Thursday, October 30, 2014

A contemporary eurasian feast in an old european city

Service: Excellent
Food: Excellent
Though admittedly the ambience could have been warmer, the impeccable service and scrumptious food more than made up for it. Dinner with the family last night, as we plotted what the rest of the weekend in Prague would entail, was a feast. Essensia at the Mandarin Oriental was a true delight.

We were plied with an amuse bouche of tuna tartare as we waited for our starters of coconut-marinated seabass, a generous  serving of salmon, seabbass and tuna sashimi, and marinated Thai beef salad. If we'd known how big the servings were going to be, we probably would have passed on the starters.
Phad thai noodles  with prawns, baby chicken in a thai red curry, and beef rib in black pepper sauce completed the meal.

The food was great, the servings larger than what I have become used to, and the service non-obstructive and perfectly professional.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On reading everything and not taking myself seriously

I am always scouring websites, blogs and newspaper articles on books - looking for recommendations by readers, writers, bloggers,...Oprah!
My FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is not socially-related, it is about the books. As a result I am plugged into everything to do with books. It is not just news about the new that holds my attention, it is also everything about the old. But lately I have grown rather weary of those lengthy lists drawn up by somebody of the literary world, listing the books that one can read, tick off,  and comfortably declare themselves as well read after.

So in protest to what feels like mandated reading, I have been reading a lot of Young Adult (YA) fiction, and am loving it. It has taken off the pressure of having to read the 'serious' books, and by serious I mean high brow literary fiction that comes with literary awards - as opposed to teenage books about dystopic worlds that come with movie deals.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Books: FRANCE'S GOT TALENT by Peter Gumbel

Title: France's got Talent : The woeful consequences of French elitism
Author: Peter Gumbel
Published: 2013
Genre: Non-fiction

I have been sitting on this review for a while. Whilst I really enjoyed Peter Gumbel's book, in it giving me a whole new understanding of some of the workings of the french education system, it left me hungry for more.
Peter Gumbel writes of his experiences as the Communications director of Sciences Po, under the then director of the university Richard Descoings, who was a fire-brand and controversial anti-elitist figure. He covers the differences in teaching methods of french tertiary institutions and how they often do not allow for as much debate as say  American institutions; the hierarchical structure amongst the teaching staff; the elite nature of the Grand ´Ecoles and how they have been, are,  and will remain the breeding ground for France's ruling class. But moreover he points to the fact that the elitism in France is, by international standards, not normal.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paris gets arty and controversial

Winter's finally come and with it enough art exhibitions to see us through to January. We have set our clocks back and are once again familiarising ourselves with the shorter days and longer nights. This is not my favourite season but I am approaching it with a positive attitude and  a fuller appreciation of what it can also offer.

Paris has been abuzz with all things art this last week. The annual contemporary art fair,  FIAC came to and end yesterday. American artist Paul McCarthy's controversial installation at Place Vendôme met its demise swiftly after Parisians decided that it had no place there, given its form - a view that was not supported by the artist, who defended it as... art, of course.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The art of tattoos at Musée du Quai Branly

There is an interesting array of shows and exhibitions currently on and upcoming at the Musée du quay Branly - making for a potentially busy autumn and winter. I quite enjoy the exhibitions at the MQB ,more so than at other museums because it showcases art and music of African, Asian and Oceanic origin, adding a bit of flavour to the extensive other museums which focus solely on European art. It has exhibitions that are always interesting for both children and adults alike.
I took my daughter to the Tatoueurs, Tatoués (Tattoists, Tattooed) exhibition. The exhibition is an extensive presentation of the world of tattooing from the Oriental, African, Oceanic and Western worlds; from the ritual to the purely decorative.

At various places around the exhibition are silicone models of body parts that have been used to illustrate some of the more detailed works of old and new artists. There are jars of preserved tattooed pieces of skin for the more gory sections, and some of the more basic tools used in past and present.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Books: QUIET: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain

Title: QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking
Author: Susan Cain
Genre: Non-fiction

I am an introvert, or more accurately as I have recently discovered, an ambivert. I can fake it like an extrovert, but long before all the excitement of socialising and the exuberance of any highly stimulating environment wears off, I am quietly seeking a corner to recharge.
Reading Susan Cain's book was an eye-opener. It explained a lot about my own personality, and gave me more insight into my children's personalities. I am raising both an ambivert and a highly extroverted-introvert - my own term here because my son does not seem to fit any of the moulds described. It was also the kind of book that I would normally not have read had the subject matter not been close to my heart. 

