Saturday, 7 February 2015

We'll always have Paris....

 Lots of birthdays in our family in January....I include darling Wolfgang Amadeus in the list...he would have been 259 on 27th. Possibly too old for me! But one person who isn't is my beloved husband, Paul...who celebrated a BIG birthday around the same time. Ten years ago, we held a fabulous and memorable lunch party for 40 friends in Salzburg. How could we top that? Well, we didn't try to, but we aimed to make this one just as wonderful. So we chose Paris. City of Light. Beautiful, charmant, amazing Paris...
 ...she glowered a little when we arrived (this is the view from our tiny but perfect hotel room...it came complete with a bijou balcony plus table & chairs for outside breakfast a deux...but NOT in January!)
 ...but by the next day, she had regained her golden glow and was looking gorgeous in the freezing cerulean blue of a winter morning...
 ..the gargoyles and saints looked disapprovingly down on us from their 800 year old perch on Notre Dame...
 ...and here it is from the front. I STILL expect sometimes to see poor old Quasimodo swinging on his rope between the two towers...
Anyway, far too bitingly cold to stay outside for long...so we popped into a favourite cafe for breakfast...
 ..there are many like this, of course, throughout the city...
 ..the bread is frighteningly addictive. Especially with the unsalted creamy butter it's always served with...
 ...ordering a 'Petit Dejeuner Complet' will get you freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee, iced water and a choice of pastry (I always have a plain croissant) with preserves...some others in our party 'sized up' and added toasted pain Poilane and a (very runny) boiled egg which comes with crispy toast 'soldiers'. Anyone who knows me...that's YOU!....knows that I loathe and despise eggs. I call them 'devil's orbs'. I'm not allergic...I am fine with them in things. But serve them whole....like this...
 ...and I have to turn away. Luckily there was a beautiful display of preserves to distract me!
 After breakfast, the others went shopping while I took myself off to the Jewish quarter of the city, as I love to do wherever I am...
 ...I could've devoured these beautiful, burnished cholla whole...but I was good! Tucked away, I found a little memorial garden...dedicated to a school of children and their teachers, deported to Auschwitz in 1943 & 1944...
...it's a beautiful, peaceful place...full of rosemary (for remembrance)...

 ...both flowers and vegetables are planted here and I look forward to visiting again when it's warm and sunny to see it burgeoning...
 ...I loved the little shed in the corner, too.
On the way back to change for the party, we ran into a brilliant jazz quartet...just playing in the street...as you do! A huge crowd of toe-tappers gathered..."bravo, bravo...encore!" But it was time for us to go...
 ...and meet our guests. We'd taken over a restaurant we know and love for the lunch...and just under 40 of our friends had made the journey...by plane, by train...to join us for the celebrations. Some of them chose very - ahem - original attire ...
 ...he's well known for it!!
 We enjoyed a fabulous lunch...two choices for each course and it was so good to see everyone...
Speeches were made, songs were sung...
 ...the birthday boy blew out the candle on his chocolate orange mille feuille dessert...toasts were made...much laughter and joy. And afterwards, we retired to a friendly neighbourhood bar which was only too happy to accommodate the (by then) 25 mad British people...
 ...the day was long but wonderful. We missed - and toasted - the few very loved and absent friends and family who, for one reason or other, were unable to make the trip. But in every other respect, it was perfect!
The next day was for recovering, exploring, enjoying the city...everyone did their own thing, but a large group of us met up for another gorgeous, impromptu lunch which was huge fun. And then it was the time to leave...
 ...so we took a last walk out, around the breathtaking Place de Vosges...
 ...peeking into a hotel garden along the way - (Parisians do these 'formal' gardens so well....) and buying a few presents at the many, many chocolateries...
 we didn't buy these Valentine fish...but wouldn't they make a fabulous treat? I don't think i'd be able to eat them, though...too beautiful!
Then, we hopped on the Eurostar to be whisked back to England and the reality of a new week.

Merci, Paris. Brave, strong city of charm and elegance...
We all stand with you.

I hope you are having a wonderful weekend...and welcome to February! xx

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A special Monday morning...

