Sunday, 26 May 2013

Proud To Be Australian?

In the absence of any stimulating TV last night, I watched an Australian documentary series by Joe Hildebrand exploring the reputation of Australians overseas. Hildebrand is a journalist for The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and appears on a variety of TV programs sparking much controversy and debate with his outspoken and provocative views.

Prior to yesterday, I'd never heard of him. But I was catching up with a friend I have not seen since high school and over a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta, we were talking about how Australia has 'changed' and more specifically about the 'race riots' in Cronulla (which are still so viceral in the minds of Australians that when my friend mentioned them, I thought there had been something more recent than 2005).

Anyway the series, called Dumb, Drunk and Racist, follows the experiences of four Indians invited to take a road trip with Hildebrand to experience the best and worst of Australia. 

The prevailing view in India is that Australians are rude, racist, dumb and drunk to the point of embarrassment, irresponsibility and violence. So Gurmeet (a journalist/ newreader), Radhika (an education advisor), Amer (a law student) and Mahima (a call centre worker) all agreed to face their preconceptions and, for some, fear of visiting the Land Down Under and to share their views on what they experience .

Warrning: Before you play this, much to my embarrassment you should know there's some shocking language in this trailer.

If you think this trailer is bad, the series is worse. And in some ways better as the generous foursome end the series with a much improved view of Australians having witnessed the hard-working, warm and generous people who are at the heart of Australian communities, both in suburbia and in outback towns. But more often than not, I cringed as I watched, horrified at the boorish, narrow-minded Australians that have become the basis of our reputation in the wider world.

While I don't believe that the majority of Aussies behave like this, the behaviour of a few is tainting the perception of the whole and I am concerned that Australia, with its 'she'll be right' mentality and sense of entitlement to a land we took from others in the first place, will not really address this.

Our lucky country has never dealt with terrorism, attack or even real economic crisis when compared with the rest of the world so as a nation, we've never had to fight for or fear very much.  Maybe our literal isolation from the rest of the world (and from each other - Australia is a spacious place by anyone's definition) creates a feeling of safe-ness, the urgency of doing anything dissipating in the absence of any trouble on our doorstep. We have a view of our laid back attitude as rather lovable and fun but perhaps it actually hides an unwillingness to step up, 'rock the boat' and demand change.

In saying all of that, it was heart-warming to see the surprise and delight of the four travellers at the Australian sense of fun and open-ness - there's a really gorgeous moment between Mahima and a local when, obviously quite taken with her, he follows 'pleased to meet ya' with 'would ya like a beer?' and then proceeds to order her purple PomPom drinks, to her absolute delight.

The spirit of community that emerges in our country towns and our tolerance for lifestyle choices taboo in India is also lauded and in spite of the nastiness throughout the six episodes, I found a lot to be proud of.  But it was still hard for me to watch these gentle and intelligent people being abused by foul-mouthed locals. That we are not the only nation facing these kinds of challenges matters little.  For all our easy-going tolerance, there comes a time when a line needs to be drawn.

And the time is now.

Most of the series is available on youtube if you are outside Australia and cannot access ABC2.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

My Paris Pastiche...

So here we are at the last of my Paris posts. There have been more than I expected to write from a 4 day trip but the juice of the moments - the ones when you breathe a sigh and say to yourself 'I can't believe I am here: life is good' - were far too good (I thought) to squeeze into less.

So how do I sum up such a fantastic trip? A break from the ordinary? Or immersion therapy of sorts?

The word pastiche emerged in French language in the late 19th century as a derivation from the Italian 'pasticchio'. The Oxford Dictionary defines a pastiche as an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another artist, work or period. Paris is certainly that. But rather than being the imitator, the modern city holds quite a candle to its revolutionary past, the blood of hundreds of generations and thousands of iterations of itself embedded in its cobbled lanes and wide boulevards. So this post is my candle to the City of Lights.

My Paris Pastiche.

I had to be quick to take this but I'm glad I was. An unexpected 'moment' coming up the Odeon Metro escalator onto Boulevard St-Germain on a beautiful Spring morning. One of my favourite photos.

This kitty had a bird's eye view over the city from this window ledge in Montmarte. But it wasn't the only one with a view...

...I had a view too!

Wide boulevards do not only exist in Paris' road network. This stunning view was while walking through the Jardin des Plantes, also home to a 1000-animal zoo.

A glass of mint tea in the gardens of Le Grand Mosquée was a delightful way to rest my weary legs on Day 2.

This was my first trip to the Panthéon. I'm not sure exactly what I expected but it was different from visit to Rome's Pantheon last year. Lots of beautifully painted walls as one would expect... with an army around the altar. 

