Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Paris tres Vite!

 A special treat last Thursday...we took a day trip to Paris! One of the wonderful things about living in Europe is that we can do such things! We took the 8.30 Eurostar under the Channel...and arrived at 11.45...
 ...we had some business to do first (it wasn't a total indulgence!) but when that was completed we were free....to ride the Metro...
 ...look at the art installations in the square outside the Hotel de Ville...
 ...spot the ancient next to the modern...
 ...which gives Paris its special character, I think...
 We stopped in this little traditional 'zinc' bar on the Ile de la Cite late in the day to have a Kir (blackcurrant liqueur mixed with white wine) - yum!
 I love the many statues that adorn the various civic buildings...what tales they could tell!
 This was the bridge that crosses the Seine to the Ile de la Cite where Notre Dame Cathedral sits in splendour (you can see it peeking out in the middle of the picture above)...
 ..and here is the divine orange cake (with optional chantilly cream) that we shared, with coffee, in a small cafe mid-afternoon...
 This is now part of an hotel, but I am so thrilled that they have preserved the beautiful bakery shopfront...too gorgeous to lose!
 We window-shopped the chic Autumn fashions....
 ...and stopped by one of our favourite restaurants...although we had no time to eat there on this trip...
The patisseries are so tempting...everything arranged in abundant pyramids, just willing you to buy...!
But, alas...all too soon it was time to leave again. We caught the 7.13pm train home...and got the hour back..which meant that we were home with Alice just after 10pm! A long but amazing day! I thought that you might like to hear the bells of Notre Dame...this is how they sounded at 6.30pm last Thursday...and how they have sounded for almost 800 years!
The cafe with the orange awning (if you didn't spot it) is called 'Quasimodo!!

Thanks so much for all your comments and discussion on my last post by the way...'Little House' has touched so many of us...I knew it! If you love it as I do, let me heartily recommend a new book by Melissa Gilbert who played Laura Ingalls in the show. 'My Prairie Cookbook' is so lovely...not only recipes, but stories and photographs from her 10 years starring in this beautiful series. I treated myself to a copy for my birthday and I am savouring it!

I hope that you have a great week xx

Monday, 13 October 2014

An Enduring Love - No. 1

 This is the first of an occasional post about something that is probably quite trivial, but that means an incredible amount to me...as you can tell from the photograph, my first subject is 'Little House on the Prairie'!

I'm rapidly heading for 50...and yet this 1970's tv series still tugs my heartstrings like nothing else. First, a few provisos...I have all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's original books and adore those, too. I know that the tv series stopped being faithful to the books fairly early on...I am aware that many of the episodes (especially the later series) are formulaic, contrived...and overly sentimental. And, being a keen historian, I know very well that the 'golden life' portrayed is very far from the reality of growing up and living in 1870's pioneer America. I know all of that. And yet....and yet...
Much as I love Laura, Mary, Carrie and the other characters...for me, 'Little House' has really always been about Ma & Pa...
 It's a strange thing, because on the whole we had a very lovely childhood....we were lucky to have parents who loved each other and are still happily married. And yet, Caroline...
 & Charles Ingalls...
 represented absolute perfection in marriage & parenting to me back then!
 A lot of this is to do with the actors who portrayed them. Karen Grassle and Michael Landon had a brilliant chemistry....and Michael Landon, who was the driving force behind the whole concept, had an uncanny knack for pitching it just right...
 I sobbed buckets when he died so tragically early...BLOODY cancer again. I know that Charles cried a lot, pontificated a lot and was always eager for a fist fight. But he was decent, good, kind, worked so hard for his family...and he loved them all so much!
 Caroline was incredibly beautiful but also serene, gentle, brave...and she could be feisty when the occasion called for it!

Esther and I used to run home from school at full tilt every Thursday, when the show screened at 4.20pm (you see, I can even remember that!) And probably being one of 3 sisters meant that we all especially identified with the family...
 Just the other day, when my youngest sister Lucy was feeling under the weather, she sent me a text to say that she was curled up on her sofa watching an episode of 'Little House' (she is over 40...) and she's not the only one of my female friends and family who admit that, for them, this is one of their ultimate comforting indulgences. As for me...well, I can't exactly analyse why this series still warms my heart so much...and I'm not sure that I need to, really! I just know that when I see that little wagon roll across the screen in front of those rich, blue prairie skies and hear the horns that begin the iconic theme...
I feel like I'm enfolded in a gigantic hug!

Do you have a 'comfort' show like this? I'd love to know!

Happy week x

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Farewell Summer....

