Sunday, November 23, 2008

3 Sisters

Three sisters, all over 50 now (just), seem to have more in common than when we were growing up in Brisbane all those years ago. It was a chance for us to share some fun together in Sydney with the two Rs & Pete this long weekend, some great talking opportunities, catching up with family news, a bit of shopping (11 hours of it Pete informs us), and some great dining and drinking too, especially on Saturday with long visits to Cabramatta and Balmain. Watching Daniel Craig channelling James Bond in Quantum of Solace at the Randwick Ritz was a fitting conclusion to our action packed, reunion weekend.

It was really exciting to hear the news that Brisbane Joel has won his first contract with Al Jezeera - 60 days in Beijing over the next 6 months, starting in December, a few days before Christmas. He is a very talented young man!

Our visit to J&J & Miss E this afternoon reminded me of how much already, at only 18 months, she shares her grandma's & great aunties' love of family, food, jewels, pet dogs, dancing and coordinating colours.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shots of the day - France

Maxie and I have always loved our photography and continue to lug our heavy Canon digital SLRs with us wherever we go. This trip Rob really started getting into the art of photography too, armed with his brand new (tiny) 10 megapixel Canon IXUS 970 IS.

With three of us bent on capturing every meaningful moment of the trip, things started to get a bit competitive, especially when Rob started to outdo us in the daily review of images captured.

What makes a shot of the day? It's more than just technical - a shot of the day has to capture something special and unique.

We visited the beautiful Mosquee de Paris in our first week in Paris. I was determined to visit it after seeing the memorable 5 minute film in Paris Je T'aime about the Arab girl with her head scarf. We found it a haven of filigree adorned mediative pavillions, ornate tile work, plays of light
and shade, exotic wood panelling, beautiful symmetrical gardens with glossy green tiled walkways and tinkling water features.

We'd heard the best views of Paris were from the dome of the Pantheon, on the Left Bank. We weren't expecting it to be such a beautiful building-originally dedicated to the pious Genevieve, saviour of Paris back in 512. And the views were amazing..

We'd had a huge walking day, but still decided to visit Notre Dame this evening for a multi media presentation on the history of the church. It was so atmospheric in the darkened church listening, in French, to the very amateurish presentation. We stayed awake and learnt a lot. Even though it was after 10.00pm when we left, the streets outside were still full of buskers and people milling about.

This shot was taken soon after Maxie and Rod arrived in Paris. They had just endured the 23 hour flight, taken a shower, and like us were incredibly excited about being in Paris. Here we were sitting in one of the courtyards of the beautiful Palais Royal in central Paris.

I think this shot captures the atmosphere of our morning in Pere Lachaise Cimitiere, with a lot of aimless wandering in this beautiful, gothic place, looking for all the big name graves: Jim Morrison, Eloise & Ebelard, Sarah Bernhardt, Edith Piaf, Moliere and la Fontaine, and of course Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde's tomb is covered in kisses and messages from people who still adore him.

The huge antique market (Marche aux Puces) at Porte de Clignacourt in the north of Paris was a visual delight. I was wishing I had a project in mind when I found this incredible stall selling antique beads, buttons and other trims.

My beautiful sister, well matched by the beautiful Monet Waterlillies. It was so thrilling to see the Musee L'Orangerie at last after its three year restoration. This gallery in particular made us feel like we were actually underwater, in Monet's lake in the garden at Giverny.

This shot shows us quite worn out at this stage of the afternoon after a day of walking and sightseeing and lots of art viewing. The waterpond at the Musee Rodin in Rue Varenne was a wonderful place to chill out and regain our energy.

The streets and parks of Paris are lined with mature chestnut trees. They were starting to ripen during our stay. The smell of chestnuts cooking over open braziers on the streets is an enduring memory of our first vist to Paris in November 1975.

I've got lot of shots of La Tour Eiffel. I liked this one because on this particular day the sky was doing amazing things, like a Magritte was quite tonal, not like the flat blue skies we have in Australia.

We're in the country now, NE of Toulouse near Najac. Maxie became quite close to Gorgon the friendly but ugly NZ pig. He loved her too and the little delicacies she brought him.

We visited picturesque, medieval villages and markets each day with the help of our hair raising TOMTOM Jane: Caussade, Montricoux, St Antonin-Noble-Val, Cordes sur Ciel, Sauveterre de Rouergue, Belcastel, Villefranche de Rouergue, Monteil, Laguepie, Carmaux, Monesties. I have a weakness for cats and was pleased to see this one sitting in a medieval window in Cordes sur Ciel.

This shot, taken at the Villefranche de Rouergue markets verges on being too cheesy for a shot of the day, but they just do the whole medieval thing so well!

On our last afternoon at La Singlarie we walked to a little hamlet south of our farm, Mazerolles, and enjoyed wandering around its picturesque chateau, leafy gardens and laneways. This little old Citroen looked absolutely right!

This shot Rob took of the old town of Albi made us realise how competitive he'd become in the shot of the day stakes (that fractured reflection in the water was a winner that day!)

We spent a few days exploring the Luberon valley in Provence. The hilltop village of Lacoste, dominated by the ruins of the chateau du Marquis de Sade, has been largely taken over by Pierre Cardin and the Savannah School of Art & Design. the village was full of building renovations and rich young American design students. This sculpture was placed quite incongruously on the hilltop beside the ruins of the chateau.

This is an arty shot by Rob of a building in the village of Bonnieux. He loved the patina of the colour and the way the shutters look to be drawn on.

I took this shot of these extraordinary trees from the top of the hill overlooking Bonnieux from where we could see all of the famous Luberon Valley.

