Sunday, March 30, 2008

Flemish + French = Fantastic

I walked off the train at the Gare du Midi in Brussels, my eyes still a little bleary from the half-sleep past pastures and silhouetted trees. Kim has dark hair and bangs cut straight across her forehead, and she should be standing under the yellow neon that reads "Sam's Café". If that description and those instructions don't match whatever I find at the end of this platform, then I have to figure out where I'll be sleeping tonight.

But she's there, standing with her hands in a checkered coat's pockets and mirroring my own mix of excitement and trepidation. To agree to have a person stay at your house for three days after the exchange of two emails on is silmultaneously crazy and altruistic. But by the time we walked the seven minutes from the train station to her and her father's home beside the printing factory he owns and in which he works, I knew that my visit to Brussels would be worth every Euro I paid for the ticket.

When I meet a woman like Kim, I feel that I've found an alternate versions of myself - she is who I would have been if I'd been born in Brussels and gone to theatre school, and I am maybe her if she'd spent four years in an office in Calgary and then decided to fold up her life and travel. At ninteeen, she can speak English, French, Flemish (a variety of Dutch spoken in Belgium), and German fluently - her English she learned almost entirely from subtitled television, so her accent is a lovely refined North American lilt - and she is learning Spanish and Italian. She spends her days in theatre school, her nights discussing art and cinema over wine and dinner with friends. In the last forty-eight hours wandering through the Grand Place in the middle of Brussels, having coffee with her dear mère, sharing pastries in the little boulangerie et pâtisserie beside her house, eating crèpes with cheese and honey and olives (oh yes and oh my) in the Sunday market by the train station, and staying up until one o'clock in the morning after her friend Noortje shared a dinner of pasta and vegetables and desert of yogurt and nuts dipped in Nutella, Kim explained the difference between playing and acting, wondered with me the worth of a moment, how the context of an experience changes the experience itself, and gave me the word that sounds so much better than our "travel bug": reiskriebel. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this person and her family, and I am devasted to have to leave so soon. Four days ago I didn't know where I would be sleeping for these past nights, and instead of just a bed I've found a friend for life. This universe grants me amazing gifts if I let it.

Namaste to all of you and so much love from my heart, Andrea

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

It must be the beret

Today marks the seventh time someone has come up to me and started speaking French...I assume they're asking for directions. But I can't get past the first syllable of "Pardon" before they're smiling apologetically and saying, "Je m'excuse..." Still, my ego ruffles each time I'm mistaken for a Parisien, however short lived the assumption.

I did converse with a woman who sold me my panini (filled with mozzarella and a somewhat overripe tomato), and she asked: "Tu aime Paris?" I replied that yes, I loved Paris, and the French were so - nice? Happy? I'm not sure what adjective I sputtered but she seemed pleased. When asked if I'm staying in Paris, I said no, not for long, but I will return another time. Perhaps as a student at the Sorbonne, I'm now wondering.

The friend with whom I'm staying has company coming over the weekend. Attempts to make alternate arrangements to stay in Paris left me floundering, so I decided to skip the whole ordeal...and just go to Brussles for three days instead. Now I have to find out where I'm going to stay there, but I have been introduced to, an online community of people who open their hearts and homes to those traveling without the latter and lots of the former. I have faith this community and the universe will get together behind the Veil and conjure up a grand solution for me.

The day began when I shut the apartment door at 5:30 to make it to the Sacre Coeur for sunrise. Sitting on the steps of the massive church atop the neighbourhood of Montemarte, I watched pink creep up the skyline and fade into the dusty gray of the clouds, suffusing the piles of buildings and squares with a dull glow. The walls of the city seemed lit from within, as if made of a transluscent material instead of the white plaster covered with the gray of years. Thirteen hours later, I close the door of the same apartment after traversing the entire city on foot; from the Musee d'Orsay (I bought a ticket for tomorrow to avoid the line up) to the Montparnesse cemetery to the Bastille and now - to a couch with my name on it.

Love and namaste - thank you for thinking of me and bringing all this loveliness into my life.

Monday, March 24, 2008

for the love of travel

Everyone loves to travel these days, but meeting someone who makes such a proclamation doesn't translate to them loving it in the same way I do...or do I?

