An inconvenient tooth

My writing inspiration, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Ben Trovato!

BEN TROVATO – Durban Poison

There are two things I fear most of all. Three, if you include cockroaches. What the hell, let’s throw in praying mantises and make it four. Heavy lifting rounds it off to five.

But all things considered, visiting the hairdresser and the dentist are my number one and number two fears. They are interchangeable depending on the length of my hair and the state of my mouth.

The other day my hat blew off and, before I could pick it up, someone walking past tossed R5 into it. At first I was outraged, but quickly realised that this was a very acceptable way to make money without having to do anything more than stand on a pavement with a glum expression on my face. I write for a living. My face and glum, they go back.

I felt a bit of a fraud shifting from foot to foot, doing nothing…

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The Closing of the Chapter

La Tour Eiffel
La Tour Eiffel

Well yesterday I took myself off to Trocadéro to visit the Eiffel. I went back to the base of the tower and looked for the bench I sat on that day, four years ago when I realised my marriage was over. I didn’t find that exact one but I found one close to it underneath the tower. I scarcely remembered how beautiful it is and what a masterpiece of engineering it is. There is much detail which makes it a feast for the eyes when you’re close up.

But this post really isn’t about the Eiffel. It’s about the journey I started all those years ago that I have finally closed the chapter on. Being who I am, I appreciate closure and resolution. This journey through divorce and into healing has been one of the most difficult things I have done to date. It didn’t help I got into a rebound relationship almost straight after the divorce and didn’t give myself time to lick my wounds and have the healing at least start before trying to commit emotionally to someone else, in that broken state.
That relationship had it’s place in my life, as do all relationships for each of us, so it wasn’t all bad. It taught me exactly what I will and will not accept post divorce and for that I am thankful.

I have spoken before about needing to put things down simply because they are heavy and I can honestly say that this is exactly what I have done. There is a lightness in my step and an ease in my breathing that has been coming for months. There is a sense of wonderment and achievement knowing that I have come to the end of the book I started four years ago. There is no more satisfying a feeling than closing the cover and putting the book on the shelf.

There were days when I scarcely believed I would ever feel like myself again, when I would ever breathe easily, when the scars of that time would be flat and white and barely visible upon the surface of my heart. Today is that day. I can delve into that time in my life as if diving into a pool without being overwhelmed by those emotions and memories. Today is the first time I have not shed a single tear whilst writing about it.

Each person’s journey is different but some of the things I’ve learned in these four years are:

1) Get talking
Whether you do it with a therapist (I would HIGHLY recommend a professional) or a good friend, talk about it until you feel like you’ve talked it to death. Do not underestimate the cathartic nature of talking and putting your thoughts and emotions out into the ether. Try not to see therapy as a long term commitment. One of the best things my therapist said to me was: “You’re not going to be here for a long time.” Immediately I felt that this phase was transitory and he assured me I would emerge from the flames scorched but not consumed. He was right.

2) Get busy
Whatever it is you decide to do, keep yourself distracted, certainly initially and try to limit your hours in solitude. Yes, a large percentage of us are introverts and that’s exactly who should not spend too much time alone, in our own dark worlds with nothing but our pain as company. I didn’t seek out crowds, I kept myself busy by spending time with my nearest and dearest, all of whom helped me to process different aspects of my failed marriage and subsequent journey through healing.

3) Get crafty
Start a project. A craft project, a cooking course, a diploma in crochet, get a puppy and go to puppy training classes (the value of an animal’s unconditional love can NEVER be over estimated). Try not to bury yourself in work alone. I found creative outlets were the most rewarding and also far more fun.

4) Get travelling
Plan a holiday, either to a place you have never been or to a place you love and want to return to. Keeping your focus on a time and place in the future will help distract you as to where you presently are. Research your destination and do and see things you would otherwise not do. I decided to move toward the fear–as it were–because great things happen when you step outside of your comfort zone. I can attest to that!