The author is herself a self-professed introvert, who defied all the introverted stereotypes by firstly attending Harvard Law School - described as  the most unsuitable place for introverts - and by further going on to become a Wall Street lawyer - a haven for all extroverts.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Wine pairing at the Brasserie Les 110 de Taillevent

On a random walkabout on Sunday, my husband and I, sans les infants, decided to detour for lunch to one of our favourite places, the brasserie of Les 110 de Taillevent.  Note: The restaurant of Les 110 is on rue Lamennais and serves more haute cuisine, with an ambiance more suitable for a more formal dining experience. The brasserie worked well on our casual detour for Sunday lunch. 

The 110 is the number of wines they have available on their menu - all for your pleasure. Theirs is an ingenious way of selling their products, their truly sublime food and their many and varied wines.
I enjoy going to restaurants that pair their food with wine, but it can be extremely overwhelming for an amateur wine lover when faced with too wide a variety. Les 110's concept makes the wine pairing experience a truly affordable and enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

NON! to school on Wednesdays

Photo: Lionel Bonaventure / AFP / Getty Images
French parents and teachers have been up-in-arms again about the government's  reforms to the education system. Not to a drastically changed school curriculum, but to the new system that means that the French scholarly weekly calendar will now be five days.

That age-old system that gave primary school French children Wednesdays off was done away with last year, causing quite a furore amongst teacher trade unions and the parents who felt that the longer school week would prove to be too disruptive to their little ones' lives.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

HURRY DOWN SUNSHINE by Michael Greenberg

Title: Hurry Down Sunshine: A Father's Memoir of Love and Madness
Author: Michael Greenberg
Published: 2009
Genre: Memoir

I read this immediate after reading An Unquiet Mind and can definitely say it gave a different perspective to how privilege can earn one a safer place in the world amidst metal illness.
Whilst Jamison's account of her manic-depressive illness was cushioned by the stability of home and subsequently the safety of her medical world, Michael Greenberg's daughter in Hurry Down Sunshine has an entirely different experience. To be fair in making the comparison, Jamison's background made her steely in the face of her illness, and she did throughout her high school and undergraduate years deal with it on her own.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Street Art at the Panthéon

The powers that be of French Institutions did something surprising a couple of months again. The hallowed floors and ceilings of the Panthéon were opened by to the French photographer JR to play with as he wished. Shock, horror! "They let him do this?" was my daughter's incredulous response when she saw it. By this, she was referring to the large black and white photos of faces that have been used to cover the entire floor of the Panthéon and the ceilings below the dome. It looks amazing just because one realises that, this is after all the Panthéon that has its walls covered in this manner. Read the write up about it from the Huffington Post here.

A mausoleum that contains the remains of 73 distinguished French citizens, from writers to scientists. The crypt below holds the remains of the likes of Voltaire, Emile Zola,  and Marcellin Berthelot with his wife Madame Sophie Beethelot, one of only two women along with Marie Curie buried there. Marie Curie was the second woman buried there, but the first to be honoured for her own merits.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books: AN UNQUIET MIND by Kay Redfield Jamison

Title: An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
Author: Kay Redfield Jamison
Published: 1996
Genre: Memoir

Kay Redfield Jamison is an academic. She is, according to the bio in her book, a Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins, who has written extensively about manic-depressive illness. She also suffers from the illness. I expected the book to read more like an academic text given the author's background. It does not. It is a candid piece of writing about a widely misunderstood illness from the viewpoint of someone who has, and continues to live it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gastronomy: The River Café - Issy-les-Moulineaux

La Rentrée is almost upon us yet again, which means the restaurants are reopening, the local boulangeries are reverting to their normal hours, and the streets are once again bustling as people prepare for their start of yet another year post their summer holidays.
It has been a pleasure during the last couple of weeks being able to just turn up at restaurants - for those that remained open - and get a table. The River Café was one such treat. We made reservations, but on arrival it was clear that there was no real need to have bothered. The restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived but but the time we left, the tables had filled up substantially.
It's out of the way - it was my first foray into Issy-les-Moulineaux - but well worth the trip out there.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Books: INDIGO by Catherine McKinley

Title: Indigo:  In search of the colour that seduced the world
Author: Catherine McKinley
Published: 2011
Genre: Memoir

