November 30, 2012

Alegria - a night full of fantasy

The show started off rather slow. I could tell the audience wasn't quite up to speed with applauding. We had yet to be transported into the fantasyland of the Cirque du Soleil. Through lighting, instruments, vocals and costumes the spectators were lifted away into the world of abstract immagination.

The circus' performers possess extraordinary talent. Their tremendous professionalism stands out when you see with what ease (seamingly) they whirl through the air, contort their bodies and fly from the trapeze.

Their timing is perfect, the rapidity extraordinary, their precision crucial. A crossover trampoline with up to ten artists whizzing through the air was dazzling. The fire-knive dancers were breathtaking. Acrobats were flipping through the sky on a bungy-like rope.

It is not the show alone that makes this circus so special. It is the fanasy and imagination the artists and the scenography conjurs in this performance. Extravagant costumes which cannot be pinned to a certain period nor a specific country are accompanied by masks with exagerated features, feathers, make-up and wigs. Paper confetti transports you back to childhood in an instant.

The backdrops are beautiful with lampions gliding through the air and ropes circling around our heads. Even while artists are performing with the spotlight shining on them you can still perceive subtle movements going on in the background. The entire stage is constantly dynamic.

My absolute favourite was the music. Music has always been a key part of the world famous circus troupe's various performances. However, I could not figure out what language the lady in a white hooped skirt was singing. It sounded Central Asian to my ear but I kept on recognizing words in French, Italian and Spanish...or so I thought?

Were I to describe Cirque du Soleil's "Alegria", I'd say The Magic Flute meets Dickens with a bit of Madame Butterfly. In any case, it is to remain an unforgettable night for my family.

November 28, 2012

French bureaucracy

French bureaucracy. Do I need to say more?

I do not know if French or Italian is worse. What rubs me the wrong way is the attitude of the administrative officers. So, yes, you're not the most ambitious person but a little positivity wouldn't hurt, would it? Admittedly these public workers have to put up with all sorts of rubbish but then so do we certificate /permission /authorization seekers! Ever tried to convert a foreign licence plate into an Italian one or swap your driver's permit for a French one? Personal experience has shown me that it is easier to obtain an Argentinean residency permit or a Spanish driver's licence than either of these documents in France or Italy.

Twenty years ago these two nations might have had the excuse of lacking the necessary technology but, hey, has anybody told them to take a look into today's banking world. There is all kinds of personal info flying around there! Especially on the Italians at the moment. Why can't they apply the digital data sourcing to public offices? Life could be so much easier for everybody.

Meanwhile I'm standing in line waiting to be told by an African French what documents I am missing to convert my driver's licence while all the other people are stretching their necks to spot the country of origin on my document. Oh, did I forget to mention that I am the only white person queuing!?

November 27, 2012

Angels in Paris

"Insight is better than eyesight when it comes to seeing an angel."
Quoted in The Angels' Little Instruction Book by Eileen Elias Freeman, 1994

Did you know Paris was full of angels? Actually, come to think of it, this could be a good game to play with the kids while walking through Paris: Spot the angels.

Last week I joined a tour entitled: "Angels in architecture". Now, I'm not mad about angels but I figured I'd learn something.

We walked through the ages of Paris architecture, from medieval times to the 21st century, with a focus on angels sculpted in friezes, perched atop theatres and chapels, embellishing towers, private mansions and enlivening fountains, created during the times of kings, emperors and presidents.

We learnt about the work of some of France’s greatest architects and sculptors, and the different styles (gothic, classical, baroque) as we stood in awe in front of the St Michel Fountain, the Chatelet Theatre, the St Merri Church, the Tour St Jacques and some lesser known sculptures along the Notre Dame.

My conclusion? I can honestly say that I am just not into angels!

But I did manage to get some good shoots of the Quartier Latin which on a cold Thursday November morning seemed much less crowded than usual.

Can you spot the angel?