5) Get some tea
The almost other worldly magnificence of tea is a secret long known to many, including my grandmother, who used to say that ‘There is nothing cup of tea cannot fix’ and in this day and age when you have millions of different types, there is sure to be one suited to you. I personally love green tea with mint and Earl Grey which is infused with bergamot. Tea does more than just arouse your tastebuds, it warms your bones and gives your soul a hug. Put down the coffee, don’t be scared.

6) Get pampered
Go for a massage or a facial or a pedicure once a month. Little treats like these are magical little indulgences that lift your mood and make you feel good about yourself. If you find a good therapist, she could even become a friend!

7) Get moving
Go for a walk along the beach, go for a walk around the block, sign up for acting classes or dance classes or mime classes. Learn a new language. Experience something new, do something new, meet a couple of new people, who knows where that could lead!

8) Get helping
One of the best ways to forget about your own pain, is to help other people through theirs. We just have to look around us to see how much pain the world is in to see that we can make a difference, even in the smallest of ways. The world needs more people who are prepared to set aside their hurt and get up and do something good for someone else without expecting anything in return.
Kindness has no cost to anyone.

9) Get tipsy
Not all the time and don’t drink to cope, that’s not what I am advocating. The benefits of sitting at your friend’s kitchen table and sharing a good bottle of wine are invaluable. Plus you can sleep at your friend’s place so you don’t have to drive and who doesn’t like a pajama party?! You can watch Friends reruns and make breakfast together.

10) Get laughing
This one is hard when you’re hurting because sometimes we feel that to laugh while we feel so sad is bizarre or even disrespectful to our pain. It’s harder to feel sad while watching a comedy show or a funny movie and will relieve some of the sadness induced tension, even if it’s just for an hour. A good belly laugh is therapeutic and releases feel good hormones like seratonin and oxytocin which have prolonged effects.

Finally, in closing, always remember that in the end, everything will be ok and if it’s not ok, then it’s not the end.

Thank you for reading.

The d’Orsay, l’Orangerie and the Opéra Garnier

Another busy week in Paris! I can scarcely believe it’s been three weeks already and I’m half way done with my stay here.

In the past week I have visited Musée D’Orsay and Musèe de l’Orangerie which jointly host work from artists like Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, Manet, Monet, Klimt, Signac and Cabanel. Those are some of my favourites however they also have Renoir, Cezanne, Sisley, Degas, Delacroix and too many others to list.

The D’Orsay has in it’s collection some notable Van Gogh paintings. Of the collection in the D’Orsay, the jewel has to be Starry Night over the Rhone. Van Gogh painted this painting in 1888 and prior to entering the asylum he checked himself into in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. His very famous The Starry Night was painted while in the asylum and the two starry night paintings clearly show how rapidly his mental state had deteriorated. Sadly, Van Gogh died two years later after a self inflicted gunshot wound to the chest, having sold one painting and in virtual anonymity. He is considered the greatest Dutch painter since Rembrandt.

The biggest surprise, for me, in the D’Orsay was a Paul Signac, which I could not stop looking at, called Port of La Rochelle. I’m not entirely sure why this particular work struck such a chord in me but I do love the pointillism technique and the brilliant use of colour.

Another one of my favourites was The Magpie by Claude Monet who remains one of my favourite painters of all time. Considered one of his best snowscapes it is one of the D’Orsay’s most popular paintings and it’s no wonder. It is utterly beautiful. The master of, and arguably, the most notable among the Impressionists, the short brush strokes, use of colour, colour in shadow and realistic renderings of landscapes are what draw me to his work. I can stand in front of a Monet and stare at it for hours.

This is exactly what I did when I went to the Musee de l’Orangerie which hosts part of a series of Nymphéas (Water Lilies) which he painted from his home in Giverny. The series consists of approximately 250 paintings, painted in the last 30 years of Monet’s life and whilst he suffered with cataracts.
The display at the Musée D’Orsay is utterly breathtaking. Two oval rooms with the canvases mounted in a 360 degree treat for the eyes. The walls are a neutral cream and there is nothing else in the room to distract you from Monet’s work. There are two such rooms hosting eight paintings and having the works displayed in this manner was exactly how Monet wanted it.

