Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family, London, Paris, art & food

Driving on the motorway to England is a nightmare - it's drizzly and the wet road is full of trucks playing chicken with each other at 70mph. We decide to spend as much time as possible off the motorway. First detour is the Lake District, via via Keswick and Windermere - it is a lovely drive and as picturesque as its reputation. From the sublime to the ridiculous - we then detour via Blackpool. It is as gloriously tacky as one could possibly imagine - a melange of fast-food, funfairs, horse and cart rides and cheap grungy hotels, sadly there's no time for fish & chips.
Wistful at Windermere
Blackpool belle

We are visiting Newent, near Gloucester, where my aunt (and godmother) Pat lives. We arrive a little late after all the detours, and our dinner is in the oven :) We catch up with the family - cousins Garry and Kay, Kay's daughter Emily and her fiance Darryl. It's great to stop being a tourist for a couple of days. Newent is a beautiful old market town, we eat at the pub, walk to the ancient church, around the lake, and to the cemetery where my Uncle is buried. Then it's time for more family visiting in London.

Me and Auntie Pat by the lake
With cousins at Newent
 An easy drive to London via Oxford, to see Chris's brother Bob. We are really getting the hang of all the roundabouts! Bob & Libby's Hampstead flat is still a charming bit of bohemia, packed to the rafters with both the kids, Barbie and Vinny, also living at home. Libby arrives home from her gardening job and we celebrate the reunion … a bit too enthusiastically. For the first time this holiday we wake hungover.

London is large and needs weeks to explore properly, but we have only a couple of days, and it is still raining intermittently, though we have missed the deluges suffered by much of the UK this week. With Bob and Libby as guides we do a lot in our short time: 
  • Camden Art Centre (crazy art jester Bruce Lacey)
  • Visits to some amazing gardens and houses, dinner with the family at Carluccio's in Hampstead, 
  • Breakfast with nephew Darian at the Breakfast Club in Angel Islington, and catch up with Cat from the Glasgow architecture tour at the Glasgow Art School Graduates exhibition nearby. 
  • One of the food experiences of the trip so far: Bob's chilli prawns, Belinda's baked salmon, Chris's chilli sauce and Libby's nutty brown rice. Home cooking - yummmm!
Even in these over-communicative days it is a rare and wonderful thing to make contact with distant family - we all feel it is precious, and we wish we had planned for a longer visit.
Morning tea with Libby and Bob
Barbie, Libby, Bel, Darian & Bob outside the Breakfast Club
 Through the quiet sunday streets to St Pancras Station and the Eurostar to Paris, then we are back in the familiar space of Peter's studio where we stayed for a week in 2007. We plan to picnic (as we did in 2007) in the nearby park, Batignolles Square. It's Sunday and not much is open, but we get together baguette and cheese and red wine (of course), a rotisserie chicken and some salad. It's early on a lovely Sunday evening, and the park is packed with promenading couples and families. Is everyone in Paris either pregnant or pushing a stroller? It seems so …

Now to work off all that bread and cheese: 
  • Montmartre cemetery, for my gothic fix, then up the hill to Sacre Coeur. Sacre bleu, les touristes!!! 
  • At Notre Dame also, we are shocked by the crush of tourists, and don't bother queuing, but walk up to the Pompidou Centre for major Gerhardt Richter retrospective and whatever else is on. There are always less tourists for contemporary art … we flake out halfway through the contemporary collection and make our way home for dinner before even seeing the Kandinskys.  
  • Musee de Quai Branly - the anthropological museum - is showing Les Maitres du dĂ©sordres (Masters of Chaos) - very intriguing. And what a collection! We barely scratch the surface. 
  • Walk along the Seine from the Tour Eiffel to the Tuileries. It's a beautiful day, and we manage to avoid being scammed by the gypsies ;) 
  • Instead of the vast Louvre we opt for the bijou Jeu de Paume, a contemporary photography, film and video gallery, and enjoy Eva Besnyo and and Laurent Grasso. 
And to refuel: La Bonne Heure, the bistro in Batignolles where we celebrated our 22nd anniversary 5 years ago, hasn't changed at all, and at 9.30 on a Tuesday night is buzzing! We eat tomato and mozzarella salad, grilled 'bar' with aubergine caviar, duck breast on mash, with a bordeaux.
Striking a pose on the steps of Sacre Coeur
At La Bonne Heure
It must be Paris!
In liminal space at Gare de l'Est
All too soon we are on the fast and comfortable TGV train, and in Strasbourg in 2.5 hours. As we walk along the river to the hotel it seems a beautiful place with hanging baskets of flowers everywhere. The room, however, is vibrating with the noise of jackhammers,and the view is onto a construction site. We ask if it's possible to change but the manager shrugs "Yes, it's terrible, but what can I do? Je suis desolĂ© …". Oh well, we won't be spending much time in the room …
Peter, the old friend of Chris's from art school whose studio we borrowed in Paris, is now living in Strasbourg with his new wife Monika and their daughters aged 4 years, and 2 months.  It's a scene of ...... domesticity (insert own adjective), particularly as they are moving flats next week and the flat is strewn with boxes. But they could not be more welcoming and we spend more time there than we should, drinking wine, eating cheese and fruit, ratatouille, terrine and pork with apricots.

The Strasbourg sites? well, the gothic cathedral is world-famous - we climb the steeple for a great view of the city. Nearby are the art, archeology and decorative art museums, with some lovely gothic paintings, and relics of Strasbourg history. The Museum of Modern & Contemporary Art has some impressive work and the gallery building itself is even more impressive. The local market is small and lovely, and we drool over all the gorgeous food we can't buy! Particularly striking are the beautifully cultivated public garden beds, which combine flowers with vegetables of all kinds, it is wonderful to see such care taken.

Kandinsky room at MMCA Strasbourg
Chris, Peter, Monika, Desiree
Strasbourg market produce and garden bed
Strasbourg from the cathedral steeple
Next? All stops to Istanbul.

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