St.Michel Fountain

Church St.Julien Le Pauvre

A Greek - Melkite - Catholic church

Paris' oldest tree planted in 1601

Shakespeare & Co bookshop

Paris in it's autumn dress

Tour St.Jacques

Indian fall in Paris

Discovering secrets of Notre Dame

A stroll along the quai of Ile Saint Louis

November 25, 2012

Christmas spirit at the Champs Elysées

After an abundant Thanksgiving lunch today, I decided to take a digestive stroll down to the "Village de Noël des Champs-Elysées", thinking this might be a good start into the Christimas spirit. Oh boy was I wrong.

I had to fight my way out of the metro, shove myself past the 160 little chalets surrounded by hundreds and thousands of people. Whiffs of churros, onion soup, chocolate waffles, mulled wine and incense were taking turns as I pushed my way down the world-famous Champs-Elysées.
American Christmas songs from the 50s and 60s blaring out of loudspeakers and fake snow hanging from the roof tops is not my idea of a quaint Christmas market. Don't get me wrong I adore Dean Martin and Bing Crosby at Christmas but where has the traditional cosy holiday feeling gone?

I guess with over 1 million tourist walking up and down the Champs Elysées every single weekend something has got to give. So I went hunting for some good shoots instead. See for yourself:

Metro Champs-Élysées - Clemenceau

Full moon over Place de la Concorde

Looking towards Pont de la Concorde at sunset

Boule de neige au chocolat

Babushka dolls

3 Euros for mulled wine is a good deal

Kids ride down the slide

Ride down the Champs Elysées

1 out of 1 million

Christmas lights lining the Champs-Elysées

Place Clemenceau

Trendy restaurant "L'Avenue" on Avenue Montaigne

November 23, 2012

Thanksgiving abroad

"Certain things catch your eye,
But pursue only those
that capture your heart."

Old Indian saying

The American culture has managed to export two festivities to Europe over the past decade. One more successfully than the other.

When we first moved to Milano in 2000 I used to hunt down Halloween decorations in the most unusual little stores throughout town. I had to sew my kids' costumes simply because very few Italians had ever heard of this celebration, much less dressed up in a way that wouldn't be elegant and fashionable. We're in Italy, right? Ordering from Oriental Trading and the likes was out of the question because a) customs charged you a fortune and b) the parcel either arrived late or not at all.

A few years later in Madrid a group of determined mums organized a local a trick-or-treat tour around the neighborhood which is when my then 3-year old daughter discovered how to stock sweet supplies for an entire year. The Spanish even had a translation for it: "truco o trato".

Nowadays the shops in Paris are full of Halloween decorations and it is all turning rather commercial. Understandably nobody dares make money from the traditional religious celebration of Toussaint (All Saints) a day later.

Thanksgiving on the other hand has remained a strictly American happening. Food usually exports well. Every kid around the world knows hamburgers, pizza and even sushi. Might it be that non-Americans don't know the origins nor do they understand its meaning? You tell me?!?

So, as I headed off to the local butcher's today telling him I needed an 8kg turkey he looked at me in utter surprise. "Did I know how to cook such a large bird?" Trust me, I've had some trial-and-error runs over the years with ovens in Argentina, Italy, France, Switzerland and Spain. I think I can handle a Parisian turkey!

I criss-crossed the city to find real maple syrup (not that caramel-flavoured corn syrup), fresh cranberries and sweet potatoes imported from North Carolina.

A green grocer's stand selling chestnuts caught my eye. As I started asking the vendor for sage, thyme, rosemary and green beans, he went on suggesting I needed pumpkin, sweet potatoes or cranberries. Ahhhhhh, so some people DO know about Thanksgiving. Maybe I should invite the butcher and the greengrocer for lunch and show them what it's all about?!?

November 21, 2012

Meet Placido the Ambassador

An unexpected invitation and I found myself within the United Nations to celebrate the nomination of Placido Domingo as UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. While we took our places - pretending to be UN representatives - I couldn't help thinking: "Just look at us mums, the ten of us could represent the UN easily". From Tahiti, the Philippines, across Europe to the US, we were a colourful bunch.

I don't usually succumb to the fame of superstars but Placido Domingo is a living legend. He gracefully accepted his award. Placido Domingo’s appointment comes in recognition for his “exceptional artistic career, his inestimable support for young opera musicians through the Operalia competition, and his dedication to the values and ideals of UNESCO."

