped, exhausted and starving. I just wanted Inga (or Helga or Olga) to give us a pair of fucking parachutes. But apparently that meant we' d bypass British Security, so that wasn't on.

I will say this about the British Security services--they were well-dressed, efficient and pleasant. This, in direct contrast to the lazy, rude, slovenly and obviously bored Canadian security personnel. British Security were dressed in uniforms with ties and  crisply ironed shirts - the Canadian security services were wearing bulletproof vests. Seriously. Britain has actually been subject to international terrorist attacks - Canada not so much. Any excuse to be dramatic, I guess.

Anyway, we were collected by Stoo, who drove us to the home of his friends and neighbours, Wendy and Stuart Brooks.We were to wait there for a few hours before the unveiling of the big surprize! Driving out of London along the M25 took a bit of getting used to. This driving-on-the-left thing. is fucked up. Also, the British cheerfully blast two vehicles headlong down a lane that is properly only meant for one. It is initially very poop-in-the-pants inducing.

We made it to Kelvedon Hatch with no incident and dozed for a while until Wendy and Stuart took us over to The Shepherd. Anticipation and spirits were high as Stoo and Terri approached! This was the culmination of five months of planning!!! Almost a half a year of waiting! She had no clue! How would she react???

There's a video on Facebook that I lack the technical skill to post here, but it was fucking brilliant, as they say. 

This may come as no particular surprize to any of you, but I got absolutely faced that night. I had two beers at the Brookses before heading over to The Shepherd, where we had two more. After that, we stumbled across the road to The Bongow for a sumptuous curry. Seriously, this was fantastic food, and the serving staff actually addressed Stoo as "guvnor". Of course, there was more beer and champagne, and combined with being up for about 24 hours, I got really, really shitty. I mean, when we finally got to bed, I hit those sheets harder than Dale Earnhardt. 

And there's no telling how long I might have slept, but around 6:00 a.m., the pigeons outside the window started. At first, I thought it was rather charming, but after 20 minutes, I was fantasizing about powerful hand cannons and a lot of dead fucking pigeons. Have you ever noticed that pigeons sound an awful lot like the backing vocals to the Stones' "Sympathy For the Devil"? It's impossible to sleep through this incessant "whoo-hoo/whoo-hoo/whoo-hoo".

And they have ruined this song for me utterly. So if there are douchebags in this story, it is the pigeons. Fuckers.


Next Post: The Most Epic. Party. Evar.