Sunday, November 16, 2014

Books: CRY BABY by Lauren Liebenberg

Title: Cry Baby
Author: Lauren Liebenberg
Published: 2013
Genre: Fiction

I read Lauren Liebenberg's deliciously-named, The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam many years ago. I enjoyed it immensely and had been looking forward to reading her third book, Cry Baby. It is a story of an upper middle class couple, living in the Northern Suburbs of  Johannesburg  raising their two young boys - one of whom has terrifying nightmares that have an otherworldly significance to them. The author's point of view changes from that of the two adults to that of the little boy throughout the book.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Honouring the fallen on Armistice Day

This parade happens every year in my neighbourhood. Our apartment is directly opposite a historical monument, Place Winston Churchill. Along with the numerous other parades that take place in and around Paris on this day - most notably the one on the Champs Elysées - to honour the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany, a commemoration takes place in Neuilly-sur-Seine annually.
This year was no different. It is a brief, yet solemn event. These photos were taken last year, but the event was no different this year.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Books: THE BUDDHA OF SUBURBIA by Hanif Kureishi

Title: The Buddha of Suburbia
Author: Hanif Kureishi
Genre: Fiction

I recently saw an interview on France 24 with Hanif Kureishi discussing his writing. I remembered that I had one of his books, The Buddha of Suburbia,  which I decided to read again. Funny how one's impression of certain books is influenced by so many other factors: one's age; current emotional state; country of residence; reviews read about the book...This one felt like a completely new book to me. I can't even remember the last time I had read it. This time it resonated a whole lot with me. Maybe it is living in France, and that feeling of always looking in being the observer; or it is watching the French tackle multi-culturalism; or maybe even raising my children in a country that is not their own. Whatever it was, I loved how Hanif Kureishi's observations on multi-culturalism in the UK then, circa 1970s, remain just as relevant now.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Books: STUFFED - Adventures of a restaurant family by Patricia Volk

Title: Stuffed: Adventures of a restaurant family
Author: Patricia Volk
Published: 2002
Genre: Memoir

I have read some scathing reviews about  Stuffed, and must say that as accurate as some are in their take on Ms Volk's memoir of her family's restaurant business, there are still some elements worth reading. Personally, I enjoyed reading about some of the misadventures of her family in their restaurant business; about the eccentrics aunts and uncles; the family history - all of it. Yes, without a doubt she does write too enthusiastically about even the less than admirable characters, and still manages to find something redeeming in all of them, but it is her family memoir and she has chosen to remember it as she wishes. Writer's prerogative and all that.
I read this in less than a week, much of it on the train during my commutes back and forth. It was entertaining, and funny.
I recommend it, but with a warning that Ms Volk's admiration for her family, warts and all, may come across as either too contrived or boastful. For me it made for entertaining reading about a family life more than ordinary.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Wheeling it through Prague.

We decided that exploring other slightly off-the-tourist-trail paths was required during our stay. So we succumbed to the sales pitch of the Segway guide and booked a tour for early Saturday morning. He arrived at out hotel before 11am - gave us our ten-minute tutorial, ran through the safety guidelines, and we were good to go. My son, who is eight and had has his fill with 'walking' Prague was overjoyed.
 It was the first time I has tried the Segday rides, and I would most definitely recommend them for any city that allows it. It took us away from the sites we had already seen, and added an entirely different perspective to our sight-seeing. We started with the John Lennon wall in Lesser Town; moved on to get a viewpoint from high above the city up Petrin Hill, one of Prague's greenest spaces; through the Rose Garden; past the Stefanik Observatory, named after Milan Rotislav Stefanik - astrologer and pilot. Then made our way to Strahov Monastic Brewery where we sampled the local beer. We then made our way down again after a highly interesting guide, with a very enthusiastic guide.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Gastronomy in Prague: Ginger & Fred

Having recently written about Frank Gehry's newest architectural marvel in Paris, I was eager to see the building he has designed for the city of Prague, and as it so happened, the restaurant we had chosen for lunch is located in a building designed by him.  I have decided that the next exhibit I see will have to be at the Pompidou Centre where there's a current exhibition on Frank Gehry. I may as well take it all in while there's still all this attention on him.

Ginger & Fred is on the seventh floor of this Gehry building. Oddly, no signs reveal its location. The charming young lady at the reception asked where we were headed before directing us to the seventh floor. Oddly mysterious. Very spy movie-like, given that we were in a city where most spy movies seem to be set.
Amazing views from the top, incredibly charming decor, great service, and okay food. The wine and views made it a memorable lunch.

Exploring Old Town, Prague - A Photo Tour

Exploring Prague's Old Town was a morning filled with the sights and sounds of a truly vibrant city. Armed with our list of places to visit, we headed out early to avoid other tourists. We walked along the famous Charles Bridge, so named because it was commissioned by King Charles IV in 1357. It is a cobble-stoned pedestrian bridge that spans the Vltava River and is a very important part of Prague's history. A sighting of the Astronomical Clock at the Old Town Square saw us competing with the hordes of people also out to do the same thing: view the hourly chiming of the clock with its moving figures, a marvel really, given that the mechanism dates back 600 years.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A photo journey inside the St.Nicholas Church, Prague

Described as one of the 'most impressive example of Prague Baroque ', the St. Nicholas Church  in Lesser Town Prague, is described in superlatives in almost every reference one reads. It is a beautiful church.
It dates back to 1703, but was built on a former parish church site that dated back to the 1300s. It is also the largest of Prague's churches founded by the Jesuits.
We took our time in this one, and you can see why.

On Prague Castle, the Changing of the Guard and...Starbucks

Fuelled on a huge breakfast, we decided to walk through the city and make our way towards Prague Castle, loftily situated up a winding road, and overlooking the city.
First off though, we spent an inordinate amount of time inside St. Nicholas Church - with some of the most impressive interiors of any church I have ever seen. From the frescoes to the statues, we took our time taking it all in. Who knew that spending time in a church would hold everyone's attention that much. The church is still used for masses, and the solemnity within probably explains why we didn't rush the visit.

Wednesday, October 29, 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.

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 a 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.