Catherine McKinley writes of her Scottish heritage, and the use of the colour indigo in the tartans of her people. She deftly links it to her African heritage and the indigo in fabrics that she'd seen, namely her introduction to the indigo-dyed fabrics of West Africa.
Her search for the fabrics that are steeped in the historically lucrative dye takes her across eight West African countries - all sponsored by a  Fulbright Scholarship.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Monumenta 2014: The Strange City

This year The Grand Palais has invited Russian artists Ilya and Emilia Kabakov to exhibit at the annual Monumenta exhibition. The nave of the Grand Palais is an enormous space to work with and to curate an exhibition that can effectively make use of its grand volumes. Previous artists have done it fairly well. This year's 'Strange City' installation has been partitioned off into various parts, taking the visitor through a journey of differently-themed sections, each meant to inspire introspection into the human condition.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Places: Parc Zoologique de Paris

After renovations that lasted four years, the Paris Zoo finally re-opened its doors again last month. I took my son and a friend last Friday.
We had pre-booked our tickets online to avoid long queues but it was a surprisingly quiet day.
The zoo has undergone a €164 million overhaul which has turned it into a theme park-like space that's been sub-divided into five biozones: Madagascar, Amazon-Guyana, Europe, Patagonia and the Sahel-Sudan - the single largest area in the zoo, and home to the animals of the African Savannah. We saw all of the big cats but missed out on the white rhino though - which was of particular interest to the boys because of it endangered status.
The zoo has been completely rebuilt and now looks less like your average zoo, and more "like Jurassic Park", as my son put it.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Books: RED INK by Angela Makholwa

Title: Red Ink
Author: Angela Makholwa
Published: 2007
Genre: Fiction

In a word: gripping. I love watching the TV show Criminal Minds, and reading Red Ink was like watching an extended show of it. Angela Makholwa writes boldly about the violence that is at the centre of her crime novel. She's descriptive and does not shy away from the details of the blood and gore. In the same way that I cannot turn away from Criminal Minds, I could not stop reading.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Books: THE HAPPINESS PROJECT by Gretchen Rubin

Title: The Happiness Project
Author: Gretchen Rubin
Published: 2009
Genre: Memoir

I finally read Gretchen Rubin's Happiness Project. It has been on my kindle for a while, but I felt that it would have been a better read in paperback - but in the same breath I could not bring myself to pay for a paperback copy having already downloaded the ebook. It is one one of the most useful and enjoyable books I have read this year.
It is part memoir, part self help. The author spent a year exploring what is is that makes people happy and testing out whether putting into practice some of her readings could help her become happier. I know, it sounds all really navel-gazing and very much like a self help book. It wasn't any of those. Not really. Rubin has researched her subject extensively and takes some esoteric philosophical debates and breaks them up into digestible chunks to be applied to your everyday life.

Monday, May 5, 2014

# Bring Back Our Girls

The tweet that started the online campaign for Nigeria's government to take action, and bring home the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram militants on April 14 finally has the World talking.
In praise of social media, the petition has now overshadowed reports on the wars in Central Africa and Syria, and the crisis in the Ukraine. Finally the World is paying attention.
Emboldened by the inaction of the Nigerian government, the militants have acted with impunity once again and abducted eight more girls.
This story is heartbreaking in more ways than one can imagine: not just in the families' frustration over the government's  lack of active response, but in the future that these girls face if they are not found. Adding my voice in one small way to a petition that needs the World's action.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Books: AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

I have been sitting on this review for a while. Writing it feels like being unfaithful in some way. Here goes: I was disappointed. I loved every single one of Chimamanda Ngozi's books. A friend gave me a copy of Purple Hibiscus when it was first published, and since then I have read and re-read the stories in The Thing Around Your Neck; have sunk my teeth into Half of a Yellow Sun - eagerly waiting for its release now that Biyi Bandele has had the genius to make a movie of it; and like everyone else that is a fan of Adichie, I eagerly anticipated the release of Americanah - especially since it promised to also tackle that 'hair issue'.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

French May Day Blues

My muguet and a single rose are on the dining room table in water, thanks to hubby. He was out early this morning and came back bearing gifts and bonheur - happiness. The selling of flowers, without a permit, is permitted to the general public only on this day. It is a tradition, along with the marches around the world on this International Worker's Day.

I was watching the France24 debate and once again astounded at the conflict the French go through each time one of their large national conglomerates fails - thus requiring being sold off to another (often foreign) conglomerate - and the debates that this raises each time.  Business reason and good economic sense fail and instead make room for a sentiment of nationalism based entirely on the nostalgia of an economic power of yesteryear, what one analyst called a form of "nostalgianomics".