Many notables are buried in the Panthéon's crypt - Louis Braille, Emile Zola, Victor Hugo - but I found this statue of Voltaire, placed directly in front of his tomb, evocative and peaceful at the same time.

There was an abundance of street performers wherever I went in Paris but particularly in Montmarte. I came across this trio playing with passion, energy and great fun outside the Abbesses Metro on Friday night.
A wonderful discovery this trip was the Place des Vosges, a tranquil and leafy square enroute to the Bastille Metro from the Museé Carnavalet. Maison Victor Hugo is here (for visiting next time maybe?)
The best meal of the trip was definitely Bouillon Racine in the 6th arrondissement. It's in a heritage listed 1906 building with gorgeous art deco interiors, great staff and really wonderful food. There was even a waitress who'd spent a couple of years in Australia. Good service and English speakers - oh how Paris has changed since 2002!

Along the way I've been referring to Andrew Hussey's Paris: The Secret History (#18 in 2013's Book Nook). I couldn't have been reading anything more fitting (except perhaps my map to Montmarte) so a big thank you to Andrew for bothering to write this almost a decade ago and to my friends for loaning it to me.

So that's it. My reacquaintance with Paris duly celebrated. The memories have been made fresh again by sharing these experiences with you so thank you for induging my many Paris posts. I hope you've enjoyed them and if you're interested in dipping into Paris a few times more, here's the complete list for you:

Isn't It Iconic
Paris Parallels
Paris Pas de Deux
Misplaced in Montmarte
Art de Rue...Gidday Goes Walkabout

Merci et au revoir les amis!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Art De Rue...Gidday Goes Walkabout

One of the things I enjoy most about living in London is the diversity of street 'art'. Whether it's from a time long gone or more modern mastery, I love the surprise of it as you round some corner and some unexpected express of imagination catches your eye.

Well, I think Paris is the same, a city where old and new mix unapologetic with effortless chic and during my recent sojourn in the City of Lights I really enjoyed walking around and discovering all of its ecclectic self-expression. If you take to the streets like I did, you might just see some of these.

Icons of design in Boulevard Raspail (left) and on the Av des Champs-Élysées (right).

The American Dream, alive and well in Rue Mouffetard (top) and Rue Daunou (bottom).
The body beautiful in Rue de la Paix (left) and in St Germain des Prés (right).
Tasty treats on Boulevard Haussmann (left) and The King of Hotpots on Rue Vignon (right).
Lost art: climbing the walls in Montmarte.

 Security measures near Jardin des Plantes on Rue Linné (left) and Rue de la Paix (right).

Window shopping for (clockwise from top left) wheels on Av de Champs-Élysées, literature on Rue Lepic, macaroons on Rue St-Honoré and glamour at Galeries Lafayette.

So if you are in Paris, get your boots on - you know those ones made for walking - and make sure you keep your eyes peeled. Because these moments of delightful discovery are everywhere...and finding them is like a turn of the kaleidoscope, giving you a glimpse of a different side of this marvellous city.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Misplaced In Montmarte...

I'm not one for getting lost. My sense of direction is pretty good and while there are usually a few minor detours, I'm never really too far from where I want to go...until this, my third visit to Montmarte.

In normal Gidday style, I checked into my hotel mid-afternoon, sorted a few things and was out the door ready for an afternoon meandering around Montmarte. The purchase of a 10-ticket carnet for the Metro had me flushed with early success and I emerged from Lamarck-Caulaincourt station to head in the general direction of Sacre Cœur...or so I thought.

I ended up here...

...hungry and feeling like I'd been walking in circles. Luckily the boulangerie/patisserie on the corner had some tasty vittels beckoing from the front window (and no-one else was serving anyway) and whilst munching contentedly on a chicken panini (followed by a chocolate eclair), I discovered how truly off piste I was.

Re-directed I set off purposefully again and finding myself back where I started, made sure I turned right this time to find this...

Montmarte is famed for its staircases...there goes my chocolate eclair. Only a few minutes on the hips!

Au Lapin Agile or La Maison Rose. Not sure which name was actually associated with this place but it was unavailable for the vittels recommended by the guidebook when I walked past.

Paris' only remaining vineyard has 2,000 vines producing about 800 bottles each year which are auctioned off for charity.
Place du Tertre was the biggest disappointment of my trip. It was filled with restaurants more than artists and was so crowded, it was difficult to move. Much more commercial than last time and definite changed for the worse.

Sacre Cœur, wedding cake style overlooking Paris.

The views are just spectacular. A camera just doesn't capture the same wonderful light and shade as the naked eye sees.

After about 90 minutes or so (during which time I actually lost my map), I headed out of Sacre Cœur and into a quiet side street for a spot of dinner and a much needed period of 'settling' and reflection. After a rather flustered afternoon it was nice to tuck myself into a corner table at Chez Marie and enjoy the ambience. 

