Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Sep - 27 Back from Buckingham

Just spent the weekend in London. I'll tell you all about it soon.....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sep 25 -- London! -- Day 3

We had a long leisurely breakfast. Marcello and Marita got out croissants, and bread with jam and butter and even cheese (an element of the German breakfast Marita said) and we had orange juice and hot tea. We lounged and read newspapers. Nice. Relaxing.

Marco and I went alone then to the Tower of London (actually a sort of castle / fort), a place Marita and Marcello had already visited. We took the guided tour. Our guide was funny in that great British way. Aparently he's not only a guide, but also a guard of the Queen's jewels, which are housed there in the London Tower. He and 36 other guards actually live there full time, right in the castle. They get free room and board. Surprising!

We took a peek at the jewels. Quite shiny.

We hid under a stone arch of the Tower of London for the duration of a quick sunshower and then hurried over to Covent Garden. Here are trendy yet quintessential London shops and apartments made of brick mixed with classic English pubs and a covered market. We met Marita and Marcello then got Persian food.

I'd been there once before. Both times I saw the same guy. He makes money in the street by betting passers-by to ride his bicycle across a 15-foot length of space without falling over or touching their feet to the ground. Sounds easy right?

The trick is that he's rigged the handlebars so that when you turn them left, the wheel actually turns right and vice-versa. He shows the crowd how "easy" it is -- he rolls smoothly and confidently across the line without tipping. Looks like a breeze! Teenage boys and brawny men pay up to show they can do it too. They mount the bike with bravado. Again and again they tip over and lose their money.

As we left we walked towards Leicester Square. We passed a hotel designed by Starck. I love his Clift Hotel in San Francisco. This one had similar odd touches - a long table with chairs shaped like a gold tooth, stools shaped like garden gnomes, a long yellow hallway. But it wasn't nearly as surreal as the one in San Francisco.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Sep 24 -- London! -- Day 2

Marita and Marcello seemed quite pleased to take us out sightseeing, so in the morning we went to Camden Town, a polar opposite environment to the night before.

This area has markets of great handmade clothing by independent unknown designers. It's not junky old military resale like a Ragstock shop. It was super trendy with attitude. I loved it. There were also canals in this area, which had nice boats passing through locks, and little manmade islands in the middle with groups of goth teens sitting around applying makeup to each others' faces. There were tents of Rasta guys, booths of steaming homemade curries sold by Indian ladies, mohawk-wearing punks holding advertising signs, and old stone buildings with fancy art boutiques. One guy made lamps out of computer circuit boards which were more attractive than you would think. Marcello brought us to a Brazillian cafe.

After leaving we saw a girl in the street painting a huge 20 x 40 foot canvas taped to the sidewalk of a Boticelli painting. She had a sign saying she'd been working on it for five weeks. The skies looked a bit stormy, and we wondered what she would do if it rained.

In the afternoon we went to the Tate Modern gallery. In general I have lots of criticism of modern art museums, and post-1950s art in general. But the Tate Modern blew me away! It was by far the most clever and intriguing collection I've seen in a modern art museum in a long time. Wish I'd had more time to see it all. It's huge!

We then set out hoping to get a nice warm tea and scones, but the next nice place we found walking up the riverfront of the Thames was a fine old British pub, all lined with warm woods and fabric wallpaper -- very tempting on a cool grey evening. They didn't serve scones, so of course we went for a beer. Very cheerful crowd inside, as any good pub should have.

For dinner we went to Brick Lane, a street lined with Indian restaurants. We all remembered the AMAZING Indian food in Singapore (which unknown to many people, has a very large population of Indians and absolutely beautiful Indian food.) So we had high standards. It wasn't as good as our favorite little shack in Holland Village (a part of Singapore) but it was sooooooooooooooo good nonetheless. I love Indian food. MMMmmm. Butter Chicken!