In the days following my visit to the museums I went on a tour of the Opéra Garnier. This tour was a birthday gift from a very special friend and it is thus far one of the best gifts I’ve ever received!
Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared me for the Opéra Garnier. I had deliberately not gone online to look at anything as I wanted my first experience to be first hand.
The Opéra was built by Charles Garnier during the time of the reformation–the very same one that saw Baron Haussman tearing down approximately 12,000 square meters to facilitate this ‘facelift’–under Napoleon III. Charles Garnier secured the privilege to build the home of the world renowned Paris Opera and Ballet companies after taking part in an architectural competition.

The Paris Opéra is utterly exquisite, opulent and in a class of it’s own. The grand staircase is so beautiful that I feel as though any words I use to describe it would be doing it a disservice. In one of the French colonies, I forget exactly which one, they found opal which they mined and had brought back to France and used it in the construction of the balustrade of the staircase.
Opal was exceptionally expensive which is why only part of the staircase is made from it. The same is said for the mosaic style that Garnier saw when he spent some time in Algiers and only parts of the ceiling are decorated in this manner.

The paintings, mosaic and sculpture work on the ceilings, walls and staircase are utterly magnificent. Breathtaking. Astounding.

Every corner I took was more stunning that the one before it, every sculpture–of the Greek mythological gods and busts of various composers, including Mozart, Spontini and Beethoven–more spectacular than the last, every painting more beautiful that it’s predecessor. Just when I thought the staircase was the masterpiece of the Opéra, we entered the Grand Foyer.
Suffice it to say, so magnificent was that room that I simply wept. The Grand Foyer is partially modelled on the Hall of Mirrors at
The Palace at Versailles only it is vastly more opulent and has upon it’s ceiling Paris’s version of the Sistine Chapel painted by Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry. Baudry heard of Garnier’s intent to have him paint the ceiling of the Opera and immediately left for the Medici Villa in Rome. To prepare to paint on so large a scale as that of the Opéra, Baudry painted eleven full size copies of the Sistine Chapel, studied Raphael’s art works in The Vatican and made preparatory drawings for the Opéra Garnier. I say France’s version of the Sistine Chapel because Michalangelo painted it without help from another artist, which is exactly what Baudry did in the Opéra. Were I able to lie down on the floor I would have, perhaps I should have. That ceiling is so beautiful that you should be able to lie flat on your back to study it. 

Before I forget, try and get into the auditorium if you can! You can see the Emperor and Empresses boxes and the ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. This ceiling was installed leaving the original intact and protected underneath it. When it was installed it caused a vast divide as some thought it was progressive and others thought it did not fit with the theme and/or vision that Garnier had.
I hated it.
Originally painted by Jules-Eugène Lenepveu and titled “The Muses and the Hours of the Day and Night”. I saw one of the artists “sketches” which is just a vastly scaled down yet painted version and I can honestly say it is beautiful and far more regal and graceful than the children-could-have-done-it-with-crayons of a ceiling Chagall painted. Pictures you find online need to be seen in the context of the room to make any real decision.

In any event, the absolute highlight of my trip so far. The Opéra Garnier comes highly recommended as a very worthwhile place to visit while in Paris.

Next time, the best macarons in Paris as well as the return to the Eiffel.

Thank you for reading.

Out and About in Paris

It seems like ages since I sat down and put fingers to keypad!
I have been exploring and walking all over the place and it’s been utterly magnificent! I love this city and I fall more and more in love every day!

So, after Versailles and Petit Trianon, I went walk about on the Île de la Cité, the little islet that Paris is literally built around. The islet that is home to the Palais du Justice, Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame and Hôtel Dieu Hospital, as well as many bars, cafés and restaurants.