 Nearly October, and the year is turning....the garden is getting ready for the cold that's to come...
 ...even though the days have been golden and, at times, very warm...the nights are so much colder now and the darkness creeps in more quickly every evening....
 I see the changes everywhere...leaves curl & brown....
 ...the tomatoes are almost finished, their vines are dry & drooping around them now...
 ...for the very first time we have real, life-size olives on the tree! They won't ripen, of course...but it's wonderful to see them...
 The ivy has begun to bloom, attracting the last drowsy bees and wasps before the flowers turn into dark berries along the old garden wall...
 ...and still the bright, cheerful nasturtiums keep everything from looking too scruffy...I just adore their hot colours and dinner plate sized leaves...so do the bumble bees and the cabbage white butterflies who lay their tiny orange eggs on the underside...
 ...they do take over a bit at this time of year...but I'm happy to let them...all too soon they'll be gone as well! The flowers also taste delicious...I often snack on a peppery bloom as I'm pulling weeds...which brings me to my favourite moment of the working day right now. I come home from the kitchen and make myself something delicious...
...like this concoction of our own tomatoes and basil, with pecorino cheese, toasted on my friend Charlie's handmade sourdough bread....
...and then Alice and I go out on the deck into the sunshine, where she snoozes and I eat...and we both decide that life is pretty wonderful!

I hope you've had a great week...and enjoy the last days of September...x

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Spanish Surprise...

 Most happily-partnered people believe that their other half is nigh-on perfect...and I am no exception. My faith was more than justified last weekend when I was whisked away for a surprise 3 night break in....
 Seville!
 I was told nothing...except that it would be hot, and that I'd need my passport....SO exciting! I didn't know our destination until we looked up at the departure screen at the airport, but it's somewhere we've both wanted to explore for a while...
 We stayed in a gorgeous, small townhouse bed & breakfast in the heart of the old Jewish quarter...with streets so narrow that the tops of the houses either side almost touched across them...
 ...just 6 rooms were arranged over 3 floors around a central atrium...with a roof terrace bathed in sunshine...
 ...such a calm and cool place...I sat in this chair to write on the Sunday morning...Mozart's 2nd Horn Concerto floated through the open french doors from somewhere further down the street...could it have been any more perfect?!
Seville is right at the heart of Andalucian flamenco country...some of the outfits were amazing! I even spotted a shop selling special Flamenco underwear - I guess to help smooth the way into these figure huggers! It's also a very religious area...a few streets near the cathedral were full of shops competing for the papal euros!
Another thing that Spain - and Andalucia in particular - is famous for, is bullfighting. Thankfully, this hideously cruel and archaic practise is now outlawed in the province of Catalunya...and I can only hope that this is extended throughout the country in the near future. There were many bars that we avoided as they were decorated with the severed heads of these majestic and beautiful creatures. It may be traditional, but then so was bear-baiting and burning witches at the stake once! So, instead of photographing anything to do with the real thing, I found this rather lovely and comical fibreglass version peeking out of a t-shirt shop...
Southern Spain and its architecture is so heavily influenced by the Moors who once occupied this area...and what an amazing legacy they left...the colours are gorgeous...there is a particular deep blue that I always associate with this place...
...and as contemporary as it gets, Las Setas de Sevilla (setas are mushrooms - you'll see why!) is a brand new construction (it's actually made of wood!) that sits in a formerly run down part of the city and houses the fruit & vegetable market...
 
You can take a lift to the top, where there is a walkway all the way around with amazing views over the city and a great terrace to enjoy a drink while taking in the scenery...

We loved the juxtaposition of very old with very new....but, naturally, our favourite places were the many bars and restaurants....the tapas culture is an appealing one! You find a bar, order a drink and a tiny plate or two of delicious food...spinach with chickpeas and (very) garlicky prawns were two favourites...very reasonable prices too! They are popular with all sorts of people...the Spanish love children and they are used to eating out from an early age. Then you move on, and do it all again!
It's usually cheaper to eat sitting up at the bar, perched on a stool...there is an extra charge for table service. But it's much more fun to stand in a crowd, elbow to elbow, trying to attract the waiter's attention! The picture below was probably our favourite 'haunt' of the weekend...an hour before this was taken, it was absolutely heaving with people...
...see the legs of 'jamon iberico' (Iberican ham, from free-range pigs who graze on acorns) hanging from the ceiling? Ubiquitous all over Spain...
The images I will take home are of colour and pattern...beautifully decorated tiles and woven textiles...


...everywhere you look! Even the walls of the many, many churches are decorated with lavishly painted tableaux...

...my other memory will be of the heat. Bearable but intense. Siesta never seemed such a good idea! There is a whiteness to the sun's glare in the middle of the day that is unmatched anywhere I've been before, except perhaps Australia...
...and walking home late at night, arm in arm, with a salted caramel ice cream slowly melting in my hand...the velvet darkness chirping with cicadas...the streets lined with citron trees, heavy with fragrant fruits...feeling so lucky and happy...

Good memories....and a very special weekend.

I hope you are having fun today, wherever you are! xx