Then we went home with warm full bellies. We watched a movie (Austin Powers...uhhh!) and went to sleep.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sep 23 -- London! -- Day 1

Quick unexpected trip to London. Marco had a conference there on Monday so we decided to make a weekend of it. Why not? It's only a 2-hour train ride away!

We stayed with friends. Marita (from Germany) and Marcello (from Brazil) who live in an area called Canary Wharf. As they said themselves, it's like living in the Matrix. We took the Tube from Waterloo Station straight to Canary Wharf. Whe the escalator opened to the surface we turned our heads up to a night sky lit by a thousand windows twinkling like stars in a ring of glassy black skyscrapers. It's the newer financial district of London, built in the last ten years over what used to be grim spooky dockyards. Though it's not a type of scenery that normally charms me, it felt so much like downtown Singapore in a strange way that I warmed up to it. I guess it's that common Commonwealth touch.

Another great thing of that arrival was that Marita and Marcello met us with big smiles and hugs right out of the subway. It was great to see them! We've known them since living in Singapore in 2003. They had descended from their offices in the towers that rose over our heads, and were partaking the English tradition of the after-work friday night beer at the pub, which was located right in front of the station. Next to it was a canal that reflected the night's lights and was actually pretty. We all had a brew at the pub, then got dinner. For such a seemingly sterile environment as towering glass skyscrapers, there was actually a lot of quite livable shops, pubs and restaurants at ground level. Surprising eh?

Then we went home to their apartment, on the eleventh floor, with a view over the Thames looking towards the Tower Bridge and the London Eye. Again, something not normally my style, but impressive and not unpleasant.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Sep 22 - Cousins' kayaking comes to an end

I've already mentioned my cousin and her husband a few times in this blog. Their names are Barb and Pete and they spent July and August kayaking the entire length of the Mississippi River.

Well they finished! ..... Just as Katrina bore down on New Orleans and the Mississippi.

They were just upriver from New Orleans when a barge backed up (rare behavior for a barge, as they point out) and cautioned them to get off the river before the hurricane hit. They heeded his advice, and pulled out.

Turned out, however, that they pulled out at the dock of a state penitentiary and were almost arrested. They got that cleared up, and even managed to get a rental car despite the evacuating masses. Then they got out of Dodge.....on bumper to bumper evacuee-filled freeways.

Here's a photo of when they passed their 1000th mile in their kayaks, after 37 days of paddling. (Hey, isn't that Robinson Crusoe?)

Cool eh?

Monday, September 19, 2005

Sep 19 - Yes! My New Logo!

Yes!!! I figured out the name of my new soon-to-be glassworking studio. It has no physical existence yet, but at least it's coming into a conceptual existence.

I wanted a name that evoked both "light" and "color". I went flipping through a dictionary, a thesaurus and even a rhyming dictionary and came up with an idea that I finally really like:

Green Lantern Glassworks

Here's the logo:

By the way, yes.... there is a comic book character with the name Green Lantern, but I figure the context is different enough that it doesn't matter.

I was so sure about the name that I went and purchased the domain name greenlanternglass.com (cheap! for $1.99) and started work on a future website and even made stationary. All in one day. Pretty productive eh?

In the evening Marco and I ate a great North African meal with Pyves and Damian near Damian's place. Mine was lamb tajine with steamed vegetables, olives and stewed lemons and couscous. Mmmmmm. It burned my tongue which still aches today but it was worth it.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sep 19 - Brazil, O Brazil

It's been a pretty average weekend. No more weddings and travels.

The lower part of Rue Mouffetard near our apartment has been hosting a full weekend of Brazil-related festivities. There was a disco night in the local gymnasium friday night, but when we walked by it was dead. The Brazilian dance contest the next night drew a bigger crowd. There are Brazil flags in the streets and samba music on outdoor speakers. The French adore Brazil. Wish I could say the same for the US.

The wife of Marco's friend Pyves went to visit her family in Lebanon, so we have been keeping him entertained. Went to an English brewery-style pub last night, and watched Broken Flowers tonight. Fairly interesting movie.

