Friday, January 27, 2012
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
Thursday, January 19, 2012
And we are getting used to traffic being back on the left!
We had fine sunny days in Rome to explore ruins, museums and climb towers.
Someone had told me to climb St Peter's Basilica to see across Rome. It wasn't until we were climbing inside curved walls just before closing that I realised that this meant to the top of Michelangelo's dome. And climbing stairs between the inside and external domes! The discomfort (climbing inside frightening confined spaces with a very sore throat) was worth it in the end with us arriving just at sunset. Gw loved it (it wasn't in any guide books) and wanted to know who had suggested it (I think it was Anita). L and G went ahead then lost us and ended up doing the climb twice!!
One local told us Rome is a good place to visit but not to live. We loved the coffee, pizza (yes gluten free too), shopping and historic streets to get lost in. But it is good to be back where we are understood now without the street protests blocking our pathways and crazy traffic!
The last few days have been a bit of a blur I'm dosed up on a mix of Italian and English cold and flu concoctions. If the sore throat hasn't gone today then I'll try make it to a doctor tomorrow. I might just go out for half a day today and leave the others to the London Tower. The guards hotel where we are staying is comfortable though next time we won't try to cross Hyde park with all our luggage just to avoid the tube (maybe 3km).
The children in the UK are back at school so queues are unremarkable. We might stop at Marylebone High street's Daunt books for some respite before the rain clears at lunchtime.
Tomorrow we head out to Northampton to spend the weekend with friends. No plans there yet but good company.
Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Friday, January 13, 2012
Thursday, January 12, 2012
We too, on Sunday, walked under the Eiffel, where amongst the throng of tourists, we saw some army men, holding their machine guns. Their presence was yet more jarring (and ironic) when we met them a second time a couple of days later, in front of the white heights of the Sacre Couer in Montmartre.
I'm reading a book about the reclaiming of misinterpreted Christian terminology. This reminded me of the fact that Biblical justice largely refers to the imperative of economic justice and decries injustice associated with institutionalised violence.
Our walk from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc De Triomph and on to the Place De La Concorde gave me time to reflect on these things. Of course I enjoyed the grandeur of the architecture, and the beauty of design.
We walked by the Champs D'Elysee flagship stores: Swarovski, Peugeot, Chanel; As a Japanese teacher, they remind me of Ginza on a greater scale and framed by incredible architecture. Also, I think the love affair with all things French in Japan, also goes the other way! Symbols of wealth turn up on every corner, originating from Royalty and later transferred to the people after Revolution. Under the Louvre, the old remains of Louis V's little castle, are tiny in comparison to the structures added later. The Louvre, of course, is a place visited by peoples who speak all languages, and its wealth is also in beauty celebrated magnificently.
Looking from the Place De La Concorde in all directions:
The Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Place De La Madeleine, Louvre, Orsay, Hotel D'Invalide...
We were approached as we walked by vendors of Eiffel symbolism.
They were symbol traders, key chains, knick knack Eiffels, Eiffels you can put in a corner, on your desk. All of the traders on the street appeared to be of African background. Elsewhere, other traders, in papiertere shops, were also selling representations of the Eiffel, photos, drawings, images, icons. Later we came across an 'artist', playing with this symbol on canvas, twisting the Eiffel, and making it into knots.
I mused on the European 'illegal' or (in a more French terminology), 'irregular' or 'sans papiere' immigration, on a scale the people of the island continent of Australia would have trouble conceiving of... 200 000 to 400 000 according to some estimates. It is illegal to assist French 'irregular' immigrants. Also, presently there is a weakening Euro, panic amongst wealthy stockbrokers and perhaps a hardening of attitudes towards migrants in general as politics here swings right. We have seen, however, a normality of life in everday Paris, where multicultural Paris is celebrated, and there is a conviviality amongst the French of all different nationalities. We have observed no rudeness amongst the French, although we speak very poor French - generally we have tried to use French where possible, and have been welcomed warmly.
I mused some more on the Eiffel tower. Of course the Eiffel symbol it was created in an earlier age, but still has power. So we saved a bit of money and gained in fitness by climbing the first two segments, past the tiny ice-skating platform on level 1, to scale the heights. For us too, it was symbolic to climb to the heights to see Paris laid before us. In the final lift, from the 2nd to 3rd platforms, we felt like we were in Roald Dahl's "Great Glass Elevator", rising above Paris. We cannot deny the beauty of this structure, which retains a certain engineering 'nous', only moving up to 9?cm in strong winds, nor the beauty of being able to scan the horizon of an ancient city from the top.
On the other hand, at the time of the World Fair in 1889, it was the biggest and boldest, and today, is still in one sense at least, surely a representation of monopolistic centralisation. There are the themes in the French public imagination of Peace and Justice, alongside bloody marks of violent retribution in amongst the history of revolution against the regal class. Perhaps the symbol of the Eiffel is meant to be paradoxical?