After dinner, I wandered back down the hill to Abbesses station, passing a 'moulin' or two along the way.

Reaching the station I boarded the train for Charles de Gaulle-Étoile aiming to cap off the evening by popping over to the Arc du Triomphe and taking a post dinner stroll down the Champs Élysées.

Thankfully that went according to plan and after walking off my 3 course dinner and wine, I returned to the hotel and collapsed into bed...

...but not before availing myself of a new map from Reception.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Paris Pas De Deux...

When I announced to my French colleague a couple of weeks ago that I was heading off to Paris, she gave me some great tips on her favourite haunts - more on that later - and also loaned me Paris: The Secret History, a book by Andrew Hussey which is a potted history starting with AD 987 and continuing right through to 2005 when the book was published. Being the history lover that I am, I delved right in a few days before I left. And I was still reading it while I visited - in parks and cafes and before going to sleep at night - and turned the final page on the Eurostar trip home.

Why is this important? Because Paris' history lay not only beneath my sneakered feet but more specifically in a couple of the museums I chose to visit over the four days and this incidental reading material brought key events and their protagonsists more sharply into context and focus than any audio guide I could have hired.

So let me tell you a little about my pas de deux with Paris' past.

Step 1: Musée Carnavalet

Musée Carnavalet was opened in 1880 and is the oldest of Paris' municipal museums (and entry is free). It is located in the Marais district (a part of Paris I had not spent much time in previously) in a pair of stunning 16th century townhouses and is essentially an ecclectic display of Paris' past. And it was about a 10 minute stroll from the Chemin Vert Metro in the sunshine, a very pleasant way to start my Saturday.

I started off with the Sign Galleries, their intricacy testament to a time when a large proportion of the population was illiterate and needed a more graphic explanation of what lay beneath/inside. I then meandered through over 100 rooms dedicated to items collected from homes around the city over the centuries, past both painted walls and walls hung with paintings all wrapped around a sculpted, peaceful garden.

View from the first floor window of Hotel Carnavalet...
...and into the garden where I spent a few sunlit minutes on the way out.

Painted walls over the main staircase gallery. The detail and perspective is quite extraordinary.

While this was taken in the Latin Quarter the following day, it's the kind of signage on display in the Signs Gallery.

Among the highlights of the visit was the reception room of Hotel de Uzés from 1767, the Fouquet jewellery shop from 1900 and this, the Prince Imperial's cradle presented by the City of Paris to Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie in 1856...

After over two hours here, I (or my aching back anyway) had had enough so after venturing into the sunlit garden for a little guidebook reconnaissance and I decided it was time to wander on. But honestly there is so much to see and read here that it'd be worth a second visit (particularly in light of entry being free) perhaps to delve more deeply into a specific era than skim the surface as I had just done.

Step 2: Musée National de Moyen Âge

The following day I was ready for another parlay with the past and made my way to the Musée National de Moyen Âge (or National Museum of the Middle Ages) housed in the glorious 15th century Hotel de Cluny. Long before the residence of the Cluny Abbots, the Gallo-Romans built baths here and as well as the hotel, the museum also inhabits the old cooling room (frigidarium) where vaulted ceilings and remains of the baths provide an atmospheric backdrop for the displays.

Beautiful architecture in the entrance courtyard.

Medieval timepiece.

Carved supplicants in the exhibition Tears of Alabaster: The weepings of the tomb of John without Fear duke of Burgundy.

Some of the first displays I came across - I was fascinated but they looked a little eerie to me.

Shrine of the Magi displayed in the old Roman frigidarium.

The gorgeous vaulted ceiling in the Hotel de Cluny chapel.

Again I spent a little over two hours and as I visited on the first Sunday of the month, entry was free here too so unbeatable value and not so crowded as I understand some of the more well-known museums (like the Louvre) are on such a day. A word of warning though - one of the must-sees here, the Lady and the Unicorn Tapestries, has been removed while the gallery is renovated. Just as well I didn't have my heart set on seeing this.

On both of these days the journey to these museums took me into some areas I hadn't visited before too. The Musée Carnavalet is not far from Place des Vosges, Maison de Victor Hugo and Place de la Bastille and the Musée de Cluny is right on the border between St-Germain des Prés (shopping, eating, Musée d'Orsay and the Jardin du Luxembourg) and the Latin Quarter (Sorbonne, Panthéon, Jardin des Plantes and the Mosquée de Paris) so there's plenty of variety once I'd had my fill of history.

And plenty to fuel more Paris posts!

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Paris Parallels...

Firstly, I know I said that the Armchair Tours of Paris would start next but Mother's Day (the Aussie version) falls on Sunday 12th, which is tomorrow, so you'll have to wait a little longer. C'est la vie.

In thinking about how I would roast honour my lovely Mum this year, I was taken back to my very first visit to Paris...with Mum. We'd been away for 5 weeks and Paris was the final few days of our continental grand tour. We were tired and non-French-speaking so we had a few multitude of silly moments together in the City of Lights. (A rather ridiculous session of charades with a patient shopkeeper in an effort to get directions to the nearest cash point springs to mind.)

And I took what seemed like a squillion photos then too (which, in the pre-digital age, cost me an absolute fortune to have developed). Mum took more.

It is well-known in our family that Mum is a little...well snap-happy.

And this has been borne out over the years as her wanderlust has expanded to take in places like the USA and Canada, and adventures like a snowstorm in Petra, a cruise on the Nile and a whole lot in between.

I know this for a fact. I've been back to Melbourne. I've seen the evidence photo albums.

Anyway, I had been wondering whether I had kept any photos of her from our inaugural parlay with Paris...and you're in luck (Mum maybe not so much...) So here's how much things have really changed.

There was our bird's eye view from the observation deck of the Eiffel Tower on the night of our arrival in 2000...

...while this time my opening night perspective was a little more grounded from the Place de la Concorde.

Being new to the whole travelling lark, we were fascinated by the public loos in the streets of Paris. There was some consternation about what would happen if you got stuck in there. Mum was relieved in more ways than one when the door opened...

...while this time around I was just relieved my loo with a view came with no windows directly opposite.

This was a rare moment of still and quiet contemplation for Mum near the Jardin des Tuileries...

...whilst last Sunday I found mine - with a good book in hand - on the way from Raspail to the Jardin du Luxembourg.

And finally there was Mum's first espresso on a cafe terrace overlooking the Place de la Concorde (she succumbed to my nagging sound advice after five days of having moaned about Paris' horrible and expensive cappucinos)...

 ...whilst not too far away, on a grey afternoon more than 12 years later, I found heavenly, chocolate-y solace - and a coffee - at Angelina.

Such great, great memories.

So all that's really left to do is to find her an armful of gorgeous flowers (freshly pic'ed from the Jardin du Luxembourg)...

...and send her lots of love and squillions of virtual hugs.

Happy Mothers Day Mum!

Isn't It Iconic...

I've spent the last three nights sorting through my Paris pics. 

Yes I took a few. It is such a picturesque city that it's hard to resist whipping out the Nikon every few moments to capture a scene made magic by light, position or just plain novelty.

Going through photos after a trip usually helps me to frame a few armchair tour 'themes' to give Gidday-ers a flavour of my experiences. In this case, these are still percolating away and over the next few posts I'll attempt to re-capture the enchantment this amazing city wrapped around me a decade after my last visit. Delving into nooks and crannies, climbing up and down hills and staircases, reclining in parks, gardens and cafes and negotiating the eponymous - and largely escalator-less - Paris Metro. (A girl's got to work off all that cake and cheese somehow!)

For this post I thought I'd deal with the most iconic Parisian silhouettes. You know, the ones on postcards, in books and Audrey Hepburn movies. The ones that first time visitors circle in their guidebooks, carefully plan into their whirlwind itinerary and diligently tick off to ensure the 'big items' are covered. The same sights I ticked off with great alacrity in 2000 when I first visited and that this time around were subjected to, for the most part, not much more than a point, shoot and cursory nod.

But the interesting thing about Paris is that without any effort at all, these icons pop out of the landscape when least expected. The Eiffel Tower peering over a tree-lined side street in the 7th arrondissement, the magnificent roof of the Palais Garnier from the 'cheerful' self-serve cafeteria at Galeries Lafayette or the rooftop vista sprawling before the window of my 6th floor room in rue Geoffroy Marie.

Imagine my squeal of delight when I flung open the curtains of my 6th floor attic room on Friday afternoon to be greeted by this amazing view of Sacré Coeur over the rooftops. I immediately climbed out onto the tiny balcony and took a shot sans zoom.
So in an effort not to clog up your internet pipes (or whatever those bandwidth thingies are called), I've been playing about with my photos and have created a montage of monuments to share with you.

Just in case these escape you, clockwise from top left is Place de la Concorde, Palais Garnier, Place de la Bastille, Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées at sunset (also the new wallpaper on my mobile phone), Panthéon, Sacré-Coeur, Eiffel Tower and Les Invalides (taken from Place de Breteuil).
I'm so thrilled with the way most of my photos turned out that it was looking like quite a challenge to share my favourites without overkill. So I'm rather chuffed with my efforts at multiple sharing so please be suitably impressed / humour me...

...and I'll be back with more of my Paris peccadillos soon.