During the day today I worked on preparations for opening my own glassworking studio, which will be in the fairly near future if all goes well. I've been doing market studies and adding up costs. But on the fun side I worked on a logo and a tentative name. Here are a couple possibilities:

Friday, September 16, 2005

Sep 17 - Underneath it all

Reading back over my previous posts, I think I come across as quite cheerful, living a life of nothing but good times.

It has been good times. But Paris often makes me bitter and morose and I don't write about that. Some days I'm so fed up with being here. It's grey. It's walls and cement, noise and pollution. It's drawn faces and distance between me and other people. I don't know why, but it does something to me that erodes my spirit. This is no place for me.

It's time to get out.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Sep 11 - Wedding in Italy - the Day After

Whew, slept in late.

We ate lunch with several of our friends in a little trattoria in the nearby village of Ronciglioni. Mmmmm, again we ate so well. We shared several kinds of pasta, my favorite being the one with sauce made of boar's meat and my second favorite the cheese ravioli with a tart, zesty, perfect tomato sauce. It was simple, handmade and satisfying. MMMMmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

Marco and I walked around the village which is on high cliffs over a river ravine. It had small medieval streets, pretty views, and the sleepy feel of old folks on Sunday. We ate gelato then drove back to Rome. It was sad to leave this area. Such beautiful countryside.

We snoozed on the grass in front of the airport until the sprinklers came on and sent us jumping five feet into the air. Then we got on our plane went home. (No sweaty palms this time).

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Sep 10 - Wedding in Italy - Wedding Day!

By morning most of our friends had arrived, around 30 people! Because of yesterday's storm their flights had been re-routed all over, even to other European cities. Other people had been stuck on closed freeways or just simply got lost. But they were there by lunch.

Lunch was in an amazingly beautiful place. It was a humble shack on a sloping green field that overlooked Lake Vico (Lago di Vico). A crown of green hills surrounded the lake and horses grazed below in the sun.

One half of the shack housed long wooden tables where we ate. The food, hot and homemade, came out of the kitchen in the other half. And oh what food!! We had the full Italian feast -- the antipasti, the pasta, the meat, the veggies, and finally homemade candied chesnuts from the trees in the field.

We then drank a local mandarine alcohol and chatted with each other in the sun. Marco and I sat in hammocks with our good friends Mitesh (from India) and his girlfriend (Indian-American) and Kaoru (from Japan / Europe). We talked with Joanna (Portuguese) who is working for the WHO in Mozambique, and Ally (English) who's working in Kenya, and Pedro, who's at home in Portugal. And so many others. So good to see them!

The wedding began at 6pm. There was no church. The wedding was held at a farm villa in the countryside. The ceremony was in an orchard of hazelnut trees. The bride and groom, both friends of ours, are two wonderful Italians named Vanessa and Stefano whom we all met in Singapore during INSEAD.

The ceremony had no priest. Vanessa and Stefano said the vows themselves and in a fantastic surprise, Kgashane officiated. Kgashane, a Zulu from South Africa, is a wonderfully charismatic guy and is also a part of our Singapore INSEAD group. It was a great sight to see the three of them together. Their closest friends and relatives read passages. The music was cheerful West African folk songs by a Senegalese street musician that Vanessa and Stefano had gotten to know in the streets of Rome.

The ceremony was quick but very moving. Genuine and honest. Afterwards we followed a candle-lit path from the orchard to the main house. We had champagne near the pool and dinner on the villa lawn. The dinner featured a pig roast, fresh veggies and good pasta.

We danced on the villa patio until the wee hours of the morning. Vanessa's brother was the DJ and I was glad to see that he used some music I had brought. The dancing was hot and fun and energetic, reaching a high point at great old hits like It's Raining Men and Tom Jones' It's Not Unusual where everybody sang along. I got a chance to talk to Fiona, our old roommate from Singapore and one of the spiciest Irish girls the world has ever known. So much fun!

