Tag Archives: happy endings

Friday in Five: City of Gardens

16 Sep

Still in Paris. Not really, but I think this time perhaps I really did leave my heart there. One last Paris post, and next week I’ll try and return to my Writer’s Life.

But first: Paris gardens.

I do love the formality, order and scale of Paris’s beautiful big gardens. Take a wrong turn near Place des Vosges (perhaps my favourite Paris garden), and you can stumble through a doorway and into this:

My kind of backyard: Centre des Monuments National

My kind of backyard: Centre des Monuments National

 

But perhaps some of the most charming Paris gardens are the ones that break with the symmetry, the rigid lines and hedges clipped within an inch of their lives, that typify the French landscaping style made famous by King Louis XIV’s favourite gardener, André Le Nôtre. (If you’ve not yet seen A Little Chaos, I recommend it with all my heart. Enchanting. Alan Rickman. Kate Winslet. Matthias Schoenaerts. Stanley Tucci. Gardens. Music. Romance. Drama. What’s not to love?!)

Here are a selection of the Paris gardens that charmed me without resorting to all that restrained and stylish magnificence!

At the Institut du Monde Arabe, an exhibition of eastern landscaping traditions is accompanied by this garden purpose-built on the hard Paris pavements. Roses, olives, citrus, herbs - and at its heart, water. Always water.

At the Institut du Monde Arabe, an exhibition of eastern landscaping traditions is accompanied by this garden purpose-built on the hard Paris pavements. Roses, olives, citrus, herbs – and at its heart, water. Always water.

 

When space is an issue, pretty flowering shrubs in pots outside stately doors made vibrant with blue are about as beautiful a garden as you need!

On a busy Paris street, pretty flowering shrubs in pots outside stately doors made vibrant with blue are simply beautiful!

Another style of street garden - and these lovely plants you can take away with you, if you can bear to disturb the display!

Another style of street garden – and these lovely plants you can take away with you, if you can bear to disturb the display!

Tucked away behind Grande Mosquée de Paris is this charming little courtyard garden. The hot mint tea is fresh and sweet, and the sunshine's free.

Tucked away behind Grande Mosquée de Paris is this charming little courtyard garden. The hot mint tea is fresh and sweet, and the sunshine’s free.

Not a lot of ground for a home garden? Not a problem!

Not a lot of ground for a home garden? Not a problem!

 

 

The Gothic/Renaissance glory of Hôtel de Sens is offset perfectly by its tidy but carefree jardin.

The Gothic/Renaissance glory of Hôtel de Sens is offset perfectly by its tidy but carefree jardin.

For a snooze with a view, nowhere beats Jardin du Luxembourg, especially when the season is just starting to turn.

For a snooze with a view, nowhere beats Jardin du Luxembourg, especially when the season is just starting to turn.

This Parisian passage is part hanging garden, part jungle, and all gorgeous!

This Parisian passage is part hanging garden, part jungle, and all gorgeous!

Of course, gardens don't have to be just pretty. They can be productive as well. I can't think of anything much more productive than Renoir's Paris garden, with its row up on row of lush vineyards!

Of course, gardens don’t have to be just pretty. They can be productive as well. I can’t think of anything much more productive than Renoir’s Paris garden, with its row up on row of lush vineyards!

And finally, when you're done tramping the streets and parks and gardens and metros of Paris, it's delicious to come home to an apartment balcony with your own little plot of paradise!

And finally, when you’re done tramping the streets and parks and gardens and metros of Paris, it’s delicious to come home to an apartment balcony with your own little plot of paradise!

 

I live by the seaside now, and no longer have a garden, or at least, not one that needs any contribution by me! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I so love Paris, and miss its garden finery.

Time to stop pining! My little part of the world has its own splendour!

‘Til next week,

Gracie x

Friday in Five: Ageless City of Arts

9 Sep

I’m hanging onto my Paris vacation as long as I can! Can you blame me?

paris-sainte-chapelle

Tuning the harpsichord pre-concert in Sainte-Chapelle.

Let’s talk about the arts.

Privileged to attend the opening night of American Ballet Theatre’s The Sleeping Beauty at Opera Bastille as well as concerts in Notre Dame and La Madeleine and Sainte-Chapelle, I was equally privileged to hear a busking violinist on the metro whose skill as he plied his bow all the way from Concorde to Bastille matched that of the (tremendously impressive) ensemble players in those more acoustically-conducive venues.

I’m not saying the arts offerings in Paris are necessarily better than the arts offerings in any other great city.

I’ve seen some amazing theatre and dance in New York. Attended a spine-chilling requiem performance in London. Am even now trying to work out how I can afford to travel to Sydney half a dozen times next year for the STC subscription program, and can’t wait to browse the Indigenous Art exhibition in Melbourne in a few weeks’ time.

louvre-ceiling

The neck-cricking ceiling in one Louvre sculpture gallery.