I spend days inside looking out the windows to the rain and reading books and writing, postcards and blogs and other words. I don't need to be doing something every moment, because I know all that I need to see will find it's own way into my line of sight.

Listening to "Ola Kala" by I'm From Barcelona reminds me that everything is going to be okay, as well as reminds me of my next destination as of April 3. I want to make it out to Monet's garden at Giverny before I head out out out to Spain, and the garden doesn't open until the 1st.

Tomorrow I'll watch the sunrise from Montemarte. Maybe.
I took this picture in this beret in Paris fourteen years ago. I'll take it again each time I return, I think.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Colours de Paris

A pastry shop window. The streets are lined with bakeries and crepe stands. Everyone eats often but not too much.

A kaledescopic perfectimundo. This segues into my suggestion to read Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.

The Mirror of Love in the Shakespeare and Company bookstore. We perused the two floors of carefully disorganized literature and I eavesdropped on a writing group meeting in a room at the back. Cots for writers in need of a place to sleep tucked into the corners on the top floor, a pair of theatre seats made a make-shift reading room, and a sign begged from atop a stained piano's keys: Play Me. I buy The Art of Travel and get it stamped with approval.

Ladurée is the Tiffany's of the macaroon world. Families, couples, trendy Pariesiens, and tourists waiting for a sugar fix stand in the two-hour-long line up for a table. Willy Wonka could only dream of this level of prestige.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Pqrisien 9or French0 keyboqrds qre different:::

And so is this city. London pays tribute to its history; Paris celebrates hers. Every street is a shot from a movie, each store a gallery of art. I turn corners to find cathedrals looming, light reflecting puddles on the sidewalk like a Monet painting. Here you can have a chocolate croissant pour le petit déjeuner, une crepe avec Nutella pour déjeuner, et le gâteau chocolate pour le dessert après le diner. It only took me five minutes to write that sentence.

Notre Dâme, le Musée Picasso, et le Centre Pompidou avec mon amie Tess. It rains here, but the Paris drizzle gives my hair that tousled look.

Monday, March 17, 2008

I forgot it was St. Patty's Day

The National History Museum takes my day, with the earthquake rooms and geological shifts and inner-earth demonstrations. The "What's Happening to My Body?" exhibit hasn't been updated since 1973, and the "Our Place In Evolution" is shoved in a hard-to-reach corridor of the third level. But entertaining to watch hundreds of primary school children run about and fill in the worksheets assigned to them before they left school that morning. My bus takes me back to Fulham and Munster and Wardo, and a delicious dinner of rustic Italian pasta with homemade sauce. Fa-Linn, photos for you:

Sunday, March 16, 2008

muffins make a day great

My last hotel morning and I'm a backpacker again. Down to Covent Garden to grab breakfast from Muffinski's, then a gander into the Photographer's Gallery. Four artists compete for a grand prize, and my vote goes to Jacob Holdt, a Dane who hitchhiked across the United States from '70 to '75, capturing his vagabondness with amateur shots.

The afternoon took me to Tate Britain. A two-screened performance of a belly dancer's performance in a crowded street market shows how romance and cinematic moments occur every day, but we miss them without the lights and the mood music. William Blake has a room of his own. The modern art incenses and pacifies me, depending on the subject.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Westminister and Wicked in the West End

A lazy awakening, then a trundle through Trafalger Square, where A Festival of Resistance took up the entire square, with Marxists and Socialists and Communists and lots of anti-capitalists protested the war in Iraq and consumerism in general.

Michelle explored the interior of Westminister Abbey while I watched it from across the road.

We tubed to Notting Hill, but we passed by Hugh Grant's door and headed straight for Portabello Road, where I sang the Bedknobs and Broomstick's song, snapped along to some buskers, wandered in the rain, and ate a cupcake and a delicious bit of cheese (not in that order).

A bus back to the hotel, a change for the theatre, and a top-notch black cab ride to the Apollo Victoria Theatre on the West End, where Wicked waited. I originally thought this musical would be fluffy and full of superficial fun, but its subtlety and subtext sold me. A late dinner across the street of risotto and stuffed mushroom caps, we headed back to the hotel where I changed into my best dancing shoes (the runners I've been wearing all trip) and ran down to the Phoenix. Downstairs, Ian Watson's How Does It Feel to Be Loved? night ensures Belle&Sebastian and Camera Obscura and the Supremes all play so I can dance till a quarter to three.