Unfortunately we did not have the honour of hearing the maestro sing, however, he presented the winners of his Operalia competition and the musicians involved in his development programme at the Washington Opera. Sopranos Micaëla Oeste and Angel Blue performed jazz, Broadway and opera favourites with pianist Timothy End.

The maestro did remind us to show our children the music: "Let them realize that music goes beyond pop. Instuments are magical and classical music makes them come alive."

What impressed me most, however, is that the entire ceremony was held in three languages. Marisa Berenson (Mistress of ceremonies), Irina Bekova (UNESCO's General Director) and Placido Domingo continously switched from French to Spanish to English, sometimes even within the same sentence. Oh boy, do I feel at home here! Expat Girl has been asking me what she should do when she becomes big. Maybe I should encourage her to work for the UNESCO?

November 19, 2012

easyjet frequent flyer

"The World is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page."
St. Augustine

Duty is calling and I am on my way to Napoli to see my Italian famiglia for the weekend.

Is it worth blogging about? You bet, just trying to get there is an adventure every time. We religiously fly with easyjet, not that it were our preferred airline, it is, however, unbeatably the cheapest!

Why is it every time we fly to bella Napoli we run into hiccups? We have had endless delays, experienced cancelled flights, spent nights at airport hotels. One year they even lost our luggage over Christmas and we spent four days wearing the same jeans and turtlenecks.

This time - judging by the accents - the plane seems to be full of Neapolitans. I get the impression they are not frequent flighers! Some are complaining about people skipping the line not realizing that the secret is called Speedy Boarding. Subsequently this is kindly explained to them in French which of course nobody speaks!

We lost two of the passengers before we even boarded. They walked out towards the luggage claim instead of the plane! Screaming babies wherever you look. The bambinos are not used to being told off and all of them are having a tantrum at the same time, it would appear. I am getting a whiff of mozzarella panini mixed with dirty diapers.

All Italians like their food so the lunch trolly has taken a whole hour to make it half way down the aisle.

The Napolitani do make you feel at home, however. People walking up and down the passage way, standing around, chatting across five rows. I feel like I'm sitting in an Italian bar not a plane. The noise level underlines this ambiance.

An eldery elegant French lady just asked to change her seat and to sit next to another distinguished French couple because there was too much "toing and froing" going on.

At this point my hubby is slipping into his old habits and starts walking around ... with his sunglasses on, of course! As for myself, I have just been told NOT to use the WC because someone has tried to flush down a dirty diaper!!!!

When we finally land the flight assistant informs us that we will be allowed to use our cell phones as soon as we reach the terminal but rapidly has to acknowledge that everyone has already switched on their phone and is so busy into their conversation that no one is paying him any notice.

Benvenuti in Italia!

November 14, 2012

Window shopping à la Parisienne

Last year everybody was talking about Printemps' Christmas windows featuring Chanel. Mr Lagerfeld had personally designed the animated puppets - from ballerinas to air hostesses - to dance around the king of fashion, who himself stars in various forms from designer to photographer.

This holiday season Christian Dior is giving the iconic Parisian department store a New Look, decorating the Christmas windows in a tribute to the City of Lights. A sprinkling of holiday cheer comes in the form of dolls outfitted in iconic Dior pieces, decking the halls with jolly spirit against a backdrop of the French capital's legendary landmarks: ice skating at the Eiffel Tower, at a Tuileries Gardens-style fairground and taking in the sights from a hot air balloon drifting above the snowy Parisian rooftops.

Noel au Printemps

Enchanted children watching the puppets

A Winter Wonderland dream

Ice skating with her Dior handbag

Dancing around her watch

Dreaming about her perfume

Seventy-four puppets 
all handcrafted for the windows ...

... and each is outfitted in an iconic Dior piece

I'll have the candy floss!

A princess waiting to be carried off by her ...

... Prince Charming

From puppets to mannequins

Christian Dior's glamourous interpretation of Christmas

These pink Eiffel Tour pumps are going on my Christmas list for Santa... definately!

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