Hôtel Dieu, Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame were some of the only gothic buildings to survive the Haussmann reformation under Napoleon III, thankfully, because the cathedral at Notre Dame is a truly beautiful feat of medieval architecture! The arches meet in a point at the top instead of having a smooth arch, this was first seen in France and it enabled architects to built vastly higher ceilings. The down side is that the ceilings are so heavy that they literally push the walls out and would collapse, save for supporting walls built outside the cathedral, literally pushing the walls back in. The ceilings are so high in Notre Dame and the architecture is an absolute treat for the eye but it, for me, does not come close to, Sacre Coeur which retains a lot of it’s cathedral character. I found Notre Dame to be a giant tourist attraction that had lost most, if not all of it’s character. This is truer of the inside of the cathedral than the outside, with the vendors selling all sorts of souvenirs inside Notre Dame. Not to mention the hideous Christmas tree outside that looks like a Chinese light factory threw up on it. Even the French, it appears, can make mistakes. Who would have thought?!

Notre Dame
Notre Dame

I also toured the Palais du Justice and saw the Première Chambre which is the very room Marie Antoinette was sentenced in! I got chills up my spine just poking my head into that room. The Première Chambre is the room which used to be the King’s chamber or bedroom in which he would hear cases and pass judgement upon people, from his bed.
It made sense then that the Revolutionary Tribunal would choose to host the trials of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (amongst others) who were charged with treason, in this room. I think they must have felt it was poetic, even though the charges trumped up against the King and Queen were largely unfounded. King Louis XVI was forced to repeat the accusations of incest with his mother in an interview before he went to trial which was then used as ‘evidence’ against him. As we know, those convicted of treason were put to death but so too were the attorneys who chose to defend such people. You can imagine that being a defence attorney was not a popular profession at the time.

Sadly, the Palais du Justice on the island will be moving to the 17th arrondissement in 2017, so I would highly recommend visiting before 600 years of judicial administration comes to a grinding halt.

Premiére Chambre å la Palais du Justice
Premiére Chambre å la Palais du Justice

Also on the Île de la Cité and virtually in the heart of the Palais du Justice, is the Sainte-Chapelle. Constructed in the first half of the 13th century, it is in the Gothic style so popular at the time and is considered a jewel in Gothic architecture. It was constructed for King Louis IX, and housed a collection of Passion relics, including the crown of thorns worn by Jesus Christ at His Crucifixion and pieces of the cross. This collection cost King Louis IX half of France’s annual budget, an absolute fortune at the time. What makes the Sainte-Chapelle so magnificent today, is that it has one of the largest collections of 13th century stained glass in the world. It sustained damage in the French Revolution but was restored in the 19th century and is presently undergoing a massive preservation project which is finally nearing completion.

I completely forgot that there exists two levels of the chapel, one for the servants and royal guards and one for the king himself. I walked into the first level and thought to myself; “This is what I paid 8€ for?” Upon turning around I saw a very small staircase with no barrier so I trundled up the stairs and was quite simply astounded by the ‘Kings chapel’. The utter magnificence of thousands of stained glass panels cannot be described in words and there is no picture in the world that can do that magnificent little chapel justice! I stood and stared until my neck hurt. Walked toward what would have been the pulpit (I think it’s called in catholicism) all the while just marvelling at the impossibly high ceilings and otherwise simple interior that houses the stained glass windows. Fortuitously for me, the sun was shining that day and the soft winter light illuminating the stained glass was utterly spectacular!

Sainte-Chapelle  Left people in the pic so one can put the high ceilings to scale
Sainte-Chapelle
I left people in the picture so one can put the high ceilings to scale. You can also see the restoration work being carried out on the left.

One of the best things about Île de la Cité is that you get off on the Pont Neuf metro (line 7) and you can just walk, pick a direction and go! No concerns about getting lost in the maze that are the Parisian streets, everything is very well signposted and if all fails, whip out your maps app on your smart phone, which works without wifi or cell signal on GPS. The jetty for the Seine river boat rides are on the Île de la Cité side, there are cafés everywhere, Paris’s most popular flower market and almost everything has an interesting historical anecdote attached to it.

