NEW STORIES: Bucket List, Australia

I’m now in South Australia exploring vineyards, olive groves, surf beaches and Aboriginal culture.  I might even find myself a motorcycle.

I hope you’ll join me at Bucket List, Australia to join the four-month adventure.

Bucket List, Australia – small joys in a big country.

See you there!



A photo art walk in Paris with Barbey, Halsman, and Dali

If you intend to linger in art galleries when you visit Paris, go in winter.

The cold weather quickens your pace from one gallery to another and when you arrive, there are no line-ups outside and no crowds inside. I’d discovered this on the first half of my visit when I’d done an art walk to the Picasso, Modern Art, and Grand Palais galleries.

For the second half of my visit, my goal was to seek out photography. I had read in The Eye of Photography that there were a number of shows, so I added the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Jeu de Paume, and the Centre Pompidou museums to my must-visit list.

And along the way I also happened to stumble upon a forbidden performance at the Louvre, to dissect a dead fish on the Left Bank, and to meet my maker in Montmartre.

I didn’t have to go far to find art in the streets.

Poster in front of Cite International des Arts reads: Paris Stay Strong.
A poster in front of Cite International des Arts speaks to the November 2015 attacks in Paris, France.

Bruno Barbey at Maison Européenne de la Photographie

At the European gallery of photography, a modest entry fee gave me access to six photographers on four floors of gallery space in a restored heritage building.

Exterior of the Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France.
The Maison européenne de la photographie in Paris, France. (2012 photo by Mbzt (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons)
The images of Morocco by Daoud Aoulad-Syad and Leila Alaoui* were strikingly different; the former shot by a film director on-site in black-and-white and the latter shot in a mobile studio in colour.

Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Daoud Aouland-Syad at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France

* As I write this post, I am very sad to say that Alaoui has been killed January 19, 2016 by terrorists while she was on assignment for Amnesty International.

18 portraits of Moroccons in eloborate, traditional dress.
Screen capture of the portrait series by Leila Alaoui called The Moroccans, from her site The series recently exhibited at Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

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.

Massimo Berruti at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Massimo Berruti’s image of children fetching water in a destroyed Gaza home, on display at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris, France.

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.

Brazil by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie Paris France
Brazil boys playing, by Bruno Barbey at Maison Europeenne de la Photographie in Paris, France.

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.

Bruno Barbeys s Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes, 1985.
Bruno Barbey’s “Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, Meknes” 1985.

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.

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)

Philippe Halsman at Jeu de Paume

In the show Étonnez-Moi! (Astonish Me!) at the Jeu de Paume, I learned that Philipe Halsman also shot covers for LIFE magazine—but his subject matter was very, very different. He photographed celebrities.

Life magazine portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
LIFE magazine cover portraits by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris, France.

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…

Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Starlets including young Marilyn Monroe 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France

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.

Marilyn Monroe lying on bench press with free weights.
Marilyn Monroe, circa 1950, working out in her apartment, photographed by Philippe Halsman.

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:

Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus
Photography of Dali with cat and water in Dali Atomicus.

Halsman also staged elaborate special effects for photo shoots such as this image of writer Jean Cocteau.

Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery Paris France
Jean Cocteau 1949 by Philippe Halsman at Jeau de Paume gallery in Paris, France.

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.

Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France
Bar entiere bass Les Editeurs Paris France

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.

Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France
Author Hazel Manuel signs Kanyakumari at Les Editeurs Paris France

20th century art at Centre Pompidou

I’d saved the most modern of the modern art galleries for last: the Centre Pompidou.

Centre Pompidou Paris France
The Centre Pompidou gallery in Paris, France. (Image source:

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.

Sacré-Coeur church at Montmartre

My final culture stop in Paris was the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur—the grand church at the top of the Montmartre hill.

I walked back to my hotel, taking care to investigate interesting-looking sideroads.

Montmartre street Paris France
A Montmartre street in Paris, France.

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.

Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks
Place de la Republique after November 2015 attacks.

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.

And then she smiled.

Paris for a week, Paris for a rest?

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.

Red and black isilines bus on Paris street
The isilines bus service offers travel from Bordeaux to Paris for as little as 8€.

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.

I read that the city of Tours boasts the purest form of spoken French, that the town of Poitiers has a huge multi-media theme park called Futuroscope, and that those smoke stacks that resemble nuclear power plants near the highway are—nuclear power plants.

