Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pre-Paris: By the Books

For me, travel is all about learning. Language, culture, history, art, literature, music, food....these topics and more all come into play when I make travel plans. Preparing for a trip abroad can start months or even years in advance, as I do research to learn more about my destination so I can make the most of my travels. For an upcoming visit to Paris, my preparations began more than a year ago, reading accounts of the lives of Impressionist artists whose art will be a focus of my stay. Monet, Renoir, Manet, Rodin, Degas, Cassat, Morisot all figured prominently in my research. I whiled away the winter months absorbed in accounts of their lives, through both historical fiction and non-fiction books, some of which I will list at the end of this post. Though I previously visited Paris in 2012, this visit will be devoted to zeroing in on specific areas of the city that I want to explore.

More recently, I've turned to blogs and memoirs written by people who live in Paris for my research, as well as more general fiction, even some chick lit titles, that take place in Paris. One of the most interesting books I've read recently is one by Liam Callanan, previously known for his novel-turned-movie, Cloud Atlas. His new novel, Paris by the Book, is an inventive rendition of the ever popular "American adjusts to life in Paris" saga. In the process of reading the novel I was introduced to several other iconic books and an area of the city, usually forsaken by tourists, that I hope to explore while I'm there.

Rather than go into the plot of Callanan's book (which I wholeheartedly recommend), I'll mention the children's books that are integral to the storyline: the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans, and The Red Balloon, by Albert Lamorisse, which later became an award winning 1956 short film. Though I read the Madeline books as a child, and have vague recollections of The Red Balloon story, revisiting them as a guide to my upcoming travels has been a playful and enlightening approach.

I also learned about the Menilmontant quartier of Paris, which is the setting for the Lamorisse film. Located between Montmartre and the Pere Lachaise Cemetery, it is largely untraveled by tourists, but is said to provide some awesome vistas. You  can view the Lamorisse film via these links:

Red Balloon,  original, grainy version and soundtrack

Red Balloon  superior, restored version, but lousy music 

Another series of books that take place in Paris was inspired by a real-life event in 2010 when a Paris apartment was discovered after being abruptly abandoned by its owner for 70 years. At least four different authors have used this scenario to create works of fiction, each unique in its cast of characters and plot, while using the real story as background. I've read most of these books, some better than others: the first two capture more of the facts behind the real story, but all of them are entertaining. For an account of the true story behind the books, use this link:
Lavish Paris apartment untouched for 70 years

The books:
The Velvet Hours - Alyson Richman
The Paris Apartment - Michelle Gable
The Paris Secret - Karen Swan
Paris Time Capsule; From a Paris Balcony - Ella Carey

I could go on and on about the treasure trove of books about Paris, but instead, I encourage your own research on the topic. Here's hoping the titles I've provided in this post will get you started on that journey. Enjoy!

Book list, about artists:
Claude and Camille - Stephanie Cowell (Monet)
Mad Enchantment - Ross King (Monet)
Girl in the Afternoon - Serena Burdick  (Manet)
Paris Red - Maureen Gibbon (Manet and his muse)
Impressionist Quartet - Jeffrey Myers (Manet, Morisot, Degas, Cassat)
The Painted Girls - Cathy Marie Buchanan (Degas models)
Luncheon of the Boating Party - Susan Vreeland  (Renoir)
Naked Came I - David Weiss (Rodin)
You Must Change Your Life - Rachel Corbett (Rilke and Rodin)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Dream of Italy

I recently learned of a new tv show devoted to travel in Italy, which gives free access to their programs online. I watched a few episodes on PBS, then found their website, which features all of the episodes for viewing. So far there are two seasons of episodes, showing some regions of Italy that are often overlooked.

Check it out!              Dream of Italy

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reliving Past Adventures

I haven't had the chance to travel this year, but am hoping for another long stay in Italy next spring. In the meantime, you can read about my travels from 2006-2009 in an archive blog.

NOTE: The archive blog is a work in progress, as I've had to copy all the posts from a now defunct website I used to have. Some of the photos are missing, and travels from 2009 still need to be published, but I hope to have it completed soon.

Become More1: Italy and Japan

Archive of travels from 2006-2010
via this link:


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spain: Cadaquès and Port Lligat, Dali's home

First view of Cadaquès and the bay along Costa Brava.
 After Figueres, our group traveled along steep winding roads to reach Cadaquès, on the Cap de Creus peninsula along the Costa Brava. During the summer, Cadaquès is off limits to tour buses, as the roads are narrow and with more traffic it becomes a treacherous drive for even small buses. Since we were there in October, we were able to enjoy the scenic route, climbing a series of hills, then plunging down toward the sea.

Tranquil and empty Cadaquès.
Cadaquès is a sleepy fishing village that Dali often visited as a child. It was an attractive spot to many other artists, including Picasso and Miro. It was an overcast day when we arrived, and there was little activity going on in the village.

The "Blue House": at one time, many Cadaquès natives immigrated to Cuba,
then returned home with riches and built elegant homes like this one.
We had an hour free for lunch in Cadaquès. I came across a wonderful outdoor creperie, and ate a delightful crepe filled with goat cheese and fresh raspberry jam. After a bit of wandering around the quiet village, we moved on to the main event: Dali's home in Port Lligat, twenty minutes away.

Dali's house in Port Lligat, marked by his iconic eggs on one portion of the roof, 
Dali was drawn to the location by the landscape and isolation it offered. From seven small huts once used by fishermen, he gradually created a home with a labyrinthine structure. Though the structure became habitable in 1949, construction was continuous from 1930 to 1972, resulting in the form that stands today.  As Dali described it, the home was " like a real biological structure...each new pulse on our life had its own new cell, its room."