Until next time, where I will tell you about my visits to the Museums l’Orangerie and D’Orsay, thank you for reading.

The Palace at Versailles

Image

What is there to say about the grandest of all the palaces in the world that has not already been said? The art that adorns the walls is magnificent. The Hall of Mirrors is gorgeous–one can only imagine how utterly amazing that room must have looked when the light of hundreds of candles refracted and reflected the light through the plethora of jewels that adorned the women present. The gardens simply astounding. I walked and walked and walked some more! I was utterly exhausted by the end of my seven hour stint exploring the palace, the gardens and Trianon, most famous for Marie Antoinette’s lavish parties and for being her refuge from court life.

Marie Antoinette, most famous for her ‘Let them eat cake’ remarks when she was informed of bread shortages in France. I find Marie Antoinette’s story tragic and not just a little sad. Perhaps I identify with her, in a way, as she was disliked by the French–though not initially–and nicknamed L’Autrichienne, That Austrian Woman.

Her critics judge her harshly and severely and go so far as to credit her with the start of the French Revolution. I take a more sympathetic view of a teenage bride married off for political reasons. Marie Antoinette was scarcely prepared for royal life, while she excelled at music and dance she had difficulty reading and writing at the age of ten. This was in stark contrast to the education given to her future husband, Louis XVI, the Dauphin of France.

Austrian court was far different from French court at the time and was considered one of the most progressive having dispensed with, what were then viewed as, archaic rituals. Marie Antoinette’s parents encouraged their children to associate and play with ‘common’ children and court protocols could be flouted. Again, in stark contrast with French court life.

While Louis XVI was being groomed to ascend the throne of France, Marie Antoinette was vastly ignored by her mother. She was one of 16 and there were many other children who could be married off. Smallpox changed this however and she became the most eligible to marry France’s Dauphin and marry him she did–without even meeting him.

The older and stuffier members at court disapproved of her, her methods and how she changed some of the customs of the French court and this made life difficult for her. She chose to spend more time at Trianon, a gift from her husband, to get away from court life. As her popularity declined, in no small way directly related to her spending and lavish parties, more and more rumours circulated about her. The vast majority of them were untrue, for example she never decorated the walls of Trianon with gold and diamonds.

Yes, the French were experiencing worsening financial conditions. Yes, she flouted traditional protocol and was far more involved in the lives of her children than was accepted and appreciated. No, she was not responsible in large part for the decline of the French economy; she had nothing to do with the Seven Years’ War and the debt incurred there, for instance.

She was an indulged child, married off as a teenager, who was told she could have anything she liked and who was expected to outshine any other woman at court. She was after all the Dauphine. Even after French reforms in spending and cuts to the royal retinue, the parliament settled into a pattern of defying the king. Marie Antoinette could do no right at this point and she was not present at the first meeting of the Assembly of Notables–in large part due to her lack of political influence–and she was accused of trying to undermine proceedings.

After riots besieged Paris, culminating in the storming of the Bastille, the palace was invaded just after the September bread shortages, the royal family forced to leave Versailles for Paris where they were installed in the Tuileries palace under surveillance by the Garde Nationale. The royal family attempted to leave for Verennes but the plan was delayed, times, dates and logistics changed and changed again. Ultimately the plan failed. The family were returned to Paris. Soon after their return to Paris, with the French economy falling further into despair and Austria’s victories in the war with France, a mob besieged the Tuileries and the royal family were arrested.

Marie Antoinette was given one day to prepare for her trial, at which, she was accused of sexual perversion and this was used as evidentiary support for her execution. The accusations were baseless and she was nothing more than an easy target. I think that’s why I sympathise with her–being an easy target, not being Dauphine. A young girl, ill prepared for French royal life, spoiled, a woman who in the eyes of the public could do nothing right, and even when she did, she was accused of having ulterior motives. Marie Antoinette was guillotined on 16 October, 1793, roughly nine months after her husband, and was simultaneously catapulted into history and so her legend was born.

Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France
Marie Antoinette, Dauphine of France

Museé du Louvre… and that painting, of that woman

Museé du Louvre

So on Saturday morning, I got up and dressed early and made my way to the grandest and arguably one of the best museums in the world, The Louvre!

Everybody who is anybody who has even the slightest appreciation for classical art, knows about this museum. I have heard people speak about it, tell me of their visits and describe the beauty within the walls of this museum. I was hoping my expectations were not too high. Let me just stop there and say: One’s expectations of the Louvre can never be too high! It will serve to meet and exceed them, every single time.

Michelangelo's Dying Slave c1513
Michelangelo’s Dying Slave c1513

I was in absolutely no way disappointed. I have a leaning towards sculpture and the Greek, Etruscan & Roman department was my favourite. It’s very rare for works of Michelangelo to be housed outside of Italy, however the two slaves (Rebellious and Dying) were in his workshop when he died, a project commissioned by Pope Julius II, and they were unfinished. Perhaps part of the reason Italy was content to give them over to France.

Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo

My other favourite and probably one of the most famous anonymous works ever, is the Venus de Milo. It is thought to be a depiction of Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. She was first accredited to the master Greek sculptor, Praxiteles however, from an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; which is why it is said to be ‘anonymous’ because it’s not certain. She is probably the world’s most famous sculpture, or arguably, second only to Michelangelo’s David, and there she was, a metre in front of me! I just about wept – but we all know by now that I’m a massive softie and I’m easily moved by things such as these. Something that I learned about her, is that she was sculpted with the intention of having her back up against a wall because the anterior façade is unfinished and you can see the seam of the two blocks of marble used. Utterly magnificent and pretty much made my whole day!

Of course one cannot speak of The Louvre and not mention the most famous abductee in history; Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. She was probably a type of muse to Da Vinci, or she represented for him an ideal beauty because she influenced facial features of other works of his, most notably St John the Baptist who bears a striking resemblance to the Mona Lisa.

Gone are the days when you could stand a metre from her and gaze at her without glass. Aside from protecting her from the affects of humidity and age, the glass case is there to protect her from the ever present lunatics among us who have, in the past, thrown acid, paint and rocks at her. January is the best time to visit The Louvre and if you get there early there are very few people in the museum and you have close to unrestricted access to the Mona Lisa. The summer months are when tourists flock to Paris and it’s virtually impossible to get a good look at her due to the seemingly endless throngs of people trying to do exactly the same thing.  I was able to stand and stare at her for almost 15 minutes without hassle.

Jacques-Louis David's 'The Coronation of Napoleon'
Jacques-Louis David’s ‘The Coronation of Napoleon’

While there were very many things that I appreciated about the art in the museum, the last item I will speak about on this post, and one of the Louvre’s most prized possessions, is Jacques-Louis David’s painting of The Coronation of Napoleon, which took place at Notre Dame. Jacques-Louis David was Napoleon’s official painter and there is a wealth of his work on display at The Louvre and some at the Palace of Versailles. You can sit in front of this painting for hours and not see everything. I must have stared at this masterpiece for at least three quarters of an hour and I want to go back. There are two versions of this painting, one at The Louvre and one at The Palace at Versailles. Not a copy of the original, but two versions. The only difference between the paintings is the colour of the dress of Napoleon’s favourite sister, which in the second version, is pink. This is the only detail that differs in the second version, despite being painted by David, from memory! It is important to note that Napoleon’s mother was not at the coronation, she was in Italy, however you can see her in the gallery or stands, a place of more importance than the pope.

Like Sacre-Coeur, a visit to Paris without stopping in at The Louvre, would be a mistake. I did not go into The Louvre on my first whirlwind tour of Paris because of who I was with and it was one of my biggest regrets. Well, this time around, bucket list item – check, no regrets!

Next time I’ll tell you about my visit to The Palace at Versailles, which is grandiose on another level.

Until then, thank you for reading!