If there’s one thing that characterises Paris for me, it’s little surprises hiding around corners.
Wandering down a street, suddenly Sacre Cœur popped into view for a few moments, sitting high above the city and beautifully framed by the buildings below.
Or visiting a new museum – today it was the Musée des Arts et Métiers (the Design Museum) – where we discovered that the first telegraphic machines used piano keyboards to type the letters in. Each key corresponded to a letter of the alphabet and the exquisitely crafted machine could send messages.
The perfect fix for two tired, jetlagged kids on their first day in Paris? The lego shop with a build-your-own-minifigure stand. And they even made a mini me – mortar board, and snazzy shirt lassooing a thesis.
Beginning with a sing at the Paris Ukulele Festival,
Followed by the Sawmill Sessions Bluegrass & Old Time Festival, in a barge on the canal. The sound was fabulous, and I was pleased to note they were using the same Myrtle microphone that I have. I spent the afternoon and evening jamming and listening to some great bands.
Interspersed with wandering the streets,
And a wonderful photographic exhibition – Dans l’Atelier – at Le Petit Palais,
If you click on the photos they’ll come up bigger so you can see what the Parisians are doing.
The 11:31 Eurostar left at 11:31 and 5 seconds, cruising out so smoothly I hardly noticed we were moving. London has been grand for the last two weeks. I even enjoyed the rain over the last two days, wandering around with that Blossom Dearie song playing in my head:
“I like London in the rain,
With my boots on, in the rain,
See the couples arm in arm,
London drizzle has its charm”
I went to a wonderful exhibition of photographs of the UK by foreigners over the 20th century at the Barbican Centre yesterday. The centre is architecture in all its post-modern glory. At one level it’s quite ugly with all the brown brick and concrete, but on the other hand there’s something quite playful about the enclosed centre that includes apartments, the Guildhall School of Music, bits of canal, a very old church, concert hall, museum, art gallery, with plants spilling over the balconies… actually very appealing as a place to live when you put it like that.
I was, however, reminded that despite how lovely London has been these past weeks, I do not want to live here again. I popped into the book sale in the church at the Barbican and the first thing that caught my eye was the Steinway grand piano. Needing a music fix, I asked the book man if anyone would mind if I played. His reply, in clipped, upper class accent: “That is the prerogative of the Director of Music.” A definite no, imbued with a clear sense of rules and privileges. Five minutes later as I was looking at the organ, the organ teacher stopped for a chat and said “Sure, have a play for five minutes.” I did enjoy the feeling of having thwarted the hierarchy as I walked out, head held high and a wave from the teacher in the organ loft, but the effort required to constantly get past it is wearisome. These little encounters highlight how much freedom I enjoy as an educated person in Australia, regardless of class.
London Craft Week has been on for the last couple of days with a host of curious and beautifully made things. I made a beeline for the Steinway restoration demonstration at Oxo Tower on the Thames. They were fixing cracks in the soundboard of a 1889 piano when I was there. Carefully inserting a fine wedge of spruce into the crack then shaving it back in line with the sound board. They also had a new Steinway just sitting there, asking to be played – I couldn’t say no! Such a pleasure to play an instrument of that quality. It was quite lovely to play a Steinway in a shed. The juxtaposition of luxury, ultra-refined piano in an old wharf building was wonderful. I also forget how much I miss playing piano when I’m away.
Later in the day I stumbled across Tom Woods Cellos in the Opera Arcade near Trafalgar Square. Ben, the resident cellist, was practising at the time, so after a chat about cellos he treated me to a private concert. There is something very special about one person playing music for another person. It made me wish I could have my own cellist as an alarm clock – live Bach to start the day!
My adventures then took me to Savile Row where the delightful young Scottish cutter talked me through the process of making a bespoke suit at Kathryn Sargent. She’s the first woman tailor to break into Savile Row and if the half hour I spent there is anything to go by, is doing it extremely well. I learnt all kinds of things about suit making – horse hair fabric lining for structure; a gazillion hand stitches, sleeve width and jacket width are related… If I’d had a spare 8,000 pounds I would have ordered one!
After three days at the London Wine Fair my teeth hurt, my feet hurt and my eyes have become attuned to interesting things. It’s quite incredible that most of the stands follow the same format, offer the same thing, and by the afternoon of Day 3 wear the same bored expressions. My eye is drawn to the unusual: textural stands (I particularly like the Argentinian blue bar, complete with music),
hats & blue suits (definitely the colour of choice in London right now)
and wine paraphernalia: the cork bar stool (I image it’s fabulously comfortable); the Fizzi truck (everyone needs one!)
I’m reminded how wonderful it is in big European cities to walk around soaking up the history and the architecture, and in this case, the wine fair. I must confess to being a little tired after walking all day every day since I landed on Monday. The weather is divine so I shall continue walking today. All pleasure and leisure as the wine fair has finished – the Thames, V&A Museum, London Craft Week – that should keep me busy, and might necessitate a rest in Fortnum & Mason’s beautiful tea rooms. (I had a peek in there last night.)
It’s a beautiful day in London. The perfect May day. I flew in on Monday morning and am here for a couple of weeks, then off to France for a couple of weeks before coming home.
I decided to write a little post about every day, which as the travellers among you will understand, internet connections mean a few days will end up rolled into one post.
I also decided it’s the perfect moment to let my alter ego out. Her name is also Amie and she’s finishing a PhD on the cultural side of wine in France and Australia. Sounds terribly serious, I know, but this trip is one of the lighter parts of the task – I’m here in London for the London Wine Fair and The Worlds in a Wine Glass conference. I plan to get distracted by a cocktail or two and the V&A museum, among other things.
Long haul flying is never pleasant, but a necessary evil for an Australian with a love of Europe. One day they’ll invent a transportation device that gets you there in the blink of an eye and when that happens I’ll miss the flight over central Australia. It’s such an incredible landscape and I was lucky enough to have a window seat and clear skies. I noticed the people in front of me looking out just as we passed Lake Eyre. The swirls of colour indicate where the water flows, but it’s hard to tell if the bright blue is actually water or a reflection in the salt. (Apparently there is some water in the lake, but not very much.) The forms and colours make me think a giant has been playing with water colour paints, pushing them around the canvas without restraint, just to see what happens.
Arriving in London was a trip down memory lane – I lived here for a year 15 years ago, and I recognise a lot. The streets and buildings trigger all kinds of little memories from that time and subsequent visits and I’m struck by how much my life has changed and how much has happened in a decade and a half.
Resisting the urge to sleep I walked and walked with a friend around Earl’s Court and Sloane Square. The beautiful suspended flowers in the window of London perfumer Penhaligon’s caught the eye. Once inside a tall, red-head wearing a white shirt (a cut that gave just a suggestion of a lab-coat) led us through the range. She had quite a memory for the different ingredients in each perfume, gently waving the scented card under our noses as she described each one. In a master stroke of public relations, at the conclusion we were each given a handkerchief scented with the new release.
My favourite was the Juniper Sling, like wearing a gin and tonic on your skin. Quite fresh to begin with, but over the course of the afternoon it mellowed into a subtle blend of fruit and spice. I may yet be temped to a acquire a bottle.