The village of Roussillon is comprised of a remnant outcrop of red oxide pigmented kaolin soil and quartz rock. The gorgeous ochre tones are evident in the village houses, churches and old public buildings making the village appear to glow in the afternoon light. However it is the "sentier (fields) des ocres de Roussillon" which are truly remarkable.

Rob in the "sentier des ocres de Roussillon".

We found Nice to be an exuberant, lively, wealthy holiday makers' city and really enjoyed our four days there. This shot of the beach at Nice includes a lot of English tourists, as you can tell by the quantity of pale flesh on show.

This stolen shot of a wedding party on the Parc de la Colline du Chateau high above the old town of Nice expresses some of the liveliness and diversity of the city.

and on the other side of the Parc de la Colline du Chateau we saw the wealth on display, in the port of Nice.

Just like in Paris the young Arab boys perform in the central plaza (Place Massena). In Nice a stylish young woman managed the music for them while they entertained us with their very acrobatic dancing.

Strolling along the promenade at Nice it wasn't long before we found the historic old Hotel Negresco. Made me think of poor Isadora Duncan who lost her life all those years ago outside this hotel when her scarf got caught in the wheel of her sports car!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Les Repas

We ate and drank our way through every foodie delight on offer, in France and in Istanbul. Outside of Paris the whole country seems to shut down from noon until 2.00pm so everyone can linger over their dejeuner formule and carafes des vin de table. I thought that with all the walking we were doing that it wouldn't matter if I enjoyed my baguettes and fromage and pain au chocolat and bottle (small) of beer every afternoon. Alas, the walking was not enough so I have had to follow a strict regime since getting back to Australia to remove the extra avoirdupois gained.

We passed Viktor the boulanger and pattissier in Rue Rambuteau a couple of times a day as we walked back and forth from our Paris apartment. How do you resist pastries like this? .....and fresh figs (from Turkey at this stage, the French ones weren't ripe until the end of our stay!)

Rue de Rosiers, in the heart of the Jewish Marais district was quite close to our apartment. We enjoyed the best felafels in Paris a couple of times...maybe even better than those at Sabbaba in Bondi.

We all looked so happy this day because we had just enjoyed Algerian couscous at Le Miyanis in Boulevard Monilmontant after our memorable visit to Pere Lachaise cimetiere. Maxie is holding a bag of handmade Algerian pastries for "later".

We visited many Paris cafes and wine bars..for espresso, cafe creme, cafe noisette..and Pelforth bier (brune). This was one of our favourites. We found it in the Rue de Bac on the Left Bank. We'd got caught in a shower of rain walking back from the Musee Rodin in Rue Varenne (where President Sarkozy lives ("Sharkozy", as the protesters call him)), and it seemed particularly warm and welcoming.

We found the wonderful Gerard Mulot, chocolatier par excellence, in the Rue de Tournon just behind the Marche St Germain. Imagine my delight to find this magical concoction of cake and figs in the window!

Parisiennes enjoy the same access to farmers markets and beautiful fresh food as their country cousins do. It was early Autumn when we arrived so tomatoes, apples and pears were just coming into season (and grapes from Italie).

And I learnt to distinguish Pleurotte, Girolle and Cepes mushrooms.

The biggest artichokes I have ever seen were at the Marche d'Aligne, past the Place de Bastille but I couldn't work out what Donald Duck had to do with it.

After two weeks in Paris we stayed on an organic farm in the Aveyron region near Najac (an hour and a half NE of Toulouse). We had access to fresh RIPE figs, freshly laid eggs and handpicked blackberries (and lots of local vin de pays).

We visited a local village market most days. The best one was in Villefranche de Rouergue in its picturesque medieval, arcaded, village square near the cathedral. We found the best artisan boulanger in the Aveyron here. We brought our valentin bread and scrumptuous tartlets back to the park in the tiny village of Monteil to sit and enjoy over lunch.

Most village markets have one or two paella vendors, just to make sure everyone's senses are awakened!

and an artisan boulanger or two.

Ail (garlic) rose and violet, grown locally. I nearly cried when I saw this. I haven't seen any fresh locally grown garlic in Australia for months!

And tomatoes growing in every country back garden.
Rob says he has eaten enough chevre cheese to do him a lifetime (just like the tofu in Asia), but none of us could get enough of this wondrous cured lait cru (unpasteurised milk) vintage cheese (expensive though!). We found this exceptional selection at the Forcalquier market in Provence.

We loved our visit to Sault, in the lavender growing region of Haute Provence. When we arrived the market vendors were packing up, but not before I captured this man taking his chilli strands down. We were on a mission to find Restaurant Le Provencal which proved to be a highlight of the day. We chose the 15 euro formule meal..mussels, pear tarte for dessert and an assiette of cheese with a 500ml bottle of vin du pays Vaucluse.

Another beautiful lunch, outdoors this time at La Gare de Bonnieux restaurant in the Luberon Valley, Provence. I took this picture so that I could capture the self satisfied, contented looks on the after lunch faces of the French patrons behind Maxie & Rod.

Nice, on the Cote d'Azur, was another great food destination. Every morning the Cours Salaya in the old part of Nice comes alive with a huge fresh food now the grapes were ripening everywhere.

We see the famous Therese making her Nissa Socca in the Cours Salaya markets - I don't know why everyone thinks they are so special; they are just pancakes (made of chick pea flour) after all.

After France, Istanbul was a completely different food scene - dominated by men - lots of simple snack food available on the streets and kebabs everywhere.

But the sweets were amazing - and so many shops making them!

and of course our favourite Anatolian gozlemes.

On a trip like this, food becomes a wonderful window to the passions, preoccupations and history of the people, as well as a great source of enjoyment and experimentation. It is one of the great joys of travelling!