Friday, March 14, 2008

parks and gardens, Covent and otherwise

A joyous morning of walking through parks and reading in sunshiney spots.

The Canada Memorial scatters metal maple leaves, and in Hyde Park, the Joy of Life Fountain's figures dance.

Afternoon meet-up with Michelle in Covent Garden, a visit in the Coal Hole pub, and a wander through Trafalger before dinner at a little Italian bistro where the maitre d' kissed our hands and we dawdled till dessert - a delightful tiramisu.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

plumbers followed by portraits

The shower, broken and only able to with operate with a screwdriver equals Andrea waiting for plumber, part two. He arrives, he putters, he promises to get back to my flatmates, and I head to the National Portrait Gallery.

Highlights include Vanity Fair's exhibition, where Aldous Huxley stares me down and Virginia Woolfe wonders wide-eyed, Gloria Swanson readies to pounce through black lace, George Bernard Shaw gruffly hides his chin in his beard. Published from 1913-1936, it lay dormant until 1983 when it was revived and started printing pictures of pregnant Demi Moore and the annual Hollywood Issue. Gorgeous glossiness.

As I searched for these images, I found a dissenter:

Bryan Adams has an entire hallway of photography: must say I prefer his snapshots to his soundbites. The rest of the gallery holds portraits from Elizabeth I to Paul McCartney, Hockney, Brontes, British greats, pictures and prints.

A quick pop into the National Gallery for some Sunflowers and the Execution of Lady Jane Grey, the sixteen-year-old queen for ten days. Then a lentil burger with tomato salsa and a wander through Covent Garden on the rainy way home.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Greenwich, Part II

Royal Teas, the Parisian run cafe in Greenwich, meets me and Amanda at 76 Royal Hill. Warm ginger cake with cool cream makes my day before the Maritime Museum and miscellaneous bookshops, butcher shops beside green grocers.

On the bus ride back to Wardo Avenue to wait for a plumber coming the following morning, I snap shots of bus stops and those that wait there, and notice the encroachment of superstore-like stores in place of the smaller stacked shops. The first Marks & Spencers, that upscale grocery store, doesn't show up until Tower Bridge Road.

At Fulham Broadway, I walk the wrong way and stumble into a Chelsea Football crowd rivaling the Red Mile. Before getting swept up in the fanatic fans I reroute and regroup and find my way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Michelle at the Montague

I awake and pack: I came here with a backpack and suitcase, but I must now reduce and reconfigure everything I own so that it fits in the backpack only. Hoisted on my back, I wander to the bus stop, wondering in the rain if I should cave and pay 12 dollars for an umbrella. I'm still converting because I've still got all Canadian dollars. When the bus halts eight stops too early, I realize you must ask drivers if they are going all the way to the end of the line: because sometimes they stop short. I find another, disembark at Tottenham Court Road tube station, meander down Great Oxford Street, and find Montague on the Gardens, where I'm meeting my cousin who's flying in for business for a few days. The staff opens the door, stands in front of me, and asks, "Are you looking for the museum?" My battered running shoes and yoga mat strapped on my backpack suggest the hotel might not be my usual choice of accomodation. When they realize I am staying here, or know someone who is, they let me in to knock on the door and come in to swanky four star style. Michelle and I laze the day away and then head out for Italian at Ask, a restaurant that appears to be quaint and family owned but is actually a subsidiary of the popular ubiquitous "Pret" deli. The pizza is still delicious, and big enough for me to save it for a meal tomorrow.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

the squares and a circus

A bus ride into the City, we tapas-ed at All Bar One with chips and smarties, then swung by the Canada Store for a Tootsie Roll and a gape at 5 pound (the currency, not the weight) bottles of Clamato Juice. Wander past Leicester Square, through Trafalger Square, snap Big Ben, The Parliament Buildings, and Westminister Abbey, and then down the road to Buckingham Palace, before we jump on the Westminister tube home.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

hometime and house parties

Quiet times all around, except in my head, where the pondering gives way to pandering for the ego. Lounge about and then go out, to a house party in Clapham Common, via bus this time around.
Complete with DJ and muffins, I meet more imported Canadian accountants and go for a walk in the rain.The evening ends with a pound fifty for a McDonald's Cadbury Egg McFlurry. I'm not sure when the 51 pence worked it's way in between the 99 pence advertisement and the till, but it wasn't worth either amount.