 On Monday morning, early, we took the train to London and walked to the Courtauld Gallery . This beautiful, small place hold some of the world's most famous and recognisable paintings...
 ...who doesn't know this self-portrait by Van Gogh, for instance? He looks so remarkably serene despite his mutilated ear...or maybe just resigned to the mental illness that was taking over his brilliant, creative life?
 Gauguin is a particular favourite of my father...I took this photo for him especially!
 This unfinished painting really captivated me...I particularly enjoyed seeing the sketches underneath, the bare bones of the artists work...

 Downstairs was a small room containing mediaeval and renaissance religious art...I was all alone in there...surrounded by incredible colour. It was hard to believe that the painting below dates from 1500...
 and this one is 1409!
 'The Annunciation' is often reproduced on Christmas cards, but it's very special to see it in real life...it was created in around 1450...
 This nativity (1400) really struck me because, despite being over 700 years old, the faces of the figures seemed so human...
 I find that mediaeval art can look a little 'flat'...but not these...
 ...there were also many religious items...boxes, reliquaries...carved from ivory...
 ...these figures would once have been accented with colour (a few traces remain on the veil and draperies.

We were at the gallery to view a special exhibition there, that's just coming to an end...Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude. The first photo shows a portion of one of my favourite paintings there. Schiele was an Austrian artist, who only lived from 1890-1918...he, his wife and their unborn first child died in the terrible Spanish flu pandemic that occurred just after the end of the First World War. Much of his work is very anatomically explicit and he was imprisoned on indecency charges for a few months. I found it neither pornographic nor erotic...to me, it was incredibly beautiful...in a 'real' way...and filled with truth. Not 'pretty' art by any means - but I stayed for a long time in those small rooms, taking in this incredible collection which will soon be split up again as the works are sent back to the places all over the world that lent them. Very special!

Can you believe that January is almost half over already?


These beauties are already gracing the churchyard...snow is forecast this evening...but I don't think we'll have much here (although a lot of the country is in an icy grip already!)

If you haven't already, do pop over and visit my dear friend Sue Branch's brilliant blog...not only is there a truly fabulous giveaway to enter...but there are also some people you may recognise there (and one super-cute dog!)

Hoping the New Year is wonderful so far....x

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

On the last day of the year...frosts and wreaths and Christmas trees...

 Stunning sunrises this week....
...no snow, but the frosts have been hard and glittering...
 Inside, the Christmas tree glows with the beauty of the memories held in each decoration, collected through the years...Alice wears her special Christmas scarf and luxuriates in the warmth...
 ...while outside the cloudless blue means it's freezing! But SO beautiful, too..


 I particularly love the long shadows cast by the low sun at this time of year...
 ...and the frost makes every leaf look like a tiny iced sculpture...

 It was so thick this morning, that it looked almost like fur on the arm of the garden bench...
 I always enjoy looking at the different festive wreaths on the doors around the square....


 ...the one above is quite tiny....sweet!



 The little tag on the wreath above says 'Santa please stop here....' and I have it on good authority that he did! I left some of the Hallowe'en pumpkins outside...now rimed with ice...
 It's time for porridge in the mornings now...with a little Canadian maple syrup, some sea salt crystals and preferably served in my perfect Paul Jessop jug/bowl! It warms the soul right through until lunch...
 And despite the cold, there are signs that slowly but surely the season is turning. The days are a little, a fractionally little, longer...and then there are the more obvious signposts...
It will be a while before they flower, but they will and Spring will return to wake up the world.

I hope you're enjoying a wonderful Christmas and New Year celebration...and that 2015 brings us all happiness, health and joy.

I want to leave you with a beautiful, peaceful image for this, the last day of the year. It's taken from one of my very favourite books - " The Country Child" by Alison Uttley...an autobiographical account of growing up on a remote Derbyshire farm at the end of the 19th century. It is a constant joy to me, and I hope you love it too. x

"The New Year hung in the air, hovering with wings outstretched above the farm, carrying joy and sorrow in its feathers, waiting, waiting for the big clock to strike twelve. Dan stood outside with his coat-collar up, shivering in the steely air, staring up at the sky and across the vast dark to the hills.

The New Year shook and swooped down as the clock began to strike. Dan opened the door and entered as the last stroke died away and the year flew in, filling the house at once, from the empty attics to the dairy where the milk froze in the pans.

Susan sat up in bed, listening to the rush of wings, Becky wished for a sweetheart, and Margaret said a prayer. All the bells began to ring, Mellow Church pealed out a chime of bells, and the lone bell of Brue-on-the-Water called softly, and faded to nothing through the woods...."