The Library: Each room is decorated with various odd objects: paintings, statues, and even taxidermy.
Dali and his wife Gala lived a the house in Port Lligat until her death in 1982. The home remains the same as it was on the day he left in 1982 and moved to Pubòl Castle, where Gala was buried.

Dali's easel.
In Dali's studio, you can see the easel that he designed, which moves up and down, into the floor, so that he could always paint while sitting in his chair.  

Dali's studio.
Lounge area, leading to bedroom.
In the room shown above, Dali positioned a mirror (above the sofa on the wall to the left) so that he and Gala would be able to watch the sunrise from their bedroom, which was up a short staircase to the right of this room. Since Port Lligat is the easternmost village of mainland Spain, Dali bragged that he was the first person in his country to see the sun each day.

Bedroom of Dali and Gala.

Gala's oval "relaxing" room, often used as a salon for guests to enjoy stimulating conversations.
Only eight people are allowed in the museum at a time, due to the narrow halls, numerous stairways and labyrinthine setup of the house, and advance reservations must be made.  In addition to the house itself, there are several outdoor spaces to view.

One of the terraces

Dali's iconic swimming pool, shaped like male genitals.

Another terrace, all in white.
This view into Dali's life was richly interesting, and well worth the trip. Due to the difficulty of getting to Cadaquès and Port Lligat, this area of Spain is often overlooked, and remains a tranquil testament to the life and art of Salvadore Dali. 

Adios to Cadaquès!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Spain: Figueres, Dalí Theater and Museum

Teatre Museu Dalì
I ended up spending another week in Barcelona on my own, and arranged to take an organized day trip/tour to visit the Dalì museum in Figueres and his home in Cadaques. First, our small group was driven by mini coach east along the Costa Brava to Figueres, where the Dalì Museum is located. Our tour guide, a lively young woman from Salou, kept us entertained with informative stories throughout the two hour ride from Barcelona.

A closeup of one of the bread loaves.
The outside of the iconic building is topped by a series of giant eggs, and the walls are covered with small ceramic loaves of bread, a tribute to Dalì's wife Gala, as bread was her favorite food.

The heart of the museum is the building that once housed the town's theater when Dali was a child. It was also the site of one of his first public exhibitions. The old theater was burned during the Spanish Civil War and was in ruin for several decades. Then, in 1960 Dali and the town's mayor decided to rebuild the theater and use it as a museum dedicated to Dali's creations. A glass dome cupola crowns the stage of the old theater, and Dali is buried in a crypt beneath the stage floor.

A reconstruction of Dali's creation The Rainy Taxi (1938), that "rains" inside the car.
Dali was inspired by an article in Scientific American about the minimum number of pixels needed to describe a unique human face. He used 121 pixels to complete Lincoln's face in the portrait below. On closer look, one sees the nude Gala in the middle of Lincoln's face.

"Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea
Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the
Portrait of Abraham Lincoln."

Another highlight of the museum is a 3D living room installation that when viewed from a certain spot, looks like the face of Mae West. Dali used paintings for the eyes, a fireplace for the nose and a sofa for the lips. The hair is draped over an arch atop a staircase, which allows one to view the illusion from a distance.

The museum continues through many levels and rooms, and visitors are urged to tour the space is no particular order, as the rooms have not been laid out in any systematic or chronological order, according to Dalì's wishes. The museum was a wonderful romp through the clever,  magical, often bizarre mind and talent of Dalì.

Retrospective Bust of a Woman.....with bread on her head and neck!
However, my very favorite part of the museum was in a separate building, which housed Dali's jewelry creations. I was unaware of this aspect of his art, and was impressed by the designs and craftsmanship of these items.


The trip to Figueres and the Dali Museum was well worth the effort and expense of the tour I'd arranged in Barcelona. The second part of the trip took us to Dali's home in Cadaques.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Spain: Tarragona

A picturesque view of Tarragona. 
The most interesting village we visited while in Salou was the town of Tarragona, rich with Roman history. Many ancient ruins remain from its time as Tarraco, while under Roman rule, and they have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Cathedral in Tarragona
The cathedral stands majestically above the village. The church dates from the 12th century and combines both Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

A view of the Roman ruins in Tarragona
In the Roman Circus area, you can enter the vaults where chariots and other materials were stored. Within the vaults is a museum of sorts, explaining the activities of the chariot races and the men who drove the chariots.

Walking through one of the vaults in the Roman Circus area.
Various statues and tombstones from Roman times are also included in the vaults.

 A section of the arena for chariot races during Roman times.
The Roman circus, used mainly for chariot races, was built at the end of the 1st Century AD and was probably used until the end of the the 4th century AD. It was 450 meters long and one end has a semi-circular bend. You can see portions of the circus along the streets as you walk through the town. It is considered to be one of the most well-preserved circuses in Western Europe.

Village streets: Celebrating thirty years of something?
We visited Tarragona on a Sunday, and the streets were virtually empty. There were several museums of merit that we did not take time to visit, including the National Archaeological Museum of Tarragona. Numerous churches are located throughout the village, including the remains of a church called Santa Maria del Miracle, which belonged to the Knights Templar and was demolished in 1915. It can be found near the seaside amphitheater.

Roman marketplace....still in use today for that purpose.
When we stopped for an espresso break near one of the churches, we noticed the ancient Roman marketplace, shown in the photo above. During the week, vendors sell their wares in the same space that Romans did in ancient times.

A view of the seaside Roman amphitheater. 
Tarragona is well worth a visit, and I wish we'd had more time to explore all that it has to offer. For more information, check out this link: