On another floor of the gallery, six-foot-high images by Massimo Berruti showed how the gruelling search for water dominates life in Gaza, the Middle East.
But the Maison show that captivated me the most was Passages, an exhibition of images by photojournalist Bruno Barbey. He seems to have a knack for being in a place when a global political event is about to explode.
The show included 55 years of his work including assignments from LIFE magazine, as well as travel images from repeat visits to Poland, Korea, Spain, Portugal, India, Brazil, and Morocco.
A particular image he shot in Morocco really stunned me—the subject matter, the composition, the colours, the patterns, the light, the moment. It was perfect.
My next stop was near the Louvre, so I stopped at a café for a tartine jambon serrano and sat out a sudden, sunny hail shower. When it stopped, I passed the museum’s famous pyramid with no intention of going in.
Sun and hail on the Rue Vielle du Temple Paris, France.
Pyramid Louvre in winter Paris France
Instead I short-cut through an adjoining courtyard and caught strains of recorded violin music. I kept walking and, tucked under an arch, discovered two string students performing the gorgeous music live. While they played for coins, they kept glancing furtively at the gates. On a break, they told me their performance there was interdit—forbidden…(Video, 0:41)
In fact, it was Halsman who was given the assignment to shoot a group of young starlets in 1949. One of them, the blonde in the front row, caught his eye…
He and Marilyn become friends and she even allowed him to photograph her in her apartment. I was amazed by this image of Marilyn Monroe lifting weights in her home to stay in shape. I’d never seen that side of her before.
Living and photographing in New York from the 1930s to the 1970s, Halsman had a deep interest in art, science, and psychology. He also had some interesting friends with whom he collaborated, most notably Salvador Dali. This exhibit showed the contact sheets for this famous photo shoot:
Halsman also staged elaborate special effects for photo shoots such as this image of writer Jean Cocteau.
The next day, I met fellow writer Hazel Manuel on the Left Bank for lunch and a catch-up. We sat at the suitably bookish Les Editeurs café and I ordered the bar entière grillé—whole grilled bass.
Basically, it was a dead fish on a plate.
But thanks to some practice eating seafood living in both Vancouver, Canada and Goa, India, I was able to dissect, eat, and enjoy the specimen.
Both Hazel and I have travelled to and written about India, and so after lunch Hazel kindly gave me a signed copy of her novel about India, Kanyakumari.
20th century art at Centre Pompidou
I’d saved the most modern of the modern art galleries for last: the Centre Pompidou.
I didn’t have much time, so I went straight to the Collections Modernes 1905-1965. Year by year and room by room, the fifth floor carefully explained and demonstrated the history of modern art to me. It was exhausting and fantastic.
I stood before Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Man Ray, the Constructivists, the Dada-ists, the Bauhaus school—all of it. All in one place.
I walked back to my hotel, taking care to investigate interesting-looking sideroads.
On the way, I passed the immense Place de la République square, still charged with the emotions and mementos of the November 13, 2015 bomb attacks. Skateboarders and cyclists weaved around clumps of people staring down at the mementos or staring up at the statue of Marianne, symbol of the French Republic. She holds aloft an olive branch.
My time in Paris had come to an end.
I’d snacked on fast-food and cans of beer, but I had truly feasted on art. It felt like a sustaining, winter meal—the kind that stays in your belly and soul and keeps you alive for weeks and months afterwards.
I didn’t see the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, but I did catch a glimpse of her in the adjoining gift shop when I went searching for a toilet. She told me it was okay—I’d done a pretty good job of supporting the arts in Paris without her.
Spirit of the West is a Canadian Celtic-folk band. And for some reason during my bus trip from Bordeaux to Paris, the lyrics from their 1990s song Home For A Rest kept going through my head:
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best, I’ve been gone for a month, I’ve been drunk since I left. These so-called vacations will soon be my death, I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest…”
I planned to be in Parisian boutique hotel for seven whole days and—I was really looking forward to it. After all, it would be my last bit of vacation before I returned to Vancouver.
I had wanted to travel across France slowly, so I managed to get a 8 Euro bus fare from Bordeaux to Paris aboard Eurolines’ new affiliate, isilines. And far from cut-rate, the nine-hour journey was one of the most luxurious bus rides in my life: a brand new bus, free WiFi, electric and USB plug-ins, fully wheelchair accessible, clean toilets, and a friendly driver.
I used the WiFi to turn my smartphone into a guide book and map. Everytime we approached an interesting-looking place, I would look it up on my phone, read its history on Wikipedia, browse photos on Google Images, and explore the surrounding terrain on Google Maps.
You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best, I’ve been gone for two months, I’ve drunk wine since I left. The patés and pastries will soon be my death, I crave steamed rice and broccoli, I need home for a rest…”
Art and nature, I reminded myself. Art and nature.
There is just one reason I wanted to visit the city of Bordeaux, and it has nothing to do with wine.
In 2007, UNESCO designated the entire downtown area of Bordeaux, France a World Heritage Site. That is, the United Nations deemed the city’s architecture to be of such outstanding value to humanity—right up there with the Egyptian pyramids and the site of Pompeii—that it listed Bordeaux in order to protect it.
A few years ago I researched and wrote about my own country’s World Heritage Sites for Destination Canada, the Government of Canada’s tourism marketing agency. I loved the assignment and I became enamored with the simple idea of preserving art and nature that is of global significance.
Art and nature is what I crave when I travel, and it’s why I usually choose to travel slowly—on foot, by bicycle, by bus, and by train. I arrived in Bordeaux on a train, and as much as I wanted to explore Bordeaux by bicycle, I immediately realized that this World Heritage Site was too rich a canvas for me to take in on two speedy wheels.
Instead, I walked and drifted and discovered.
I learned that my Bordeaux seemed an elegant and ancient city wearing an energetic and fresh layer on the outside; and a hip and relaxed layer underneath. In appearance and behaviour, it was for the people, not the tourism industry.
Unlike Pompeii and the pyramids, Bordeaux has intricate cathedrals, modern-art galleries, fresh food, famous wine, and bike lanes. Not bad for a World Heritage Site.
If you see a lot of bicycles in the photographs, it’s because there are a lot of people cycling in Bordeaux. The bike lane network is extensive and there is a bike share system.
Bordeaux’s buildings, churches, and plazas
Bordeaux’s museums, galleries, and spaces
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“Christmas in Lauzun is wonderful,” Ian told me before he and Sue left for their road trip. “There’s lights, festivities, carolling, and wine—lots of wine.”
I was in their chateau looking after their cat Friday while they road-tripped through Spain and Portugal. Ian and Sue were scheduled to return on December 17 and they had kindly offered to continue hosting me so I could experience a Christmas in Lauzun.
It started with a SSAFA evening in the nearby village of Castillonnès. Neighbours Martin and Tess sang in a local choral group, and asked if I’d like to join them for carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts at the community hall.
I learned that SSAFA stood for Soldiers’, Sailors’, and Airmen’s Families Association, a British organisation that fund-raises for British armed forces families in need. Apparently there were so many Brits retired in France that SSAFA expanded here, with 60 aid workers providing support throughout the country.
This evening’s affair was the village’s eleventh annual Christmas event. It was a full and beautifully-organized affair with musicians, a guest vocalist, Christmas songs in both English and French, and readings from the Bible.
A few days later my Christmas turned “blue” when my computer’s failing hard drive presented me with the Blue Screen of Death. I had the name of a computer tech in the nearby village of Eymet so I packed the computer into my bike bag and cycled there to get it repaired.
It was market day, and Clementine oranges were ready for Christmas stockings.
Later that day, Alan, Vera, and William picked me up to drive to the nearby village of Monteton. I had met Vera over Kir (a cassis and white wine apéritif) at the Café des Sports a few days earlier. When she asked if I’d like to join them for a Christmas church service including carolling, mulled wine, and mince tarts. I eagerly accepted.
The Monteton church perches on a hill top, so the views of the surrounding pastures, as well as the church’s silhouette, was stunning.
Inside, I experienced my first Anglican Christmas service (I was brought up Roman Catholic). In the readings, I was very surprised to hear that Joseph chose not to “divorce” Mary when he learned that she was pregnant.
I also discovered that many of the carols I knew as a Canadian had different melodies and words here in Anglo-France. In “Come, All Ye Faithful,” for example, I was a little shocked to hear, “Lo, He abhors not the Virgin’s womb!”
I had joined Carol Barkley’s beginners’ Pilates class soon after I arrived in Lauzun. It being Christmas, Carol emailed us to request that we dress festively, as there would be a little bubbly after class.
Fueled by the Christmas spirit, Ros and I headed to the Cafe des Sport for an early-afternoon Kir Royal (a cassis and champagne apéritif) and greeted Lauzun councillor Jean-Paul who was painstakingly decorating street Christmas trees with styrofoam ornaments.
The next evening, Martin and Tess asked if I’d like to join them for a Catholic service with carolling and mulled wine at the church back in Eymet. They cautioned that I’d need to find a ride as they’d be going over early, and so Alan and his neighbour Jan stepped forward, on the condition that we’d skip the mass.
It was a good crowd, mostly British (someone told me almost 40 percent of Eymet’s population was from the UK), and I was again mortified to hear that Christ abhorred not the Virgin’s womb. I did not see any mince tarts, but I did notice that Le Pub Gambetta across the square offered a café et mince tarte for 5 Euros.
I found myself wondering what French people do for Christmas here in France. Someone heard that they ate oysters and drank champagne. Someone else said they don’t sing songs. I wondered if I’d find out.
Ian and Sue arrived back from their road trip on December 17.
A few days later Paula set herself up in Sue’s kitchen to cut and colour our hair. It turned out to be a riotous event, with Maggie showing up to wash her hair with dish soap in the kitchen sink, and then Sandy lugging a frozen turkey.
Sandy said she didn’t need a haircut, but she did need somewhere to store a turkey. While Paula worked away, Sandy and Sue struggled to fit the turkey in the drawer of Sue’s compact freezer. The turkey won: Sandy made a phone call to Ros who agreed to store it in her freezer so long as everyone remembered it was there.
The turkey was in fact Maggie’s. A former caterer, Maggie would be hosting Christmas feast this year, and this turkey would be feeding 16 friends and neighbours for a multi-course, sit-down dinner accompanied by Champagne.
In preparation, Sue, Ian, and I cycled to Issigeac to shop at their Saturday market. The village has existed since Roman times, and the market for almost that long.
Sue bought seasonal root vegetables for the Christmas dinner: potatoes, carrots, and swedes (rutabagas) the size of babies’ heads—at about 6 LB each.
Christmas eve, Sue cooked up a traditional French-Canadian dish, tourtière, which we enjoyed with Champagne, of course. The next day, all 16 of us assembled at Maggie’s place for a feast of turkey, vegetables (eight of them, when I last counted), wine, Champagne, mince tarts, plum pudding, and various liquors.
Christmas dinner was a beautiful time for me as a visitor. I was surrounded by lovely, lively people who I’d met over the past two months and who had welcomed me into their lives. I felt very grateful to be there.
The village of Lauzun was quiet for the next few days as everyone took time to connect with their families—over a meal or over Skype. I was away from my home of Vancouver, Canada, and yet I felt very much at home—fed, comforted, included, and accepted.
On the main street of the tiny French village of Lauzun, all was calm, all was bright.
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What do pigeons and turkeys have in common? You eat them.
Last month, Lauzun neighbours George and Ros were kind enough to stage my hosts Sue and Ian’s Canadian thanksgiving in France in their back yard. Sue and Ian served turkey and once they’d left for Morocco, I was blessed with ten very meaty turkey bones.
I made a big batch of turkey-and-leek soup and asked George and Ros if they’d be willing to host me if I brought some soup over? The next Tuesday we shared soup, wine, and stories as they filled me in on the village’s perks, quirks, and history.
Since then, we’ve met every week for “Soupy Tuesday” and I learn a little more each time. For example, George and Ros told me that families kept pigeons in pigeonniers (dovecotes) adjoining their houses. They kept them for their meat and eggs, and they’d blend the pigeon dung with straw to insulate the walls.
George and Ros live on a tiny, pebbled laneway called a venelle. Across the venelle another neighbour, Ursula, is renovating a property that had a bicycle shop at the front and a pigeonnier at the back. George offered to take me there for a tour.
Inside the pigeonnier, another neighbour, Martin, was helping Ursula by finishing the windows and walls. He’d added a new frame within the existing timbers and stabilized the walls with new blocks. He grinned that he would not be using the dung-and-straw mixture to insulate the walls of the soon-to-be studio.
Ursula joined us and guided us to the kitchen where the original sink was outdoors so it could drain into the adjoining carreyrou (walkway).
Inside, she showed us a second-floor bedroom that was in its original condition, and then a bedroom that had been renovated.
George and I left Ursula and Martin to their work, and George explained the difference between a venelle and the carreyrou in this Medieval village.
“The venelle is wide enough to pull a wagon through, and the carreyrou is just wide enough to walk along.”
George and I said our good-byes and I agreed to meet him and Ros again next Tuesday. I had a couple of squash to get creative with, so I figured I’d make a golden, curried soup as a remedy to the cool, December evening.
Last Friday I’d cycled to Daniel’s farm and brought home an immense bunch of spinach. It was much more than I needed but couldn’t resist—it was intensely green, with saucer-sized leaves, and it just oozed health and vitamins.
I pulled out the ingredients: cheese, eggs, milk, onion, garlic, seasonings, and spinach. I didn’t have pie dough but I did have those huge leaves of spinach.
Inspired, I turned on the oven, pulled out a shallow quiche pan, and carefully laid leaves of spinach over the bottom of the pan, being sure to lay some leaves over the edges of the page to form part of the “crust.” Knowing the spinach would wilt and flatten out in the heat, I added extra leaves in the middle.
I slid the pie pan into the oven for a couple of minutes while I grated the cheese and sliced the onions.
I pulled the pan out, laid a few more leaves down, and put it back in the oven for just another minute or two.
I pulled out the “crust” again and prepared the quiche my usual way: lay the onion slices in an even layer over the bottom, and then the grated cheese. In a bowl I added the milk and seasonings to the eggs, beat them, and then poured the egg mixture into the pan.
The egg didn’t fill in the “crust” as neatly as I’d expected and some of it completely disappeared. With ignorance and trust, I slid the pie plate into a hot, 190°C oven and kept an eye on it.
After about 30 minutes, the eggs finally started to puff up and look like a quiche. I tested it—an inserted knife pulled out clean—and slid the quiche out to cool and settle.
Twenty minutes later, I used that same knife to carve a wedge of quiche.
Sure enough, the spinach crust lifted neatly from the pan and I had a perfect slice of spinach-crust quiche to savour with my lunch coffee.