Friday, March 7, 2008

from Freud's to heath in Hampstead

A wander about the neighbourhood leads me to Freud's Museum, where I can view but not recline on the famous psychoanalyst's famous couch. I learn Freud was Jewish and Salvador Dali sketched a pen drawing of Freud's head as a conch shell, with a spiral inward and a distended forehead. I find Hampstead Heath, "320 acres of semi-wilderness with views of London skyline", and snap a swan and a father-daughter pair. A pub called The Holly Bush with wall paper yellowed from the cigarettes now banned to the cobblestones outside. The evening ends up down around Picadilly Circus, the bright lights of the Sanyo sign conjuring Times Square or Shibuya crossing in Tokyo. Whilst the boys find the Ship Pub and drink the night away, I grab some chips with mayonnaise and wander home.

Thursday, March 6, 2008


I insist the day begins late, with a long sleep on the couch of my friend's flat and a tidy of my thoughts and things. Then I head out to meet my friend at Wood Green tube station, where we take a free shuttle in the shape of a double-decker bus to the Alexandra Palace. I watched a new band, The Editors, with an old friend and marveled at the venue, once a Victorian "environment and recreation centre".

Grand archways, double-ballroom-sized concert halls, glass domed ceilings. The venue grows grander each year, 133 and counting. The tribute to the combination of old-age and beauty you don't find in Calgary's tear-down downtown.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Time means Greenwich

I broaden my transport possibilities by hopping the tube and jumping on the DLR, the Docklands Light Rail and think how the C-Train doesn't know how to do transit: here we have upholstered seats and doors between cars. I walk to Parsons Green, take the District Line tube to Bank, and transfer to the DLR, getting off at Cutty Sark. There I meet another Canadian friend who shows off her neighbourhood: I straddle Greenwich Mean Time, wander parks, take in astronomy galleries and take pictures. I wonder about working in Waterstones, a British Chapters. We split a two-meals-for-six-pounds meal at a gastro pub, and after the pasta I head home via "proper train", the National Rail, to Westminister, where the District Line takes me home again.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Union Theatre

On the way out, I find a miscellaneous left hand glove on the ground. The lady who dropped it might be who I see getting into a cab, but at the risk of rebuke if I run right to her, I slip the glove on my cold hand and shove the other into my pocket.
Following clearly marked orange sign posts to the Southark tube station, I find a three-walled shop with a chalkboard outside advertising lattes for 80 pence. Affordable and quaint, I pause and ponder and then pay. The barista introduces himself as Mick, from Essex, a gardener by trade who's watching his son's coffee shop while his son does a play in Ireland. He moves like a house sparrow, darting from the coffee machine to the counter to a table to bow before a lady and pull out her chair. His glasses come on and off his nose; he leaves them beside the saucers, on top of the microwave, next to my novel. He fancies playing a Londoner during the week and then migrating back to his wife in Essex. People who don't like the country or conversely avoid the city waste their time not liking things by missing out on what they might enjoy. He takes the best of both.

At 7:00, the back wall of the coffee shop pushes back, like a sliding door to a veranda. The small barroom peers out, and so I find Union Theatre, a literal hole-in-the-wall company that charges me 12 pounds to see six one-act plays. "A Right to Choose" pits doctor against mother as she sends back her girl baby for the boy she genetically ordered, and "November" looks at the reaction of four women to the death of their son, husband, father, and brother-in-law. I meet Jenny, a London actress who will take the money her grandfather left her and go traveling because he never did. She's going to Beijing and New Zealand. She leaves tomorrow morning.

tearing up Tate Modern

Entry into Turbine Hall walks you right up to Doris Salcedo's Shibboleth. A scraggly line cuts into the cement foundation, lines it with wire mesh, and "asks questions about the interaction of sculpture and space, about architecture and the values it enshrines, and about the shaky ideological foundations on which Western notions of modernity are built."

A canvas divides into four quadrants, all of the same room with the same furnishings in the same place. In the first square, a man smokes a pipe and reads a paper. In the other three, the room is empty. Rooms created and decorated for a purpose that takes up one twenty-fourth of a day.

Pablo Picasso's Girl in Chemise captures insolence in adolescence.