Futuroscope France
“Futuroscope is theme park based upon multimedia, cinematographic futuroscope and audio-visual techniques. It has several 3D cinemas and a few 4D cinemas along with other attractions and shows, some of which are the only examples in the world.” —

I arrived in Paris on a busy, rainy Sunday evening and arrived at the Hotel Jeanne d’Arc a little frazzled.

“Where can I buy a bottle of wine?” I asked the desk staff in French as soon as I’d dropped my bags in my room. He looked at me kindly.

“It is Sunday, Madam, and most of the small stores are closed but,” he smiled, “There are many places here in Paris where you can find a glass of wine.”

I took his hint and wandered to La Favorite on rue Rivoli. I ordered a glass of rosé, then another, then flirted with the bartender who let me sample a citrus-based aperatif called lillet.

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.

What I love about Bordeaux (it’s not about the wine)

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 laneways

Bordeaux’s museums, galleries, and spaces

Bordeaux’s cafés

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Christmas in Lauzun: mulled wine, mince tarts, and madness

“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.

SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes France2
Guests mingle and nibble on mince tarts at the SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes, France.

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.

SSAFA Christmas in Castionnes France
Pierre Sicaud, accompanied by Patrick Brugalieres on accordion and Stanley Hanks on keyboard at the SSAFA Christmas Carol Concert in Castionnes, France.

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.

Clementines at Thursday market in Eymet France
Clementines at the Thursday market in Eymet, France.

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.

Alan Vera William in Monteton, France
Alan, Vera, and William in Monteton, France.

The Monteton church perches on a hill top, so the views of the surrounding pastures, as well as the church’s silhouette, was stunning.

Church in Monteton, France
The church in Monteton, France.

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.

Carols pilates class in Lauzun France
Carol Barkley’s Pilates class in Lauzun France. Carol teaches three classes every Tuesday at the Salle Jules Ferry. Carol is second from the left, front row. I’m in black, with black antlers.

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.

Jean-Paul Christmas tree in Lauzun France
Jean-Paul ties light styrofoam ornaments to a Christmas tree attached to a lamp post in Lauzun, France.

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.

Christmas carolling in Eymet France
Christmas carolling in the bastide square in Eymet, France.

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.

Ian and Sue Renault Kangoo in Lauzun, France.
Ian and Sue with their fully-packed Renault Kangoo in Lauzun, France.

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.

Paula haircut in Lauzun France
Paula colours my hair in Sue and Ian’s kitchen. Paula told me she’s been doing hair for more than 25 years and loves coming to peoples’ homes. Lauzun, France.

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 + Ian Sunday market in Issigeac France
Sue and Ian at the Sunday market in Issigeac, France.

Sue bought seasonal root vegetables for the Christmas dinner: potatoes, carrots, and swedes (rutabagas) the size of babies’ heads—at about 6 LB each.

Sunday market in Issigeac France
Sunday market in Issigeac, France.

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.

Festive dinner at Maggie's in Lauzun, France.
Festive dinner at Maggie’s kitchen in Lauzun, France. This photo is from a previous meal of just 8 people–our Christmas dinner involved a beautifully-set table for 16 people.
Maggie Morton Lauzun Dec2015
Maggie stirs a custard sauce for a festive meal. Maggie was one of the first Lauzunaises to locate to this part of France with her husband Barry (photo behind her) more than 30 years ago.

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.

Christmas lights in Lauzun France
Christmas lights on the main street of Lauzun, France.
Christmas street lights in Lauzun France
Christmas street lights on the main street of Lauzun, France.

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Soupy Tuesdays bring together friends and fowl

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.

George and Ros of Lauzun, France.
George and Ros of Lauzun, France.

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.

Pigeonnier structure with a dove roosting tower.
On the venelle, George says hello to Martin, who is renovating Ursula’s pigeonnier into a studio. Note the roosting tower where pigeons would fly in and out. Lauzun, France.

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.

Martin frames in a window to the pigeonnier.
Martin frames in a window to a pigeonnier in Lauzun, France.
Building blocks stabilize a centuries' old pigeonnier
Building blocks stabilize a centuries’ old pigeonnier in Lauzun, France.

Ursula joined us and guided us to the kitchen where the original sink was outdoors so it could drain into the adjoining carreyrou (walkway).

Outdoor household sink in Lauzun, France.
Outdoor household sink in Lauzun, France.

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.

George in walking in narrow carreyrouin Lauzun, France.
George walks in the narrow carreyrou between two homes in Lauzun, France.

Double spinach cheese and onion quiche

How do you make a quiche without a crust?

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.

Before I’d come to France, I’d read a recipe in French Women Don’t Get Fat for a quiche that uses cabbage leaves instead of pastry.

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.