Sunday, March 30, 2008
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 CouchSurfing.com 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
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 CouchSurfers.com, 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
Tomorrow I'll watch the sunrise from Montemarte. Maybe.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
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
Monday, March 17, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sunday, March 9, 2008
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
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
Thursday, March 6, 2008
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
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
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.
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.