Congratulations Vanessa and Stefano!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Sep 9 - Wedding in Italy - Visiting Rome

Marco and I had one free day to visit Rome.

It was a misty morning, but warm. We went to Rome's Colisseum and both agreed the Roman colisseum in Tunisia was way more impressive, probably because it was in better shape and had no tourists. We strolled up the Foro Romano, the remains of the old Roman city. It was misty here and the sun was struggling to break through the clouds which gave a nice atmosphere.

We went through a neighborhood across the river called the Trastavere. It had small winding streets and pink and orange stucco homes with fountains in the squares.

Then we went up a big hill into a large park called the Gianicolo. We were a little lost and found ourselves on a dirt path in the forest. It started to rain - a warm rain. We hurried up the path. At one moment we turned and saw a spectacular view of the city -- domes and statue-topped monuments in a sea of red rooftops. So pretty we stopped and stared in the rain before moving on.

Finally we got to the Vatican. The sky cracked open and really started to pour in torrents so we took shelter under the curved collonade that surrounds the square in front of San Pietro (St. Peter's Cathedral). Tourists without umbrellas (like us) scurried, and the ones with umbrellas queued in a colorful umbrella line to enter the Vatican.

When the rain stopped we entered the Vatican. It was an overwhelming display of power and might. The huge cathedral had dramatic sculptures all over -- men in the throes of holy ecstacy, their faces and bodies twisted in mad passion. It was massive and spooky and I even felt light headed, almost claustrophobic. It was one of the stranger and more disquieting atmospheres I've ever experienced in a church/temple/mosque on travels, and I've visited many. This is the Church of power and world domination, a far cry from the neighborhood church atmosphere of prayer and contemplation.

We did see Michaelangelo's Pieta, however. A truly amazing sculpture.

Marco and I took some air outside. The Sistine Chapel was closed for the day (a disappointment) so we visited the new tomb of Pope Jean-Paul II. It was underground in a long thin, white-walled hall that had popes' tombs all along it's length. It was quiet and sterile but gave me the same spooked, claustrophobic feeling that the Cathedral above gave me. I was surprised by these strong reactions. Odd place all around.

We got soaked in the rain the rest of the day. That didn't stop us from liking Rome, however. What a beautiful city.

In the evening we drove one hour north of Rome to Lago di Vico, the site of tomorrow's wedding. Most of our friends had arrived, but many had been delayed by the rainstorms. We know them all from INSEAD (a international business school where Marco got his MBA in 2003). They are a fascinating and fun group of people who come from Portugal, India, Germany, South Africa, Denmark, Japan, Brazil to name a few (and there's more). Not really the typical people you expect when someones says "business school". We drank wine and said many hellos. It was good to see them again. It had been two years since seeing many of them.

We went to our hotel which was actually a farm in the countryside. Slept well.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sep 8 - Wedding in Italy

Boy, fresh off the plane from Minnesota, and here we are hopping another plane to Rome. We're going to a wedding

We took off from Beauvais, a tiny one-runway airport north of Paris. Flights are cheaper there. Wierd experience but better than the typical gigantic airport. I was antsy on the flight however. Sweaty palms.

After the relief of landing, a taxi driver zoomed us to our youth hostel at 150 mph down the autostrada. Sweaty palms in cab.

Got to hostel around midnight. Went to sleep.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Sep 6 - New Orleans

I'm in the throes of jetlag, homesickness, and (re)culture shock. But nothing compares with the stories I'm reading over the internet about New Orleans. It's a horror and I'm sad. I've done nothing the past two days but read about it.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Sept 4 - Big Time Blog Construction

I haven't written for a whole month while I've been in Minnesota. So today I'm going to sit my butt in this cheap plastic folding chair that I have in front of the computer and type until it's all filled in. I can't stand staring at a computer screen for hours. My eyes will probably ooze out of my head like a pair of garden slugs and take refuge in the potted plant next to me, but so be it.