But there’s something about consuming the arts in Paris that feels different for me. I can’t be ambivalent or arms-length. I can’t be detached. Somehow I experience music and dance, fine art and literature, even graffiti, differently there, my emotions and sensory sensitivity closer to the surface. I walk around Paris soaking up its arts and am almost constantly on the verge of tears.

Perhaps it’s the physical environments. I spend as much time in the Louvre wonderstruck at the building itself as I do the magnificent art collection it houses.

 

And there’s nothing quite as wonderful as hearing medieval church music soar into the nave of the cathedral for which it was written. Unless it’s the magic of Mozart or Vivaldi or Haydn floating above the fountains at Versailles.

versailles-fountain

Versailles’ fountains are somehow more ebullient when they’re synched with Vivaldi, Mozart or Haydn.

garnier-theatre

Palais Garnier: rich, lush, exotic.

It might be the insouciance with which Parisians will wear jeans to performances in the gilded splendour of Palais Garnier, and turn up in vintage couture to the austere and fiercely-modern Opera Bastille. They seem at once innately aware of the statement they make through their clothing choice, and entirely indifferent to how anyone else interprets that statement. And why not? It’s not about the fashion, after all. I don’t know why I spent so long agonising about whether my sandals were suitably appropriate footwear for a ballet premiere.

 

paris-bastille

Opera Bastille: its sleek interiors are almost spartan.

It’s surely in the care Parisians take to decorate their metro stations, below and above the ground:

art-deco-metroand the way they embrace emerging art forms as passionately as they preserve the tapestries and sculptures and ballet notations and musical instruments of generations past. It’s in the way the Seine bouquinistes and street names and corner plaques still venerate the writers – Hugo and Balzac, Zola and Voltaire and Beauvoir and Camus – in the face of weekly incursions of English-language poetry slam.

jesuischarlie-jpgWhile news of a foiled terror attack near Notre Dame yesterday made sudden sense of the occasions when the police presence around the cathedral seemed much heavier than usual (and it was always heavy), it reminded me too that in Paris, freedom of expression through the arts has survived attacks and atrocities through millennia.

This ageless city has always emerged bright and sparkling and vivid and confident. May it ever be so.

‘Til next Friday,

Gracie x

Friday in Five, live from Provence 2

20 Aug

Villeneuve-les-Avignon street art 3

This week’s Friday in Five comes from the thoroughly charming village of Villeneuve-les-Avignon in Provence, where I’ve been privileged to stay while travelling through some of France’s most beautiful southern districts.

Provence is already famous for so many things: wine, food, history, culture.

For me, though, the memories are more personal.

 

 

 

IMG_2525Driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, on the ‘wrong’ side of the car for the first time, I found myself dodging other cars, cyclists and surely-lunatic runners on an unspeakably narrow route all the way up Mont Ventoux, otherwise known as the Beast of Provence.

My reward? Views all the way to heaven, the realisation life can still surprise me, and… bonbons!IMG_2517

 

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Then there was Carcassonne, one of Europe’s most famed and best preserved medieval cities, overrun by tourists and sweating with late-summer fervour. Knights jousted in the tiltyard, and the charismatic and supremely knowledgeable Jean-Francois Vassal gave insights into the life of a thirteenth century knight.

But the real magic happened at dawn, before the hordes returned…
Carcassonne at dawn 2Carcassonne at dawn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carcassonne at dawn 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Orange, there was a Roman theatre, built early in the first century AD and survivor of Christian disapproval, Visigoths, wars, fire andencroaching housing developments. In the awe stakes, its scale was matched only by its acoustics.

Theatre Antique d'Orange 5, 10816

 

And behind the theatre, the Orange markets were rich with colour, noise, flowers, cheeses, spices, bags, garlic, and fresh truffles – another first on a trip full of firsts.

Orange market bagsOrange Market garlic

 

 

 

 

 

 

Truffles from Orange, 180816

 

Finally, Avignon.

Papal palace from Villeneuve-les-AvignonRomantic city of legend and intrigue, capital city of Christendom in the Middle Ages, its immense fortress-cum-palace, the Palais des Papes, soars above its ancient walls.
On a scorching summer day, the small, private studium where successive Popes read and reflected must have been a welcome relief from both the pomp and the oppressive heat.

 

 

Tomorrow I return to Paris, City of Light, City of Love, my favourite city on this wondrous planet.

Meantime, I’d love to hear what you’re loving this week! Drop me a line or leave a comment? I’m always happy to share!

Au revoir!

Gracie x

‘A Case for Trust’ is here!

25 Mar

A Case for Trust Cover
It’s such a thrill to have the chance to bring this book into the world.

First there’s the getting there…

29 Sep

Je suis très fatigué.

My Paris neighbourhood

My Paris neighbourhood

The first (and last) time I travelled alone to Paris, I was more than a decade younger and a thousand years less tired. I’d plotted out my first days of pre-conference playtime in 15 minute intervals, determined to see every single thing in case I never returned.

As it transpired, I returned again and again over the following years. A Christmas lunch on a bateau on the Seine with my family; a romp down the Champs Elysees at midnight with some work friends, giggling like school girls; a glorious long springtime weekend with my son, just hanging out in the Jardin du Luxembourg.

But now I’m back here alone, having caught the same flight and arriving at the same ungodly hour as all those years ago. This time, though, I arrived footsore and heart-heavy, vulnerable and impatient. By the time I checked into my apartment (on the beautiful rue de Rivoli – thank you, AirBNB!), I’d been travelling more than 37 hours. In the same clothes. In the same shoes. In the same stressed-out headspace.

This time I didn’t throw my bags on the bed and rush back down onto the street to explore. This time, it was enough to sag into a chair in the streetside cafe below my apartment, order a vin rose and some lunch, and watch the traffic roar past; the impromptu friendships renewed in the middle of the intersection; the crow high on a balcony turning age-creamed walls into art deco cliche. It was enough, just to sit, just to be. Just to be in Paris.

And just like that, the magic was back. I need to rest now, but I can’t wait for tomorrow.

My Paris apartment/workshop

My Paris apartment/workshop

But I promised you pictures, so here are two. The one at the top is my neighbourhood for the next little while, taken from the salon where I’ll be working. And this one on the left is my little Paris apartment – light, bright, high enough for the street noise to be charming, and with a view to inspire all sorts of dreaming and wordsmithing.

Jusqu'à demain!

A Parisienne Pastiche!

28 Sep

Louvre21

Ah, Paris… City of Light, City of Love, my favourite city in the world. And my home for the next three weeks!

I plan on plenty of exploring, musing and observing, and hopefully plenty of writing!

Paris is a wonderland for the senses, and I’ll be posting some highlights here each day. If you have favourite Parisian places and memories, please share – I’d love to hear them.

Hope you find my favourite city as inspiring, exhilarating and just plain romantic as I do!

On coming home

23 Nov

imageNearly 17 years ago I discovered a little timber beach house with a magical sea view, a cooling evening breeze, a relentless ocean soundtrack and a private, sunny deck. It became my home and haven for the next three days, and my dream for the many years that followed.

Away from the beach house, my life was a tumult. I had a new baby, a newly-diagnosed dying mother and a freshly-sealed divorce. I was drowning in fear and grief and guilt – and maritally-transmitted debt. I felt overwhelmed, battered. I couldn’t see a way forward, let alone a way out.

My husband’s parents had taken my son away for a few days, and a long weekend stretched ahead emptily and aimlessly. I found myself driving north, saw a vacancy sign, enquired. Dragged my misery up the stairs of the beach house, collapsed onto the couch. I didn’t move from it for the first day, wallowing in self-pity and a pretty cheap bottle of semillon (even then, I wouldn’t touch chardonnay).

On the second day I climbed down the dunes and walked the length of the beach, and because of the crashing waves or the scuttling crabs or perhaps the ancient sands, I rediscovered my guts. Or at least, enough of my guts to not drink the rest of the cheap semillon that night.

On my last morning, I walked again down my beach and into the village at the end of it. In the struggling little art gallery, I found a painting that seemed to capture my entire stay – three days that had somehow heralded the Rest of My Life. Peregian secret
The painting lovingly laid out my sandy beach path, studded with sheoak cones, shawled in wallum, shaded in banksia, and disturbed only by a single pair of footprints. It was clearly meant for me, a souvenir, a memory, an evocation, an invitation.

I stared at the painting for an age, desperately tempted to take it home, a talisman against the mess I was returning to. But I was struggling, too, and I decided I couldn’t afford it. Instead, on my way back to the beach house, I collected a couple of cups full of the silky, clean, soft sand and took them home and poured them into my mother’s favourite crystal bowl.

The bowl and its sand travelled with me from house to house, country to country, life to life for about 17 years. Sometimes I would pause and trail my fingers through the sand, but for most of the time it sat, unregarded and untouched, on whatever counter I had next set it down.

Yesterday, the bowl with the sand was packed with my other worldly goods and stored for a few weeks until we can move properly into our new home… the little beach house with a magical ocean view, the mighty crash of waves, an immensity of stars overhead and a breeze like a benediction.

Today, I walked on my beach, my footsteps the only disturbance on the tide-tugged sand.image

I’ll do the same tomorrow.

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