We read a little more about the history. Joan of Arc, heroine of history, and still guardian of the Sacre Couer, was burnt on the stake at 19 years of age by the English enemy, whilst Marie Antoinette of the ruling class, was guillotined publicly at the most public of public places we saw as we traversed the Champs D'Elysee, the Place De La Concorde. You can now buy Marie Antoinette memoribilia at the Louvre shop.
It is not the French alone who struggle with symbols and meaning, or who avoid struggling with them, as the case may be. This is a human struggle, our struggle. Maybe this is why this day of walking and overload of sights, intensified my awareness of multiple intersections of history.
We entered a church, late in the day, that emphasised the three mottos of Spirituality, Solidarity with the poor and the Arts. This church, St Eustache, weekly feeds 230 people a hot meal, and hosts art exhibitions and concerts.
We listened and meditated to Bach and Vivaldi on the organ, and were ministered to by the beauty of the space and a reminder of God in all things (including cities), the candles lighting the space, and the twilight blue sky visible through high stained-art windows. Finally, moving back outside, with the two young ones of the family, I 'prayed' and 'played' on the labyrinth outside. This space is a gift to the people of the area, a public square for all.
'O Mystery upon mystery, touch the paradoxes of this day, with your healing breath.' Macrina Wiederkehr.
Sunday, January 08, 2012
Saturday, January 07, 2012
Staying at Koksijde for four nights, could be a reminder of what it is to be marginal. Both Koksijde in Belgium and Dunkirque in Northern France, which we visited on Thursday this week for our first meal in France, appeared to be marginal places in some ways apart from the fact they are on national boundaries. This is symbolised by a number of things we noticed. The ambiguity of language is emphasised in Belgium, you are generally greeted in Flemish, but if you greet someone in French, they will often happily continue in French. There is a lot of French spoken, Koksijde also a place of holidaymakers, many French, with little or no Flemish. (Plopsaland is around the corner, for kids and teens including shows, roundabouts and thrill rides).
Both places also had a history of changing hands, from Spanish to Austrian to French, and to English rulers. Dunkirque was actually sold from the English to the French for a couple of hundred thousand pounds! Knowing that some people prefer French and some Flemish, and with our smattering of Dutch/French, sometimes we get away with pretending to be locals and sometimes we don't. The English spoken is generally pretty good, but sometimes non-existent! Those are the fun times!
Still, language wise, going to France won't be our first experience of the French language, after our gentle introduction of a couple of excursions to France as well as three trips to Brussels. Tonight we experience Brussels once more before our seven days in Paris starting tomorrow am. We arrive in Paris at 9am, so you can imagine what time we leave Brussels!
Ge and I returned the bikes this morning, at 8am still in darkness, and fought the winds to make it to the beach place we got them from. It was great to have the bikes for a few days and to experience another aspect of culture here, although for the most part we were the only ones on bikes, as it was cold, sometimes wet and we were in danger of running into dunes which had been blown onto the road.
We really enjoyed the tram ride halfway up Belgium to Oostende, before catching the train to Brussels. This is perhaps the equivalent of our "Great Ocean Road", but we decided we were in the more beautiful part down south, as much of the coastline is lined by tall apartment buildings. Looking to Paris early tomorrow!
Soon we arrived at the end of the tram line, where we had planned to catch a train to Bourburg (France), to a chapel of modern sculpture that K was particularly keen on.
However, we weren't sure how to buy tickets. Gw asked a bus driver sitting in a bus, and he said we could catch his bus to Dunkirk, then go on to Bourburg from there. We took that bus, and after about 50 minutes, were in Dunkirk.
We stopped at a tourist office to ask how to get to our next destination, and we were told the bus didn't leave for another 1 and a half hours. We decided to stop for lunch. We stopped at a nice little-ish cafe. Ge and I both got a Croque (toasted sandwich) "WallStreet", which was the cafe's name. We also got an Orangina, an orange drink I always thought my French teacher made up.
Lunch was very good, and soon, we made for the bus stop.
After a bit of misinformation (and linguistic adventures ED) we realised we had missed our bus. We thought about waiting for the next one, but it would take too long, so we just decided to go home. After a bit of shopping and a brief coffee stop (it's embarrassing where - McDonalds - it was cold everywhere else ED windchill factor to 1 degree!), we got to the bus stop for the bus back to the station. The wait was brief, but it was very cold because of all the wind. There was a port in view, and the ships cast great shadows over the choppy and already dark water.
Awhile later, we were back at the station, and there was a tram waiting there that we immediately jumped onto. We went back over the sand covered roads again before arriving at our stop. We half ran back into the apartment, shielding our faces from the sand blowing into our faces.
It was almost a relief to be back in the smoke (cigarette) smelling foyer, and it definitely was to be back in our room. I can now safely say our family has been to France and back for €10.00!